Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 28 – 30 (“Reverend”; the One-Man Pastor; Campbellites)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.


We’re now getting to even more picayune peculiarities of the conservative Churches of Christ. (I’m starting to get really embarrassed by this. I mean, I attend a Church of Christ myself.)

“My friend, don’t ever call a man reverend,” Randall said. He wasn’t criticizing, nor was his tone harsh. He was simply instructing. “What’s wrong with that?” I laughed. “The only place you’ll find the word reverend in the Bible is in Psalms 111: 9:

(Kindle Locations 5900-5905).

In the King James Version, the psalm reads —

(Psa 111:9 KJV) He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.

But more recent translations read differently —

ESV Psalm 111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!

NASB Psalm 111:9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.

NET Psalm 111:9 He delivered his people; he ordained that his covenant be observed forever. His name is holy and awesome.

NIV Psalm 111:9 He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever — holy and awesome is his name.

Most modern translations say “awesome” rather than reverend. Got that?

Now, the argument is that, because the Bible calls God and only God “reverend,” it’s wrong to call a preacher by the same title. By that logic, it would be equally wrong to call your preacher — or anyone else — “awesome”!

This is an example of a distasteful trait of some of my brothers in the conservative Churches of Christ — showing off their supposedly superior Bible knowledge by picking at trivial mistakes (which sometimes aren’t even mistakes at all).

For example, we delight in proving that the Bible doesn’t say the infant Jesus was visited by three wise men, just that they brought three gifts. See how ignorant everyone else is and how smart we are? — all about something that matters not one whit.


Randall next asserts,

“Denominational preachers seem to love and crave the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God. They prove this by their actions and attitudes.”

“The glory of men?” I asked.

“Yeah Mr. Mike. The glory that they receive, in part, by the prestige that comes with their title of Reverend,” Randall explained. “And denominational preachers today can be likened to the Pharisees in the first century who loved the praise of men and loved their titles. I understand that some of today’s preachers will even get angry if you won’t address them by their religious title!”

(Kindle Locations 5932-5938). This is a provable fact? Really?

Of course, it’s true of some preachers, including some in the Churches of Christ. But is this universally the case? Think hard before you answer because bearing false witness is still a sin the last time I checked.

(Col 3:8-10 ESV) 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Randall’s statement is false. I know too many leaders of non-Church of Christ churches. It’s just offensive, ignorant, and ungodly. I can’t imagine why anyone would countenance this kind of speech as worth paying money for and then distributing to church members as though it’s okay to slander and lie about “the denominations” because they aren’t your particular group of friends. It’s sin.

Chapter 29

The next chapter questions the Baptist one-man pastor system. The Churches of Christ insist on a plurality of elders, noting that every biblical reference to the elders is in the plural because neither Greek nor English provides a convenient way to say “one or more elders.” Ask a group of adults how many have “children,” and those with just one child will raise their hands. It’s just understood that the plural can often include the singular. (The same logic allows a man with just one child to qualify as having believing “children.”)

Consider —

(Gen 16:2 ESV)  2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

Sarai doesn’t mean that she has only one child and wants a plurality. She has neither a child nor children. And this is how language often works.

(1Ti 5:17 ESV) 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

What if only one elder rules well? Does he receive double honor? Of course, because “elders” means “elder or elders” in context.

[I]t is less clear how many elders (one or a plurality) in a church would provide the leadership. The pattern elsewhere suggests that plurality of leadership was the rule or the ideal (Phil 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 16:4). But the scope of the task—“elders in every town”—offers no sure indication of the distribution of leaders from church to church.

Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 680.

Because the term “elders” is plural (Titus 1:5) many hold that each congregation had a plurality of elders. However, this cannot be proven. The use of the plural is natural when more than one person is indicated. The plural could easily be because there were multiple churches, thus multiple elders. Though multiple elders may have led each congregation, it seems more likely that individual elders led each house church.

