There are those who teach that baptism is essential for salvation, and those who teach that only the baptisms that take place in their local church or denomination are valid. But a new error seems to be emerging: that it is the Jesus’ baptism by John, rather than His death on the cross that takes away sin! This teaching is found on the websites of Paul C. Jong of South Korea.
Paul C. Jong is the founder and leader of The New Life Mission, which started in 1991. NLM’s primary mission seems to be the dissemination of Mr. Jong’s teachings through the publication of literature. However, it has also developed a substantial presence on television and the internet. His influence has already spread to over 150 countries in 45 major languages (http://www.bjnewlife.org/english/about/whois_paul.php.)
Unlike most cult leaders whose heresies can be immediately recognized because of their diametric opposition to most of the orthodox Christian truths, Jong presents his statement of faith
(http://www.bjnewlife.org/english/about/statement.php) in an evangelical fashion. He presents himself in the following manner:
We believe that the Bible, consisting of Old and New Testaments only, is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit, is inerrant in the original manuscripts, and is the infallible and authoritative Word of God.
We believe that the one triune God exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We believe that Adam, created in the image of God, was tempted by Satan, the god of this world, and fell. Because of Adam's sin, all men have guilt imputed, are totally depraved, and need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit for Salvation.
We need to be discerning and “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1-6). If there is a problem with a person’s doctrine it can usually be found in their definition – in the fine print if you will. Mr. Jong goes on to say:
We believe that Jesus Christ is God, was born of a virgin, baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, crucified as the Lamb of God, rose again from the dead, and ascended to heaven, where He is presently exalted at the Father's right hand.
We believe that salvation consists of the remission of sins, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and the gift of eternal life, received by faith alone, apart from works.
Inclusion of statements such as Jesus being “baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River” and “salvation consist[ing] of the remission of sins” (statements not normally included in orthodox statements of faith) should makes us suspicious. In fact, if we draw a closer look we will find that Mr. Jong’s teaching on salvation includes the following three general ideas:
1. John the Baptist was humanity’s High Priest.
"In the age of the New Testament, God sent John the Baptist, a descendant Aaron (1 Chronicles 24:10, Luke 1:5) and the last High Priest of the Old Testament (Matthew 11:11-13). John the Baptist, as the God-sent prophet, representative and High Priest of humankind, baptized Jesus in order to pass all the sins of humankind onto Him, the Son of God, who came to save sinners."
John, Mr. Jong says, passed all the sins of mankind on to Jesus. However, nowhere does the Bible speak of John as a High Priest - even though he was from the family of priests (Luke 1). John is always spoken of in terms of being a forerunner, looking forward to someone else. He is also called a prophet (Matthew 11:9).
The Scriptures are very clear in stating that it is, in fact, Jesus who is our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:15; 5:5, 10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11).
There is not one Scripture that indicates John placed the sin of mankind on Jesus; indeed, it is said that the Lord did it (Isaiah 53:6).
2. Sin can only be cleansed once and for all through the “gospel of water”.
"This important concept is also known as the forgiveness of sins. Sins are forgiven when we become cleansed of all sins once and for all through the gospel of the water and the Spirit. The faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit is to believe in a series of truths: Jesus Christ's divinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, His baptism and crucifixion for the salvation of us all, and His resurrection."
"Sin is 'hamartia' in Greek. And its verbal form is 'hamartano,' which means 'to miss the mark.' Hence, one of the most serious sins is to incorrectly believe in Jesus, and thus lack the ability to be saved. To neither know nor believe in the truth is to commit the sin of disobedience and to blaspheme against God."
Mr. Jong thus teaches that we are cleansed from sin once and for all through, first, the gospel of water (baptism). If we do not believe correctly about Jesus then it is impossible to be saved.
Emphasis is put on correct understanding in order for your sins to be forgiven. This means that some can never be saved because some will not understand. Jong claims that if you do not know the truth then you commit the sin of disobedience. This is illogical because, if you do not know something, you are not disobeying – you are ignorant.
