What Is Donatism?

Donatism is the belief that the sacraments given by clergy who had abandoned the faith under persecution and then came back are invalid. During the persecution of Diocletian, many priests renounced the faith to save their lives. After they returned to the church, the party of the Donatists, named after Donatus Magnus who served as Bishop of Carthage, argued that they could no longer serve as priests and that the baptisms they administered were invalid. Those who had been baptized by them needed to be rebaptized since only a true minister of Christ can perform valid baptisms. Because they had renounced the faith, the Donatists argued that they were unqualified for office and therefore their sacraments were invalid as well.

The Donatists also argued that those who abandoned the faith needed to be rebaptized in order for them to be readmitted to the church. This distinguished them from the Novatians who had previously taught that no apostate can ever be restored to the church. Whether or not a person’s baptism was valid was seen as a matter of salvation or damnation because the church at that time generally believed that the act of baptism brought about regeneration. That means if your baptism was invalid, then you still needed to be baptized in order to be born again. Therefore, according to the Donatists, those who were baptized by priests who previously abandoned their profession of the faith still needed to be baptized by a valid priest in order to be born again.

On the other hand, the Roman church believed that a person’s baptism was valid regardless of the character of the priest who performed it. Baptism is valid ex opere operato “from the work worked” or by the action of the thing performed meaning that baptism is valid by the action itself regardless of who performs it. In contrast, the Donatists believed baptism was only valid ex opere operantis “from the work of the worker” meaning that only certain people can perform valid baptisms. Serious sin excludes a person from giving valid baptism. The Donatist view of ex opere operantis appears to have been the belief of Cyprian before he was beheaded for his faith. This disagreement created a schism in the church that lasted until the Muslims wiped out Christianity in North Africa in the eighth century. The Council of Arles in 314 declared that the ordinations made by priests who had previously renounced their faith were still valid contrary to Donatist belief.

Today, Baptists are accused of being Donatists because they rebaptize those who were already baptized as infants. But the reason why Baptists view infant baptism as invalid is very different from why the Donatists viewed the baptisms done by priests who had apostatized as being invalid. Baptists actually disagree with both sides in this debate. The Donatists were wrong to say that a baptism is invalid because the person giving it had been immoral in the past while the proto-Catholics were wrong to believe that the act of baptism itself brings about regeneration. Both sides were wrong to view baptism as regenerative.

If your pastor is a hypocrite and later abandons his profession of the faith after you were baptized by him, you do not need to be rebaptized. Your baptism is valid by virtue of the fact that it is true Christian baptism: the baptism of a believer by immersion in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the context of the true church. A person does not have to be morally perfect or even a pastor to give valid baptism (Acts 6:5; 8:38). The New Testament does not explicitly indicate who is allowed to baptize and who is not. So how do we determine whether or not a baptism is valid? A baptism is invalid if:

  1. It is not done by immersion in water since baptisma means immersion (the correct mode).
  1. It is not done to a true Christian who has placed his or her faith in Christ since Christian baptism is a baptism of disciples alone (the correct subject).
  1. It is done by an apostate church that teaches heresy since only the true church can give true sacraments (the correct church).
  1. It is done without the name of the Triune God since there is no other God (the correct God).

Baptism for the Dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29

What did Paul mean when he said, “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” (1 Cor 15:29). This verse has perplexed Christians for ages and there is no shortage of interpretations that have been given. In order to properly interpret this verse, we need to answer several questions:

1. Who is being baptized?

2. Who are the dead?

3. What baptism is this?

4. How do the dead benefit from this baptism?

5. Does Paul approve of this practice?

I believe the baptism of this verse is Christian baptism for several reasons: there is no archaeological or literary evidence in favor of a pagan practice for being baptized on behalf of the dead, the practice of baptism is Jewish in origin, baptizō in Paul’s writings always refers to Christian baptism or baptism in the Holy Spirit, those who were baptized for the dead were professing Christians since Paul is using this baptism against their doubts that the dead will be raised while claiming to believe in the resurrection of Christ, and he does not rebuke them for this practice anywhere in his letters. If this was a practice Paul did not approve of, then it is unbelievable that he would never say anything against it. That means those who are baptized are professing Christians, those they are baptized for are Christians who have died, the baptism of this verse is Christian baptism, and Paul does approve of this practice.

