We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
Shank describes waking his wife up at 11:30 PM to discuss the conversion of Paul and his baptism.
“Jonetta, I was baptized for the wrong reason and if that’s the case my baptism is no good. I’m still in my sins at this moment. I’m not a true Christian.” …
His wife later said,
“I’ve been studying those tracts that you brought home. I’ve been reading through them for the last couple of months now. I wondered how long it was going to take you to see it for yourself.”
(Kindle Locations 7257-7259, 7296-7297).
Now, I agree with Randall and his tracts that we are supposed to be baptized for the remission of our sins, but Shank misses a turn here. As he earlier explained, the Greek word eis translated “for” really means “into.” Peter told his audience to be “baptized into the remission of sins.” Peter’s sermon describes the result of baptism, but not the necessary subjective intent.
The premier dictionary of Biblical Greek, BDAG, defines eis as having the following primary meaning —
indicating motion into a thing or into its immediate vicinity or relation to something
Now, eis, like all prepositions, can take on a wide range of meanings depending on context, just as can the English “into.” But the primary, root meaning of eis is “into” and the other meanings spring from that.
Eis can take on the meaning of “in order to obtain,” which would give some credence to Shank’s argument, but to again note Shank’s own research, if “baptize” is a mere transliteration that should have been translated “immersed,” then when the Jews heard “immerse eis” they would naturally hear “be immersed into” because “immerse” refers to motion into something.
Thus, if we take the most natural reading, supported by Shank’s own research, what Peter’s audience heard is that they were to be immersed into forgiveness of sins. And that means that the consequence of baptism is forgiveness. The sentence says nothing about an essential subjective intent. Rather, Peter promises them an outcome. What the convert should be thinking is simply not the point Peter cares to address — rather, he is promising them what they desperately want: forgiveness and the outpoured Spirit.
Shank says that his earlier baptism was invalid because it was an “outward show of an inward change,” but that’s in fact true. The water does not forgive sins; God does that inwardly. The baptism displays what is in fact going on in heaven and in the convert’s heart. So his purpose in being baptized was true — although he was in error as to when salvation occurs.
I mean, baptism does many things, and remission of sins is but one. To argue for remission of sins is not argue against the others. And what on earth privileges remission of sins as the only legitimate purpose when there are many other possibilities found in scripture?
Tens of thousands of Church of Christ members, including Shank and Randall, were baptized for remission of sins while denying that they would receive the personal indwelling of the Spirit. And that’s error. And if error in understanding the consequences of baptism necessarily damns, they are all damned.
And that’s all just crazy. Again, a person new to Jesus and the scriptures cannot be held to such a high standard. I have Greek resources that only one in a thousand have, and I have decades of study and learning — and I often find myself in disagreement with others who are similarly blessed.
God saves those with faith in Jesus. When someone comes to be baptized, we ask for them to confess their faith in Jesus. We find that sufficient and so we admit them to baptism — gladly.
But Randall and Shank seem to want us to also have faith in baptism because unless we have faith that baptism remits our sins, we are damned. And that’s sadly mistaken.
It wasn’t until around 1884, when Austin McGary founded the Firm Foundation in Texas, that anyone in the Restoration Movement doubted the sufficiency of Baptist baptism. The Restoration Movement disputed the Baptist understanding of baptism from early on (not the beginning of the Movement, but early in its history), but in the 19th Century the Movement did not doubt the sufficiency of Baptist baptism.
Alexander Campbell even declared one preacher a “heretic” for insisting on re-baptizing Baptists, because “heretic” in the Greek refers to a divider of the church, and Campbell saw declaring Baptist baptism inadequate to save as dividing brother from brother.
During the early decades of the 20th Century, David Lipscomb, as editor of the Gospel Advocate, battled McGary, arguing for the sufficiency of Baptist baptism, despite the error in it. Only several years after Lipscomb’s death did that publication begin to reject Baptist baptism.
The result of McGary’s work in Texas was to create a mean-spirited, pugnacious, judgmental spirit among our preachers, turning what was once a unifying movement into a collection of warring, divisive segments, none of which recognized the others as saved. Once we began to damn the Baptists despite their faith in Jesus and their immersions as believers, it was easy for editors and preachers to find other things to disagree over — and the same arguments used to damn the Baptists were used to damn other congregations and members of the Churches of Christ.
So I’m saddened and frustrated to read Shank and his wife not only doubting their own baptisms, but feeling the need to treat all Baptists as damned because they had an imperfect baptismal theology — all while Shank and his wife got a different imperfect baptismal theology from their collection of Church of Christ tracts.
Shank and his wife get into their car and head toward Randall’s all-black congregation’s church to be baptized.
Chapter 38 describes the baptisms of Shank and his wife. And I’m delighted that they have faith in Jesus and they repented of their sins. And if they had doubts about their baptisms, I’m not going to get bent out of shape over a re-baptism — except I really wish that their confidence would be in Jesus and not their understanding of baptismal theology.
You see, it’s a dangerous thing when we rely on our intellects for our salvation rather than on a person — Jesus of Nazareth. Our intellects are unstable, uncertain things. We are easily fooled, but Jesus is certain and sure.
(Eph 3:11-12 ESV) 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
(Phi 3:3 ESV) 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–
(1Jo 4:16-18 ESV) 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
No creed but the Bible
After his wife’s confession and immersion, Shank concludes,
She now was no longer a member of any denomination. She now wore no other name than Christian. The Bible was now her only creed and she was now a sister to every Christian we read about in the pages of the Bible.
(Kindle Locations 7490-7493).
Of course, she’d learned what she’d learned by reading tracts from Churches of Christ. They’d written down what they believed, which is, of course, just fine. So what’s wrong with a “creed”? Isn’t a creed just a written statement of what a church or denomination believes? Don’t most Churches of Christ post a “What We Believe” statement on their websites?
Well, at the beginning of the Restoration Movement, the saying was “We have no creed but Christ, no creedbook but the Bible.” Over time, this was changed to “No creed but the Bible.” The only explanation I’ve heard from modern Church of Christ members for the wrongness of a creed is that it’s unnecessary, because if it says something not in the Bible, it’s wrong; and if it says what’s in the Bible, it’s not needed. Which, if true, would make the tracts wrong or unnecessary, too.
But in the 19th Century, the various denominations used their creeds to determine who was saved. Unless you agreed with the creed of X denomination, you could not take communion at their churches. Hence, creeds were tests of fellowship containing inferences from biblical truths that not every believer agrees on.
And Stone and the Campbells decided that they would extend fellowship across denominational lines without regard to creeds — written or unwritten. Hence: “No creed but Christ.”
More on why the Churches of Christ originally rejected creeds in the next post.