There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. [1 Peter 3:21]*
In the first part of this series, we examined the necessity of baptism, the proper mode of baptism [immersion, not sprinkling or pouring], and who is the proper subject to receive baptism. In this part of the series, we shall look at who is the proper administrator of baptism, when baptism should occur, where baptism should occur, and, finally, the purposes/design of baptism. In other world, what baptism accomplishes.
When we seek to answer the question of who is qualified to administer baptism. When one encounters a high church tradition [such as Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Methodism, or Episcopalianism], the view promoted is that only those who hold ecclesiastical authority are qualified to administer baptism. They do not view any baptism as valid which is not administered by one holding to ecclesiastical authority. This is even true in some Baptist denominations and cults like the United Pentecostal Church—which teach not only that the one administering the baptism must hold ecclesiastical authority—but must also hold the authority within their particular sect or cult for such baptism to be valid. Other sects, such as the churches of Christ would say that it is not necessary for the one to hold ecclesiastical authority to administer baptism, but, unless one was baptized with the specific understanding [according to them] that baptism is for the remission of sins, his/her baptism is not valid.
Such views are nonsense. In the first place, those who were baptized in the first century, before the completion of the canon of Scripture, did not possess a systematic and comprehensive theology of baptism. Such was certainly the case on the day of Pentecost, when over 3,000 people were baptized. The only knowledge they had concerning the purpose/design of baptism was what Peter spoke in his sermon on that day. [Acts 2:38-39] Nor was it the case of the Ethiopian court official [Acts 8:36-38], Paul the apostle [Acts 9:17-18; 22:12-16], Cornelius and his household [Acts 10:44-48], and the church in Ephesus [Acts 19:1-5].
We do not find anywhere in Scripture where it is commanded that, in order for baptism to be valid, it must have been administered by one holding some form of ecclesiastical authority. For example, when Philip baptized the Samaritan believers [Acts 8:13], and later, the Ethiopian court official [Acts 8:38], we do not have any record of him holding any recognition as either an apostle or an elder.
Yet another example of one administering baptism with no record of holding ecclesiastical authority is that of Ananias baptizing Paul [Acts 9:18]. To say that one must be baptized by one holding ecclesiastical authority before such a baptism can be recognized as valid is to impose a tradition of men over an area about which the Bible is silent. The silence of Scripture in this case speaks volumes since the instances of Philip and Ananias administering baptisms without any indication of holding any specific ecclesiastical office provides an approved precedent in Scripture that anyone who is in right relationship with God may administer baptism.
The next issue is that of when baptism is to take place. In the twenty-first century, we do not really follow the Scriptures when it comes to this. Man-made tradition has made a big production out of baptisms, where it must be scheduled weeks in advance so we can invite families in to view it. This is not the Scriptural pattern. The pattern in the Bible is that baptism is to occur as quickly as possible upon one making a confession of faith. It was that way on the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:41]. It was that way with the Samaritan believers [Acts 8:13]. It was that way with the Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:38]. It was that way for Paul [Acts 9:18]. It was that way for Cornelius and his household [Acts 10:44-48]. It was that way for the Philippian jailer and his household [Acts 16:33]. It was that way for the Ephesian believers [Acts 19:5]. Acts 2:41 indicates that those who responded to the gospel on the day of Pentecost were baptized that same day—not at some indefinite point in the future when things could be “arranged.” The same is indicated in Acts 16:33—the Philippian jailer and his household were baptized IMMEDIATELY, the Greek word so translated is παραχρήμα [pronounced – “par-akh-RAY-ma”] which means it was done at once—without delay—not something to be put off until a more convenient time. This raises the point—since baptism is commanded by Christ, and since the approved precedent in the Bible is that it is a command to be obeyed without delay, where do we in the twenty-first century think we have the authority or permission to do it differently for the sake of convenience?
Part of the problem with thinking that baptism is a command where obedience can be deferred indefinitely to a more convenient time and place is linked to the nonsensical and unbiblical idea that it must occur within a “church building.” Why do I consider it nonsensical? Because in the first century, there were no “church buildings” with baptistries. The closest parallel would have been the baths [called “mikhvahs”] available in the Temple and the synagogue for ritual cleansings. Those were available 24/7/365 for cleansings because the need for ritual cleansings under the law was constant, not occasional. One common objection to immersion as the only valid mode of baptism is the claim that there would not be sufficient water to immerse three thousand people as was done on the day of Pentecost. Those who raise the objection fail to account for the mikhvahs present in the Temple for just such a purpose and that the events recorded in Acts 2 took place on the Temple grounds.
