Water Baptism, Mark 16:16

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

Melton points his readers to what he calls “proof texts” used by the Church of Christ and seeks to demonstrate they do not say baptism is essential for salvation. The first text he addresses is Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” His charge? We are “taking verses out of context and IGNORING the rest of the Bible.” How have we taken Mark 16:16 out of context? Apparently because we don’t “…cast out demons … speak with new tongues … take up serpents … drink anything deadly … lay hands on the sick…” (verses 17-18). First, whether we are doing the things listed in verses 17-18 or not doesn’t change what Jesus said in verse 16. Jesus still said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” How exactly is the truth of the statement modified by verses 17-18 to mean something other than what it says?

Second, one needs to understand the Biblical purpose and duration of these signs and wonders. Jesus said they are signs that would follow those who believe, and we can find a record of most of these things in the book of Acts. However, the question is, would these things “follow those who believe” indefinitely? Or would there be an end to these miraculous signs? We do not have the space to deal with the topic at length here, but I will simply say the Bible reveals the miraculous gifts were given to confirm the word that was spoken (Hebrews 2:1-4), and they would end when the complete revelation of God’s word was given (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). I am happy to discuss this at length with anyone who wants to sit and look at it together. But again, be clear, nothing in verses 17-18 change the meaning of verse 16. Jesus still said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Melton states Mark 16:16 “…certainly does not teach ‘faith plus baptism equals salvation’!” The word “and” is a conjunction. It joins two things together. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich requires both peanut butter and jelly (unless Melton made the sandwich; then it only has peanut butter). But if it only has peanut butter, then it’s not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is it? By rejecting the necessity of baptism from the phrase “believes and is baptized,” Melton is effectively saying the text should read, “He who believes will be saved.” Of course that is what Melton believes, but the problem is, that is not what Jesus said. Seems that Melton is the one who is IGNORING what the Bible says.

Melton writes, “One is damned for NOT BELIEVING. No one is damned for not being baptized.” His point, Jesus did not condemn the unbaptized, therefore, one can be saved without being baptized. Friend, unbelievers are not going to be baptized; but those who believe what Jesus said will be baptized. Consider a parallel statement: “He who eats and digests will live; he who does not eat will die.” Digestion follows naturally after eating. If one does not eat, they cannot digest. To speak of the imminent death of those who do not digest (since they did not eat) would be redundant. Baptism naturally follows after faith. Jesus linked them together (“believes and is baptized”). If one does not believe, they will not be baptized. To speak of the condemnation of those who are not baptized (because they did not believe) would be redundant.

A common ploy of those who reject the necessity of baptism is to focus on the large number of verses that mention the necessity of faith. Melton does the same. He lists John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9; 1 Peter 2:6; and John 11:25-26. After citing these texts, he writes, “…who in their right mind would choose to IGNORE  these plain and simple Salvation verses by charging to Mark 16:16 and trying to confuse matters?” What?? Who is ignoring these texts on the necessity of faith? I believe them. All of them. But one must wonder whether Melton believes what mark 16:16 says or not. How about we take all that the Bible says about salvation? Is faith necessary? Yes, there are a myriad of verses that speak of the necessity of faith. Is baptism necessary? Yes, there are several verses (Mark 16:16 included) that speak of the necessity of baptism.

Melton concludes his denial of what  Jesus said in Mark 16:16 with the following: “The key element in one’s Salvation is his BELIEF ON CHRIST ALONE. Water baptism is important, and it should always FOLLOW Salvation as a picture of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Christ, but it cannot save anyone.” Melton says that faith only results in salvation. The phrase “faith only” appears just one time in the Bible. It’s in James 2:24, where the Spirit inspired writer penned, “…not by faith only.” Melton says baptism is important, but that it FOLLOWS salvation. Friend, open your Bible to Mark 16:16. Put your finger on the word “saved.” What did Jesus put before salvation? Was it belief only, or was it belief and baptism?

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