Does Baptism bring eternal salvation?
By Spencer D Gear PhD
(courtesy Liberty Valley Church)
Do you need to be dunked in water or have water sprinkled on your head to receive eternal salvation through Christ? Or, is baptism necessary for salvation, whether that be for an adult or infant?
An examination of major Christian denominations surprised me that their beliefs include baptismal regeneration.
Some of these denominations are: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ (USA), Moravian Church, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the United Pentecostal churches.  
This is a Lutheran teaching as stated in The Augsburg Confession (AD 1529):
Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptized, who by Baptism, being offered to God, are received into God’s favour.
They condemn the Anabaptists who allow not the Baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without Baptism (Article IX: Of Baptism).
(Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 25 June 1530 before Emperor Charles V. Image courtesy Witness, Mercy, Life Together.)
In Martin Luther’s small catechism (AD 1529) he stated:
IV The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
What does Baptism give, or of what use is it? Answer:
It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare (IV.2)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
I. One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins
977 Our Lord tied the forgiveness of sins to faith and Baptism: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:15-16). Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4; cf Rom 4:25).
978 “When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them (Pt 1, Sect 2 I, ch 3, Art 10.I, On Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins).
There are two principal interpretations of Rom 6:1-4:
(a) Baptismal regeneration, and
(b) The spiritual reality baptism symbolises (Hunt 1995).
(a) Baptismal regeneration
Richard Donovan explained v. 3:
In verse 2, Paul said that we have “died to sin.” Now he links that odd expression to baptism. Paul suggests that baptism has power that transcends mere symbolism, and involves more than cleansing from sin. . . . When we are buried in baptismal water, that act unites us with Christ in his death and burial (v. 5) [Donovan 2017].
He further explains v. 4 which speaks of ‘we also might walk in newness of life’. When did this start? ‘This “newness” began with our baptism, but the renewal process continues throughout life and will be fully realized only in the general resurrection at the end of time’ (Donovan 2017).
For Donovan, new life begins when a person is baptised. Thus, he promotes baptismal regeneration.
Jim Parker, an Eastern Orthodox priest, stated:
Here’s my “opinion.”
Rom 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk in newness of life.
So, according to scripture, (not my opinion says Jim) in baptism, believers are baptized into Jesus’ death.
And, according to scripture, (not my opinion) in baptism, believers are buried with Jesus. Therefore, according to scripture, (not my opinion) in baptism, as Christ was raised from the dead (to eternal life) so believers also are raised from the dead. (That’s resurrection to eternal life.)
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
(It is only by being “in Christ” that we have eternal life.)
Col 2:11-14 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
So, again, scripture (not my opinion) says that we were dead and were buried with Christ and then were raised up again and made alive with Christ.
Tit 3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
“Washing of regeneration”: Washing is baptism; regeneration is another word for “born again.”
And from the early church:
Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD) The First Apology, Chapter LXI, “Christian Baptism”
I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean. . . .”
And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe. . . . The illuminand is also washed in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets foretold everything about Jesus.
So, it is certainly NOT “my opinion.” It is the teaching of scripture as confirmed by the writings of the early church.
You believe whatever you like. I will follow the teaching of the Church as it has been taught from her as:
Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD) The First Apology, Chapter LXI, “Christian Baptism”
Note: the word “regeneration” refers to being “born again.”
I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean.”
And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; …… The illuminand is also washed in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets foretold everything about Jesus.
The things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this could be a sign of men destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and bath of regeneration – as many as come to the truth and are born again.
Irenaeus (ca. 180)
When we come to refute them (the Gnostics) we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. They have renounced the whole faith. . . . For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins.
But there are some of them (Gnostics) who assert that it is unnecessary to bring persons to the water. Rather, they mix oil and water together, and they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated . . .this they maintain to be redemption. . . . Other (heretics), however, reject all these practices and maintain that the mystery of the unspeakable and invisible power should not be performed by visible and corruptible creatures. . . .These claim that their knowledge of the unspeakable Greatness is itself perfect redemption.
