Today, we continue with our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. With this next chapter, the Catholic apologist continues his twelve-part section on the Sacraments. Broussard wrote about baptism in the two previous chapters and this week he continues by countering evangelical Protestants’ objection to baptismal regeneration, as they note that “Cornelius Received the Spirit First,” before he was baptized.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation (CCC 1257). In contrast, evangelical Protestants believe that salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and that baptism is an ordinance for new believers to publicly profess their faith in Christ. Broussard points out that evangelicals often use Acts 10:45-48 as a proof text for their position against baptismal regeneration:
45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
The passage shows that Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were with him were filled with the Holy Spirit and were therefore saved before they were baptized.
Broussard rolls out three arguments to refute the evangelical position:
Firstly, he argues that the Old Testament records several instances of the Holy Spirit working through/empowering people who he alleges were not necessarily believers. He offers as examples the tabernacle craftsman, Bezalel, (Exodus 31:3-5), Sampson (Judges 14:6), and Saul (1 Samuel 11:6). For an example from the New Testament, Broussard points to Matthew 7:22-23 and claims that the false believers mentioned therein are performing miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit.
For his second point, Broussard takes a step back and states that while the RCC teaches baptism is the ordinary means (author’s italics) of salvation, it does not teach it is the absolute means of salvation. The RCC concedes that “God can work beyond his sacraments” (p.112). Therefore, Broussard argues, God could have granted salvation to Cornelius and his Gentile companions prior to baptism, which he boasts renders evangelicals’ argument a straw man. He claims an exception was “fitting” in the case of Cornelius and company because it provided visible proof to doubtful Jewish believers.
Finally, Broussard claims that baptism must be the ordinary means of salvation because the Bible “clearly” indicates it as such. He offers four proof texts:
John 3:5: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Ezekiel 36:25-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (v.25).
Romans 6:3-4: “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
1 Peter 3:21: “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 good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Okay, let’s address Broussard’s arguments one at a time.
Firstly, Broussard presumes much by alleging that Bezalel, Sampson, and Saul were not believers. Besides that, many theologians, including Catholic theologians, agree that the Holy Spirit did not work in the same way among God’s people in the Old Testament as He did in the New. Did the Spirit indwell or only rest upon OT believers? Was the indwelling/resting of the Spirit permanent or only temporary (as several passages might indicate)? These questions are still being debated. However, Acts 2 records a new event in human history, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all believers, which only happened after Jesus’s ascension. As for Broussard’s claim that Matthew 7:22-23 is referring to unbelievers performing miracles empowered by the Holy Spirit, this is an egregiously faulty interpretation. Scripture records elsewhere that Satan performs impressive signs and lying wonders (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9).
Secondly, Broussard and the RCC hedge their bets by arguing that while baptism is essential for salvation, it is dichotomously NOT essential for salvation. The Roman church always conceded that the unbaptized who died desiring baptism were de facto baptized via baptismus flaminis (Latin): baptism of desire. As modernism entered into Catholic theology in the 20th century, this “baptism of desire” was also applied to “good and sincere” non-Catholic religionists and even atheists who were not aware of the importance of baptism “through no fault of their own.” With these accommodations to modernism/Universalism, Catholics have undercut their own doctrine mandating the essentiality of baptism. Broussard guilefully omits any mention of Roman Catholicism’s universalist teachings regarding the unbaptized.
Thirdly, the correct meaning of Broussard’s proof texts must be understood through careful examination and in the context of other Scripture. In several examples, such as with John 6 and the reference to eating Jesus’s flesh to attain eternal life, Catholicism takes an incorrect literal approach rather than the figurative one that’s intended. In other cases, Catholicism pulls words and phrases out of context. For the sake of brevity, let’s examine only the last proof text. Catholics are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 because it starts off with “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you,“ but they gloss over the full text and the context. The verse is actually saying it’s NOT the water that saves a person (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”), rather it’s what baptism represents that saves (“an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”). The refutation of Catholicism’s claim to baptismal regeneration is actually included in the proof text that Broussard presents!
There are several Bible verses and passages that “seem to” support baptismal regeneration when taken out of context. But such verses must be examined in the entire context of the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, which runs as a “red thread” throughout the Old Testament and is elucidated in the New Testament.
See the helpful articles below for more information:
Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Is baptism necessary for salvation?
Next week: “Not to Baptize but to Preach”