The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 1

A few days ago, a question came up in the comments regarding joint efforts with congregations that aren’t Churches of Christ. How do we deal with potential converts when we’re working with Baptists and Methodists. I responded

Which church should he join? Well, there’s only one church, and its boundaries aren’t defined by human names. That church is built on the rock of “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And all converts must confess this.

Which congregation should he attend? I’m going to celebrate the growth of the kingdom. We are not in competition. Just like always and everywhere, it’s his choice.

What about baptism? I’m going to teach Jesus. The Baptists will teach Jesus. The Methodists will teach Jesus.

Whoever is studying with the potential convert teaches what he believes regarding baptism, and the others won’t embarrass Jesus by disputing over baptism around potential converts. (Learned that one the hard way.)

If I’m the teacher, I teach what I believe without dissing the views of the others. If I’m not the teacher, I don’t contradict the teacher, but I answer truthfully if the convert asks my views.

I know this will not satisfy many readers, but I know of no other way that doesn’t lead to ugly arguments in front of a convert, driving him straight into the arms of Satan.

In my view, even if he’s taught in error on baptism, if he has a genuine faith in Jesus and a genuine penitence, he’s saved, even though by an imperfect process.

The alternative, of course, is to set up a competing soup kitchen and to refuse all fellowship with the Baptists and Methodists. And I’ve seen how well that works.

This led to a question about what “baptisms” are effective. I responded

According to the scriptures, what is it we have to believe to be saved?

(Acts 15:7 ESV) 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.”

(John 8:24 ESV) 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he [the one from above] you will die in your sins.”

(John 20:31 ESV) 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(Acts 16:31 ESV) 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

(Rom 10:9 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We are told to believe in Jesus and we’ll be saved. Nowhere are we told to believe in baptism. Now, do we accept the authority of the scriptures or not? The texts (and many, many more) say that those with faith in Jesus are saved. I believe them to be the truth.

(John 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

It’s pretty plain. If you have faith, you’re saved. If not, you’re damned. Obviously, the demons don’t have faith in the sense in which Jesus uses the word in John or Paul uses the word in Romans, or else we make them out to be liars. I’ve written extensively on the meaning of “faith” in John and Paul, and it’s more than mere intellectual acceptance — it requires a changed heart, as well. James obviously had a narrower sense in mind — unless we wish to make James contradict Jesus.

The content of faith is “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”

I readily admit that it’s difficult to reconcile these truths with the baptism passages, but we can’t just ignore these verses as though the Baptists slipped them in while the translators weren’t looking. There are far more “faith saves” verses than “baptism saves” verses. And God never meant for there to be a separation of the two in practice — but it happened. That’s how they are reconciled. When written, it was assumed that baptism would alway correspond with coming to faith. No longer is this true.

So the question is: Does God keep all his promises? If the answer is yes, then John 3:18 and Rom 10:9 and countless other passages teach that those with faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah are saved. Otherwise, the promises are broken.

Just so, does God require a perfect faith to save someone? Or a perfect penitence? Then why on earth would he require perfect baptism when faith and penitence are are of the essence?

Of course, if someone refuses baptism out of a rebellious spirit, insisting on going his own way, he doesn’t really believe that Jesus is Lord — so we aren’t talking about such a person. But this is a very rare case. After all, nearly all believers believe themselves baptized.

It’s a colossal mistake to add things to be believed as a requirement to be saved to those specifically stated in the scriptures. It’s not enough to show that something’s true. It must be something required to be believed to be saved.

You know, sometimes I wonder why we ask our converts to confess Jesus to be baptized and don’t ask them to confess their faith in baptism while we’re at it.

Now, in response to these comments, the following arguments have been made:

1. “Faith” includes a correct understanding of baptism —

Teaching Jesus included baptism in Acts 8. And i don’t see how “believing on/in Jesus” in scripture was used to reference only mental assent to propositions. You, yourself, have pointed this out in other posts. That being the case, verses about “believe on/in” do not answer questions regarding to which propositions we must give mental assent to be saved.

2.”Faith” requires obedience —

(Luk 6:46 ESV) “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

I am not implying anything, just reminding of what Jesus said, I believe he is saying there are two sides to every contract, and both sides have to be fulfilled.
The implication here to me is, there is work involved,. not just saying I believe, we need to show that we believe.

3. The passages speaking of being saved by faith don’t ever refer to being saved by faith alone.

I hope any who read this note will realize that not one of those passages speaks of faith alone. How foolish we are then to in OUR thinking add “alone.” If faith alone could save, surely at least ONCE an inspired writer would have said so. But no, the only time “alone” is added is when the inspired writer says that faith ALONE is dead.

