Is Baptism Really Essential?
The concept of baptism essentiality has been a heatedly debated concept in the world of Christendom, but primarily is a case of Western thought and critique. Based upon early church epochs and New Testament theology, conflict with baptism as part of the atoning or remission-of-sins process, appears to be absent from the discourse of Holy writ. During our current discussion of conversion and baptism, it appears that people have the ability to view the coin or process from opposing sides, failing to harmonize the powerful Word of God on the subject. Why is the essentiality of baptism a debate or issue of division (Matthew 3:16-17).
Generally, those who religiously exist outside church of Christ contexts, view the church of Christ position and understanding of baptism as a works related process, while those within the church of Christ simply view it as an act of divine obedience, commanded by God (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). From the same trajectory, Christians in the church of Christ are accused of being wedded to a works-related hermeneutic, violating the supremacy and essence of grace. Thus again, the general accusation is that Christians in the church of Christ believe they are saved by works and not grace. Such a premise is absurd, but we must (in-part) look at church of Christ responsibility in how such a notion was manufactured.
Within the scope of rightly divided New Testament, it is impossible to avoid the nexus between 1) Water baptism for the remission of sins and 2) Conversion. One of the problems is that in churches of Christ, many have placed unbalanced emphasis on water baptism, causing others in the Christian religious world to suspiciously view such teaching and understanding of the subject. Some church of Christ evangelism efforts have been so baptism-heavy, the illusion has been advanced as if there is something magical in the water. Consequently, many Christians in churches of Christ have learned to assess congregational health/productivity on the amount of people baptized, despite low retention rates. Of course this is not true for all, but it is a unique deficit worthy of analysis.
In light of top-heavy baptism teaching, it is imperative that I emphasize the fact that baptism for the remission of sins is simply the final terrestrial step within the earthly conversion process of a person being added to the body of Christ (Acts 2:47). Baptism is not a work, it is a command (Acts 2:38). In acts 2:37 they said “…What shall we do?” If there was nothing for them to “do”, the Apostle Peter would have responded as such. He would have said, “There is nothing you can physically do, you are simply covered by the grace of God! To an extent that is true, but it is not the whole story. The Apostle Peter instructed them to do two things: 1) Repent and 2) Be baptized. Within a current works theology, if baptism is a work, so is repentance, but I have never heard anyone argue the concepts of repentance or faith as works, despite the fact that both are required for an embrace of salvation (Luke 13:3-5; Acts 17:30; Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 11:1-6). They are not works; they are procedures of belief and obedience in the supremacy of God (John 14:1-2). Grace cannot be accessed without faith: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Obsessions with baptism essentiality are rooted in the fact that water immersion is simply one element of the conversion or salvific process. Clearly a person can be religiously dipped in water, without a result of sin remission. Despite the refutations to what is labeled the plan of salvation, a person cannot have knowledge of Christ without hearing about Him, and a person cannot holistically embrace Christ without repentance and confessing Him as the Son of God (Matthew 18:16-20; Romans 10:9-10; Romans 10:17). Through evangelism and house-to-house teaching, some have dramatically emphasized baptism, while under-addressing the true essence of what it really means to know God through the process of belief, faith, repentance, and the criticality of justification through the Grace of Jesus Christ. The more such a teaching paradigm continues, the more the church of Christ will be accused of preaching a works-related gospel. In addition, it will continually cripple discipleship efforts, leaving those taught paralyzed – left in a fellowship that requires a true walk of faith. The Apostle Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Churches of Christ must do the same.
For those who claim baptism is not essential, what they need to biblical prove is the precise moment a person is added to the body of Christ, absent baptism (Matthew 3:16-17; Romans 10:9-10)? Is a person saved simply at the point of belief, repentance, or confession (Acts 10:44-48)? If that is the case, what congruent and rightly divided examples illustrate the example? Baptism is more than just an outward sign of an inward grace, but it is also meaningless without belief, faith, and repentance (check the Romans chapters 3-5 and James 2 nexus).
Brief Analysis of Acts 2:38
A critical text of debate concerning the essentialness of church-age water baptism and its connection to salvation is Acts 2:38. Many debates have been facilitated and books written about the translation of one pivotal Greek word in the text (eis). The Greek word eis appears trivial, but simply manifests the slight amount of space needed by Lucifer to introduce confusion and perversion (Genesis 3:1-6; Matthew 4:4-5; 1 Corinthians 14:33; James 3:16).
The English translation for the Greek word eis is for. Thus, based upon KJV translation, Acts 2:38 literally reads, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The response of Peter in Acts 2:38 seems simplistic, but there are two schools of thought concerning the true meaning and trajectory of (eis). I believe the correct rendering of eis is “in order to” while others believe it is most appropriately understood as “because of.”
If one believes that eis implies a “because of” notion in the text, it means that Peter was urging those present at Pentecost in Acts 2, to repent and be baptized because they were already saved. Truly that would be a flawed and illogical notion, but some scholars and Bible believers who subscribe to the “because of” principle, believe that baptism is simply a by-product or after-the-fact behavior of an already received salvation. One preacher postulates that baptism is like a wedding ring; a couple becomes one with or without the ring, but the ring symbolizes the union and relationship. Although I like the analogy, it does not harmonize the text.
Eis, as rendered in Acts 2:38, clearly reveals the “in order to” notion. Throughout the expanse of the book of Acts, people were taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, believed it, and were commanded to be baptized in order to receive remission of sins. The word eis is always forward in its trajectory and is sometimes translated unto. I want to keep this narrative short, but I challenge you to do your own research on this topic, but know that baptism was essential in the early church and is still essential today. In addition and in conclusion, remember not make the mistake of emphasizing the importance of baptism over preceding conditions, such as belief, faith, repentance, and confession.