The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 1.5

As the series goes along, I’ll be addressing several of the comments within the flow of the overarching argument. This is just to add some additional thoughts prompted by the comments.

There are two arguments being made in favor of the tradition position on baptism. First, you can argue that baptism is an absolute condition because the baptism text expressly say it’s an absolute condition. And that’s an entirely respectable position to take.

By “absolute condition” I mean a condition like faith in Jesus. There is no salvation found anywhere else, and the scriptures repeatedly so say. It’s not about obedience. It’s about the path into grace.

This is the best argument in favor of the traditional position, in my view, and I’ll address it in future posts.

The other argument is that baptism is a matter of obedience — like any other matter of obedience. In support of this argument, one might cite the numerous verses teaching that Christians are required to be obedient to God, to be disciples, to repent, etc. And there are many such verses.

This is the most commonly voiced argument in Church of Christ baptismal polemics. And this is the same argument made to teach that instrumental music, one-cup, head coverings, etc., etc. are salvation issues. After all, Christians must obey, the Bible teaches we are to do X, and therefore, if you don’t do X, you’re damned.

And the problem with this argument, of course, is that it proves too much — as it makes every command a requirement for salvation. And I’m not the first person to notice —

(Gal 5:3-4 ESV)  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

That’s Paul’s point. If you insist on circumcision, then why not tassels and refusal to eat pork? How can you demand that some commands are more essential than others? And yet, if you make them all essential, you damn everyone? What’s the solution? Well, the solution is —

(Gal 5:5-6 ESV)  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Understand that, and you’ve escaped legalism. Get that wrong, and you may as well be demanding circumcision — and that does not lead to good place at all.

More to come on this argument in Part 3.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 1.5

  1. mark says:

    I went down this road in my Sunday class. Oh boy……
    One side claimed others were reading into the text
    the other side claimed the text is pretty clear

    Then one questioned where the Christians fled to Pella in the Bible? I said ,"the Bible doesn't say that they did" I'm not sure what he meant by the question but I am sure it will solve the baptismal problem sometime soon. I quickly dismissed the class.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    If we were to agree that baptism is just "one of the bunch" of inspired commands, and that some of them are not really necessary for salvation, therefore none of them are, we would have nicely done away with any inspired requirement for baptism into Christ. But baptism is not "just one of the bunch" of inspired commands. It would be bad if we assumed Jay was right in dismissing the need for obedience so lightly.

    We who are "in Christ" aim to live as Jesus lived, unselfishly serving. Baptism has to do with becoming a Christian. It's not something a Christian might well do when it becomes convenient. To equate baptism and daily living is to totally misunderstand the new birth of water and the spirit which Jesus says is essential for entrance into His Kingdom.

    Let's not move baptism into a list of graces we may develop as we grow in Christ. We're not IN Christ until we have repented of sin (determined to make Jesus our Lord in fact) and been baptized. So to lump baptism in with many other things which have to do with living a Christian life is to make a mistake with serious consequences.

    This mistake on Jay's part must not be lightly overlooked. Let's get it clear early in the discussion that we deal with ENTERING the kingdom of Christ when we speak about baptism. Living well is of no benefit toward removing the guilt of sin. Sin is washed away in the waters of baptism. Baptism INTO Christ is a unique act. It is NOT just one of the bunch of things we seek to develop in order to be more like Jesus as days go by.

  3. Todd Collier says:

    Woa Tex, or er Ray.

    Jay did not say he believed that, taught that or supported that and so has not made any mistake we need to "not lightly overlook".

    He said quite plainly that lumping baptism into the rest of the commands to be obeyed is a common theological belief in the CoC that will lead into the heresy of salvation by works. Jay is condemning this viewpoint, not endorsing it.

    In point of fact he said he thought the earlier argument – baptism is an absolute condition of entering Christ – was the best argument for the traditional position. That seems to be what you believe according to your post. (Note carefully however: to say an argument is the best or strongest doesn't mean the writer will wind up endorsing it.)

  4. mark says:

    I might add to those absolutes that it is conditioned on the fact we fall into God mercy. Judgment is based on what God has given us.

    Clearly the age of accountability and mental illness qualify as baptism is not necessarry for salvation. I'm sure there are few more exceptions.

  5. Royce Ogle says:

    What would the Campbells and Stone say about this?

  6. Ray Downen says:

    Royce cites Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Stone as authorities on who are "in Christ." Much as we want to admire and emulate the love for unity shown by the Campbells and by Stone and all their supporters in an earlier age, we still need to look to the inspired writings for truth and eternal life.

    Jesus knows more than anyone about the subject. Jesus is quoted as pointing out that no one could enter His kingdom (which we agree is on earth His assembly [church], and in Heaven will be all His people) except by a new birth of water and spirit. No one WILL enter His kingdom unless He invites and ushers them in. He is Lord. His Word is supreme. He is never wrong.

    It's JESUS who commands that we who trust Him should tell others about Him wherever we go and then when they also believe, WE MUST BAPTIZE them. Not because they believe in baptism. Because they believe in Jesus. And pity us if we think Jesus can be fooled by other ways we think are better than His Way.

    It's not our job to judge any person or that person's staus with Jesus. It IS our job to tell everyone what Jesus offers and on what conditions He offers it. Do you have a right to change the conditions for admission into the church of God? Then go ahead and do so. This may surprise God, but surely He will be glad to go along with whatever changes you think are wise. Won't He?

    Or would it be better to accept His way? Some of us are sold on obeying Jesus. Why? We think He knows best.

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