BAPTISM AS A CONDITION FOR SALVATION
The Orthodox Church teaches that water baptism is necessary for the salvation of man. So we will first examine its claim that salvation comes through baptism and then to give a biblical response.
“The Holy Sacrament of Baptism: This sacrament is the gate to enter the Church of Christ, or the ingrafting of the wild olive branches onto the tree… Therefore, the sacrament of baptism is a precondition for man to have salvation from and spiritual union with God. Without baptism, there is no salvation. The sacrament of Baptism consists of a person dying spiritually and burying his old, sinful man and then being reborn as a new, sinless man.”
“‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ When He was teaching Nicodemus, Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’ Spiritual ‘Rebirth’ or ‘Baptism by the water and the Spirit” is the first sacrament of the Orthodox Church, that is, the holy sacrament of Baptism… The commandment of the Sacrament of Baptism – the baptism ‘by water and the Spirit’ – is contained in the first gospel, the first sermon which the Savior heralded to mankind… Christ issued the command about this sacrament specifically, as we have already noted, to His disciples, who preached a new Divine doctrine to baptize people ‘of water and the Spirit’ in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… According to our holy faith, the holy sacrament of Baptism cleanses the newly baptized person of the sin inherited from his parents and is spiritually reborn of God for eternal life… Baptism is, therefore, the precondition for our salvation.”
“Eventually, when the faithful begin to baptize their children, they stopped teaching to those about to be baptized the catechumen. As a result of this change, the church leaders invented a new system called ‘godparents’. Children [infants] are baptized and that on the basis of the faith of their godfather, who in the process of the holy sacrament of Baptism becomes a spiritual father to that child – a status spiritually conferred by God… The sacrament of Baptism is the most important ritual in the worldwide Church of Christ… And the fact is that the name that the newly baptized child receives from his godfather during the baptism is recorded in the ‘Records of People Born and Christened in the Church of Christ’ and ‘the Book of Eternal Life’, a book possessed by the eternal Lamb of God, who was slaughtered from the foundation of the world.”
From the quotations above, we can make the following conclusions about the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy on baptism:
1. Baptism is a precondition for salvation. Without baptism, it is impossible to have salvation.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ preached the “baptism of water and the Spirit”.
3. The apostles were baptized “of water and the Spirit.”
4. Baptism is called a “sacrament” and named “the first sacrament” in “the first Gospel”.
5. Baptism cleanses a person from all his ancestors’ sins (and his own that he has committed).
6. Infants and small children are baptized on the basis of the godfather’s faith, who then becomes the spiritual father of the child.
7. The name of the child christened under the godfather is entered in the “Book of Life” that the Lamb possesses in heaven.
8. The name of the baptized one is recorded in the annals of “Those Born and Christened in the Church of Christ”.
After reading these texts, any reader who is familiar with the Holy Scriptures will see immediately that these texts not only are not based on the teaching of the Word of God, but they also vastly distort the teachings of Christ and the New Testament apostles.
In contrast to His teaching on believer’s baptism by immersion in water, Christ never preached nor delivered something that remotely resembled the Orthodox doctrine on “baptism of water and spirit”. Neither did the apostles ever baptize someone “with water and spirit.”
Of course, neither are the other claims of Orthodoxy correct. Baptism is not a precondition for salvation, nor is it a “holy sacrament” that cleanses one of ancestral sin. Infant baptism on the basis of “faith of the godfather” is more than merely unbiblical. Writing the name christened to the baptized one by the godfather in the “Book of Life” simply does not exist in the eyes of God, nor does the church’s “Book of Those Born and Christened in the Church of Christ” have any validity.
All that the Orthodox Church teaches on this issue derived from the influence of the “Church Fathers” of centuries later than God’s Word. Their teachings have nothing in common with Christ and the apostolic doctrine. It is quite easy to prove the veracity of the claims I have just made.
In order to defend their position that baptism is a condition for salvation, Orthodox theologians cite as their proof only the one verse in Mark 16:16:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Because there is no support for its theology in the Holy Scriptures, the Orthodox Church resorts to pulling verses out of the overall Scriptural context and imposing interpretations foreign to that context. However, as we look at this verse, we realize that the condition for salvation is faith and not baptism. The Lord in uttering this sentence says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned,” not “Who is not baptized.”
As a consequence, faith brings about salvation, and lack of faith results in lack of salvation. The New Testament defines Baptism as an ordinance that Jesus commands everyone who has put their faith in Him as Savior to receive.
