"Baptism is an Elective"

by Larry Ray Hafley
Truth Magazine, June 16, 1977

"The great church history writers state that baptism misunderstood and misapplied became the major factor of separation in the early church which Jesus formed. Apparently the much mention of baptism in the New Testament overworked the minds of some ceremonialists to the point of declaring it a requirement unto salvation; hence, no longer the elective ceremony as it properly is. Mind you the same spirit launched the doctrine of Mariolatry and Popery.

"Elective means baptism is by choice of the believer. It is a command of Christ to the disciples-saved, born again child of God. No place in the Word of God is baptism ever enjoined upon the unregenerate. Jesus'. : . made and baptized more disciples . . .' John 4:1. He in turn commissioned His church to do the same kind of work. Matthew 28:18-20. While baptism is commanded by the Word of God, no condition of condemnation is impending those who fail to comply. The failure to be baptized results in a disobedient child of God, but a child of His nevertheless. Of course, it is always better to do exactly as the Bible teaches, but this article is to point out that baptism is an elective.

"Passages from which baptismal regenerationists draw a mistaken notion and change this ordinance into a ceremony of procurement instead of what it was originally intended are such as the following:

"Mark 16:16, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.' The only safe interpretation of such passages as this is to investigate it in the light of the Bible on this subject. What it 'sounds' like and what it actually teaches may not be parallel. This is true with many passages in the Bible. The trouble is not with the Word of God, but with man's artificial taste. Man wants the Bible to say certain things and reads them into its structure.

"Were any ever saved without being baptized after the beginning of its function? Yes, obviously. (1) Luke 18:14, 'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified . . .' Now he either was justified, or he wasn't justified. Jesus said he was so. What! without being baptized? Yes! Then evidently baptism does not stand as a condition of justification. Mark 16:16, if made to mean one must be baptized to be saved, would be in contradiction with the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke these words in Luke 18:14. (2) Luke 7:50, ' . . .thy faith hath saved thee,' said Jesus to the person on this occasion. What! Salvation pronounced without being baptized? Yes! Then evidently baptism does not stand as a condition to being saved since the woman in Luke 7:50 was said to be saved without it. Again, we would have the words of Jesus in discord with Mark 16:16, if we make baptism requisite to salvation. (3) Luke.23:43, '. . . Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.' This is the promise of Jesus to the repenting thief on the cross. What! Paradise without baptism? Yes! But again our baptismal regenerationist would lean heavily on their own notion of Mark 16:16 regardless of the statement of Jesus. Here is that artificial taste of man again. There just must be some ceremony mixed with the condition of salvation according to them.

"Other cases of salvation without baptism can be multiplied in the New Testament. But here are three indisputable happenings where people were saved without being baptized. Mark 16:16 is not a contradiction. What does it mean? Let's see a parallel statement to it:

"1. Mark 16:16. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

"2. Statement: He that gets on the bus and takes a seat arrives. Now the question concerning our parallel is this. Was 'taking the seat' what got the rider to his destination? No, of course not. It was the getting on the bus. And the seat was for comfort along the way. According to the Lord Jesus Christ in the above Scriptures, folks were JUSTIFIED, SAVED, AND headed for PARADISE without baptism. Had these folks the opportunity to be baptized, they should have done so for their own enjoyment of the Christian life as well as to obey the command of the Scriptures. But baptism is elective to the saved individual Christian and is absolutely not a condition to being saved then, now or later.

"In saying baptism is elective in no way lessens the obligation of the saved to submit to its application. It is an obligation to the disciple"

[Bedford Andrews, Missionary Baptist Searchlight, March 25, 1976, p. 2].

What Is "An Elective?"

Webster says an elective is "dependent on choice." Further, an elective is "that (which) may be chosen but is not required; optional." This is the use made of the term by Mr. Andrews. Baptism, Andrews announces, is an elective; hence, "not a condition to being saved." He says "the saved" have "the obligation . . . to submit" to baptism. "The failure to be baptized results in a disobedient child of God, but a child of His nevertheless." These statements introduce an interesting thought or two.

First, what happens to the "disobedient child of God" who refuses "the obligation" to be baptized? Baptist doctrine says, "once saved, always saved." So, one can be a "disobedient child of God;" one can refuse a divine "obligation" and still be saved, according to Baptist doctrine. Though "baptism is commanded by the Word of God," one can reject the command and be saved anyway. Let Mr. Andrews speak to the contrary if he will.

