Trinity & Baptism
By Dave Hunt
Recently we considered the biblical teaching that the one true God eternally exists in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Among those denying God’s triune nature is the United Pentecostal Church (UPC). It also teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation and that it must be done only “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”Yet Christ told His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat 28:19).
A UPC tract argues, “He said Name, not Names….this name the Apostles understood to be Lord Jesus Christ… Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not names, but titles of positions held by God….” That desperate attempt to deny the Trinity leads to such ludicrous conclusions as: the title of “Father” so loved the world that it gave its only begotten position of “Son” to save us. And it was the position/title of “Holy Spirit” by which Mary was “found with child,” etc.
That Jesus said name and not names is normal grammatical construction-a shortened way of saying, “In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit.” Surely “name” in this verse could hardly refer to another name”Lord Jesus Christ”not even mentioned there! Isaiah 9:6 is similar: “His name [not names] shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” If the UPC argument is valid at Matthew 28:19, then it must be valid in Isaiah 9:6 also. If so, then “mighty God” is a “title or position held by God,” and the “name” meant in Isaiah 9:6 is also “Lord Jesus Christ”!
In fact, God has many names such as Elohim (the Strong One-Genesis 1:1 and 2,000-plus other times), Jehovah Elohim (the Lord God, hundreds of times), Jehovah-rapha (the Lord that heals-Exodus 15:26), Jehovah-tsidkenu (the Lord our righteousness-Jeremiah 23:6), the Most High God (Genesis 14:18 plus 47 more times), Lord of Hosts (more than 200 times; 14 times it says “the Lord of hosts is his name”); and others. As for the Son of God, Isaiah 9:6 lists only some of His names. The angel told Joseph, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus (Mat 1:21). His name is also Immanuel (Isa 7:14), etc.
A major verse for the UPC is Zechariah 14:9: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.” That doesn’t mean that He will have a single name-much less that it is “Lord Jesus Christ.” Moreover, “that day” hasn’t yet come, so this verse won’t help the UPC now. As the context shows, during the Millennium the entire world will know who the one true God is, and He will not be called by any false names.
That does not say, however, that Savior, the Almighty, everlasting Father, the Most High, etc. will no longer be proper names for God in the Millennium-or that they are not correct now. These names can never change, because each describes something of God’s character or essence, and He “changes not.” Furthermore, if “Lord Jesus Christ” is the one true name of God, then we have an amazing situation: no one ever called God by His correct name-not even Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses or anyone else down through history-until it was recently discovered that “Lord Jesus Christ” is God’s only true name.
Why did Jesus say to baptize specifically in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Because nothing could be more fitting for that which symbolizes the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The Father gave and sent the Son to be our Savior; the Son died for our sins; and it was through the Holy Spirit, by which we are born again, that Christ “offered Himself without spot to God” (Heb 9:14).
Moreover, not one of the baptism verses cited by the UPC says “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 2:38 says “in the name of Jesus Christ”; Acts 4:12 refers back to verse 10, which says “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”; Acts 8:16 says “by the name of the Lord Jesus.” There is not one verse in the Bible that states that anyone was baptized in the name of “Lord Jesus Christ.”
Acts 19:5 says they were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” If that was what was said when they were baptized, then the UPC formula, “Lord Jesus Christ,” was no more used than “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Clearly, the baptism “formula” wasn’t the issue but the fact that these people, though baptized “unto John’s baptism,” had not believed in the “Lamb of God” to whom John bore witness. They needed to believe on Christ and to be baptized in His name. “In His name” means as He had instructed it to be done; i.e., in the name of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
That this was the accepted “formula” can be deduced from Paul’s actions. He asked them whether they had received the Holy Ghost, and they said, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Paul’s shocked response was, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” (Acts 19:2-3). Why ask about their baptism? Because no one could be baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” and not hear of the Holy Ghost! Paul would not have asked that question if baptism was “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Like certain other groups, the UPC also argues that “Water baptism is an essential part of New Testament salvation….Without proper baptism it is impossible to enter into the Kingdom of God.” Paul’s understanding of baptism, however, was quite different. He writes to the Corinthians, “I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius…and [the] household of Stephanas… I know not whether I baptized any other” (1 Cor 1:14-16). Yet Paul calls himself the “father” of the Corinthians and explains why: “for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (4:15). They had been born again into God’s family as His children, and Paul had been the means of their salvation-without baptizing them.
No, baptism is not, as some teach, essential to salvation. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they were saved through believing the gospel he preached: “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3). Paul repeatedly declares that we are saved only by believing the gospel. For example: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth [it]” (Rom 1:16). It is the gospel that saves, not baptism. Salvation comes through believing the gospel, not by being baptized. In fact, Paul declared, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor 1:17). Clearly baptism is no part of the gospel and thus has nothing to do with salvation.