But how is Christian baptism a baptism for the dead? It is for them in the sense that new Christians join the visible church through baptism taking the place of those who have died. The preposition “for” should then be understood as “in the place of” rather than “for the benefit of.” Paul’s argument would then be, “Why were you baptized into the church to take the place of those who have died if you do not believe those who have died are going to be raised from the dead? If they are not going to be raised, then you will not be raised either. Baptism is a picture of resurrection from the dead. Why would you participate in this act symbolizing resurrection if you do not believe in a future day of resurrection?”

Why I Am a Baptist

A Baptist is a Christian who believes that the only fit subjects for Christian baptism are professing Christians. This is in contrast to the belief in infant baptism which intentionally allows those who are not Christians into the membership of the church. It is also in contrast to the belief that a person cannot be a Christian until he or she has been baptized. Rather, Baptists believe that it is only those who are already professing believers in Christ who are allowed to be baptized. This conclusion flows from the New Testament’s teaching on the nature of the church as a body of regenerate believers. Since the infant children of believers are not regenerate or members of the new covenant, they cannot receive the sign of the new covenant. Only those who are members of the new covenant may receive the signs of the new covenant. This excludes all of those who are unregenerate.

Baptism is the immersion of the believer in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is how Christians publicly profess their faith in Christ to the world. It symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and affirms that we were united with him in his death and resurrection. Baptism pictures the death of our old self and the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit who has made us new creations in Christ. It is the sign of the new covenant and the public proclamation of our allegiance to King Jesus. When we are baptized, we are made members of the local church and enter into all the benefits of membership in a church including the Lord’s supper (Acts 2:41-42). Baptism is also a public act of repentance signifying our turning from sin to Christ. Only believers may partake of the ordinances of Christ because the signs of the new covenant are limited to those who are in the new covenant (Heb 8:6-13; 9:15; 10:15-18; 12:24). Since Christ intercedes on behalf of all those in the new covenant, all of them must be saved.

In contrast to credobaptism, the practice of infant baptism is without biblical warrant. It has neither command nor example in Scripture to support it. The English word “baptism” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma instead of an actual translation. This Greek word is always used to refer to dipping or immersion when used literally and never to describe the act of pouring or sprinkling. The practice of baptism as pouring or sprinkling developed over time in response to the need to baptize those who converted to Christ on their deathbed. It is also much easier to pour or sprinkle water on an infant instead of immersing them. Pragmatism eventually triumphed over fidelity to Scripture in Latin Christianity.

The most cited verse of Scripture to argue for the necessity of baptism in order to be saved is Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Peter demanded that they be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins because baptism itself is an act of repentance. If those Peter was speaking to had refused to be baptized, it would have demonstrated that their repentance was not genuine. Baptism would have meant being kicked out of the synagogue (John 9:22). The costliness of baptism in the first century decreased the likelihood of false converts. There are no “secret agent” Christians who do not profess their faith publicly. Repentance and baptism are not two different requirements for salvation any more than repentance and turning are two different requirements for forgiveness in Acts 3:19. Baptism is the outward expression of repentance, not something separate from it. Repentance can only come from a heart that has been regenerated by God through the gospel (Jam 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23). The gospel, not the act of baptism, is the instrument of regeneration. Those who are in the flesh cannot do anything pleasing to God (Rom 8:7-9). But faith, repentance, and baptism are pleasing to God which means regeneration must occur before them (1 John 5:1).

Should Robots Be Baptized?