Terry Wilder, “Titus, Letter To,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1602.

Therefore, the use of the plural “elders” really doesn’t prove the point. I’ve attended small churches that had just one man qualified to be an elder, and he couldn’t serve his church as an elder because we so want to damn the Baptists that we’ve made having a single elder a damnable sin — a failure to be “scripturally organized” — on very thin evidence. The result is a church without recognized leadership — which is not a good thing when God has given the church a man with the gift to lead. Burying talents given by God is a very dangerous practice.

Thomas and Alexander Campbell — and many others — were the only elders of their churches. The rejection of one-man elderships came much later, likely in the early 20th Century when we began to debate Baptists more or less continuously. You see, a large part of our doctrine is not so much from the scripture as it’s invented to make Baptists look bad to our members.

A preacher once said to his church, “I’m so glad that you all haven’t noticed that the Baptists enter their churches through the door, because if you did, you’d insist on entering through the windows!”

If we were to recognize that the Spirit is alive and active in our churches to raise up leaders (Eph 4:11-12), then we’d readily see that the number of elders to ordain is determined by how many the Spirit has qualified for the task.

Chapter 30

This chapter is called “The Gospel.” Well, the good news goes back to Isaiah and it’s the coming of the King or Messiah into his Kingdom. It’s Jesus being enthroned following his death, burial, and resurrection. It’s our privilege to be saved by faith in Jesus as Son of God and confidence in his resurrection.

But, no, this is yet another chapter about baptism — with Jesus off in some dark corner being ignored yet again. You see, even though the text of the Bible says that “obey the gospel” means to believe in Jesus, Randall has sold Shank on the idea that it means being correctly baptized.

Now, I’m delighted that Shank has decided to be properly baptized, but this is not “the gospel.” The chapter actually gets some of this right, but always and only for the purpose of returning to baptism.

Paul preached Jesus and him crucified. Those sermons produced baptisms because they first produced faith in Jesus, not as someone who will damn you for a bad immersion but someone who died to save you. And I worry about those people who enter Christianity out of fear of what will happen should they be baptized wrong rather than in the joy of God’s grace. I really do.

Alexander Campbell

Finally, Randall explains the history of the Churches of Christ, but not quite correctly —

In reality Campbell started nothing. He started no church or religion. He simply pointed people back to the Bible. His plea was the restoration of the first century church and practices that were supported by the Bible. He encouraged people to leave denominationalism and be unified under the banner of Jesus Christ and the Lord’s church as found in the New Testament.

(Kindle Locations 6355-6359). And this is ignorant history. I mean, it’s kinda close to true, but just close enough to deceive. It’s a fiction that must be indulged to pretend that the Churches of Christ can trace their roots back to Pentecost by an uninterrupted line of congregations and believers.

We pretend we have no history, and so we don’t study history, and so we learn nothing from history. And we believe all kinds of ridiculous things. So let’s talk about the real Alexander Campbell.

That’ll be the topic of the next post.

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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30 Responses to Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 28 – 30 (“Reverend”; the One-Man Pastor; Campbellites)

  1. Gary says:

    The late conservative CoC icon Hugo McCord wrote on the Reverend issue and pointed out that the word simply means some one who is revered. A parent or for that matter a sports figure who is revered is reverend. So many of the CoC shibboleths that were indoctrinated into members have been based on ignorance.

  2. Price says:

    I’ve traced my spiritual roots back from one non-denominational group to another all the way back to Thaddeus.. Said no one ever…

  3. laymond says:

    “Yeah Mr. Mike. The glory that they receive, in part, by the prestige that comes with their title of Reverend,” Randall explained. “And denominational preachers today can be likened to the Pharisees in the first century who loved the praise of men and loved their titles. I understand that some of today’s preachers will even get angry if you won’t address them by their religious title!”