Second, since baptism is an elective and not essential to salvation, "the Pharisees and lawyers (who) rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of" John the Baptist, stand in no jeopardy whatsoever (Luke 7:30), according to Baptist doctrine. As Jews, they were children of God, and however disobedient they were in refusing "the obligation" and "the purpose of God," they were saved regardless. Who believes it?

Third, we notice a possible Baptist objection. The objection, though not given by Andrews, but which is designed to offset and overthrow the force of the last two points is this: "A true child of God will not refuse to be baptized. If one repudiates baptism, it shows he is not truly converted." But this objection cannot be valid if "baptism is an elective," something "optional." If the saved will be driven by some divine force to be baptized, then down goes the proposition that "baptism is an elective." So, Mr. Andrews, if you respond to this review, do not forget that point. Baptism cannot be "an elective" and at the same time be a thing which a sincere convert cannot refuse. The ideas are mutually exclusive.

Now, since "baptism is an elective," what becomes of "a disobedient child of God" who dies while refusing "to submit" to "the obligation" to be baptized? Will someone tell us? When they do, remember, "no condition of condemnation is impending those who fail to comply." Therefore, one truly saved, "may fail to comply;" it is not compulsory.

Mark 16:16 Bussing Illustration

See the bussing illustration near the end of Mr. Andrews' article. The same basic argument was made by Glenn V. Tingley in a debate with W. Curtis Porter in 1947. We submit Tingley's argument and Porter's answer. This shall serve to answer the bussing analogy.

Glenn V. Tingley's Argument

"'He that entereth a train and is seated shall reach Atlanta.' 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' Now suppose a man enters a train but does not take a seat. Will he not go to Atlanta anyhow if that train goes there? The taking of the seat involves his comfort but does not involve his going to Atlanta. So baptism relates.to the privileges of the Christian life and does not secure such a life. The believer has entered the gospel train and whether he takes a seat or not, he will reach heaven if the train does (Porter-Tingley Debate, p. 106).

W. Curtis Porter's Answer

"Then to his train proposition. 'He that enters a train and sits down shall go to Atlanta.' I want to put that on the board . . . Here we have it: 'Enters the train (marking 'E' on board) and sits down (marking 'SD' on board) and goes to Atlanta (marking 'A' on board).' He that believeth (marking B on board) and is baptized (marking another B on board) shall be saved (marking S on board).'

Enters Train Sits Down Reaches Atlanta
Believeth Is Baptized Shall Be Saved

He makes belief equal to entering the train; and being baptized equivalent to sitting down; reaching salvation equivalent to reaching Atlanta. Since the man who 'enters the train' can 'reach Atlanta' without 'sitting down,' so the man who 'believes' can 'reach salvation' without 'being baptized.' 'Sitting down' is not necessary in 'reaching Atlanta;' 'being baptized,' therefore, is not necessary in 'reaching salvation.' So we cross them out. (Marking 'Sits down' and 'Is baptized' off the board). Entering the train is the thing necessary to reach Atlanta. My friend, did you know that I could go to Atlanta without 'entering a train? 'Didn't you know that I could go to Atlanta without entering a train? Why I could walk or go in an automobile. There are a dozen ways I could go to Atlanta without 'entering a train.' So 'entering the train' is not essential to going to Atlanta. We'll cross that out (Marking off 'Enters train'). And since faith is equivalent to it, we cross that out, too (Crossing out 'Believeth'). So we do not have to believe or be baptized either to get to salvation, according to his illustration.

"Then, we look at it from another angle. 'He that enters the train and sits down shall reach Atlanta.' The 'sitting down' is not necessary. 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' The 'baptism' is not necessary. 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' But in order for it to fit my opponent's theory, since he says 'He that believeth is already saved,' it should say, 'He that enters the train reaches Atlanta before he has time to sit down.' (Laughter). 'He that believeth is saved before he has time to be baptized.' Is that so, Tingley? That's your position, isn't it? 'He that believeth is saved before he has time to be baptized.' So he that enters the train is already in Atlanta before he has time to sit down.' (Laughter). Now, I know anybody can see that. You may not accept it, but you can see it. I'm just certain of that" (Porter-Tingley Debate, pp. 120, 121).

Luke 18:14; Luke 7:50 and the Thief

Luke 18:14

This is the parable concerning two men who "went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee and the other a publican." Both were children of God before they prayed since the uncircumcised could not enter the temple (Ezekiel 44:9; Cf. Acts 21). The one who was justified was an erring child of God, not one who was seeking to become a child of God. As such, the passage is not applicable to Andrews' proposition. Even so, prayer is mentioned. That makes at least two conditions for the Baptists, faith and prayer. If prayer is also required, then the sinner must do something besides repent and believe. Maybe we ought to charge Andrews with "works" salvation or "prayer" salvation. Is prayer a "work," something that one must do? On this issue, the Baptists meet themselves coming back on their "works" and "water" salvation charge.

