When a Campbellite or 'Oneness' Pentecostal proposes baptismal regeneration,
a good question to ask is, what of the believer who confesses Christ and
then dies before having an opportunity to be baptized? This is no idle
speculation, in the early church some were martyred immediately upon confession
of faith in Christ:
"Homily XIX. is on the Forty Soldier Martyrs of Sebaste, who were
ordered by the officers of Licinius, A.D. 320, to offer sacrifice to the
heathen idols, and, at their refusal, were plunged for a whole night into
a frozen pond in the city, in sight of a hot bath on the brink. One man's
faith and fortitude failed him. He rushed to the relief of the shore, plunged
into the hot water, and died on the spot. One of the executioners had stood
warming himself and watching the strange scene. He had seemed to see angels
coming down from heaven and distributing gifts to all the band but one.
When the sacred number of forty was for the moment broken thee officer
flung off his clothes, and sprang into the freezing pond with the cry,
"I am a Christian." Judas departed. Matthias took his place.
What trouble wouldst thou not have taken to find one to pray for thee to
the Lord! Here are forty, praying with one voice. Where two or three are
gathered together in the name of the Lord, there is He in the midst. Who
doubts His presence in the midst of forty?" (Prolegomena to the Works
of Basil, Homily XIX).
According to strict baptismal regenerationists, that unbaptized executioner-martyr is burning in Hell, in company with the other
born-again children of God they imagine to be languishing in those parts. The Roman Catholics escape the dilemma by proposing
a 'baptism of desire'; the Bible, however, knows of only one baptism: "...one Lord, one faith, one baptism;..." (Ephesians 4:5).
Better to see that the obviously wrong conclusion invalidates the erroneous premise.
Preach the Gospel
Paul wrote the Corinthians, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,
not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." (1 Corinthians 1:17).
This is not a 'difficult' verse of scripture...until one realizes that, to the Campbellites and 'Oneness'
Pentecostals, the 'gospel' is '...be baptized'! Which means Paul was saying, 'Christ did not send me
to baptize, but to tell people to be baptized...'
The new birth: 'regeneration' - is an act of God, not of man: "But as many as received Him, to
them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not
of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13). It's strange indeed that the
very passage which describes the regenerative work of the Spirit as beyond man's ken...should be employed as proof-text proving that an
undoubted act of man, baptism, is "synonymous" with
regeneration: "Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the
sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:7-8)
'Oneness' Pentecostals and followers of Alexander Campbell quote Martin Luther's remarks on baptism, oddly enough since they consider
Martin Luther to have been lost. This author repeats Peter's understanding that "...baptism [saves]..." (1 Peter 3:21). Martin
Luther understands 'baptism saves' to mean that 'faith saves':
"They [the sacraments] are signs, or sacraments, or justification because they are sacraments of a justificatory faith,
and not of works. The whole of their effectiveness lies in faith, and not in anything that is done. He who believes in them, fulfils them,
even if nothing is done." (Martin Luther, Pagan Servitude of the Church, (2) 2.)
"Thus, baptism justifies nobody, and gives advantage to nobody; rather, faith
in the word of the promise to which baptism was conjoined, is what justifies, and so completes,
that which the baptism signified...Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments
a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the 'signs' of efficacious grace. All such
things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises." (Martin Luther,
Pagan Servitude of the Church)
"This, then, is how through faith alone without works the soul is justified by the Word of God,
sanctified, made true, peaceful, and free, filled with every blessing and truly made a child of God,
as John 1:12 says: 'But to all who...believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God'. From
what has been said it is easy to see from what source faith derives such great power and why a good work or
all good works together cannot equal it...Just as the heated iron glows like fire because of the union of
fire with it, so the Word imparts its qualities to the soul. It is clear, then, that a Christian has all
that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need
of the law...This is that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness or
wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man's righteousness and salvation."
(Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian.)
There's something in baptism which is of works, not of faith; this is what
Peter calls "the removal of the filth of the flesh." (1 Peter
3:21). That in baptism which is of works cannot save, because faith alone
saves. So it's not the physical washing which saves, rather it's the faith
of the recipient,- what Peter calls "the answer of a good conscience
toward God," which saves, both in baptism and out of baptism.
