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The Tyranny of Water



One of the most common heresies in the history of Christianity has been baptismal salvation. The tyranny of water has arisen in almost every generation, and that water despot has run amok. Baptismal salvation, commonly called baptismal regeneration, is the belief that salvation as a whole or in parts, called salvific benefits, depends on water baptism. While exegetical arguments can be made against baptismal salvation, this article intends to give a threat assessment of the heresy. The tyranny of water changes the nature of salvation and the nature of a church. It is an extreme danger and must be quickly dealt with if it arises in your church.


Where the Threat Comes From

As J. R. Graves, in "The Relation of Baptism to Salvation," astutely notes, almost every historic non-Baptist denomination has affirmed some form of baptismal salvation. [1] The heresy first arose in the early years of Christianity and was affirmed in the Nicene Creed. [2] While rising and falling in popularity through the years, the most egregious form arose in the Stone-Campbell restorationist movement, in which the churches of Christ, the Christian Church, and the Disciples of Christ are descendants. The Campbellites, in their infancy, would become members and pastors of Baptist churches and quickly lead the church to adopt baptismal salvation. The Stone-Campbell restorationist movement also heavily influenced many Pentecostal denominations, leading many of those denominations to hold to baptismal salvation as well.


The threat does not merely rise in competing denominations but often begins with an individual who, often unknowingly, has been influenced by Campbellites. Often, phrases like "We need to rethink baptism," "I'm just trying to think this through," or "I'm just asking questions" are used to sneak in this abominable theology. The threat of baptismal salvation typically arises subtly, but it remains a major danger to any local church.


The Theological Danger

The primary threat of baptismal salvation is that it upends salvation by faith alone. To describe baptism as something other than a work is a difficult claim to prove. Throughout the New Testament, baptism is pictured as an act of obedience. If salvation depends upon baptism, then salvation is dependent upon a work. If baptism is not a work but an expression of faith, as some attest, then Paul, in Ephesians 2, has neglected to tell the Ephesus church how to express saving faith properly.


Those who assert baptismal salvation may say that baptism isn't required for salvation, but it is necessary to receive the benefits of salvation. This still upends salvation by faith alone. Baptismal salvation entails that the benefits of salvation can be received apart from faith alone. Suppose regeneration, the new creation, the seal of salvation, the creation of the believer into a child of God, enlightenment, and all the other benefits of salvation cannot come but by baptism. In that case, faith as the avenue in which God gives the benefits of salvation is torn asunder. John 1:12, as Colin Kruse attests in his commentary on the Gospel of John, says that the one who receives Christ and believes in His name is given the right or the power to become children of God. [3] The new birth, the making of a believer into a child of God, and the Spirit of adoption come through faith. If baptism is necessary to receive salvific benefits, then a person who has confessed Jesus as Lord awaits the benefits and suffers under the autocracy of baptism.


Baptismal salvation also requires that another person is active in the salvation process of another person. This aspect entails that a person cannot simply trust in Jesus alone but must find another person who is permitted to baptize him. Baptismal salvation makes the obedience of the lost to repent and be saved dependent on another fallible and fallen human being who may decide to be disobedient and wield the tyranny of water, refuse to baptize the repentant, and condemn that person to hell.


The water despot usurps the Lordship of Christ, claiming that the water washes away sin instead of the blood of Christ alone. As Darrell Bock, in his commentary on Ephesians, affirms in Ephesians 1:7, it is through the blood of Christ that the believer has redemption and the forgiveness of sins.[4] Ephesians 1 does not mention baptism or water at all, but only the blood of Christ by which the believer is redeemed. Baptismal salvation raises baptism's standing from an act of obedience to being on equal footing with the Lord.


Lastly, baptismal salvation changes the beautiful picture of baptism, where a new believer declares to the world what Christ has done for him into a yoke of oppression. The believer must trust in tainted water instead of the pure grace of God.


Baptismal salvation destroys biblical salvation, insults the Lord Jesus Christ, and defaces the true meaning of baptism. This heresy is not something we can agree to disagree on. Those who adhere to the cult of water will destroy every church they gain a foothold in.


How to Defend Against It

The way to defend against baptismal salvation entering into your church is first by preaching and teaching clearly that salvation is not dependent upon any work of man. Preach that salvation is by faith alone. Preach that no work will ever save anyone. In your invitation, separate any call to be baptized from the call to salvation. Ensure that those two calls are distinct.


Second, describe why and how baptism pictures what has happened internally. Be very clear that baptism is an important symbol that declares what has already happened in the life of the believer being baptized.


Third, spend time studying the "gotcha" passages adherents of baptismal salvation use. Understand the context of each passage well, and you'll see that baptism is always a symbol. From that, read what Baptist forefathers have said about these passages and on baptism. Their language will help you explain why baptismal salvation is wrong.

 

Last, never assume that someone is "just asking questions" when this topic comes up. Explain clearly why baptismal salvation is wrong and ensure that the error has not begun to spread through your church. Most believers intuitively understand that their salvation isn't dependent upon baptism, so when someone brings it up, it's because they've been influenced.


Conclusion

The tyranny of water arises in every generation, and it's the job of every man of God to stand up to the corrupt dictator. You can give no foothold to this error. You must address it before it derails the entire purpose of the Lord's church. The water despot can have no place among the people of God.




 


[3] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Revised Edition. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2017), 109.

 

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Eckhard J. Schnabel, and Nicholas Perrin, Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary, 1st Edition. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019), 39.

 



Written by Klayton Carson


The "Threats to the Church" series is also on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts. New episodes are released every Monday, just in time for your morning commute.



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