Baptismal Regeneration Refuted
By Mark W. Swarbrick. This is a Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration, which is the teaching that one must be baptized to be saved. Most Christian churches consider this a false doctrine. Many churches and some cults which teach this doctrine also combine it with other false “works” teachings which add other conditions to salvation, such as membership in a particular church, having a particular formula of words spoken at baptism, being baptized in their water only, or reaching sinless perfection.
The denominations which teach this false doctrine are: Church of Christ, Apostolic Assemblies of Christ, Apostolic Assembly of Faith in Jesus Christ, Apostolic World Christian Fellowship, Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ, Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Churches of Jesus Christ International, Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals, International Apostolic Fellowship, Jesus Name Apostolic Church of Ecuador, Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Spirit of Jesus Church, Pentecostal Church of God, United Pentecostal Church in India, United Pentecostal Church International.
Salvation is by Grace Apart from Works
Holy Scripture is very clear on this matter. One is saved by grace through repentance and faith in Christ, period. There are no good works, religious works, or works of the law that we can perform to save ourselves. Our Salvation was won by Christ’s shed blood on the cross. When we put our faith in Christ we are saved at that moment. After that, there are many things we should do that will help us in our relationship with Christ. We should read our Bibles, pray, go to church, and baptism is the first step of obedience we take as Christians. But we don’t do those things to be saved. We do them because we are saved.
Jesus made numerous statements that assure of us of our salvation through faith alone. The Bible clearly states that our salvation is not by works:
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).
“whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But if baptismal regeneration is true, then Jesus and the Bible are mistaken, because a man will go to Hell, even if he believes in Jesus because he did not get baptized. If being saved depends upon us being baptized then it is we who are saving ourselves by works, and salvation is not by grace.
In the first century there were some legalists who taught that salvation came by our own religious efforts. They insisted that Christians must also be circumcised to be saved. Some of the Galatians were being deceived by that false teaching. These people were called Judaizers. Their false teaching was very similar to people today who say you have to be baptized to be saved.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote about this sort of legalism:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?] Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-5)
So I ask baptismal regeneration people: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by the works of baptism or by believing what you heard?
People Saved Without Baptism
Many people have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, even baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues before they were ever baptized. Those in the book of Acts, at Cornelius’ house, received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues before being baptized, Can you see that this proves that salvation is by grace and not by works? Here is the account:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:44-47)
Thief on the Cross
Consider also the thief on the cross. Jesus said he would be with him that day in paradise? You must first accept Christ before you are baptized. That is why we don’t baptize infants. The man clearly had not been a believer for he had been living an evil life which he himself acknowledged was deserving of a torturous death. It was not until he met Christ on the cross that he became a believer. So he had not been baptized, and even if he had, it wouldn’t count because he wasn’t yet a believer. So he was clearly not properly baptized. Yet Jesus said he was going to heaven. How can this be so, if the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is true? Here is the account:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
What do the legalists say about this? They say, “That was before Jesus died on the cross so it doesn’t count.” That is nothing but a word salad with no biblical basis. Where in the Bible does it say that baptism was not required before Jesus’ death but was required after? It doesn’t. They made this up out of whole cloth. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached…” (Luke 16:16). Repeatedly in the gospels we hear Jesus saying that “the kingdom of God has come.” People were being saved by repentance and faith in Jesus before His death the same as they were after. If it were not so, why then would Jesus say so many things to indicate that people are saved before they receive baptism? Why would Jesus mislead people? He would not and he did not.
Remember Zacchaeus, who was also saved before he was baptized:
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…” (Luke 19:8-9)
So we have examples of several people in the New Testament who were clearly saved before they got baptized – Cornelius’ entire household, the thief on the cross, and Zacchaeus. This by itself totally demolishes the false teaching of baptismal regeneration.
Misinterpretation of Scripture
Baptismal regenerationists have come to their misunderstanding because they ignore a basic rule of hermeneutics: Never base a doctrine upon one scripture only. Consider what all of Scripture says on the matter. They have based their error upon the misinterpretation of one or two passages of scripture, while being blind to all other passages on the subject. Here is one passage they misinterpret:
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)
Legalists point to this verse and say, “See! You must be baptized for the remission of your sins!” Like the Galatians, they are so bewitched by the false teaching that they ignore all the other scriptures that say we are saved by faith alone. And they fail to realize that the word “for” can also mean “because of.” For example, suppose I were to say, “You need to take Tylenol for your headache.” Does that mean that you have to take Tylenol so that you can receive a headache? No, of course not. It means this: “You need to take Tylenol BECAUSE OF your headache.”
So what Peter is saying is this: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ BECAUSE OF the remission of sins.” This understanding harmonizes with all the rest of Scripture which says that we are saved the moment we believe. We get baptized, not to get saved, but because we are saved.