    Jay responds by saying , ” Randall’s statement is false. I know too many leaders of non-Church of Christ churches. It’s just offensive, ignorant, and ungodly.”

    Like Jay warned , “bearing false witness is still a sin” I don’t see where Randall said “ALL” and I do see where he said “SOME” a little farther in his statement.

    Could this be misunderstood like being saved by faith, although it is never said “faith only” ?
    Just maybe Randall didn;t mean “all or every” when we see “some” of the demoninational preachers ascend their “stage” in their pure white, or royal purple robes with gold trim, what is one supposed to think, “this is a humble man of God”?
    (please notice I said some )
    I have not read the book in question, I am commenting only on the paragraph in Jay’s post.

  4. norma says:

    I just learned that the largest Church of Christ in our town will be hosting Michael Shank next month, and giving copies of his book to visitors. Could you give a little advice to other congregations who don’t want to be known this way in the community on appropriate reactions?

  5. Johnny says:

    Print copies of Jay’s response and hand them out?

  6. Hank says:

    Good post Jay. I too have been embarrassed by some of the things our coc brethren have said, preached, and written. Although I have likely embarrassed myself and others a time or two. At any rate, you are a good writer and for the most part, quite fair. I hadn’t brlefore really thought about the idea that the appointment of elderS in every city may referred to numerous house churches rather than a single congregation with the totality of all of the members of that city. An interesting point regarding the plural form there.

    I did have one question though. You wrote:

    “You see, even though the text of the Bible says that “obey the gospel” means to believe in Jesus, Randall has sold Shank on the idea that it means being correctly baptized.”

    Like you, I do not believe that to “obey the gospel” means being (only) correctly baptized. Technically, I believe we must not only obey the gospel, but we must continue obeying it until our time on earth is complete. We don’t obey it at some point and then move on, rather, it must be continuously obeyed.

    But, you wrote that “to obey the gospel means to believe in Jesus”. But there have been many who believed in Jesus and yet did not obey the gospel, right?

    I think that to argue that obedience of the gospel MEANS believing in Jesus is just as shortsighted as claiming that it MEANS being baptized. I believe it both and even more.

  7. Some of the replies (Laymond, note that I said some, not all) show how much this series of posts is needed.

  8. Norma–

    If Shank is speaking at a big CoC in your town, you’re going to get tarred with that same brush. That is, unless you actually DO something that contradicts him. That congregation is making their stand public. So, standing by while your own tribe teaches a false gospel and quietly shaking your head to one another just won’t feed the bulldog. That sounds to your community like you secretly agree with Shank, but just won’t admit it.

    If your congregation really IS different, this sounds like a great time for your whole congregation to go visit a local Baptist church (or other flavor) on that same Sunday. Surely you have some relationship with other Christians in your town, somewhere. Go see them. Go sing and pray with them for one hour. Just one hour. I’ll bet a month’s pay that the sermon will NOT be about “Why the Church of Christ Is Going To Hell”.

    It is long past time for the CoC to stop saying intramurally that “Hey, our congregation is not like that! Not us!” As one on the outside looking in, please understand that words won’t do it. Please stop telling us you are not really like those other CoC folks. We don’t see it, and we have no reason to believe it.

    But we WILL believe what you show us.

    Nothing less will do. If you can’t show your community how you differ on such a crucial matter, in terms they can understand, it’s time to consider just why that is the case. Do we really differ from Shank’s CoC, or do we merely wish we did?

  9. Is an Armani suit and a silk tie more humble than a polyester robe? Just wondering.

  10. Hank says:

    Here is an example of what I mean in terms of the gospel not being a thing we obey once and then move on, having obeyed it. But, something we obey to be saved and keep on obeying in order to keep on being saved.

