August 06, 2006 Q & A

Baptismal Regeneration


Many churches teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. This position is commonly called "baptismal regeneration," because it holds that one is "regenerated" or saved only when a person is baptized. A person who is not baptized, according to this teaching, is not saved and will not go to heaven even if he has believed and professed Jesus Christ as his Savior. Is this what the OPC believes?


Presbyterians frequently face questions like yours. I have a hunch that many Christians in the "believer's baptism" camp mistakenly tend to believe of Presbyterians, "If you baptize infants, you must believe that baptism saves."

The confessions and catechisms of churches grounded in the Reformation clearly deny that baptism saves:

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q. 72: "Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? A: "No, only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins."

The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), Q. 91: "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? A: "The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in the one who administers them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in those who by faith receive them."

The OPC heartily agrees with these historic statements.

As for someone who professes Christ as Savior and Lord but is not baptized, the Bible is clear: "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.... Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:11, 13). Providential circumstances may prevent a believer from being baptized (e.g., the thief on the cross). Sometimes bad teaching will convince a believer that baptism is not necessary or even is wrong (e.g., the Salvation Army).

The normal pattern, however, is for true believers to be eager for baptism. And, indeed, the OPC requires persons who profess Christ to be baptized before receiving them into church membership. Baptized infants are enrolled as non-communicant members of the church.

I hope I have satisfactorily answered your questions. Thank you for writing.



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