The necessity of baptism of the believer has been debated since the Reformation Movement. Many churches see no reason to baptize, believing that a simple prayer to God asking for forgiveness of sins and for "Jesus to come into their hearts" is sufficient.
It would come as a surprise to most members of American denominations to learn that the church practiced baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins for nearly 1,500 years. This only changed when a Swiss reformer, Huldreich Zwingli formulated a doctrine that contrary to Scripture teaches that baptism cannot be for the purpose of salvation because it is a "work of man" and the total work of atonement has been done for us through Christ Jesus. Zwingli primarily based his conclusion on a faulty understanding of Ephesians 2:8,9, where the Apostle Paul states, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Zwingli's objection was based on the notion that anything that a man might do in an effort to receive this gift is a work and thus violates the concept of salvation being a gift. Essentially he saw this as discrediting God.
There are two things that must be recognized about baptism in the writings and practices of the early church that put the Zwinglian view at odds with NT Scripture. One of the primary assumptions that any student of God's word must observe when handling the Scriptures is that no part of Scripture will ever be in conflict with another part of Scripture. If this is the case then God's word would be contradicting itself! This would lead some to discredit the Bible as God's word based on the conclusion that some passages are in opposition to others. The Bible must have agreement and harmony on every subject if it is indeed God's word.
So with this in mind, let's take a look at what the Apostles of the Lord Jesus practiced and preached concerning baptism and salvation on day one of the church that Christ established. Look at Acts 2:37,38. Here we find that Peter has just stated that his audience was responsible for the murder of Jesus, who was (is) the Son of God and their long awaited Christ (Messiah). They had rejected Him and thereby participated in His murder! (v.36)
Now Luke tells us of the response of the audience that day, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, What shall we do?" "Then Peter said to them, "Repent and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Now understand that Peter along with the rest of the twelve Apostles had received the Apostolic measure of the Holy Spirit that day. Not only did this special measure of the Holy Spirit enable them to preach to others in their own languages, per Acts 2: 7,8, but just as importantly they were "guided into all truth" by this measure of the Holy Spirit. This was promised to the Apostles by the Lord Himself in Jn. 16:13 where Jesus told them, "However when He the Spirit of Truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will tell you of things to come."
Now with this knowledge that the Holy Spirit personally guided and led the Apostles into "all truth", it would be impossible for Peter to have given an answer in Acts 2:38 that WAS NOT THE TRUTH! Because he was under the direction of the Holy Spirit. What Peter stated was exactly what God had directed him to state through the Holy Spirit.
What Peter told them was directly given to him by the Holy Spirit. In order to be saved from God's wrath and punishment these men MUST do two things; 1.) repent of their sins, and 2.) be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins and so they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. How important are these two benefits that Peter promised through baptism? They are essential. They must occur if one is to be saved! One must have their sins remitted (forgiven) and one must have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in order to be "born again" as Jesus stated to Nicodemus in Jn. 3:5, "Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." The only way to be saved is to be "born again". The only way to be born again is to be "born of water and the Spirit." There is NO OTHER act in Scripture that a believer is told to do that fulfills these requirements! NONE.
To deny one baptism for the remission of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit is in direct conflict with what the Apostles taught and practiced beginning on the day of Pentecost. It is also to dispute that the Holy Spirit gave proper instruction to Peter. It is to say that the hand chosen Apostles of our Lord, in spite of the direction of the Holy Spirit somehow got the answer to the most important question WRONG!
In part two of our study we will look at the question, "Is baptism a work of man or a work of God?" Should you desire to speak with me personally on this topic or present another question to me, please feel free to contact me through the contact page here at triadcc.org. Until next time, may God bless you richly.