Is water baptism necessary for salvation? This subject has been hotly debated between Christians and those in certain cult groups (Churches of Christ and Oneness Pentecostals, etc.) and the apostate Roman Catholic church for decades.
In order for water baptism to be considered necessary for salvation it must be part of the gospel message because it is the gospel that provides salvation. (Romans 1:16) But is water baptism synonymous with the gospel of Jesus Christ as some pseudo Christian groups claim it is?
Who holds the key to salvation? Hope, as the picture above rightly shows, is tied to this key called salvation; for there is no hope without salvation. The Greek word for salvation is sōtēria which means to deliver or rescue. In the Bible, salvation is presented in two ways: physical and spiritual. The Old Testament is filled with examples of physical salvation/deliverance; one such example is God’s deliverance of Noah, his family, and some selected animals from the great flood that God brought upon the Earth (Genesis 6-8). Another classic example is of Moses who, by the power and command of God, delivered the children of Israel from the land of Eygpt (Exodus) However, the most overarching message of salvation in the entire Bible is the spiritual salvation of people. Jesus came from Heaven to Earth, born of a virgin to die and atone for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). In this blog we will critique both how this key to salvation can be obtained according to the Baha’i Faith and according to the Christian faith and whether the Baha’i Faith or the Christian faith as presented in the Bible is a realistic way of obtaining it.
Baha’is and the Work of Who?
As I presented in my blog Christology of the Baha’i Faith and Christianity: A Comparative Overview, the Baha’i Faith does not believe that the work of Christ–His death on the cross–was satisfactory in accomplishing the work of atoning for the sins of the whole world and making salvation avaliable to all who repent of their sins and believe in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, according to Baha’u’llah, was not an adequate enough solution to the problem of the depravity and sinfulness of humanity. There was yet a need for additional manifestions of God which is ultimately found in the person and teachings of Baha’u’llah. What exactly is the way to salvation according to Baha’u’llah and the Baha’is? It is to obey the Word of God. Maya Bohnhoff, who is a New York Times best selling author and Baha’i disciple attempts to make this point from the Bible using I Peter 1:22-25 & 2:1-3 to teach that obedience to the Word of God is what is necessary to obtain salvation. You read that correctly: salvation is obtained through following the teachings in the Word of God, but which Word of God? The teachings of Baha’u’llah of course since, according to the Baha’is, he is the final manifestion and revelation of God and His teachings .
If you believe that I’m misunderstanding what Bohnhoff is teaching, let’s dig a little deeper into this. In Bohnhoff article Sacrifice and Resurrection, she recalled a Bible study entitled “Cult Night” where her pastor by the name of Dan asked the question, “Wasn’t the message the disciples delivered to their audiences about the blood atonement and the resurrection?” (Sacrifice and Resurrection) Bohnhoff answers this question with a no by saying that the disciples actually taught new disciples according to Matthew 28:20a, “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” Bohnhoff goes further in her elaborations, “The Gospel says simply that the new believers must love God, believe in the One He sent, and observe His commandments — a message so simple a child could understand it.” (Sacrifice and Resurrection) So we see here that observing the commandments of God are a part of the Gospel message according to Bohnhoff.
Furthermore, Bohnhoff acknowleges that the disciples of Jesus would have told their listening audience about the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, but it would be linked to obedence to the Word of God. (Sacrifice and Resurrection) In concluding her article, Bohnhoff says, “While the disciples spoke of Christ’s sacrifice and the shedding of His precious blood, it was not His blood, but the “pure milk” of His word that they offered to those they taught.” (Sacrifice and Resurrection) Bohnhoff reiterates this point in another article about the same subject where she appeals to John 15:3-17, and afterwards says, “One of the first things Christ Jesus affirms in this passage is that: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” What is especially significant about this passage is the context: He is in Gethsemane, preparing His disciples for His arrest. He does not speak to them of His sacrifice, His resurrection, or His blood. He doesn’t mention atonement. He doesn’t remind them about baptism or mention the Trinity. Instead, Christ simply lays out clearly and unambiguously what they must do to be His “friends”, to stay connected to Him, to abide in God’s love, and to bear fruit.” (Agent of Salvation) So according to Bohnhoff, Jesus didn’t speak to His disciples about His impending sacrifice, shed blood, or resurrection, but Jesus does teach them that in order to remain His disciples, they must simply abide in Him through the Word of God He taught them. Therefore, it seems safe to conclude that belief in God plus keeping the commandments of God equals the key to salvation.
