“Muscle & Shovel”: Chapter 4 & Chapter 5, Part 1 (Saved by faith through grace?)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.

You’ll begin to notice several typos here and there in the text quoted from the book. I cut and pasted these electronically. They are all in the original. I’ll not distract you with the occasional “sic” or bracketed correction. It’s a self-published book and so not professionally proofread. And the typos have nothing to do with the merits of the arguments Shank makes.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 begins with Shank’s description of his pre-conversion life as a nominal Christian. He implies that this is typical of everyone he knew in the Baptist Church. In fact, he had concluded that being saved and how he lived were entirely disconnected.

After all, I had been saved and once I was saved I would always be saved, so it didn’t really matter what I did.

(Kindle Locations 764-765). This is, of course, not at all typical Baptist teaching, but many people in many denominations (Churches of Christ included) have come to the same false conclusion.

Later on, Randall hands Shank a piece of paper with “1 Peter 3:21” written on it. Shank reads the verse (in KJV, but I’ll give the ESV version) —

(1Pe 3:21 ESV)  21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Shank decides he should ask a Baptist pastor what this means.

Chapter 5

“Don’t worry about it,” [the Baptist pastor] stated with smug Pastoral confidence. “It’s taken out of context. Ephesians 2: 8 -9 says that we’re saved by grace through faith, not works. Baptism is a work.”

I suddenly felt much better about my Baptist faith. Our quick after-services counseling session with our Baptist Pastor was paying off.

(Kindle Locations 910-915).

Shank returns to Randall with his new argument. Randall responds,

“Mr. Mike,” Randall regained my attention as he landed in the book of Ephesian s. “Chapter 2 verse 8 says, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ Verse 9 says ‘not of works, lest any man should boast,’ so you’re correct in saying that we’re saved by faith and not of works.”

(Kindle Locations 960-965).

Randall then argues that Shank is taking Eph 2:8-9 out of context.

Those Jews were teaching those new Gentile Christians that they had to be circumsized. That was the work Paul was talking about. It was a former work of the flesh. Now Mike, that old Law of Moses was abolished on the cross along with the Jewish works of the flesh.”

(Kindle Locations 972-976).

First, a nit. Paul never says that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross. A more modern translation would likely have corrected Randall’s understanding. (This is more than a nit, but it’s incidental to Randall’s argument here.)

Second, however, I certainly do agree that “works” is short for “works of the law” and refers to the Torah. But that is beside the point. Recall what Paul wrote (in contemporary English) —

(Eph 2:8-9 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Paul says two thing! First, that we’re saved by grace through faith. Second, that we’re not saved by works. Why not? Because works aren’t “by grace through faith.”

If I say, “Eat the food that I served; not what you brought with you,” I not only exclude whatever you brought with you but also whatever you might order from Pizza Hut, because Pizza Hut is also not what I served.

Thus, the question that both Randall and Shank should have asked is not whether baptism is a work (I agree that it’s not) but whether baptism is faith in Jesus — and it’s not.

The argument hinges on drawing the eye away from the primary point — salvation through faith — and focusing on a conclusion drawn from a secondary point as though the primary point was never even said. (It’s rather like a magician tricking you into looking at the pretty assistant or an explosion rather than his left hand. I don’t think Shank or Randall intend to trick anyone, but they bought into a trickster argument and passed it along.)

We see a similar trick in Randall’s next clever argument (And I’m not saying Randall intended to trick Shank. But the argument hinges on the listener buying into a falsehood that looks a lot like the truth.) —

“But Mike,” Randall continued at a fast pace, “Paul isn’t saying that we do nothing to access the grace of God. As a matter of fact, faith only or faith alone is a false doctrine! Do you know that there is only one place in the whole Bible where you find the phrase ‘faith only?’”

(Kindle Locations 999-1003).

It’s entirely true that the Bible doesn’t say “faith alone” or “faith only” except in James. It’s also irrelevant because there are many ways to say “only” without using the word only.

If I were to say, “Everyone who pays me $1.00 will received a candy bar,” and if you were to pay me $1.00, would I be a cheat if I replied, “I didn’t say $1.00 only! I meant $1.00 plus a twenty-dollar bill!” You would quite properly consider me a fraud and a cheat, if not an outright liar. The Holy Spirit does not inspire lies.

Now consider —

(Joh 6:40 ESV) 40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Is Jesus a liar? Everyone who believes? Does Jesus really mean: everyone who believes and does certain works? Did Jesus hide the demand for an extra twenty dollars?

Some object that Jesus said this before his resurrection and Pentecost. Well —

(Act 10:43 ESV) 43 “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

(Act 13:38-39 ESV)  38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,  39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

(Rom 1:16 ESV)  16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

(Rom 10:4 ESV) 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

(Rom 10:11 ESV)  11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

(1Jo 5:1 ESV) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

And there are plenty more verses to the same effect.

And, so, I ask whether Peter, John, and Paul are liars? More importantly, does God keep his promises?

The grammar in each case plainly indicates the sufficiency of faith and leaves no room to add other conditions. Grammatically, you can’t slip an extra twenty-dollar bill in there and allow the Spirit to remain honest.

The doesn’t-say-“only” argument imposes a requirement on the language of Jesus and the apostles that they just don’t need to meet. They speak quite plainly to those who are willing to hear them.

So where does this leave us with respect to baptism? To answer that, we need to address three topics.

First, what is the meaning of “faith”? Ever since the Reformation, there’s been a tendency to so separate “faith” from any human effort that “faith” has become, to many, merely believing that Jesus is co-divine with God. We’ll address this in the next post.

Second, is there a choice other than Baptist baptismal theology (baptism is an act of obedience, a “work,” and thus occurs after salvation) and Church of Christ theology (baptism is no work and thus is essential to salvation)? We’ll address this question in the post after the next one.