When you say 'baptism saves,' if you're on the Bible bus along with Peter
and Martin Luther, you're saying 'faith saves.' Baptism is a symbol, an
instance of 'symbolic speech' if you will. What saves in this symbolic
speech is the content, not the form, because the content flows from the
heart, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth
forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his
heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart
his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:45). Baptism is the outward sign of an inward faith.
This is another author quoted by 'Oneness' Pentecostals, oddly enough,
because not only do they consider him lost, they hate him. Did John Calvin
teach baptismal regeneration?:
"But baptism serves as our confession before men. Indeed, it is the
mark by which we publicly profess that we wish to be reckoned God's
people; by which we testify that we agree in worshipping the same
God...by which finally we openly affirm our faith...For this analogy
or similitude is the surest rule of the sacraments: that we sould see
spiritual things in physical, as if set before our very eyes. For the
Lord was pleased to represent them by such figures - not because such
graces are bound and enclosed in the sacrament so as to be conferred
upon us by its power, but only because the Lord by this token attests
his will toward us, namely, that he is pleased to lavish all these
things upon us." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
Book IV, Chapter XV, 13-14).
There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not the removal
of the filth of the flesh, but the answer ['eperotema'] of a good conscience
toward God)..." (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptismal regenerationists translate 'eperotema' as 'plea,' not 'answer.' Understandably so, given that there's only one
way to a "good conscience," through the blood: "...how much
more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered
Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to
serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14). If the believer already has
a "good conscience" from which to 'answer' God, the blood has
already been applied.
eperôt-êma , Ion. epeir- , atos, to, question, Hdt. 6.67, Th.3.53,68, Epicur.Sent.Vat.71.
2. answer to inquiry put to higher authority: hence, sanction, kata to
e. tôn Areopagitôn SIG 856.6 (ii A.D.), cf. 1008.4 (iii A.D.).
3. = Lat. stipulatio, PCair. Preis.1.16 (ii A.D.), Cod.Just.220.127.116.11 (pl.): hence prob., pledge, suneidêseôs agathês e. eis
theon 1 Ep.Pet.3.21 . (Middle Liddell & Scott, Perseus Project).
New Lives for Old
Those who have seen God change a human life understand what it means to
be born again. Go into a Bible-believing church and listen to the testimonies.
You'll hear of lives transformed, turned around 180 degrees. In fact, these
'restarts' of a wasted life are so remarkable one might almost call them
'new births.' Just as the prodigal was dead, but is alive: "It was
meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead,
and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:32),- so
modern-day prodigals begin anew and live again as new creatures in Christ.
This transformation is so remarkable one could very well describe it as
a new birth, a new life.
Is it possible that the 'new birth' means something quite different: baptism,
say? Since the phrase 'new birth' fits so naturally with the transformation
described above, it's not obvious why one would borrow the phrase to apply
to something not naturally so described. Baptism, after all, is undergone
by believers who have already repented and committed themselves to following the Lord Jesus Christ.
They've answered God's interrogation from a "good conscience,"
and the answer is 'Yes, Lord.' What complete transformation is called for
in a life which is already going God's way?
Is it credible that this radical turn-about in the sinner's life is not the new birth? According to baptismal regenerationists,
the new birth doesn't occur until after the believer emerges from the waters of baptism.
Since this 180-degree turn-about in the sinner's life is so remarkable,
let's coin a phrase to describe it. 'New birth,' say the baptismal regenerationists,
is already 'taken,' used to describe events subsequent to this radical transformation in a sinner's life. What available
phrase might naturally fit the phenomenon we wish to describe, then? New life? Starting over? A complete turn-around? New
creation? Funny...they all sound kind of similar to 'new birth,' don't they? If only that phrase weren't already 'taken,' we could
use it very naturally to describe the phenomenon we wish to describe: the sinner's turning away from this world and the god of this
world and turning toward God, His translation from one kingdom to another. It would 'fit' like a key to a lock! Hmmm...just what
exactly is the 'evidence' that 'new birth' is supposed to mean 'baptism,' again?
Why not allow this Bible phrase to describe the very real, observable transformation
it most naturally 'fits'?