A critique of the Gospel of the Baha’i Faith
In this section we will do a step by step critique of the Gospel of the Baha’i Faith of how a person can obtain salvation. Bohnhoff, in her article Sacrifice and Resurrection, attempted to answer her pastor’s question of “Wasn’t the message the disciples delivered to their audiences about the blood atonement and the resurrection” by quoting Scriptures from the Bible in order to show that the message which the disciples delivered to their audience was not the blood atonement and resurrection of Jesus, but rather to obey the commandments of God which are able and necessary in order to obtain and keep one’s salvation. Furthermore, according to Bohnhoff, Jesus Himself did not speak to His discipes about His impending sacrifice, shed blood, or resurrection. Instead, Jesus emphasised the need for the disciples to abide in His teachings which Bohnhoff referenced to in John 15:1-4. Is Bohnhoff right or is there a gross case of misinterpretation of Scripture passages going on here? Sadly this is a gross case of misinterpretation of Scripture passages. Let’s first revisit I Peter 1:22-25 and see if the primary message of the Apostle Peter in this chapter was in fact not the blood atonement and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but keeping the commandments of God.
The proper and correct way for anyone to interpret any Scripture in the Bible is to interpret Scripture with other Scriptures which speak on the same topic. In this case we need to examine all of I Peter 1 in order to see if this claim which Bohnhoff makes is true or not, and not hang our theological claim(s) on just a few passages of Scripture that appear to teach a particular doctrine. To begin, let’s look at the opening verses in I Peter 1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” Right out of the gate the Apostle Peter mentions to his believing audience the blood of Jesus Christ. Granted though, however, a Baha’i disciple my say “yes, but it also says for obedience as well as the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Indeed it says that, but the blood of Jesus is presented as a critical aspect of the believer’s identification as one of God’s elect, but let’s not stop here.
In I Peter 1:3 we read, ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, …” In verse 3 the Apostle Peter articulates to his audience that their salvific hope is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So far we have seen the Apostle Peter emphasize the blood of Jesus and has articulated to his audience that their salvific hope is through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, not the necessity of keeping the comandments of God for and in order to keep one’s salvation. The Apostle Peter, however, is not yet quite finished.
In verses 18 and 19 the Apostle Peter says, ” knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The Apostle Peter for the second and final time emphasizes the blood of Jesus Christ and this time focuses on how Jesus’ shed blood redeemes those who place their faith in Christ Jesus, but the Apostle Peter is still not quite done.
The Apostle Peter in verses 20-21 keeps the focus on Jesus (which he has done consistently thus far) and for the last time brings up…yes you guessed it..the resurrection of Jesus, ” He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Here the Apostle Peter emphasized the truth of God the Father raising Jesus from the dead and because God raised Jesus from the dead we can have faith and salvific hope in Him.
Unlike Bohnhofff’s claim that disciples like the Apostle Peter primarily focused on the necessity of keeping the commandments of God in order to receive and keep their salvation, the truth is that Peter as well as the other disciples did in fact put the soteriological doctrine of the death, shed blood, and resurrection of Jesus at the heart of their message to their audience. So in light of the passages that came before them, how should I Peter 1:22-25 be interpeted? What did the Apostle Peter mean when he said, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth..?” What truth must a believer obey which has the power to purify the soul? The truth of the Gospel which is the truth about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Merely obeying a list of commandments themselves is not enough to purify anyone. Believing in the Gospel message and the One who is the centerpiece and foundation of that message, being born-again, and being indwelt with the Holy Spirit is what makes keeping any commandments possible, but even then one must understand that even after this, our salvation rest in our continual faith in Jesus Christ, not our works, such as keeping the commandments. As Jesus rightly said in John 15:5, ” I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” We can only abide in Christ through His Gospel; not apart from it. Therefore obeying the Word of God and its teaching has no role in how we recieve and keep our salvation. Obeying and keeping the commandments of God and His Word is the result of already having salvation through Jesus Christ.
A Further Response to Bohnhoff
Before closing out this part of Bohnhoff false claim that the disciples of Christ primary message to their audience was to obey and keep the commandments of God, let’s see how the Apostles Paul, John, and the unknown writer of the book of Hebrews emphasized the sacrifice, shed blood, and resurrrection of Jesus. Let’s also examine Bohnhoff’s statement concerning Jesus not mentioning His sacrifice, shed blood, and resurrection to His disciples in the garden of Gethemane, but rathered emphasized what was required in order to be His “friends” and remain connected to Him.