Third, Shank quotes Randall as citing James 2:24, “by works a man is justified, not by faith only.” We’ll address that in yet a third post. In fact, this is perhaps the most central passage in the arguments made by many conservative Church of Christ ministers in arguing for a works-based salvation.

But let’s briefly consider the over-arching flaw in Randall’s and Shank’s thought. You see, to avoid the implication of the dozens of “faith only” verses (which don’t say “only” but plainly mean “only”), the ministers are forced to argue that we’re saved by some combination of faith plus works.

These “works” are not works of the Law of Moses but the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, which is actually a reference to “love your neighbor” in Gal. 5:14), and without obedience to the Law of Christ, we are damned. First on the list of laws is baptism, but shortly thereafter follow commands about how to worship, how to organize a church, how to name a church, how to use the church treasury, and on and on and on.

Very nearly every division of the Churches of Christ (other than the progressive/ conservative division) arose over which works are essential and which are not. And no one has yet discerned a clear rule governing that obviously essential question. This results in a lot of disagreements, hurt feelings, mutual damnations, divisions, and separations.  In fact, Paul’s works of the flesh from Galatians 5 well describe the consequences of this teaching among the conservative Churches of Christ in the 20th Century —

(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident:  … 20 … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, … and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Division upon division, small towns with multiple Churches of Christ none of which consider the other saved,  churches disfellowshiping other churches, editors making blacklists of preachers who are not “sound,” lectureships that refuse to allow brother X to speak because he refuses to damn brother Y, and on and on. And why? Because, to defend the absolute, unforgivable necessity of baptism, we’ve created a works-based religion that is entirely foreign to the scriptures.

It’s tragic, and we’re beginning to see the price of the doctrinal errors that have led to the sad history of the 20th Century Churches of Christ — a denomination that’s losing members and congregations at an accelerating pace for this very reason.

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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72 Responses to “Muscle & Shovel”: Chapter 4 & Chapter 5, Part 1 (Saved by faith through grace?)

  1. Hank says:

    “The grammar in each case plainly indicates the sufficiency of faith and leaves no room to add other conditions. Grammatically, you can’t slip an extra twenty-dollar bill in there and allow the Spirit to remain honest.”

    Would repentance be an “other condition”?

    “Because, to defend the absolute, unforgivable necessity of baptism, we’ve created a works-based religion that is entirely foreign to the scriptures.”

    So, we shouldn’t defend “the absolute , unforgivable necessity of baptism”? If not the “absolute” necessity, than what? The “usual” necessity? The “occasional” necessity? Or the non necessity?

    Either its necessary or its not. If it is, than it is. If its not, then its not. But if it is in fact “necessary”, why the major beef with it being “absolutely” necessary? I mean, what other types of “necessary are there?

  2. Hank says:

    necessary [ nes-uh-ser-ee ]
    Main Entry: necessary
    Part of Speech: adjective
    Definition: essential
    Synonyms: all-important, basic, binding, bottom-line, cardinal, chief, compelling, compulsory, crucial, de rigueur, decisive, elementary, exigent, expedient, fundamental, imperative, incumbent on, indispensable, mandatory, momentous, name of game, needed, needful, obligatory, paramount, prerequisite, pressing, prime, principal, quintessential, required, requisite, significant, specified, unavoidable, urgent, vital

    Either it is, or it isnt….

  3. Alabama John says:

    Along with this thinking is the teaching that only those that have been baptized, added to the church of Christ can pray for forgiveness and receive it. Others prayers are not heard.

    I think often of the preachers I have known and many I still know that preach or preached these things we are discussing today on this site and wonder how God is judging them. Knocking others was by far most of their sermons and how we were different from them in our eyes and in Gods. The end result was far more in a community were run off than stayed and I fear for their judgment for causing that.

    First off, do no harm.

  4. While Jay is correct in pointing out that the word “only” may be implied and not stated, he opens a large can of worms just leaving the matter there. One of the most nettlesome practices found in bad hermeneutics is applying exclusivity to non-exclusive biblical language– inferring the word “only” where it was not intended. Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles hands. That’s what he saw. This observation has subsequently been interpreted, “The Holy Spirit can only be given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands”. Which is wholly incorrect. This issue requires some detailed treatment, and while I wish there were a sword to cut this particular Gordian knot, I think we are going to find ourselves untangling it a strand at a time.

    Hank is correct to point out our vague use of the term “necessary”. It is meaningless to use the word “necessary” without understanding to what purposes the necessity applies. A man tells me, “It is necessary for you to wear a hat.” “Why?”, asks this balding questioner. Is it hot and sunny, necessitating some protection from possible skin cancer? Is it cold and blustery, necessitating protection for my own comfort? Is this a religious ritual which requires me to have my head covered? Are we entering a drawing open only to hat-wearing men? Are we crossing the border into the Kingdom of Stetson, where bare-headedness is punishable by death? To what end is this act necessary? As long as we speak of baptism as being necessary without any object– just generally “necessary” or “unnecessary”– we will never understand our disagreement, much less ever resolve it. We also render the term “unnecessary” equally meaningless.

    I think I can offer a sentence that frames the argument usefully: “It is necessary for one to be baptized in water if he is to receive eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Personally, I weigh in on the negative side of this sentence, and I think I can demonstrate that POV biblically.

    It may not make the argument go away, but perhaps we can at least agree on just what it is we are disagreeing about.

  5. Another fallacy I find in our friend Randall is his traditional insistence on being shown a specific biblical example of a thing in order to prove its validity. This is simply fallacious on its face. The NT itself does not set itself up as this sort of evidentiary standard. “If you don’t find it here, it doesn’t happen anywhere,” is simply never suggested by any NT writer. “Find me a NT example of a man buying gifts for his wife!” Or of adopting a child. Or paying for a daughter’s wedding. Or building a church building. Or for that matter, an example of one believer loving another as Christ has loved him. We have placed burdens, and powers of limitation, upon the scripture that it never claims for itself. It is reflective of our long process of de facto replacement of “Follow Me” with “Follow what we tell you the Bible means by what it says.”