Heart of Flesh
God promised that He would give His people a new heart, so that they could obey Him:
"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart
out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do
them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Notice that, in the order as set forth by God, the new heart comes first, then the walking in His statutes: "That they may
walk in my statutes..." Ezekiel 36:26 goes so far as to schedule the heart replacement therapy before repentence: "I
will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart
of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them...Then
you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your
iniquities and your abominations." (Ezekiel 36:26-31).
Who are the people who obey God, according to the Bible? Are they regenerate,
or unregenerate? According to the baptismal regenerationists, the people
who obey God's commandment of baptism are unregenerate, because, according
to this doctrine, it's only once believers emerge from the water that they're
born again. That's what happens when you identify the new birth of John
3 with water baptism.
Does the Bible say that unregenerate people obey God? Doesn't it say, rather, that they are at enmity with God: "Because the
carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, those who are in the
flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7). Who are those in the flesh? Those who
are not yet born again: "That which is born of the flesh if flesh,
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6).
So doesn't it seem more natural to identify the new birth with that radical
transformation in a sinner's orientation which turned him around from following
the god of this world and toward following Jesus? It's this 180 degree
turn-around which led him to the waters of baptism, because it is believers
who are baptized, not unbelievers (Acts 8:37)
But if believers are already born again when they first ease a toe into
the water, and can prove it by this very evidence: their willingness to
follow God and obey His commands,- then how can water baptism be identified
with the new birth (Alexander Campbell) or made its trigger (Roman Catholicism)?
True religion is spiritual religion: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in
truth." (John 4:24). God has always looked at the heart, not at outward observance: "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else
would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17).
It is difficult to imagine the prophets of Israel insisting so strongly
that by outward ceremony one cannot please God if it turns out in the New
Testament that salvation is achieved by...an outward ceremony.
"We hold that persons are not saved by baptism, for we think, first
of all that it seems out of character with the spiritual religion which
Christ came to teach, that he should make salvation depend upon mere ceremony.
Judaism might possibly absorb the ceremony by way of type into her ordinances
essential to eternal life; for it was religion of types and shadows. The
false religions of the heathen might inculcate salvation by a physical
process, but Jesus Christ claims for his faith that it is purely spiritual,
and how could he connect regeneration with a peculiar application of aqueous
fluid? I cannot see how it would be a spiritual gospel, but I can see how
it would be mechanical, if I were sent forth to teach that the mere dropping
of so many drops upon the brow, or even the plunging a person in water
could save the soul. This seems to me to be the most mechanical religion
now existing, and to be on a par with the praying windmills of Thibet,
or the climbing up and down of Pilate's staircase to which Luther subjected
himself in the days of his darkness." (C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon, Baptismal
Isn't it more likely that the function of this outward observance is the
same function for which God has always designed His ordinances: to point
to spiritual realities, not to substitute for them. Thus, baptism depicts
the new birth, and those who seize hold, in faith, of the reality which
baptism depicts, are born again. Why elevate the symbol above the substance?
The Bible has a lot to say about those who are born again. It says that
those who are born of God overcome the world: "For whatsoever ['pas,' all] is born of God overcometh the world: and this is
the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4). The Bible doesn't
say that some of those who are born of God overcome the world; the Bible
says that all of those who are born of God overcome the world. So if the
conjecture that the new birth of John 3 is water baptism were correct,
1 John 5:4 would read, 'For whatsover is baptized overcometh the world...'
Yet many are baptized who do not overcome the world, but rather are overcome
by it. So this conjecture is flat out wrong.
The new birth is a spiritual reality, it's a work of God, not of man: "But
as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor
of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John
1:12-13). Baptism signifies this birth from above, it doesn't make it happen.
Born again believers are to be baptized. And born again believers are saved,
because all who believe are saved: "As it is written, Behold, I lay
in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on
him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:33). They believed before they
were baptized, not as a result of baptism. So their baptism serves as seal
and testimony to their salvation, not its cause.
"Ver. 5. Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee,....
