For those of us in the Churches of Christ, water baptism is an identity issue. Our view on baptism defines who we are. For many of us, it’s become the reason for the existence of our non-denomination.
But, of course, our identity should be in Jesus, not a rite — even a necessary, God-given rite. Water baptism is an important doctrine, but there are 10 times as many references to faith in the New Testament as to water baptism. Faith in Jesus is the core of the New Testament’s teachings.
Therefore, faith must be the core of our teaching. Faith in Jesus therefore is the true mark of the church.
None of this is to ignore, override, or dismiss water baptism. Rather, the problem is the logical difficulty of reconciling the necessity for water baptism with the repeatedly taught sufficiency of faith in Jesus. It’s not an easy task; but the altogether wrong way to resolve the problem is to pretend that the faith verses aren’t there. They are of the utmost seriousness.
Now, I’ve explained my views on this doctrinal paradox at length in an ebook available for download here. I’ve written countless posts on the subject. Long-time readers know my views well. A year ago, a wrote a much shorter synopsis of my views for New Wineskins.
I may be wrong. Maybe there’s a better way to reconcile all the verses. But you don’t reconcile them by resort to denominational loyalty or identity. You don’t reconcile them by crying “Heretic!”
Some have questioned the wisdom of speaking frankly on this topic. I understand the concern — very, very well. But we no longer have the luxury of avoiding the topic. You see, the Churches of Christ have the reputation of believing everyone else is going to hell. That reputation is widespread and severely hurts our evangelistic efforts. It costs people their souls.
We declare that we believe no such thing, and then we damn all who make the least error in their baptismal theology or practice — so that in our minds, only the Churches of Christ are doing it right and actually saving people. Thus, we teach a doctrine of baptism that damns all others — and yet we want to claim otherwise because it’s just so very offensive to teach that no other believers in Jesus are saved.
We need to either honestly declare that God only saves those who understand and practice baptism exactly as we do are saved, or else teach a doctrine of baptism that matches our rhetoric, that is, a doctrine that truly means we aren’t the only ones going to heaven.
We’ve tried to have it both ways for a long time, and our hand is being called by those we seek to bring to Jesus. Our reputation is killing our evangelistic efforts, and the only solution is to change — because the reason it’s so offensive to damn all others is that such an attitude cannot be reconciled with the entirety of scripture.