As a Christian…one of the things I like to think I’m good at, is having the ability to converse with other Christians, disagreeing with them, and yet I’m still able to keep it civil and not insult them. We’re likely to walk away more enlightened with a greater understanding of one another.
This week, I confess I got a little bit heated with this new Church group that I joined this year. It was on the issue of Baptisms and whether or not being Baptized is a requirement for being saved. Meaning, if you’re not Baptized, does this mean you aren’t “saved”?
This isn’t the first time I disagreed with them on something and it’s not something that would prompt me to say, “I can’t hang with y’all.” We just have different interpretations of the Scriptures.
For example…growing up with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was taught that Jesus Christ died on an upright stake (or pole) instead of an outstretched cross like pretty much every other Christian believes. This difference of opinion, whether they are right or wrong, I don’t believe this detail is going to keep them from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s just their interpretation (particularly the word stauros).
Our interpretations…in all honesty, I really do believe it’s one of the most beautiful things about being a Christian. Very often, Atheists and Agnostics use these disagreements to justify why they DON’T believe. They’ll say things like: “Even you Christians don’t agree on everything! So why should we believe in this or that?”
To which I’d say, True, but the cool thing is, I’m not going to be judged based on what someone else believes. On judgment day, God’s going to look at my heart, my convictions, and judge me for what I personally believe and how I lived my life.
On Wednesday night, during our mid-week Bible study, the subject of Baptisms came up. The leader conducting this meeting is a 60-year-old man we’ll call Henry for the purpose of this essay. We were reading John Chapter 3 and Henry made it a point to say, “If a person isn’t Baptized then he’s not saved.”
No doubt drawing from John 3:5 that says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
In these mid-week Bible study groups, it’s about 5-10 people. And everyone can openly speak and give their opinions on a subject. Henry seems to like me a lot, specifically, because he says he enjoys my questions. If I miss a meeting, he’s constantly talking about, “Man! I could’ve used your questions. I love ’em.”
And of course, I’d give an uneasy smile because I know…there’s a thin line between asking a question and challenging your opinion. I do NOT want to challenge this guy publicly. I KNOW I can come off arrogant and act like I’m the smartest person in the room. I don’t want to be that way with these people.
So, God knows I’ve tried to be humble. I tell myself, “I’m the new guy. This is THEIR church. It is not my job to come in, see their beliefs, and change the way they think. Instead, let’s see if they can teach me something new. There’s always something I can learn, something I didn’t know, perspectives I never considered. Be open to that! Look for that!”
But as they kept talking about the importance of Baptism and how you’re not going to be saved unless you’re Baptized…I felt compelled to say something. I even borrowed from their logic from the service that was given on Sunday.
I said, “When it comes to Baptism, I’m reminded of the service we had on Sunday when the speaker talked about how God feels about the burnt offering sacrifices in the Old Testament. Remember, when he talked about how the Sacrifice wasn’t as important as the individual’s true repentance and obedience in heart? (1 Samuel 15:22, Proverbs 21: 3 )
“From what I’ve read in the Scriptures, it seems getting Baptized is kinda the same way. Like, I encourage everyone to get Baptized for sure. No doubt. But Baptisms seem to be more of an open, public, symbolic gesture of the individual’s commitment to Christ. It’s not the thing that’s gonna get you into heaven. It’s the person’s repentance and true faith in Christ that’ll save them.”
As I spoke, I saw other people nodding in agreement. But when I was finished, Henry disagreed. He was able to spit out Scriptures with sharp quick precision to explain how “wrong” I was, as if merely knowing the location of these verses was proof enough.
Here, I wasn’t offended. I was more so trying to remember every Scripture he fired off so I can go and read what he was talking about. The first one he mentioned was Acts 2:38. And he was kind enough to have us go ahead and read it. It says: “38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
He also mentioned 1 Peter 3:21, which says, “21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
As I was reading 1 Peter 3:21…I had my Study Bible in hand. For those who don’t know, a Study Bible is a Bible that has the scriptures, but also in-depth explanations, insights and context for each scripture so you can have a greater understanding of what the Scripture means.