4. The “gospel” is about much more than “Jesus is Messiah and Lord.”

In Mark 14:9 we see the use of the term gospel to describe something beyond just Christ’s death. and in other parts it talks of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of God (perhaps referring to the father), the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of Christ, etc

I don’t know if we can limit that term.

i don’t see where the NT treats “the gospel” as a technical and categorical term either, but i’ve read a lot of progressives quote a small portion of 1Cor 15 as though it obviously follows. Not obvious to me.

If the pre-Christ Roman uses of the word are of any bearing on the matter at all, i definitely don’t see how we can treat it as a technical term with finely defined content. Yet it seems to be one thing that progressives are desperately insistent on–at least in my personal encounters.

5. The scriptures associate baptism with salvation —

I will chime in briefly to suggest that errors in understanding in some churches of Christ should offer no reason for discarding what Paul wrote in Titus 3:4ff. Numerous students of the Word — inside and outside the Restoration Movement — have concluded that Paul is talking about baptism as he talks about a “washing of regeneration” paralleling a “renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

It should soak into us deeply that the Jews knew well the background of baptism into Christ. The forty or so “immersion pools” in Jerusalem alone in the first century (see the Mishnah) and the use of baptizo in Mark 7 signal the background with clarity. Jewish cleansing by immersion was commonplace in Jerusalem.

Certainly, ritual should not lose sight of Jesus and indeed sins are washed away only by the blood of Christ. But is that not why we hear, “Rise, be baptized and have your sins washed away, calling on the Lord’s name.” (Acts 22:16) Baptism is where we participate in His death and resurrection. Correct? (Romans 6:1-11).

G. R. Beasley-Murray’s summary of apostolic teaching seems to get at all of this well. In baptism we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Baptism in the New Testament, 174).

Baptism is a saving action of God’s grace. Not a sacrament; not holy water; not magic water. But a participation in His death and resurrection. I hope we continue to grab hold and teach without reserve what the apostles taught– keeping at the center of our vision the Lord Jesus.

5. The gospel must be obeyed —

Yes, the writer obviously has never read, or has forgotten what is said in chapter two of Acts. What Peter told sinners to do is described by the apostle Paul as “obeying the gospel.” And Paul also says it’s something they not only can do but that we MUST do.

It’s been a good discussion. But no one has challenged my two key arguments —

A. We can’t just ignore the faith-only verses as though the Baptists slipped them in while the translators weren’t looking. There are far more “faith saves” verses than “baptism saves” verses. And while God never meant for there to be a separation of the two in practice, it happened. When written, it was assumed that baptism would always correspond with coming to faith. No longer is this true.

So the question is: Does God keep all his promises? If the answer is yes, then John 3:18 and Rom 10:9 and countless other passages teach that those with faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah are saved. Otherwise, the promises are broken.

B. God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and penitence — even if that person comes outside the covenant-terms for forgiveness.

C. Does God require a perfect faith to save someone? Or a perfect penitence? Then why on earth would he require perfect baptism when faith and penitence are are of the essence?

Next: A more complete explanation of these two arguments.

PS — This series will contain material not found in my ebook Born of Water, but Born of Water contains much more material onthe necessity of baptism than will be found in this series

The gospel and its ordinances are designed for the whole world, and it cannot be supposed that a form for the administration of baptism would have been prescribed which would in any place (as in a tropical country or in polar regions) or under any circumstances be inapplicable or injurious or impossible.

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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29 Responses to The Fork in the Road: On Imperfect Baptisms, Part 1

  1. abasnar says:

    Dear Jay, let me try to challenge you a bit:

    And while God never meant for there to be a separation of the two in practice, it happened. When written, it was assumed that baptism would always correspond with coming to faith. No longer is this true.

    Let's say, it is clear, that at the time the NT was written, coming to Christ included baptism with maybe only one recorded exceprion: Apollos, who was given a better understanduing of baptism by Prisaka and Aquila in Acts 18.

    If that is so, then that's a given. We cannot use "faith-only" verses to back up contemporary Evangelical views on the Gospel. Doing that would really twist the scriptures – just as an analogy:

    If a dad asks his kids to opick up their toys, he also means to put them back where they belong. If the kid tries to take his dad by his words without actually doing what he wants it to do, the kid might simply put up the toys and drop it again. So he obeyed the letter of the law.

    If we today say, "faith alone" is sufficient, because the Scriptures don't always mention baptism in the context, we actually do the same. A conversion without baptism is incomplete and thus has no promise.

    Having no promise, however, does not mean that God cannot save a person anyway. That's up to Him and His mercy. He is pretty well informed about the theological chaos in His church, and he won't hold the individual Christians responsible for that, I believe.

    But as teachers we should never give in to the status quo. We should not accept that, well, some are baptized, some are not, but they all truly repeneted, so … let's bury the issue of baptism for the sake of unity. Unity is based on 7 "units":
    One body, One hope of our calling, One Spirit, One Lord, One faith, One baptism, One God, our Father.