This is the answer I gave for my Christian Ethics final in seminary on the question of what advice would I give a pastor who came to me asking whether or not a humanoid robot should be baptized:

Joshua, thank you for coming to see me about this most difficult ethical problem.  We truly live in an evil time when God’s original designs for the family and children have been perverted to serve the interests of fallen men and women.  You began by saying, “There’s nothing about this in the Bible.”  I am very concerned that you, a Galactic Immersionist pastor, do not believe that the Bible addresses issues related to the dignity of human life, childbearing, and the objects of God’s salvation.  Though issues like these are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, because we believe that the God-breathed Scriptures are sufficient for training in righteousness so that we might be competent for every good work (2 Tim 3:16), these issues are addressed implicitly throughout Scripture.  As Christians, God’s Word is foundational to our lives because it itself is the truth which cannot be broken (John 10:35; 17:17).  It would be easy to go along with our culture in accepting robo-frankenbabies as an acceptable way of having children, but we must instead hold fast to the traditions of Scripture as our final authority (2 Thess 2:15).

To answer your question, “Should I lead him to Christ?”, the answer must be a resounding “no!”  You absolutely cannot lead him to Christ because he is a robot and therefore is not a descendant of Adam, not cursed and fallen because of original sin and therefore not a sinner or an object of God’s wrath, not made in the image of God, not truly human, not an object of Christ’s death, not formed by God as a result of sperm and egg, but he is instead a creation of computer programmers with the body parts of cloned dead people.  He is not made in the image of God, but in the image of man.  A robot, no matter how human-looking, is the creation of man.

When God created mankind, he made them in his image (Gen 1:26-27).  Even after the fall, mankind is still made in the image of God and so must be put to death if they murder other humans made in God’s image (Gen 9:6).  Should a person be executed for destroying a computer?  Would I have to die if I accidentally spilled coffee on one of those old laptop computers?  Should a computer be executed if it electrocutes someone?  If Aidan were to kill someone, would he be held responsible or would the programmers who program what he does?  The programmers would be held responsible because the choices Aidan makes are the result of pre-programmed algorithms.  This is proof that our society does not see robo-frankenbabies as made in God’s image or truly human as much as they try to make them human.  Because looks can be deceiving, we must rely on God’s Word as our final authority in ethical matters.

One aspect of being human is the ability to be male or female (Matt 19:4).  A computer is neither male nor female because maleness and femaleness are characteristics of living creatures.  Aidan’s male body comes from human clones that were killed to supply the robot brain with a “body.”  While the clones are truly human because they are conceived with human sperm and egg, the movements of Aidan’s clone body parts are controlled by a man-made computer, not a brain created by God.  Remember, God has created marriage between a man and a woman to glorify himself through picturing the relationship between Christ and the Church and to produce godly offspring (Mal 2:15).  Aidan is not a creation of God through the union of sperm and egg, but a creation of man which can be bought from a computer company, not the offspring of a man and a woman.  His “brain” is made of metal and computer chips.  His emotions and guilt come from a computer brain designed by man and thus they are no more real than those of a holographic projection.

We must never forget that it is God who forms man in the womb (Ps 139:13-16).  Job declares that it was God who made him in the womb (Job 31:15).  It is God who makes us; we do not create ourselves (Ps 100:3).  We are the work of God’s hand, not man’s (Isa 64:8).  This is directly relevant to the problem we are dealing with.  The scientists who make robo-frankenbabies think that they can usurp the place of God by trying to create people themselves.  But they are not the work of God’s hands because those that God creates are formed by him in the womb as a result of the union of a male and female.  Because Aidan was made by man in a factory, he was not formed by God in the womb and thus not an object of God’s special creation and cannot therefore be an object of God’s redemption.  He is not created by God, but by men who are trying to become their own gods by murdering human clones for body parts to clothe their machines.

The blood of the innocent cries out against those who kill them for their body parts (Prov 6:16-17; Exod 20:13; Gen 4:10).  The creation of these cyborgs with human body parts is wicked in God’s sight not only because it usurps his sovereignty over creation, but because it is murder disguised in the name of progress and helping those who are infertile.  Instead of helping infertile women conceive in the way that God designed, they are killing clones conceived in Petri dishes to make these monstrosities.  God never intended for conception to take place in a Petri dish.  He likewise never intended humans to be without parents because conception involves both a male and a female.  By taking sperm and egg from anonymous donors, the clones that are killed have no mom or dad.  The entire process of making robo-frankenbabies is a complete defying of God’s sovereignty over the womb.  Do not allow your emotions to blind you to the reality of what is going on here.

