Doctrine of the Church (Part 2)

May 04, 2014     Time: 00:37:10

Theological Questions

We are talking about the Doctrine of the Church and in particular about the sacraments or ordinances of the church. We concluded last time by looking at the biblical data concerning baptism. Today we want to raise some theological questions about the nature of baptism.

Sacrament or Ordinance?

The first and foremost question that needs to be addressed is: is baptism a sacrament or is it an ordinance? You will remember the definition of a sacrament as opposed to an ordinance. A sacrament is literally a means of grace. It is like a channel by which God’s grace comes to you, rather the way water might flow through a pipe. On the sacramental view we receive God’s saving grace by being baptized. By contrast, on the view of baptism as an ordinance, baptism serves merely a symbolic function. It is a sign of some act of God’s grace that can be quite independent of that sign. It is not baptism that is the thing that accomplishes the reception of God’s grace. It is merely a sign of it, or a symbol of it.

Today we want to look at the case for thinking of baptism as a sacrament. This would be the case that would be presented by, for example, Catholics or Lutherans or others who take a sacramental view of baptism.

The first thing that the sacramentalist will note is that baptism is very closely linked with justification. There is a tight connection in the New Testament between being baptized and being justified which is, of course, what accomplishes salvation. So let’s look again at Romans 6:1ff, one of the key New Testament passages on baptism.

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.

Notice here, according to Paul, it is through baptism that we are incorporated into Christ’s death. We are united with him in his death and then in his burial and then in his resurrection. This is not just some sort of a symbolic expression. It says this is what actually happened. We who have been baptized were baptized into his death, being buried with him in baptism, and then raised from the dead so that just as Christ was so we might walk in newness of life. The use of the passive voice in this passage – “you were buried with him into baptism,” for example – indicates that God is the active subject here. God is the one who has buried you in baptism. God has identified you with Christ by going through the rite of baptism. So these are literally acts of God by which you are identified with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Now turn over to Colossians 2:11-14.[1] Here 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 . . .

So this passage, again, shows our identification with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection through the act of baptism. It is by being baptized that we are identified with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Then 1 Corinthians 6:11. Paul speaks here of the type of sinners that will not inherit God’s Kingdom and 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 sacramentalist will claim that this is a baptismal verse. This is evident from the language of washing – “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified” – and then also from the formula “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The New Testament church baptized people in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So this idea of being washed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ shows its connection with baptism as does the mention of the Spirit of God because, as we will see later on, Spirit baptism is linked with water baptism. The sacramentalist will say that insofar as you undergo water baptism you are also baptized in the Holy Spirit. So 1 Corinthians 6:11 is a baptismal verse.

For the comparison with being baptized in the name of Jesus, look over at Acts 22:16. He says to Paul, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” There you have the idea of washing in baptism and calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.

G. R. Beasley-Murray, who is a Baptist New Testament scholar and has written a very, very thorough book on the subject 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] So in this verse it teaches that in baptism you are given the grace that justifies and sanctifies you. This is all the more impressive that this comes from a Baptist theologian that he would therefore take a sacramentalist understanding of baptism in the New Testament against what would normally be his tradition.

Finally, no gift or power in the New Testament is not ascribed to baptism. It is really remarkable when you look at the passages on baptism in the New Testament how virtually every blessing and power that is the believer’s is said to be ours in virtue of being baptized. Again, I quote from Beasley-Murray’s book Baptism in the New Testament, he says,[3]

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: 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]

These are the gifts that are made available to us in virtue of baptism. These are said to be ours because of baptism.

I think you will agree with me that that is a pretty impressive list of blessings that are said to be ours in virtue of baptism. So you can see the close link that exists in the New Testament between being baptized and justification, sanctification, and all the rest that comes with salvation. So for that reason the sacramentalist will say that baptism is not a mere symbol. Look at all the things that it does; look at what God does through baptism to you! This is a sacrament; it is a means of grace.

