I find nothing in the scriptures that say that teaching baptismal error damns. I find very plain teaching that prohibits adding anything to “faith working through love” as a condition to salvation. But the same Paul that wrote this in Galatians 5:2-6 also
(Gal 3:27 ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
So does teaching that baptism — done exactly right — is essential to salvation violate Gal 5:2-6? It’s sure hard to fit baptism into “faith working through love.” But Paul sure seems to do just that.
I have to say that I feel better taking the position I do than insisting on the traditional Church of Christ position for many reasons, and this is near the top of the list. After all, if I’m right and if the faithful Baptists and Methodists are also saved, then those who treat them as damned look very much like the circumcision party damned by Paul in Galatians
— which is a terrifying thought.
In fact, Alexander Campbell taught that those who require Baptists to be re-baptized are “heretics,” because they divide the body of Christ. Again, if my view of baptism is right, those who refuse to treat Baptists (among others) as brothers in Christ are dividing the body of Christ and clearly violating Gal 5:20.
Fortunately, under my analysis offered above, the sin of division only damns if you know that you’re dividing the body of Christ. Those who engage in this sin in good conscience are not damned under Gal 5:20 — because they don’t meet the standards of Heb 10:26 ff or, more precisely, because they remain subjectively faithful.
That is, however, small comfort, because they are still in violation of Gal 5:2-6 — for failing to trust God’s promises — adding baptism to faith rather than circumcision.
(Gal 5:2-6 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Now, the counter-argument — and it’s a serious one — is that the Bible itself plainly associates baptism with salvation, and so our doing the same thing should not be damnable — not even arguably. Which is a nice argument.
The problem is that it misstates the facts. The traditional Church of Christ position is not merely that baptism is necessary to salvation, but that baptism according to our punctilious standards is essential — and anything less is no baptism at all — which is quite a leap and, I believe, indefensible from the scriptures for reasons we’ve already covered.
Now, this logical flaw is deeply embedded in our Church of Christ psyches. I mean, we just assume — without any reason offered at all — that a flawed baptism is no baptism at all. We assume that God will not forgive any mistake in baptismal practice.
But we don’t require a flawless repentance. After all, a perfect repentance would require the convert to stop sinning entirely.
We don’t require perfect faith. After all, faith as a mustard seed would allow us to move mountains (Mat 17:20) — and all the mountains around here are sitting very still.
We don’t even require our converts to understand their confession all that well. How many of our converts knew at the time that “Christ” means Anointed One, and refers to Jesus as the messianic King? Who knew that “Son of the living God” is a parallel messianic reference taken from Psalm 2?
I think most people, when they are baptized, think that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” means that Jesus is divine, a part of the Godhead. Which is also very true — but not a correct understanding of those words.
And yet we consider their baptism to take. We insist on perfect practice (ritual) but not perfect understanding. Do you know why? It’s because we think we can get the ritual right and know that perfect doctrinal understanding is beyond our limited powers as mere mortals. Hence, we focus on the part that we can do perfectly to feel like we really earned our salvation (by being smarter than those Baptists).
If we were to focus on the hard parts — what the words really mean, who Jesus really was and is, what level of commitment we’re supposed to be making — then we’d have to rely on grace. And that, to many of us, would be unacceptable. And the unacceptability of grace to so many in the Churches of Christ is what risks damnation under Gal 5:2-6.
And it scares me.