Myhan-Olson Debate on Water Baptism and the New Birth

“The Scriptures teach that it is necessary to be baptized in water in order to experience the new birth.”

Bob Myhan affirms
Lloyd Olson denies

Myhan’s Introduction

I was raised a Baptist. At age twenty-four I discovered, to my surprise, that many of the things I had been taught to believe – Calvinism, Premillennialism, and the acceptability of instrumental music in the worship of Christians – did not seem to be taught or authorized in the Bible. Shortly thereafter, I repented, confessed my faith and was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins in the building of the King Street church of Christ, in Beaufort, SC.
Unlike the good “doctor,” I have only had about 70 hours of college, studying mathematics, French, Spanish, the Bible and New Testament Greek. I am 63 years old and have been preaching the gospel for 36 years.
My first work as a regular preacher was in Cleveland, TN, where I also had my first debate ca. 1978. The subject was Holy Spirit baptism. I took the negative, denying that such was available for anyone living today.
I preached in Hamilton, AL, for 16 years, where I engaged in three public debates.
I have been preaching for 14 years in Macon, GA, where I have been editing a weekly teaching bulletin – the Forest Hills Faith Builder – since late 2002. The Faith Builder articles are published on the church’s website.
This will be my fourth debate in the religious debates forum and my first with the good “doctor.”
Bob Myhan

Olson’s Introduction

Greetings to Mr. Myhan, moderators, and the reading audience.
Mr. Myhan alone is the author of propositions before us today. I merely accepted the words he sent. By these words Mr. Myhan reveals himself to be a careful and astute theologian – a cut above every other CoC’er with whom I exchange emails. He carefully discriminated between Spirit baptism and water baptism. He skillfully avoided the theological confusion associated with the word “salvation.” This last tidbit is no small feat. Every other CoC’er with whom I exchange private emails (except Brian Murphy) has fallen into the snare of confusing the relationship of salvation with justification and sanctification. Indeed, this is the confusion that besets Mr. Benton in my other debate. Mr. Myhan appears to be a uniquely insightful opponent.
These propositions are the Rubicon for every denomination. Indeed, water baptism is an early discriminator in Christian theological taxonomy. The topic is important because it cuts across many important theological concepts and leads to many penetrating questions. Is there one gospel or two? Is this discussion limited to the New Testament? Why does Paul make Abraham’s waterless new birth the example for us in the New Testament (Rom 4:23-24)? How does the context of Acts 2 affect the use of Acts 2:38? Is the new birth repeatable? Are Acts 1 and Acts 3 still part of the context of Acts 2? When did Paul truly experience the new birth? In which testament was the thief on the cross? All of these questions – and more – will be addressed in our debate.
Behind the various questions lies philosophy. It’s not the question of whether or not we should use philosophy for we are all philosophers. The real questions are: Which philosophy do you use? Is your philosophy appropriate? The yea or nay of water baptism is subsumed by the philosophy of the obedience of works versus the philosophy of the obedience of faith as contrasted in Romans 9:30-32. When we have the answer to water baptism we will at once have the answer to philosophy.
It is my hope that Mr. Myhan and the CoC reading audience will see that gospel righteousness is God’s righteousness (Rom 1:17) and not our righteousness. Water baptism will not produce Christ’s righteousness – not even in us. God’s Word teaches that Christ’s righteousness is IMPUTED to us apart from works (Rom 4:6). Christ’s righteousness is not imputed through water baptism. Works of obedience are important (Eph 2:10), but they follow after the new birth (Eph 2:8-9) and are not requirements for the new birth. Gospel philosophy is the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13, 9:30; Phil 3:9).
I am certain that water baptism is not required to experience the new birth. Mr. Myhan is certain that it is required. One of us is certainly wrong and there is the theoretical possibility that we both may be wrong. Through these exchanges, may we understand gospel righteousness, may Jesus be central and uplifted, and may God be glorified as we finite fickle humans attempt to keep our eyes on God and His truths.
I anxiously await Mr. Myhan’s first affirmative.
Dr. Olson

