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Does Baptism Save?

August 21, 2010

I had to edit this slightly the day after I published it.

I was at a memorial today at my old church today. My wife and I attended there for the first several years of our marriage. The memorial was led by a friend of mine, who was also the grandson of woman whose memorial it was. He was one of the youth when my wife and I first began to help with the youth group. He is now the assistant pastor of a church in Germany. Interestingly, he serves with the same man who was the youth pastor when he was a kid.

The memorial was for a family friend of our who died at age 82, of some sudden illness. She was the grandmother and mother of a family that we consider to be like family to us. A wonderful person who is very difficult to forget, even if you met her but once. As the videos of pictures were played, and family memories were shared, my friend shared how he had baptized his grandma upon her request, just a few years ago. There was a video collage of the pictures taken that day to go with the story. In the Evangelical circles, baptisms are done impromptu many times. I believe this comes from examples like those found in Acts, as with the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. As my friend recounted the event, he said the famous line that precedes an Evangelical Baptism: “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. Baptism didn’t save her.” For the first time, these two sentences (which I have heard dozens of times) made the hair on my neck stand up.

I don’t say this to judge my friend, his sermon, or anyone that agrees with his theological statement. I used to believe the same thing myself, without a second thought. As a matter of fact, this time last year, I had that same feeling when I first heard the words “Most Holy Theotokos, save us.” (Just for the record, I no longer get that feeling) I understand what is meant when Evangelicals say someone is “saved”. I am also beginning to understand the difference between that understanding of salvation, and the Orthodox view of our journey toward salvation, and our synergistic participation in it. Let me explain… that would take too long… let me sum up what I understood in that moment, at the memorial service.

I realized that if salvation really is being made alive, being given a “right standing before God” that can now never be changed, no matter what, because of what Christ did on the cross in atoning for our sins, then no, baptism doesn’t “save” you. As Father Stephen points out in His blog on Icons in a Literal World, the Evangelical view of salvation is not really much different than a secular view, because its view of world events sees meaning in such a narrow way. I have come to understand that such a world view is less shaped by true Christian thought, than by secular views throughout Protestantism’s history.

On the other hand, if salvation is the healing of the whole person and the process of making us partakers of the divine nature (making us more like Jesus) through participating in the Life of Christ, then yes, baptism does save us. Its meaning is more than a symbolic act that represents an inner reality, a nice thing we do which has no real significance to our salvation. In a mystery, we are participating in the death, burial and resurrection of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. We are in a sense participating in His baptism as well. It’s not just His righteous life being merited to me, it’s a union with the Savior that transcends time. As Father Stephen also points out, the events of Jesus’ life are not confined to the period of history in which they occurred, they reach backwards into the past, and forward into the future. And we participate in them, in a mystery. All to prepare us to become “partakers of the divine nature” as St Peter points out in his letters.

One other thing that struck me, was the realization that the Cross not only works forward into the future, but also reaches back to the beginning. I read this in George S. Gabriel’s book on the Theotokos. He speaks about the fact that every major event recorded in the Old Testament was the Cross at work in the lives of those saints. This idea blew my mind. If the Cross works in such a powerful way, then the whole life in Christ must somehow work this way in our lives as we participate in the Holy Mysteries of the Church. I have yet to participate in the mysteries of the Church, but as I learn more and more about their significance on our lives, the more I long for that day to come.

I have come to learn that salvation encompasses so much more, and is so much bigger than I ever thought before. This salvation keeps getting bigger and bigger each day. This is what I love about the Orthodox Church and its faithful passing down of the Apostolic Tradition. I used to say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” in regards to my faith in Christ. In Orthodoxy, I have found that to be more a reality than I ever experienced before, and not just as a trite quip to say when evangelizing someone. This is the living, transforming faith that has real “Height, Depth, Length and Width… the Love of God”. Thank God for His Mysteries we participate in, in the Church.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Darlene permalink
    September 3, 2010 10:02 am


    So much of what you have said were the same truths that confronted me, and they were like lightbulbs piercing the darkness. Imputed righteousness has been called “legal fiction.” Such a teaching does not make participation in the life of Christ a reality. It also rejects synergism, our cooperation with God, thus rejecting the reality of free will. God, who is free, has made us in His image, and we too are free. We can receive His life, or reject it.

    Baptism, at least in the sense of paedo-baptism, is a beginning. There in the waters, one receives the life of Christ. But it does not end there. One must work out their salvation with fear and trembling all the days of their life. Salvation is not a static event. We were saved, are being saved, and will be saved.

  2. September 3, 2010 6:00 pm

    The interesting thing about that “Legal Fiction” is that it is coupled with the pagan idea that God is constrained by necessity of justice (human justice, not divine justice). This actually makes necessity above God. Again, I am surprised that I never knew the pagan roots of such teaching. Not only that, it makes God into our own image. Blasphemy. That God for saving me from such foolishness.

  3. June 11, 2013 10:19 am

    Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct…there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.

    One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible…neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ’s day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.

    So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.

    And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works.

    Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God’s literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font…they are saved by the power of God’s Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!

    There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • June 18, 2013 10:24 pm

      You are absolutely right. I have come to find the argument, “If it’s not in the Bible, it’s not inspired, and not sanctioned by God” as a very weak argument. Oddly for evangelicals, this same argument is being thrown back at them in the form of the gay marriage debate. “Jesus never talks against homosexuality. Maybe He was okay with it.”
      Getting back to the infant baptism issue, while we say that a person is baptized unto the remission of sins and life everlasting, we Orthodox do not mean the same thing as a Protestant may mean by those same words. A person is not just “forgiven” but is initiated into the Church. Really no different than circumcision in Israel.
      I apologize for the long wait to reply, the website mistakenly marked you as spam. I corrected the problem.

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