MISTAKES ABOUT BAPTISM
T. PIERCE BROWN
Possibly one of the earliest mistakes about baptism was a misunderstanding of 1 Peter3:21which says that baptism saves us. Baptism was thought to be a sacramental act by which the grace of God flowed down to the recipient through the hands of the priest. It did not matter if the person being baptized was a baby, an adult, asleep or drunk. Baptism was a ritual that was presumed to have saving power in and of itself.
There are apparently those connected with the Lord’s church that seem to have a very similar idea. At least when I knock on the door and introduce myself, I find that although they have not attended for years, and never did anything for Christ which we can discover, they say with some degree of pride or assurance, “I’ve been baptized.”
Then there is an opposite error, as is almost always the case when the pendulum of error swings. That is, the idea that baptism has nothing to do with salvation because it is presumed to be a work of righteousness, and Paul says in Titus 3:5, “Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” And in Ephesians 3:8-9, “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory.” Of course both passages are true. The problem is that baptism is never classified in the Bible as a work of righteousness that we do. In fact, baptism is not something we do at all, but is something that someone else does to us. We are passive in baptism. If a person is baptized, thinking it is an act of merit in which he can glory, then it is doubtful if he would be “obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which was delivered to him” (Romans 6:17) and it would probably be of no value, for he would be trusting in his own work rather than in the work of Christ. The idea that we can be saved by grace without accepting that grace on the terms by which it is offered is one of the most illogical and unscriptural ideas that the credulous mind of man was ever deceived into believing. One can not find an example in or out of the Bible where a person was ever blessed by grace or by faith until that grace was accepted on the terms offered, or until that faith was demonstrated.
Most of those who read this will find no trouble understanding or agreeing with what we have said thus far. However, many may not understand or appreciate the fact that we have two other errors about baptism by those, some of whom are preachers, connected with the Lord’s church. First, there are those who teach that if a person is baptized with a motive to obey the Lord, since there is no higher motive, that person’s baptism is valid, regardless of the fact that he may disbelieve and deny what Christ and the Apostles taught about the value, necessity or purpose of it. It is true that there may be no higher motive, but when Paul was persecuting Christians, we can scarcely conceive of a person having a higher motive. That did not make his action valid or acceptable to God. If one were to ask any honest, sincere member of any religious group that practices what they call baptism, whether sprinkling, pouring or immersion, done for any reason, if he was baptized with the motive to obey God, he would doubtless answer, “Yes.” How any thoughtful gospel preacher could assume that makes his baptism valid is one of the mysteries of the ages.
In an effort to teach that baptism must be for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), some have gone so far as to assume that any baptism that claims to be for the remission of sins is valid, and makes one a brother in Christ. This is false and dangerous doctrine. Most of us who have done much personal evangelism could recount numerous times when we have studied with someone who said, “I was baptized for the remission of sins.” Then when we asked if they were saved before or after baptism, they would answer, “Before.” How they could be baptized for remission of sins if they had already been forgiven of them they could not explain. However, that is not the only problem connected with this false idea.
There are those who may actually believe that they got remission of their sins at baptism, such as those who believe in baptismal regeneration (even for infants), and those who teach that since baptism is for the remission of sins, you cannot get to the seventh heaven without it, but you can be saved without it.
The basic problem is that unless a person accepts the fact that all that he does must be by the authority of Christ, and then finds the authority of Christ and acts upon it in obedient faith, it matters little what words he may say, or what rituals he may perform. Being baptized for the remission of sins, taking the Lord’s supper the first day of every week and singing in worship instead of playing some mechanical instrument does not prove that one is in fellowship with and submissive to Christ.