    We cannot take one of these out and still claim to work for unity. All who really desire unity, MUST deal with all 7 "units". And since baptism is the question where some hold to different opinions, we have to focus our attention to baptism in our "ecumenical councils". But we should not debate that in front of new converts …

    God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and penitence — even if that person comes outside the covenant-terms for forgiveness.

    There are certain standards and requirements, that WE have to teach and hold fast to. But GOD is not bound by them. What do I mean with that? He is free to accept and save how and whom He wants; but to us he gave the instructions of teaching the gospel, repentence and baptism.

    So there might be people in the jungles who never met a missionary, but who – through creation – discovered that there must be a God and tried to model their lives according to this insight. They never heard of Christ, never of repentence and forgiveness, know of not one command of Christ … yet, God might save them anyway. But does that mean, we can teach that we don't have to believe in Christ in order to be saved? By no means.

    God's freedom does not broaden the way for us. If God can make exceptions, this does not mean that we can do the same.

    And actually, I would doubt that we can make such a bold statement as you did: "God never rejects …" – I think, this might be the case, to be sure; but I would not count on that. In the end, Christ will reject quite a number of even baptized persons because they did not obey Him, although they themselves most likely considered their conversion and repentence to be genuine …

    Does God require a perfect faith to save someone? Or a perfect penitence? Then why on earth would he require perfect baptism when faith and penitence are are of the essence?

    He requires faith, repentence, baptism … what makes all of these perfect is the Spirit of God working in us.

    Now, here I am with you:

    I don't believe we need to have a correct theology of babtism, but we need to be baptized.

    We don't need to have a theologically complete understanding of the Gospel, but we need to have faith in Christ.

    We don't have to remember and repent of each and every sin we ever did, but we need to repent honestly.

    ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

    I had an interesting converstation with a brother who insisted, that if we don't understand that baptism is for the remission of sins, it is not valid. That's what I answered him:

    Were Thomas and Alexander Campbell baptized validly or not, when they were baptized by a Baptist-Minister from the Redstone-Baptist association in 1812?
    To my knowledge, back then they both held to a Baptist understanding of baptism, with the one exception that they were baptized on their simple confession that Jesus is Lord.

    He answered:

    I don't know what was in their mind of course, but if you are correct below that they "held to a Baptist understanding of baptism" (and I have read that
    also), then they were not.

    Quite strong opinions … I answered him:

    Well, Patrick, of course that's up to God. But in the end that means, that the Restoration Movement was led and founded by people who did not have the Holy Spirit; and we should make clear to everyone who quotes one of these men, that they were carnal and thus misleading. And we would have to also question the spriritual discernment of the other teachers in the churches of Christ who consider the Campbells saved and Spirit-filled.

    To that he simply replied:

    We should always teach the truth and "let the chips fall where they may."

    I was a bit surprized, but decided not to continue this conversation.

    So, Jay, I stand somewhere in the middle. I held to en Evangelical understanding of baptism most of my Christian life. Having learned the better understanding of the CoC, I hold fast to it and don't want us to give it up for the sake of unity. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with the attitude and understanding of some who make a correct and perfect understanding of baptism necessary for salvation.

    Alexander

  2. Vicki says:

    I largely agree with both of you. Perhaps it would help if we looked upon denominations as temporary and transitional. The important bit, IMO, is that we work together with other Christians to serve God. The togetherness is important, as is the not-ignoring-other-Christians-outside-our-own-tradition.

    Potential converts are generally not stupid. They will see that different traditions have slightly differing beliefs (come live in sectarian Scotland!). I knew that the Baptists and CoC had different beliefs (I studied with both) before I chose to align myself with CoC beliefs for a season.

    On the other hand, I really struggle to see where the Salvation Army stand in all of this. Are these guys really not Christians because they don't do baptism? I can't get my head round that one.

  3. Guy says:

    Jay,

    You've listed A, B, and C as your three key arguments, but you make more arguments than that in this post. The one major argument you repeat in this post is to list verses about "believing" in Jesus to be saved and then conclude that therefore we don't have to "believe" in baptism to be saved.

    This is still a basic equivocation fallacy. "Believe" (pistis) in all those passages does not mean mental assent to propositions. It means trust, loyalty, faithfulness. Again, you yourself have made this very point. But your opponents in this discussion are not claiming that a person must have trust, loyalty, and faithfulness to baptism. They are using "believe" in a difference sense. Some claim that a person must "believe" in baptism in the sense that they must assent to certain propositions about baptism.

    It is this second sense of "believe" that is really under consideration in this discussion. And since your string of quotes use "believe" in the first sense, they do not address the question at hand and thus do not demonstrate whether a person must "believe" in baptism or not.

    Your three key arguments don't seem to address directly this second sense of "believe" at all.

    You speak of "perfect" and "imperfect" baptism as though baptism exists in gradient steps. It may be that we could concoct various scenarios and add details that make it seem this way. But at some point something is either a baptism or its not.