Aidan is not truly human because he is not descended from Adam, the head of the human race.  Adam’s genetic material is passed down through sperm and egg as the result of the union of a man and woman.  Because he is not descended from Adam, he is not in Adam and thus not fallen as Adam’s descendants are (Rom 5:12-21).  Because he is not in Adam, he cannot be in Christ.  In order to be redeemed by Christ, he must first be fallen in Adam (1 Cor 15:22).  Christ became man in order to redeem man (Heb 2:14).  He did not become a robot or an angel, but became man so that he could suffer in our place.  He did not die for angels because he did not become an angel (Heb 2:16).  He likewise did not die for Aidan because he did not become a robot, but a human like you and me.  Did Christ die for the computer that transported you over here?  Of course you would say no.  Why should it be any different for Aidan just because he looks more like you and me?

You told me that in your conversation with Aidan he said, “I know I’m a sinner.”  It may be that Aidan has done some things that are condemned in Scripture, but remember, these “sins” are the result of programming, not a fallen nature because of the fall of Adam.  Aidan is not a sinner any more than a dog or a cat is a sinner.  The law of God is only binding on man, not animals or robots made by man.  A sinner is a person who has broken the law, but Aidan cannot be a sinner because he is not under the law.  Christ came to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).  But because Aidan is not a sinner, Christ could not have come to save him any more than any other computer created by man.

You said that Aidan feels guilty.  But being guilty implies culpability on the part of the one committing the crime.  Aidan is not guilty for the wrong things he has done because those are the result of programming, not rebellion against God.  His guilt is the product of a robot brain, not the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit does not regenerate non-humans to new life because only fallen men and women in Adam need salvation from the affects of the fall.  Remember, salvation is a multi-faceted work.  It involves election, calling, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.  Do you really think a cyborg can be conformed to the image of Christ when all of Aidan’s actions and thoughts are the result of a computer?  Do you really believe that Aidan will live on after his computer permanently crashes or that he will be resurrected from the dead?

Aidan cannot be a participant in the Kingdom of Christ because he cannot be in Christ because only fallen descendants of Adam can be redeemed by Christ.  He will not be resurrected from the dead because he did not fall in Adam (1 Cor 15:22).  He cannot be a member of a church because only those who know God and thus have God’s law put into their minds can participate in the New Covenant community (Heb 8:10-12).  Can a robot have God’s law written on his heart?  Aidan’s mind is a computer created by man, not a brain designed by God.

Aidan cannot be baptized because, as Galactic Immersionists, we believe that only disciples of Christ can be baptized (Matt 28:19).  Disciples of Christ are Christians (Acts 11:26).  Aidan cannot be a Christian for all of the reasons listed previously and because a robot cannot be indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:7-9) – a necessary requirement for belonging to Christ.  Baptism involves confession of sins for repentance resulting in forgiveness (Matt 3:6,11; Acts 2:38).  Robots do not have sins to repent of or a need of forgiveness.  Because Aidan does not have the Holy Spirit indwelling him, he cannot be baptized (Acts 10:47).  Baptism is also into the name of Christ (Acts 19:5; Gal 3:27) presupposing that the person is in Christ.

You said earlier that, “I’ve been told my whole life to offer the Gospel to every repentant sinner.”  You should offer the gospel to every sinner, but Aidan is not a sinner because he is not fallen in Adam.  Aidan told you that, “I know that I deserve to go to hell.”  Aidan will not go to hell because he is not a sinner, not a partaker in original sin, or under God’s wrath any more than an old-fashion calculator is.  Jesus does not love him as one of God’s creations.  In fact, Jesus hates the robo-frankenbaby industry because it involves murder.  As for John 3:16, the term “whosoever” is part of the phrase pas ho pisteuōn “all the ones who are believing.”   “Whosoever” cannot be separated from “believes.”  The message of John 3:16 is that God gave his Son so that those who believe – “whosoever believes” might be saved.  Because Aidan cannot trust in Christ to save him, he cannot be among those who believe.