Look at another example—the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. We do not know where his baptism took place. The text indicates that Philip met him on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. There is no indication of how long they spent together in conversation. All we do know is that there was apparently enough water to be immersed in and the Ethiopian eunuch desired to make his obedience to the gospel immediate. The exact location is not necessary for our knowledge because of our human proclivity to venerate locations and make them part of our man-made traditions—just as many Christians insist on delaying their baptism until they can make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be baptized in the Jordan River—as if the location makes the baptism more valid.
So we see that there is no requirement that the one administering baptism has to be one holding some form of ecclesiastical office. Nor is there any requirement that baptisms have to be limited to a church building or to a Sunday morning service.
Finally, we we need to examine the purposes/effects of baptism—because it is only when we truly understand those, that we can we appreciate its necessity in the life of the believer. And only then can we understand why the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is a cheap counterfeit confession of faith instituted by a non-immersionist false teacher named Charles Finney.
In the first place, only in baptism does the Bible say that we are united/joined with Christ. See Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:11-15—where Paul develops this teaching. When we go down into the waters of baptism, we incarnationally join in His death and burial. When we emerge from the waters we incarnationally are joined in His resurrection.
This is why modes such as sprinkling and pouring fail. There is nothing in the actions which can incarnationally represent death, burial, or resurrection. That is why many immersionists mock such counterfeits as “dry cleaning”–and deservedly so. Sprinkling and pouring are man-made counterfeits, not Scriptural obedience.
Another purpose/effect of baptism is found in Galatians 3:27. In baptism, we are clothed wαith Christ—that is to say that we clothed in His righteousness. We are no longer identified by the sinful nature, but are identified by His righteousness.
We also see the purpose/effect of baptism in 1 Peter 3:20—it is the “answer” [NKJV] to God for a clean conscience. The Greek word rendered as “answer” in the NKJV is επερωτημα [pronounced “ep-eh-ROW-tay-mah”]. The word is better translated as “appeal” in some translations. It is a legal term denoting one who stands before a court pleading for mercy.
Finally, we see the effect/purpose of baptism is that it is for the remission [removal] of sin. “But,” I hear some say, “are you not teaching baptismal regeneration?” No, I am not. Acts 2:38 states this is a purpose/effect of baptism. Some try to say the Greek grammar says we are baptized because our sins are remitted—but that is not merely sophistry—but reading into the text something that is not there–it is deliberately altering the grammar for the sake of one’s theology instead of conforming one’s theology to what the text actually says and means. The identical Greek construction appears in Matthew 26:28 where Christ said His blood is shed for the remission of sin. Our sins are removed by His blood that was shed on the cross, but we are not formally and publically identified as having our sins removed until we are united in His death, burial and resurrection through immersion.
So in answer to the question, can one be saved without being baptized, the answer is no. Those who usually ask the question are trying to justify their disobedience to the command of Christ to be baptized. To them I would ask the following: Can you show me anywhere in the New Testament where it is normative for one to identify as a follower of Christ without being immersed? They will usually throw up the example of the penitent thief on the cross—but that example fails for two reasons. First, the example of the thief on the cross precedes the command to be baptized since that command was given AFTER Christ’s resurrection. Secondly, that is not normative, but aberrational. Sound doctrine must be based on the plain teachings of Scripture and what it teaches as normative, not what is clearly presented as a one-time aberration prior to the resurrection and Pentecost.
The second question is this: can such people demonstrate from Scripture that it is normative to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ apart from baptism?
Thirdly, can anyone demonstrate from Scripture that it is normative to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ apart from baptism?
Finally, can anyone demonstrate from Scripture where it is normative for one to appeal to God for a clean conscience apart from baptism by immersion? Some will suggest the example of the penitent tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. As with the pentitent thief on the cross, this is pre-resurrection, pre-Pentecost, and represents an aberration, not a norm. The application itself is wrong because that it not the point of the parable. The point of the parable is that God honors humility over pride. Those who truly wish to come to God in humility and obedience have no reason not to be obedient to the command to be immersed.
The bottome line is this: Can such people demonstrate from the New Testament that one can appeal to God for a clean conscience, be united with Christ in His death burial, and resurrection, and be clothed in His righteousness without submitting to baptism? If so, where is your proof from the Bible?
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.