It becomes perfectly clear that this has been the apostolic teaching and practice for all righteousness in the history of Christianity. With this in mind, we realize that God was thinking this: “Whoever has believed and is not yet baptized, he has received salvation.”
The Meaning of Baptism in the Church of the First Century
“Faith is the gift of God and acquired during baptism. Faith is a gift of God and is a sort of divine seed which the Holy Spirit sows in the soul of a person during baptism.”
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…”
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
The first quotation reveals to us the Orthodox belief that a man receives faith only at the time of his baptism. Consequently, we arrive at the conclusion that a person only becomes a Christian through the sacrament of baptism. Orthodox doctrine claims that one comes as a God-hating person before he is baptized, but afterward, the rite of baptism administered by the Orthodox Church in some miraculous way converts such a person to a faithful believer. It becomes almost unnecessary to see how far this doctrine has gone astray from the revelation of God’s Word. However, because I want to prove that Eastern Orthodoxy, which considers itself to have the “right doctrine”, does not possess the truth in its confession, let us examine the response of the New Testament to the first quotation from the Orthodox theologian.
Christ and the apostles taught the doctrine of baptism totally different from the view taught by Eastern Orthodoxy.
After his resurrection, the Lord commanded the disciples to go into all the world,
preaching the gospel of salvation through faith, and teaching all people with the purpose of making them His disciples. The next step that the apostles were commanded to perform with people who had faith in Christ was baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Water baptism is supposed to be an external sign of justification by faith (salvation) and a “funeral” for the old sinful way of life, similar to the external sign of circumcision in the Old Testament, which served as a sign of the “circumcision of the heart”, that is, a rejection of sin. The Lord God commanded namely Old Testament Israelites to prune all their male offspring, as a sign of their belonging and commitment to God:
“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”
“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
The Apostle Paul in the New Testament emphasizes the fact that God did not save nor accept the Israelites in the Old Testament, and their father Abraham, based on their external physical circumcision. Rather, He saved them because of their sincere desire
to serve and carry out the will of God. In fact, physical circumcision could only serve as a visible external sign of their sincere faith and readiness to obey the Lord’s will:
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
This same apostle testifies that at the time of sincere faith and spiritual birth of the believer, God cleanses man from sin “not with a circumcision done by the hands of men”, that is, a rejection of previously committed sins, but rather by God giving man’s heart a desire to fulfill His will:
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Unlike Orthodox priests who claim salvation comes through religious rites, the apostles held to the doctrines of justification and salvation through faith in Christ as taught through the Bible. The apostles taught that faith arises from hearing the preaching of God’s Word. Consistent with this teaching, the apostle Paul was able to declare that the Lord did not send him to baptize, but rather to preach the gospel. Nowhere in his letters did Paul leave even the slightest idea that water baptism could lead to anyone’s salvation. On the contrary, Paul always emphasized the importance of receiving the message of the gospel (“good news”) of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection from the dead by faith:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Since it is clear that Paul recognized that the condition for giving a person baptism was his personal salvation, which only came from the conscious faith of a person, this servant of God certainly never would have wasted his time to organize the baptism of faithless pagans.
Examples of Baptisms Performed by the Apostles
These next examples show that the apostles always baptized people only after they preached the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ the Savior. They baptized only those people who received faith, or in other words, those who moved from a state of unbelief to a state of faith in Jesus Christ:
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call…’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there… But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”
“‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message… Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
“He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.”
Therefore, based upon all these examples of apostolic baptism, we can discern the following sequence of events:
(1) Preaching the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ to those who do not believe.
(2) Response of faith in the salvation message of the Gospel
(3) Water baptism of new believers based upon their testimony of their adoption of faith in the Savior Jesus Christ and of their repentance.
This brief but detailed analysis ought to help us comprehend the apostolic practice of baptizing. We ought to realize that they never believed in the necessity of baptism for salvation. On the other hand, we also saw the obligation that every believer who dedicates himself to Christ by faith to be baptized soon afterward. This is in accordance with the Lord’s commandment.
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” When we understand the doctrine the Lord Christ taught on the subject, it shows us that every believer ought to be baptized soon after he believes in Jesus. In other words, Christ spoke of those who believe currently will be saved in the future, and, naturally, will be baptized.