Always in Scripture the forgiveness of sins is linked to confession and repentance and not to a "correct understanding". See for instance, 1 John 1:9 where the forgiveness of sin is linked to the character of God not to the mind of man. Also see Romans 6:23 where forgiveness of sin in order to receive eternal life is shown as a free gift. Man can do nothing to gain it whether with his mind or his body. This is shown further in Ephesians 2:8-10, where we can do no works at all to receive forgiveness and salvation but once it is received we are to work its implications out in all aspects of our lives.
3. Baptism has a special role in salvation.
A careful study of Mr. Jong’s doctrine reveals that he believes that in addition to faith it is also essential to believe in the act of Jesus’ water baptism as performed by John in the Jordan River. He teaches that the laying on of John’s hands was a prerequisite for salvation thereby making the act of Jesus’ baptism a necessary part of a person becoming righteous and justified before God. This is a different twist from the believer’s water baptism as a means to be saved, as held by the Baptismal Regenerationists.
"Baptism means (1) to be washed (2) to be buried (to be immersed) and in spiritual meaning, (3) to pass on sin by laying on of hands, as ministered in the Old Testament days.
"In the New Testament, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was to wash away all the sins of the world.’The baptism of Jesus' has the meaning of taking away the sins of all mankind, to wash away the sins of the world.
"Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the representative of all human beings and the High Priest of the lineage of Aaron, and took all the sins of the world upon Himself. This was the purpose of His baptism.
"The spiritual meaning of the word 'baptism' is 'to pass on, to be buried.' So, 'the baptism of Jesus' means that all sins were passed onto Jesus and that He was judged instead of us. In order to save mankind, Jesus had to take away our sins with His baptism and die for them.
"Thus, His death is also the death of you and me, all the sinners of the world, and His resurrection is the resurrection of all people. His sacrifice is the salvation of sinners, and His baptism is the very witness to washing away all the sins of humankind.
"The Bible tells us, "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism" (1 Peter 3:21). The baptism of Jesus is the righteous way of saving all humanity by washing away our sins."
“As a result, His baptism does not nullify the Cross, but actually it is the gospel of the Lord that completes and fulfills the meaning of the Cross. It also teaches us that we cannot have redemption unless there is the baptism and precious blood of Jesus Christ. What you mean by being saved is that you obtain the remission of sins by believing the baptism of Jesus and His blood on the Cross and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:8, Acts 2: 38).”
Note: This was the answer Mr. Jong gave to the question, “Don't you think that understanding the baptism of Jesus as the must for salvation would nullify His death on the Cross in the gospel?”
“Both the words of the Old and New Testaments have their equivalents to each other (Isaiah 34: 16). The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is equal to the sinner's laying hands on the head of the sin offering in the Old Testament. When He was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan, He said, ‘Permit it to be so now, thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15).
“Here, ‘all righteousness’ means ‘justice and fairness.’ It means that it is fitting for Jesus to become the sin offering for mankind, to be baptized by John the Baptist in the form of the laying on of hands to take away all the sins of the world in the fairest way according to the sacrificial system, composed of the laying on of hands and blood, which God established in the Old Testament.” (http://www.bjnewlife.org/english/about/qna.php.)
Mr. Jong says there is a “spiritual meaning” to baptism and it is through the baptism of Jesus that we are saved. Here then is the central area we must look at. In Mr. Jong’s concept of salvation, baptism becomes the key for the forgiveness of my sin. According to this philosophy, without an understanding of what Jong says happens I cannot have my sin forgiven and I am on my way to hell.
Let’s examine these teachings in more detail:
Baptism… in spiritual meaning … to pass on sin by laying on of hands
There is not one Scripture that even gets close to teaching this, and especially when we talk of the Baptism of Jesus by John. Not one Scripture talks of sin being passed on to Jesus. Indeed, evidence surrounding the event would suggest otherwise.
John wanted to prevent Jesus from being baptized (Matthew 3:14) - that would not have happened if he knew the vital act that was about to take place.
When Jesus was baptized, heaven was opened (Luke 3:21, 22). The opposite reaction as to when Jesus dies on the Cross - the Father turned away and there was darkness.
