Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Debunking Baptismal Myths #2: Baptism and Belief

We’re looking in depth at a series of objections raised by one of our readers to the Protestant argument that one must be a believer to be baptized.

First off, Protestants would almost universally concur with the statement that it is possible to be baptized and not be a believer. Not good, but certainly possible. It happens. Rightly or wrongly, evangelical churches vet prospective candidates for baptism quite thoroughly in the hope of avoiding that exact situation. Baptizing an unbeliever — and possibly giving him or her a false sense of security about whether he or she has actually found peace with God through faith in Christ — is something most Christians want no part of.

So we have no disagreement on that front. The Protestant argument, however, is not that one must be a believer to be baptized, it is that one ought to be.

Our reader makes reference to Mark 16:16 to make his case. The statement comes as part of what is often called the “Great Commission”, in which, after his resurrection and just before returning to the Father, the Lord gives directions to his followers that we have been trying to follow for nearly two thousand years:
“Jesus says to the crowd, ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved.’ But in reference to the same people, Jesus immediately follows with ‘He who does not believe will be condemned.’ This demonstrates that one can be baptized and still not be a believer. This disproves the Protestant argument that one must be a believer to be baptized. There is nothing in the Bible about a ‘believer’s baptism.’ ”

“Believer’s” Baptism

The phrase “believer’s baptism” is admittedly extra-biblical but, to be fair to Protestants, it was coined not to drum home an anti-Catholic theological point, but to distinguish New Testament Christian baptism from all the other baptisms in scripture, of which there are many. It is not our purpose to delve into them all here, but two examples should suffice: John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the Lord Jesus spoke of a specific baptism only he would undergo which appears to refer to his death and resurrection. These are both distinct from the baptism the apostles preached after the ascension of the Lord to the Father. To conflate the various meanings of the many baptisms in scripture is to end in utter confusion.

So let’s just say that the thing Protestants call “believer’s baptism” is a simple way of referring to the sort of baptism the Lord commanded his followers to perform in the Great Commission, and because it is the only sort of baptism currently relevant to Christianity. We will happily concede that the apostles simply say “baptism” without amplification or qualification.

The Problem

But really, the problem with this objection is logical, not scriptural. The fact that one can be a baptized unbeliever does not lead inexorably to the conclusion that belief and baptism are unrelated, let alone to the conclusion that baptizing an unbeliever (or a person too young to exercise belief) can save them in any way.

Why not? First, the Lord himself linked belief and baptism: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”. A much more logical inference than the one made by our reader might be that the verse teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation (though the second part of the verse seems to eliminate this possibility). It is pretty clear, however, that anyone who is of age and refuses baptism casts considerable suspicion on his own profession of faith. Those who may be concerned that Mark teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation can find that error well dealt with here

Meanwhile, at very least we must admit that belief and baptism seem to be inextricably bound together in the thinking of the Lord.

Second, they are bound together in the consistent practice of the apostles:
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

“And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”
Furthermore, upon believing it became clear that anyone who had undergone a previous baptism (even John’s) needed to be re-baptized. Their baptism of repentance by John was insufficient for the purpose of identifying them as believers in the Lord Jesus, and it is this latter identification that matters: 
“Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Those who make the case that baptism and belief are unrelated find themselves arguing with not only Protestants, but with the example of Paul and the rest of the apostles. Anything that calls itself ‘baptism’ that fails to clearly identify believers with Jesus Christ himself falls short of the teaching of the New Testament, no matter what precedent it may appeal to in post-scriptural church history.


  1. Umm...Tom, does that say "debunking" in your title? Maybe it should say "re-dunking." like the Anabaptists did. :)

  2. IC, I had to look "Anabaptist" up, believe it or not. But, you know, I may have been on their side, all things considered.

  3. You know Tom, the evidence of a great argument on display is the lack of comment in an attempt to debunk your debunkment. I only hear crickets from the sprinklers.

    1. I assume this is addressed to me, Micah? In any case, here are a couple useful comments.

      I agree, it would definitely liven it up a bit over here if we could revisit the Reformation and try to do things over again :-). However, that's beyond my pay grade and I generally don't pursue an exercise in futility. (I'll assume the same is true for you).

      Here is a good way to become better informed if you will. Simply punch this into your search engine. - "protestant catholic debate". There will be oodles of good sites and discussions available that you can learn from and knock yourself out with if you want. Please, especially get some information on that Marian worship thing you seem to be hung up on.

    2. You're welcome to assume whatever you like and I have a substantial grasp of how internet search engines work. I'm even fully aware of all the types of information and discussions a person can find on web blogs and websites.

      What I would like for you to do is respond to the very well thought out and articulated blog post about the myths of baptism that Tom has presented. Can you do that or is flippancy and obsfucation your only specialty?

    3. Micah, I don't think that I am obstructionist at all. Let me repeat then some of the things I have said before. If you really want to engage in the age old debate between Protestants and Catholics, you can do it better on the appropriate forum. I am not interested in pursuing that because I think it will get nowhere and is therefore pointless. Also, you will be able to find better qualified people to debate with. With regard to search engines, how do you think I get some of my material I post here? So that still is your best resource if you are, e.g., really interested in differences between baptism.

      I appreciate your enthusiasm about your faith but I think you are making the very basic mistake of assuming that Christ thinks along the same lines and the same way as you do. That is an incorrect assumption. My assumption is probably better, namely, that Christ is deeply interested in the welfare of all his creatures and would most definitely use a different approach than you are. Learn to live with facts. In this case you are not going to convert me into a Protestant and vice versa. So, the big question and challenge in your life is to learn to act in a way that does not hinder the Holy Spirit's work but helps it. I do agree that a person can find Christ in their lives and that that is not necessarily only by one formula, provided it is a rational one (and that is where my interest lies). Now, if you think Catholicism to be irrational, be assured that goes both ways, and in that case follow my above suggestion about debating.