Is the belief in eternal security necessary to perform a valid, biblical baptism? Do the doctrinal beliefs of the church or administrator of baptism contribute to the validity of that baptism? Should a person who wishes to join a Baptist church and was baptized by immersion in a church that believes salvation can be lost be re-baptized in a Baptist church? This debate has raged in blogs for years, often creating as much heat as light. In our last debate we focused on church oversight of baptism. Now, we tackle this thorny issue in hopes that we can take one step toward greater understanding on the issue.
Defining the Debate
It is dangerous to speak for Robin, but I believe I am on safe ground as I make these assertions. I am open to correction if I have erred.
1) Robin and I agree on the key markers of valid biblical baptism. Dr. Thomas White has identified six key markers of valid baptism. He admitted that they were of vary importance. A valid baptism has a proper subject (a believer), mode (immersion only), meaning (symbolic, not saving or sanctifying), and a Trinitarian formula. I believe that Robin and I are in full agreement on these primary issues. A valid baptism must be of a believer by immersion, in the name of our God symbolizing, but not procuring salvation. Our only disagreements are over the last two markers. White says a valid baptism must be connected to a local church (which we debated last time) and have a proper administrator (the subject of this debate). White admits that the administrator of baptism does not hold the same level of importance as the other issues.
2) Robin and I agree that baptisms that do not meet one of these four key standards are invalid. If one was baptized before conversion, it is not valid. If one was baptized as a requisite for salvation, that is not biblical. We both understand that the Greek word baptism implies immersion, and therefore sprinkling and pouring are not valid methods of baptism. We disagree whether the administrator’s belief on security matters for a valid baptism.
3) Robin and I agree that salvation once given is never rescinded by God. We both believe in the perseverance of believers in God’s grace.
4) Robin and I agree that the belief that one can lose his salvation is a false interpretation of scripture and a serious error of doctrine. I will not be arguing that this interpretation is correct, only that it does not nullify an otherwise valid baptism.
Does Security Matter in Baptism?
1) I believe that the only theology essential to a valid baptism is that which is essential to the symbolism of baptism. Baptism symbolizes the death of Christ for our sins and his resurrection to bring us new life. So, as long as one is baptizing by immersion a professing believer and believes in salvation by grace through faith alone, recognizing that baptism symbolizes but does not provide salvation, the baptism is valid. The nature and meaning of baptism determines which doctrines are essential. How does a belief in losing one’s salvation invalidate the symbolism of baptism? Water baptism can symbolize these key truths regardless of one’s view of security.
2) If we designate security as a validating doctrinal belief for baptism, what other doctrines do we include as invalidating? Should we make issues of other soteriological doctrines (particular atonement, election, etc.)? Why make a big issue of security?
3) There is little biblical evidence regarding the issue of the administrator of baptism. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 is weak evidence, but at least it indicates that Paul thought that the administrator of baptism was a minor issue at best. He argued that there should be no division in the church based on who performed a baptism.
4) Can we not accept that there are practices that are not ideal, but are also not invalidating? It seems pretty clear that the ideal for communion would be one loaf and one common cup. Few of us use those anymore. We may not fulfill the ideal completely, but do not, by that, declare that the communion is invalid. I would prefer people be baptized in fellowship with churches of clear Baptist doctrine. But, the fact that a baptism is not ideal does not necessarily negate the baptism.
5) When we demand rebaptism, we risk demanding that which we believe scripture prohibits. A person is saved once and baptized once. If the first baptism was valid, we are demanding that someone be baptized twice, in opposition to scripture. That should only be done if the original baptism was clearly invalid (of a believer by immersion to symbolize salvation). Since there is no direct biblical evidence on this issue, we are on shaky ground to invalidate such baptisms. We could actually be demanding disobedience to Christ by doing so. It should only be done on strong, direct evidence, which simply does not exist here.
At best, this should be an issue decided church by church based on local convictions, and should not be encoded in our confessions. There is just not enough biblical evidence, in my opinion, to invalidate baptisms on this basis or re-baptize previously baptized believers.
Again, let me emphasize that I believe in security and think it is a crucial doctrine. But, I also believe that someone can perform a baptism by immersion of a believer that fully and properly symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ, while holding the belief that one can lose salvation. It is a false doctrine, but not one that would invalidate a baptism.
If the baptism meets the four key criteria, I do not believe it is biblically justified to make an issue of doctrines such as eternal security when determining the validity of a baptism.