  6. Hank says:

    Good points, Charles. It seems to me as if Jay wants to acknowledge the “necessity” of baptism, but wishes to simultaneously argue that many people can be added to the church without being baptized at all. But if that is true, then baptism really wouldnt be necessary then. It wouldnt be essential and/or mandatory as “necessary” implies.

    Unless, baptism is only “necessary” for some? But that would be a weird position..

  7. I’m not in agreement with Shank on many points, but I think we need to explore a bit what “believe in Jesus” means. A part of believing in Jesus is necessarily doing what he says. Not as a means to earn our salvation, but merely because he said it and we believe that he is Lord.

    If I say that I believe in my doctor, what am I saying? That I believe that his diploma is real? That I believe that he exists? That I believe that he is my doctor and not just one of many doctors out there?

    And if I say that I believe in my doctor, yet refuse to follow any of his instructions, reject every medicine he offers, and seek out other medicines that he disapproves of, well…

    To completely separate saving belief from saving response is to create a false dichotomy. Does that mean God requires perfect obedience? No… and that’s where the divisions you talk about come from. But any “belief” that doesn’t lead one to obey God to the best of his ability is an empty belief.

  8. Grace says:

    So, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be the sufficient cure to our sins, what He did for us on the cross wasn’t enough, we have to earn what He did.

  9. Ditto on what Timothy just said. Well done Timothy!

  10. Hank says:

    What Timothy said is right. But, who is Shank? Lol

  11. Travis says:

    Yet we have this statement from Christ in John 3:5 – “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” I have faith in Jesus. Should that not include faith in what He has said I need to do to obtain Heaven? Is that a work? Or is it faith? If I disregard what Christ says here, will I still be saved, although Jesus said the result will be just the opposite?

  12. Grace says:

    Not everyone who reads the whole context of Jesus speaking to Nicodemus about born of water and the Spirit believes He is saying born of baptism in water and the Spirit. Such as, I see Jesus saying born again of the Spirit by the context of their conversation. Nicodemus couldn’t see being born again after the first birth of the womb, Jesus’ reference to Nicodemus about being born again in John 3:6-8 is what the new birth (second birth) is. Jesus wasn’t saying being born is of baptism in water and of the Spirit, Jesus was saying second birth is being born again of the Spirit.

    John 3:6-8 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

    And all who see it different are going to say they are right and those who disagree with them are wrong and so on and so on.

  13. Dan Harris, Birmingham says:

    Good discussion of how the words of the Bible are best interpreted in the light of Christ’s sacrifice for us. I wonder how the people of middle Europe in 614 A.D. interpreted these verses when they discussed their beliefs after the evening meal. In fact, I wonder if they even had a Bible or could read it if they access to Scripture somehow? How would one teach these distinctions to the tree people in Brazil? Do you think God even knows there are people living in trees in Brazil? I think He does, but WE seem to forget that not everyone in the world past and present has a culture and point of view like our own. I’m not trying to offer excuses for any false or shallow teaching, just acknowledging that making rules for God may cause us to condemn many whom he loves as children and family.

  14. Monty says:

    I agree with Tim, since Calvinism, many have tried to create a false dichotomy between the Savior and the Savior’s message. Some believe obedience to the Savior on HIs terms(his instruction-or prescription for healing as in the doctor analogy) is a works salvation and nothing is further from the truth. To forego the Physician’s instructions on how to get well and attempt to get well by yourself would be a works salvation. To do what He says do, would be wise, if you truly believe in Him.Trust in the Doctor is what leads to following HIs orders for healing. Who heals? The Doctor or HIs message of how to be healed? Both! That’s how Peter can say, “baptism doth now save you.” Baptism is a sick person obeying the doctors orders to get well.

    So, in a truly Biblical sense(not a modern false dichotomy sense)to “believe on Jesus and you’ll have eternal life” is absolutely correct. Why? Because it is understood that you will abide by what he commands you to do. “Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say do?” “Well if I do that Lord, that will be a works salvation!” How silly.

    Believing in the doctor is the catalyst for doing what he says to receive the healing. You won’t do what he says without trusting in him, unless there was just a misunderstanding about the prescription or the words of the doctor on what you needed to do, and how soon you needed to do it. That type thing can happen, especially, if someone you trust in, gives a different take on what the doctor said. “No! He didn’t say take this 4 times a day.” He said, twice a day!” Maybe they should just look on the bottle. I think that’s where we find ourselves today. Folks have been taught that faith in the Doctor is separate from receiving the instructions coming from the Doctor. They don’t realize that the very words that flow from the Doctor’s mouth contain the very life they need to be healed. Jesus said, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). “Then they that gladly received his words were baptized.” (Acts 2:41). Baptism takes nothing away from some sort of pure,raw, undefiled belief in Jesus. It is confirmation that you trust Him by taking what He prescribed for the illness.

    Some would have us believe that baptism is for well people, not for those who need to be healed(cleansed). (Acts 22:16) Why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, washing away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. I would suggest, that previously cleansed(saved) people, don’t need to be washed(made clean) to remove their sins. Sick folks need remedies, not the well.

  15. Hank says:

    Right on, Monty.Thanks

  16. Grace says:

    I would love it if you could preach your CofC denomination’s baptismal theology to a huge group of people I know who cannot be baptized. And they have more faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be the cure from our sins, that what He did on the cross is the sufficient cure, that He is our Physician, our Healer, our Redeemer. They have so much more faith than many people in the CofC denomination who are putting a check by each thing they do to earn what Jesus did on the cross.

