“Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head:
they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).

Three Baptisms

by Jerry Gentry

Nearly every church has a doctrine concerning Christian baptism, and particularly concerning water baptism. Some claim water baptism is only a sign, a testimonial act. Others say water baptism is more, that it contains and imparts the very grace of salvation itself. Still others hold beliefs in between these two extremes. Failure to understand Christian baptism has led both Catholics and many Protestants alike to teach the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." No doctrine is more opposed to the Bible. No doctrine stands more firmly against personal salvation by faith alone. Understand now what the Bible teaches concerning Christian baptism.

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

Pick up any respectable treatise on the subject of Christian baptism, and you will at once become convinced of its necessity. It is the rite of entrance into most churches. That statement is true, even of churches who teach that salvation comes by faith alone of the believer, without dependence on a future act of water baptism. Herein lies much confusion. How can faith alone save, while simultaneously "even baptism doth also now save us" (1Pet. 3:21)? Is baptism not crucial to salvation itself, when "as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27)? Can we be saved without putting on Christ? Certainly not, for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). Without putting on Christ, no man can rightly be called Christian. Baptism, then, is just as crucial to genuine salvation as water is to a mountain stream. Without water, a mountain stream bed is dry, hollow and empty. Without baptism, rightly divided, salvation cannot exist.

Yet the baptism that brings genuine salvation is entirely a work of God and has nothing to do with physical water! Even as John the Baptist prophesied: "I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" (Mark 1:8) and "he [Jesus] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (Luke 3:16). Here we already see three Christian baptisms–Holy Ghost, water and fire–each distinct from the other.

Lest we be led to believe that salvation is found within the visible act of water baptism (just one of the three baptisms John the Baptist mentions), consider that holy scripture many times speaks of baptism with no reference to either water or fire. What then is the baptism of the "Holy Ghost?" How do the three baptisms–Holy Ghost, water and fire–relate to personal salvation?

Concerning salvation, an ample line up of scriptures clearly teach: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31); "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8); "lest they should believe and be saved" (Luke 8:12); "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1Cor. 1:21); "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47), and "even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom. 5:18).

Salvation at any price even one cent more than that of a "free gift" is not free at all, no matter how marked down and minimal the price may be. It is the failure to keep this distinction clearly in mind and rightly divide the baptismal triunity of Holy Spirit, water and fire that has led to the idea of "baptismal regeneration." This doctrine had its roots in the early Christian writings of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian and others of the second century. Salvation by various works, including water baptism, is a thread taught in the writings of these "old fathers."

What is meant by the term "baptismal regeneration?" Nowhere in the Bible is found the idea of "baptismal regeneration." Failure to understand and rightly divide the truth of three Christian baptisms (plural) versus "baptismal regeneration" has led untold multitudes into their graves as pseudo-Christians. The waters of "baptismal regeneration" hold nominal Christians–both Catholic and many unreformed Protestant–in a dangerous limbo of false conversion–churched but not converted. Every pastor knows these people. Good pastors preach their hearts out in an effort to reach them. Through "baptismal regeneration," lifelong mafia criminals are "regenerated," even though they continue their lifelong reprobate practices while remaining in full fellowship of their Roman churches and her unreformed daughters. It is by the waters of "baptismal regeneration" that literally millions have died in their sins and will burn in hell forever. "Baptismal regeneration" proposes that reprobate man can do something, even ever so little, to secure his own personal salvation. Surely the mind of Satan the devil himself has crafted no more subtle and disastrous a doctrine.

"With respect to the forgiveness of sins, and the initiation of a Christian state, the Church of Rome teaches that baptism is the sacrament of regeneration–that all sins, preceding its application, are washed away by the grace which is subjective to this baptismal ordinance–that no infant, or adult, is salvable without [water] baptism. The essential idea of this Popish doctrine is this: that there is some invariable connection, established by God, between this sacrament of baptism, and the spiritual blessing signified by it; so that whoever gets the outward ordinance, under proper conditions, ipso facto, gets all the religious benefits signified by regeneration, and it is a necessary corollary from this position, that whoever fails to be baptized, whatever the reason for the failure, and whosever the fault, is thereby shut out from the saving blessings of redemption" (The Theology of Infant Salvation, R. A. Webb, Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, VA, 1907, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA, 1981, p. 237).

The doctrine called "baptismal regeneration," when reduced to its simplest terms, teaches that an infant or adult remains unsaved until he has experienced the "washing (or laver) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Regeneration, Daniel Waterland, 1829, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, LLC, P. O. Box 160, Kila, MT 59920, p. 5). On the surface, this idea looks good. But underneath is a deceptive lie that originated in the early extra-Biblical Christian writings. The idea was blessed and adopted early by the Roman church, and later multiplied in various forms by nearly all Greek, many Protestant and semi-Reformed churches.

