This is the fourth part of a 24-part series of responses to a street evangelist I met from Lighthouse Baptist Church (Newark, DE). Please click here to see the first post, which contains a set of links by topic to all the posts in the series.
4. Salvation first, then Baptism. You would be surprised to learn that the Catholic Church is fairly close to Baptists when it comes to this topic, though there are also some important differences.
First off, let me say that before anyone above the age of reason can be baptized in the Catholic Church, they must first have faith. Baptism is not magic. You can’t try to baptize a person who could believe in Christ for salvation but does not and have them be saved.
That being said, Catholics do not agree with the idea of “salvation first, then baptism,” because the Bible itself says in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism…now saves us.” According to St. Paul in Romans, we are “buried with Christ in baptism” (Romans 6:4). Jesus himself, in John 3, says that we must be “born of water and spirit,” and the entire context for this passage, all the way from John 1 to the beginning of John 4, is – you guessed it – baptism. Thus, it is an error to separate temporally (salvation first, then baptism) two things that are tied together. Baptism is the cause that produces salvation, the effect. Faith must also be present, but we aren’t saved by faith. We are saved by God’s grace, applied to our souls in an act of regeneration, which we receive through the “washing of regeneration “(Titus 3:5).
Again, it can’t be emphasized enough: we are saved by grace alone. The question is, what and when and how does that saving grace do the saving? Remember: we are not saved by our faith or our good works. We are saved by Christ giving us the “circumcision without hands” (Colossians 2:11) which St. Paul immediately in the next verse associates with Baptism.
So, faith must be present…but God does the saving when we are “baptized into his death” and “buried and raised to life with Him in baptism.”
The Bible could not be clearer. Also, all the students of the apostles who learned Christianity from the authors of Scripture believed in baptismal regeneration. It took almost 1,500 year for any Christian to deny baptismal regeneration. Even Martin Luther believed in baptismal regeneration based on the Bible alone, as do many Protestants today.
Now, there are a lot more questions I’m sure you have about baptism (infant baptism, what if baptism isn’t possible, like the thief on the cross, etc.). And I’d be happy to address any of these you’d like to discuss further.
Please see part 14 for a more extended discussion of baptism!