    GAL2.14.ESV But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

    Cephas was disobeying the gospel there…

  11. Ray Downen says:

    Hank makes a good point. But every reader should realize that Jay is not perfect and makes no claim of being so. How commendable is his willingness to consider views not exactly in accord with his! I agree with his remarks about elders. I have to disagree that emphasis on salvation by faith is not implying salvation by faith alone. The 3,000 who responded to the apostolic invitation in Acts 2 weren’t able to compare with Peter (speaking for all the apostles and for the Lord Jesus) told them was necessary for seeking believers to do. All they had to go on was what they were told that day. I think the message remained the same throughout the time when apostolic writings were being penned.

    The apostles did NOT teach salvation by faith alone. Not once. Never. And not once did they publicly disagree with the “plan” of salvation for which Peter was spokesman on Pentecost. They understood new birth to be of water and spirit and taught so in clear words which should not be misunderstood. They may not have guessed that sincere folks would later dispute with what they so clearly taught.

    Paul, in two passages in particular makes clear that we are baptized INTO Christ and that it’s in baptism that sinners die to sin and are raised up to walk in NEW life (Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 6:1-14). We do not do well to dispute with Jesus or His apostles as some do who teach salvation by faith ALONE. Do some actually disagree with Peter and Paul? In my study, “Should Any Christian Ever Be Baptized?” ( I quote at length one of “us” who does politely and pointedly disagree.

  12. The only contradiction between single eldership in a group and plural eldership in the city lies in our own invention of congregational autonomy. Take that log out of our eye, and we can easily picture a larger body of elders in the city, made up of interrelated individuals who are shepherding smaller clusters of people, whether they are families or neighborhoods or workplaces or hold some other commonality. We can see the council in Jerusalem gathering because of a difficult problem that can affect the whole church. We can see the Corinthians putting a brother outside the fellowship, and this act being by the elders as a whole, so there is no “other congregation” to which he could simply move his membership and avoid discipline. We can see Jesus’ example of church discipline going far beyond the interpersonal politics of a small group and having the elders in that city addressing it as a body, to reflect the revelation of God to many godly men, and not just the opinions of two guys in one club.

    It is a wonderful picture of interrelated and inter-protective leadership in the church that draws from those who are already acting as shepherds without portfolio. Shepherds recognize pretty quickly who else smells like sheep. It’s hard for one group to go rogue if their leader is accountable to all those other elders. It is hard for a wolf to savage the flock if he is identified to the whole church before he can move around much. It is hard for heresy to flourish in one small group when they know the elders in the whole city are teaching against it.

    IMO, congregational autonomy has cost the church in America more than all the other heresies combined.

  13. For Ray to insist that emphasizing salvation by grace through faith necessarily teaches “faith alone” is to impose Ray’s personal definition on everyone else’s belief as though it were incontrovertible holy writ. Ray has been told flat out by more than one person that this is not what is being taught, and has had it explained to him. He simply rejects all that out of hand. He literally tells me that when I say “faith is not alone” that I am teaching “faith alone”. I do not really know how to penetrate that kind of impregnable brick wall.

    “I saw a cow in that pasture.”
    “What you are really saying is that you saw a bull.”
    “No, I saw a cow. It had an udder and four teats. Bulls and cows may look similar but I know the difference.”
    “You are describing a bull, not a cow.”
    “You may say that you saw an udder, but what that means is that you actually saw something else. You are trying to get me to believe you saw a bull, and there is no bull in that pasture.”

    At this point, I threw my hands up so hard that one of them hasn’t come back down yet.

  14. Ray Downen says:

    One additional comment concerning not being considered supporters of false doctrine. The reason many church now known as “Christian Churches” who were once “Churches of Christ” was to make it clear to others in their communities that they were NOT in agreement with the teachings of some legalistic “Church of Christ” congregations. Disciple of Christ congregations generally make clear in their name that they are part of the Disciples denomination. Our restoration movement has now three major divisions, with some using the name “Church of Christ,” others using the name “Christian Church,” and others calling themselves “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” or just “Disciples of Christ.”