Then what about the verses that say we must be baptized to be saved? What verses? There is not one in the Bible! Yes, Mark 16:16 says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” but that doesn’t say that baptism is essential to salvation, only that saved people get baptized. The rest of the verse says, “but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Nowhere does the Bible say, “He that is not baptized shall be damned,” or “If you only believe but don’t get baptized you are lost.” There are scores of verses that say, “He that believeth is saved,” but only one that says, “He that believeth and is baptized is saved.” And scores of verses declare that if we don’t believe the gospel we are lost-but not one says that if we are not baptized we are lost.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, yet as John 4:2 tells us, He never baptized anyone. Why didn’t Christ, like Paul, baptize at least a few people? If He didn’t even baptize one then He obviously took care not to do so for a specific reason: If the Savior of the world who did all that was necessary for our salvation baptized no one, then baptism clearly has nothing to do with salvation! The thief on the cross was never baptized. If someone about to die cries out, “What must I do to be saved?” must we respond, “There is no hope for you because we can’t baptize you”?
Then wouldn’t it be best to baptize everyone as infants? No, that is a fraud. To the question, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip replied, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:36-37). Baptism is for believers, and no infant has made that choice. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41); “When they believed…they were baptized” (8:12); “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (18:8). Baptism is a public declaration of faith in Christ, an act of obedience to Christ’s command, and thus required of every Christian-but is does not save the soul; it follows salvation.
But didn’t Jesus say that we must be “Born again of water and of the Spirit”? Yes. He said this to Nicodemus, a rabbi, to whom it would not mean baptism because that was unknown in the Old Testament. Israel had ordinances of “washing with water for cleansing” the priests or a leper or someone who had been defiled (see Ex 30,40; Lev 13,15, etc.). So Christ was saying that “cleansing from sin” and a special work of the Holy Spirit were essential to being born again. Ephesians 5:26 explains that the New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament water cleansing is “the washing of water by the word.” Peter says we are “born again…by the word of God” (1 Pt 1:23). Paul calls it “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5); i.e., “born of water and the Spirit.”
It was to Israel that John the Baptist preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk 1:4, etc.), which they understood in the context of Old Testament water cleansing. Baptism was also connected with the “remission of sins” when offered to Jews in the Book of Acts (whether preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (2:38), or to Saul (22:16). That this was associated with Israel’s practice of water cleansing, and not an indication that the physical act of baptism saves anyone, is clear for the reasons already given and in the context of all of the scriptures.
The idea that baptism is essential to salvation comes from Roman Catholicism. Vatican II declares, “By baptism men and women are cleansed from original sin and from all personal sins, they are born again as children of God….” (Vatican Council II, Costello Publishing, Vol 2, p 561); “Baptism is also to be given to infants…[that] they may be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit to divine life in Christ Jesus” (Vol 2, p 391), “Baptism, which is necessary for salvation…frees us from original sin and communicates to us a share in divine life” (Vol 2, pp 111-12). Not true!
The Bible is very clear that the Old Testament sacrifices and other physical acts, such as circumcision, tithing or keeping the Sabbath, could not pay the debt demanded by God’s justice for sin. They were symbolic of the coming sacrifice of Christ and the heart response of faith required for salvation. Judaism’s great error was its sacramentalism and formalism: finding salvation in the mere act of prayer, ritual and other deeds rather than in repentance and faith. Matthew 15 and 23 give examples of Christ’s scathing rebuke of Jewish religious leaders for this error that led millions astray.
Christ criticized the rabbis for giving God His “tithe” even from the herbs in their gardens, while neglecting “judgment, mercy and faith.” He quoted God’s rebuke of Israel through Isaiah: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.” To make a physical act/ritual efficacious for salvation makes it impossible to trust Christ for salvation. It must be either/or. It can’t be both.
The church has only two ordinances: baptism and communion, or the Lord’s supper. Neither is efficacious for forgiveness of sins or salvation. Both are symbolic of the believer’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. To imagine that either has merit as a physical act repeats the error of Judaism. Yet such is the great heresy of Roman Catholicism-it offers salvation through sacraments, which are physical rituals ministered by the priests.
Thus salvation is not through Christ but through the Roman Catholic Church-by the “means of grace” provided in the sacraments ministered by its priesthood and mediated by Mary. Protestants are joining Catholics to “evangelize the world.” Yet Roman Catholic “Evangelization 2000” does not lead to faith in Christ’s finished work and the assurance of sins forgiven and a home in heaven. It leads one to join the “Church [which]…is necessary for salvation…which men enter through baptism as through a door” (Vol 1, pp 365-66). It obligates one to pay for one’s own sins through good deeds and ritual: “In this life we can satisfy for the temporal punishment due to sin by Prayer, Fasting, Almsdeeds” (Convert’s Catechism, p 45). The bishops shall see to it that the…sacrifice of the mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which [the living] have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed [in purgatory] be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the laws of the Church” (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, p 214). Christ’s sacrifice of Himself can’t get anyone out of purgatory, but the Mass, rosary, etc. can. And if one dies wearing a scapular, Mary will do what Christ can’t do-she will personally rescue that one from purgatory the Saturday after his death. Such teaching is an abominable denial of the gospel!
Offering salvation through baptism or any other physical act is a serious heresy which we must stand against without compromise. The eternal destiny of souls is at stake. We dare not remain silent.