Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation Discussion

There is a long comment thread going on in the Sola Scriptura...does it lead to truth, posting. It focuses around this response that I gave to Adam regarding is Baptism necessary for salvation.

I am moving the conversation to this post.


Belteshazzar Mouse said...

This is my more detailed response on the question of the thief on the cross and baptism from a Catholic perspective.

Yes, the thief on the cross did go to heaven, as Jesus promised, and yes, he did receive baptism while on the cross. [...The]" love of God and perfect contrition can secure the remission of sins ; and also that Our Lord promises salvation to those who lay down their life for His sake or for His teaching." (Baltimore Catechism - don't go to this for everything, I just love the way it phrases this). This is not a baptism by water, it is a baptism of blood, all of the results of the sacrament are brought about without the signs (water, etc.) I also believe that the thief on the cross experiences the baptism through desire, that is through his declaration and recognition of Jesus, he experienced the desire of baptism. This also encapsulates the idea of those who do the will of God as they understand it, to the best of their ability, even in ignorance of the salvation of Christ, through no fault of their own, may also receive the baptism of desire. This is what Paul is speaking about when he talks about those who do not know about Christ (Romans 2:12-16 especially 15 and, aw heck the whole chapter).

Keep in mind that the sacraments are outward signs and a recognition of something that has _already occurred_ within us and, while we are bound by these sacraments, God is not. The definition of sacraments and a look at how and why Christ used and instituted these outward signs might be a good topic here as well.

These ideas are all in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257-1261, a beautiful document that also sites the Biblical references of these ideas.

Kyle Adams said...

I believe baptism is the public profession of an existing faith; good because we tend to function much better when others can hold us accountable, but not necessary for salvation. In that aspect, baptism is to faith what a wedding is to a marriage.

Carlus Henry said...

I agree with you that Baptism is a public act / profession of faith and with it, we are supposed to be held accountable.

Based on the idea that it does not play a role in salvation, how are we supposed to interpret the following Scriptures:
Acts 22:16 - washing away sins
Mark 16:16 - believe and be baptized in order to be saved
John 3:3,5 - unless you are baptized, you will not see the kingdom of God. This is Jesus talking...our Lord and Savior.
Acts 22:16 - after Paul believes, he still must wash away his sins through baptism.

Clearly, the point that Scripture makes over and over again is that there is something more going on than just an outward symbol and getting wet.

Chad and Tammy said...

(sorry if this is a repeat comment)

I firmly believe that salvation is a work of God and not a work of man. No act by a human being can bring it about--including baptism. I will admit that some of those passages are difficult to interpret and explain. After all, this topic has been debated for a long time and between many denominations. Here are a couple of thoughts.

First, you mentioned in your comment that John 3:3,5 refers to baptism. However, there are other interpretations of the phrase "born of water". See:

Also, this article from John Piper entitled, "What is Baptism and Does it Save?" is very helpful: If you don't have time to read all of it, then at least read the last two sections.

Carlus Henry said...


I firmly believe that salvation is a work of God and not a work of man.

Hehehe, I love it. This of course goes to the other principal statement from Luther, Sola Fide. I do not think that I am going to explore that in this comment, but it is definitely worth pursuing in it's own post when time allows.

...this topic has been debated for a long time and between many denominations

I think here lies the problem that I mentioned in the Sola Scriptura...does it lead to truth post. More evidence that since the introduction of denominations and the fact that the different denominations disagree on fundamental Christian beliefs and practices, Sola Scriptura does not lead to absolute and complete truth. So if Scripture is not the Sole Authority of truth, what is?

Denomination A states Belief 1. Denomination B states Belief 2. Belief 1 and Belief 2 are completely contradictory. Can they both be right? No. So where do they get the authority to lay such claims - I think they would both claim Holy Scriptures. But wait a minute, according to Sola Scriptura...

...assertion that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine

So if it is self defining, clear and sufficent to be the final authority, why is there so much confusion. I mean, then there shouldn't be any differences between denominations. Heck we should be one Church. But clearly, that is not the case. So what is the ultimate authority that God established on Earth?

The topic has been debated for years within the different denominations. But remember, the denominations are only 500 years old or less. The Catholic Church has been around much longer than that, and have already examined the evidence and made it's claim on truth.

First, you mentioned in your comment that John 3:3,5 refers to baptism. However, there are other interpretations of the phrase "born of water". See:

Once again, we come back to the differences of interpretation, which according to Sola Scriptura, there shouldn't be any.

Let us all continually pray as Jesus did (John 17:9-26)

Kyle Adams said...

I really appreciate Dan's response here... I think there's a lot in there that folks on all sides of the baptism debate can agree on.

The Catholic Church has been around much longer than that, and have already examined the evidence and made it's claim on truth.

This statement seems to be assuming that there was no debate, dissent, or disagreement within the Catholic Church on matters of faith. Historically, there were all sorts of contentious things going on that were really wrecking havoc on people's faith. For crying out loud, there were two popes at the same time and they each excommunicated the other!

As a disclaimer: my criticisms are of the Catholic church as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries, and not as it is now. I have nothing but utmost respect and love for fellow Christians who find fulfillment in the Catholic approach to our shared faith.

Carlus Henry said...

This statement seems to be assuming that there was no debate, dissent, or disagreement within the Catholic Church on matters of faith...

There were definitely arguments and discussions and disagreements, but there was always a final decision made, and put into doctrine. We can see that even in the Bible during the First Council in Jerusalem - (Acts 15:1-35). Interesting enough, the Church has been having Council's ever since. Here is a list of all of the recorded Councils.

For crying out loud, there were two popes at the same time and they each excommunicated the other!

