“Do ‘hard cases’ negate the biblical teaching that baptism in water is essential to the forgiveness of sins?”
A case made the news media recently that has breathed new life into an old quibble that seeks to nullify the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins. In the Bakersfield area, prison officials, in collusion with a Pentecostal chaplain, were instrumental in blocking (at least for the time being) the baptism of an inmate who sought to obey the gospel of Christ.
The incident made the national news and thus brought “out of the woodwork” a host of denominational voices contending that baptism could not be an element in Heaven’s plan of redemption, because “no man can block salvation.”
This is the same evasion that was employed by Ben Bogard in his debate with N.B. Hardeman in 1938. Bogard touted the case of Floyd Collins who was imprisoned by a cave-in in a Kentucky cavern. Bogard’s mantra was, “You can’t put a rock between God and the sinner.”
One retort to this might be: “You cannot cite an extraordinary circumstance to negate the plain teaching of Scripture!” Several observations are in order regarding this matter.
(1) It is a thoroughly disingenuous approach to appeal to an oddity in circumstance as a “proof-text,” when, in fact, one is opposed to the idea of baptism “for the remission of sins” (contra Acts 2:38; 22:16) under any condition!
(2) The “salvation-by-faith-only” advocates are caught in the web of their own textual manipulation when posing this type of argument. Let us suppose that a pagan, who knows nothing of the true God, encounters a life-threatening situation. He knows that the end of his physical life is imminent. He longs for happiness beyond death but knows not what is available, nor upon whom to call.
Would he be saved despite his years of unbelief? If our “faith-only” friends respond in the affirmative, would this then set a precedent that no one needs to believe in God, in order to enjoy heaven?
Or what of the Muslim warrior who is about to die in battle, yet has become disillusioned with his Islamic faith. Though he still believes in a Supreme Being, he knows nothing of Jesus of Nazareth except the few distorted fragments in the Qu’ran. Is salvation available to him apart from the gospel of Christ?
Again, if our critics respond with a “yes,” is one to assume that faith in the Son of God is then irrelevant in everyone’s case? It is amazing that men, wedded to a preconceived dogma with a zeal to defend it “by hook or crook,” seem utterly unable to see the logical consequences of the arguments they utilize.
No person is able to presumptuously say what God will do respecting extraordinary situations. If we could emphatically pronounce such sentences, what need would there be for the judgment of Christ at the end of time (2 Cor. 5:10)? Whatever He does will be the right thing, and none of us will question His decisions, or even desire to. Jehovah acts righteously (Gen. 18:25), and on the terminal day of human history, the righteous judgment of the Creator will be revealed gloriously (Rom. 2:5).
On the other hand, no one should even dream of setting aside the clear teaching of the Bible in deference to what they think the Lord “could” or “might” do. That is an irresponsible approach to the Scriptures. And the biblical facts regarding this issue are as plain as the noonday sun.
Baptism: precedes salvation (Mk. 16:16), and is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), or to “wash away sins” (Acts 22:16). It moves one into the “in Christ” relationship (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27), which is the equivalent of being in the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:13) — which Jesus promises to save (Eph. 5:23). It is a part of the “cleansing” process (Eph. 5:26), or the “regeneration” procedure (Tit. 3:5).
Could Peter’s declaration “baptism does also now save you” (1 Pet. 3:21) be any plainer? Away then, with humanly-devised rationalizations that subvert the gospel plan.