Daniel Waterland [1683-1741] was a highly respected clergyman of the Church of England. He articulated the ideas found in the various baptismal offices of the "Protestant" Anglican confession from earliest times. Thomas Cranmer himself helped construct their wordings, but later changed his mind, as we will see from one of his chaplains, Thomas Becon.

"I interpret the text of water-baptism, as the ancients constantly did" (Ibid., pp. 5-6), Waterland relates. The ancients he cites are Cyprian, Benedict, Origen and Chrysostom. Cyprian (200–258) spoke of "the regeneration of the second birth. . . which occurs in baptism [and], begets sons of God" (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts and Donaldson, Vol. V, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 393). Tertullian (c. 155-222) articulates the idea most clearly: "‘Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life!’" (Ibid., Vol. III, p. 669). These early Christian writers taught the idea that salvation never occurs without regeneration through water baptism, and indeed cannot occur outside the baptismal font. Their writings teach without a doubt that water baptism, whether of infant or adult, whether by immersion or sprinkling or affusion, is not only the outward sign, but contains the very means or grace whereby men are regenerated or saved. And without such, no man is saved.

"Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:5). "There you have it. What could be plainer?" say those who defend the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." The "born of water" clause in this verse, coupled with "according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5) forms the only Biblical basis for the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration."

The twin phrases–"born of water" and "washing of regeneration" stand alone in all the New Testament in their particular wording. It is necessary to rightly divide these phrases, in light of other verses on the subjects of baptism and regeneration.

The idea that water baptism is a washing and not a burial derives from a misunderstanding of a single Bible verse: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Certainly, if water baptism were a washing, we would be better off to practice immersion in the nude, as was commonly practiced in many ancient establishment churches! Who would think of taking a bath with their clothes on? Nowhere does holy scripture teach that water baptism is a washing. Water baptism is a symbolic burial of the old man (however brief) and rising of the new man to walk in a new way. If water baptism regenerates, as the proponents of "baptismal regeneration" insist, then you would expect to find the highest morals and Christian virtues exhibited in those churches who practice this doctrine. On the contrary, it is in these very churches, particularly the Roman church, where heinous crimes are committed as a way of life among both laity and priesthood, with the apparent sanction of the church, so long as proper penance is paid. It is in the Roman church, where Christianity is most degenerate, that "baptismal regeneration" has been taught from the earliest times. What a sham!

"History tells us that in all those parts of Christendom where "Baptismal Regeneration" is most rigidly taught, there the church is most corrupt both in doctrine and morals. . . They do teach that a moral change is wrought in baptism, ex opere operato, and always quote for church authority, the baptismal service, with ‘one baptism for the remission of sins’ {which phrase in the Nicene creed should never have been dissociated from ‘repentance’ with which it stands connected in every place in Scripture where baptism is named in connection with forgiveness}" (Baptismal Regeneration, E. Mellor, [written for the Episcopal Church, "the author not being an Episcopalian"], Office of Leighton Publications, Philadelphia, PA, 1872, p. 12, 15-16).

"It is now admitted on all hands that the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration is the doctrine of the Church of England" (Ibid., p. 27).

Mr. Baptist (sic!) Noel, "who was once a distinguished ornament of the Church of England, was constrained to secede, among other considerations, by the straits to which he felt himself reduced in seeking to reconcile his convictions with the language of the Prayer Book. ‘I once labored hard,’ says Mr. Noel, ‘to convince myself that our Reformers did not and could not mean that infants are regenerated by baptism; but no reasoning avails. This language is too plain. The Prayer Book assumes clearly that both adults and infants come to the font unregenerate, and leave it regenerate; that worthy recipients are not regenerated before baptism, but come to be regenerated; that they are unpardoned up to the moment of baptism, that they are pardoned the moment after’" (Ibid., p. 66).

"This theory of the Anglicans, moreover, seems to imperil the salvation of the apostles who were appointed during our Saviour’s personal ministry, and to nullify their claims. For, on the supposition that they had been baptized, still their baptism, having taken place prior to the day of Pentecost, could not have imparted to them that spiritual nature which, according to the High Anglican and Romish theory, became possible only after the effusion of the Holy Ghost [in water baptism]" (Ibid., p. 47-48).