This is important to me. That Study Bible is the John MacArthur English Standard Version. It took me four years to read that entire book from cover to cover. I don’t agree with EVERY interpretation Pastor John MacArthur gives, but I’d say I’d agree about 95%. Which is more than I can say for any other human or denomination on earth so far.
So when I read 1 Peter 3:21, I saw that MacArthur gives his thoughts on “Baptism”. In the meeting, I asked Henry, “Hey! So. I know we’re talking about Baptisms, and I was wondering if I could read what John MacArthur has written here and get your opinion?”
He said sure.
These are MacArthur’s words: “Peter is not at all referring to water baptism here, but rather a figurative immersion into union with Christ as an ark of safety from the judgement of God. The resurrection of Christ demonstrates God’s acceptance of Christ’s substitutionary death for the sins of those who believe. Judgment fell on Christ just as the judgment of the flood waters fell on the ark. The believer who is in Christ is thus in the ark of safety that will sail over the waters of judgment into eternal glory.”
After I read all this, Henry said, “That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Now…to be fair, I did ask for his opinion. I just didn’t expect him to be so disrespectful. Also, I don’t think he was being rude on purpose. I’m sure he didn’t know how significant John MacArthur was to me and very often Christians in their fervent beliefs, they can come off a little too “I’m right and everyone who disagrees with me is a fool.”
Henry went on to say “you gotta be careful when it comes to listening to guys like that because remember what the Bible says. That you shouldn’t add from it or take away from it.”
I responded with, “True, but this is his interpretation of the Scripture. He’s not adding or taking from the Bible.” I even mentioned how Henry’s very own church group has been reading from an article written by someone from their organization for the last couple of Wednesdays. That article isn’t the Holy Scriptures, but it’s someone derived interpretation of it. (basically, keep up that same energy when it comes to your own organization)
Either way, Henry more or less said John MacArthur was wrong. And by extension, I was wrong. I tried to maintain a James Bond like civil composure, but the problem is…he kept coming back to John MacArthur and criticizing him. He kept harping on how wrong MacArthur was and how if you aren’t Baptized, you aren’t saved.
So, my patience was starting to wear thin. Deep down, I was thinking to myself… “Bro, who do you think you are?” This is Pastor John MacArthur we’re talking about. I’m not saying he’s perfect. But I give MacArthur and his study Bible a lot of credit in enriching me with greater understanding of the Scriptures.
The last scripture Henry used was Mark 16:16, which says: “16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Seems pretty straight-forward. Hard to argue against it. And that’s the thing…part of me really didn’t want to argue against any of what he was saying. I do encourage people to get Baptized. But this notion that if you don’t, then you’re not saved…for some reason that didn’t sit well with me.
My mother had me Baptized as a Baptist when I was seven-years-old. Back then, I had no clue about Jesus Christ, what he did for us, or what the Bible said about how we should live our lives. For most of my adult life and as a committed Christian, I haven’t had a Church or Congregation that I could call my home.
I believe there are millions like me who haven’t been baptized because they aren’t part of some church or organization. In no way would I ever tell them, “Oh! You didn’t get Baptized? You didn’t go submerge yourself in water in front of others? Sorry, you’re out. You’re not saved.”
So, I left that meeting a bit heated and bothered. The next morning, I apologized via text in case I came off a bit combative. Henry responded with, “No apologies necessary. It’s good to be challenged.”
Yeah, but it ain’t cool constantly being told how wrong you are. So, yeah…my determination kicked in and the next day I immediately got to work researching every scripture he used. I called my older brother who’s a dedicated Jehovah’s Witness. I spoke to a lawyer who’s a strong believer in the notion that faith alone is what saves you, not works.
I quickly found several websites that supported my arguments and, of course, I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention that there are also websites that support Henry’s argument.
One website was of John MacArthur’s. –https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA79/is-baptism-necessary-for-salvation
Some of MacArthur’s points are: Salvation is by divine grace through faith alone (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9, etc.).
If water baptism were necessary for salvation, we would expect to find it stressed whenever the gospel is presented in Scripture. That is not the case, however. Peter mentioned baptism in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). However, in his sermon from Solomon’s portico in the Temple (Acts 3:12-26), Peter makes no reference to baptism, but links forgiveness of sin to repentance (3:19). If baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sin, why didn’t Peter say so in Acts 3?
