Born of Water: A Discussion re Grace from the Comments

BaptismofJesus2

If most readers are like me, they don’t read the comments. I read the comment here, but I generally don’t read the comments at other blogs that I follow.

And if you’ve not been following the comments, you missed this discussion:

Christopher wrote to Jay,

Jay wrote:

Now, the beauty of the baptismal theology I teach is that the Churches of Christ may and should continue to baptize their converts as they have done in the past. They do not have the least reason to adopt the Sinner’s Prayer or infant baptism. But they may nonetheless be in full, unrestricted communion with denominations that also believe in Jesus but have different baptismal theologies.

I am not following your logic in all of this, Jay. If the existence of different baptismal theologies is inconsequential, then why SHOULD the Churches of Christ continue to baptize converts as they have in the past? What would be the motivation or compelling interest?

While I agree that God has and can make exceptions to physical or spiritual laws, I am not sure we should be the one making those exceptions for Him. I think we can and should engage those who profess faith in Christ and who act accordingly without judging them into or out of the kingdom, trusting that God will make clear any matter on which we disagree (as Paul writes).

Now, if this is what you are saying in different words, then I agree. Otherwise, I am not sure what you mean by the passage quoted above.

Jay responded to Christopher,

Part 1

Christopher asked,

I am not following your logic in all of this, Jay. If the existence of different baptismal theologies is inconsequential, then why SHOULD the Churches of Christ continue to baptize converts as they have in the past? What would be the motivation or compelling interest?

To obey God. To fulfill all righteousness.

David was forgiven of murder. Does that mean that murder is inconsequential? Does it mean we should kill people? “Forgiven” doesn’t mean “inconsequential.”

David was forgiven of murder, but he lost four sons, his throne, and his honor. There were severe consequences. And yet David was forgiven. Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba. God can provide blessings out of the biggest messes that we make — if we continue in our faith/faithfulness/trust.

Erroneous baptismal theology has consequences. For example —

* In nations where infant baptism is nearly universal, Christianity is often nominal — with very little real following of Jesus. Confirmation is often set at a given age, is treated as a coming-of-age ritual, and sometimes involves little in the way of a genuine decision to live sacrificially for Jesus. But I know people who were baptized as infants whose Christianity would put most members of the Churches of Christ to shame in their devotion and sacrifice. On the whole, in my view, it’s an unhealthy practice.

* According to Baptist pastor David Platt, conversions by means of the Sinner’s Prayer often involve no real repentance. The pitch is based on a desire to be saved rather than a desire to follow Jesus. Hence, many Sinner’s Prayer conversions produce no life change. But I know countless people who uttered the Sinner’s Prayer and truly gave their lives to Jesus. Again — a flawed practice with real adverses consequences — but I’ve seen people transformed far beyond my expectations.

* In some Churches of Christ, it is taught the Spirit is not personally received at baptism. The result is a overly intellectual religion with little heart or passion, built far more on legalisms than Jesus — but some of the most passionate Christians I know grew up in just such churches. Nonetheless, the false teachings cause many to lose their faith entirely, disgusted with the legalism they are taught.

* In some Churches of Christ, baptism is taught as more important than Jesus. There are 20 baptism sermons for every Jesus sermon. The result is nearly idolatrous obsession with a ritual at the expense of a relationship. Our “savior” becomes the tank of water, not the Son, whose Father pours out Living Water from heaven on those with faith. And yet such congregations produce many devout Christians filled with the Spirit.

So the fact that error produces adverse consequences does not mean that the same error damns. And the fact that forgiveness is available for error for those with faith in Jesus does not mean that error is inconsequential. In fact, forgiven error can even be deadly dangerous to one’s salvation.

But such is the paradox of grace. Grace allows us to be saved despite our failings but does not condone our failings. Rather, it gives us a relationship with Jesus and the presence of the Spirit and brothers and sister that encourage us to do better.

(Rom. 5:20-21 ESV) 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We love to cite Rom 6 on baptism, but we almost always forget the reason Paul raises the question —

(Rom. 6:1 ESV) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

He was answering the challenge presented in 5:20-21. The Law of Moses made Israel sin all the more because they became accountable for God’s will, since he revealed his will in such detail to them. The solution was not to damn all who erred but for grace to abound all the more!

So why not sin so that grace may abound? Because of the commitment you made in your baptism. Because you died to that kind of thinking. Because obedience to God became paramount to you even if God forgives your disobedience — because your motivation isn’t fear of God’s wrath but your abiding love for him.

Which brings us to the ultimate consequence. If you love God, you’ll want to obey him even if he is gracious to forgive. And this is the line between grace and legalism. Legalism sees no motivation other than fear of hell. Legalism tricks us into obeying out of fear, that is, self-love. Grace obeys out of love for God.

Part 2

Christopher commented,

While I agree that God has and can make exceptions to physical or spiritual laws, I am not sure we should be the one making those exceptions for Him. I think we can and should engage those who profess faith in Christ and who act accordingly without judging them into or out of the kingdom, trusting that God will make clear any matter on which we disagree (as Paul writes).

Now, if this is what you are saying in different words, then I agree. Otherwise, I am not sure what you mean by the passage quoted above.

I’m not sure what you suggest is possible. If we choose to be agnostic regarding the salvation of those who teach baptism in error, then do we take communion with them or not? Do we feed the hungry with them or not?

Well, the practical answer in most churches (not just Churches of Christ) is to compete with the other churches in town for members and money and prestige — but this is sin. The command is to be united. And we see in Gal 2 that a refusal to eat together to please the legalists left Peter condemned. Translations differ as to whether this is damned or judged to be in error. Either way, Peter sinned by refusing to engage in active fellowship with the Gentile converts. Maybe his theory was along the lines of letting God be the judge. But by not eating the love feast/taking communion with the Gentiles, Peter had effectively divided the church, and for that Paul rebuked him before the church.