The Apostle Paul to His Audience
Unlike Bohnhoff’s claims previously stated, one is hard pressed to miss the Apostle Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s shed blood, death, and resurrection. Throughout the book of Romans all three aspects of the Gospel are presented to his audience. In the first chapter the Apostle Paul mentions the Gospel as of grave importance. In Romans 1:9, Paul speaks of serving with his spirit “in the gospel of His Son..”. In Romans 1:16 Paul boldly proclaims that he is not ashame of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God to save. In Romans 3:21-26 Paul states that salvation/righteousness is obtained by faith in Jesus Christ and that He made redemption possible by His blood. In Romans 5:9 Paul teaches that Christ disciples are justified by the blood of Jesus and save from the wrath of God through Him. Other passages which the Apostle Paul emphasize the importance of the blood of Jesus include Ephesians 1:7 and 2:13. Regarding the Apostle Paul’s emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus and it’s importance to followers of Jesus Christ, look no further than the entire 15th chapter of I Corinthians. Especially in verses 14-17 which, in a nutshell, teaches that without the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, our preaching of the Gospel and our own hopes for salvation are futile or in vain. Thus we can see that the death, shed blood, and resurrection of Jesus from the dead was strongly emphasized to his audience.
The Apostle John to His Audience
The Apostle John, who is one of the closet followers of Jesus also emphasized the death, shed blood, and resurrection of Jesus. I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The Apostle John at the opening of his letter emphasizes the blood of Christ as that which cleanses us from all sin. In connection to this passage, John in the second chapter and the second verse says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” In other words, Jesus is the atonement for our sins, done through His shed blood on the cross. This truth is further echoed by John in I John 4:10. Other passages of Scipture where the Apostle John emphasizes the blood of Jesus and its importance includes Revelation 1:5, 5:9, 7:14, and 12:11. Regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle John in Revelation 1:17-18 recounts the words that Jesus Himself said to John as John bowed in dreadful fear of the sight of Jesus, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” The Apostle John highlights Jesus’ claim to His own resurrection from the dead. Prior to this, John himself declared that Jesus was the firstborn from the dead in verse 5. Thus, the Apostle John did in fact emphasize the resurrection of Jesus as well. Most of them as they came from the mouth of the resurrected Jesus Himself.
The book of Hebrews to its Audience
In the book of Hebrews from chapter 6 to chapter 10 the unknown author goes into great depth and detail about the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus. Time will not permit us to go into every single detail, but it is unmistakable what and who the emphasis is on here. On your own, take the time to read these chapters for yourselves and you will further see why Bohnhoff is wrong in light of these chapters. Hebrews 2:14 teaches that Christ overcame the devil by His death on the cross. In Hebrews 9:14, we are taught that through the blood of Christ our conscience is cleansed from dead works in order to serve God. So much more could be said here, but in a nutshell, both covenants, old and new, are never initiated without the shedding of blood because “…according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” In other words, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. The good news now is that disciples of Jesus are now able to enter into the presence of God(the Holy of Holies) by the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19).
Jesus to His Audience
Finally, a look at Bohnhoff statement that in the garden of Gethsemane: “He does not speak to them of His sacrifice, His resurrection, or His blood. He doesn’t mention atonement.” But “Instead, Christ simply lays out clearly and unambiguously what they must do to be His “friends”, to stay connected to Him, to abide in God’s love, and to bear fruit.” I’m afraid there is a huge problem with Bohnhoff’s argument. While it is true that Jesus did not mention his sacrifice, shed blood, or resurrection in the garden, Jesus had been mentioning these very things throughout His three years of ministry and taught them to His disciples numerous times as seen in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus first taught His disciples about His impending death, burial, and resurrection from the dead, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Matthew 16:21) Jesus would repeat this same claim again in Matthew 17:22 as well. Mark repeats the same claim in his gospel, (Mark 8:31, and 10-32-33). Luke (9:21-22; 44, and 18:31-33) and John (12:27-34 and 2:19-22). Last, but not least, the theme of the Last Supper was about Jesus impending shed blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28). Since Jesus over and over again taught His disciples the necessity of His sacrifice, shed blood, and resurrection throughout His three years of ministry, Jesus obviously did not see it necessary to mention it again in the garden of Gethsemane.
