Water Baptism And Salvation

This article is part of a series responding to an article titled "THE BIBLE VERSUS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST" by James L. Melton. The original article is no longer available at av1611.org as it once was. Reading a response without access to the original writing can be frustrating. Having the context of quotes is important. You can download Mr. Melton's article here.

by William J. Stewart

Mr. Melton rejects the necessity of baptism for one to be saved, and in fact identifies it as an “ancient pagan belief.” How sad that he not only discounts the truth, but he calls what is specifically commanded in the Bible pagan.

The thief on the cross is the common battle cry of those who oppose the necessity of baptism. Melton is no different.

He confidently exclaims, “…the thief on the cross was saved WITHOUT BEING BAPTIZED (Lk. 23:42-43).” Agreed. I can find no text saying he was ever baptized; but the opposite is true as well—Melton can find no support to affirm he was not baptized. The Bible simply doesn’t say. And it doesn’t matter, because the thief is not an example of how to be saved in obedience to the gospel of Christ. Since the thief died after Jesus on the day they were crucified, Melton says “the thief died in THIS PRESENT AGE,” and therefore was subject to the terms of pardon in the Christian age. The church didn’t begin immediately upon His death. After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days preparing the apostles (Acts 1:1-8). At the end of the forty days, He would commission them to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48), and still, they were restrained from doing so for another 10 days, until the day of Pentecost had come, when they would receive the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4). And on that day, Peter and the others used the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19), the gospel message, and 3,000 souls responded and were added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47).

Melton tells us “the terms of pardon were made very clear a long time before Acts 2.” Amen! However, the only term of pardon Melton lists is BELIEVING on Christ. Must one believe? Absolutely. Will faith alone save? Go ask James (James 2:14-26). In John 3:5, Jesus said, “…unless one is born

of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” That, my friend, is a reference to baptism. Melton denies such, saying “the water in John 3:5 has nothing to do with water baptism.” Unfortunately, he failed to tell us what the water refers to. John 3:5 is parallel to Titus 3:5 and Hebrews 10:22, each picturing water as being necessary in salvation. If the water is not baptism, what is it? It is Melton, not Jesus who excludes baptism as a term of pardon in the gospels.

Melton wrote, “Church of Christ members are taught that there is only ONE kind of baptism: WATER baptism.” That’s either an honest misrepresentation or an outright lie. I’m not sure which. Either way, it is not true. The New Testament speaks about several different baptisms: the baptisms or washings among the Jews, John’s baptism, Holy Spirit baptism, baptism into Christ, baptism of fire, baptism of Moses, baptism of suffering. Some of those involve water, some do not. That said, Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” (Ephesians 4:4-5). The apostle is not denying the existence of the different baptisms listed; but he is saying only one of them is active and valid. So, which is it?

Melton writes, “There is one baptism which is far more important than water baptism, and this baptism is the SPIRIT baptism that the new Christian receives when he receives Christ as Saviour.” I’d be happy to sit and discuss what the Bible says about Holy Spirit baptism with anyone who is willing to do so. But let me simply point out, Paul said there is “one baptism,” Melton affirms two baptisms with his statement. Every believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but Melton has mistakenly equated the baptism of the Spirit with the indwelling. They are not the same. If you will search the Bible, you will find the baptism of the Spirit was very, very limited.

Whether reading the Bible or any other document, we need to understand words according to their common use, unless something in the context demands otherwise. The word baptize (Gr. baptizo) means to immerse or submerge. Melton correctly states that one might be immersed in anything (fire, water, Holy Spirit). However, the common use of the word is to immerse in water. Over half of the references to baptism in the Bible specifically mention water in the context. And several others, though not specifically referencing water, infer water. The common use of the word baptize involves water. Melton tells us that Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:3-4 are NOT referring to water baptism. Why not? Not because the context demands something other than the common use of the word? No. It is because Melton rejects the necessity of water baptism.

Melton has plenty more material to respond to on baptism and salvation. In fact, about half of his entire 9 page article against the churches of Christ focuses on baptism. The last several pages of his article are attempts to refute what he identifies as “proof texts” used by the Church of Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21, Romans 6:3-4 & Galatians 3:27). We will respond to his arguments in our next article.

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