Definition of Proposition and Myhan’s First Affirmative

Moderators, honorable opponent and members of the list: I appreciate this opportunity to come before you, electronically, in defense of the above proposition. It has been said, “A proposition well-defined is half-argued.” Let’s see if I can well-define my proposition.
  1. By “the Scriptures” I mean the 66 books of the Holy Bible, the word of God, with emphasis on the 27 books of the New Testament.
  2. By “teach” I mean “convey to the mind by direct statement, implication or approved example.”
  3. By “necessary” I mean essential. Whatever is necessary cannot be dispensed with.
  4. By “baptized” I mean immersed.
  5. By “water” I mean H2O, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
  6. By “in order to experience the new birth” I mean that the new birth cannot be experienced without said baptism in water.
  7. By “experience the new birth” I mean “be born again.”
  8. By “new birth” I mean the process by which one receives the remission of sins and gains entrance into the kingdom of God.
If this definition is not satisfactory to Dr. Olson, he should let me know – in his first negative – wherein it falls short.
The phrase, “new birth,” is nowhere found in the King James version of the Bible but most understand the term to refer to the action of being “born again” or “born anew” (ASV), per John 3:3-7.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
Inasmuch as one cannot see or enter the kingdom of God without having been born again, it is necessary for those who wish to become citizens of God’s king­dom to know “how” one is “born again.”
Jesus tells Nicodemus – and us – that this “new birth” is “of water and the Spirit.” He does not, however, explain how one is “born of water and the Spirit,” probably because the kingdom of God had not yet been established although it was “at hand.” (Mark 1:15) Thus, we must “search the Scriptures” to determine the meaning of the term. Let us strive to be logical and methodical not arbitrary and indiscriminate.
The phrase, “born again,” does not occur in the book of Acts (AKA the book of conversions). Nor does it occur in the synoptic gospels. It next occurs, after John 3:7, in 1 Peter 1:23.
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)
Peter here equates having “purified your souls in obeying the truth” with being “born again…through the word of God” (1 Peter 1:22, 23). When praying to the Father, Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Thus, to purify one’s soul in obeying the truth is to be “born again through the word of God.” One who has not purified his soul in obeying the truth has not experienced the new birth and is not in God’s kingdom, but is an alien sinner.
The phrase, “born again,” does not appear again. However, Paul explains that “the washing of regen­eration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” is the means of our having been “saved.”
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Notice that Paul here uses the past tense verb “saved.” Thus, Paul and others had been “saved…through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” “Regeneration” bespeaks a new birth and “renewing” bespeaks a new life.
Thus, the new birth is the means by which one is saved, having his soul purified in obeying the truth, being born again through the word of God. So, one must obey the truth in order to be “born again” and when he is born again he is saved. He then becomes a citizen in the kingdom of God.
One might be saved from many things, but Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). One is saved from his sins in that he is saved from falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), AND he is saved from having to receive the wages of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23). In or­der to be saved from our sins, therefore, we must have our sins remitted (or forgiven).
Shortly before He left the earth, Jesus told His apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). He had already said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and what­ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). Therefore, what­ever the apostles bound on earth, as to the re­mission of sins, has been bound in heaven.
Thus, we have purified our souls in obey­ing the truth, have been born again, and have entered the kingdom of God, if and only if, we have done whatever the apostles bound on earth, as to the remission of sins. Now, what did the apostles bind on earth, as to the remission of sins?
The apostles taught unbelieving aliens that they had to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, or born again (Acts 16:29-31). They taught believing aliens to “repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). This is the same as telling them what to do to be born again, for one is not born again until his sins are remitted. Believing, penitent aliens who desired to be baptized were en­couraged to confess their faith (Acts 8:36-38).
Saul of Tarsus was a penitent believer for three days, spending all his time in prayer, but was told, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). To wash away your sins is to have them remitted (Matt. 26:28; Rev. 1:5). Thus, he was to have his sins remitted by arising and being baptized in water.
In view of Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16, the blood of Christ remits (or washes away) the alien’s sins when – fol­lowing belief, repen­tance and confession – he is baptized in water for the remission of sins.
One is a “new creature” “in Christ.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Thus, one must be “born again” to get into Christ. But baptism in water for the remis­sion of sins puts one into Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26, 27). Thus, when a penitent be­liever in Jesus Christ is bap­tized in water for the remission of sins he is “born again,” and be­comes a “new creature,” a citizen in the kingdom of God. He also rises to “walk in newness of life.”
Therefore, the Scriptures teach that it is necessary to be baptized in water in order to experience the new birth.
I appreciate the kind words said about me by my opponent in his introduction although I do take offense at being characterized – by implication – as a “CoC’er.” I am not a “church of Christer.” I am a member of the Lord’s body universally and the Forest Hills church of Christ locally.
It is my hope that this will be a contest of ideas rather than a contest of personalities.
Please read Dr. Olson’s first negative with all the objectivity you can muster. And be sure to read it with your Bible at the ready.
Bob Myhan
Click to read Olson’s first negative.