Born of Water: So What? Part 1

BaptismofJesus2So 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).

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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.
This entry was posted in Baptism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Born of Water: So What? Part 1

  1. Price Futrell says:

    A house divided against itself cannot stand…. the impact of a united “church” would be felt for generations… Unfortunately, the Hatfield and McCoy approach to evangelism has diminished our influence in the communities that we are charged with attempting to influence. Our “racism” against one another is far removed from the scriptural admonition for unity. The efforts Paul made to unify…the Jerusalem Council.. Peter… all working hard to get brothers and sisters from every tribe and tongue to come under the banner of Love… Sad that we ignore that teaching… Nice post birthday boy.

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    This is one of the best posts you have ever posted. Too bad that so many coc folks disagree completely. The false teaching that the sum total of local churches of Christ equal the universal body of Christ is not only wrong, it’s evil. Campbell had it right, most of his followers got it wrong.

  3. Christopher says:

    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 CoC 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.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    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 CoC 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 ultimately 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.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    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.

  6. Christopher says:

    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.

  7. Christopher says:

    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 Jeckyl 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.

  8. David says:

    Excellent post and answers.

  9. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay,
    Great post and comments. This is almost identical to how I now view scripture. Concur with Royce…this is one of your best.

    Chris,
    Love the example that you provided about you mother’s love.

  10. Charlie M. says:

    Love all this. Well said.

    One nit, Mr. Jay. You said, “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.”

    I hadn’t considered this.

    My understanding was that God forgave David as said by Nathan. No “punishment” would follow.

    The wheels falling off David’s life after Bathsheba always seemed more in tune with discipline rather than punishment (a la Hebrews). The Divine Ear Tug.

    We teach our kids to make their beds, do chores, etc as a way of teaching lessons through discipline. That’s not punishment.

    And Jesus comes from David’s great sin. Agreed with all you said. Thanks.

  11. laymond says:

    Jay, if we see a failing Baptist church, would it be acceptable to take up a collection to restore their ability to teach their doctrine once again to many new followers ?

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond asked,

    Jay, if we see a failing Baptist church, would it be acceptable to take up a collection to restore their ability to teach their doctrine once again to many new followers ?

    The question seems internally inconsistent to me because, if the church is otherwise healthy, why do they need my money? I have a more concrete example.

    In Tuscaloosa, when the F5 tornado hit us on April 27, several churches lost their buildings. They were all under-insured (gets technical). The morning after, another elder and I called the Church of Christ in town that had lost their building and we offered to share our space with them. They turned us down.

    By the time this church had decided, we’d heard from a couple of Baptist Churches in need of space. We quickly agreed to make space available to both, and one of them, a black Baptist Church from our part of town moved in with us, and we shared space with them for, I believe, two years. They then moved out, and they just broke ground on a new sanctuary.

    So was that wrong? We didn’t charge rent, and some of our members found that outrageous. But they had a single-limit insurance policy, and any rent they paid would reduce their ability to build new space — and new space was going to be much more expensive than the value of their old building. It seemed to us like charging interest to a fellow Israelite in poverty — which Ezra prohibited. I mean, should this have been a commercial transaction for profit — or brothers sharing God’s resources for their mutual good? We treated them as brothers.

    A year after the tornado hit, they invited us to a joint communion/worship service. We gladly accepted. Was that wrong?

    They are now busy re-building and converting the lost in their neighborhood to Jesus. Their baptismal theology is a bit askew, but they are godly people. Two years of sharing space only served to impress us with their commitment to the faith.

    Is that bad thing? I don’t think so.

  13. Royce Ogle says:

    Another way of asking that question would be, “Which is more Christlike? Open your doors and show hospitality, or turn them away? It isn’t a hard call is it?

  14. laymond says:

    It isn’t a hard call is it? Not if you are a Christian Royce. “love your neighbor” you don’t have to agree (completely) with that neighbor, you are commanded to love them in spite of the differences.

  15. Dwight says:

    And yet we are not commanded to consider them as family if they are against Christ or deny Christ or deny some of the basic tenants of what it is to be a saint.
    The “completely” becomes the sticking point. Many won’t regard others as Christians because they don’t agree completely within the borders of what they erect. This makes for strange bedfellows. In the conservative coC those that believe that I Cor.11 is applicable and a command will still commune with those who do not, but those groups will not commune with those that accept IM or those that support outside groups. Some borders are God made and some are man-made and too often we erect the man-made borders higher and stronger than Gods. We have to first acknowledge what is man-made, not treat them as borders and then go from there. This was the point of A. Campbell.

  16. Ray Downen says:

    I like Dwight’s remarks. I like very much what Jay reports about helping a church after a weather disaster took their building. That’s building the kingdom of Christ. Two years of working for Christ together is remarkable. How wonderful it would be if it could always be that way.

Leave a Reply