"Of all the mooted questions in theological controversy this is one of those most fiercely litigated. . . It strikes its roots far back into the past; and for historic ages it has been drawing sap and strength from that sacramentarianism, which caused the apostasy of the Dark Ages on the one hand, and the rebound of the Reformation on the other; and so thoroughly did it permeate the Christian conception, and color credal statements, and mould ecclesiastical life, that the Protestant mind, to this day does not appear to be completely emancipated from its baleful influence. As in the days of old, it converted all doctrine into dead formulas, all worship into lifeless ritual and milinary, and all Christian experience into pulseless formalism; so, because of the remains of its leavenous traces in the Church of today, it is to be dreaded more than any other danger, which casts a frightening shadow across our Protestantism" (The Theology of Infant Salvation, R. A. Webb, Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, VA, 1907, reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA, 1981, p. 234).

Why Christ "gave himself for it [the church]," the apostle Paul states: "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). Clearly, Paul speaks of a "washing" without the aid of water baptism. King David expresses the same idea, during his remorse after the adulterous affair with Bathsheba: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:7). What else could King David have intended by "wash me," other than to cleanse his mind of the memory of that emotionally charged act of reprobation, through "washing of water by the word," and to "offer the sacrifice of praise [words] to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Hebr. 13:15). It is the constant flow of the words of God through the heart and out the lips (scripture memorization and meditation) that cleanses man’s soul from ongoing sinful thoughts, from whence actual sin flows. It is the blood of Christ alone that washes away original sin and actual sin committed, whereby we get our hearts right with God.

If the waters of the baptismal font wash away our sins, thus opening the way for the Holy Spirit simultaneously to regenerate our minds and hearts, then consider that the Holy Spirit is not frustrated, even in the absence of water baptism. Concerning conversions at Joppa, Peter exclaimed "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47). Here we see an instance where the Holy Spirit had already converted these believers, and water baptism followed as the outward sign confirming salvation by faith alone.

The Reformed Church of Scotland confirmed the following statement in 1646: "Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance [water baptism], yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated" (Westminster Confession of Faith, John G. Eccles Printers Ltd., Inverness, 1646, reprinted by F. P. Publications, Glasgow, G36LE, 1983, Chapter XXVIII–Of Baptism, Section V, p. 116). This statement was approved and ratified by Scottish Parliament in 1649 and again in 1690.

Clearly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and not water baptism, places believers into the body of Christ: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free" (1Co 12:13). It is by faith that "whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Act 10:43). Believers are forgiven and declared righteous "through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (Rom 3:24).

From earliest times, the Anglican Prayer Book taught "the twin doctrines of baptismal regeneration and the necessity of baptism [by water] for salvation . . . the rubric [authoritative rule] finds a very natural place in the Book of Common Prayer. It was inevitable that in the beginning of the Reformation movement remainders of the unreformed doctrine of baptismal regeneration should intrench themselves in the liturgical offices of the Church. As a matter of fact, the assumption of this doctrine underlay a good deal of the language relative to baptism in the first Prayer book (1549) (Two Studies in the History of Doctrine, Benjamin B. Warfield, The Christian Literature Company, New York, 1897, p. 175, 180).

"On the basis of this doctrine of baptismal regeneration, . . . firmly retained in their latest revision, the Church of England is justified in asserting with the emphasis with which the rubric at the close of the Baptismal Service asserts it, that ‘it is certain’ that Children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved" (Ibid., p. 183).

"That the leaders of the Reformation in England advanced rapidly from a semi-Romish, through a Lutheran, to a Reformed stage of opinion. . . is true enough. . . But it must needs be recognized also that much was left in it which was scarcely consistent with the higher point of view which had been only gradually attained by the Reformers themselves; and that in the reactionary revision of the seventeenth century this unreformed element was even increased" (Ibid., p. 184).

"In the judgment of Mr. [Francis] Procter [authoritative Anglican writer] at least, the Prayer Book knows of no covenanted mercy of God for children dying before baptism, and can find nothing in God’s revealed word which will justify an assured hope for them. . . Those to whose labors and sufferings the Church of England owed her very existence were in no respect behind their successors in this. We have seen that the Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws, drawn up by a commission with [Thomas] Cranmer at its head, affirmed, of the opinion that no infant dying without baptism could be saved–which Cranmer and his coadjutors had themselves incorporated into the earliest formularies–that it was a ‘scrupulous superstition’ and far different from the opinion of the Church of England. Obviously ‘in the meantime,’ as Dr. [Philip] Schaff [renowned Presbyterian church historian] suggests, Cranmer ‘had changed his opinion.’ What was the current conviction on this subject among the leading reformers we may learn, as well as from another, from one of Cranmer’s chaplains, Thomas Becon, who chances to have written repeatedly and at length upon it" (Ibid., pp. 185-188).

