What the Bible says
Questions / issues:
(Mark 5:30) And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue [power] had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?
The grace of baptism works something like the healing of the woman by Jesus: we perform an external act in faith and God releases his power. God does not require that we always do something for him to grace us; he can release his power anytime he wants. But he has institutionalized a few of these: baptism and the Eucharist are the most obvious examples. But should we refuse to be graced by God because the scheme he has established seems institutionalized and even arbitrary? Or because it has problem scenarios (such as: what happens if the consecrated host of the Eucharist falls to the ground?)
Sins Remitted during Baptism?
From The Epistle of Barnabas, 130 A.D., Chapter XI, we learn that the early church believed that baptism results in the remission of sins.
baptism which leads to the remission of sins
From The First Apology of Justin Martyr, about 150 A.D., Chapter LXI, we learn that the early church believed that baptism results in the remission of sins.
may obtain in the water the remission of sins
From Tertullian — On Baptism, about 203 A.D., Chapters VI & XII, we learn that the early church believed that baptism results in the remission of sins and that baptism results in salvation.
washing away of sins
without baptism, salvation is attainable by none
From Clement of Alexandria, about 200 A.D., The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter VI & The Stromata, or Miscellanies, Book IV, Chapter XXIV, we learn that the early church believed that baptism results in the remission of sins.
Being baptized . . . the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted.
the deeds done before [baptism] are remitted [by baptism]
(Acts 22:16) And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Sins are remitted [washed away] during baptism.
(Acts 2:38) Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
A couple of points:
Become a Christian via Baptism?
(Acts 8:14-17) Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
This passage is remarkable. These received the word of God from Philip; a deacon, evangelist, preacher, and miracle worker; and were baptized by Philip in the name of Jesus, but their baptism did not impart to them a certain grace from the Holy Spirit. It's as if the Holy Spirit wanted the apostles to come over in person and lay hands on them to demonstrate that the apostles must plant the church. The Catholic Church uses passages such as this to support their view of apostolic succession or the sacrament of confirmation. These are off topic so I will not discuss them here.
Note that this passage does not say that the baptism from Philip was invalid or in some way deficient. I think it is better to interpret this receiving of the Holy Spirit as something entirely different than the grace imparted by baptism.
(Acts 1:5) For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
Jesus promises the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a different kind of baptism than baptism by water. At first the apostles had to pass on this baptism as we see in Acts 8:14-17 but after a while this was no longer necessary.
The main points concerning the topic of baptism:
Saved during Baptism?
(1 Peter 3:20,21) Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by [through] water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [pledge, appeal] of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These verses makes a few remarkable and indisputable claims:
So are we saved by baptism? Yes, we certainly are if we have the desire to please God.
What about infant baptism since young children don't have this desire to please God? One possibility is that maybe the souls of children do have this desire even though their cognition is not fully developed yet.
(Colossians 2:12) Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
This verse explains the two ingredients to baptism:
So, are we saved through baptism? Absolutely, if we accept Christ as our redeemer and identify with his redemptive work via our baptism.
(Galatians 3:26,27) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
This verse clearly states that we put on Christ (we are redeemed) via our baptism into Christ. This baptism is an expression of our faith — it is not merely an act done in obedience. We must express our faith through actions:
(James 2:17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Thus, the sacraments are ways for us to express our faith. Without the involvement of our faith, sacraments are meaningless — our faith enlivens them.
So how is infant baptism efficacious [effective]? Perhaps the souls of all children express their faith in a way that is not apparent to us but is apparent to God? Perhaps God's presence appears to their souls during the ceremony of baptism and since their souls are not yet contaminated with sin (they have not yet made a freewill choice to follow Satan) their souls are able to accept the benefits of baptism?
(1 Corinthians 12:13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Paul is speaking of Christians becoming united in Christ, of becoming members of his body. This is a salvation issue. Therefore, we are saved through baptism.
(1 Corinthians 10:2) And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
The Israelites were saved from the Egyptians in crossing the sea. This was a form of baptism in which their faith expressed by their leaving Egypt to follow Moses resulted in their being formed into a holy nation of God. This "baptism" provided for their salvation and required their faith expressed by works. Baptism without saving faith is worthless.
(Luke 12:50) But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
Jesus uses the word baptism to refer to his redemptive act of dying sacrificially. This hints at the idea that water baptism is redemptive; it is not merely an act done in obedience.
(Mark 16:16) He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
There are two categories of people:
Notice that baptism is an essential ingredient for salvation.
(John 3:5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Baptism is necessary for salvation. Certainly God can allow people into heaven without baptism but the normal manner after the time of Jesus is for them to hear the gospel, receive it in faith, repent from their sin, get baptized.
Baptism merely an act of obedience?
(1 Corinthians 1:13) Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
Baptism is a key practice of the early church. If it were merely an act of obedience to Christ, what possible purpose would it have? Some Protestants seem to think of baptism as a ceremony in which new Christians declare to the world that they are Christians. But why would you need to do this if works don't have a role in your salvation? Others seem to think baptism is merely an act we do out of obedience to Christ. By why would Christ ask us to do something so significant if the act meant so little?
I find it intriguing that Protestants would do an act out of blind obedience but think it means so little. I've noticed that they merely use it as an opportunity to teach about salvation and faith.
As an aside, I've noticed that Protestants who object to Catholic ceremonies and rituals have plenty of their own such as: baby dedications (where's that in the Bible), baptisms, weddings, altar calls, communion, body ministry, stylized group prayer and worship.
(Acts 8:36) And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
I find it striking that the Ethopian had learned about baptism and that he considered it an essential and urgent matter. If baptism were merely an act to be done in obedience would Philip have talked about it all and would he have stressed so urgently that the Ethopian needed to be baptized?
Baptism is a Sacrament
A sacrament is an act in which grace is imparted as a consequence of performing the act in faith.
(Acts 11:16) Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Spirit performs the baptism. How is it possible for the Holy Sprit to be involved in the process of baptism yet for baptism to be merely an act the new Christian performs out of obedience? Baptism must be a sacrament during which grace is imparted to the one baptized. If we accept that infants should be baptized then this grace from the Holy Spirit would also be imparted to infants.
(Acts 10:47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Peter seems to assume that is very important that new Christians be baptized. This opinion of Peter is very odd indeed if baptism were merely an act of obedience. A better understanding of this is that baptism is the way in which saving grace is imparted to them by the Holy Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 1:16) And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
(Acts 16:15) And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
These households likely included children.
Read more about Infant Baptism.
Baptism for the Dead
(1 Corinthians 15:29) Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
Is is remarkable to me that Protestants dance around this verse the way they do. They seem to assume that Paul is referring to a practice that he doesn't approve of. Wouldn't Paul mention his disapproval? After all, he goes to great pains throughout his letters to correct their mistakes. Surely he wouldn't let something as serious as this go by without a comment?
I am forced to conclude that the practice of baptizing for the dead was a common practice among Christians and that the apostles taught them to do it. This is evidence of the doctrine of purgatory and has nothing to do with baptism for salvation so I will not comment on it any further here.