Doctrinal Studies Index
Introduction & Index
The Purpose of Baptism
The Great Commission
Baptism & Circumcision
20 Benefits of Baptism
Faith & Works
The Early Church
The Sinner's Prayer
Questions & Answers I
Questions & Answers II
PFRS Team Members
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NT Translation Project
By Tim Warner
Copyright © The Pristine Faith Restoration Society
The PFRS View of Baptism
Baptism is one of the most controversial and divisive issues within modern Christianity. PFRS has recently become controversial because our position on baptism has changed rather dramatically. We formerly held the typical "Baptist" position — that baptism is an outward sign of a previously completed regeneration (re-birth). That is, salvation is fully secured before baptism, and is in no way connected to baptism.
The Pristine Faith Restoration Society was founded on four principles that govern our search for truth in every area of theology. They are fully explained in the PFRS Philosophy and Methodology section of this site. In short, the four principles are:
We believe these four principles, if applied consistently and without bias, will necessarily steer us towards the truth in every area of theology. They are our compass as we navigate the various theological positions, Church history, and Scripture itself.
When it came to the baptism issue, we found ourselves fighting against these principles in order to maintain what we had all been taught regarding baptism. After months of serious study of Scripture and Church history, we were forced by principle and integrity to officially change our position. We believe our new position on baptism is both Biblical, and conforms to the earliest known Christian tradition regarding baptism.
Our position now is that baptism is the normal, tangible, mechanism for responding to the Gospel. Its intent is not to "save" in itself. But, neither is it meant to be a footnote to the salvation experience. It is intended to be the tangible step for receiving and obeying the Gospel (Acts 6:7, Rom. 6:17-18, Rom. 10:16, 2 Thess. 1:8, Heb. 5:9). Its prerequisites are faith and repentance. Baptism, then, acts as a physical aide to the new birth process. It is not the cause of the new birth. It assists us in finalizing our covenant relationship with God on the grounds of true repentance and belief of the Gospel message. It provides a physical token of God's covenant with us, and our commitment to Him to remain a pure virgin until He comes. Baptism has no saving or cleansing power in itself. This goes double for baptism in the absence of both faith and repentance, such as infant baptism or the baptism of one who has no intention of ceasing from his sinful life. Baptism is the point of sealing one's faith and repentance with a tangible act of obedience. It is the benchmark whereby one can rest in assurance of his salvation, because he not only gave mental ascent to the Gospel, but acted upon (obeyed) and received the Gospel. As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, "let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb 10:22 NKJV).
Regeneration (literally - "rebirth") is accomplished by God WHEN the repentant believer is baptized. But, baptism itself does not save. Salvation is God's work, not ours, and certainly not the work of a mediator, such as a priest. The new birth coincides in TIME with our submitting to baptism. Remission of sins is accomplished by God for us when we receive Christ by means of the act of baptism.
In the earliest post-Apostolic period, baptism was administered only to those who willingly repented and professed their faith in Christ and the Gospel. "Regeneration" (new birth) was seen, not as accomplished BY the water, but accomplished by God Himself as the repentant believer obeyed the command to be baptized. Remission of sins and regeneration were accomplished IN the water, but not BY the water. In other words, remission of sins and the new birth were coincident in time with baptism of the repentant believer. But, baptism was an act of obedience, not a mystical rite. It was a transaction between the individual and God, not the individual and the Church. Our position is essentially that of the earliest Christian writers, like Justin Martyr.
"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, ... are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated [born-again] in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. ... And for this we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father, ... the name of Jesus Christ, ... and in the name of the Holy Ghost...".
(Justin Martyr, First Apology, LXI)
Because of the need to counter the many Gnostic cults that were springing up in the second century, Ignatius began to (wrongly) emphasize the validity of baptism only when administered by the bishop of the local church, or one personally authorized by him. This eventually had the effect of making baptisms by Gnostic "heretics" invalid. Consequently, disputes arose over whether converts to orthodox Christianity from these Gnostic cults needed to be rebaptized. The question of what exactly it was that made a baptism valid and effective led some to suppose that there was a magical quality given to the water by the authorized agent of the church that was lacking in the baptisms of the heretics. Tertullain argued that the Holy Spirit descended into the water, with the water itself becoming His instrument for the remission of sins. Naturally, as baptism became more mystical, and the water of baptism was seen to hold the mystical power to transform a sinner into a saint, early Christians began bringing their infants to be baptized. In Justin's day, baptism was administered only to those who professed faith in Jesus Christ. A century later, Cyprian authorized the baptism of infants, claiming that "original sin" from Adam was washed away through such a baptism, even though the child was not guilty of actual sin. At PFRS, we reject all such innovations, and have adopted the earliest view, that articulated by Justin Martyr.
We reject the label "baptismal regeneration" because this term is often used to portray baptism as a mystical rite, where the water itself becomes the instrument of saving grace. Rather, we simply hold that God has promised to meet the repentant sinner IN the water through by means of His Holy Spirit, and to do a work in his heart that only God can do. Being submerging in the water of baptism is merely the location where God has promised to meet the sinner and perform the work of salvation. Regeneration is normally accomplished WITHIN a repentant sinner, BY the direct action of the Spirit, IN the water of baptism.
We expect that our doctrinal change will offend many of our Evangelical brethren. No doubt, some who have previously recommended PFRS will have serious doubts about our new direction. But we cannot shrink from controversy or unpopular positions and remain genuine truth seekers. All we ask is a fair hearing. Keep in mind that our position is not new or novel. It is the historic position of the earliest Church Fathers.