The Fork in the Road: Parsing Words

I get emails —

Hi Jay,

I’m a devoted follower of your blog and I’m always thankful for everything you’ve written. I often pray that God continues to bless you with strength and wisdom to keep on doing what you’re doing.

I’m writing this email because I’m desperately hoping for your insight on a fellowship issue that persists in my conversations with other members in my congregation. I’ve noticed this insidious issue for some time now and it has pushed me to the limits of my wisdom on how to deal with it. I’ll try to give you the context of the problem and then explain the problem to you below. I’m praying that you’ll be able to see a way through this that I’m just not able to see. So here’s the situation: …

My goal in the study was to get us to come to clear, Biblical definitions of “the truth” and “the gospel” so that we could then apply it to the bounds of unity. The discussion about “truth” and “gospel” wasn’t too controversial, although I noticed some people were a little uncomfortable that I was reducing “the truth” to the truth about Jesus (I closely followed your series on the truth that was prompted by your discussion at GraceConversation).

The last portion of the study was taking Romans 14:1-15:7, and applying it to practical decisions we make about fellowship. I began with the question, “Do all doctrinal errors condemn us to hell? (Everyone said no. And everyone was humble enough to admit that no one understands all doctrine perfectly and grace covers doctrinal error.). Then I asked, “Which doctrinal errors condemn us to hell?” Here’s where the discussion took a completely unexpected turn…Everyone said the only doctrinal error that damns are doctrines relating to salvation (belief, repentance, baptism, and confession in their minds). Someone then asked if ‘the truth’ was that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of God, in the flesh, could being wrong about water baptism really condemn someone to hell? Everyone that spoke up said things like, “We shouldn’t judge the salvation of others,” “there’s no way to know for sure who’s going to hell or heaven, that’s God’s judgment, not ours.”

Our small group figured out a way to talk about those outside non-institutional Churches of Christ that makes them feel like they’re being as open as they need to be. I’ve noticed time after time that whenever we get into discussion about fellowship with other groups like Baptists and Methodists, they never say Baptists are going to hell, rather they say, “I can’t judge either way” (something they would never say about those within our little network). I usually point out that if I asked them how they felt about my salvation, they’d say without hesitation that I was saved, but when it comes to the soul of a Baptist who’s a better Christian than me, their answer is “Only God can judge.” At that point, there answer is usually, “but that’s because I know you personally.” I then ask them how they would feel if I was exactly the same person, except that I did not believe water baptism was essential to salvation? Their answer is usually, “I don’t like it when you ask hypothetical questions.”

The Bible study last night resulted in parsing of words on a level that I’m still reeling from. They were defensive in a way that I just could not break through. When I told our group that although God is the only one that judges, we discern all the time whether someone is “saved,” “our brother/sister in Christ,” or “a Christian.” To make a bizarre study short, I had people re-define words in a way I never thought they would have. Some said they would call a Baptist a “brother in Christ,” but they could not make a judgment about their salvation. Some said they would call them “believers” but not “Christians” (while in the same breadth telling me that there’s no difference between the two terms). Some said they would “treat them like brothers in Christ,” while maintaining that it’s impossible to truly know whether someone is truly a brother in Christ or not. And they insisted that they treat every single person this way (when it’s obvious that they don’t).

When we talked about “Accept one another just as Christ accepted you,” I asked them how they can fulfill that command if they have no idea whom Christ has accepted and whom he hasn’t. We read the context of Rom. 14-15 together and I told them that Paul commands people to accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted them. They told me they didn’t understand the verse. I even made it simple by asking, “How has Christ accepted you?” (hoping to then ask them how they accept others). Foreseeing this trap, they told me my question was confusing and refused to answer. They said they’d have to do a greek word study on what “accept” meant and get back to me on it. These are extremely intelligent people who, in their attempt to justify their attitudes towards Baptists, told me they didn’t know what Paul meant when he said, “Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.” That’s how far it went. I went at it from so many different analogies, examples, and hypotheticals, and I got the same dead ends every time.

Jay, I feel like I’ve reached the limit in my abilities to work around the sectarian code-words, and I was wondering if you (or any of your readers) have had similar experiences where there’s a new kind of sectarianism that is much harder to expose. Hook, Garrett, and Ketcherside were great at pointing out the problems of explicit sectarianism, but I feel like some younger Christians have more “implicit sectarians,” that is, people who would never say outright (and even think it’s wrong to say) that Baptists aren’t saved, but they eschew fully accepting them by saying they can never judge anyone’s salvation, only God can. They feel good and undenominational about themselves because they haven’t condemned a Baptist, but their subtle language choices imply that there’s a meaningful difference. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in the Civil Rights era and listening to people talk about “separate but equal” all the while subtly implying inferiority.  I mean, people in my study were more willing to admit that they didn’t know who their brother in Christ was than they were willing to admit that they don’t accept Baptists the same way they accept each other.

Sometimes I wish they’d just say Baptists are going to hell so that we could begin to address the problem. But instead, I’m told that I’m making a big deal out of nothing or worried about a problem that doesn’t exist. I asked them on what certainty they could say their loved ones are in heaven (and if they would extend the same certainty to an equally faithful Baptist), and they back-tracked by saying that they can’t really know for sure about anyone! I really don’t know how to expose a problem that’s so good at hiding. Because the sectarianism is implicit, the writings of great progressive Christians of the previous generation don’t help us as much. Only a few people in my congregation are even willing to admit that this problem even exists. And the ones who agree with me have about as much wisdom as I do. So we’re all stuck.

I know this email was long, but I wanted to make sure I explained this situation in case you haven’t had any experience with it. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this–I don’t know how you make all the time to do what you do (I’m going to have to assume it’s the power of the Holy Spirit until I know otherwise). I know you’re on vacation right now and I’m glad that you’ll get some time to relax. So this’ll be one email among a sea of them. Please feel free to answer as briefly or lengthily as you desire. I also would understand if you just don’t have the time to respond. At the very least it’s something you can keep in mind if others talk to you about the same problem in the future.

As you can see, I didn’t trim this one much, because I thought it would be helpful to get the full flavor of the issue — avoiding the accusation of legalism by adopting a non-legalistic vocabulary while nonetheless acting as legalists. And, yes, I’ve seen it before.

Among my conservative brothers, there are multiple approaches to the accusation that they have no doctrine of who falls away, making their declarations entirely subjective. For example, it’s argued —

* That it’s improper to even ask what causes someone to fall away, as asking the question implies a desire to get as close to the line as possible. But, of course, the same people are often quite glad to declare some people to have fallen from grace — so it’s obviously permissible to ask: by what standard? More importantly, how do we know whether to convert someone or welcome him into our fellowship if we aren’t allowed to ask the question? It’s just a way to avoid the question.

* There’s the argument the reader ran across, seeking to make distinctions between “brother,” “Christian,” “believer,” and “saved.” The assumption is that one can be a Christian, believer, and brother and yet not be saved.

(Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul seems to disagree. So does John —

(Joh 5:24 ESV) Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

So does Peter —

(1Pe 4:16-19 ESV) 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. … 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

The only parsing I’d agree with — a little — is that “brother” is sometimes used of fellow Jews —

(Act 3:17 ESV)  17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”

The notion of an unsaved Christian or unsaved believer is entirely foreign to the New Testament. You see, when you fall away, you’re no longer a Christian and no longer a believer. After all, a believer is someone with faith, and “faith” includes faithfulness. It’s the unfaithful who fall away.

There are those who have a form of “faith” who are not Christians because their false “faith” does not accept Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Some have a faith that denies the sufficiency of Jesus to save or that denies any obligation to be faithful. They aren’t believers because they don’t have real faith.

One last point. Point out that your class has defined different classes of people —

1. Christians who think like we do on certain important doctrines — who are certainly saved.

2. Christians who don’t think we do on these doctrines — whose salvation is uncertain.

3. Non-Christians.

Ask them to tell you how you can tell the difference. And then crack 1 John and apply its teachings to the same people. Ask whether your class and John teach the same thing.

What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 1 – 2, by Jay Guin

What the Bible actually says about apostasy: 1 John and Walking in the Light, Chapters 3 – 5, by Jay Guin

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91 Responses

  1. One of the strange beliefs of many of my coc friends is that some people are “sort of saved”. As your reader says, it is subtle but that is the conclusion. In a small group I said its like being pregnant, either your are or you are not. One man, who is now a good friend, angrily replied that I was just wrong. He couldn’t tell my why though.

    The subtlety I see in this post is this. Those who insist you can’t know if one is saved or not believe, at least in part, that men are saved by works, doing certain things or not doing certain things. The Ephesians 2 picture of salvation is starkly different. “And you who were DEAD in sins and trespasses has God MADE ALIVE (past tense)” and then the parenthetical statement “For by grace you have been saved”. Dead men don’t do good works. Thought spiritual, the death Paul speaks of is just as sure as physical death and the life given is more sure than the lives we have on earth.

    The view that in some way sinful man must aid God in saving him is not gospel it is anti-gospel.

    The problem with this readers class is simple. They don’t understand how God saves ungodly sinners.

  2. This is undoubtedly one of the most insidious questions / issues within the CofC fellowship.

    And I believe there is no simple straightforward solution, per se. There is only treating people right, in spite of all this “word parsing.”

    I believe in engaging in such discussions, so long as you feel you can make a positive contribution. Fellowship all believers. Teach others to accept one another.

    Perhaps the next generation of CofC people will rid themselves of this blot on our tradition.

  3. I remember clearly the day this issue shook me to my toenails. It was the funeral of someone not of the Church of Christ who had been homebound for several years. Her minister had recently died, I believe, and so a group of relatives in the CoC volunteered their minister to officiate.

    I suppose I had seen what happened before, but I had not been attuned to coded language. The minister spoke of the woman in glowing (secular) terms, then read a passage of scripture about the beauty of heaven. Next he read her obituary, then another scripture about heaven. A couple of songs were sung and the service was concluded. Never once did he speak of her as a Christian, mention her eternal peace or say anything to concede that saving grace applied to her.

    If I had any doubt on the matter, it was quickly expunged when I watched several older members come quietly, one at a time, to the minister following the interment and say how “expertly,” how “tactfully,” how “skillfully” the service had been handled. As I stood there, it was not unlike the moment Toto pulled the curtain back from the Wizard of Oz.

    I later asked the minister about this and he said it was not his place to judge. Yet he has “judged” many others since then as he preached the funerals of “faithful Christians” who were now safe in the arms of Jesus.

    I believe coded language, the parsing of words by members of the Church of Christ for the purpose of having it both ways is the most insidious practice one could possibly imagine. Would I have rather seen the minister “preach her into hell?” No. I would rather he recused himself. Would I have members call their denominational neighbors “brother” if they do not believe it? No. Not for the purposes of fellowship and, by the same token, not for the purposes of commerce.

    The Church of Christ in some places has begun to shed its sectarian heritage. I fear, however, that more than a few members across the brotherhood, especially those who use the word “progressive” as an expletive, have cultivated an evasive methodology by which they can preserve their place in the ranks of the “few that be” and yet appear to fellowship “so-called Christians” in the marketplace and on the golf course.

  4. Jay-
    My take is a little different. I believe your statement, “the notion of an unsaved Christian or unsaved believer is entirely foreign to the New Testament,” is factually incorect. Please consider John 12: 42; 2:: 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 13: 2; James 2: 14,17, 18, 18, 26.
    Paul tells us that the faith which means anything or avails is faith that works (obeys) through love. Galatians 5: 6
    Faith is the agreement to the truth of certain propositions concerning God and Jesus. If you agree that the statment, “God exists and is the rewarder of those that diligently seek him,” is true, then you believe or have faith. Similarly if you agree that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and that he died for our sins, was buried, and arose on the third day, then you believe. But this is mere faith not faith that avails. When faith is combined with love. it is activated to obey God. When we read John 3: 16, we can be sure that it is a faith which avails because the result is eternal life
    Can one claim to be saved by Christ if he does not obey Christ?
    Those that believe are given the right to become a child of God by being born again. (John 1: 12, 13) They are not saved at the moment of faith. I believe we can know what God requires but judgment is in His hands.
    Salvation is by grace through faith which obeys in love,

  5. Yes, the CofC word parsing is insidious and reveals a basic lack of understanding and acceptance of the Gospel of our Lord AND Savior, Jesus Christ. It exposes the root of the bad theology that is taught again and again, generation after generation.