Water Baptism as Spiritual Birth
“When He was teaching Nicodemus, Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’”
Here we see a fundamental belief of Orthodoxy that is closely related to their understanding of the necessity of baptism for salvation. Although the previous section already demonstrated that this belief does not correspond to God’s Word, this study will show additional proofs. The quotation mentioned above, which comes from a book blessed by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, shows that Orthodoxy misinterprets the text from the Gospel of John. If the Orthodox doctrine on the need for baptism for salvation were correct, then the actual words of Christ quoted in the Gospel of John ought to correspond totally with the Orthodox quote above. In order that we might all see the difference between the actual words of Christ and the Orthodox misunderstanding, let us look at the actual words of Jesus as recorded by the Apostle John:
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?’”
What we first notice about the God-inspired text is that Christ the Lord never mentions a “baptism of water and the Spirit” (but He did mention the word “birth”, but that does not equate to “baptism” as we have seen earlier). It is inexcusable to insert words into the mouth of the Lord Jesus that not only did he never speak but also he never even thought. In this passage from John, Christ speaks of the need for God to render a miraculous “intervention” with every sinner who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The Lord calls this act of intervention “the birth from above” or “the birth from the Spirit.”
At the beginning of his gospel, when he still has not begun to describe specific events from Christ’s life, the apostle John summarizes the implications of Christ’s first coming to be with humankind by saying:
“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Many Jewish people did not accept the Lord Jesus Christ even though they personally saw Him, yet a number of pagans heard about Him through the preaching of the Apostles and accepted Christ by faith. God gave them the power to become His children. The first category of Jewish people, whether they believed Christ or not, comprise people who are born only in the natural way – from earthly parents. However, those who believed Jesus, be they Jew or Gentile, were born in the spiritual way – from God Himself.
The Nature of Spiritual Birth
After Nicodemus expressed his astonishment and misunderstanding of spiritual birth, Jesus asked him, “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things?” This
Pharisee who knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament ought to have understood the truth which Jesus spoke. Yet, it is obvious that this was not the case. However, regardless of Nicodemus’s ignorance of one of the most important spiritual messages from Jesus, he should have known that the “new spiritual birth from God” was written in several clear places in the books of the Old Testament. The clearest text that speaks about this “new spiritual birth” is found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel that was written five hundred years before Christ:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
This text says exactly what we learned in the study of the life of Abraham and his justification by faith. If you pay attention to what Ezekiel has said, you will notice that the Lord makes these promises to some people:
(1) He will cleanse them by “bathing” them in pure water.
(2) He will regenerate them by providing them a new heart and spirit.
(3) He will make their hearts a sanctuary (“temple”) for His Spirit.
(4) He will move them to follow His laws and decrees.
The birth of God “from water and the Spirit” includes all the points mentioned above. After a person puts his faith in Christ and is “born from above”, he receives a new nature
which avoids sinful living and seeks to please God on a daily basis (see Ezek. 36:27).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”
The new birth also makes the believer a temple of the Holy Spirit (per Ezek. 36:27):
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
This fulfillment of the Holy Spirit is also referred to as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. According to the Bible, this fulfillment occurs before water baptism and in fact is a precondition before water baptism. Despite the Orthodox accusation that “the idea of the second birth as a religious experience, independent of water baptism, is a recent invention and has no biblical basis,” just the opposite is true. The new birth from God
signifies the establishment of fellowship with the Lord on the basis of sincere and firm belief. This fellowship was never based upon ancestral sin or spiritual deadness of the Orthodox teaching of baptism.
“Orthodox Baptism symbolizes the actual union of human beings with Christ through spiritual rebirth.” Such a claim is very easy to refute even from personal experience. Scripture testifies that all of us who are born of God no longer live a sinful
lifestyle and do not keep on sinning before the Most High, as mentioned before. One can look at the lives of many baptized people in Orthodox churches (and in many other churches, for that matter) around the world. It becomes apparent that there exist many who are blasphemers, adulterers, liars, disobedient to parents, drunks, and transgressors with other sins among such people who are pronounced “born again and united with Christ” by Orthodoxy. This contradiction shows us clearly that they were not “born again” nor “united with Christ,” despite the claims of Orthodox theology that they were spiritually regenerated. It would be utter blasphemy to even imagine, let alone declare as church dogma, that anyone who curses God’s name (as the great majority of baptized Serbs do) could ever be accepted by God as His child and united with Christ. The facts speak for themselves and no other comment is needed.