  17. Hank says:

    Tell us more about the huge group of people who have more faith than us who “cannot be baptized”. Do you really wish one of us could preach to this huge group you know? Tell us more.

  18. Grace says:

    As I said, I would love to see you speak to these people on behalf of God about how they are saved. By law I cannot give information about them and it’s not as though they don’t know about your theology.

  19. Hank says:

    But, we can’t speak to them if you can’t tell us who or where they are.I understand that you would love us to do so but who are they? Maybe you can speak to them yourself?

  20. Skip says:

    “After all, I had been saved and once I was saved I would always be saved, so it didn’t really matter what I did.” Jay said that this wasn’t typical Baptist teaching and it may not be. However, while living in Florida I ran across many Baptists that unfortunately did teach this or at best they allowed this perspective to thrive. While working at FSU one of the Baptists professors constantly wanted to prove this perspective. My question is what is the motivation for evangelism if salvation has already been determined? I do think that the roots run deep from Calvanism although individual Baptist churches can vary on the subject. R. C. Sproul is a huge advocate of predestination and his conclusion is that if one is saved he/she can never be lost because they were destined to be saved.

  21. Grace says:

    Do you not know that there are laws in place to protect certain people’s information, I don’t believe in breaking that confidentiality they have with anyone who has worked with them and who know them well. And as I said, it’s not as though they don’t know about your theology. And I would think Jesus would want His compassion for these people be to taken seriously.

  22. Skip says:

    I had a friend in Florida, dying of spinal cancer. He could not walk. He was in the Veterans Hospital and the hospital allowed him to taken on a stretcher to the rehab center and he was baptized in one of their pools. Where there is a will, there is often a way.

  23. Alabama John says:

    Grace, my money is on folks in prison you are speaking about.

  24. Hank says:

    Good point, Skip

  25. Grace says:

    Yes, I’ve seen people go through a lot of efforts to be baptized, and the church I go to has helped people in positions such as that with certain efforts so they can be baptized. Though there are still many people who cannot go through efforts as that to be baptized.

  26. rich constant says:

    unfortunately you guys, have have started to seem like or you are still sounding as if your playing a game of versus from an objective point of view as an analogy: your still playing that game pinball although
    🙂 you seem to be exchanging versus and they have the same point value.:-)
    what is the good news but fulfillment of the prophets. GODS STORY of redemption. completed in his son.
    blessing s

  27. Alabama John says:

    The Baptist have “Once saved always saved” and we in the church of Christ have “Once a member always a member”. Not much difference, both are for a lifetime.

    How many times have we heard in a sermon about two erring men in a foxhole, car about to wreck, etc, and both sincerly praying to God for forgiveness? Ones prayer was heard by God and forgiven because he was once added to the church of Christ and the other was not heard by God because he wasn’t.

    1Peter 3:12
    For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
    Also in John 4:31 and Psalms 34:15&16.

  28. Alabama John says:

    Grace, me too and I believe a loving God considers that hindrance in making His judgment.

    If lawyers just quoting the law right out of the books was all that was necessary even in our lives, there would be no need for judges in our courts.

  29. rich constant says:

    if you could only use the the probabilities of math. with the prophets…
    like 10 to the 10th to the 60 th power.
    and i am sure all of you have heard this analogy. right…????
    if you would like me to bring this forward just ask.
    when 10 to the 10 th to th 70 th is considered to be a mathematical impossibility….
    “that be a lot o zeroes ”

  30. R.J. says:

    “If I say, ‘Eat the food that I served; not what you brought with you,’ I not only exclude whatever you brought with you but also whatever you might order from Pizza Hut, because Pizza Hut is also not what I served”.

    Not necessarily. I might have a big appetite. After eating your prepared dish, I might have a craving for Papa John’s later on. Yet I still complied with your instruction to eat what you served. Now if you said “Just eat the food that I serve” then that would exclude everything except what comes from your hand. Or if I purchased and consumed a Subway sub Instead of opting for your gourmet dish, then I would be disobedient or better yet a pain in the butt.

    Charles made a great point. Let’s not make language more restrictive then it is.;)

  31. rich constant says:

    it is the same old crap i heard when i was14 0r 15 if i sent you to the store to buy bread milk and eggs … and i came back with milk and eggs did i do what i was told

  32. rich constant says:

    what should we do and what did Paul get on the road to Damascus

    51:14 Rescue me from the guilt of murder,38 O God, the God who delivers me!

    Then my tongue will shout for joy because of your deliverance.39

    51:15 O Lord, give me the words!40

    Then my mouth will praise you.41

    51:16 Certainly42 you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;43

    you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.44

    51:17 The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit45 –

    O God, a humble and repentant heart46 you will not reject.47

  33. rich constant says:

    its kinda funny to me
    when in even i try to judge myself, when i am on a journey of self exposure through the Spirit.
    it is grace through faithfulness as Paul clearly puts down in ROM. 14

  34. rich constant says:

    and by the way
    how did Jesus behave ON the cross

  35. Hank says:

    “its kinda funny to me when in even i try to judge myself, when i am on a journey of self exposure through the Spirit.”

    Its kinda funny to me when I do that too, lol

  36. Monty says:

    Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved?” I have asked complete strangers to the Bible, to any kind of church teaching whatsoever, what does that mean, with no suggestion whatsoever, what does that mean? And they have always replied, “you have to believe and be baptized to be saved.” No one has ever told me, “It means believe and you don’t have to be baptized.” Some of the people I have asked, “what does it mean” were barely in middle school and it was like “duh!” You don’t even need an analogy. Just common sense. Now naturally if I only showed them John 3:16 and asked what does that mean? They would say, “you have to believe in Jesus”, of course. Both verses are not hard to understand as stand alone verses. They are simple and direct sentences.

