I recommend my article on this topic for a more in-depth understanding of these things from my position:
I wish to look at a response from a Lutheran on the issue of 1 Peter 3:20-21:
Due to all the controversy, discourteous depictions, and all-round ignorance of what is being said about baptism and its place in theology, I wish to present 1 Peter 3:18-22 in context and soundly demonstrate what can be understood about baptism. I do apologize if I myself am a little curt in my exposition but the utter hostility that is brought forward who utterly deny baptismal regeneration even when confronted with an honest portrayal from scripture just irks me to no end…which you might be able to tell from how long this post is.
It is interesting that he doesn’t start off by defining what he means by “Baptismal Regeneration”. He simply assumes it is clear what position he is arguing for. From my understanding, that Baptismal regeneration commonly refers to the idea that water baptism is necessary or sufficient for spiritual renewal. Lutherans state that baptism is sufficient for regeneration but it itself isn’t to be considered a work but rather a “means of grace”. Baptism is like faith in this regard because in and of themselves they don’t save, but when they are the instrumental means by which (some) people are regenerated and justified. Lutherans claim baptism isn’t a cause of salvation, but rather the event at which it occurs for some.
I have issues with such a position. It seems to arbitrarily state that baptism isn’t a work, but there is hardly any reason to suppose that it isn’t the case. Does this mean any religious ceremony is not a work? Is the Lord’s Supper regeneration an option?
Another issue is to be that allowing all these ordinances as means of grace becomes a slippery slope. A clever Judaizer could simply challenge Paul and say that the Law is simply a means of grace. That it isn’t meritorious and with the Word achieves salvation. If they are not works, then these religious ceremonies may very well be necessary for justification because they are of faith or in the same category. They seem to have undermined the Pauline argument with their extension of the things that are in the category of faith.
Furthermore, when Lutherans state things like “Baptism is the Gospel” it becomes quite sketchy to what is being said. It is just as bad as when Calvinists say “Calvinism is the Gospel”. Concerns of unnecessary beliefs and actions being added to the Gospel is a fair concern of Christians. Continuing with the Lutheran’s response:
What conclusions can be wrought from this concerning baptism? I would say: (1) baptism is connected to Noah’s Flood where people were saved by water, (2) baptism is not simply a physical act but an act of God which is worked in the whole of the Christian, (3) baptism is linked to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and, most importantly, (4) baptism saves us.
Objection 1. The floodwaters killed people, not saved people.
Response: This is a confusion of how the biblical text presents itself. It testifies that Noah’s family, eight persons in all, were brought safely through water (1 Pt 3:20). The clear reading of the text is that the floodwaters delivered the righteous from the harm of those who were wicked. In speaking about Christ’s proclamation to the spirits in prison, Peter states that Christ (working through baptismal waters, 1 Pt 3:21c) brings us to God by putting us to death in the flesh but makes us alive in the spirit. Christ destroys our sinfulness but makes us alive in him (which is the point of Paul’s baptismal reference in Rom 6). When we are saved by baptism, it is not the removal of dirt from the body that is the effective action but the death of the sinful flesh and the appeal for a good conscience before God that saves us. Therefore, it is fully acknowledged that the floodwaters killed people, but the nuance of only the wicked perishing is lost in the objection. Noah and his family were those righteous being saved. This corresponds to baptism where our unrighteousness is destroyed and we are made righteous through the resurrection of Christ by making an appeal for a good conscience.
Firstly, everything he said can be true and the Lutheran view of Baptism be false. His interpretation is too bare-bones to actually get you to his position. There may be other passages that he wishes to tie into his argument from this passage. Furthermore, even if the passage did state what he thought it said, then we have to ask questions about what it means for Baptism to save us. It seems you could conclude Baptism is necessary to save us. This passage is no more in favor of the Lutheran than the Roman Catholic or Church of Christ advocates. I would also state that this passage is too strong for any of them because it would guarantee that anyone who is baptized is saved and cannot abandon their salvation.
The objection that the author is stating a common objection and one that was shared in the articles I provided (even though I don’t think he is interacting with my article about the issue). I’ll quote Steve Hays‘ formulation of the objection because it is better put than his:
In what respect is baptism comparable to Noah’s flood? Noah’s family weren’t saved by water, but from water. They were saved in spite of water. But those who espouse baptismal regeneration or baptismal justification hardly think we are saved despite the rite of baptism.
The author states the parallel is “our unrighteousness is destroyed and we are made righteous”. But Noah wasn’t made righteous because of the flood, he was righteous before the flood. I think that the better reason no apparent connection between these things exists is that the author never meant that there was supposed to be a connection. The better interpretation is one that recognizes what these things are trying to signify. That “dirt”, “baptism”, and the wordplay on the themes of salvation and drowning that Peter is using. The idea that we are saved through divine deliverance just as Noah was. In Noah’s case, it was physical deliverance, but the author uses it to imply a spiritual deliverance for us. This deliverance is found in “baptisma” which is a spiritual washing and I take to be the thing signified in baptism (the antitype of inward moral cleansing).