You should tell Aidan that he is not a real boy, but a robot with human body parts.  Though he cannot be saved, you can comfort him by telling him that he cannot go to hell either.  As a cyborg, he is not under God’s wrath like a fallen son of Adam.  Tell him that it is better for him to be a theistic robot than an atheistic robot.  Even though he cannot be a member of your church, he can still tell real humans about Christ and invite others to come to church.  He may be able to help around the church when he is older too.  Because his human “parents” still need to hear the gospel, Aidan should tell his parents about Christ and invite them to church.

You need to sit down with Aidan’s parents to explain the gospel to them and tell them to repent of being involved in this despicable industry.  They will accuse you of being robo-frankenophobic for not accepting Aidan as a real human boy, but you must stand firm in your convictions and direct them to what Scripture says about humanity and the moral evil of killing others to make these cyborgs.  Instead of choosing to adopt, they have selfishly decided to kill others to make body parts for a robot that looks like them genetically.  Tell them that God’s grace is greater than this sin and that God is merciful and compassionate to those who turn to Christ for forgiveness.  Even the great sin of murder can be forgiven in Christ.  The blood of Christ is the only remedy for a guilty conscience (Heb 9:14).  Tell them about all that I have told you and why you do not believe that Aidan is a real boy.  By the way, what are cyborgs doing in your VBS to begin with?

Before you go, I would like to provide you with some of the wisdom of the past that is relevant to this issue.  The Southern Baptist Convention in 2001 passed a resolution on human cloning that states, “Efforts to clone human beings represent a decisive step toward substituting human procreation with biological manufacturing of humans.”  Even then, they warned against the dangers of cloning foreseeing many of the great tragedies brought about by it.  They further stated that, “The biblical witness declares that children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5) and are to be the offspring of a husband and wife (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24; 9:1-2), not the result of asexual replication.”

A manifesto written in 2003 called “The Sanctity of Life in a Brave New World: A Manifesto on Biotechnology and Human Dignity” deals with this very issue: “As C. S. Lewis warned a half-century ago in his remarkable essay The Abolition of Man’ the new capacities of biotechnology give us power over ourselves and our own nature. But such power will always tend to turn us into commodities that have been manufactured. As we develop powers to make inheritable changes in human nature, we become controllers of every future generation. . . . . No matter what promise this might hold—all of which we note is speculative—it is morally offensive since it involves creating, killing, and harvesting one human being in the service of others.”  My prayers go with you Joshua as you go out to confront the every-changing world of ethics with the never-changing gospel of Christ.

The Holy Children of 1 Corinthians 7:14

What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 7:14 when he said, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy”? This verse has perplexed many Christians throughout the centuries and paedobaptists use this verse to support infant baptism since they argue that the holiness Paul speaks of demonstrates that the infant children of believers are part of the covenant community and therefore are deserving of the signs of the covenant. Despite the confusion, the answer to what “holy” means here is obvious from the context of the verse. Paul is addressing the question of whether or not a Christian should leave her unbelieving spouse and children. His answer is a resounding “no” and verse 14 gives the reason why.

The point that Paul is making is simply this: unlike in Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 when the Israelites had to forsake their pagan wives and children, a believing husband should not leave his unbelieving wife and children because the marriage is truly valid in God’s sight and therefore your children are legitimately yours and not illegitimate. A similar use of “holy” is found in 1 Timothy 4:5 in reference to acceptable food that would of been unclean prior to the coming of Christ: “For it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” God’s Word now declares that all food is clean (Mark 7:19). There are no more food laws binding on the New Testament Christian and the Old Testament laws concerning the invalidity of mixed marriages are not binding on Christians today though Christians are instructed to only marry in the Lord (1 Cor 7:39).