    Unless we want to make scripture contradict itself, we have to see that they are saying the same thing. We need to see how they can be reconciled without denying what the verse says at face value. Believing in Jesus saves a man as it is the catalyst to prompt him to respond to command to be baptized into the name of Jesus. It is a submission to the Lordship of Jesus. I think it was F. Lagard Smith who called it the believer’s wedding ceremony.

    There are a few places in Acts where it says that “they believed and were saved”(paraphrase). Now does anyone on here seriously doubt whether or not those folks were baptized? Of course not. Does it have to be mentioned in every example? No. Luke was not trying to give a formula every time. Believers in the first century were baptized. Why? Jesus commanded it. Did those believers have to turn away(at least in prospect) from their sins? Yes. Were they instructed to confess Jesus as Lord? Yes. Does it have to be mentioned every time for it to be true? No.

    Now, I haven’t said anything about whose in and whose out. I haven’t said anything about God not accepting a Baptist’s baptism. I haven’t said anything about death bed repentance or folks in prison and they won’t allow it. I can’t and won’t apologize for what someone’s old preacher said years ago. Can people be saved without it? I’ll leave that to God. But I will teach it as it’s written.

  37. rich constant says:


  38. rich constant says:

    WHAT A PAIN IN THE ars 🙂

  39. rich constant says:

    you can’t deal with the coko train with out getting off the cooko train,

    look to new perspective i have issues with THAT ALTHOUGH it becomes a better jumping off place

  40. rich constant says:

    i am frustrated i am done today

  41. Jay Guin says:


    The next post will delve into the meaning of “faith” in some depth. (And I entirely agree with you.)

  42. Jay Guin says:

    Hank asked,

    Would repentance be an “other condition”?

    Yes and no. Yes, faith without repentance is dead, but “faith” in the Greek includes “faithfulness” as part of its definition. For that matter, if you read the use of “repent” in Acts very carefully, you’ll find that it often refers to repenting from unbelief. For example, in Acts 2, Peter never asked for faith — by that word — from his audience, just repentance and baptism. But his sermon charges them with the sin of unbelief, failure to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, and so he demonstrates the Messiahship of Jesus through scriptures and the resurrection — and the evidence of the outpoured Spirit, promised to occur when the Kingdom arrives with its King, the Messiah.

    The Jews in the audience were evidently otherwise faithful Jews. Many had traveled great distances on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at great cost and expense. They weren’t reprobates and fornicators. The sin that was damning them was their failure to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

    And so it’s sometimes true that “repent” in Acts refers to repent from a lack of faith.

    Now, because Jesus was to be believed to be the Messiah and Son of God (both referring to the King of the Kingdom), faith in Jesus as Messiah, to a Jew, certainly included a pledge of submission to Jesus as Lord (which we often call “repentance”). Thus, a call for faith in Jesus necessarily entails a call for faithfulness/submission/obedience/repentance.

    And this is, I believe, is the point James makes about faith having to produce works. Of course it must.

  43. Jay Guin says:

    Hank wrote,

    Either its necessary or its not. If it is, than it is. If its not, then its not. But if it is in fact “necessary”, why the major beef with it being “absolutely” necessary? I mean, what other types of “necessary are there?

    It’s not the first nor will it be last time I choose to be redundant for rhetorical effect. I learned from a master of rhetoric —

    (Phi 1:23 ESV) I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [Greek: much more better]


  44. Jay Guin says:

    Travis wrote,

    I have faith in Jesus. Should that not include faith in what He has said I need to do to obtain Heaven? Is that a work?

    A common error in Church of Christ debate is to treat as “faith” anything believed to be taught in the Bible. Thus, if I consider weekly communion a binding example, weekly communion becomes to me a matter of “faith” and hence a salvation issue. If I consider weekly communion non-binding, it becomes to me a matter of “opinion” and not a salvation issue at all. And 90% or more of the 20th Century splits over doctrine were over whether an issue is “faith” or “opinion,” which is really about whether those on the “faith” side correctly infer a command.

    But this is a gross abuse of the word “faith.” In the NT, it’s uniformly about faith in Jesus as Messiah. It’s what we ask 12 year olds to confess so they can be baptized. It’s not every single true thing in or inferred from the Bible that someone feels strongly about.

    In fact, decades ago, with an old print concordance, I went through the NT and searched out “faith” to see whether I had been taught correctly — and found that “faith” is faith in the gospel — the good news that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Lord.

    Now, as I’ve said earlier in my comments tonight and will say more thoroughly tomorrow, “faith” in its NT usage includes faithfulness or even a commitment to follow Jesus. It is a much deeper, richer word than mere intellectual assent (even the demons intellectually agree that Jesus is Lord — and tremble).

    Therefore, “faith” cannot be separated from obedience. But neither may we insist on one particular obedience or perfect obedience. Salvation by grace through faith allowed David to be forgiven for murder, but we do not therefore condone murder. David paid dearly for his sin — just not in the next life.

    Thus, we must be obedient or faithful but not perfectly so. Hence, a less-than-perfect baptism is obedience enough if the convert obeyed as well as she or he knew how. Just so, if someone fails to take communion frequently enough or if it turns out that Sunday night communion doesn’t please God because he wants us to take communion on the Jewish calendar (hard to deny, you know) or if communion at 10:30 doesn’t count because the word “supper” refers to an evening meal (and it does), we’re still good because God judges the hearts of those with faith in Jesus and does not damn for the honest mistake.

  45. Jay Guin says:


    You’ve well picked apart my metaphor. Let’s try the same thing with the real deal —

    (Gal 5:6 ESV) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

    “Counts for anything” is Greek for a word meaning “has power.” Power to do what?

    That was answered in v. 5 —

    (Gal 5:5 ESV) 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    Power to provide hope.

    Why does circumcision lack this power — according to v. 6?

