The Doctrine of the Church (part 3)

August 16, 2009     Time: 00:25:11

You may remember we began the subject of the doctrine of the church and particularly looked at the unique rites that the church carries out such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so forth. We contrasted two views of these. The sacramental view sees these rites as means of grace or special channels of God’s grace by which it comes to us as human beings, versus a non-sacramental view which sees these as ordinances that the church carries out that has symbolic significance but are not unique or special means of grace. What we want to do now is to look at this question of: are these to be understood as sacraments or as ordinances?

We first want to look at the subject of baptism. We will first take a look at the sacramentalist view of baptism and give two reasons or two arguments in favor of the sacramentalist view.

First of all is that baptism in the New Testament is very closely linked with justification. Take a look at Romans 6:1 and following. Here Paul writes,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

According to this passage Paul says that we are incorporated into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection through baptism. He says, by baptism you have been baptized into Christ Jesus into his death and buried with him by baptism into death. Then in the same way that as Christ was raised from the dead we too should walk in newness of life. So this is not just a symbolic act, the sacramentalist would say. This is an act with real power. It incorporates us into Christ – into his death, burial, and resurrection.

The sacramentalist might also note the passive voice of the verbs that are used: you were baptized, you were buried with him in death. This shows that these are God’s acts. God is the subject of these verbs. He is the one who, through baptism, buries you and incorporates you into the death of Christ and into his resurrection.

That would be the first passage in which we seem baptism closely linked with justification. The other passage would be Colossians 2:11-15. Paul says,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

This, again, shows that our unity with Christ in his death and now also in his resurrection is accomplished through baptism.[1] It is in baptism that we die to sin and are raised to new life.

The final verse that we want to look at in this regard is 1 Corinthians 6:11 where Paul is talking about the various unrighteous activities that people are involved in. He says,

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

The claim here is that this is a baptismal verse – the washing that is referred to here is the washing of the waters of baptism. You see that it is in baptism that you are sanctified and justified so that the baptism is the mode by which sanctification and justification takes place. Also note the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a primitive baptismal formula. Acts 22:16, Ananias is speaking to Paul about how he should, now that he wants to become a Christian, be baptized. Ananias says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” This, again, would be interpreted as justification for seeing this as a baptismal verse. Also the association of the Holy Spirit with baptism is something that you find in the book of Acts where people are baptized, they are washed/cleansed of sin, and they receive the Holy Spirit. Similarly you have here the washing, sanctifying, justifying in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit. Those would be arguments as to why this ought to be taken as a baptismal passage.

G. R. Beasley-Murray, who is a Baptist New Testament scholar, in his very fine book Baptism in the New Testament says, “The inference cannot be avoided that the reality signified by justification and sanctification is apprehended in baptism by faith.[2]

The final point that Beasley-Murray also makes in defense of the sacramentalist view is that no gift or power is not ascribed to baptism. When you read the various passages of the New Testament you find that all of the various gifts and graces of God are ascribed to baptism. Let me read from pages 263-264 of Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament. He says,

In the light of the foregoing exposition of the New Testament representations of baptism, the idea that baptism is a purely symbolic rite must be pronounced not alone unsatisfactory but out of harmony with the New Testament itself. . . . The Apostolic writers make free use of the symbolism of the baptismal action; but they go further and view the act as a symbol with power, that is, a sacrament. . . . The ‘grace’ available to man in baptism is said by the New Testament writers to include the following elements[3]: forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38 and cleansing from sins, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11; union with Christ, Galatians 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection, Romans 6:3ff, Colossians 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Romans 6:1-11; participation in Christ’s sonship, Galatians 3:26f; consecration to God, 1 Corinthians 6:11, hence membership in the Church, the Body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27-29; possession of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 12:13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Titus 3:5, John 3:5; grace to live according to the will of God, Romans 6:1ff, Colossians 3:1ff; deliverance from the evil powers that rule this world, Colossians 1:13; the inheritance of the Kingdom of God, John 3:5, and the pledge of the resurrection of the body, Ephesians 1:13f, 4:30.[4]

All of those, he says, are attributed to baptism which shows that this is not some mere symbol or ordinance. This is an effectual means of grace. It is a sacrament. That would be the first argument that one could give in favor of a sacramentalist view – this close link between baptism and justification and sanctification and all the rest.

The second argument that the sacramentalist could give is that baptism is also very closely linked with Spirit baptism. Let’s look at several passages.

Acts 2:38. This is Peter’s Pentecostal sermon. When the people respond, “What shall we do?” - they are cut to the heart, they are convicted by Peter’s preaching. “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” When they asked What should we do? the answer is repent, be baptized, and the promise is You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This verse sets the pattern for the rest of the book of Acts. This is the pattern you see: repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit. This would imply that it is in water baptism that a person received the Holy Spirit. Spirit baptism and water baptism are co-incident – they take place at the same time. That is when the moment of regeneration actually takes place. This is the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. It is in water baptism that you actually are regenerated or born again or become a Christian. This is the moment at which you receive the Holy Spirit.

Let’s look at another passage in support of this view – 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The sacramentalist will take this to be a passage about water baptism. The metaphor “drinking” would perhaps bear that out. It speaks of liquid or water; you are drinking something. And when you are baptized you are made to drink of the Holy Spirit. You are also incorporated into the body of Christ, it says. You are baptized into the body of Christ. So the baptism in the Holy Spirit is co-incident with water baptism.

