Baptism and Salvation
Catholics believe that Justification is conferred in Baptism (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1992, # 2020) and Baptism is necessary for the salvation of those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for it (cf. ibid # 1257). Most Protestants and “Bible only” Christians, on the other hand, reject the necessity of Baptism for simple reason: nothing can be added to the faith in Christ, their only requirement for Salvation. They generally consider Baptism to be symbol or public declaration of one’s faith in Christ – ironically neither of them has scriptural support. Some Lutheran churches and Church of Christ also believe in the necessity of Baptism for our salvation. What does Scripture say about Baptism?
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned
There are two arguments from those who reject the necessity of Baptism on this verse. The first one is the authenticity of the verse is questionable because some manuscript of Mark Gospel do not have Mark 16:9 – 20 (known as longer ending of Mark Gospel while Mark 16:1-8 is the shorter ending). Ironically those who say so, still keep these twelve verses in their Bible as integral part of Mark Gospel. If they reject their authenticity, then to be consistent they should erase them from their Bible. In the second argument, since in the second part of verse only those who do not believe will be condemned then “to be saved” in the first part should be linked only to “he who believes”. However if this is the case then the verse should read: “he who believes will be saved and is to be baptized“.
Scripture also compares Baptism with the event when Noah and his children were saved through water:
… when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
1 Peter 3:20 – 21
Those who reject the necessity of Baptism will argue that it was the ark, not the water that saved Noah and his children. Hebrews 11:7 says that by faith Noah built the ark that saved his household. Again Catholics do not deny that faith is necessary and in fact, is the beginning of salvation. But the ark itself must go through the water and that’s what the verses say. Noah and his children who were inside the ark were saved through the water. We can only relate “through water” with Baptism and the verse says that Baptism does save.
From the lips of Jesus we have His testimony made during his conversation with Nicodemus:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Directly after this, Jesus and His disciples went to Judea to baptize (John 3:22). The Catholic Church interprets the phrase “born of water and spirit” as referring to Baptism, through which we are born again to become part of God’s family and a member of Christ’ body (i.e. His Church). Protestants and “Bible only” Christians, on the other hand, consider this verse as scriptural support for “being born again Christians” but relate it not to Baptism but to acknowledging Christ as personal Lord and Saviour, usually through saying sinner’s prayer.
If Baptism is necessary why Jesus Himself did not baptize (John 4:2)? John 4:2 indeed says that only His disciples baptized but certainly they would not have done so without His command. The fact that He Himself did not baptize does not rule out its necessity. In 1 Corinthians 1:17 Paul wrote that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. Does it indicate that Baptism is not important? No doubt that Paul’s main mission is to preach the gospel (Acts 22:15) and the fact that baptism can be performed by anyone is the reason why Paul baptized only a few. If Paul did not consider its necessity why was he baptized directly after his conversion and being healed from his blindness (Acts 9:18, 22:16)? Other standard argument against the necessity of Baptism is the criminal on the cross to whom Jesus promised to be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43) without being baptized. But Baptism is necessary for the salvation of those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for it. God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1257). Those who died for the sake of their faith before being baptized are baptized by their death for and with Christ (ibid # 1258). The Catholic Church refers this Baptism as Baptism of Blood. Others, like criminal on the cross in Luke 23:43 and the catechumens (those who are in the process to become Catholics) who die before their baptism receive what the Church refers as Baptism by Desire (ibid # 1259).