    You can imagine having a wooden spoon and then filing it down. It could go through several filings, losing contour and detail in the process, yet still function as a spoon to some degree. But eventually you reach a point where it's not accurate to call it a spoon at all, let alone an "imperfect" spoon.

    Point is, you risk haziness and uncertainty if there's no defined parameter. What is requisite for a "baptism" to be baptism at all? What separates baptism from merely getting wet on other occasions? Well, what seems to of greatest concern to many in the CoC is purpose and mode. Is a certain purpose required for some ritual to be a baptism? Is a certain mode required?

    Mode and purpose are different in a significant sense–mode is about the physical actions taking place. But what is purpose about? Where does purpose reside? Purpose suggests intentions or motives or goals. This suggests it resides in minds rather than in the actions themselves. Well, if a certain purpose is required for an act to be baptism, in whose mind must that purpose reside? Typically a CoCer is concerned about whether or not it resides in the mind of the person being baptized.

    This certainly doesn't get us off the slippery slope. We can talk about degrees of belief or degrees of consciousness/awareness of belief or whether relative beliefs are similar enough to function as the same.

    Again, the question at hand, i believe, is to what propositions must a person assent in order for their water-related-ritual to be baptism? Your post seems to take for granted that many of the people in question have been baptized and we're deciding which gradient step of baptism is acceptable. These are two different terms of debate.

    –Guy

  4. Guy says:

    i would like to tag on one last thing: if you think there is at all a difference between:

    (1) a person not believing that Jesus is the Christ

    and

    (2) a person believing that Jesus is not the Christ

    then i'd suggest there is at least the same difference between:

    (1*) a person not believing that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins

    and

    (2*) a person believing that baptism is not for the forgiveness of sins.

    –Guy

  5. Hi, My name is Tammy and I'm a recovering legalist. I didn't know that I was a legalist because I was decieved. I bought into all of Satan's lies – and called them righteousness.

    I still stuggle with believing my performance is important to God – even though He has delivered me from the bondage of living by religious rules and showed me the truth about grace.

    Allow me to clarify for all of you who think I'm saying something I am not. God has shown me that it is not my trying – it's my dying. Living by the law finds it's roots in 'our' actions instead of God's actions. Rules can never produce holiness – Gal3:21 If a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on the law."

    Regarding this comment from above:

    "Baptism is a saving action of God’s grace."

    The Apostle Paul might say to the above comment: "Who has bewitched you?" What a gross manipulation of the Gospel. If that statement is true then Jesus died for nothing – the Cross is irrelevant.
    It's nothing short of heresy. Yet I recognize that that is not what was intended by the person expressing this thought. Herein lies the deception – it's seems subtle but it's spiritually deadly.

    John 14;31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

    We are the branches and He is the vine. If we abide in the vine constantly, as scripture tells us to (Acts 17:28 For in him we live and move and have our being) we will do His good and perfect will.

    Abasnar's comment above misses the point on some level:

    "God’s freedom does not broaden the way for us. If God can make exceptions, this does not mean that we can do the same."

    Freedom in Christ allows us to obey in righteous ways. Living under the bondage of law only ministers death. You can't please God by choosing to live under the law. It will not make you more Godly – it will only defeat you (Bible tells us that the law provokes sin in us). The only way to be more Godly is to abide in the vine. You have never seen a more obedient Christian than the one who knows the depths of grace.

    What's missing from the dialogue is the 'motivation'. I chose to be baptised because I love God and He told me to do it. It is not, as we tend to treat it, a divine ultimatum coming from a harsh judge. It is all based on love – otherwise it is nothing more than lifeless compliance (1 John 5:3)

  6. Royce Ogle says:

    When the Bible speaks of "faith", "belief", "believing", etc. in regard to salvation the object of that faith is always Jesus Christ. The object is never baptism.

    Baptism is "one" response to the gospel, it is not "the" response to the gospel. Yes, saving "faith" is always more than giving mental assent to a set of facts, it always means to "rely on", to "depend on", to "trust in" Jesus.

    And, genuine faith always has corresponding action. Repentance, public confession, and baptism are some of those acts, but not all. (1st John is a great place to see the array things those who are actively trusting in Jesus will do.)

    The phrase "obey the gospel" is not once mentioned in the Bible in relationship to baptism. Shocking but true! The words "obey", "obeyed", "obedience", and "disobedience" when associated with salvation are always referring to belief, not to baptism. To obey the gospel is to believe it and to disobey is unbelief.

    Once again, Jay is more correct than his friendly critics.