Explaining somewhat more clearly, what he before said:
"except a man be born of water and of the Spirit: these are, ...,
"two words", which express the same thing, as Kimchi observes
in many places in his commentaries, and signify the grace of the Spirit
of God. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "the Holy Spirit",
and so Nonnus; and who doubtless is intended: by "water", is
not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never
expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that
the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating
influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet
not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person
ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though
submission to it is necessary, in order to a person's entrance into a Gospel
church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal
life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given
the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who
taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized,
or they could not be saved; whereas by "water" is meant, in a
figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere;
see Eze 36:25. Which is the moving cause of this new birth, and according
to which God begets men again to, a lively hope, and that by which it is
effected; for it is by the grace of God, and not by the power of man's
free will, that any are regenerated, or made new creatures: and if Nicodemus
was an officer in the temple, that took care to provide water at the feasts,
as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and as it should seem Nicodemon ben Gorion was,
by the story before related of him; See Gill on "Joh 3:1"; very
pertinently does our Lord make mention of water, it being his own element:
regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as in 1Pe 1:3, and
sometimes to the Son, 1Jo 2:29 and here to the Spirit, as in Tit 3:5, who
convinces of sin, sanctifies, renews, works faith, and every other grace;
begins and carries on the work of grace, unto perfection;..." (John
Gill, Exposition of the Bible, John 3:5).
There are many reasons to quote an author; some of the old commentators
express themselves with such clarity, one could not do better. In this
case, I'm quoting John Gill because he's an old-time Baptist and some in
the 'Church of Christ' will tell you, contrary to fact, that Baptists of
his day shared Alexander Campbell's devotion to baptismal regeneration.
What quoting a commentator does not do is 'prove' what a passage means. Chase after the new religious movements'
misleading citations of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Gill et al, all
of whom they claim for their own camp, and you'll hear in response...'Why
is the Bible never enough for you?'
In fact, the Bible is the only authority in this field. The proper name
for the argument, 'experts agree that 'x' is true, therefore 'x' is true,'
is the argumentum ad verecundiam. It is properly classed as a fallacy:
"The first is to allege the opinions of men whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has
gained a name and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority. When men are established in any kind
of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in
possession of it. This is apt to be censured as carrying with it too much of pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination
of approved authors which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others; and it is looked upon as insolence for a man to
set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity, or to put it in the balance against that of some learned
doctor or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is
ready to style it impudence in anyone who shall stand out against them. This I think may be called argumentum ad verecundiam." (John
Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Volume Two, Book IV, Chapter XVII, 19.
Born of God
"Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..."
(1 John 5:1).
Who are those who are born again, according to the Bible? The baptized?
No, "Whosoever believes..."
The crudest and most egregious teaching of baptismal regeneration one can
find is in the writings of Alexander Campbell:
"Hence it came to pass, that all the ancients (as fully proved in our
first Extra on Remission) used the word regeneration as
synonymous in signification with immersion. In addition to
the numerous quotations made in our Essay on Remission,
from the creeds and liturgies of Protestant churches, we
shall add another from the Common Prayer of the Church of
England, showing unequivocally that the learned Doctors of
that church used the words regeneration and baptism as synonymous." (Alexander
Campbell, Bath of Regeneration)
That "regeneration" and "immersion" cannot "synonymous" is readily shown by scriptures like, "Whoever
has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9).
If the birth from above is "synonymous" with "immersion," then this means, '...he cannot sin, because he has been
immersed!' Alexander Campbell proposes a naming scheme according to which 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' can
expand, accordion-style, to encompass 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' all the way
down to 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree'...then collapse back down to 'Seven
Lords a-Leaping,' as needed. Better to propose plausible definitions for
Bible terms in the first place.
Nature of Sin
It's been said that all works done before justification have the "nature of sin":
"All truly good works (to use the words of our Church) follow after
justification; and they are therefore good and acceptable to God in Christ,
because they spring out of a true and living faith. By a parity of reason,
all works done before justification are not good, in the Christian sense,
forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; (though from some
kind of faith in God they may spring;) yea, rather, for that they are not
done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not (how
strange soever it may appear to some) but they have the nature of sin."
(John Wesley, Sermon 5, Justification by Faith).
