We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
In chapter 9, Randall thoroughly disproves the notion that the church was founded by John the Baptist. He is, of course, exactly right.
The library taught Shank the same thing —
The denominational history research revealed historical facts that none of the Baptist Pastors seemed to know (or they didn’t want to share with me). The Baptist Church began with a man named John Smyth, a Fellow of Christ’s College in Cambridge, who had broken his ties with the Church of England. He became a Puritan, then a Separatist, and ended his days working with the Mennonites. Persecution led Smyth into exile to Amsterdam where he and fellow worker Thomas Helwys would come to form the first Baptist Church somewhere between 1607 and 1609, depending on which historian is referenced.
(Kindle Locations 1615-1620).
I wonder whether Shank researched the “denominational history” of the Churches of Christ. If he had, he’d have learned that our roots go back to the early 19th Century (or maybe the late 18th — it’s not a sharp line). We’re nearly 200 years younger than the Baptists if you apply the same standards and tests to both denominations.
Shank describes his conversation with a Lutheran pastor. This pastor declares that in John 15, Jesus says that he is the vine and the denominations are the various branches. And I’m sure the pastor said that, but it’s obviously bad theology and any Lutheran pastor should know better. (Martin Luther certainly wouldn’t have approved, and I doubt that many other Lutheran pastors would either.)
Randall has no problem proving the Lutheran pastor wrong. (And I have to wonder what kind of route Shank worked to find so many pastors who know their Bibles so poorly.)
John 3:16 and 3:5
Shank describes a conversation with Randall over a game of chess. Shank pulls out John 3:16, certain that Randall will have to capitulate to the clear logic of the verse.
Randall, using his index finger, said, “Look at the verse again – that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Notice these two words here in verse 16… should not?”
“These words represent a condition,” Randall said. “If you quote John 3: 16 by itself, you’re taking it away from its context and you’re ignoring the entire remote text distorting the meaning. Mr. Mike, I’m not ignoring John 3:16. You’re lifting it out of context in an effort to make it mean something it doesn’t mean.”
(Kindle Locations 1817-1825).
Interestingly, although the KJV and ESV use “should” before “not perish,” the NASB, NET Bible, and NIV say “shall.” Why? Is Jesus saying that baptism is a condition in this verse?
Actually, “should” is not conditional but in the subjunctive voice, which is nearly forgotten in modern English (if only it were not so!) It can refer to something that may or may not happen, that is, it can take on the meaning of “supposed to” rather than “shall” happen. It does not, in this verse, refer back to John 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”) as an implied condition. I can find no Greek resource or commentary that says “should” is conditional on some prior act based on the grammar.
Wallace, in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 474, says,
The fact that the subjunctive is all but required after ἵνα does not, of course, argue for uncertainty as to the fate of the believer. This fact is obvious, not from this text, but from the use of of οὐ μή in John 10:28 and 11:26, as well as the general theological contours of the gospel of John.
And footnote 86 on p. 480 says —
ὥστε + the indicative (used but twice in the NT in subordinate clauses [John 3:16 and Gal 2:13]) still bears the force of “actual result,” while ὥστε + the infinitive can be used to mean “natural result” or “actual result.”
Even the Greek specialists see nothing in the verb that looks back to John 3:5, only a question of whether the subjunctive means an uncertain result, that is, an unsure salvation — which is far, far away from Randall’s teaching.
And the argument overlooks dozens of other parallel passages that do not use the subjunctive voice at all. For example (and I’ve given other examples in previous posts) —
(Rom 3:21-22 ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
No subjunctive voice, and no even arguable reference to water baptism for chapters. And there are dozens of verses just like it.
Randall next reads John 3:5 as requiring water baptism, which is not at all an unreasonable position, but it’s a frequently challenged position. There are good arguments on both sides of that one.
Now, it’s very hard to reconcile reading verse 5 into verse 16 with the many, many other verses in John that promise salvation to all with faith in Jesus — unless we conclude, as I’ve earlier suggested, that God wants us water baptized but will not let an insufficient baptism prevent him from honoring his promises to save all with faith in Jesus.
In fairness, if John 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”) refers to water baptism, it would seem that Jesus makes “born of water” essential by his grammar in v. 5. So why does he speak v. 16 a few minutes later and not mention this essential condition? If v. 5 refers to water baptism, then it sure seems to contradict 3:16, and a couple of dozen other verses in John promising salvation to all with faith in Jesus.
Regardless of how we sort all that out, the fact is that God’s grace is often bigger and better than even biblical grammar. Consider —
(Lev 4:1 ESV) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, 3 if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.
The command says, in clearly absolute terms, that if you sin unintentionally against any of God’s commands, you “shall offer” a sacrifice. In law, that’s the language lawyers use to make an obligation binding — and this is a law.
But how many people can you name that were forgiven of their sins before Pentecost without offering a bull? There are many, including those baptized by John the Baptist.
You see, God can waive (decide not to enforce) his own laws — and the Old Testament gives many examples of exactly that (David and Bathsheba being a classic case but not the only case). Yes, God really does want believers to be water baptized, and yes, God will at the least honor all his promises to save those with a genuine faith (as defined in the previous posts) in Jesus.
Jesus fulfills the Law but he also creates all kinds of exceptions, saving without animal sacrifice, bringing Gentiles into the elect nation, and on and on. Praise God for exceptions! God will never do less than he promises, but he often does more than his laws require him to. One example is what we call grace.
1 Peter 3:21
Randall next argues from —
(1Pe 3:21-22 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
This has been discussed at this blog before. One side emphasizes “baptism … now saves you” and the other side emphasizes “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.”
The first part of the verse seems to say that the water itself saves, but no one teaches that, not even in the Churches of Christ. Thus, even the traditional Church of Christ advocates do not take “baptism … now saves you” literally. They say it means that God saves you through the resurrection of Jesus at the time of water baptism — which is not what it says but surely much closer to what it means.
The “not as a removal of dirt from the body” side argues that it’s the appeal to God that is true reason for salvation, not the getting wet, which is literally what the text says, but that weakens “baptism now saves you” into nothingness, which is clearly not Peter’s intent. That verse can’t mean that baptism matters not one whit!
Fortunately, I’m not here to argue either the Church of Christ or the Baptist position. My view is that baptism is normatively the moment of salvation and receipt of the Spirit, but that God will ultimately honor “the appeal for a good conscience” — even if the baptism is flawed. And that understanding fits the text as written just fine.