The Godfather As a Spiritual Parent of the Newly Baptized Person
From an Orthodox work earlier cited, we learned that children are baptized in the Orthodox Church based upon the faith of the godfather, an adult who becomes their spiritual parent. This spiritual father of a little child gives “birth” to his godson “for God and eternal life”. Orthodoxy emphasizes the notion that such spiritual connection between the godfather and godchild is vital and almost as thick as blood.
What Does God’s Word Say about Godfathers?
The shortest answer to this question would be quite simple: NOTHING!
The New Testament knows nothing about the Orthodox system of godfatherhood, e.g. the spiritual father of the baptized child. In fact, as we have seen earlier, the Bible permits baptism only for those persons who believe in Christ the Savior. Small children and babies are excluded from the list of those who may be baptized, because they cannot take responsibility nor can they consciously accept the Christian faith. The Holy Scriptures do not contain one single example of baptizing infants and small children, although it does not exclude the possibility that older children (perhaps around 7 years old) could be baptized. Orthodox historian Eusebius Popovic asserts the following:
“During the time of the holy Apostles, anyone who sincerely believed in Christ and
thus entered into His kingdom, His church, was baptized without any additional preparation, apart from the fact that they heard strong preaching… Certainly, children were baptized, because we know that Peter baptized the Roman officer Cornelius in Caesarea along with his whole house, as Paul baptized the jailer of Philippi along with his whole house and Stephen in Corinth, again with his whole house. Thus, as the Bible states people were baptized with their whole house, so that must include children as well.”
Although Eusebius Popovic wants to justify the Orthodox code of baptizing young children and infants, yet he tells us that the apostles baptized only those people who believed with sincere hearts. The evangelist Luke confirms this point for us in Acts, when he stresses that Peter baptized Cornelius and those in his house who heard his message and put their faith in Christ (which certainly could include children old enough to understand, but definitely not little children and infants who were too young to hear and believe):
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message… For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’”
“They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”
However, the very text that Catechism in the Home cites in support of the baptism of babies and the system of godparents comes only from times much later than the time of Christ’s apostles. Data from church history tells us that, for example, a church father from the second century, Tertullian of Carthage (160-220 A.D.), an opponent of baptizing young children, taught that this practice was introduced very slowly under the auspices of the church. In terms of baptizing infants, he advised and taught the following:
“According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, indeed, is it necessary – if it be not a case of necessity – that the sponsors to be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition? Indeed the Lord says, ‘Do not forbid them to come to me’ [Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16]. So as some grow up, some will come to learn, and some will become Christians when they are able to know Christ.”
Eusebius Popovic confirmed the historical fact that church authorities in the second half of the second and early part of the third century condemned infant baptism, in contrast with later church leaders, who felt that children should still be baptized and alleged that even the earlier apostles practiced it:
“The post apostolic era of Tertullian (202 – 240 A.D.) opposed infant baptism, but Origen (died 254 A.D.) defended the practice of baptizing children from his interpretation of the Apostles.”
Various church fathers held different views on this important issue. Some of them decided to completely abandon the Bible’s teaching on baptizing only those who truly believe in Christ according to the apostolic practice. Nevertheless, many official church circles held to the biblical teaching on baptism until the fifth century. Specifically, several centuries after Christ and his first disciples, many church fathers adhered to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and kept Tertullian’s instructions to baptize children only when on the basis of their understanding of the spiritual lessons learned, as shown in their acceptance of faith in Jesus as their personal Savior and conversion into true followers of the Lord:
“Both the East and the West held to the custom that the children of Christian parents were baptized only when they became adults later in life. This custom arose from different motives, which were attacked by Cyprian, such that it held through the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. But the church teachers fiercely opposed this custom, and finally they supplanted it.”
From just the above text we see clearly that the church fathers from later centuries managed to “supplant” the custom of the regular church practice of baptism. In contrast, they set out to introduce another custom alien to the Bible: the practice of baptizing young children based on the faith of another, an adult man (godfather), and then in addition, to even call him his “spiritual father”.
On the other hand, the very notion of “spiritual father” was unknown in biblical terminology in the way that Orthodox theology defines it. Specifically, the Lord said:
“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”
Of course, the Lord’s commandment does not forbid calling “father” of our
male parent, but refers to the absence of other spiritual fathers apart from our God in heaven.
Establishing the truth of the above questions about salvation through baptism, we will now switch to study another theological error taught by the dogmas of the Orthodox Church. This error also was never included in the confession of the church of the first century.