Baptism is an abolute command of the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). It may seem paradoxical that only born again children
of God can obey His commands, but that's what the Bible says: "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who
practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:29).
The obedience God is looking for is not grudging, but from the heart. By
God's way of accounting, he who obeys without enthusiasm is already a law-breaker:
"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has
already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28).
Looking, not touching, this man was marked down as a law-breaker, because
outward compliance is not what God seeks. The law is expressed as follows:
"And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of
faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23).
As this principle relates to baptism, God commanded, and His children obey.
Baptismal regenerationists invert that order: they say, children of the
devil obey God's command, receiving their reward by becoming His children
in the water. According to the Bible, they've got it backwards.
A very popular text with defenders of baptismal regeneration is Mark 16:16. The speaker is the risen Lord:
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
This, they say, places baptism on the same plane with belief, as two co-ordinate elements necessary to salvation.
Is this Biblical? Compare Mark 16:16 to Romans 10:9-11, "That if thou
shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine
heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For
with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth
confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever
believeth on him shall not be ashamed." By the same analysis, this
passage puts two conditions on salvation, 1.) belief and 2.) confession.
But confession is the evidence of faith, or the expression of faith, not
some additional thing on the same level as faith. What one confesses is,
precisely, faith: 'I believe that Jesus is Lord.' The first item in the
list is the content, the second item is the expression. When you say to
someone, 'I love you,' it is a faulty analysis to say there are two
things present here on the same plane, 1.) love and 2.) saying 'I love
you.' The only reason anyone ever wants to hear 'I love you' is because
it is evidence of love; if the speaker were known to be lying and love
were thought not to be present but only the statement 'I love you,' no
one would want to hear 'I love you'. Likewise with faith and baptism,
baptism is not a second equally important thing added onto faith, but
the evidence or signature of faith.
Jesus in this address to His disciples is talking about His church and
pointing out evidence useful in discerning the church's presence,
saying, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name
shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it
shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall
recover." (Matthew 16:17-18). These are "signs" that "follow" believers,
not additional conditions or requirements for salvation (though some
people take them as such). Baptism also is a 'sign' that 'follows'
believers; all believers are baptized, except in very unusual
circumstances. The Kingdom of heaven, which had been hidden, now comes
out into the light of day as the gospel is preached to "every creature."
The stress on baptism in this passage fits in with the Lord's emphasis
Advocates of baptismal regeneration advance Mark 16:16 to show that baptism
cannot be a sign or symbol, or it would not be placed on the same level
with belief, as it is, they say, in this passage, where it is vitally
connected with salvation. Let's try this same argument with Romans
10:10. 'Confession' is vitally connected with salvation in that passage,
but 'confession' is no more than a statement of faith. It is not helpful
to say 'faith' plus 'statement of faith' = salvation, because the two terms are
not co-ordinate. One is, in fact, a sign: significant speech, words
which signify. One is evidence for the presence of the other. What independent value does it have? Most of its
value hinges on that important thing of which it is 'a mere sign,' what
it signifies; if you sever it, in thought, from that reality, so that we have
'confession' without 'faith,' its value is nil or negative.
Does the grammar really show, as is claimed, that Jesus places equal importance on
belief and baptism? In Mark 2:15 we read of "Jesus and his disciples:"
"And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many
publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples:. .
." (Mark 2:15). Does this mean that the disciples are on the same plane
with Jesus, who is God incarnate, and are equally important? When you
say 'a and b,' you need not be ascribing equal important to a and b.
There are some cases where the speaker's 'a and b' are two things on the same plane,
like 'ham and eggs,' but others where they are not, like 'the baby and
the bath-water,' or 'God and man.'
Baptismal regenerations read Mark 16:16 so that 'belief' and
'baptism' are set forth as two conditions to salvation. If that were so,
the contrary should be 'he that is not baptized or does not believe is
damned,' i.e., instead of "He that believeth and is baptized shall be
saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" the Lord should
have said, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not
or is not baptized shall be damned.' Not even 'He that believeth not and is not baptized,' because the argument
seeks to make both faith and baptism conditions for salvation. In the
original, it is phrased precisely to disallow any such conclusion.