When we refuse to engage with other congregations, we treat the saved as damned. We divide the church. We sin. And it’s a particularly egregious sin.

In fact, it’s a particularly severe indictment of our practice that our behavior toward the other churches in town doesn’t much change whether we consider them saved. We’ve turned autonomy into isolation, and so we divide the body even when we consider the other church saved. But this is not biblical practice or theology.

In NT times, cities had a single congregation overseen by a single eldership, meeting in multiple locations, usually private homes. There was not only a single denomination, there was a single congregation. And they worked in concert to further God’s mission to redeem the world. And they wound up converting very nearly the entire Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, we see “church” in terms of our congregation, never take communion with the other Christians in town, even those who think and act just like us, and we can barely make the building payments. And our division is harming God’s mission all while we feel justified by our purity and refusal to condone error.

It’s a sad irony.

So I don’t know how we can avoid answering the question and be true to the biblical concepts of unity and mission.

Christopher replied,

Part 1

Jay wrote:

I’m not sure what you suggest is possible. If we choose to be agnostic regarding the salvation of those who teach baptism in error, then do we take communion with them or not? Do we feed the hungry with them or not?

I’m suggesting we take our cue from Jesus in this passage:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41).

And this passage:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)

Simply put, we work alongside the people who clearly have a heart for God (not the hypocritical religious), while not being afraid to share (when asked) our convictions on what the scriptures teach about baptism or any other matter. Let God work through that approach and see what happens; be the humble servant rather than a teacher of the law.

Part 2

Jay wrote:

To obey God. To fulfill all righteousness.

Right. And I guess my feeling is that God-loving people will, once they find out the true purpose of baptism, like Jesus or John’s disciples, get baptized or rebaptized – for the very reason you state. The problem people have with understanding grace is understanding God’s character. If we were abused as children especially, it is hard not to over-emphasize the wrath of God (which is everywhere in the scriptures). And THAT leads to legalism. For if you FEEL like He is going to waste you because you step out of line, then what else can you do but follow the rules? Certainly there is little sense of love in that scenario. Everything bad that happens then becomes another manifestation of God’s fierce anger. No amount of meditating on the cross will help; the logical dichotomy is too great – it’s like Jekyll and Hyde. But if we can realize that we, as insignificant as we are in the universe, have to power to hurt God – to grieve Him and make Him jealous – then it all makes sense.

A year after my kid brother died at the age of sixteen, and before I became a Christian, I visited my mother (who loved me profoundly) with two college buddies. We went out partying and didn’t come back until five in the morning. I was surprised to find my mother up, red-eyed and angry and very hurt. I realized in a second, despite my drunkenness, that I had worried her nearly to death – because she loved me and was horrified at the thought of losing her other son. If we can think of our sin affecting God like that, rather than as violating the codes of a rule-giver, we can love God.

Jay now writes,

Amen.

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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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5 Responses to Born of Water: A Discussion re Grace from the Comments

  1. Price Futrell says:

    [Luk 9:49-50 ESV] 49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” ~~~~

  2. Christopher says:

    Well, alright then. To what big problem in the world should we next turn our attention upon? 😉

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    I have been trying to see who was the author of this, but then it really does not matter. “The problem people have with understanding grace is understanding God’s character. If we were abused as children especially, it is hard not to over-emphasize the wrath of God (which is everywhere in the scriptures). And THAT leads to legalism. For if you FEEL like He is going to waste you because you step out of line, then what else can you do but follow the rules? Certainly there is little sense of love in that scenario. Everything bad that happens then becomes another manifestation of God’s fierce anger.” If we assume that this is true children who are disciplined would also be lead into legalism. I do not believe that that is true in our physical lives, in fact no rules and no discipline proves that a parent does not love a child. God has always disciplined his children even to the point of sending them into captivity of an enemy. Are we reading back into the scriptures that all who God disciplined with very heavy burdens and pain, never grew to love him?
    Proverbs records many instructions about God’s character.
    Pro 10:13 ESV On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
    Pro 13:24 ESV Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
    Pro 22:15 ESV Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
    Pro 23:13-14 ESV Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. (14) If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
    Pro 26:3-6 ESV A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. (4) Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. (5) Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
    Here we listen to an Apostle of Christ, does he seem to portray some of the love that allows anything to go (just not ruffling any feathers) of those who are not obeying?
    1Co 4:14-21 ESV I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. (15) For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (16) I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (17) That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (18) Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. (19) But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. (20) For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (21) What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
    Are these not the words of our Savior, Jesus?
    Rev 2:20-27 ESV But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. (21) I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. (22) Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, (23) and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (24) But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. (25) Only hold fast what you have until I come. (26) The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, (27) and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

    If we are to be like him, will we tolerate errors that he won’t? Isn’t he giving instructions here for his followers to stand up to sin and disobedience?
    We must be able to identify who are the true followers of Christ and know the difference between them and the false teachers and angel’s of light who attempt to seduce God’s Children. All who profess Christ are not of Christ, Satan will readily identify as a christian, like a wolf clothed as a lamb to secure followers for himself from within the followers of Christ. We were warned about this.

  4. Christopher says:

    Larry wrote:

    ” If we assume that this is true children who are disciplined would also be lead into legalism.”

    And why, exactly, would that be? Do you know the difference between abuse and discipline? Is throwing your wife down the stairs or punching your nine year old son in the mouth discipline? Hmm?

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Christopher,
    I don’t have the least idea what would cause you to relate those acts to discipline. Unless you really do not know what discipline is. I have administered discipline to each of my six children, the discipline was not acts such as you describe. But, to better inform yourself what it is, read the messages how God disciplined his people. There are many examples.

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