It is not terribly uncommon for members of the church of Christ to be accused of believing in "baptismal regeneration." Baptismal regeneration claims that baptism "is the channel of grace by which regeneration, in the sense of the impartation of new life, is alone received" (emphasis mine, LM). This is a false charge while we stand upon the Scriptures, which teach baptism is essential to receiving new life in Christ (John 3:3-5; Romans 6:3-4), faithful brethren have always firmly asserted that baptism alone will save no one. Sadly, however, there are some today who teach and live as though the false doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" as defined above is true.
Some would have you believe that one who does not understand what he is doing can be saved by baptism. By this teaching, denominational baptisms would be just as acceptable as Bible baptism (contrast with Ephesians 4:5). But hearing and understanding the Gospel is essential to salvation. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said when one fails to understand the word, the devil takes the word away from that person (Matthew 13:19). It was when the Romans "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" that they were "then made free from sin" (Romans 6:17-18, emphasis LM). The "heart" (Greek kardia) is the "center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition." So ones thinking, emotion, and will must be fully employed to obey the Gospel properly. This is part of the reason why infants are not suitable candidates for baptism. If one could be given new life by immersion in water without understanding what he was doing, then every person who had ever been swimming or otherwise under water would have been born again (contrast with Acts 19:1-5).
Others would have you believe that one who fails to repent can be saved by baptism. That is, one can remain in a sinful state (e.g., an unscriptural marriage) and yet begin to walk in newness of life. But Paul affirmed that central to the message he preached to the world was "that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20). Never, under any dispensation, has man been able to live pleasing to God while remaining in sin (Genesis 6:5-7; Isaiah 59:1-2; 1 John 3:9). Repentance is a prerequisite to Scriptural baptism (Acts 2:38).
There are some who live as though the baptism they received years ago gives them carte blanche to do as they please in the time following. As such, they effectively affirm that baptism alone saves. But Scriptural baptism is only the birth that begins a new life. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:5, "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death (through baptism, verses 3-4), we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (through faithful Christian living, verses 1-2, 11-16). Baptism is not merely a way for one to "get his ticket punched" to heavenit implies that the one submitting to it will live a new life for God.
Indeed, baptism is essential for receiving the new life that comes as we are saved from our sins (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16). But let us ensure that we do not add to nor take away from the word of God (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19). If we teach or live as though baptism alone gives new life without any required acts of obedience, we teach "practical baptismal regeneration." Rather, let us all "obey from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you."
1 J.H. Garrison, The Story of a Century (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1909), p. 196.
2 Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. Of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 508.
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