Here is another way of looking at that passage of scripture. Consider what Romans 10:9-10 says:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
You will notice there is no mention of baptism in this passage. Now, one method of leading people to Christ is to lead them in a prayer wherein they confess their repentance and call upon Jesus as Lord. This is why many churches have altar calls – to give an opportunity for this and to bring a person to the a point of decision.
Peter was using baptism to bring people to an immediate tangible point of decision, just the same as is done with an altar call. When a pastor gives an altar call he may say, “If you want to accept Jesus as Lord, come forward for prayer.” Do you have to go forward for prayer to be saved? No. You can turn your life over to Christ right where you sit. But it is advantageous to go forward. Someone will pray with you. You get the opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord. It solidifies the entire experience.
When Peter preached his sermon on the day of Pentecost he called upon them to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” He did that so that they would immediately have an opportunity to talk with the person baptizing them and give them an opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord and solidify their repentance and faith by action. Peter was using baptism to accomplish what we do at an altar call – to give the people a tangible way for them to show their decision for Christ. Apparently the weather was moderate and there was water readily available to baptize the people immediately. Perhaps there were people who heard Peter’s sermon who chose to accept Christ right then, but for one reason or another could not get baptized until the next day. Nevertheless, if their decision was sincere, they went home saved.
The point is, it is not baptism, or going forward at an altar call, that saves a person. It is the decision to repent and follow Christ that saves. Baptism is a very important first step. A Christian should get baptized as soon as possible after accepting Christ. It is an act of obedience that strengthens a believer. And if anyone does not want to be baptized, they are walking in disobedience to Christ. And while it is very significant, it is not the thing that actually saves you.
Baptism is something you do because you are already saved, not something you do to get saved. This is the perspective given throughout the New Testament. In the case of the Philippian jailer we find that he asks: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” If baptismal regeneration were true we would expect the apostles to say he must be baptized to be saved. But no, instead we read, “And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”(Acts 16:30-31). No mention of baptism in answer to his question on how to be saved. The jailer was baptized later that evening because he was already saved.
Another single passage the legalists use is Mark 16:16. They quote part of it, which says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” and they stop in mid-sentence. The entire sentence is: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). That statement makes it clear that belief is what saves and unbelief is what condemns. What it does not say is, “He who is is not baptized is condemned,” though the legalists try hard to twist it into saying that. Trying to force this to say baptism saves, makes about as much sense as saying that all women cannot be saved, simply because it says “He who believes” instead of “He or She.”
Consider, for example, this statement: “Whoever believes and lives in Kansas will be saved, but those that do not believe are condemned.” That is certainly true. All believers in Kansas are saved. Of course, all believers everywhere are saved and the passage did not say they were not. But it did say that unbelievers are condemned. It is the same with Mark 16:16.
So why did the passage even mention baptism then? Perhaps to show that baptism is an important step of obedience after getting saved. But there may be another reason. It is doubtful that Mark 16:9-20 was originally written by Mark. There are serious textual problems with that passage. Evidence suggests these verses were likely added later by a scribe. All modern versions either exclude these verses, or they footnote them with this note: “The earliest best manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.” Thus, it is best not to base a key doctrine on anything from Mark 16:9-20, such as snake handling or baptismal regeneration.
Your Salvation is at Stake
Paul warned that if people trusted in their own works (such as circumcision or baptism) that Jesus could not save them. They must trust in Christ alone to save them, not in their own works. Hear the Apostle Paul:
“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:2-4)
Paul was speaking to Christians who had been deceived into thinking that they needed to save themselves by being circumcised. Paul makes it clear that adding any conditions to salvation – whether it be circumcision, baptism, church membership, keeping the law, or what-have-you – nullifies Christ’s sacrifice for a person. One must trust totally and completely in Christ’s shed blood.
Another problem with baptismal regeneration is that it is nearly always accompanied by other false teachings that detract from the Gospel of Salvation by grace. Most sects that teach this false doctrine also claim that you have to go to their church to be saved, or you must have a preacher who says you are baptized in the name of Jesus, rather than in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or you have to reach sinless perfection, which is another false idea.
Whenever a false gospel of works is taught there is a deemphasis upon Jesus. The focus is on the individual and what they did and on the greatness of the church that teaches salvation by works. It is often taught that they alone are the one true church and all others are apostate. It becomes all about them instead of about Jesus. Their discussions center on how they are right, all other churches are wrong, and how to convince others of that. It quickly devolves into cultism. But the real Gospel focuses on Jesus and what he did for us:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
Baptismal regeneration is such an abominable doctrine. It is another gospel, a gospel of works, not grace. Paul teaches that those who follow this false teaching are severed from Christ and fallen from grace. If you have been deceived into thinking your salvation is based upon anything you have done, repent of that immediately and put your faith completely in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.