  46. Hank says:

    “It’s not the first nor will it be last time I choose to be redundant for rhetorical effect. I learned from a master of rhetoric”

    Well then, you shouldn’t have any more of a problem with the brethren who insist upon the “absolute necessity” of baptism than you do with those who merely teach the (regular) “necessity” of baptism. For, “necessary” and “absolutely necessary” are the same. The latter is just being redundant (as you admit).

    The only question is, is baptism actually necessary at all? Or, only for certain ones? But again, if it is indeed “necessary”…it is then also “absolutely necessary”.

  47. Hank says:

    It would be like having no problem with those who insist that having faith in Christ is mandatory in order to be saved, but opposing those who insist that said faith is “absolutely mandatory”.

    Again, if its the one – it is also the other…

  48. Skip says:

    Alabama, to rephrase your previous quote: The Baptists have “Once saved always saved”. The Church of Christ has “If saved, barely saved”.

  49. hist0ryguy says:

    Whether the debt of the law or the law itself is under consideration, Paul’s point is that the OC (the shadows, the ceremonies, regulations, etc., of the whole old covenant contra the new) were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14, 16-17; cf. Eph. 2:15). Make a note and we will debate it later (lol). To the book, Paul’s point, in all of his letters, is that we are saved by a grace rather than a law system of any kind. However, immersion in water is a work of God via the Spirit who works upon us at that occasion. We are commanded to believe (which in this perspective of faith contrasts disobedience Jn. 3:36), but faith does not include obedience since faith and obedience are distinct. Those who merged faith and obedience concluded and taught the COC that everything becomes a matter of heaven or hell. That is the result, right? and is similar to what you said to Travis. In their explanation, belief = obedience, disobedience = unbelief, and unbelief equals hell. However, although faith and obedience are distinct, faith does produce obedience which better accounts for imperfect obedience by believers. Hence, believing who Jesus claims to be is the first command we obey whereas repentance, baptism, and growing in holiness (1 Peter 2:1-3) should follow and bless us. At the end of the day, however, faith is the means by which we receive God’s grace to trust, obey, and grow closer to him. I look forward to your delving into the next few chapters.

  50. Jay Guin says:

    HG wrote,

    However, immersion in water is a work of God via the Spirit who works upon us at that occasion.

    For a long time, on this blog, I argued, following Luther, that baptism is not a work of man but of God, pointing out that all baptism verbs in the NT are passive, when speaking of Christian baptism. I don’t baptize myself; I am baptized. I liked the theory very well.

    Later, commenters here pointed out that no one circumcises himself. In fact, since circumcision is ordinarily on the 8th day of life, it’s not even consented to by the recipient — who likely is very unhappy about it. It’s as passive as can be, and yet it’s the prototypical “work.” (Yes, sometimes the commenters are right and force me to rethink things.)

    This forced me to rethink my baptismal theology. And the logic flows through a series of posts beginning at /2011/01/baptism-an-exploration-galatians-baptism/, which pushed me to write the series beginning at /2011/01/baptism-an-exploration-theories-and-conclusions/ (and which I need to go back and re-read myself, now that I think about it). (Thanks for reminding me that work I’d done before — it’s been a while.)

    Obedience, in normal usage, does not mean “perfect obedience to every single command.” Rather, obedience, like faithfulness and penitence, generally refers to the state of one’s heart — which is what the Spirit changes/transforms when we are baptized (normatively).

    Thus, faith, being also a state of the heart, can easily accommodate obedience. In fact, “faith” can and does include obedience. (Faith without works …)

    Obviously, there are cases where “obey” or “be obedient” refer to a particular act that must be obeyed. Language is plastic like that. But in general usage, if I say that my son is “obedient,” I don’t mean that he obeys without fail or that he never misunderstands an instruction; I mean that his heart is characterized by obedience and therefore he ordinarily does just what his heart tells him to do: obey.

    More to come in the next few posts as we dig deeper.

  51. Randall says:

    @Jay – as you know I just browse here sometimes. Curious as how Saved by grace through faith got turned around to saved by faith through grace? Is there a brief explanation you could provide?

  52. Randall says:

    I suppose there are many in the CofC that view faith as meritorious rather than as a gift.

  53. rich constant says:

    hay Randall
    ever heard of that game Wack A Mole… 🙂
    i just stop there
    tooo funny
    hope ur well

  54. hist0ryguy says:

    Thank you for all of your thoughts. On baptism, I am sorry but do not understand if you agree or disagree with me that “baptism is a work of God via the Spirit who works upon us at that occasion.” I am clear that you once agreed with Luther but have since changed. I got lost at your comment “nobody circumcises himself” so I read the links you listed, but your conclusion seemed to end with a series of “could be X,” converts should be baptized, and you know who is not hell bound.

    You have much to write on other topics. I am not requesting a discussion, but rather your present position. Your comment that “no one circumcises himself” caused me to question if I made my point clear because it seems to validate my thought. Were you directing the circumcision comment towards my view or the change in your view?

    To clarify my view, in my saying that baptism is a work of God, which is slightly different than Luther, I mean that through faith (faith is the means to receive grace), at the occasion of immersion, the Spirit (who is active) circumcises the heart, crucifies the old and raises the new man to new life (regenerates) the believer (who is passive). The Spirit works these events in the submissive believer no differently than the Spirit producing fruit in the submissive believer (Gal. 5). New life and fruit are the Spirit’s work, not man’s. As a student of the ECFs, I believe this is normative, but not exclusive.

    Do you disagree concerning the Spirit’s work, the occasion (at baptism vs. another time), or something else? Can you contrast your view (Spirits work and the occasion) with what I proposed so that I can know your view?

  55. Hank says:

    I think he believes that baptism is necessary but that we shouldn’t ever argue that it is “absolutely necessary” because then it would create a works based religion (in Jay’s view).

    He seems to believe that baptism is usually necessary for most. But never “absolutely necessary” for others?

