The old Baptist Church in my hometown was more than three-quarters full one Sunday evening in 1975 when I was immersed fully clothed in a pool of tepid water right at the front of the auditorium. I was one of three who were baptised that evening by the Pastor himself. And that was a clear two years after I first believed, or trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
This baptism was a public declaration of my faith in Jesus. That occasion was actually the second of two, the first was at Westminster Cathedral in London back in 1952, when water was sprinkled on my forehead by the Catholic priest while I screamed my head off, according to my mother's testimony, trying to pass on the message that I wasn't too happy with the sacrament.
The 1952 baptism meant that Adam's sin within me was atoned for and I have become a Christian and a child of God, according to the Catholic Church. I had no choice in the matter, let alone any faith to precede the sacrament.
I write this article after spending an evening on this website after reading several articles from one particular group who call themselves "The Church of Christ." The author of this webpage, at the time of writing, has nearly 59,000 pageviews, proving to be well read and very popular. Hence my need to respond here.
There is a distinct similarity between the Church of Christ and Catholicism, namely that in both the rite of baptism plays a role in the candidate's salvation. The differences between the two groups are that the Church of Christ believes in adult baptism by submersion, with the candidate's full consent while the other is infant sprinkling, also known as Aspersion, or Affusion if the water is poured over the baby's head.
The Church of Christ claims to be non-denominational in a sense that it does not want to call itself under a specific name or function, such as Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Congregationalist or Presbyterian. They insist that their only source of authority is the Bible, and nothing else, and emphasise their sotorology (study of salvation) by strict obedience to a specific command Peter made to several thousand international Jews at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit... Acts 2:38.
This implies, as they insist, that baptism is a work added for one to be saved, as with the Catholic Church. This doctrine is often referred as Baptismal Regeneration although I believe they are not too keen to use this terminology, as it indicates heresy.
The Church of Christ had its origins in the USA, during the early days of the 19th Century Restoration Movement, an idea that churches in America should shed it denominational leanings and return to straightforward Bible teaching and sole source of authority. Hence the Church of Christ came about in 1832 by the merger of two groups, The Churches of Christ, led by Barton W. Stone, and the Disciples of Christ, inspired by Thomas Campbell, who in 1809 published his thesis, The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington. His son, Alexander Campbell, then took over the leadership of the Church of Christ and later opened Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.
So to say that the Church of Christ is solely Bible based is not strictly true. Rather, its beliefs has its source from the writings and teachings of Alexander Campbell.
Because of its popularity on this website, we would look into its teachings, and see whether the teachings of Campbell and the Church of Christ actually reflect the Bible's teaching on salvation (known as Sotorology).
In Romans chapter 4, Paul made it an important issue that Abraham was saved by faith only. For Abraham believed God and was credited to him as righteousness. King David also said that a man is blessed if the Lord does not count his sins against him. And neither these two were ever baptised.
And one has only to read the whole of Hebrews chapter 11. It is the Hall of Fame of Old Testament saints who had a faith in God so powerful that they influenced the world around them in their day. Examples such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, David and Solomon all demonstrated their faith because they were already saved, and none of them were trying to earn salvation by any work or ritual.
But what about circumcision? Wasn't this commanded by God for all Hebrew males? Yes it was. And does baptism replace circumcision? In a way, it does.
But again we go to Paul's issue with Abraham found in Romans 4. Here the apostle asks, was Abraham saved before or after he was circumcised? Not after, but before he was circumcised. So faith and salvation came to completion before circumcision came about.
But because the ritual of circumcision was applied afterward to eight-day old infants as part of the Covenant between God and Israel, I'm not surprised that the Catholic Church began to institute infant baptism after the manner of infant circumcision in order to enter the covenant.
So we conclude that during Old Testament times, a person was saved by God by faith alone, as Paul wrote about Abraham, and all in the Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11. After all, Rahab the Prostitute was female and a Gentile (non-Israelite), yet she was as much saved as her male colleagues. Circumcision does not save, but does baptism save?
In The New testament we have several incidences where Jesus saves through faith alone, without baptism.
Luke 7:37-50 is a story of a sinful woman whose faith led to her forgiveness of her sins. Jesus here says to her that although her sins were many, they are all forgiven. Jesus then dismisses her by saying "Woman, Your sins are forgiven, your faith have saved you, go in peace."
Then there is the story of the thief on the cross, crucified with Jesus himself. The thief asks Jesus to remember him when he goes to his kingdom. So the thief had enough faith to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. In turn, Jesus promised Paradise with him on that same day. These two, the woman and the thief were saved without baptism. They were many more, but I think these two will suffice.
The explanation, I think, the Church of Christ minister would explain why the woman and the thief (among others, e.g. the woman at the well) were saved without baptism was because these incidents took place before the New Covenant came into effect at the moment Jesus died. According to this view, God can save a person by faith alone as long as the New Covenant had not yet been ratified. After the death of Jesus, the Covenant is in force which states that one must be baptised to be saved.
If all this is true, then what about these following verses?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.
He that believes on me is not condemned: but he who does not believe on me is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God.
He that believeth in me hath everlasting life.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and thy house.
(For reference: John 3:16, John 3:18, John 6:47, Acts 16:31)
These are just a few of many verses which teach plainly that salvation is through faith alone, without baptism.
Then there is the case with Cornelius and his household, found in Acts 10.
In verse 43 we read that Peter was telling them all that by believing in Jesus they will receive forgiveness of sins. Then to his astonishment, he watches as the Holy Spirit descends and settles upon all in that house. Only then does Peter decides that they should all be baptised in water.
So here is the order:
1. Peter preaches Jesus to all in Cornelius's' house.
2. They all believe.
3. The Holy Spirit fills them all, proving they are all saved, fully and completely.
4.Peter baptises them in water FOR the remission of their sins.
So let us return to Acts 2:38.
Repent, and be baptised, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
So does this mean that God has changed his plan of salvation from faith only to faith and baptism?
For I can say for example, "I'm paying him his wages FOR the work he has done."
The money is paid because he has done his work, he has already earned his pay. I don't pay him to do the work, but because the work is already done.
When a person is baptised, it is because he has already believed and is saved. The baptism is not for the sinner to get saved but because he is already saved. As with Holy Communion or Breaking of Bread. The feast is only for believers who are already saved, not for those trying to earn salvation by treating it as a sacrament, as the Catholic Church teaches.
So what is the point of baptism in water if it does not save?
It is a public declaration of one's faith in Jesus Christ. When a person enters the water, he is fully immersed, picturing the death and burial of the old, sin-centred life. He is then lifted out of the water, picturing a new life in the Resurrected Christ.
Salvation through faith in Christ a a wonderful gift of God, a magnificent demonstration of God's love for mankind. Salvation is a gift, it cannot be earned, it's not for sale, rather it is given freely to all who believe, or trusts in Jesus.
Finally in this article I need to ask, are any in the Church of Christ actually saved?
I'm convinced that there are many who are saved. But that has nothing to do with the baptism, nor the teachings of Alexander Campbell. They are saved because they have trusted in Jesus Christ to save them. It is the same with Roman Catholics. Among the teachings of the Catechism, there are some who genuinely called on God's mercy and have received it. There are saved people in churches of every denomination. Even among Jehovah's Witnesses and among Mormons there are some who are saved, as there are among Baptists and other mainstream churches who are still lost.
The Bibles says quite clearly the everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13, Joel 2:32).
And this applies whether one gets baptised or not.