So what? As a Bible class teacher, I hate it when someone asks me this. It means I didn’t properly present the material. I failed to make the practical application. As they say here in West Alabama, I didn’t put the hay down where the goats can get it.
So how do these lessons on baptism matter? Well, quite a lot. Let’s start with one of the founding documents of the Restoration Movement, Thomas Campbell’s 1809 “Declaration and Address.” He writes,
PROP. 1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.
2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.
Now, there was no Church of Christ denomination in 1809. By “Church of Christ,” Campbell means the church universal. And he defines the church as all who profess (or confess) faith in Christ and who obey Christ.
All agree that he should be obeyed, of course, but some may wish to argue that we disagree with the other denominations about how to obey Christ. Campbell has anticipated this question:
8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge; but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice, and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in and obedience to him, in all things, according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.
9. That all that are enabled through grace to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same Divine love, bought with the same price, and joint-heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.
In Proposition 8, he makes clear that we don’t have to all agree regarding “all Divinely revealed truths” so long as we agree that we are lost, that salvation is found in Jesus, and that we have faith in Jesus and commit to obey him – even though we disagree about any number of other doctrinal questions.
Campbell concludes in Proposition 9 that those who agree on these few things should “consider each other as the precious saints of God … brethren … members of the same body … .” Indeed, it would be sin for us to be separated from each other.
So the original Restoration Plea was that all who had faith in Jesus (including trust and faithfulness, as we’ve previously covered) be together in a common fellowship, a single church – even though we disagree about the mode of baptism, predestination, instrumental music, or countless other things.
10. That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.
Campbell speaks very strongly against division – and he does not make baptism a term of union – no more than he insists on agreement regarding apostolic succession or gifts of the Spirit. What matters is that we agree regarding Jesus – and commit to be faithful to and to trust his promises.
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.
The implications are huge. First, the “church of Christ” becomes vastly larger. My brothers and sisters aren’t just the heirs of the American Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement) who sing a cappella. It’s all with faith in Jesus. The numbers go from the millions to the billions!
That’s not to say that necessarily all members of all nominally Christian denominations are saved. There are some so liberal that they deny faith in Jesus. Some deny salvation by faith to such an extent that they are like the circumcisers in Galatia who add to the gospel and so teach a different gospel. There are boundaries. Claiming the name “Christian” or “church” isn’t enough. Faith requires not only belief but faithfulness and trust – but not perfect faithfulness or trust – a test none of us could meet.
And so I may just have to recognize as a brother or sister someone I cannot worship with in the same service. They may worship in a way that I cannot participate in in good conscience – or vice versa. But that doesn’t mean we can’t visit the widows and orphans together. It doesn’t mean we can’t work to further God’s mission in our home town together.
Suddenly, with baptism no longer a barrier, and with faith (properly defined) as the common bond that unites us, we not only may join together in serving God, we must. Unity is not just a smart strategy; it’s a command. To refuse unity with fellow Christians – even those I disagree strongly with regarding Calvinism or apostolic succession or whatever – would be to divide the church. And the scriptures say harsh things about those who divide –
(Gal. 5:18-21 ESV) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, 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.
Let’s see: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.” Sounds like church! Really. Sometimes the works of the flesh are more descriptive of how we relate to other congregations and other denominations than the fruit of the Spirit! We need to repent.
(Eph. 4:1-3 ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Notice that v. 3 tells us that unity is something to be maintained, not accomplished. When God saved us and we were baptized, we were all baptized into the same Christ, the same church, the same body, the same family. If we’re not united, it’s not because our ancestors and forebears messed up. It’s because we did not maintain what was given to us at our baptisms – according to Gal 3:28 (as we’ve previously covered).