Let me correct you, there were actually three people who declared themselves as Popes. This was not a good time for the Church, at all. But at the same time, if I gather a few states together, and get them to agree that I am the President of the United States, would I be? No. I wouldn't. Just because someone declares themselves something, does not mean that they actually are. There is a clear line of Popes recognized by the Church, from St. Peter to Pope Benedict XVI.

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

Great discussion! Can I say everyone is right?

Yes, Baptism is a public profession of something happening inside (outward sign of something that has _already happened_) and it is exactly like a wedding is to marriage. Did you know priests "presiding" at a marriage is actually a recent occurrence? So I ask, who is performing the marriage? And who is performing the baptism? It _is an act of God_ not of man!

When I read the passage about Jesus curing the blind man in John 9 my focus is not on the miraculous earth and saliva, it is on the power of God. The earth and saliva is an outward sign. Jesus could have just made it so. Instead, like so many times in His ministry on earth, he performs a physical sign along with the spiritual healing. What is His purpose in doing this?

I want to end with a definition of Sacrament that will clarify this. It is from a lecture on Sacrament by a priest friend of mine. I will be happy to share his name in person, rather than blast it over the web.

A Sacrament is an outward sign

of a personal encounter with the risen Christ

that works in and through the Church

by which the Father is worshiped

and man is placed in a special relationship with Christ and is given a responsibility

and is gradually transformed into closer likeness to the risen Christ.

I love this definition because it answers the concern that Sacrament is a work of man. It is completely a work of Christ through the salvation of his death and resurrection. It occurs as worship of God and witness in the community, publicly (is there a sacrament that occurs in privacy?), in the Body of Christ.

Willison said...

Hey guys. I'm new. Sounds like an interesting discussion you had a month ago, but if you don't mind, I'd like to open the can of worms again. The discussion parts that I read seem to have the more fundamental question missing: What is a sacrament?
You see, if a sacrament DOES something, than it becomes a lot more important than if it SYMBOLIZES something. I realize that is the crux of all these posts, but it might be helpful to consider sacraments generally, to better understand the sacrament of baptism specifically.
I think Jesus taught us to call God “Father” not just so we would feel close and cuddly to God, but so we could better understand why he does some of the things he does. Anyone who has been a parent of a 3 year old has dealt with those never ending “why” questions. The answers to “why does it rain?” or “why do things die?” or “why do we use money?” are very complicated issues that a 3 year old couldn’t understand even if he wanted to. Yet, a growing mind with a question deserves an answer. So a good Dad boils it down. He starts using words the kid will understand and draws on experiences the kid can relate to. That’s what we do – the sinful flawed version of a parent. God – the perfect version of a parent – who is infinitely more advanced compared to us than a human adult compared to a human child – would do no less. Thus, he made sacraments.
As far as we know, humans are unique in all of creation. We are physical beings – formed out of the dust of the earth – with a spiritual soul – breathed into us by God himself. Angels are only spirit. Animals are only physical matter. Humans are both. In fact, the Church teaches that BOTH body and soul are ESSENTIAL to be “human.” (That is why we believe in the resurrection of the body. Our physical form is not a “soul transportation device.” It is – and always will be – half of what God created us to be. Humans do not become angels in Heaven.)
So let’s say that God – the perfect parent – wants to transmit his grace to a human. Two issues come up: First, he chose to design humans with this dual nature, so undoubtedly he would want to impart his grace to the whole creature, not half of it. Second, like a parent, he wants us to understand what is happening - and he knows that our physical experiences are more familiar to us than the purely spiritual ones.
So, while God CAN do whatever he wants, he CHOOSES to impart his grace through physical means. Baptism, confession, the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and the anointing of the sick all have the same dual nature that humans do. A physical act – water, oil, the laying on of hands, saying words – imparts a spiritual grace. What is the effect of that? Well, the whole person is involved. The body is blessed at the same moment that the spirit is blessed. In addition, our physical nature has confidence that the act has occurred. Even non-believers can say that a couple is, or is not, married. Regardless of what you believe about baptism, it is easy to say whether someone has, or has not, been baptized. In that way, the sacramental act also proclaims the glory of God to all who watch – even to those who have not yet chosen to personally receive his grace. As with everything God does, this sacramental system is a perfect match to both who we are and what he is doing.
Of course, this system also calls us to obedience. We don’t get to decide how he gives us a gift – he does. It is transmitted through his Church. It requires you to physically go somewhere. You have to play by certain rules, like who can perform the act and most of the time whether you are properly disposed to receive it. And most importantly, it is done in community, in relationship. “It is not good for man to be alone.” And so, not one of the seven sacraments can be received without another person present. It all fits.
I think the confusion about baptism is born out of overlooking some of the fundamentals. A symbolic act to announce a grace already received says that the soul is the only important part of our nature. When we get to choose the time, place and manner in which we will accept his gift – it doesn’t sound like a gift at all. If we can be saved without ever interacting with another human, why did Jesus ever even talk about “church” or “baptism”? More importantly, why did Jesus bother going to John for his own baptism?
Does the sacrament of baptism do something? Yes. How do we know? Because his Church teaches it. How can we be sure his Church is right? Because unlike the alternative view, it matches literally every aspect of God as he is revealed in every story of the Bible. Is it necessary? As necessary as anything else God sets up for man. Do it, and he will fulfill his promise every time. Don’t do it, and you are left to his mercy. I choose to be sure.

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

Thanks for joining the conversation, Willison! Awesome answer!

I have a comment coming at the confession post that is similar. Sign is necessary for us humans. Jesus demonstrates this again and again - at each miracle.