Tertullian (ca. 198)
Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life . . . we, like little fishes, after the example of our ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in water.
Now, the teaching is laid down that “without baptism, salvation is attainable by no one.” This is based primarily on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, “Unless one is born of water he has not life.” However, when this is laid down, there immediately arise scrupulous (or rather, audacious) doubts on the part of some.
“Unless a man has been born again of water and spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of the heavens.” These words have tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers were baptized. So it was too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized.
So, rather than form my own opinion, I will accept as fact the teaching of scripture and the early Church. Above are the scriptures and some of the teaching of the Church to which I submit as a disciple.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s view on Reformation catechisms is:
The confessions and catechisms of churches grounded in the Reformation clearly deny that baptism saves:
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q. 72: “Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? A: “No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), Q. 91: “How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? A: “The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in the one who administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in those who by faith receive them” (Question and Answer: Baptismal Regeneration, 2018).
Comparing Scriptures (the analogy of faith)
“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:11, 13). It does not state that anyone needs to call on the name of the Lord and be baptised to be saved.
Dave Hunt wrote:
Those of every nation who believed in Christ as their Savior were to be baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat:28:19). These new disciples were to preach the gospel everywhere and to baptize those who believed (v 20) through their testimony as Christianity spread worldwide.
Baptism in the early church was by immersion: “they went down both into the water. . . . [W]hen they were come up out of the water” (Acts:8:38-39
), etc. Why? Because baptism symbolizes the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection: “we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead…we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom:6:4). . . .
[The Council of] Trent anathematizes all who deny that “the merit of Jesus Christ is applied . . . to infants by the sacrament of baptism” or who deny that by baptism “the guilt of original sin is remitted. . . .” 5 Today’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 849) declares that those baptized are thereby “freed from their sins, are reborn as children of God and… incorporated in the Church.” Canon 204 states, “The Christian faithful are those who . . . have been incorporated in Christ through baptism” and are thereby members of the one, true Catholic Church (The Berean Call, “Baptismal regeneration.”)
The path to salvation
As indicated above: Who can be saved? “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13 NIV).
How will people know who Jesus is and how should they respond to him? “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14 NIV)
The path is very simple. You must be able to call on the Lord’s name to be saved. You won’t know who Jesus is without a proclamation that you understand.
There is no need for baptism. That comes along the path of discipleship:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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 (Matt 28:19-20 NIV).
Baptism is part of growth in Christian discipleship. It is not a necessity for Christian salvation.
See the Got Questions Ministries article, “Is baptism necessary for Christian salvation?”
See my articles:
What is the meaning of Romans 6:1-4?
It is not debating baptismal regeneration vs baptism as the spiritual reality which baptism symbolises:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (NIV).
It discusses the Christian experience of death to sin and growth in grace, using the baptism analogy. This should be every Christian’s experience for getting rid of the old life and being renewed into a new life. This new life began when we were born again and growth takes place when we bury sin and live the new life.
Baptism of a child by affusion (courtesy Wikipedia)
Donovan, R N 2017. Biblical Commentary (Bible study): Romans 6:1-11. Sermon Writer (online). Available at: https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/romans-61b-11/ (Accessed 20 October 2018).
Hunt, D 1995. Baptismal regeneration? The Berean Call (online). Available at: https://www.thebereancall.org/content/baptismal-regeneration (Accessed 20 October 2018).
 Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (CRTA) n.d. Baptismal Regeneration (online). Available at: https://reformed.org/definitions/index.html?mainframe=/definitions/baptismal_regeneration.html (Accessed 20 October 2018).
 Wikipedia 2018. Baptismal regeneration (online). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptismal_regeneration#Methodism (Accessed 20 October 2018).
 Hear Jesus n.d. Groups and denominations that teach baptismal regeneration (online). Available at: http://www.hearjesus.net/groups-teaching-baptismal-regeneration.html (Accessed 20 October 2018).
 Christian Forums.net 2018. Are all people infected by sin? (online), Jim Parker#82. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/are-all-people-infected-by-sin.77892/page-5 (Accessed 19 October 2018).
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 September 2021.