“Acts 2:38 Christians”

October 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Theology | Leave a comment

Acts 2:38.  There is a movement that has been dubbed by others as “Acts 2:38 Christians.”  The name comes from the high regard they have for this verse – they believe it is the normative verse concerning the requirements for salvation.  The doctrine they preach is known as “baptismal regeneration.”  In a nutshell, baptismal regeneration teaches that a person must be baptized (usually by immersion) to be saved.

Notice Peter’s words in this verse, from his Pentecost sermon.  When asked by the crowd, “What shall we do?”  Peter responded: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” 

“Repent and be baptized.”  This verse might, at first glance, seem to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, but consider the logic of the words.  An illustration will help:  If my daughter were to ask me how to start the car, I might respond, “Buckle the seat belt and turn the key in the ignition.”  Now those are good instructions, since they would accomplish the task at hand.  However, though buckling the seat belt may be the wise  thing to do before starting my car, it is not a necessary  thing to do.  My car will start without the seatbelt buckled.  My instructions offered good advice that was more than the requirements.  So too with Peter’s sermon, if someone genuinely repents and is baptized, that person would be saved, and both repentance and baptism are wise, but that does not mean both those things are necessary.

            The real test of whether both are necessary would be a look at the rest of scripture.  Are there passages that say baptism is necessary?  And are there passages that say repentance and faith (two sides of the same issue) are all that is needed?  The answer is “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter.  In other words, this passage in Acts is clarified by comparison with the rest of the New Testament, and the rest of the New Testament strongly attests that repentance and faith in Jesus is the only requirement for salvation.

            Here are numerous references to demonstrate my point.  My Sunday morning Reformation class students might recognize these as the study verses I handed out last week.  First in Acts, since that’s where we began:  10:43;  13:38-39;  15:1-11;  16:29-31;  20:21; and 26:15-18.  Next the evidence in John:  1:10-13;  3:14-17;  3:18;  3:36;  5:24;  6:28-29;  6:35;  6:40;  6:47;  7:37-39;  8;24;  11:25-26;  12:44-46;  20:30-31; and 1 John 5:11-13.  In Romans:  1:16-17;  3:21-30;  4:1-25;  5:1-11;  10:9-13.  In Paul’s other letters:  Galatians 2:15-21;  3:1-15;  5:2-6; Ephesians 1:3-14;  2:8-9;  2 Timothy 3:14-15; Titus 3:3-7.  The evidence is overwhelming!  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone!

            There are two related notes.  First, 1 Peter 3:21 is also quoted as support for baptismal regeneration.  That verse says the water of the Flood “symbolizes baptism that now saves you.”  However, Peter defines very clearly what he is talking about: “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”  The baptism which Peter says saves is the reality which the ordinance of baptism in water pictures.

            On a second related note, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if Max Lucado believes in baptismal regeneration.  A rumor may have gotten started because he makes a strong case for baptism, a case that all believers should be immersed.  But it is also clear that he does not believe baptism a necessity  for salvation.  You can check out his church’s doctrinal statement on baptism here.  Included in that statement is this paragraph:  “Does baptism, itself, have the power to save people?  The answer to this is a resounding ‘No!’ Scripture is abundantly clear that only Jesus saves.  The work of salvation is a finished work by Christ on the cross.  Baptism has no redemptive powers of its own.  There is nothing special about the water.  Nothing holy about the river or pond or baptistery.”   And then later the statement adds:  “Is it possible for an unbaptized believer to be saved?  Yes, definitely.  Should every believer be baptized?  Yes, definitely.”

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