Paul never made water baptism any part of his gospel presentations. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul gives a concise summary of the gospel message he preached. There is no mention of baptism. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul states that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” thus clearly differentiating the gospel from baptism.
Water baptism does not seem to be what Peter has in view in 1 Peter 3:21. The English word “baptism” is simply a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which means “to immerse.” Baptizo does not always refer to water baptism in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; 7:4; 10:38-39; Luke 3:16; 11:38; 12:50; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 12:13).
So Peter is not talking about immersion in water, as the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh” indicates. He is referring to immersion in Christ’s death and resurrection through “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or repentance. Again, it is not the outward act that saves, but the internal reality of the Spirit’s regenerating work (cf. Titus 3:4-8).
Another was this website that really addressed every specific Scriptures Henry used in his argument. Clearly, this debate about Baptisms has gone on for centuries. – https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-salvation.html
The Scripture Henry used that struck me the most was Mark 16:16 that says, “16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
In reading this website’s critique on it, I learned about a thing called the “Negative Inference Fallacy.” The website says:
“Those who try to use Mark 16:16 to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation commit a common but serious mistake that is sometimes called the Negative Inference Fallacy. This is the rule to follow: “If a statement is true, we cannot assume that all negations (or opposites) of that statement are also true.”
For example, the statement “a dog with brown spots is an animal” is true; however, the negative, “if a dog does not have brown spots, it is not an animal” is false. In the same way, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” is true; however, the statement “he who believes but is not baptized will not be saved” is an unwarranted assumption. Yet this is exactly the assumption made by those who support baptismal regeneration.”
Even so…you could make the argument that those who “believe” in Christ will get Baptized because that’s what Jesus said to do. It just depends on what you interpret “believe” to encompass.
In the end, I am resolved in believing that Baptism is NOT a requirement for salvation, though I do encourage everyone to get Baptized if they can and are willing. I will keep the notion in mind as I continue my third reading of the Bible. But as it stands, if I’m wrong, I’m prepared to accept the consequences.
In this essay, I’ve presented opposing arguments. I understand why Henry has his beliefs and I know why I have mine.
It’d be nice if we as Christians could accept that we’re going to have differences and that’s okay. There are things I disagree with when it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, and even 7th Day Adventists, but I don’t think those differences are going to keep them from salvation.
Thus, it’s not important to stress how wrong I think they are. I can relax, simply listen, and gain greater insight on a perspective I’d otherwise have no knowledge of.
I think the only time you really cross some lines is when you hear of Christians who flat out reject parts of the Bible they don’t like. I’ve met self-professed Christians who have legit said, “You know, I believe in Jesus and everything he said. But I don’t agree with the other Books and what things like that Apostle Paul said.”
And when I told this guy, “But everything you know about Christ is based on what another person has written down. So how can you accept what these people said about Christ, while rejecting the letters of Peter or the Apostle Paul?”
He didn’t like that. There, he actually accused me of not respecting his opinion. I didn’t say he was stupid. I just posed a question in an attempt to help him see the…alright. I’m rambling. Thanks for reading!
I guess the thief on the cross didn’t stand a chance.
Anyway…my 3 cents: You are right he is wrong. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and my composure (at least 50% of the time with some believers).
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I grew up in a church that taught “if you’re not baptized you’re not saved.” And after many arguments with Baptists who argued that baptism is evil and if you do it you’re going to hell because its a work….I came to a different position, i.e. If you refuse baptism alll your life then you are a liar who doesn’t believe in Jesus and is going to hell. Because if you word it “if you’re not baptized you’re not saved” then inevitably the objection is “what about the thief on the cross?” Dude was on a cross, he couldn’t just have the Romans let him have a break to get baptized. But these ironically named “Baptists” who teach baptism is from the pits of hell and avoid it like the plague, they’re calling Jesus a liar their whole life, and teaching heresy, so they are certainly going to hell.
You like opening cans of worms, don’t you? I have thoughts, lots of them, but I’m not willing to go there publicly, which says a lot coming from the likes of me, LOL!
I admire your boldness to question and search the Scriptures for the truth. Great job, Rock.
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