    Personally, I’d like to know why he believes it is necessary for the ones he believes it is necessary for? Why would it ever be “necessary” for any? And for those of who it IS necessary, why is it not “absolutely” necessary?

    As Jays position changes over time, it gets a lot less clearer…

  56. Hank says:

    Jay knows what he used to believe, but then changed his position because of what some commentators had written. But then, he seems to have forgotten what he ended up believing next. In his last comment here, he admitted:

    “This forced me to rethink my baptismal theology. And the logic flows through a series of posts beginning at /2011/01/baptism-an-exploration-galatians-baptism/, which pushed me to write the series beginning at /2011/01/baptism-an-exploration-theories-and-conclusions/ (and which I need to go back and re-read myself, now that I think about it). (Thanks for reminding me that work I’d done before — it’s been a while.)”

    From what I can tell, Jay is a wonderful brother, a gifted writer, and a dedicated servant to the kingdom.

    Concerning the subject of baptism however, he seems to be working his way through some apparent fog. He knows that he doesnt believe what he formerly had believed for most of his life. He knows that his position was reworked (he even wrote about his new position in detail). But, presently, he seems to need a reminder of what his new position actually is.

    I’ve been there before on certain topics myself.

  57. Hank seems to be saying that as he does not understand Jay’s position from reading Jay’s posts, this means Jay is confused. Would that this were the first time I had encountered this reasoning.

  58. Hank says:

    No Charles, let me explain. Jay had held a certain understanding concern the doctrine if baptism for years and years (he says that). Then, for whatever reason(s), he decided to “rethink” his “baptismal theology” (those are his words). And now, now that he thinks about it, he (Jay) claims that he “needs to go back and reread” whatever it was he wrote concerning his newfound position regarding baptism.

    It is because of his need to go back and reread whatever it is he wrote regarding his updated belief, that gibes the impression that he forgot some if what he came to believe after his “rethinking” of his position. If he remembered exactly what he wrote about what he now believes, why the need to go back and reread it? It makes him seem confused.

    Mind you, I am not the only one here who is unclear of his (new) position. He seems to be saying that baptism is “necessary” (but never says for what) but that it is not “absolutely necessary”. Face it, that’s confusing..

  59. Hank says:


    Do you understand Jays position yourself? Does he believe it is necessary but that it is not “absolutely” necessary”?

    If so, could you explain for whom it necessary but not absolutely necessary? And what are the determining factors?

    If so, that would clear up a lot.

  60. Hank, you just gave me another bite of the same casserole. “He seems confused” because you don’t understand his position. The obvious alternative is not even considered.

    I find a couple of things at work here. One is our willingness to swallow logical fallacy as a response to uncertainty. “If Jay is not confused, then YOU explain his position!” Silly. I might be just as bumfuzzled as Hank on the topic. This does not suggest that Jay is confused. I don’t understand how an argon laser works, so if Hank doesn’t either, then that means argon lasers don’t work. Er, no.

    Second is our relative unfamiliarity with learning that we have been mistaken about something of spiritual significance. . In traditional CoC culture, this is a thought not to be countenanced, and for good reason: we believe that to be in error on any matter of significance is to be damned. If I hold a different view tomorrow than I hold today, then I am damned today! OR I am damned tomorrow! This zero-sum thinking tends to paralyze open inquiry and replace it almost entirely with apologetics for our existing positions. It cripples critical thinking and makes logic a strange and foreign tool. It even has the power to hide scripture from us.

    As a result of this, we stand “ready to give an answer” for all and sundry. Not to learn any answers, but strictly to provide them. When someone inquires about our beliefs, our initial response is to shut down the inquiry with a sound, iron-bound answer. And shut it down fast. For leaving a question to pend without a conclusive once-and-for-all BCV answer suggests that our own fixed belief might, just might, be lacking. And thus, the sword of judgment hovers over us as long as the possibility of error does. When one of our own tribe openly acknowledges that his view on this point or that has changed, we are flummoxed. It’s well and good for Shanks’ Baptist to change, because he was Baptist, and thus wrong. But for a Member Of The Church, substantive change is tantamount to leaving the faith.

    With this sort of intellectual foundation, the idea of learning from someone who thinks differently than we do is terribly dangerous to even contemplate, and deucedly difficult to actually do. We have to somehow embrace the i
    dea that we can be wrong about something important and be saved at the same time. Only when this concept of God’s grace becomes reality to us can we really open ourselves to learning anything more than what we already know… or, God forbid, something which contradicts what we already know. Jay describes his learning process and his shift from one understanding about baptism and faith to a somewhat-different understanding of baptism and faith. I’m not sure whether I entirely agree with him, as I find our handling of the concept of “necessity” as gelatinous as Hank seems to find it. But I am not discomfited by this, nor do I presume that Jay is confused if he has not explained his position to my satisfaction.

  61. Monty says:

    Charles said,

    “In traditional CoC culture, this is a thought not to be countenanced, and for good reason: we believe that to be in error on any matter of significance is to be damned. If I hold a different view tomorrow than I hold today, then I am damned today! OR I am damned tomorrow! This zero-sum thinking tends to paralyze open inquiry and replace it almost entirely with apologetics for our existing positions. It cripples critical thinking and makes logic a strange and foreign tool. It even has the power to hide scripture from us. ”

    Wow! Well said. Sounds to me like you could write a book that many would love to read, including myself. Seriously, think about it.

  62. Mark says:

    Charles, I must commend you for the following statement, “This zero-sum thinking tends to paralyze open inquiry and replace it almost entirely with apologetics for our existing positions”.

    You really should write a book.

  63. Hank says:


    I never said, nor implied, that there was anything wrong with rethinking and/or alterimg ones belief. Oftentimes, it would be wrong not to. But you’re ignoring my point and making strawmen in its place.