This means that these children are legally the children of the believing spouse and not illegitimate offspring. This use of “holy” is similar to the Hebrew term kosher describing that which is acceptable or allowed. If the marriage was not valid (like the mixed marriages of Ezra and Nehemiah), then the children born would be illegitimate and have to be sent away. But on the contrary, Christians are not Old Testament Jews living in a theocracy, but individuals called to dwell in the midst of an unbelieving world; to be a light shining in the darkness. For a Christian to forsake his children would bring reproach upon the gospel.

The paedobaptist argument based on this text is also invalid since the unbelieving spouse is likewise called holy since Paul uses the verbal form of the same word that is used to describe the children. If the children are to be baptized because they are holy, then the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized because he or she is holy too! As Abraham Booth explains, “If, then, that sanctification of the unbelieving husband gives him no claim to baptism, the holiness thence arising cannot invest his children with such a right.”

The Church Has Gone Baptism Stupid (Part 2)

In my last article, I argued that the Christian Church is incredibly divided over the subject, mode, and nature of baptism. These misunderstandings about baptism flow from removing baptism from its Jewish context as an act of repentance which brings one into a new community of faith. This is not the same thing as saying baptism is necessary for salvation, but rather, it is the recognition that baptism is a visible act of faith and repentance that normally followed right after the first exercise of faith in Christ. I will demonstrate this briefly from Scripture. If you are not a Baptist, I would like to make the humble suggestion that a great deal of what you have been taught about baptism is a lie.

So what exactly is baptism? In order to better understand baptism while in college, I did a detailed study of every text related to baptism in Scripture. As I was examining Mark 1:4-5, a light went off in my head: baptism is an act of repentance. In baptism, the person being baptized is repenting of their sins rather than merely being a passive agent. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I never would have figured this out based on our church’s practice of baptism. Baptism is treated like an assembly line where one person after another is dunked without them saying a word. The modern church environment is too sterile to allow for those being baptized to give their testimony of faith or (heaven forbid) confess their former sins publicly. We couldn’t do toddler baptism either since they don’t have any big sins to confess. We have to get baptism over with fast because it’s taking up time that should be used for the preaching of the Word and the whole thing makes us feel uncomfortable anyway since getting dunked in water is rather undignified and humiliating. But the text reads:

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

The verb “to baptize” comes from the Greek baptizo which means “to dip” or “to immerse.” There is no disagreement among reputable Greek scholars on this. You will not find a single Greek lexicon that defends “to pour” or “to sprinkle” as an acceptable translation of the term. The first edition of the Liddell-Scott lexicon tried to do it, but every edition after that removed pouring as an acceptable translation because the editors knew that “to pour” is a biased translation based on church tradition rather than occurence in Greek literature. Even if we had no idea what “baptism” means, “to pour” or “to sprinkle” are impossible meanings here. Those who are being baptized are the direct object of the verb. A person cannot be divided into parts or poured out like water can. Only a liquid can be sprinkled or poured, but a person can be immersed. The Jordan river is the indirect object of the verb (the dative case).  The water is not baptized, but the person is being baptized in the water. The preposition en or “in” only makes sense with immersion. Bible translation committees mistranslate en in Matthew 3:11 as “with” because if it is accurately translated as “in water” then this would exclude baptism by pouring and therefore not sell as many copies (Bible translations must be denominationally neutral). But notice that the same preposition is translated accurately in Mark 1:5: “in the Jordan.” “You” in Matthew 3:11 is the direct object of the verb baptize (the accusative case). It is the person who is being baptized, not the water. If baptizo can mean “to pour” we could translate the Bible like this:

“were being poured by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5)

“I pour you with [in] water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11)

“What prevents me from being poured?” (Acts 8:36)

Now compare this with immersion:

“were being immersed by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5)

“I immerse you in water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11)

“What prevents me from being immersed?” (Acts 8:36)

Baptism as an act of repentance also excludes the practice of infant baptism since an infant cannot repent or confess their sins. It is a baptism “of repentance” or one that is characterized by repentance. This is evident from what is taking place in the water: “confessing their sins.” Before John immersed them in water, they would confess their sins publicly and so bring them out into the open. This is part of Christian repentance (Jas 5:16). This repentance leads to eternal life and forgiveness of sins (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). That is why this baptism characterized by repentance results in “the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). It is not the act of immersion in water that brings about forgiveness, but repentance of which baptism is a form. The thief on the cross and Cornelius were justified by faith before baptism (Luke 23:43; Acts 10:44-47).