In the New Testament, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was to wash away all the sins of the world.
Hebrews 9:13-16 shows that, for there to be forgiveness of sin, there needs to be the sacrifice and blood being shed. Neither of these things happened at Baptism, only at Calvary.
The spiritual meaning of the word 'baptism' is 'to pass on, to be buried.
Nowhere do we find such a meaning for the word baptism. Note that it is said to be the “spiritual” meaning! How this was revealed and to whom, we are not told. What is clear is that the Bible does not teach this and there is no proof for such a claim.
The Bible tells us, "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism" (1 Peter 3:21). The baptism of Jesus is the righteous way of saving all humanity by washing away our sins.
1 Peter 3 is often used as seeking to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation, but a careful reading will show that this is not what is being said.
At first glance, it may appear, this Scripture teaches that baptism now saves you; but note in the previous verses to what it is referring. Baptism saving you corresponds to the flood. We need to discover two things here: What actually saved the people; and what - and to - was the salvation.
If this was to teach us that New Testament baptism saves, then we would need to see that it was the water that saved Noah and his family. However, the water did not save them; rather the opposite - it nearly destroyed them. What actually saved them was the ark. We need to discover in New Testament terms what or whom the Old Testament picture of the ark represents, and the answer is not baptism but Jesus Christ. Being put into water does not save us; our safety comes from being in Christ and having a sure relationship with Him.
What sort of salvation was this? Are we talking about the salvation of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior? No, in Old Testament terms, they needed that relationship before they got into the ark. This was a salvation that would take them out of one world system into another. Salvation is not being used here in the sense of being born again. It is a full deliverance, through God's judgment, into the new world order that Christ had yet to set up on earth.
Mr. Jong’s gospel is not the gospel that will save people from their sins. He has made the cross of Christ of none effect (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17) by adding faith to Jesus’ water baptism through laying of hands by John the Baptist to cleanse people from their sins,
“Therefore, His blood would virtually be effective in washing away sins in the hearts of believers, only if they believe that all their sins have been laid on Him when John the Baptist baptized Him by laying hands on Him.”
As is the case with most cults, Mr. Jong places great emphasis on a relatively insignificant detail and creates doctrine whole cloth out of that single observation. The physical act of Jesus’ water baptism was not the main focus of this event. Rather it was the anointing with the Spirit and God the Father’s approval and authorization that prepared Jesus for His ministry and made His death on the cross valid as our source of salvation.
According to the New Bible Dictionary, “The accounts of Jesus’ encounter with John at the River Jordan are consistent in focusing on Jesus’ anointing with the Spirit rather than the act of [water] baptism (particularly Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34; cf. Acts 10:37-38).” (New Bible Dictionary (3rd Edition), (Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), 121)
In fact, you will notice that the first chapter of the gospel of John did not even mention the detailed account of Jesus being baptized by John but rather focuses on the Spirit’s anointing over Him. In addition to this fact, the Bible does not mention that our sins “have been laid on Him when John the Baptist baptized Him by laying hands on Him” during His water baptism rather God laid our sins on Jesus and He bore it while hanging on the cross to pay for every mankind’s sin, “… and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:6b) “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24)
Jong even concludes,
“What you mean by being saved is that you obtain the remission of sins by believing the baptism of Jesus and His blood on the Cross and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:8, Acts 2: 38).”
The Bible is very clear that to believe in Jesus Christ alone will grant you eternal life (cf. John 3:16; 8:24; Acts 16:31) If belief in the water baptism of Christ and personal baptism were necessary for salvation, then how could Jesus tell the thief on the cross who had fulfilled neither of these conditions that he would be in paradise (Luke 23:43)?
Our salvation lies not in Jesus’ water baptism, but in Jesus Himself when He died, was buried and rose again from the grave to be victorious over death. Mr. Jong’s gospel is not the gospel that saves a person. Rather it is a different gospel adding to the finish work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. His teachings are clearly anti-scriptural and should be rejected by all those who want to embrace the truth of the Gospel.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon