The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Shrinking Congregations, Part 2 (Boundaries)

cooperation.jpgMy Tuesday conversation with Greg Tidwell and Phil Sanders was illuminating in lots of ways. It certainly confirmed the rightness of the decision to meet. I had asked that we find a time to meet face to face before beginning the online dialogue. I just think you communicate better with people you know — and it’s hard to be mean to someone you’ve met (and there are times I really have to wrestle with the temptation to be mean.)

And I learned a lot about how they see the progressives. You see, they are genuinely concerned that the progressive movement is headed away from repentance and faith in Jesus. One asked whether we (me and Todd Deaver) believed that the fact a given sin is not a salvation issue makes the sin permissible? We said no.

They said surely we knew that many in the progressive movement see things this way.

We said we don’t know anyone who thinks this way. Surely this is more of a communications failure than a doctrinal failure.

They responded by giving concrete examples of “progressives” who’ve said X is sin but since it’s not a salvation issue, it’s okay.

I remain convinced that there are very, very few among the progressives who are that ignorant of the scriptures. I’ve been to the Pepperdine, ACU, and Lipscomb lectureships, and I correspond with hundreds of progressives literally around the world — and I’ve yet to meet anyone who genuinely thinks grace makes sin okay. Maybe it’s sometimes spoken in jest, but never as serious theology (just as Luther used to say that God’s grace is sufficient to cover the occasional beer, just before drinking the not-so-occasional beer).

And they gave very concrete, credible examples of “progressives” who wish to extend salvation and even church membership to non-Christians of goodwill, such as Hindus.

Again, for a fact, in my experience, this is not very common thought among progressives. Nearly all know their Bibles much better than to suggest grace can be found outside of Jesus. But I have no doubt we have a few among us who teach this way. They are not progressives. (I can think of a better word, but I’ll try not to be mean.)

The point is not to criticize the conservatives for over-generalizing (although this is an example of over-generalizing). Rather, I think we progressives are making two very serious mistakes.

First, we don’t spend enough time talking with conservatives. Obviously, there are men among the conservatives who are not interested in dialogue, but it’s hardly a universal characteristic. It’s not that hard to find someone willing to listen. I’ll grant that internet forums rarely produce much persuasion — of the person we are talking to. But I think the conversations are helpful as there are countless many among the conservatives who are looking for something better and find these conversations helpful as they seek a deeper understanding.

Anyway, there’s a culture growing up among the progressives that it’s a waste of time to talk to the conservatives, which is an unfair over-generalization. What we need is more conversation.

Second, we often do a lousy job of explaining ourselves. I mean, as is only natural in an immature movement, we tend to expend too many of our energies saying why the old ways are wrong and not enough explaining what the new ways need to be. We’ve lept straight from legalism to Bible-bookstore evangelicalism or, worse yet, feel-good, cheap grace.

This is hardly universal. The progressive ministers I know are actually pretty good theologians. But we have a tendency to teach an incomplete understanding. We just don’t take the time to draw the boundaries. Indeed, sometimes we suggest that there are no boundaries (isn’t that part of The Jesus Proposal? I have trouble telling just what they’re arguing, so maybe I’m wrong. It was a very confusing book to me.)

There are very real boundaries to grace — and toying with them is foolish in the extreme. But we often are so glad to be shed of legalism that we forget to teach what the limits are. Our congregations need to know the lines, and they need to know how dangerous it is to test the patience of God, not because God will give up on us, but because sin deceives and hardens. Many who stray never come back. We’ve all seen it. We need to talk about it.

The boundaries are faith in Jesus, submission to Jesus as Lord (which is really a part of faith, as Paul uses the term), and baptism. And the scriptures plainly teach baptism as a boundary marker.

While I believe that God will overlook an imperfect faith, an imperfect repentance, and even an imperfect baptism, none of these are to be trifled with. A man without faith in Jesus is lost (John 3:18) and a man who willfully continues to sin is in danger of falling away never to return (Heb 10:26ff and 6:4-6). And it would be truly tragic if we failed to preach these truths. And yet I don’t think we preach these much at all.

And so, I worry that in accepting the penitent believer with an imperfect baptism we are beginning to feel compelled to slip over into the Zwinglian/Baptist view of baptism as an ordinance (just a command) with no real grace attached to it, which even the Baptists are beginning to reject. We don’t have to diminish baptism in order to accept the imperfectly baptized as brothers.

It’s natural for us to wrestle with why we should baptize a new member transferring from a Methodist church who was baptized only as an infant. If we figure God will overlook the imperfection in his baptism, why bother to re-baptize him? Well, I think, we should honor God’s command. Baptism is much, much more than a command, but it is a command. I mean, if a member comes to our congregation with a plainly flawed faith or plainly flawed penitence, we’d teach him better and expect him to change, wouldn’t we? And if there is any grace at all tied to baptism, and the scriptures sure seem to say so, who’d refuse it?

Call me old-fashioned (like that would happen), but baptism is important enough that Jesus submitted to it. And Jesus commanded us to baptize those who’ve been converted. Why not do it right? Grace, remember, is not an excuse to do something wrong when you know better. (See Hicks and Taylor, Down in the River to Pray, p. 251 ff.)

While we can have great confidence in God’s grace, we are not permitted to presume on his grace.

(Heb 12:15)  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

“Bitter root” is a reference to a passage in Deuteronomy we need to take seriously —

(Deu 29:18-20)  Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. 19 When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.

Pretty scary stuff, isn’t it? I think we need to preach it.

[to be continued]

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15 Responses

  1. Jay, you wrote:

    > “For people my age, th”

    What is it about people your age that you were going to say?

    Gotcha!

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  2. Oops. Fixed it. Thanks.

    That comment was moved to tomorrow’s post.

    (Just like an IRS auditor. “Gotcha!” indeed. 🙄 )

  3. I have yet to meet one so called progressive who thinks and advocates that grace makes sin (or at least certain sins) permissible. No have I ever met a so called progressive who believes and teaches universalism and/or salvation outside of and apart from Jesus Christ. Since I would probably be labeled as a progressive, I can also testify that I neither believe in nor teach such views concerning grace and salvation.

    I agree that baptism is essential. Where I would disagree with the conservatives (and I was raised in a conservative CoC) is the elevation of their interpretation as being essential (i.e., that one must be baptized for the espress purpose of receiving the forgiveness of sins or else the baptism is invalid). I know you have discussed this issue, so I will leave it at that.

    However, if I can think out loud for a moment, is baptism a boundary marker? The answer to that question seems to be both a yes and no. There are numerous passages that can be cited to demonstrate how baptism serves as a boundary marker (I assume we are familiar with then). But in my opinion, we have narrowed the selection of passages and turned tour interpretations of those passages into a series of propositions to be obey that has almost nearly circumsied the role of faith (some would say not almost but have indeed circumcised faith).

    We too easily forget that Paul (who gives us a greatest theology of baptism) equated baptism to the act of circumcision in Colossians 2.11-12 but then cited Abraham as an example in Romans 4.9-12 of someone who was justified (credited w/ righteousness) BEFORE circumcision. Why? Paul point is that faith is the operative key for the believer in relation to God’s grace. We have often made baptism greater than faith (mathmatically formulated as Baptism > Faith) where Paul is arguing that Grace & Faith is above all, which places fatih as being greater than baptism (Grace& Faith > Baptism).

    I hope no one reads my outloud thinking as a dismisal of baptism. I believe baptism is an essential command from God that cannot be dismissed and/or separated from the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when I hear some in our fellowship teach that God cannot and/or will not save anyone who has not been baptized, I think such teaching goes beyond scripture.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  4. You wrote:

    “They responded by giving concrete examples of “progressives” who’ve said X is sin but since it’s not a salvation issue, it’s okay.”

    I would be curious as to what these “concrete examples” are and if they are in fact what Tidwell and Sanders offer them up to be.

  5. You are right – we must keep trying, keep up the lines of communication. That said, it is SO HARD to communicate the ideas behind something being “not okay” but “not a salvation issue.” While I am 20+ years removed from abject legalism, I continue to struggle with what this really means — much less how to EXPLAIN what it means. I fully understand your dilemma — and at one level, I understand where the objectors are coming from. I have learned to live under grace (somewhat). I think legalism is a kind of blindness; the upshot of that is that we may never teach someone out of it, any more than we can “teach” someone out of physical blindness. Describe the beautiful view to him all you want — he will never get it. He requires HEALING to really “get it.” The same is probably true for anyone steeped in legalism. I am grateful to God for healing me. I pray that he heals my brothers.

  6. This is probably going to shock everyone here but in my heart I consider myself a conservative in the sense that when I come to conclusion or belief I stick to it. I am also always willing to listen to other logic and reasoning to challenge assumptions and pre-supposed ideas. The main beef that I have with so called conservatives is that they defend CENI and other traditional methods of bible study as divinely inspired and are unwilling to admit when inconsistency and other problems arise. I think it would be very productive if people like Phil stated their sincere underlying concern just as he did rater then refusing to rethink or reconsider anything. This is why so many in the progressive camp have given up talking to them. Major kudos Jay in this effort I hope it is productive. I actually tried Phil’s blog but most of my comments were moderated or deleted because they didn’t agree with him. That is why I don’t go to his blog anymore. In an essay written in 1992 by Dr. Howard Norton defending CENI as the only method of Bible study he stated the “God is logical and if he is not logical he is not God”. What I think he was trying to say is that CENI is the only logical way to look at scripture. This is the major point of contention between the two camps. I was speaking with a family member recently who would fit in the traditional conservative camp well. I asked him what it would take for him to accept that there was another /better way (hermeneutic) to look at scripture. He said as long as it (different approach to scripture) didn’t change any conclusions or practices previously held it would be ok. Wow! I asked him if he understood why that is actually a hindrance to seeking the truth. He said he already had the truth, why did he need to seek it? Besides moderate alcohol consumption and couple of things like that there is little disagreement between the two camps on what constitutes a sin of personal morality. Where the main contention is in what constitutes a doctrinal sin and is that sin dealt with any differently than the other. We can argue until the cows come home but we will never have the perfect doctrine because we are human. Now when I say this people like Phil think I am saying that any goes. This is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that we must always be willing to humbly reexamine the ways we look at scripture. And as we come to new or different conclusions we must change things as we re-study, or risk becoming hypocrites. The bible never changes but the ways that we look at scripture will always be changing. This is a reality that many of those in the so called conservative camp are unwilling to accept but it is the main difference between the majorities of those in both camps. Both camps are guilty of making over generalizations. I have been accused of condoning homosexuality and sexual promiscuity because I made the comment “If we treated all sins even the nice sins like gossip just as we do homosexuality then we might understand why people who struggle with the sin of homosexuality feel so estranged from the average traditional church.” Here is the difference between the progressives and the conservatives. The progressives do not uninvite people because of their affiliation with certain para church organizations and hot doctrinal issues; they don’t take out full page ads in the Christian Chronicle with petitions to sign against a certain doctrinal issue. They just don’t do these things. My respect for Phil went up as he was willing to meet you in person. I have suggested to many who write in brotherhood publications that they should go see the people they are publicly castigating, but most refuse stating that they can oppose error without meeting those with whom they disagree face to face even when I show them that is what the Bible says. For instance Wayne Jackson wrote in his publication a scathing rebuke of ACU and Royce Money the president. I told Wayne that knew Royce and he was not the kind of man he had described in his publication. I even suggested that if he felt that strongly he should go meet him and talk to him face to face just as the bible says. I even offered to pay for the plane ticket and hotel. He refused and told me that I was out of place. This is why it is so hard to talk with people sometimes. My grandfather Richard Baggett taught at Sunset for 18 years until he died at 61. He would have definitely been in the conservative camp but I respected him. When crossroads got started back in the 80s he strongly disagreed with them but the difference between him and others was he went and talked with them. He once flew across the country one day to talk with Kip M. After he met with him he realized that some of the things he had been told about this movement were wrong but others were true.

  7. I have no doubt that the folks called “conservative” and the folks called “progressive” generally agree on the fact that a given sin which is not a “salvation issue” does not makes the sin permissible. Where they are likely to disagree is about what constitutes a sin. From the so-called “conservative” point of view, any violation of a doctrine constructed from CENI, logic, and any given combination of scriptures is a sin, and therefore not permissible – whether anyone considers it a “salvation matter” or not.

    (And please understand that I put these terms in quotation marks because I find them personally distasteful, impossible to define and wholly extra-scriptural. But we think we know what someone else means when using them!)

    I share Joe Baggett’s experience on the blog of a CENI proponent, and have also ceased to comment there. I’ve also been accused of labeling that blogger as a “legalistic Pharisee,” if I recall his description correctly – which anyone could see from the comments I posted that I did not do.

    It’s hard to carry on a conversation when your disagreeing comments are prevented from publication – even harder than when the terms and points of view of both parties are so disparate that they are talking past each other, rather than with each other!

  8. I want to add that what I see is one of the chief differences traditional Churches of Christ and those less traditional is simply a metter of defining what IS sin. I perceive that the more traditional churches teach that something is a sin where the Scriptures are totally silent on whether it is a sin or not. This reminds me of the observation C.S. Lewis made in “Mere Christianity” on the basics of what to believe on: “Oddly enough, you cannot even conclude, from my silence on disputed points, either that I think them important or that I think them unimportant. For this is itself one of the disputed points. One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of’ different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies. ‘Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.'”

    And it is on what “really matters” that we find ourselves at odds. Our disagreements have become simply, what is a sin and what is not. I see the more traditional churches using a very broad brush, and the less traditional ones trying to be more focused on what the Scriptures specificall call a sin.

    I do blog occasionally, although usually limited to thoughts on my travels. But for this topic (and another on forgiveness), I made an exception. It is on 1st John and is posted at

    http://gensis5020.blogspot.com/

    Blessings,
    Alan Scott
    Sugar Land, TX

  9. Jay,

    I think Rex’s comments give some substance to Phil and Greg’s other more conservative minded Christians fears. I think Rex over “speaks” and is mistaken on several points. First, I reject the notion that we have “circumcised the role of faith” in salvation or made “baptism greater than faith.” That might have been true of some preachers in the past, or even some preachers now, but I think you’ll clearly not find that to the case with the majority of mainline, middle of the road, more conservative minded preachers (me included). I reject that as overgeneralization and exaggeration.

    Rex seems to have “missed the mark” by equating baptism to the act of circumcision in Colossians 2.11-12. Paul does not equate as being the same and equal, baptism with circumcision. This by the way, is the only time baptism and circumcision are mentioned in the same context and that by way of a contrast. Paul reminds the Christians in Colossae that when they were “buried with Christ in baptism” and ‘raised with him through their faith in the power of God”, at that moment, they were “circumcised” in a way that before had never been possible with a circumcision “done by the hands of men.” In other words, God performs a “spiritual circumcision” when a person in faith in Christ (and His blood) is baptized.

    The fact is that Abraham’s circumcision only “cut away” a bit of human flesh. The “circumcision done by Christ,” says Paul, is “the putting off of the sinful flesh.” And in verse 13 he clearly describes how a person’s sins are forgiven in baptism, and this ‘circumcision of God: “made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” You see, bottom line, it is my conviction that baptism is a work, but it’s not a work of man, but a work of God! To reject baptism as necessary for salvation is to reject the very place that God said, this is where I’m going to do the work. Our baptism is faith in the working of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, that we too will be raised from the water of baptism. (Rom. 6:3-4) Can we reject the very place that God said He is going to work?

    Now, of course, baptism has no intrinsic power to remove sins; only the blood of Jesus can do that. Which is precisely Paul’s point here. God’s forgiveness comes not because of the power of an act of man, but because God rewards the faith that causes man to act. Salvation is given to those who have faith in Jesus’ blood. (Rom. 3:23-25). It is my conviction (yes, I know Rex, Jay, and others who write on this blog disagree with this statement), but baptism that is not based on faith in Jesus’ blood to forgive sins is totally unrelated to His death on the cross and is not an act of faith in blood. It is through baptism the we are washed from our sins in His own blood. (Rev 1:5, Acts 22:16)

    I think this type of thinking concerning baptism (even though I understand Rex was “thinking aloud”), can give more conservative members of the church concern and worry. Rex seems to almost contradict himself when he says on one hand: “I have never met a so called progressive who believes and teaches universalism and/or salvation outside of and apart from Jesus Christ…..”, then seemingly contradicting himself saying, “……I believe baptism is an essential command from God that cannot be dismissed and/or separated from the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when I hear some in our fellowship teach that God cannot and/or will not save anyone who has not been baptized, I think such teaching goes beyond scripture.” Another example of this is when Rex says, “However, if I can think out loud for a moment, is baptism a boundary marker? The answer to that question seems to be both a yes and no.” That seems like “double talk” to me and equivocation on the issue of baptism being essential to salvation. .

    So, Jay, I think Phil and Greg’s concerns and others like myself have some validity. If salvation is not “in Christ”, then salvation, to use Rex’s words, “outside of and apart from Jesus Christ.” Just something you to think about. I strongly urge like Rex as well, and caution us to “not go beyond scripture” in saying/teaching more or less.

    The truth is that baptism is part of the gospel of Christ and Christ stated that if one does not believe that gospel, will be condemned. (Mk. 16:16) Now, granted, God has the right to save or condemned whomever he pleases however He has clearly stated and given us his instructions as to who will be save. The New Testament contains Gods plan for our salvation, it has all we need to know. All we need to do is obey that plan. Is an unimmersed believer saved? Is a person that is killed on his way to be baptized saved? As one internet writer stated, ‘As the old wise man once said:’ ‘That’s whittling on God’s end of the stick.’ If God wishes to make exceptions, that is His business. We cannot teach such because the Bible does not teach any. I believe in the perfect justice and the perfect grace of God. I (we) do not need to get into the business of God’s judgment in order to preach (teach) the word of God. We just need to state what the Bible has said (Rev 22:18-19) with as much love as we can. I believe this is being doing as best as we can today, by presenting the teachings of the New Testament.

    I do however agree with Charles Hodge who says, “If God can save one sinner outside of Christ, then He can save all sinners outside of Christ. That would make the cross of Christ unnecessary and meaningless. The very idea is blasphemous!” I fear this kind of thinking is becoming more and more common and accepted among “the progressives” in the body of Christ and conservatives like myself belief that this idea s not only false but to teach it is to teach a false gospel and doctrine.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Robert Prater

  10. Robert, you said:
    “I fear this kind of thinking is becoming more and more common and accepted among “the progressives” in the body of Christ and conservatives like myself belief that this idea s not only false but to teach it is to teach a false gospel and doctrine.”
    All of the progressives that you have specifically named baptize. None of them have advocated not baptizing. I think your fear is based on assumptions and presumptions. Mike Cope, Rick Atchley, Rubel Shelly and so on all have big baptisteries in their buildings and baptize hundreds of people each year. The main issue lies in the fact that they are willing to have a dialogue with other Christians who baptize differently than we do and search for deeper understanding that the: just get dunked”. We can baptize people all day long and never make one single disciple. The goal is disciple not just baptisms. Much of what they speak of states that baptism is more a part of discipleship than a specific religious act or ritual. If this scares you then maybe you should speak with them about these things.

  11. I have posted some thoughts on my blog, which is usually used for my travel observations, at http://gensis5020.blogspot.com/

    I think the biggest difference between the traditional Churches of Christ and the not as traditional Churches of Christ is not which sins break fellowship, but the basic question of what is a sin. From my perspective, from a multi-generational family in traditional Churches of Christ, the more traditional Churches of Christ have gone beyond what is written byu declaring things sins that God is silent on. I think the less traditional Churches of Christ have got it more accurate by not calling something a sin unless God has called it a sin. It is not easy to reconcile two completely different definitions of sin – calling anything we do not agree with a sin, or letting the Scriptures explicitly define what a sin is – and this reminds me of C.S. Lewis observation in “Mere Christianity”, “Oddly enough, you cannot even conclude, from my silence on disputed points, either that I think them important or that I think them unimportant. For this is itself one of the disputed points. One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of’ different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies. ‘Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.'”

    Blessings

  12. Robert,

    I agree with Charles Hodge. However, you’ve only assumed that a defective baptism into the name of Jesus fails to put that person into Christ. There’s a huge difference between asserting: “someone may be saved outside of Jesus” and “someone may be saved despite a less-than-perfect baptism into the name of Jesus.” I mean, in the first case, there is manifestly no faith in Jesus. In the second, the convert has faith.

    All I’m saying is you can’t treat a penitent, believer whose baptism is sub-optimal the same as a pagan or one who rejects Jesus — at least, you can’t merely assume that the two cases are the same.

    It seems to me that we all readily accept that one can be saved with an imperfect faith and an imperfect penitence. And yet we sometimes want to demand a perfect baptism — as though God were more concerned about the convert’s understanding of baptism than his submission to Jesus. It doesn’t make sense.

  13. I must admit I find the entire discussion of “salvation issues” (in general, not your personal views) to be nonsensical. Was I the only one taught that sin is sin and grace is grace, and that all sin condemns but that grace can cover any sin? Who are these “salvation issues” people that believe they can read one’s heart and know if a particular sin is covered? I am a confidant person, but I cannot fathom the amount of arrogance someone must have to say they know the limits of God’s grace. I’m left to guess that this kind of talk is a way of maximizing one’s confidance in their own righteousness while belittling that of others.

  14. Jay, I never have been really agreed with the “baptism to obey only” viewpoint. Why would one want to be baptized, if it were not for the fact that he has learned of his lost condition, being convicted by the life of Christ and the teaching of the Scriptures. It can easily be seen from the N.T. how closely connected the command of being baptized is with the purpose of being baptized. To talk about one is of necessity to talk of the other. The question of those on the day of Pentecost was an obvious one based upon their realization of their guilt of sin; what shall we do about this matter of sin? The answer was, repent and be baptized to get rid of it (remission of sins – Acts 2:38).

    Now, I admit I don’t quite know what to make or do with Alexander Campbell, who from all historical evidence and records, seems to not have been baptized “for the remission of sins” understanding. And I also know how conservative restoration leaders like McGarvey and Lipscomb are used to hold this view as well, “baptism for obedience to God” grants the blessings/promises of salvation. Although, there was no way that Lipscomb could have made the necessity of baptism plainer than in these words: “We are sure no true, no understanding believer in the New Testament Scriptures ever doubted that baptism to the penitent believer was necessary to the forgiveness of past sins, and of course to his future salvation according to the law of God” (GA, 1868, p. 419). Lipscomb took into consideration what a fourteen year old boy understood about the design of baptism is not the same as a scholar who has mastered the Greek language. He said in this context and connection: “Neither have we ever learned that we must understand all the result of an ordinance in order to make obedience acceptable…Remission of sins is only one of the results of baptism…” (GA, 1868, p. 843).

    I just have a hard time accepting that man does not have to know how he is saved. It seems like today that never have so many gone to such lengths to educate us as to the validity of ignorance. The argument is that people can be saved and not even know when or how such a momentous deed occurred. I just can’t imagine talking with one of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost: “Why were you baptized today? What did Peter tell you?” “Oh, uh, I can’t really say. I just did what he said; I don’t really know why.” Imagine one of these unknowledgable ones trying to follow 1 Peter 3:15. When asked a reason of the hope that is in them, he responds, “My hope resides in Jesus, even though I can’t tell you when or how He saved me. Say, would you like to be a Christian, too?” “I guess so; what do I have to do to become one?” “Well, I don’t know for sure, but start with believing in Him, and maybe somewhere down the road you’ll obey something that will wash your sins away.”

    Jesus taught that salvation was the result of knowledge, not ignorance: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Peter told brethren, “… you have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” (1 Pet. 1:22). What truth had they obeyed? If the Bible is consistent, they must have obeyed the same truth that he taught on Pentecost: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of your sins…” (Acts 2:38). Peter also mentions that “baptism does now also save us.” (1 Pet. 3:21). Again, where is any New Testament passage that says people should be baptized solely to obey Christ?

    Jay, do we have two categories of Christians: those saved by a loving obedience to the truth and those saved by accident? It just seems that no rational person from Campbell onward would ever argue so illogically. I fear that some in the body of Christ are trying to get people saved on the basis of sincerity alone. The problem is that even if they succeeded, they would still be excluding a number of sincere people who do not immerse: Catholics, Presbyterians, most Methodists, Lutherans, and Quakers, just to list a few.

    On the other hand, if the doctrine of accidental salvation is true, then more have entered the ranks of the saved than perhaps what were anticipated: Baptists, Pentecostals, and Mormons, for example (why are there no unity meetings with them? Jay, are we then not oneinjesus with them?:) Since doctrine doesn’t ultimately really matter (at least to some) and those baptized to obey God are brethren, these are all brethren with whom we are in fellowship. Some of them can get up and give their testimonials about when they were saved, and even though they are mistaken, so what? God forgave their sins at a time unknown to them. An even greater irony is that Billy Graham and hundreds of others who have taught and assured people they were saved on the basis of “faith only” will themselves be saved, even though to many of us believe they have taught another gospel and are accursed (Gal. 1:6-9). Isn’t sincerity wonderful? It can nullify just about any sin (though it probably cannot do a thing for those of us more conservative “legalistic”).

    So what you want to know about repentance, confess and how a person may not “fully” understand the import of those teachings. Well, at least, they should understood the essentiality and basic concept of them (can’t be saved without them). It just seems to me that either a person was baptized for the forgiveness of his sins, or he was not.

    I agree with Owen Olbricht who says: “If baptism itself removed sin, then sin would be removed without faith or understanding on the part of the one being baptized. Since the act of baptism cannot remove sins, faith in another—in Jesus, who shed His blood for our sins—is required in order for sins to be removed. (Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 3:25; Eph. 2:8) If there were not true, then forgiveness of sins would not be through faith in Jesus’ blood, but would be based on a ritualistic act of obedience to God, devoid of faith in the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. Forgiveness simply because one is baptized would make baptism the basis of forgiveness instead of faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.” (Baptism, New Birth or Empty Ritual?, 152-153)

    Jay, again, I fear, many in churches of Christ who are aggressively advocating this view, are no longing accepting scriptural baptism as being the consummating event when a believer is saved from past sins. They do not totally reject baptism but they do teach that while baptism is a command to be obeyed, it is not the ‘event’ at which time a person is saved. They teach that salvation from sin is a ‘process’ throughout life and one cannot say that salvation from past sins comes at a certain ‘event’ on this lifelong ‘journey.’ This false doctrine is clearly taught in the book “The Jesus Proposal,” co-authored by Rubel Shelly and John O. York. Brother Shelly writes that he was baptized when he was twelve years old. He speaks of this act as being “baptismal regeneration.” He then writes, “How much more confused and wrong-headed could a baptismal theology be? How much farther from the truth of Scripture could I have been when I was immersed in that cold water on a hot July night? When I get to heaven, maybe I’ll want to ask God when I was really saved. Was it when I got clear on the Holy Spirit at about twenty-one or two? Was it when I finally grasped the grace-nature of the gospel in my thirties? I suspect he will tell me there was no “moment at which” I was saved-but that he sought and found me through the entire process” (page 130).

    It’s just so difficult for me to understand how a person so educated in the teaching of the Bible could arrive at such a conclusion when people in the first century, many unlettered, could understand when they were saved from their past sins.

    God help us if we encourage people towards not having their salvation made secure. God help us all from ever being a stumbling block to someone’s goal of eternal life. I just teach and practice in my work and encourage all people to obey God in the way He said to do it and for the reason He said to do it (if specified).
    If we really want to please God, we will all obey the gospel, worship Him, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth (Rom. 6:17-18).

    Well Jay, that’s my “two cents” on the issue. I’m sure a few of your readers will have “something” to say about this.

    God bless,
    Robert Prater

  15. Robert,

    I stand by my assertation that some have circumcised the role of faith in God when it comes to baptism. You completely missed my argument as to why (how we have narrowed the subject of salvation down to a series of propositions based on an exclusive use of the baptismal passages). Baptism calls for faith, a faith in the work of God in Christ. However, this faith is circumcised and replaced with a faith in our own human intellect when it is taught that one must understand exactley when salvation/forgiveness of sins is occuring in relation to baptism (a view championed by Austin McGary and more contemporary by Owen Olbricht). No longer do we need to have faith in God that he will save as he has promised even if we do not understand fully when and how, for we have become confident through our own exegesis of select passages that we know because we have correctly interpreted those passages. My question is — what if those who hold this view find out on the day of judgment that their interpretations were wrong (error is always a possibility)? By their own arguments, they are lost. They have argued that salvation hinged upon a correct understanding of baptism only to find out they held an incorrect view…their problem was that they trusted in their own understanding rather than in God.

    As for baptism being equated with circumcision in Colossians 2… That was merely a suggestion and not something I would want to assert with any sense of a stron certitude. Yet it is a possibility that should not be so easily dismissed since, as you agree, baptism and circumcision are in the same context. Your rather easy dismissal is as frustrating as our brethren in churches like the Baptist Churches who to easily want to dismiss “for the forgiveness of sins” from Acts 2.38 because it does not square with their preconceived view of baptism and salvation.

    My interest is not to undermine the need for believer’s baptism (water immersion) nor to divorce it from the gospel and salvation. However, I do want to suggest that the entire process of when we encounter God’s salvation is filled with much more grey and less black and white than many (in and out of our fellowship) would like. Second, the entire question about baptism and salvation remains focused on, at best, a minor point in scripture and misses the major theological thrust of baptism — that baptism is an event of death that has everything to do with our identity as disciples of Jesus…no longer do we live a life of sin but the life of Christ. For those who demand that we understand baptism correctly, I question why they do not teach that the person being baptized understand that in their baptism they are dying to themselves. Why are we only focused on “when do I get saved” and not on “how does baptism signify my committment to discipleship?

    Well that is all. I hope all is well down in Oklahoma (I here you all had snow over the last weekend…hee, hee, hee).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

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