Those baptismal regenerationists with one foot in the Protestant camp,
such as the 'Oneness' Pentecostals and followers of Alexander Campbell,
dislike the term, which they redefine to mean 'infant baptism.' The phrase
'baptismal regeneration' does not properly mean 'infant baptism,' but rather this:
"This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to
baptize (Greek baptizein) means to 'plunge' or 'immerse'...This sacrament is also called 'the washing of regeneration
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,' for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without
which no one 'can enter the kingdom of God.' (Jn 3:5)." (Catholic Catechism, 1214-1215)
Protestants agree that baptism "signifies" the new birth; the
"actually brings about" part is in contention and is properly
and conveniently described as 'baptismal regeneration.' Some who preach
baptismal regeneration also practice infant baptism (Roman Catholics);
some who preach baptismal regeneration only baptize professed believers
('Church of Christ'); some who deny baptismal regeneration practice infant
baptism (Presbyterians), some who deny baptismal regeneration baptize only
believers (Baptists). There is yet a relation between baptismal regeneration
and infant baptism. If one accepts that Jesus meant to say, in John 3:5,
that only those baptized may enter the kingdom of heaven, it is very difficult
to close the door on infant baptism. What about babies who die in infancy?
Some of Alexander Campbell's followers deny it's grammatically possible
for the 'tis' of John 3:5 to refer to children, but the word properly means 'a certain
one, someone;' it is neither age nor gender specific:
"Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one ['tis']
is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
The word can refer to infants as well as anyone else:
"KOPH. Arise, rejoice in the night at the beginning of thy watch: pour out thy heart as water before the face of
the Lord lift up thy hands to him for the life of thine infants, who faint for hunger at the top of all the streets. RHECHS. Behold,
O Lord, and see for whom ['tini', dative of 'tis' LXX] thou has gathered thus. Shall the women eat the fruit of their womb?
the cook has made a gathering: shall the infants sucking at the breasts
be slain? wilt thou slay the priest and prophet in the sanctuary of the
Lord? CHSEN. The child and old man have lain down in the street: my virgins
and my young men are gone into captivity: thou hast slain them with the
sword and with famine; in the day of thy wrath thou hast mangled them,
thou has not spared."
(Lamentations 2:19-21, Brenton Septuagint).
In this passage, 'tis' would seem to include infants sucking at the breast.
There is ample evidence in the Bible that God's pleasure rests upon little
"But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid
them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:14).
The Bible also teaches that all inherited a sinful nature from Adam. Do
children never die? Where did death originate?:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by
sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:..."
There is none without sin save only Jesus. The claim of man's natural innocency
collides with a Bible that teaches,
"What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman,
that he could be righteous? If God puts no trust in His saints, and the
heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is abominable
and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!" (Job 15:14-16).
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived
me." (Psalm 51:5).
"So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One,
that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.'"
(Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18).
"Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?"
Baptism, Biblically, is for believers:
"Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the
eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?'
Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he
answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' So
he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch
went down into the water, and he baptized him." (Acts 8:36-38).
Incidentally, Roman Catholic doctrine acknowledges that baptism is for believers, though their practice falls
short of this realization: "When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that
cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely
nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by
our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate
them..." (Catholic Catechism, 978). They allow this profession of
faith to be made by proxy, by 'god-parents' nominated for the purpose...but
who can speak for another in such a matter?
Biblically, baptism is for believers; Philip waited on a confession of
faith from the eunuch before he would baptize him. Biblically, children
are as much in need of regeneration in order to stand before a Holy God
as anyone else. If, as baptismal regenerationists say, Jesus meant in John
3:5 to say that none unbaptized may enter the kingdom of heaven, because
baptism not only signifies but effects regeneration, what is the result?
A Catch-22, by which unspeaking children need regeneration...but cannot
get it, because the only means afforded by God, baptism, is withheld from them.
Once one realizes that regeneration is a supernatural act of God, these
difficulties dissolve away. God may regenerate whomever He pleases in whatever
manner He pleases, whether this regeneration is celebrated by solemn performance
of its symbol, baptism, or not. The difficulties created by the baptismal
regenerationist reading of John 3:5 should serve as the reductio ad absurdum
of this erroneous interpretation.