A Rebuttal of Baptismal Regeneration
A Brief Rebuttal of Baptismal Regeneration
by James White
|“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” So wrote the Apostle Peter to the early Christians (1 Peter 1:18-19). He, as all the other Apostles, believed that we are redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, in the blood of Jesus Christ. Yet, there are many today who would replace the blood of Christ with the water of a baptistery. They teach that we are regenerated, made alive, cleansed, by water baptism. Some insist that it must be baptism by immersion; others say that sprinkling accomplishes the same thing. In either case, the work of Jesus Christ on the cross cannot be said to be finished and efficacious until man does something–in this case, adds his work of baptism to the work of God in Christ. Baptism is said to be the means of salvation, the method by which Christ’s work at Calvary is taken from the merely theoretical to the actual.It is not our intention to engage in a lengthy discussion of the topic of baptismal regeneration in this article. Such would require far more space than we have available at this time! Instead, we wish to point out a basic, foundational error of the position taken by such groups as the Church of Christ and the Mormon Church–both have some doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Then, we will briefly respond to a couple of the more often used proof-texts provided by proponents of baptismal regeneration. We realize that there is a whole area of discussion that we are leaving to the side by taking this approach, that being the sacramental concept of regeneration in infant baptism. This view is found in Roman Catholicism (indeed, baptism is the original means of justification in Roman theology) and in various of the sacramentally-oriented Protestant churches.Underlying the idea that man, by an action such as baptism, can bring about his own regeneration, is the rejection of the Biblical teaching of sin, and most especially, the truth that sin enslaves man, debilitates man, brings spiritual death to man. The Lord Jesus spoke clearly of this truth:
Man in sin must be freed from slavery to sin. He cannot free Himself, but must be freed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is an offensive truth to the unregenerate man, as the response from these would-be self-made disciples indicates (8:41, 48). Men do not like to hear that they are, in fact, totally dependent upon God’s grace for salvation–they do not want to know that they are incapable of saving themselves, or even of coming unto Christ for salvation, outside of God’s gracious drawing (John 6:44). But as the Lord Himself said, we are slaves to sin. Slaves must be freed.
Paul describes the lost man’s condition with the graphic language of death. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” he tells the Ephesians (2:1). How can a dead man be made alive? Only by the work of God, just as he told the Colossians, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13). This deadness has tremendous results according to the inspired Apostle. First, it means that there is no man who, in and of himself, seeks after God: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Likewise, there is no man who understands the things of God unless he is first changed from being “natural” or “carnal” to “spiritual”: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul says that when men are alienated from God, they are His enemies in their minds (Colossians 1:21). These are strong words, and they well describe the hatred and enmity that exists in the heart of the man who continues to live in his rebellion against God. What is even more striking is Paul’s absolute belief that this condition cannot be changed by man–not only is it not the natural man’s desire to be at peace with the Holy One, but it is beyond his capacity to do so, even if he were so inclined. Note Paul’s words in Romans 8:5-8:
Those who hold to baptismal regeneration would have us to believe that one passes from being a “natural man” to a “spiritual man” through baptism; yet, from whence does this desire to be baptized come? Is God not pleased when we are baptized? Of course. Yet, Paul said that the one who is still fleshly cannot please God. If such a person is the enemy of God, enslaved to sin, how is it that he is able to do such a spiritual and pleasing thing as to desire to be baptized? Obviously, this is impossible. Baptism signifies our death to the old way of life and our resurrection to new life in Christ, as Paul uses it in Romans 6:1-4. Unless we have died to sin, and been raised with Christ in reality prior to our baptism, the symbol becomes meaningless. So we see that the position that posits baptism as the means of regeneration and forgiveness ignores the most basic teachings of Scripture regarding man’s inability. In taking the position they do, the baptismal regenerationists not only make man capable of things he is not, but they reduce God’s grace to a mere aid, and make the death of Christ a theory that is dependent upon man’s act of obedience, rather than the finished and effective work that the Bible teaches it to be (Hebrews 10:10-14).
When we keep in mind the foundational truth that man is unable to save himself, but that salvation is the work of God, we are able to understand why it is said that we are justified by God’s grace (Titus 3:7), justified by the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9), and justified by faith. Grace, and the blood of Christ, are both things that are beyond man’s ability to manipulate; and faith, if it is true, saving faith, is the gift of God as well. Hence, we are justified by God’s action, not by any action of our own. Never is it said that we are justified by baptism.
In light of the fact that any review of the central passages of the New Testament that directly deal with how a man is made right with God will lead us to recognize our own inability and the great ability of our God to save, what is to be said concerning those passages, drawn from one context or another, that seem to indicate that we are saved or forgiven by baptism? First, we must point out that it is common for some to confuse the *importance* of baptism with the idea of the *necessity* of baptism. Indeed, often the fact that the New Testament takes for granted that all believers will be baptized as a profession of their faith is taken to mean that baptism is *how* they became believers in the first place! We confess baptism to be vitally important–the Scriptures are clear in this. That Paul can use baptism is a sign and symbol of our spiritual union with Christ (Romans 6:1-4) shows that it is his assumption that all believers will be obedient in baptism. We do not, by asserting the proper understanding of baptism, in any way denigrate it as an ordinance given by Christ to His Church. But just as the holy Law of God was misused by the Pharisees in Jerusalem, and the Judaizers in Galatia, so baptism has been misused by modern proponents of the works-oriented system of baptismal regeneration. Therefore, just as Paul often asserted his great respect for and love of the law of God while asserting its true nature and purpose, so we, too, assert our great respect for Christian baptism while asserting its proper place in God’s work of salvation and sanctification. We shall center our attention on three passages of Scripture that are often placed before us as “clear testimony” to the concept of baptismal regeneration. These passages are Acts 2:38, 22:16, and 1 Peter 3:21.
This is probably the most oft-quoted passage in the great baptism debate. Yet, when we read verse 39, we hear again the same concept that we saw above, which Peter himself will assert at a later date (1 Peter 1:2), and that will reappear in the Acts narrative, too (Acts 13:48)–salvation comes through the work of God’s elective choice, not the actions or plans of men. Baptism does nothing for those who are not called of God. But, one might say, what if one is called of God? Does this passage then not say that baptism is for the remission of sins?…Read More Here: http://vintage.aomin.org/bapreg.html