On Tuesday, May 13, 2008, I debated a Mr. Roger Perkins on "Is water baptism necessary for salvation?" Mr. Perkins is a oneness believer and an ex-pastor in the oneness movement. Mr. Perkins holds the position that water baptism is necessary for salvation. I deny that assertion and maintain that justification is by grace alone and through faith alone and in Christ alone.
Mr. Perkins opened with a 15-minute speech. I followed with the text below, which I read word for word--except in a few places where I ventured away from the text for a brief moment.
The topic tonight: "Is water baptism necessary for salvation?" Notice that when we say “necessary," we mean that there is no exception to the requirement, otherwise, the word, “necessary,” is inappropriate. So, if there is an exception, if someone can be saved without baptism, then water baptism is not necessary.
Has Mr. Perkins proved that water baptism is an absolute necessity? No. He can certainly cite examples of people being baptized after they believe, but citing examples does not prove that water baptism is necessary in order to be saved.
If we can find anyone who is saved without being baptized, then we have proved that baptism is not necessary for salvation. This is very easy to do because we find the Old Testament saints who died in the faith and the expectation of the Messiah who were not baptized in water, yet they were saved. Paul brings the Old Testament context into the new. In Romans 4:3, he says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Paul refers to Abraham to say that his faith was reckoned as righteousness. Since only the saved are righteous in God’s site, Abraham’s salvation (though ultimately future as it waited for the sacrifice of Christ) was received by faith--before any rituals were instituted, including the ritual of circumcision.
Two verses later in Romans 4:5, Paul speaks to us today by saying, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Notice that the same phrases used: Faith is reckoned as righteousness. Again in Rom. 5:1, he says "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
So, faith is reckoned as righteousness back in Abraham's time as well as ours today. Abraham was saved without a ritual, and so are we. This is why we are justified by faith. It is not faith in the ritual of water baptism that results in righteousness, nor is it faith and water baptism that brings us justification, otherwise, we are not justified by faith but by faith and water baptism--by faith and a ritual.
The ritual of circumcision is condemned by Paul in Galatians 5 as having no part of salvation. He condemns the Judaizers for their desire to participate in a ritual and add it to their faith in Christ.
A ritual is a ceremony that is done by one or more persons. Circumcision involves two parties: the one performing the action and the one receiving the action. Likewise, baptism involves two parties: the one performing the action and the one receiving the action. Both are rituals. Both are religious procedures. Both are religious ceremonies. My opponent is requiring a ritual, a ceremony in order to be saved.
I’ve proven that baptism is not necessary for salvation by citing Abraham. But Mr. Perkins might say that my approach is misguided and that the Old Testament saints were under a different "dispensation" or “requirement” than we are today and that we could not require that they be held to Christian baptism since Christian baptism had not yet been instituted. If that is so, then water baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is simple logic.
Nevertheless, for the sake of continuing our debate, let's limit our discussion to whether or not water baptism is necessary for us now. Do we need to be baptized in water in order to be justified by faith?
The answer is no because if it were necessary, then it would violate the Scriptures’ clear teaching that justification is by grace through faith. It is never said that we are justified by faith and something whether it be law, ceremony, or sincerity of heart.
Now, my opponent has turned to Scripture and quoted various verses about water baptism and said that the Scriptures teach it is necessary. But this has not been established. He has inferred that it is necessary by citing the pattern of baptism after belief. In fact, there is no Scripture that says “baptism is necessary for salvation." We see no verses that say we are condemned if we don't get baptized, but we do see Scripture that says that we are condemned if we don't believe. Mark 16:16 says, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” John 3:18 says, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already.” If baptism is necessary for salvation, then we should find verses that say “and he who is not baptized will be condemned.” But no such verse exists.
Now Paul preached the gospel, and he said in 1 Cor. 1:14-17, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 that no man should say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . . " If baptism is necessary for salvation, why is Paul saying that he came to preach the gospel and not to baptize? Why is Paul saying he's glad he did not baptize except a very few people? Paul is too smart to make the mistake of not baptizing people if people are erringly claiming to be baptized into his name. It would be like my saying, “I'm not going to preach salvation in Christ by faith because someone might say they received it in the name of Matt Slick." I am obligated to preach the gospel that saves regardless of whether or not someone mistakenly points to me or to God in the process. I’ll point to God. I’ll point to justification by faith alone in Christ alone . . . not to justification by faith and water baptism, not to justification by faith and circumcision, not to justification by faith and going to church, not to justification by faith and any other human ritual that would add to the finished work of Christ, and thereby insult the cross.
Again, Paul said that he came to preach the gospel not to baptize. In fact, Paul tells us that it is the gospel that saves, and baptism is excluded from what he says that the gospel is. He says in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel . . . by which also you are saved . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Baptism is not mentioned as part of that which saves us.
In Acts 16:27-34, when the jailer had been awakened by an earthquake and he saw that the prisoners under his charge did not escape, he asked Paul “what must I do to be saved?" The answer was simple, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” He was then immediately baptized. Notice that Paul did not say that you must believe the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized in order to be saved. He left baptism out. He said believe. If baptism is necessary for salvation, then why did Paul exclude it?
In Acts 10:44-47, it says, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles, and they were speaking in tongues. Tongues is a gift given to the members of the Christian Church--as 1 Cor. 14:1-5 shows us. Also, unbelievers don't praise God. They can't because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved. 1 Cor. 2:14 says that the unbeliever does not receive or understand spiritual things, and Rom. 3:10-12 says that the unbeliever does not seek for God and is a hater of God. Therefore, the ones in Acts 10:44-47 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved, and they are saved before they are baptized. This simply isn't an exception. It is a reality.
Another way of dealing with the baptism issue is with a brief discussion about someone on her deathbed in a hospital. And let me tell you, I have spoken with at least two hospital chaplains who told me that this happens.
Let’s say there is a person who is dying, and the Chaplain comes in and gives him the gospel. Then under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which is in accordance with John 16:8, the person believes that Jesus died for his sins, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. This person confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), prays to Christ (1 Cor. 1:2, John 14:14), and receives Christ (John 1:12) by faith but dies before water baptism is administered. Is that person saved or damned?
If water baptism is necessary, then that person is damned to Hell even though he trusted in Christ and even though he trusted in the sacrifice of Christ and even though he by faith received Christ. He would be damned to Hell because he did not participate in the human ritual. He would be damned to Hell because he would not be justified by faith but by faith and the ritual of water baptism.
If Mr. Perkins says that he does not know if the person goes to Heaven or Hell, then water baptism is not necessary because if it were, he would be in Hell.
Paul tells us in Romans 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness," and again in Romans 5:1, "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
We are justified by faith--not by faith and baptism and not by faith and a ritual. Christ’s work is sufficient in itself. It is complete and finished, and there is nothing we could add to it. This is why we receive our salvation by faith. This is why we are justified by faith. This is why baptism is not necessary for salvation because, otherwise, it is not justification by faith.