    So that leaves “Christian Church” as a name that is not tainted in most communities, so will identify Christians loyal to Jesus and not members of any denomination. This is not to claim that every Christian Church congregation is loving and loyal to the Prince of Peace, for some who wear the name are proudly sectarian. But most are not, generally agreeing with most of what Jay teaches, for instance. So, rather than defending the name “Church of Christ” when the largest Church of Christ in the town is sectarian, why not consider changing the name of free congregations? That’s what the leaders of the church in which I was baptized chose to do. I think they chose wisely.

  15. Ray Downen says:

    I’m disappointed that Charles puts words in my mouth. He’s eloquent. And dishonest to misrepresent what I believe and teach without apology. I hope he will remain in the “Church of Christ” dissident family where he’s most at home. There’s no question that there is a “Church of Christ mentality” which picks fights and demands agreement with their every opinion on penalty of disfellowshipping those who disagree. Others who share my liking for Jay Guin are not dogmatic and stern and insulting as Charles chooses to be.

  16. Jay Guin says:


    I have to fast from the computer for a few days. It seems that working at a desk is hurting my recovery.

    Some great comments this morning I’d love to respond to but the doctor says no.

  17. Here, I agree with Ray. Many historic CoC’s have done this, but have not used “Christian Church”, which is by our definitions a bit redundant. When you are not really an denomination, you have freedom to change the name of your group as it suits you and for the purpose of making your witness more effective. Some congregations have kept the CoC moniker as a small print tag line to humor part of their membership, but that fig leaf usually does not last too long. They honor their history and connection to the CoC, but they no longer consider it an appropriate identifier. In many cases, the change is applauded by local CoC’s who don’t want to be associated with those darn liberals!

    Here is one funny thing. Most of the congregations who have now left the CoC off their signboards have kept the CoC tradition of naming our congregations geographically. Here in my neighborhood, Oak Hills and Plum Creek and The Branch (double entendre on “Farmers Branch, TX) and Amarillo South. Traditions are strong things.

  18. Ray, the readers can read your past posts and my past posts on this “faith” vs “faith alone” issue. See the discussion on chapter 5, 3a. I’ll let others judge whether I have mischaracterized your comments. Thanks.

  19. I’m a little confused about Jay’s definition of obeying the gospel. I understand the idea of faith as the response to grace. If we want to summarize the response to the gospel message, it is simple – you believe it or you don’t. However, I wonder if that includes or excludes baptism. I would argue that you should not separate saving faith and baptism in terms of “obeying the gospel.” In fact, if you look at Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2, it seems to me that the idea of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are enacted in our death (because of sin), burial (in baptism), and resurrection (to new life). This is called salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). So, I think it’s very harmful to call obeying the gospel as a sort of one, two, three punch that separates baptism from faith. I also think it is misleading to not include baptism as a part of the response of faith involved in obeying the gospel.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    We covered this earlier. It’s clear from the passages that use the phrase what the intended meaning.

    Be careful to take the meaning from the text rather than reading your own theology into the text.

  21. Larry Cheek says:

    As I studied about the appointment of Elders in the church, and compared the concepts described as job duties of Elders and our tradition of appointing Elders. I really had some questions why we would settle upon a ratio of Elders to the number of members in the body? The duties of an Elder are very much a spiritual guide or mentor to the members. I really have a tendency to believe you will never find enough men in any congregation that if all who were spiritually filled and qualified were appointed there would not be enough work, guidance, counseling,etc to keep all of the Elders busy. We really have used the office of Elder in comparison to a corporation board of directors, and the preacher as our Chief Operation Officer, in place of the spiritual men guiding the spiritual lives of the members.
    In a congregation of 1000 could there not be work in the description of Elders duties for 100 spiritual leaders?
    Another method of comparing this would is there really a need to not allow men who have displayed their leadership qualities the opportunity to serve their Lord and the flock with their abilities, because the local congregation has reached a predetermined ratio of leaders to members?