The second point in defense of sacramentalism is that baptism is also very closely linked with Spirit baptism. Water baptism is linked with being baptized in the Holy Spirit. You will remember when we talked about regeneration, it is that baptism in the Holy Spirit that results in regeneration and in being born again to new life. Having the Spirit within whereas before a person was spiritually dead. Baptism is linked with this being baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Look again at Acts 2:38.[5] This is the response to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost: “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.’” This verse is very much like the one we read from Acts 22:38 where Paul is told to rise, wash away his sins, and receive the Holy Spirit. Here “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.” So in order to receive the regeneration of the Holy Spirit one undergoes baptism. This sets the pattern then for the rest of the book of Acts. One undergoes water baptism and thereby receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Not only do we have the book of Acts supporting this tight link between water and Spirit baptism, but also a pair of passages in Paul’s letters also seem to link these very closely. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27-28. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul says, “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.” Here Paul talks about being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ and being made to drink of the Spirit (receiving the Holy Spirit). So he connects Spirit baptism with being baptized into the body of Christ. Now look at what he says in Galatians 3:27-28, “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 emphasis there is the same. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” all are baptized into the one body. Then here in Galatians again, “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.” Whereas in 1 Corinthians 12:13 he is associating this with the Holy Spirit – “by one Spirit we were all baptized into the body of Christ. . . . [We] were made to drink of one Spirit.” In Galatians 3:27, there is no mention of the Spirit. It is water baptism: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” So this shows the tight link between water baptism and Spirit baptism. Even if these are not identical, they are simultaneous or co-incident. As one is baptized in water in the name of Jesus, one is baptized into the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. This goes right along with what we have already seen: it is by baptism that we identify with the death of Christ, his burial, and resurrection. So in water baptism one receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit and is incorporated into the body of Christ.

Finally, the last passage that we want to look at that closely connects water baptism and Spirit baptism would be Paul’s letter to Titus – Titus 3:5-7. There Paul says,

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 to be a baptismal verse in virtue of the mention of the washing.[6] “He saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” This is a reference to baptism. Notice what is found through this washing: regeneration, renewal in the Holy Spirit, and justification by grace so that we become heirs of eternal life. So this would again show the close linkage between baptism in water and Spirit baptism. It is by undergoing water baptism that we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, regenerated, and incorporated into the body of Christ.

I think you can see on a sacramental view, baptism is really critical because it is through baptism that you receive God’s saving grace. The Scripture will even say, “Thus baptism now saves you, not by washing of dirt from the body but by an appeal to God for a clear conscience.”[7] So we have regeneration and justification taking place in water baptism through the Holy Spirit co-incidentally or simultaneously with our water baptism. Therefore, baptism is just absolutely critical in the process of becoming a Christian.


Question: I wanted to ask a question about a passage in Acts 19 starting with verse 2.

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And 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. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.”

My question is: it almost seems like there was a different type of baptism before the church was established than after it. Is that the case or not?

Answer: Yes, I think that is quite right. This case of these disciples that Paul found in Ephesus is really bizarre. These people had heard about John the Baptist and they had been baptized in that type of baptism. It was a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sin. But it wasn’t baptism in the name of Jesus. As we saw in the book of Acts, this is critical being baptized in the name of Jesus. So they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. They were like the people pre-Pentecost during the ministry of Jesus when John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan for forgiveness of sins. They weren’t receiving the Holy Spirit at that time. Pentecost had yet to come. The Holy Spirit was not yet given. But baptism in the name of Jesus, the sacramentalist will say, is an altogether different thing, and it now does confer the Holy Spirit. So because they had not received the Holy Spirit Paul in effect regarded their baptism as incomplete or invalid or not truly Christian baptism.

