I have studied with a few “Baptist” – they borrow their name from John the Baptist, which is ironic (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3) – who have adopted the line that Baptism is necessary for obedience but it’s not necessary for salvation. Put another way, it’s not necessary to be saved, but it is necessary to show that you have been saved. Since most Baptist say that Baptism is necessary for church membership, then put another way, it is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for membership in the church. Since the Baptist believe that a person is saved before Baptism – and church membership isn’t possible until after Baptism – then Baptist believe that there are many people that are saved without being members of the church (despite that the Scriptures say Jesus is the Savior of the church). This is a tenuous position to believe that baptism is necessary, but it’s not. Baptist reject the position that baptism and salvation can in any way be connected.
The ones who call themselves Baptist think that their position is the truly “faith” one: expecting anything of the sinner would be antithetical to faith in their view. They teach that salvation is apart from works. So if salvation is not at (indicating time and location, not that the water is the power or cleansing agent for only the blood of Christ and grace of God can do this) baptism, when does a Baptist believe a person is saved? The common and quick answer – which changes – given is that a person is saved in the Baptist Church when he says a prayer and ask Jesus in his heart. This answer is supposedly rooted in the Scriptures that say “and everyone that calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9,10). I said the answer can change with a Baptist. If you show the Baptist that saying a prayer, especially one that can’t be shown by example in Scriptures, is also a work, then the Baptist might (and this has happened in my studies with them) say that a person is saved “by faith” before any prayer or anything. This has led to the Baptist asserting that nothing is required for salvation, that even faith is a gift of God (erroneous position confusing the saving grace and faith of Eph. 2:8,9; salvation is the gift of God, not the faith). At this point, moving this direction as the Baptist has done, places an individuals salvation solely in God’s hands apart from ANYTHING the sinner has done or ever will do (this is radical Calvinism and not all Baptist carry their belief this far) which makes God a respecter of persons and makes a mockery of so many passages that say God’s loves everyone, God desires for everyone to be saved, that say Jesus died that He might taste death for everyone (Rom. 2:11; 1 Jn 2:1,2; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim 2:1-5).
Let it be declared that if you are a Christian, everything should be faith. You must believe that Baptism is about faith or else it must be works alone. If our Baptist friends reject the Baptism being taught and practiced in the church of Christ because they say we are practicing “works alone”, then they are simply mistaken and uninformed. Alternatively, when Baptist say that Baptism isn’t about salvation, then it is a mere work they teach (which explains why some Baptist don’t require baptism any longer, this position being more consistent with their “faith only” doctrine than is the position of those Baptist who still require Baptism). If a Believer in God and believer in the sanctifying work of Christ on the cross thinks that there are some works that are unrelated to faith, he is misled and still not understanding that “by works of the flesh shall no man be justified”: baptism without faith is a work of the flesh (which is why infant baptism is also unchristian).
The Scriptures teach that Baptism is about putting faith in God for one’s salvation. The passages in Acts 2:21 that says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” sounds like it is connecting prayer and salvation. If you think so, you are right. But the “prayer” or calling on God for salvation is done in and through Baptism. Less than 20 verses later, Peter responds to those who are pricked to be saved, saying, “repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, cf 41). This connection between the prayer, i.e.g “calling on the name”, and Baptism is seen again in Acts 22:16 where Ananias is speaking to Saul/Paul, saying, “Why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name.” Saul still had his sins and they wouldn’t be washed away until he called on God for salvation. But Ananias commanded Saul to do what no modern Baptist would command, “Arise and be baptized” to wash away His sins. It’s very clear from the Acts 2 and Acts 22 passages that Baptism is the place or point in time that SAVING grace is received WHEN a person realizes his sinfulness and then by faith calls on God (a prayer?) to wash away his sins.
I said that the answer from a Baptist for WHEN salvation occurs can change depending on the study. The quick answer they give is that salvation is received at the “Sinners Prayer” but when pressed on this, the answer can lead to the extreme Calvinistic position that God saves the person apart from anything the sinner does (because God is Sovereign and because you don’t have free will). This extreme position makes a mockery of what it means for God to require faith or obedience to His Son, Jesus Christ.
But further, the answer from a Baptist for WHEN a person is saved changes in the other direction as well. When the Baptist quotes Romans 10:9,10 which says you must not only believe it in your heart – that Jesus is Lord – but that you must also confess it with you mouth, that answer obviously requires more than “faith alone” or believing only. To “confess with your mouth” is the act of converting your mind’s affirmation into something vocal. The vocal chords and the lips and tongue must be engaged to be saved. But the answer can change again depending on the situation because the Baptist will say that the unrepentant will not be saved. So the “faith alone” position that requires a “Sinner’s Prayer” and confession begins to subtly press for repentance – or else you prove you aren’t saved.
The conclusion is that the “faith alone” position is a facade which will sometimes not even require faith – not from you anyway, since it’s confused to also be given from God – to the other extreme of requiring confession and repentance (notice it stops short of requiring baptism, which Jesus’ commanded in the Great Commission, that is until you want to be a member of the Baptist Church and then their baptism IS required).
This brings me to another point that is related. There is no place in a person’s life where he’s not working. A man is either a servant of sin or of the Spirit (Rom. 6, whole chapter). The only works that exist in all of the world are the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit – one brings death and one brings life. There’s no middle ground. The teachings and commands of the Scriptures are works of the Spirit. The teachings and activities that are contrary to Scripture are works of the flesh and of man. When a person wants to be saved, everything he does falls under one or the other category of work. If a person is obeying Jesus Christ and His apostles, then he is not doing a work of the flesh (is it not stupendous and provocative that the Baptism in the church of Christ is said to be a work of the flesh by our Baptist friends?).
If you love the Lord, He will save you. If you seek Him, you will find Him. Just knock, and the door will be opened to you. Don’t you know that God loves the world and is patiently waiting for you to be saved. He’s just waiting for you to stop putting your faith in yourself and to start putting your faith in Him. Do this by repenting, confessing Him, and being baptized into Christ. I will finish here with the words that Ananias said to Saul, “Now why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name”, Acts 22:16. Now if your preacher won’t say that to a lost soul, then he’s not on God’s side. With love. Dan