    Royce

  7. Laymond says:

    Tammy said, "What’s missing from the dialogue is the ‘motivation’. I chose to be baptised because I love God and He told me to do it. It is not, as we tend to treat it, a divine ultimatum coming from a harsh judge. It is all based on love – otherwise it is nothing more than lifeless compliance "

    Reminds me of a story an "elder", elder who had served in WWll
    told of him being baptized to appease his mother before going off to war, Really not knowing the purpose of baptism. He confessed he had been truly baptized years later, for remission of sins. I was not baptised to appease God or anyone else, I was following directions, for my own benefit. Why ? because I believed in the one who directed me to do so.

    1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

  8. Rich W says:

    An interesting study is to use a Bible software program and find all NT verses that contain the words: save, saves or saved. . Filter out verses that talk about saving money and when people mocked Jesus to save himself.

    List out all that the Holy Spirit tells us is involved with what saves us. Then ask the question. Can we really leave out anything that saves us?

  9. Nancy says:

    Tammy writes in response this earlier comment:

    "“Baptism is a saving action of God’s grace.”

    The Apostle Paul might say to the above comment: “Who has bewitched you?” What a gross manipulation of the Gospel. If that statement is true then Jesus died for nothing – the Cross is irrelevant.
    It’s nothing short of heresy. Yet I recognize that that is not what was intended by the person expressing this thought. Herein lies the deception – it’s seems subtle but it’s spiritually deadly."

    In fact, Paul wrote that his mission was to preach the gospel, not to baptize. The saving action of God's grace was Jesus Christ dying on the cross and conquering death.

    Tammy also wrote:

    "God has shown me that it is not my trying – it’s my dying."

    Yep. Dying to self, dying to self reliance, dying to pride in what we done….all so very, very difficult to do.

  10. abasnar says:

    Dear Royce

    I can't follow your reasoning.

    When the Bible speaks of “faith”, “belief”, “believing”, etc. in regard to salvation the object of that faith is always Jesus Christ. The object is never baptism.

    That's true, but that is not sufficient. There are number of "ANDs" connected with faith, that are quite important.
    Aside of baptism the scriptutres mention:
    Conessing Christ an Lord
    Bowing your knees
    Works
    Obedience …

    The object of faith is ALWAYS Christ, but the means to express and live out faith are all these "externals". So while we must focus on Christ, we cannot downplay baptism or any other of these.

    This is the same as saying: I love my wife, but kissing her is not really essential. We don't focus on kissing though, but loving your wife will be shown (among other "externals") in a kiss.

    It is in fact a Gnostic theology that says, it's all about faith, all about the Spirit and the inner man – "externals" are secondary. It is like tearing the soul from its body.

    Baptism is “one” response to the gospel, it is not “the” response to the gospel.

    But that does not mean it is "optinal". You cannot say: One responds in baptism, the other one in the "sinner's prayer" – both responses effect the same. NEVER!

    The "sinner's prayer" is an invention of the revivals among pedo-baptist churches in the 1700s. And even then it did not replace baptism, because they (erroneously) accepted infant-sprinkling as baptism. But the strange effect was, that their "baptism" somehow became disconnected from their becoming a Christian. Before that they viewed infant baptism as the New Birh, a saving sacrament (Luther was very strong about that, the Catechism of the Roman church is still). But after the revivals the New Birth became separated from baptism and tied to a "conversion experience". Baptism at the same time became a secondary outward symbol that is not viewed as essential any more.

    This is (in short) the history behind the understanding of baptism among Evangelicals outside the churches of Christ.

    But let me remind you: There are important promises tied to baptism in scripture:
    a) Forgivness of (the former) sins
    b) The Holy Spirit
    c) The New Birth
    d) Becoming part of the Body of Christ

    Show me any other "response" to the Gospel, that has these promises. And please, don't say:"Faith", because faith must be expressed in a Scriptural way. Baptism is THE scriptural response to the Gospel-message. Anything else falls short of the promises.

    Alexander

  11. Tom Forrester says:

    I believe when we unpack Rom 6:1-11, we find that the saving aspect of baptism is being united with Christ, participating with Him in death, beginning a new life with and in Him. We are immersed in water to be sure, but salvation does not take place unless, by faith, we put on Christ and become one with Him. This is a complete act of faith. The emphasis must be on our faith in Jesus Christ rather than thinking that salvation occurs because we were obedient to being immersed in water.

  12. Alan says:

    I'm guessing most of us here don't accept a "faith only" approach to salvation. We could all make the argument from James 2:24 that we are justified by what we do, and not by faith alone. Faith without deeds is dead. So all those verses about being saved by faith do not exclude the necessity to do the appropriate deeds as well. And therefore they don't rule out the necessity of baptism.

    One of the cases before us is a penitent believer who is baptized, but lacking a correct understanding of the relationship between baptism and forgiveness. Remember that many people are never taught correctly about baptism. New converts are usually not Greek scholars, nor do they have a broad and deep knowledge of the scriptures. So they have no choice but to rely on what they are taught. If what is taught is incorrect, the fault lies not with the new convert, but with their teacher. Is their baptism invalid because of the teacher's fault? Are they lost because their teacher got that part wrong? Different denominations have different teachings about conversion, each professing to be Christian doctrine. An unschooled potential convert is in no position to distinguish what is correct from what is not on such subjects.