We will see there is a different case with Apollos just above. Look up in verse 25 of chapter 18. Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So what happens is, “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.” What is the difference between Apollos and these people in Ephesus that Paul ran into? The difference was the Holy Spirit. The people in Ephesus had only heard of the baptism of John but they didn’t know the Holy Spirit. By contrast, Apollos, though he only knew the baptism of John, was fervent in Spirit.[8] He evidently had the Holy Spirit and so they didn’t need to re-baptize him. They didn’t re-baptize him; they simply taught him more accurately the way of the Gospel. So it was the presence of the Holy Spirit in Apollos’ life that made the crucial difference in whether he needed to be re-baptized.

Question: Just a comment. It seems like these proof texts for baptismal regeneration seem to very heavily involve faith and belief, almost like all the proof texts used for baptismal regeneration cut equally against infant baptismal regeneration.

Answer: Ah. Yes, and this is one of the points that Beasley-Murray, as a Baptist, makes very emphatically. He said, “I am a sacramentalist. I believe in baptismal regeneration. It is in water baptism that we are regenerated and baptized into the Holy Spirit and become Christians.” He says for that reason it must be believer’s baptism. Infant baptism he will completely rule out because an infant obviously cannot make a choice to believe and receive Christ.[9] So Beasley-Murray believes in sacramentalism, but he rejects infant baptism. We will talk more about infant baptism later. That will be the second thing we will talk about. What kind of candidate is appropriate for baptism? But you are quite right that the need for repentance and faith in Christ would be an argument that would cut against infant baptism or pedobaptism.

Question: I had this question in my mind since we started talking about baptism. If baptism is a sacrament, what is your opinion about immersion versus sprinkling, and are there any passages about that?

Answer: I don’t think that I was going to say anything about that because it seemed to me that in the New Testament there isn’t any sort of prescription in that regard. Whether they were fully immersed or maybe knelt in the water and the water was poured over them or something, it seems to me that that is not something that Scripture emphasizes or really has anything to say about. The key elements would be some sort of a sign or outward manifestation (water) and then some word of God conjoined with that sign. But it doesn’t seem to me that there is anything in the New Testament that would mandate the mode of how it is done.

Question: Did I understand you correctly when you said through baptism we receive God’s saving grace?

Answer: That is what the sacramentalist thinks – yes. You are saved through baptism. This is when regeneration occurs.

Followup: So if you are not baptized, you are not saved?

Answer: Yes.

Followup: So the Quakers are not saved?

Answer: I don’t know enough about Quakers. Do they not baptize?

Followup: Right.

Answer: Yeah, well, on a sacramentalist view I think they would be in trouble unless there were some other means of grace.

Followup: Also it seems like Luther would say that the regeneration comes before that and it is by mercy we are saved. His mercy he saved us.

Answer: Lutherans also have a sacramentalist view of baptism.

Followup: I am just talking about when the regeneration takes place.

Answer: As far as I understand, for a Lutheran as well Spirit baptism and regeneration would be co-incident with water baptism.

Followup: So in other words we do something and then God gives us grace.

Answer: Yes, or God does something to us through this sacrament. He buries us with Christ in baptism. He incorporates us into the body of Christ through baptism. This is a means of grace that God uses.

Followup: Before that you said we were dead in our sins. So how do we get to that point where we want to?

Answer: That would go back to what we already talked about in terms of effectual calling, faith and repentance, and all that. And as you know there are different views on that depending on whether you are Reformed or Arminian. So how you answer that question is quite different.[10] But the point would be that the person who wants to become a Christian and place his faith in Christ does what Peter says on the day of Pentecost – repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The people said to Peter, “What shall we do?” and what Peter answered was “Repent and be baptized and you’ll receive the Holy Spirit.” How you get to that point is going to depend upon these issues we’ve already talked about in the previous section.

Question: I think most of these references – this is a problem of reading “water” anytime the word “water” or “baptism” is used into water baptism. I think most of these references are the Spirit baptizing us into Christ. When you had the progression of the church from Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea, and all the ends of the world, this is how this progressed. Paul said, “I am glad I didn’t baptize any of you” when baptism became controversial about who should do it. He said “He sent me to proclaim the Gospel.” Baptism isn’t even part of the Gospel according to that verse.

