Today, we will continue with our response to Dave Armstrong and his book, “The Catholic Verses,” in which the Catholic apologist presents ninety-five Bible verses or passages that allegedly validate Catholicism and are claimed to “confound” Protestants.
Last week, we examined Armstrong’s defense of infant baptism (see here). This week, we’ll examine his claims for baptismal regeneration. Armstrong presents the six passages below as proof texts for baptismal regeneration. Underneath the verses, he writes, “Baptismal regeneration is understood by Catholics (and Orthodox, Lutherans, traditional Anglicans, Methodists, and some other Protestants, in a basic agreement) to mean a spiritual rebirth. Just as a human being must be physically generated to enter the world, he must be spiritually regenerated to enter the kingdom of heaven. The passages…constitute the major scriptural reasons why the great majority of Christians for two thousand years have accepted this belief, and accept baptism as a sacrament: a physical means to convey God’s grace.” – p. 103.
#59) 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.”
#60) Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
#61) Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
#62) 1 Corinthians 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
#63) Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
#64) 1 Peter 3:19-21: “19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, 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. 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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
In contrast to Armstrong’s and Catholicism’s spurious interpretations, the verses above describe a believer’s spiritual immersion in Christ at the moment they trust in Him as Savior as they have all of their sins “washed” away. The water baptism that follows is a temporal symbol of what already took place spiritually. If salvation was through the waters of baptism, then the hundreds of verses/passages that point to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone would be null and void.
Bible Christianity teaches that salvation is available to everyone who repents of sin and trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. After trusting in Christ and being spiritually reborn, a believer should absolutely follow the Lord in believer’s baptism as He commanded. Baptism is a public testimony of the believer’s identification with Christ in His death and burial (immersion in the water) and His resurrection (raised from the water). The baptismal waters have no powers. It is through belief/faith/trust in Christ by which we receive/appropriate the free gift of salvation. By focusing on the material/temporal (water baptism), Catholics miss the spiritual/eternal (repentance of sin and genuine acceptance of Christ as Savior). Sadly, billions of Catholics have been sprinkled with baptismal water as incognizant infants over the centuries and were later told the water somehow magically regenerated them.
As the early church devolved into institutionalism, simple, saving faith in Jesus Christ was gradually replaced by ritualism and ceremony, all controlled by an increasingly powerful clergy class.
For detailed information on the great error of baptismal regeneration and answers to some of the specific verses that Armstrong cites, see the article below:
Does Baptism Save You? (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38)
While Armstrong cites the six verses/passages above as proof texts to support baptismal regeneration that allegedly “confound” non-pedobaptist Christians, believers stand firm upon the Gospel of grace.
Postscript: As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, the Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration has become impossibly dichotomous for them. On the one hand, they claim baptism is absolutely essential for salvation (in Catholic theology, a person is born-again when they are baptized). On the other hand, in modern times the Catholic church has come to allow that people of all other religions may also merit heaven if they are “good.” Pope Francis has stated that even atheists may merit heaven if they follow their conscience and are “good.”