    God hasn't said what he will do with people who, through no fault of their own, have an incorrect understanding of baptism at the time of their baptism. Our job is not to fill in the blanks about what God has not said, but rather to teach what he has said.

  13. Brian B. says:

    @Alan,

    By bringing up James 2:24, are you suggesting that baptism is a work?

    What is interesting about the verse from James is that the context does not lend itself to supporting the idea that James says faith without certain religious rituals is dead.

    Immediately after James speaks of dead faith, he gives as an example someone who would wish a needy person be warm and well fed without actually providing for that individual's physical needs. Immediately before his statement in verse 14, he talks about mercy. Before that he admonishes the reader not to show favoritism based on wealth and status.

    It seems to me that James thinks the works that evidence true faith are those works that we perform for others out love for them.

    I also think James' words about mercy in verses 8-13 are really applicable to this statement. James is saying that true faith shows mercy because breaking even a single law makes one guilty of breaking the whole law. If we apply that to the current discussion, shouldn't we show mercy to those who hold what we perceive to be an incorrect view on baptism? They may be incorrect in their understanding of baptism, but they may understand some other doctrine better than we do. So we should show them mercy and hope God's grace is as sufficient for their misunderstanding of baptism as it is for our misunderstanding of some other doctrine. But what if we really are wrong on our view of baptism. How little mercy can we expect to be shown if we don't show mercy in matters where it ended up we were wrong?

    This is how I understand Jay's post. We may have the correct/superior view on baptism, but there is plenty of evidence in the Bible that genuine faith can save someone even if they miss this crucial part of the faith response.

  14. Alan says:

    By bringing up James 2:24, are you suggesting that baptism is a work?

    I'm merely saying that passages about salvation based on faith don't necessarily exclude the necessity of baptism.

    It seems to me that James thinks the works that evidence true faith are those works that we perform for others out love for them.

    James points to the offer of Isaac on the altar as an example of what he's talking about, and that is a pretty strong counterexample. Abraham did it in spite of his love for Isaac, not because of it. He did it because God commanded it. I think it falls into the same category as baptism — a ritual performed because God said to do it.

    James says:

    But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
    Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

    Baptism shows obedient faith. Even the Baptists say so. It's exactly the kind of thing James is talking about.

    Shouldn’t we show mercy to those who hold what we perceive to be an incorrect view on baptism?

    Of course we should. I'm not really disagreeing with you there. That doesn't mean we should go around telling people it doesn't matter what you believe and practice about baptism. We should be teaching and practicing it accurately. The difficulty is how to interact with those who don't teach and practice it accurately. Yes, we should show mercy. But it's not *my* mercy that matters. It's God's.

  15. Royce Ogle says:

    In reference to the James passage and the following discussion…..

    James said show "me" your faith….and I'll show "you" my faith. It is absurd to assume that God doesn't know a sinners heart so he has to wait to see if he is baptized or not before he can declare him righteous.

    Jesus uniquely could "see" faith, and knew the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. What an odd theology that assigns only human characteristics to the supernatural God.

    Jay is correct. The Bible from end to end teaches salvation by faith. Those men and women who took God at this word were justified, declared righteous.

    Jesus is Saviour and Lord. He by Himself provided the perfect obedience you and I could not. He paid the penalty for our sins by a cruel death on a cross as a substitute for you and me, He died "for" us. When He lived his perfect, sinless life He was my representative. When he died He represented me and you, we "died with Christ". And when He was raised it was not for our justification but because of it. The reconciliation was complete, nothing more to be done to set ungodly sinners right with a Holy God.

    The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has accomplished and an invitation to trust Him as Saviour and Lord. Those who do are given eternal life, will be raised from the dead when He returns, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit as teacher, helper, and deposit guaranteeing God will do what He has promised.

    Baptism and the Lord's Supper have in common a retelling of the gospel and a looking for His coming. Neither is a means of grace, Jesus is the only means of grace. In Baptism we act out what has already happened, that we have died with Christ, were buried with Him, and was raised to new life. Baptism doesn't cause death it celebrates it. Baptism is not faith, it shows it.

    In the same way when we eat the bread we are not literally eating Christ's body as our Catholic friends would say, we are symbolically eating it. And when we drink the wine we are not literally drinking Christ's blood, we are symbolically doing it.

    We are commanded to perform both of these gospel reenactments which both point only to Jesus' finished work for sinners. We should do both by faith, trusting Christ alone all the while, living in his light and waiting for his appearing.

  16. Alan says:

    It is absurd to assume that God doesn’t know a sinners heart so he has to wait to see if he is baptized or not before he can declare him righteous.

