I am in my 20's and have spent most of my christian life in a Church of Christ because that's where my family decided to go when I was a teenager. Now that it's time for me to make a decision on where me and my wife will attend church for the rest of our lives, I've been researching the CoC's understanding of baptism with more scruitiny and have a few comments/questions that maybe you can help with as we've been considering joining a Baptist church...
I'm basically just asking you to crituque my statements and help point out any flaws in my interpretation...
(As you know) The CoC's teaching on baptism is that it saves you (in conjunction with believing and repenting - see Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21, etc...), and salvation is not complete without the believer undergoing the act of baptism. The CoC takes the Bible very literally and uses 'inference' to 'explain away' the verses suggesting that salvation is completed through faith alone (Romans 3:28, 5:1 and Galatians 3:24 with James 2:24).
I have an issue with taking one verse and holding it over the rest of the Bible, because obviously, if Acts 2:38 was correct, and Baptism is necessary for salvation, why isn't Baptism mentioned as the way in which we are saved when Peter spoke with Cornelius (Acts 10), and in Acts 3 and 5?
I've read arguments by both CoC and the opposing churches, and my understanding of baptism is this:
-Baptism is NOT just an outward expression of an inward faith.
-Baptism is NOT just an act we do to be saved.
-Faith and repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation, and without these things we cannot be saved by God's grace.
-Baptism IS an act of obedience to God and Jesus by showing God that we have a good conscience, Baptism IS a sign to other christians that we are saved, Baptism gives us a definitive point in our christian history that we can say 'we became a christian', Baptism adds us to the family of believers and to a bible believing church (Acts 2)
With all of that said - I would say that baptism is NOT required for salvation - HOWEVER - if a believer tells me they're not baptized, I would question their salvation and their sincerity in their belief in Jesus. I would question their salvation not because they havent been baptized, because I don't believe the act of baptism saves them. But because if they haven't been baptized, then the Holy Spirit hasn't convicted them to do so and they don't have a desire to obey God, thus they haven't repented of their selfish ways, thus they can't truely believe.
Therefore baptism isn't required for salvation, but it is a strong indicator that a believer has repented. However, baptism can still be done to 'please man' so even if one is baptized, it doesn't mean they're truely saved.
I'm sorry if this is wordy, and I haven't included all of the bible references I would have liked to because of time constraints, but I know there are scriptural supports for the statements I made to support my comments, which I can include if you're interested.
Is my interpretation flawed?
Thank you for your question. You have clearly done a great deal of thinking on this subject and you have researched the scriptures well. I have to say that I basically agree with what you have concluded. Baptists can be guilty of reducing baptism to a purely symbolic role and this does not adequately reflect the stress on it in scripture. However, to make it an absolute necessity to salvation comes dangerously close to salvation by works. I personally put a strong emphasis on salvation by grace alone. It is God's doing according to His favour. We appropriate that gift by repentance and faith and it is clearly a scriptural norm to express that faith, at least in part, through baptism. Being buried with Christ (the old man dying) and being a new creation in Him (resurrection life) is clearly represented in baptism.
To teach baptism as an absolute essential can lead to the grotesque consequence of trying to get terminally ill and desperately weak people into immersion.
On occasions I have baptised those who have already been through immersion because they have been clear that when first immersed they had no personal faith in Jesus Christ.
I pray that God will give you great wisdom to move forward in clear conscience as you search the scriptures and that whatever choices you make you will be treated with love and grace by those who may disagree with your choices.
God bless you,