Baptismal Regeneration

waterRecently a Baptist Pastor was invited to speak at the Church I was working with. I thought it wise to let him know that if he invited people to respond to Christ, he should not be asking them to simply pray a “sinner’s prayer.” I pointed out the Church here believes that a person surrenders their will and life to Christ in baptism. He said, “Oh yeah, baptismal regeneration.”

Unfortunately this gentleman had formed an idea about the Church of Christ that resulted in this spontaneous response. When baptism is set forth as a step that follows four previous steps, like climbing a ladder, it sounds like “baptismal regeneration;” like you are getting your card punched to go to heaven. This is not what the Bible sets forth. In Scripture people heard about Jesus, the Messiah, and were convinced that he was the Savior. They then asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37) There was never a debate about baptism. They just did what they were instructed to do.

Baptismal Regeneration is a term that is used to describe conversion taking place in the waters of baptism. It is believing that a special work of God is done on and for an individual just because they are baptized. Some even contend that the blood of Christ is in the water and a person contacts the blood when they are baptized. This concept can place a person’s confidence in the act of baptism rather than in Jesus.

Although baptismal regeneration is not supported by Scripture, baptism is. We know from the Bible that Jesus himself was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13). There were some who refused to be baptized as recorded in Luke 7: 29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) In refusing to be baptized they “rejected God’s purpose for themselves!” Baptism is still in the plan from God. It is an act of acknowledging that God’s way is right.

Baptism is also an act in which we acknowledge God’s purpose for ourselves. Paul states the purpose of God in Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29     For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God’s purpose is for us to be “conformed to the likeness of his son.” This begins with submission. Making His will, our will. Acknowledging that God’s way is right.

Baptism is an act of surrender to God. Before there was ever a denomination in the world men and women were being baptized. Consider the very act of baptism. As a person places themselves into the hands of another to be immersed they are giving up the control of their body and their right to breathe temporarily. It is a re-enactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Paul stated it like this in Romans 6: 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4           We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Jesus gave his disciples a mission as one of his last works on earth telling them, 15 “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16) Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, must precede baptism or a person is just getting dipped. If a person does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God then baptism will have no effect on that person’s life, neither here nor in eternity. However, the person who believes with their whole heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is baptized as a faith response to him, will find that this is the line in the sand; a point of deliverance and an acknowledgement that God is LORD over their lives.

 

Jim Woodell

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  1. In baptism, by going down into the water, one literally goes down into death; when you emerge, you are “raised,” as it were, from the dead. This is the imagery of Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12-13. Do these texts not speak of “the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26) and of “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5)?

    You are correct in stating that in their zeal for the act of baptism, many forget the Christ into whom we are immersed. By doing so, they preach baptism instead of the gospel, with the result that many are baptized knowing “baptism is for the remission of sins,” but knowing little of the Messiah who gave his blood “for the remission of sins.” I actually heard one preacher say that K.C. Moser did not believe in baptism “for the remission of sins because he had written, “Baptism is not for the remission of sins in the same way that the blood of Jesus is for the remission of sins.”

    There is a washing that takes place in baptism, though not a common cleansing of the flesh, nor is it like a Jewish ritual of washing for purification (see 1 Peter 3:21 where removing the filth of the flesh could refer to Jewish ritual purification as in Hebrews 9:13). Yet, from Pentecost onward, baptism in the name of Jesus was connected with the remission of sins.

    Is baptism the most important thing in the conversion (regeneration) of a sinner into a saint?

    Of course not. Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, his death for our sins, and his resurrection to be the new Adam who gives eternal life to those who follow him all outweigh the importance of baptism and give baptism its significance. Without those, baptism would be just another bath. With those, baptism becomes something else entirely.

    Don’t be intimidated by someone who sneers at baptism as “baptismal regeneration.” Such a remark shows the shallow understanding s/he has of the matter. But, also pray for those who make baptism the most important part of our response to the gospel – for, truly, they know not what they are doing.

  2. Yes, baptism is our surrendering to God… to live under the reign of Jesus who is the Lord and by the power of the Spirit doing the Father’s will here on earth as it is done in heaven.

    While the Restoration Movement has at times taught baptism as it relates to conversion in such a way as to draw the conclusion that we teach baptismal regeneration, in the Bible we are spoken of in the passive-tense voice when it comes to baptism because we are not baptizing ourselves. Consequently we are receiving baptism from God who baptizes us into Christ, saving us by his grace through our faith rather than us saving ourselves by how correctly we understand the doctrine of salvation and baptism.