We want to compare with this Galatians 3:27-28. In case you think, Wait a minute. Maybe 1 Corinthinians 12:13 is just talking about Spirit baptism, not water baptism – it is not water baptism that incorporates us into the body of Christ, it is Spirit baptism, well, compare 1 Corinthians 12:13 with Galatians 3:27-28 where the reference clearly is water baptism.[5] He says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Notice the similarities with the Corinthians passage. The contrast between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. It is the same in Galatians 3:28 as you have in 1 Corinthians 12:13. The idea of being baptized into the body of Christ. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” So the sacramentalist would say this gives a powerful reason to think that 1 Corinthians 12:13 is indeed talking about water baptism just as Paul is talking about water baptism in Galatians 3 and would indicate that it is through baptism that you are incorporated into the body of Christ and the time at which you receive baptism in the Holy Spirit and are regenerated.

The final passage – Titus 3:5-7:

He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Again, the sacramentalist will take this verse as a reference to water baptism. When it refers to the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit this is a reference to water baptism. It indicates there that regeneration in the Holy Spirit takes place in water baptism. This is when we are justification by his grace and become heirs of eternal life. Salvation and the Holy Spirit are found in water baptism.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction to this is that if there is even a ghost of a chance that the sacramentalist is right you would be crazy if you are a Christian and haven’t been baptized yet. If you are confessing Christ and you have not yet submitted to baptism, not only are you in disobedience to Christ but if the sacramentalist is right you can be risking salvation. I think these passages, if they do nothing else, ought to underline for us the importance that everyone of us needs to submit to water baptism as part of our conversion experience to Christ. But of course the sacramentalist will say it is much, much more than that. This is the means by which you become a Christian. This is the means by which you are regenerated and incorporated into Christ and into the body of Christ, his church.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question is: if the sacramentalist is right then indeed infant baptism would be appropriate and even the Israelites going through the Red Sea would experience a form of baptism.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, all of them. We are going to talk about infant baptism later on. What I want to do here is I want to try to separate these two because I do think that there isn’t an implication that if sacramentalist is right that implies that we ought to go ahead and baptize infants. That is the position that Beasley-Murray actually takes in this book.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I know, but you are speaking conditionally. This man is a Baptist New Testament theologian, and he is a sacramentalist in contrast to normal Baptists. But he is not in favor of paedobaptism. He says that baptism still needs to come as an expression of personal faith and repentance. Remember the pattern in Acts 2:38 – repent and be baptize. An infant can’t repent, he would say. I don’t think you can say that if the sacramentalist is right about baptism being a means of grace that that just automatically implies that therefore you ought to just go out and baptize infants. I think that is a separate question that will need to still be debated.[6]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right! His point is the thief on the cross obviously wasn’t baptized but nevertheless Jesus said, Today you will be with me in paradise. These kinds of anomalies, I think, do present a real challenge to the sacramentalist view. The sacramentalist have ways to try to get around these, saying he had a baptism of desire in the sense that he would have submitted to baptism had he lived. But nevertheless, it does seem to me that these present counter-examples of persons who are saved apart from baptism. So that is, I think, a legitimate objection that needs to be dealt with.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: No. The way I understand, at least the teaching of the Roman Catholic church (which is sacramentalist) is the efficacy of the rite does not depend upon the person who administers it. The rite has power in and of itself. So if this is a rite that is administered by a minister of the Gospel and done in accordance with the New Testament, this will be efficacious even if the person carrying it out doesn’t believe in it or is in some way or another defective. There was a whole early controversy with a heretic group called the Donatists in the early church in which people said that those who receive baptism by heretics no longer had a valid baptism. So they had to be re-baptized. Augustine and others argued, no, that is not correct. Their baptism is still valid even though it may have been administered by a Donatist or a heretic. I would think the sacramentalist would say the baptism administered by Johnson Ferry Baptist Church or by the United Methodist Church who don’t regard the act of sacramental nevertheless is a sacrament and is still valid.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I wasn’t speaking of the mode of baptism. That is, again, another question whether or not it requires total immersion, or sprinkling, or pouring. I don’t think that that is decided by this issue that we are talking about now – whether it is a sacrament or merely an ordinance. That is a secondary question.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is another counter-example. In Acts 11, Peter goes and preaches to Cornelius, a Roman God-fearer. Things get a little out of sink. The Holy Spirit falls on them as they hear the preaching of the Gospel, and then they are baptized. I am going to bring that up when we get to the ordinance view because I think that when you look at these Acts passages a little more closely, as you are beginning to do, they don’t in fact follow the sacramentalist line of thinking of Spirit baptism and water baptism as co-incident.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is an interesting response because you could, I think very plausibly, say Peter wouldn’t have been willing to baptize him had he not seen that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon them given that they were Gentiles. I don’t know. When we look at the ordinance view we will look at these cases more closely. I think if enough exceptions begin to pile up then it calls into question whether or not that is the general rule after all if you begin to get such a multiplication of exceptions. We will hold that off until later.


At least I hope that we will all go away from this by seeing the seriousness, I think, of the role baptism plays in the life of the Christian. If there is any one here who hasn’t yet submitted to baptism I would urge you to do so before the end of this lesson! (The lesson isn’t complete yet). What we are going to do next time is look at the passages in support of the ordinance view of baptism before coming to some sort of final position.

We’ll see you next week.[7]



[1] 5:24

[2] G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1973), p. 166.

[3] 10:00

[4] Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, pp. 263-64.

[5] 15:00

[6] 20:03

[7] Total Running Time: 25:11 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)