    I’m sorry your reader is learning this difficult reality. I hope he/she is not discouraged by it. Jesus himself told us that there will be some that don’t “get it”.

  6. i don’t see how people parsing up words are experiencing a problem any different from those who aren’t parsing words.

    It’s just trying to deal with the difficulty of “who is my brother?” You can write a whole series about the proper criteria on who is saved, but you still have to apply it to real world situations. And in the real world, religious people calling themselves Christian exist in sects. Shall you apply your criteria sect by sect, seeing if your criteria matches the criteria taught by any given sect? (Seems to me to be what many CoCer’s have done.) Or should you apply your criteria person by person?

    If you decide to apply the criteria person by person, then what?

    First, suppose you decide an individual in a different sect is a Christian. Then what? He still belong to his sect and you still belong to yours. Even sects who acknowledge other sects as being inhabited by saved people still don’t cooperate or “fellowship” with each other. Are Presbyterians and Pentecostals tearing down their buildings and building new ones so they can worship and work together? Seems to me being willing to say that other sects are full of Christians isn’t practically all that different from saying they’re not or not being willing to say either way.

    Second, how are you going to apply your criteria person by person? Say you think anyone is a Christian via repentance, faith, and baptism. Christ knows the entire contents of my heart. He has access to my heart in a way that no one else does. i know my own heart in a way that no one else does. How am i going to know whether someone else has truly repented and has faith? They could tell me and they could act a certain way. But anyone can say anything. And other people may act very similarly who don’t claim their behaviors to have any spiritual significance. So how is either one conclusive? Baptism may seem more conclusive, more measurable. But even Jay’s work proves it is only slightly more measurable in degree. What counts as a baptism? Must it be immersion? Must it be for a certain purpose? If it must be for a certain purpose, then what differentiates being for that certain purpose and not being for that certain purpose? Someone’s intention? Whose intention? The person being baptized? The person baptizing? Jay wrote about the question “Will God accept an imperfect baptism?”–which seemed to me to make baptism every bit as immeasurable as any other subjective criteria.

    So how are those not parsing words any better than those who are?

    –Guy

  7. Arland,
    I agree with what you say. But then the question becomes, who defines obedience?

    Too often, we take on that task, which is clearly, by any reading of the Text, something only God is qualified to do.

  8. I have seen this SO many times. In fact, it’s the only form of legalism that I’m familiar with. Nobody within my group will come out and say that “the denominations” are going to Hell, but there is a de facto condemnation that comes in neatly packaged in the phrases such as “God will be the judge.”

    There is one thing I wonder about it though: do people use such veiled language because they are genuinely ashamed of bitter splits, controversies, and general nastiness of much of our past? (While simultaneously wanting to maintain an ostensibly kinder, gentler incarnation the conservative ideology.) Or is it simply pleasantry? (e.g. “We don’t like discussing such things.”)

  9. Let me ask a question that to me is a good parallel to this discussion:

    How many lies can a person habitually do before they no longer receive God’s grace?

    Personally, I can’t answer that. I may sound dogmatic and say none or I may sound gracious and say that’s totally up to God. But the facts are I don’t know.

    Likewise, if one believes that it is possible to sin doctrinally, then the above conversation (can’t draw a perfect line) makes sense.

  10. I don’t know who every Christian is. I have been mistaken on more than one occassion.

  11. Jay;

    I have no trouble at all in the concept of a non-saved believer. The demons believe and tremble. (James 2:19)

    As to playing shell games with words and definitions, I find this to be much the case with my more progressive friends who will refer to baptism as a “new birth in Christ,” but will turn around and refer to an unbaptized individual as a Christian.

    As W. S. Gilbert noted, “If everyboy’s somebody — then no one’s anybody.”

    –Greg Tidwell

  12. To the original question:

    Yes, this is a common belief. The whole, “I don’t know who is saved…I can’t judge” is a cop-out. I asked a person in my class last night “can you use IM and go to Heaven?” This was after he’d said he couldn’t have an opinion on anything salvation-related. He said, “No, you couldn’t go the Heaven”. I said, “Will only COC be in Heaven?” He responds, “I don’t know who all will be saved.” I said, “Do you know any other denoms that don’t use IM besides the COC?” He did not. So I said, “Then how can you offer that bit of hope to anyone….if you can’t use IM and be saved, shouldn’t you be willing to say that?”