The Baha’is Gospel of Work Summarized
In order for a person to receive the key of salvation according to the gospel of the Baha’i Faith, a person must work for it through obeying the laws and commandments of God as dictated by their teacher Baha’u’llah. Baha’is belief that it is possible to obtain salvation through good works and in keeping commandments is due to the fact that they believe that a human being is basically good morally. According to Kenneth E. Bowers who currently serves as a member of the national governing body of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Baha’u’llah did not agree with the Christian church’s doctrine of original sin (Salvation, Miracles, and the Baha’i Teachings). Baha’u’llah, according to Bowers, did not believe that people were born in sin or, in other words, born with a sin nature due to the sin of Adam and Eve against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) as explained by the Apostle Paul (Romans 5:12). Thus, if humans are born free of sin, then it is possible to keep the commands of God as dictated by Baha’u’llah. Is this true though? Since the Baha’is often appeal to the Bible in an atttempt to validate their doctrines, let’s see what it teaches about our moral condition.
Original Sin, Law, and the Gospel
While Baha’u’llah denies the doctrine of original sin, the reality of it is taught throughout the Bible. As mentioned earlier, the Apostle Paul explained to us that it is through Adam that sin came into the world and is passed on from person to person (Romans 5:12). The way to judge if this is in fact true is to see if it corresponds with our everyday reality. Everyday acts of immorality are before our eyes: murder, lying, adultery, etc. If we rightly acknowledge that there are acts of immorality that happen everyday, then we are acknowledging that morality exist: both good and bad. If we acknowledge the reality or existence of good and bad morality, then there must be a moral law to which to judge what acts are considered moral and which acts are considered immoral. If we acknowledge the existence of a moral law, then we must acknowledge the existence of a moral Law Giver who in essence is the Judge or what is moral and immoral. Not only that, but this Judge must be perfectly impartial in His judgment of what is moral and immoral, and this can only be possible if this Judge is Himself morally perfect. The description of such a Judge can fit none other than God.
Has this perfectly moral and impartial God given a moral law in order to tell us what is morally right and wrong? Yes. Where is it? In the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 and beyond. Do any of us keep the law perfectly? No, because “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”(Romans 3:23). So if we break a law(s), is it not true that punishment for breaking that law(s) should surely follow? If God is indeed a perfectly good and impartial Judge, then God is just to punish lawbreakers. The punishment, for breaking the moral law of God is Hell. If God simply pardoned a person just because they said they were sorry, God would be unjust for not upholding the moral law and applying the punishment required for violating the law. A morally imperfect earthly judge doesn’t even allow that, so why should we expect the perfectly moral Judge, God, to do so? We can and should expect God to only do what is right (Genesis 18:25).
Since original sin is a reality by evidence of the fact we do commit immoral acts all the time like lying, stealing, murder, adultery, and other sins, and justly deserve to be punish by God for our sins…what is the solution according to the Christian church? The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to teach us how to be morally good people (as the Baha’is teach) because we are by nature immoral (Romans 3:10). The key of salvation is found in the Person and work of Jesus. We can be forgiven of our sins and receive the key of salvation and hope through Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. We broke the law of God, but Jesus paid that fine in our place on the cross and it was finalize through His resurrection from the dead. The purpose of the law as explained by the Apostle Paul was to be a schoolmaster or tutor to point us to where salvation is truly found; in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24). Now when a Christian does good works and seeks to obey God’s commandments, it is because they have salvation through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Good works and a desire to live godly and holy are the fruits/results of the salvation a Christian has from Christ (James 2:14-24).
The Key to Salvation and Hope belongs to Jesus
In conclusion, the keys to salvation and hope are only found in the Person and work (death, burial, and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. The Baha’i Faith is wrong in saying that we can obtain the keys of salvation through our own moral efforts. This works oriented gospel message at its surface is no different than the other works oriented gospel messages taught by all the other world religions. In Christianity alone one is taught that the only work necessary for one to receive salvation was done by Jesus Christ on the cross followed by His bodily resurrection from the dead. Salvation is the gift of God which God is ready to give to all who will turn from their sin and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savor, the Son of God who is the only way to God (John 14:6). If you been reading this blog and you’re not a Christian, perhaps your a Baha’i disciple, then strongly consider all that has been said, especially about the Law and the Gospel. It is seriously a matter of Heaven or Hell for eternity.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. –Romans 10:8-10