  22. laymond says:

    Larry, This is my experience and therefore my formed opinion, there are many elder members both male and female that are more qualified to guide the younger members spiritually, than those who have been designated “elders” by appointment. And if a record was kept of those younger members who seek advice, you would find they overwhelmingly go to older members within their family, or someone they know and respect personally, and I agree that is by far best.

  23. Laymond is touching the hem of the garment of the foundation of real and effective eldership. He correctly points out the dynamic of the younger seeking the counsel of older believers whom they have come to know and trust to have godly wisdom and discernment. This is how eldership is born. True shepherds arise where there are sheep. Not where there are decisions to be made and orders to be given and staff to be hired and bills to be paid and money to be collected. Shepherds arise, and are recognized by the sheep who know them. They are not invented at a meeting.

    When the church in your city has such people caring for the other sheep whom they know, this should be the basis for the eldership of the church. Forget autonomous congregational governments, from which we have developed our current system of religion clubs competing with each other for market share among consumers of religious thought. We need a growing, developing body of such existing spiritual shepherds who, as they are recognized by other elders in the city, add new responsibilities to their existing ones. Watching for wolves, protecting the orthodoxy of the church, discipling upcoming leaders and maturing them, holding one another accountable for their shepherding, supporting each other both in word and in deed. Think of the benefits.

    How easy would it be for one group to tell another group, “You are not of us!” when elders of both groups are in close relationship with each other? How would church discipline work if the elders were in one accord to restore the wayward instead of just letting him change fellowships? How would a rogue element introduce heresy in a neighborhood group when the whole eldership of the city could confront them as one? How many resources could be applied with so many people connected? How many spiritual gifts could arise and find avenues of expression if we were not strapped to a few pulpits? How much wisdom would be disseminated among the believers in the city rather than being bottled up in individual building-sized containers? How much unity would we see when leaders who clearly will not agree on everything are knitted together in their calling to serve not just “a congregation” but The Church?

    All that prevents us is pride and fear of losing our own place of control and preeminence. It seems so little to lose for so much to gain.

  24. Jay Guin says:


    I would (1) do nothing in support of error. And so no announcements in the church bulletin.
    (2) teach the truth unambiguously for weeks in advance and afterwards to inoculate the flock against error
    (3) as has earlier been suggested, I’d make a point to live what I believe. A joint communion or worship service with a non-CoC would speak volumes. Or just having a guest preacher from a non-CoC. Even inviting a CoC preacher known for his progressive views would send a message
    (4) and I’d redouble my evangelism efforts because the biggest appeal of M&S is the baptisms it produces. It’s important to be evangelistic always but you esp want to protect yourself against the charge that you don’t care about souls.

  25. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond and Charles
    Both of your comments are excellent. I have seen actions as Laymond expresses, and the appointed then become infuriated that the sheep have recognized a source of spiritual enlightenment that they are not responsible for and don’t even have the ability to deliver. Could you guess what usually takes place next? Well the appointed who are normally considered as permanent fixtures attempt to interfere with the process to the point of driving the superior natural shepherd away from the congregation. They would then believe that their position is keeping the proper order.

  26. hist0ryguy says:


    The only contradiction between single eldership in a group and plural eldership in the city lies in our own invention of congregational autonomy.

    Well said and deeper than many readers will appreciate. On the one hand there were a plurality of elders in a region who knew all the sheep, but on the other hand there were various assemblies staggered across that region and both concepts are foreign to our understanding of congregational autonomy in the West.

  27. hist0ryguy says:


    We pretend we have no history, and so we don’t study history, and so we learn nothing from history. And we believe all kinds of ridiculous things.

    I have been teaching a class at a church from the perspective of historical theology, pitched as a study of the development of doctrines in the history of the church. At week 2 I asked the question, “what are we restoring and do we still have the same goals as the 1st generation SCM, such as A. Campbell.” I then referred everyone to 4 different “church history timelines/maps” available on the internet and asked how they defend their view. I spent the next 10 weeks dodging labels and encouraging the folks to think about certain claims. Looking forward to your next post.

