Letter to the Pastor: Baptism

Pastors and preachers get a lot of hate mail. At least that’s my impression. It’s not uncommon for “brothers and sisters in Christ” to take issue with something said in a sermon and then rip the poor preacher a new one in a vitriolic missive, which may or may not be anonymous. It’s an occupational hazard, I’m sorry to say. However, I too have wanted to address things that were said, but haven’t felt like I had the proper relationship with the person to go to them. On one hand, the pastor/preacher has said something publicly which I feel needs to be addressed. On the other hand, I don’t want to attack anyone. So, I’ve decided to post my e-mail on this blog. Why? First, because whenever we say things in public, then we should expect to have them addressed publicly. Second, what I want to say doesn’t get treated like hate mail and filtered into the Spam folder right away. So, here’s my letter to a pastor I heard recently teaching about baptism. 

Dear Pastor,

At the risk of coming across as a Critic rather than a fellow Christian, I feel the need to address a contradiction I heard in your sermon recently on baptism. I’m pretty sure that most folks didn’t catch it and I expect you didn’t catch it either.

You wanted to make the point that baptism doesn’t save the believer in Jesus. You stated that “baptism is a work”. Later in your sermon, you said that believers must “submit to baptism”. I believe that the second comment reveals a contradiction in your understanding of baptism. I will explain why.

First, I think we agree that a “work” is something that some one does. The idea that you wanted to communicate is that the believer can’t be saved by anything the believer does. Nothing the believer does can result in God choosing to save the believer. However, I suggest to you that baptism is not something that the believer does. As you said, the believer “submits to baptism”. The work is done to her. S/He does not do it. Someone else does it to her.  So in your sermon, you directly stated that “baptism is a work” yet you implied that it isn’t. Why is this important and not just quibbling about words?

The Evangelical way of reasoning about the role of baptism in salvation goes like this:

  1. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.
  2. Baptism is a work.
  3. Therefore, baptism does not save us.

This reasoning doesn’t hold up once you realize that baptism is not a work; at least, not a work that a believer does.I believe that this confusion about baptism being a work makes it difficult to understand that part in Peter which states that  “baptism now saves you”. How can he say such a thing when Paul says that we are not saved by works?  Paul doesn’t trump Peter does he? Peter doesn’t supersede Paul does he? Of course not. We both know that these two apostles are not contradicting each other. So how can we make sense of this? I think we have to start by letting go of the idea that baptism is a work. Then, we can think again more clearly about the role of baptism in the salvation of sinners. Perhaps we can also think more clearly about the relationship between “work” and salvation as well. After all, what sense does James make if we are “saved by faith apart from works”? What sense does Jesus make when he welcomes people into the”joy of your Master” based upon the good works they did for the hungry, naked and imprisoned? It’s all Scripture, so it’s all got to be true together at the same time.

I hope that you’ll give this some thought and see how baptism is not a work and that perhaps it has a different sort of role in salvation than the one that you spoke about recently.



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2 responses to “Letter to the Pastor: Baptism

  1. Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,
    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!


    • amtog

      Thanks for reading my post and leaving a comment Gary.

      I confess that I found your post within a post rather confusing and a bit combative. As a result I suspect that it is unlikely to persuade others to your point of view on the role of baptism in salvation.

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