In "September, 1563, Becon raises the question, ‘What if the infants die before they receive the sacrament of baptism?’ and answers it succinctly as follows: ‘God’s promise of salvation unto them is not for default of the sacrament minished (sic), or made vain and of no effect. For the Spirit is not so bound to the water that it cannot work his office when the water wanteth, or that it of necessity must always be there where the water is sprinkled. . . True Christians, whether they be old or young, are not saved because outwardly they be washed with the sacramental water, but because they be God’s children by election through Christ, yea, and that before the foundations of the world were laid, and are sealed up by the Spirit of God unto everlasting life" (Ibid., p. 188).

In summary, man is saved by faith. Believers are regenerated by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, "if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Rom. 8:9), without which we are "none of his." It is by the Holy Spirit that "ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands [not water baptism, which requires the work of human hands], in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11). Our bodies become "the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you" (1Cor. 6:19). To what purpose? Because God promises to "put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts (Hebr 8:8). It is "the washing of the water of the word," prompted by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that writes God’s laws on the tables of our hearts, regenerates our fallen nature, thus our "inward man is renewed day by day" (2Cor. 4:16).

Without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, who writes the word of God on our hearts, no man is saved. Thus finally, Moses’ Old Covenant prophecy is finally fulfilled in the New Covenant: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked" (Deut. 10:16). The children of Israel "were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1Cor. 10:2), but they remained so stiffnecked and uncircumcised of heart continuously that God let them all die in the wilderness. Only their children entered the promised land. Neither does water baptism of the New Covenant circumcise the heart of man, which is accomplished only by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51; Rom. 5:5). If water baptism could touch and circumcise hearts, mafia members would cease committing heinous crimes, and alcoholism would not be such a widespread problem among Roman Catholic priests. The baptism of the Holy Spirit cannot take place under the false doctrine of "baptismal regeneration," which by definition can only produce false conversions and pseudo-Christians bound for the flames of hell!

It is the baptism of water whereby man symbolizes and testifies to his salvation. Water baptism symbolizes death and burial of the old nature, rebirth of the new man in Christ. Attempts to regenerate the heart of man through "baptismal regeneration" have proven fatal to the fundamentals of faith and empty when measured by the fruits. The best of reformed theology rejects this idea.

"Many strong arguments of St. Paul. . . present faith, in the absence of all "works," as the appointed channel of forgiveness and regeneration. . . Although baptism supposes faith, at least in the adult, faith does not necessarily imply baptism; for a man may, in a Gospel sense, believe with all the "heart," as did the Ethiopian eunuch, before being baptized, or without being baptized at all; though he cannot be baptized, in a Gospel sense, without believing. . .

"We object to this doctrine [baptismal regeneration], secondly, because it would place physical obstructions between the pardoning mercy of God and the removal of sins. . . Baptism, in its administration and reception, is unavoidably controlled by many circumstances over which the subject has no power; and if the forgiveness of sins is inseparably connected with baptism, and especially immersion, then there are thousands of instances in which that ordinance would be impracticable in its administration, or reception. Any system of pardon, therefore, which does not suit itself to every condition of human life, and which furnishes the least excuse for a delay in obtaining the remission of sins, neither meets the wants of the world, nor the description of the Bible (Sermon on Baptismal Regeneration, Gilby Kelly, Minerva, KY, The Methodist Book Concern, R. P. Thompson, Printer, Cincinnati, OH, 1842, p. 6-7).

As a footnote, Paul claimed "I am the apostle of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13). That being true, one would think he would be interested in getting proper gentile subjects saved, and to that end he devoted his life. Yet to the Corinthians, Paul boasted: "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius" (1Cor. 1:14). Why did the apostle Paul boast of baptizing almost no one, if water baptism precedes and imparts the very grace of salvation, which is the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration?"

Surely he would have wanted to bring as much fruit to God as possible. Paul pleaded: I "could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3), who through his preaching "attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith" (v. 30). Paul concentrated on ministering the "word of life" (Phil. 2:16), thereby getting men saved by faith. He left the signifying element of water baptism to others.

When you are saved by faith, your baptism of the Holy Spirit begins the process of regeneration in your heart. You are then commanded to be baptized in water to signify your salvation, as a testimony to others that you have given your life to God alone, who will bring you through your baptism of fire, to reveal in you the gold "tried with fire" (1Pet. 1:7).

The baptism of fire is the proving ground of Christianity. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you. . . But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1Pet. 4:12-13). Believers learn "that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1Pet. 1:7).

Three baptisms–1) Holy Spirit; 2) water; and 3) fire. All are preceded by faith alone whereby men are saved. The baptism of the Holy Spirit regenerates. The baptism of water signifies. The baptism of fire purifies. Herein we understand the mystery of three baptisms of the Bible.


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