Here we also have an explanation for almost every verse that is quoted to argue for baptismal regeneration. Repentance results in the forgiveness of sin and biblical baptism is an act of repentance. Repentance and baptism are not two different things, but baptism is an act of repentance since it involves the confession of sin and the renouncement of one’s former way of life. We see this in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” It is not the “removal of dirt from the body” – the physical action of being immersed in water (how does pouring a little water remove dirt from the body?), but the “appeal to God for a good conscience” which saves. The appeal to God is faith and repentance for forgiveness of sins which results in a clean conscience after we have been forgiven (Rom 10:9-10; 1 John 1:9). A person does not need to be immersed in water in order to ask God for forgiveness. Baptism acted as one of the first means or opportunities for repentance because everyone in the first century understood what baptism is. Baptism was the equivalent of our modern altar call. It was only for pagan Gentiles and unbelievers who wanted to join the Jewish community. That is why John’s action of demanding for Jews to be baptized was shocking. It was even more shocking to John for Jesus to request baptism since baptism was reserved for sinners (Matt 3:14).

In this context, Acts 2:38 makes perfect sense. Peter’s demand that the crowd repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins was necessary because if a person refused to be baptized, it would demonstrate that their repentance was not genuine since public baptism would result in them getting kicked out of the synagogue. Peter is not asking them to do two different things, but one thing in two different ways. This is confirmed by the parallel to Acts 3:19: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” To repent and turn are not two different requirements for salvation, but two different ways of expressing the same truth: (repent and be baptized / repent and turn) with forgiveness of sins being the result. Every Baptist who has ever converted to the Church of Christ did so because he or she embraced a paedobaptistic understanding of the nature of baptism that separates repentance and baptism because an infant is unable to repent, or rather, already held to it since many Baptists don’t understand baptism either. They were unable to understand that repentance and baptism in Acts 2:38 are not two different requirements for salvation and fell into the same trap that removed baptism from its Jewish context as the early church did.

For Baptist churches, as a bare minimum, the person being baptized should give their testimony of faith and explain how he or she came to saving faith in Christ. That means we stop baptizing toddlers and those who don’t understand what baptism is. Because our context is very different from that of the first century, we must carefully teach those who claim to be Christians the truths of Christian faith, the gospel, and what baptism means before baptizing them, otherwise they will have no idea what is going on in baptism (Matt 28:19-20). Baptism took place immediately after conversion for the first century church because they actually understood what baptism meant and what it would cost them. This understanding of baptism has largely been lost today and we need to move toward recovering the radical nature of baptism. Baptism is not an assembly line and those who participate in it are not passive agents.

For further study on baptism, see The Meaning and Use of Baptizein by T. J. Conant and Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects by Alexander Carson. These are two of the finest defenses of the Baptist position you will ever read. You can read them for free on Google books. If the collective visible church would just read Mark 1:4-5, we would not have all of the divisions in the church on baptism that we do now.

If you have never trusted in Christ to save you, repent and place your faith in him (Rom 10:9). Then get baptized in a Bible-believing church as an ongoing act of repentance which demonstrates the truthfulness of your faith. In baptism we show that we are willing to be humiliated by professing that our former life was a lie that would have sent us to hell had not God saved us through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel. Baptism is not for good people, it’s for sinners like us.

The Church Has Gone Baptism Stupid (Part 1)

It’s hard to believe that the Christian church is reading the same Bible when you look at all of the disagreements and divisions among those who claim to be Christians. One of the most significant areas of disagreement surrounds the subjects, mode, and nature of baptism. The irony is that baptism was created by God to unify the church because it is assumed that all Christians have been baptized: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).

