Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

05 May

It was probably 10 years ago that I got a call from another pastor in town (since moved away) inviting me to lunch.  He and I had never really connected, so I gladly accepted.  As we sat down at Culvers one early afternoon, he didn’t take too long to get to his point.  He had come to visit Edgewood recently and had liked what I had to say…mostly.

“I appreciate how you tell people how to go to heaven,” he began.  “But…I think you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Yeah, that’s what he said). You’re not telling them the full truth.”

Fascinating. What did he mean? Well, I soon found out. He was upset that I wasn’t telling people that they needed to be baptized in order to be saved. In his tradition, he had come to appreciate grace (Amen!), hence he was glad I was explaining the gospel, but he had also come to believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation. Since I didn’t share his conviction, I guess you can call me wolf pastor.

This particular aspect of theology, called baptismal regeneration, is only held by some who name the name of Christ, but it has always struck me as downright weird. (How’s that for a theological argument?) Later this pastor’s church would take out an ad in a local newspaper for a “community baptism”. How strange. In fairness, they promised instruction in advance, but it was almost as if they felt they could get people dunked and ensure their place in heaven. And how misleading…I wonder how many lost people in the community saw that ad, realized what the church was trying to do, and thought, “I guess I’m good…I’ve been baptized.” Yikes…extremely confusing.

The Apostle Paul, however, was not confused about the subject. His seemingly offhand thoughts on baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 are almost comical…

…were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (ESV)

It’s not a full orbed theological argument on the subject of baptism, but it’s darn close. First, Paul can’t remember whether he baptized anyone, so it’s clearly not an issue that is in the forefront of his mind. But more than that, he says quite succinctly that he was not sent to baptize.  And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, if baptism were required for salvation, Paul would never have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except…”

That said, baptism is important.  It is a command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19, 20), and it gloriously envisions the gospel, not only in picturing the washing away of sins, but also in immersion, as the believer is buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So if you haven’t been baptized since believing in Jesus, you should be. It’s an obedience issue…but it is not a matter of salvation, and those who say it is are confusing the gospel of grace. And that’s a really, really bad thing to do.

Makes you wonder who the real wolf is…

For Wednesday, May 5th: 1 Corinthians 2


Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Uncategorized


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8 responses to “Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

  1. Tom Johnson

    May 5, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Roger — wonderfully stated.
    I am reminded of the thief hanging on a cross alongside Jesus who said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Unlike his fellow robber, he understood he needed to be forgiven and believed only Christ could forgive and save him — not his good works, since he had no longer any time to do any — and not baptism, since there was no time and no way for that to take place, Dependence on Christ was the only thing needed. And thru grace, Jesus’ answer was, “…you will be with me in paradise (heaven).” Thank the Lord for our salvation thru His grace alone!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Knowlton

      May 5, 2015 at 6:33 am

      Thanks Tom…another great example in Scripture making the point!


  2. Scott Roen

    May 5, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Well said – again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. isaiah543

    May 5, 2015 at 10:25 am

    I agree with you Roger that baptism is not necessary for salvation in that God can and does save many people without baptism. And I’m not sure I’m completely on board with my Lutheran church’s teaching on baptism. But I would point out that there is a big difference between the old Boston Church of Christ baptismal regeneration we fought against in college and the baptismal regeneration believed by sacramental churches. What my Lutheran friends would say is that baptism is a means of grace, like preaching is. Is preaching the gospel necessary for salvation? Well, yes and no. We are justified by faith alone, not by preaching the gospel. But faith comes through hearing the gospel. God uses the preaching of the gospel to save people. But that doesn’t make listening to a sermon a “work” by which we are justified. Similarly, my Lutheran friends would say that the grace of faith can and does come through baptism. But being baptized isn’t a “work” that justifies, and God certainly can and does save people who are unbaptized.


  4. Mark Engels

    May 5, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    So how are we to consider this versus what Jesus told the Eleven yesterday when we read Mark 16:16?

    “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”


    • Roger Knowlton

      May 5, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Hey Mark,
      Great question, and I actually considered addressing this when we hit Mark 16, but the long and the short of it is that most scholars do not believe that Mark wrote verses 9 through 20, in other words that they were a later addition. You’ll notice that though my blog referenced Mary Magdalene and verse 9 mentions her, I left that aspect of things out of the story. That said, even if you were convinced that verses 9-20 belonged in the canon of Scripture, I still don’t think verse 16 necessarily leads to the conclusion that one must be baptized to be saved, but that rather Jesus was referring to something that sometimes happens when someone becomes a believer. However, I still think it’s a moot point in light of my first thoughts. Thanks! Rog

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lauramae67

    May 6, 2015 at 9:57 am

    hmm, I’m mulling this over, ” But faith comes through hearing the gospel. God uses the preaching of the gospel to save people. But that doesn’t make listening to a sermon a “work” by which we are justified.”, from a post above).
    I’m thinking God doesn’t really use preaching or listening to save (or justify) people, but rather Christ Jesus has already paid the “justification” price w/ His blood. So really, the Holy Spirit has to put that belief in our hearts (& yes, it probably comes through preaching, listening, reading His Word etc), but the belief/faith alone, would really be what “saves” us, would it not, since the entire work has already been done by my Savior?
    Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Galations 2:16,” know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”



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