    My point is that after rethinking and changing his (Jay’s) “baptismal theology” (and detailing it in blogs), he seems to have forgotten whatever it was he changed it to. At least, in its entirety. Hence, his need to reread whatever it was he wrote about it. I believe that is a fair assumption.

    Furthermore, he seems to hold that baptism is in fact “necessary”, but never “absolutely necessary”. However, he makes no attempt at clarifying any of that. How is that not confusing?

    Is “baptismal theology” really as complex as argon lazees?

  64. Hank, I think I agreed with you about not having a good handle on Jay’s use of the term “necessary”. But that problem does not originate with him, and has created confusion for years. I wrote earlier about this problem, and note that what generally goes unanswered is the essential question: “Necessary for what purpose?” You have not addressed this either, so I am as much at a loss about your view as you are about Jay’s.

    I offered a more-defined application of the term in the current context, as follows: “It is necessary for one to be baptized in water if he is to receive eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Personally, I weigh in on the negative side of this sentence, and I think I can demonstrate that POV biblically. Hank, perhaps we could talk about and understand YOUR view on this, which you DO understand, rather than batting about Jay’s view, which you insist is not clear.

  65. Hank says:

    Fair enough. As far as my view, I take the same position as did Peter and Paul 😉

  66. Nothing like a little obfuscation after a long day of caviling at the words of others. Vaya con dios, amigo.

  67. Jay Guin says:


    I’m putting up two posts tomorrow morning that address baptism and faith and all that. The posts will surely provide enough content to avoid the need to put words in my mouth.

    PS — What on earth is an “argon lazees”? I googled it and found nothing. Must be pretty complicated.

  68. Hank says:

    LOL!!! Thats hilarious. Was supposed to read “argon lasor” (of which I understand about the same as I do argon lazees). Look forward to tomorrow’s post.

    @ Charles, its cool. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional…

  69. hist0ryguy says:

    Hank, Charles, and Jay,
    I didn’t intend to get you all going. I am the confused one and was asking for Jay’s perspective. That is my problem, not others. I study and change. Sometimes I comeback to my original position, sometimes not. Truth has nothing to fear, and honest study welcomes all questions. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but I (we) are not, which is why he is our anchor. Talk to you all soon.

  70. Jay Guin says:


    Many years ago, shortly after the invention of lasers, I helped my high school science teacher build an argon laser. Not nearly as complicated as, say, CENI. But VERY fine tolerances. No grace for errors at all.

  71. Kevin says:

    I have been visiting your blog for quite awhile, and I am working my way through your review of M&S. A little background…I have been in conservative churches of Christ all my life, but I am not one who is disillusioned. I like to challenge my thinking, so I am a frequent visitor here. I agree with the conservatives on many, many issues…but not all. The first difference that I can recall was over the outcry in reference to a Rubel Shelly comment: ”We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” Now, I don’t know the full context of Bro. Shelly’s comments, but on the surface, I wholeheartedly agree IF he was referring to efficacy. Unless Shelly went full bore Calvinist, and I do not believe that he did, there is absolutely a sense in which we do not contribute to our salvation.

    I have long had a different opinion regarding Eph 2:8-9, a passage to which you refer in your review of chapter 5. The passage states, ”For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)

    Most conservative church of Christ commentators first seek to disprove ”faith-only” teachings relative to the passage and then they often mention ”works excluded” and ”works included.” I have always rejected this position. In my view, Paul excludes any works whatsoever from the free gift of salvation by grace through faith. On the other hand, I believe the Bible teaches the essentiality of baptism, so how do we reconcile these two ideas? Indeed, this attempt at reconciliation is what leads many within churches of Christ to adopt the ”works excluded / works included” position.

    I have a different idea, and I would like your opinion, if you have time. I am a career Marine (26 years and counting), and we often speak of Ways, Means, and Ends. We apply this construct to many things: strategy, transformation, warfighting, etc. I believe the NT often applies this methodology to salvation. For example, Eph 2:8-9 is referring to the ”ways” of our salvation. Back to the Shelly comment; my position is that we do not contribute one whit to the salvation that Paul has in mind in this passage. Paul is discussing God’s work, or ways, relative to salvation, not man’s appropriation, or means…”We are saved through faith. This salvation is not of your doing; it is the gift of God. It (salvation) is not of works, so that no one may boast.” Christ is the WAY, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Christ. Once we sin a single time, we need grace. Absent of Christ and His DBR, we are hopelessly lost. Even if we never sinned another time throughout the rest of our lives, we can never atone for that single stain on our soul. All the prayers that we may pray, the hungry that we may feed, the money that we may give, the good deeds that we may do, the needy that we may aid, the prisons that we may visit…all is for naught over that single, solitary sin. Thank God for His grace and the work of Christ! In this sense, I agree with Shelly; we do not contribute one iota to the Ways of our salvation. That is 100% God. Since nothing we do can ever atone for a single sin, we can never boast. The only person who can boast is the one who lives a sinless life. That person would have merited salvation, but of course, no such person exists. Consequently, no human activity or amount of obedience can ever be viewed as meritorious or seen as earning salvation. Sin prohibits such, or should prohibit such.

    Other passages deal with the ”means” of our salvation, such as John 8:24, Luke 13:3, Mark 16:15-16, etc. It seems to me that much of the confusion in the religious world relative to salvation is the result of confusion between the ”ways of salvation” and the ”means of salvation.” My Baptist family and friends confuse the two when they eliminate virtually all human response other than belief and trust from the means of salvation based on Eph 2:9, and conservative churches of Christ confuse the two when they add ”works included” to the ways of salvation in the same passage.


  72. Jay Guin says:


    Such a thoughtful and insightful question deserves more of an answer than I can provide in the comments. I intend to post something in a couple of days. In the meanwhile, you might take a look at /2011/01/baptism-an-exploration-galatians-baptism/

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