Answer: Yes, and this will be one of the passages that we will look at when we look at the view that baptism is an ordinance and not a means of grace. The passage you are referring to is in 1 Corinthians where Paul really seems to depreciate the importance of baptism.[11] He didn’t seem to be concerned about baptizing anyone. We will look at that later, so hang onto that.

As for your first point, I think your first point about the washing not being a reference to baptism – I think that is a possibility with respect to some of these passages like Titus where it says, “By the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” You could see that as metaphorical, a kind of spiritual washing. But I must say that the parallelism between 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27-28 really looks tight there. You’ve got Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and then in Galatians the Spirit isn’t even mentioned. There it does seem to be water baptism and seems to suggest a real tight connection that goes beyond just washing.

Followup: It could be the occasion was the same in some cases but if you take the reference on the water side, if you take the reference in Peter, if you weren’t in Christ in the ark – in Peter’s reference, and the ark being one of the most perfect symbols of Christ – if you weren’t in Christ, the water was an instrument of death, not of life.

Answer: Yes. OK, let’s look at that passage, 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” There it says “baptism saves you.” You can’t get much clearer than that! What you are pointing out is: but the ark saved them from the danger of the water. The water there was the threat through which they were saved, whereas in baptism the water isn’t the danger. It would seem to be the means on a sacramentalist view. I think you would just have to say that you are pressing the metaphor or the parallelism too hard to say that in order to truly be parallel that the water of baptism needs to be a threat. It seems to me that the intent of the author there is to ascribe some kind of salvific significance to the rite of baptism. It is clearly water here and not Spirit baptism.

Question: My question is the motivation of the sacramental view. I don’t hold it myself, and I guess I struggle to understand why people would hold it. My question is whether the sacramental view comes from a worldview that we are saved by works and so the sacrament sort of fits into that, or is it that they read these passages and they feel so obligated to a literalist interpretation that they sort of fit baptism in keeping salvation through Christ but also holding to this literalist view.[12]

Answer: I think it would be unfair to say that it is based upon a view of salvation by works. I think that would not be right. But, as I said when we introduced this topic, it is rooted in what you think the church is. Do you think the church is a means of grace that God has given to humanity so that by being incorporated into the church you receive God’s grace through the instruments that the church has to administer like baptism and the Eucharist? Or do you think the church is just sort of the fellowship of believers, the fellowship of everyone who has come to know Christ but it is not a sacrament itself? So the sacramentalist view of these rites is, in a sense, just an expression of a deeper view of what the church is – that the church is itself a kind of primal sacrament and hence these are sacraments.

I have to say in all candor (and I think here Beasley-Murray would agree) that it is just the force of these passages when you read them that makes one think really hard about sacramentalism and that whether or not those who think baptism is a mere ordinance are taking it too lightly. I think these passages are very powerful. I feel put back on my heels by reading these. I feel – whoa! – there is something here that really needs to be addressed. These can’t just be dismissed. So I think that the sacramentalist case with respect to baptism is pretty strong. Whether or not it is compelling will depend on the considerations that we will look at next time with regard to regarding baptism as an ordinance and not a sacrament. So hang on and we will save that for next time.[13]


[1] 4:55

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

[3] 9:38

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

[5] 14:54

[6] 20:12

[7] cf. 1 Peter 3:21

[8] 25:06

[9] “We should be honest enough to recognize that 1 Peter 3:21 is one example of a New Testament baptismal utterance that cannot be applied to infant baptism. The baptism of an infant is neither his prayer to God for a pure conscience nor his promise to God to maintain such. This aspect of New Testament baptism, accordingly, we must ungrudgingly confine to the baptism of believers.” Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p. 362.

[10] 30:01

[11] cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

[12] 34:58

[13] Total Running Time: 37:10 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)