Jay:Thank you for OneinJesus.info. Everyone there helps to challenge and push me on toward a closer and deeper understanding of God, the Lordship of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit. That said please help me with a puzzling question.
The reader explains that his congregation requires members baptized to obey God, rather than for remission of sins, to be re-baptized. In fact, the church insists that a baptism is ineffective if the believer does not understand the 5-steps of salvation.
This is a great time for this question to have come up, because there have been some great posts on the subject by Bobby Valentine lately.
Bobby lays out much of the history of the subject very well. Here’s the short course: Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell taught that baptism is indeed for the remission of sins, but they did not consider faith in that fact essential to salvation. Faith in Jesus is essential — not faith in baptism. Campbell considered those who insisted on rebaptizing Baptist converts heretics, meaning that he saw them as dividing the body of Christ. Campbell only very rarely referred to someone as “heretic.”
Lipscomb and McGarvey held the same view, as did many others. However, Austin McGary founded the Firm Foundation to teach that baptism is only effective if consciously for the remission of sins. The Gospel Advocate, of course, held to Lipscomb’s view. Over time, the Firm Foundation‘s position — the “Texas school” as Bobby and John Mark Hicks say — came to dominate even the churches east of the Mississippi, particularly after Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was given editorship of the Advocate. The Gospel Advocate‘s original position — the “Tennessee school of thought” — nearly disappeared.
Until recently, the Texas school’s view was so dominant that few even realized that the contrary position had once been the original position of the Restoration Movement.
Now, this doesn’t fully answer the question, as ultimately the argument must be made from scripture. I offered my own argument some time ago. I’ll not repeat it.
Rather, I want to add to it, as you asked about Acts 19. I’d never heard that argument before, but noticed this picture on Bobby’s blog, so I figure that it’s common in some parts of the country — or maybe I’ve gotten out of touch.
(Acts 19:1-6) While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Yes, the Ephesians were rebaptized, but not because they they weren’t baptized for remission of sins. In fact, they were surely already baptized for just that reason —
(Mark 1:4) And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
(Luke 3:3) He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The phrase translated “for the forgiveness of sins” is identical in the Greek with “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38. The Ephesians had been baptized into John’s baptism, which means they had been baptized for the remission of sins already.
So why were they re-baptized? The text is quite clear. We ask our converts, “Were you baptized for the remission of sins?” Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” They said they hadn’t, and so they were rebaptized — and they received the Holy Spirit.
There are two key differences between John’s and Jesus’ baptism. The first is the name into which one is baptized. Paul baptized into the name of Jesus. John did not.
The second is the receipt of the Spirit. As Acts 19, Acts 2:38, and John 7:37-39 make abundantly clear, John’s disciples did not receive the Spirit, but those baptized into Jesus did (and do).
Barton W. Stone made this argument (I quote Bobby Valentine once again) —
The only kind of unity that Scripture knows, according to Stone, is “the union of fire.” Fire union is that created and founded by the Holy Spirit of the Almighty God. “Fire effects a perfect union—so does the spirit [sic] of burning, the spirit of Jesus.” Where can we find this unity? “This spirit is obtained through faith, not in a human form or set of opinions, whether written or not written, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners; and by cheerful obedience to his known commands … This spirit leads us to love God and his children … This is the very union for which Jesus prayed.” (Barton W. Stone, “The Retrospect,” Christian Messenger 7 [October 1833], 314-316). It is precisely because Stone did not believe that all must agree in order to be united that he was able to unite with Alexander Campbell.
Paul would agree. He didn’t ask the Ephesians about their faith in baptism. He asked whether they’d received the Spirit, as the Spirit is the mark of our salvation. We talk about “marks of the church,” but the mark of a Christian is his receipt of the Spirit —
(Eph 1:13-14) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.
Archaeologists find First Century seals all the time. They were very visible marks showing the ownership of an object. And the presence of the Spirit — the mark of the Spirit — shows who belongs to Jesus.
And so the argument proceeds at several levels. I’ve made a very technical argument regarding Acts 2:38 in my earlier article. Stone argues from the doctrine of the Spirit — a doctrine the Churches of Christ have worked hard to forget. And a serious reading of Acts 19 plainly shows that it’s not about whether you’ve been baptized for remission of sins. It’s about whether you’ve received the Spirit. And as Paul teaches in Rom 8:9-11, anyone with the Spirit is saved.
Is baptism to obey God sufficient to receive the Spirit? Yes, after all, it was sufficient for Jesus.