  28. HG, if you continue to dodge labels, how will we ever decide we already know just what you think so we know how to dismiss it? Kindly get back in your pigeonhole (we’ll help you) and stop messing up our indexing… 😉

  29. Jay Guin says:


    You lump baptism into “gospel” by arguing it’s part of our salvation and then figure that “obey the gospel” must mean baptism. That’s a string of inferences that is ultimately circular. I mean, the question is “does ‘obey the gospel’ mean ‘be baptized’ according to the scriptures?” If you start with the assumption that “gospel” includes “be baptized” then you’ve assumed your way all the way to the end of the proof. It’s purely circular.

    1. You will not find anywhere that “gospel” specifically includes baptism.

    2. “Gospel” is an idea that goes back to the OT prophets —

    (Isa 40:9-11 ESV) 9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” 10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

    (Isa 52:7 ESV) 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

    (Isa 61:1-3 ESV) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

    In Isaiah, “good news” means God reigning over his people, with strong implications that this is part of the Kingdom that is to come. Hence, Jesus preaches, in the Gospels, long before he reveals himself as Messiah, the “gospel of the kingdom of God.” This is a concept that pre-dates Jesus’ earthly ministry by centuries, and certainly began in the OT without any allusion to baptism at all.

    3. There are three NT passages that refer to “obey the gospel.”

    (Rom 10:15-16 ESV) 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

    Paul quotes from one of key Isaianic passages and then declares that many in Israel have not “obeyed the gospel” because of their lack of faith in Jesus.

    (2Th 1:5-10 ESV) 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

    Here Paul contrasts those who don’t “obey the gospel” with those “who have believed.”

    (1Pe 4:17 ESV) 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

    Peter does not give us obvious contextual clues. He speaks of having the Spirit (4:14) and being “righteous” (4:18).

    None of the three passages is in the immediate context of baptism, and the two clearest passages plainly define “obey the gospel” in terms of coming to faith.

    You see, in the ancient world, “good news” was the term used to announce the enthronement of a new king. How do I “obey” the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, enthroned at the right hand of God? Well, first, by believing the announcement to be true and then by submitting to him as king, that is, being faithful to the King — and all these ideas are caught up in the meaning of “faith.”

    Baptism is what happens for those who’ve obeyed the gospel. The Good Confession announces faith that Jesus is the Messiah and also a commitment to obey by being faithful to Jesus. And upon obedience to the announcement of Jesus as King, then baptism happens.

    And I’m not even a little opposed to baptism. I just think that Shank sucks the meaning and depth and richness out of the gospel by reducing it to “be baptized.” Baptism doesn’t go away in my approach, but it’s put in its proper place, no longer central to the gospel.

    The gospel is about Jesus, the Messiah. So is baptism. But baptism is not the gospel or part of the gospel. And the gospel is not about baptism. Rather, it points in the same direction as the gospel — toward Jesus.

    The gospel is what hear, believe, and confess. It’s the object of our faith. If we make the Plan of Salvation = gospel, then we must be believe in the Plan of Salvation to be saved, but the text only requires us to believe in Jesus. My faith/trust is that Jesus will bring about the forgiveness of my sins, not that the Plan of Salvation will bring about the forgiveness of my sins.

    And if that distinction makes sense to you, then you can see why “obey the gospel” cannot mean “be baptized.” Which does not mean we shouldn’t be baptized. It’s just a matter of using Bible words for Bible things, as Alexander Campbell advised. Otherwise, we get badly confused and pretty soon we’re trying to be saved by our faith in the Bible or baptism rather than Jesus.

  30. laymond says:

    Jay, please explain just what baptism is good for, if not the final step to obeying the gospel ?

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