    And yet, God told Abraham (Gen 22:16-18)

    "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

    He said "because you have done this." It's the only place where God told Abraham *why* he was blessing him. And God said he was doing it because of what Abraham *did.*

  17. Anonymous says:

    If a COC preacher won’t baptize me, will I be lost until I can find a COC preacher who will? If water is present and the only person nearby is a Satan worshiper should I get the Satan worshiper to water baptize me?

    If the water pipes broke and the baptistery is empty, would my salvation have to wait until the plumber showed up? If I were to die before then, would I go to hell?

    How are Abraham and David saved by the blood of Christ when they were not baptized by a COC preacher?

    How is Timothy, his mother and grandmother all saved by the same faith when they weren’t all baptized by a COC preacher?

  18. Bruce Morton says:

    Anyone want to hear Leonard Allen's, Richard Hughes', and Michael Weed's simple conclusion regarding baptism?:

    "When we are immersed into Christ we are buried with him, crucified with him, raised with him, and live with him (Rom. 6:4-8)." The Worldly Church, 2nd ed (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1992): 77-8.

    Let me also share that Everett Ferguson's new Baptism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 2009) provides clarity as well by means of a thorough look at the first five centuries. It leaves no question regarding what the apostles taught and how aberrations in early teaching developed. I hope we avoid similar aberrations in the years ahead.

    Baptism is not separate from the Gospel or a distraction from the Gospel, it is the Gospel acted out in our lives! The action of God's grace washing away sins as we participate in Christ's death and resurrection. Wonderful!

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  19. Royce Ogle says:

    On this issue, Jay is in harmony with many of the founders of the Restoration Movement and those who disagree with him are not. See http://gracedigest.com/2008/09/30/from-the-mouths… , these statements clearly are different than what I am reading from many of the comments here.

  20. Bruce Morton says:

    Royce:
    It is interesting to notice that folks appeal to the founders of the Restoration Movement when they like what those men said. And when they do not…. (I have read some sharp statements on this weblog in disagreement with Restoration founders regarding other subjects).

    Let me offer a high hope: that our focus be on apostolic teaching as the work of the risen Lord. And nothing less.

    That is what I hear missing from both you and Jay in the discussion of baptism. Jay's book on baptism spent less than one page taking a close look at Titus 3:4-7. But he took a good bit of room to talk about Restoration thought. Surprised me as I read it. And you seem to have hesitated to discuss Romans 6:1ff. when I have asked you.

    I hope you (and Jay) think further regarding where folks should put their time/thought: less on the Restoration founders. The historical look can be of value, but the founders can also be mistaken. Each generation should be looking closing at what Scripture says.

    That, I will emphasize, is the goal of the below collection of writing (by Restoration founders). The preface to the volume resounds with exactly that dream and hope — that people spend time looking at the Scriptures.

    J. H. Garrison, The Old Faith Restated (St. Louis, MO: Christian Publishing Company, 1891). At the conclusion of his essay on baptism, J. B. Briney writes, "let the reader carefully study John 3:5, Titus 3:5, and Heb. 5:9…." (239) Good counsel.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  21. Royce Ogle says:

    With respect Bruce, I have about the same regard for those who put baptism in verses where it is not mentioned, like for instance the Titus passage you have mentioned many times, John 3 and Heb 5:9 as you evidently do those like me who occasionally refer to the Restoration fathers.

    Funny you critique me for quoting the RM founders and then yourself refer to those who hold a position you approve. A double standard huh?

  22. Bruce Morton says:

    Royce:
    Since you do not believe Titus 3:4-7 is another way Paul talks about baptism, I am interested to know what you believe the apostle is talking about when he writes "washing of rebirth."

    Let me offer some notes as you read/consider: "washing" (Gk. loutron) is used twice by Paul (Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 5:26). Further, "baptism" can also refer to "washing," which is the case in Mark 7:4. Part of the reason for the clear synonyms in the NT writings has to do with Jewish "washing" — which represented ritual cleansings (in the lustration pools in Jerusalem, for example).

    Hope this helps.

    I hope you see that I was pointing out where Briney urged that we read the Word. That is all. I do not think anything funny in that; no double standard. Just mentioning another urging that we read the Word.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  23. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    You're not really being fair. The book spends 16 pages on passages the Church of Christ has traditionally affirmed as baptism-is-necessary passages, and confirms those interpretations. There are fewer than 5 pages spent on Restoration teaching (16 – 21).

    The book builds the case on scripture, not the Restoration writers — although you imply to the contrary. Indeed, my argument is that 20th Century Church of Christ teaching fails precisely because it ignores so much of scripture. We've pulled a set of verses out of the text, exegeted them largely correctly, and then applied them with utter disregard for the rest of the scripture. That's bad hermeneutics.