Luke 7:50

Jesus had power on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). He forgave this woman whose faith was active in serving the Lord. This was prior to the "beginning" of remission of sins which was to be preached in Jesus' name (Luke 24:47; Hebrew 9:16-17; Acts 2:38). No, baptism is not mentioned, but neither is repentance. The text does not say the woman repented. Should I conclude the woman was saved by faith without repentance? I can as easily cut out repentance from Luke 7:50 as I can baptism with that kind of reasoning. The truth is that one must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

The Thief

Jesus had the power to forgive sins. He evidently forgave the thief. Again, this was before the New Testament came into force (Hebrews 9:16-17). What the thief did or did not do does not negate the fact that in order for one to be in Christ today, he must be "baptized into Jesus Christ" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26-27).

Summary Point

One final point that is pertinent to the three cases cited above is this: The Baptist position is that one should be baptized to picture or demonstrate to the world that he has been saved. But in none of the above cases were any of the characters baptized. They were not baptized in order to the remission of sins, but neither were they baptized because of the remission of sins. Because it is not mentioned before one is pronounced justified, Andrews concludes that it is not necessary, and what is more, that it never occurs before salvation. Well, if that be true, it is not referred to after their justification, either. Should we conclude that baptism should never occur after justification, using Baptist rules of interpretation? Thus, we completely eliminate baptism from God's scheme of things.

"Saved By Faith" Excludes Baptism?

That is Andrews' conclusion from Luke 7:50 and 18:14. Says he, "We would have the words of Jesus (i.e., 'Thy faith hath saved thee'-LRH) in discord with Mark 16:16, if we make baptism requisite to salvation." He thinks that salvation by faith excludes baptism. If so, it excludes repentance, too. When Baptists explain how "saved by faith" can include repentance, they will open the door for baptism.

The Ephesians were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, they had been "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5). Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). So, to say that one is saved by faith does not eliminate baptism. Likewise, the Romans were "justified by faith" (Romans 5:1), but their justification did not occur until they "obeyed" and were "baptized into Jesus Christ," and "baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3-4, 16-17). Therefore, to say one is justified by faith does not erase baptism.

Loose Ends-Incidental Points

Several items in Andrews article require but brief comment.

First, Andrews assumes that the term, "disciples," always refers to a saved person. That is not true. A disciple is a pupil, a learner. In John 2:11, upon witnessing Jesus' first miracle, the record says, "and his disciples believed on him." According to Baptist useage, they were saved, disciples, then they believed, for it says, "his disciples (saved ones according to Andrews) believed on Him."

Second, Andrews avows, "No place in the Word of God is baptism ever enjoined upon the unregenerate." "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Strange language, is it not, to use to a saved, regenerated man? If, according to Baptist doctrine, Saul was saved at this time, why use this' language?

Third, Andrews allows that "it is always best to do exactly as the Bible teaches, but this article is to point out that baptism is elective." In other words, it is best to be baptized "exactly" as the Bible teaches, but you can choose not to do so if you desire! How many other things can one ignore with impunity? What about the Lord's supper? "It is always best to do exactly as, the Bible teaches, but" one can refuse to eat the Lord's supper, too. If not, why not? Is not the Lord's supper also an "elective," something one can choose to ignore?

Fourth, Andrews avers that Mark 16:16 'sounds' like it teaches the essentiality of baptism. Yes, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" does indeed "sound" like that! He says, "The same is true with many passages in the Bible." That, my friends, is a reflection on the word of God. One wonders if Mark 16:16 only "sounds like" it teaches the necessity of faith.

Fifth, Andrews avouches that people should be baptized "for comfort along the way," and "for their enjoyment of the Christian life." Where does the Bible say that? According to Andrews, Mark 16:16 should say, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be comforted," or, more appropriately, "He that believeth is saved and shall be baptized for comfort and enjoyment." Does one lack comfort and enjoyment with the knowledge that he is saved? Salvation is good enough for me. How could one be uncomfortable knowing he is saved? What does baptism have to do with enjoyment, according to Baptist doctrine? See Acts 8:39; 16:34.

Acts 2:38 should read, "Repent, and be baptized for the remission of your discomfort." Acts 22:16, to suit Andrews' view, should say, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your discomfort." I Peter 3:21 should be rendered, "The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now comfort us." Romans 6:3-4, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ's comfort, were baptized into his enjoyment? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into comfort, that- like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in enjoyment of life."