Eternal Security is a Must for Valid Baptisms
Should a church that holds to eternal security/perseverance accept baptisms done in churches that do not hold to this doctrine? My answer is no and one area I will explore is Paul’s understanding of baptism in Romans 6:3-11. To hold to a “conditional” salvation perverts the gospel itself and the complete totality of Christ’s vicarious death on the cross. To also hold that one can lose their salvation contradicts the symbolic meaning of baptism as explicitly taught in these aforementioned scriptures.
The first question that comes up in this scripture is whether Paul is talking about spiritual or water baptism? Yet this question is unnecessary as Dr. Thomas Schreiner rightly comments, “…. any attempt to distinguish between Spirit baptism and water baptism in the Pauline writings goes beyond what Paul himself wrote.” So, since the physical represents the spiritual, what does baptism represent?
First, we are united with Christ in not only His death, but also His resurrection (6:5). The word, “united” (NASB) is the Greek word ????????. While this word has various meanings (planted together, united, at one with, fused), as used in this scripture it means that we identify ourselves with Christ’s death and resurrection. When believers experience salvation, not only does uniting with Christ mean we die to our sins in that sin is no longer our master, but also we also now live (because of our uniting with Christ) never to die again (6:9). Dr. Akin provides an accurate understanding of our uniting with Christ’s resurrection as symbolized in baptism:
“In other words, is there within the act of baptism, a declaration of my eternal security, of my preservation in this resurrection life? I believe the answer is yes. United with Christ in baptism, I too died to sin once for all. United with Christ in baptism, I too emerge from the realm of death unto a new life both in quality and quantity, a new life that will not and cannot end!”
Schreiner also states:
“The presupposition for the whole argument is that believers are already incorporated into Christ. Thus what is true of Christ as their representative is also true of them. Believers will live together with Christ, because now that Christ has been raised from the dead, he cannot die again. Those who belong to Christ will share in his triumph over death.”
Therefore, in these scriptures, Paul declares that our uniting with Christ that is represented in our physical baptism shows our eternal security or perseverance in Christ; that no matter what, Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). Notice one other item. Paul does not speak of the individual believer uniting with Christ, even though that is true, but he speaks of the collective “we” being planted or fused together with Christ. While I don’t believe this should be pressed too far as to negate the salvation each one receives individually, there is an understanding that baptism is not done in isolation, but with others who have preceded them. There is a connection in not only mode, but doctrine also as the individual comes together with the church uniting themselves to Christ. This, of course, is symbolized in the ordinance of baptism by the local New Testament church.
In the past, I have heard objections that this argumentation requires one to also deny baptisms done in churches that do not hold to other doctrines of grace like the doctrine of total depravity. Yet, this is illogical for the simple fact that the doctrine of total depravity speaks of humanity’s condition, not the condition of Christ. Remember, Paul was talking about believers uniting with Christ and the benefits of His atonement, not Christ uniting with our depravity and us. When believers are raised out of the water, they are not raised to conditional life, dependent upon their ability to stay saved, they are raised to eternal life based on the truth that Christ was raised, never to die again. Believers identify with Christ in the act of baptism.
So, what if the individual believer held to the conviction of their eternal security (without conditions, never to lose it) when they were baptized and the church they were baptized in did not? Does that mean his baptism should be accepted by a church holding to eternal security even though he was baptized in a church that held to “conditional” salvation/security? Before I answer, let me ask the question in this manner. Should a church accept a baptism that is done in another church that believes in baptismal regeneration even though the believer may not have held to that view when they were baptized? Some may say yes on both accounts, as they believe that baptism is only between the believer and God and the church’s role is minimal to non-existent. Yet, that logic will accept baptism on those who truly believed even though they were baptized in a Jehovah Witness or Mormon assembly. This relates to the last debate of church oversight I had with Bro. Dave. To remain consistent, those who deny church oversight must accept baptism done anywhere regardless of belief. After all, what does it matter who sanctions the baptism (Baptist, Assembly of God, Mormon, Jehovah Witness) if the one being baptized is truly a believer?
Yet, it does matter for Paul because during our spiritual baptism certain doctrinal truths happened to us that are proclaimed in the physical manifestation of baptism as performed by the church. These doctrinal truths are so important that Paul related them to the Roman Church, by illustration of baptism, in his effort to curb any accusation of antinomianism against his view that we are saved, not by works but by God’s declaration of us as righteous upon our profession of faith. As I have previously stated, the church is the “pillar and ground” of truth. To affirm by accepting the baptism of another church that holds to “conditional” salvation or baptismal regeneration is to simultaneously pervert the gospel.
 Schreiner, Romans, 307. In the quotes I use I am not declaring that anyone agrees or disagrees with the premise of my paper other than that which they affirm in their statements.
 Akin, Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, 77.
 Schreiner, 320.