    Rather than seeking to honor all the text, we've tried to overrule their verses with our verses (and our opponents have done much the same thing). No — the truth is found in all the verses and, more importantly, in the heart of God as revealed in Jesus.

    And, it just happens, this approach agrees with Stone and the Campbells and disagrees with many who came later. That doesn't make me right. It does show that my teaching is true to the Restoration Movement.

  24. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Your comment re unfairness disappoints.

    Yes, you spend time in your book looking at Scripture. But less than one page focuses on Titus 3:4-7 — one of the most important apostolic teachings regarding baptism. My highlighting does not reveal a desire to misrepresent; not in my heart to do that.

    But I am praying as I urge you to further read and consider the Spirit's teaching through Paul in the text. Crucial apostolic teaching that clarifies.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  25. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    Separately, I should also share that I consider the "Stone-Campbell tradition" to have no greater weight than the "Lutheran tradition" or any other "tradition" (including e.g. Wicca!) I am disinterested in whether teaching is "true to the Restoration Movement."

    Strange? I will let you think what you will. My focus has always been on apostolic teaching as the Word of the risen Lord. I see that same goal in some Restorationist writings and I rejoice when they embraced such a goal. But not all did. I believe any focus other than the risen Lord leaves us open to a dark Lord. Jesus' desert war and responses to Satan are worth our attention.

    Has actually made it very easy for me to wade through Restoration writings. Has helped me see where "Restorationists" were indeed listening to Scripture and where they clearly were yielding truth as they wrestled with religious/social pressures around them. Has helped make me more aware of spiritual war in their day — and ours.

    The Scriptures have become more refreshing (and also challenging) as I have imagined the risen Lord speaking as I have read.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  26. Alan says:

    Has helped me see where “Restorationists” were indeed listening to Scripture and where they clearly were yielding truth as they wrestled with religious/social pressures around them.

    Bruce, you are engaged in that same kind of wrestling. As is Jay, and as I am also. You are undoubtedly right about many truths. But not all. I am very grateful that my salvation does not hang on a vain hope that I got all the truths right.

  27. Royce Ogle says:

    David Koresh and Jim Jones both claimed the Bible as their guide for what they finally believed. It is easy to claim we are going only by the Bible, or in this case "apostolic teaching". It is quite another to allow the teaching to say what it says and not inject into it our meaning. I am guilty of doing that as we all are but we should all try not to. I'll use John 3:5 as an example.

    Almost all coc folks read the "water" part of this verse and instantly conclude Jesus was talking about baptism. Those same people evidently ignore completely Jesus' own explanation of what he had just said (vs 6).

    At a minimum all of us should admit that "water" in verse 5 could mean something other than baptism. But, if your mind is made up you will inject your preferred meaning into many passages that others with honorable intentions would not.

    If what some of the commentors here are saying is true, the only logical end is to conclude that everyone who does not believe and practice the same thing is lost. That sadly has been the position of most churches of Christ in our past and obviously there are still quite a few around. This would be bad enough, but many of these same people also add a list of other "salvation issues" making even other church of Christ folks lost in their view, IM for example.

    A people who can't even agree on the "gospel" is likely to continue down a path of division and dissension into the future. There is a danger in following that path. Trying to establish your own righteousness by your own works is offensive to a Holy God. And, in my view, thinking God will look on you more favorably because you are in the right pews with the right views is just as bad.

  28. Bruce Morton says:

    Alan,
    Let me be clear that I agree that early Christians grew in understand- ing. The same happens in our day — including for me. But that is not the focus of this weblog chain.

    It is by the grace of God that we are saved. And that is the reason why the subject of this weblog chain remains so important.

    How am I saved by the action of God's grace? How are my sins washed away? By the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. By my participating in Jesus' death and resurrection via immersion. That is the message of Titus 3:4-7 and Romans 6:1ff.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  29. Jay Guin says:

    Bruce,

    Sound hermeneutics is hermeneutics done in community — with both those living and those dead. Therefore, not only do I discuss my questions here with the living, but I also study with those gone before. Indeed, there have been a lot of great scholars and students of the word in the last 2,000 years.

    And so, I've studied carefully both the writings of the founders of the RM and those who came later — to see how the RM theology changed radically from the views of Stone and the Campbells to the opposite views held by Boles and Wallace. And now that I've heard both sides, I conclude we started off with a much better theology than what was taught in the last century.

    And it's an interesting question to consider how we went wrong. What error led us from grace to legalism? And one of those errors was the notion that God requires absolutely correct obedience to "positive commands" such as baptism (and later, a cappella singing etc. etc. etc.), because such commands are tests of our faith. This is the mistake that led to the constant wrangling and division that so characterized the 20th Century CoC — and we should learn from our mistakes.

    The Stone/Campbell doctrine led to unity and merger of entire denominations. The doctrines that followed led to unspeakable bitterness and division.

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