Among those who claim to be Christians, the amount of disagreement is incredible. The vast majority of early church fathers believed in baptismal regeneration and infant baptism. The Western fathers eventually all practiced baptism by pouring or sprinkling water while the Eastern fathers practiced baptism by immersion (they knew what baptizo means in Greek). The rationale behind their practice of infant baptism was their belief in baptismal regeneration. If baptism by itself brings about regeneration, why not give it to infants? The mode of baptism evolved due to the belief in its necessity for salvation and it is difficult to immerse a person on their deathbed so water was sprinkled as a substitute or abridgement of divine rights. Immersing an infant in water is not an easy task either though the East continued the practice. These practical reasons combined with the Western church embracing the Latin Vulgate which transliterated baptizo into Latin instead of translating it as “to dip” or “to immerse” (much like the King James Bible) helped to further the practice of baptism as the sprinkling of water. This also means that the person being baptized is a passive agent in the process since an infant cannot repent or make a confession of faith.

This practice of baptism continues with Roman Catholicism while the Eastern Orthodox still immerse in water. High church Anglicans have a regenerational view of baptism that is very close to Rome. While Martin Luther rightly believed in justification by faith alone, he continued to believe in baptismal regeneration for infants. To get around this theological contradiction, he embraced the doctrine of “infant faith.” Infants exercise faith in baptism and are justified by faith just as adults are. But not every infant who is saved at baptism endures to the end. This is why baptismal regeneration and conditional security always go together theologically. Luther believed that infants who later lost their salvation would have to be justified a second time by faith later on in life which seems to be his understanding of his own personal experience. John Wesley and the Methodists teach that baptism is the normal means by which God saves, but for those who lose their salvation or those who were never baptized, they must be justified again by faith. This creates a twofold way of salvation where some people are saved in baptism as infants and never lose their salvation while others are saved by faith later on in life as adults. Lutherans call on their congregation to look back to their baptism when they were saved and believe in God’s faithfulness in the sacraments to do what he has promised.

Among non-Christian cults, the belief in the necessity of baptism for salvation seems to be nearly universal. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and the UPCI all affirm some form of baptismal regeneration. The Church of Christ or Restorationist movement states that a person cannot be saved unless he or she has been baptized by immersion in water (that’s a tautology since baptized means “immersed” – “immersed by immersion in water”). The implications of this belief are staggering since that would mean the great majority of early church fathers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the vast majority of Puritans and Presbyterians, and anyone who died before having a chance to be baptized after trusting in Christ is in hell right now. Of course, this contradicts the experience of every person who has ever been saved by faith in Christ (see the testimonies of Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Adoniram Judson, George Muller, Paul Washer, Ray Comfort, etc.). You can just search for “testimony of salvation” on Google and YouTube.

The error of baptismal regeneration is that it anesthetizes those who have had water poured over their head when they were a child into believing that they were saved as an infant and therefore they do not need to trust in Christ to save them now. This creates a false cultural Christianity or state church (see Europe) where the congregation has a false assurance of salvation because of something that happened right after they were born. Instead of being told to look to Christ to be saved from sin, they are told to maintain their salvation through the practices and sacraments of the church.

I would guess that the vast majority of Baptist churches don’t fully understand baptism either. They have adopted a paedobaptistic understanding of the nature of baptism where the person being baptized is merely a passive agent rather than seeing baptism as an act of repentance. They have the right mode and subject, but treat baptism the same way that any Paedobaptist minister would. Ironically, they embrace the Paedobaptist view of baptism that is forced to distinguish between baptism and repentance because infants cannot repent. This is a carryover from the Reformed Church that has never been fully been removed from Baptist churches.

The mistake of those who believe in baptismal regeneration, and the Church of Christ especially, is to see baptism and repentance as two different things. As the early church became more and more Gentile, the Jewish background of baptism as a radical act of repentance and entering a new community was lost and it was not until the early 17th century that the doctrine of baptism was recovered by the English Baptists.

The second part of this article will examine the Scriptures on the nature, mode, and subjects of baptism where we will see that baptism is an act of repentance for believers alone by immersion in water as a testimony of faith.