    This whole “I can’t judge” answer is the response of those in the mainstream conservative COC. In my upbringing (CFTF, if labels help), we had no problem saying people were going to hell. But the newer, gentle thing to say is “that is up to God, I don’t know.” But upon further questioning, you’ll find out that the sectarian beliefs are no different. Just a new pat answer.

  13. Arland, It shocks me that you would so blatantly add to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8 when you say “Salvation is by grace through faith which obeys in love”. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Paul’s words, not mine. Obedience is the product of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, not the currency for a transaction that purchases God’s grace.

    I’m not going to argue this with you (or anyone else). It took me years and years to learn just how backwards the legalistic CoC theology that you’re arguing for really is.

    Greg, I believe that you’re a serious Bible scholar, and a sincere person. Do you really believe that the demons’ intellectual knowledge of the lordship of Christ (while spitting defiance in His eye) is somehow equivalent to a Baptist’s, Methodist’s, or even a member of a Church of Christ’s imperfect understanding/practice of doctrine (while devoting their lives to following Him as best they understand how, trusting the Spirit to guide them into all truth)? It seems to me that the difference should be as plain as the nose on your face (or mine). Again, I’m not trying to argue.

    –Aaron

  14. Gregory,

    Regarding James 2:19 (NIV) 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

    I read that the demons believe there is one God. They are not saved.

    . I believe that demons know they are rebelling against the one God
    . I believe that the demons know Jesus of Nazareth came as the Son of the one God – the Christ

    The demons have not:
    . accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, hence they are not saved

    I cannot use James 2:19 to say, “Lots of people claim to be Christians (followers of Jesus the Christ claiming him as Lord and Savior), but even the demons claim there is a God, so just because a person claims to be a Christian doesn’t make him one.”

  15. The apostle Paul uses the term brother to describe someone who, because of sin, is not saved. He even emphasizes we are to stay away from such an insider. Yes, it is biblical to call one brother (I’ve heard the phrase erring brother) and believe that person isn’t saved.

    “But as it is, I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don’t even eat with such a person”.
    1 Corinthians 5:11

  16. Aaron and Dwayne,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Modern-day Pharisees cannot tell the difference between believing defiant demons and struggling submissive disciples because from their lofty pedestal perches it’s all a blur anyway.

    I am a recovering Pharisee, so I have no need to infer this appraisal.

    God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  17. Jay speaks of ex-Christians (those who have rebeled).
    Since, by definition, a Christian is a child of God, it is no more possible for a child of God to lose that relationship than one of my daughters becoming not my daughter.
    A child can rebel and forfeit the rights of an heir but he will always be a son/daughter.

    My usual answer to the original question is:
    all who have been immersed in water in obedience of NT teaching is my sibling — regardless of denominational ties. BTW, this includes many (if not most) Baptists. I continue to find Baptists who were baptized “for remission of sin.”

  18. I wonder how many people in the denominational world would consider us christians. You would be surprised how few would. It’s seems a bit hypocritical to complain that those in the coC don’t necessarily recognize everyone as a Christian, when the largest group the roman catholics don’t and you go down the line you find pretty much the same.

  19. Arland,

    I’ve often taught that Christians can fall away. But they aren’t Christians after they’ve fallen away. Nowhere does the Bible refer to someone who has fallen as a Christian or a member of the church. Indeed, the language of the texts is quite to the contrary —

    (Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Joh 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

    Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    Rom 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

    Rom 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

    Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

  20. Guy,

    A difficulty parsing words in this manner presents is that it allows us to avoid dealing with the question. By telling ourselves we aren’t the judges, we avoid having to deal with the consequences of the decision. If they are brothers in Christ, then we must treat them as such for the sake of unity and the special love Christians have for each other. If they are damned in their sins, we should be seeking to bring them to salvation. By saying we don’t know the answer, we avoid the difficult choice — and thereby either leave the damned damned or divide the church. But it’s one or the other.

    I agree that we can’t make exact judgments about the salvation of each individual. That person who seems like a fine, upstanding Christian may be an atheist pretending for some ulterior motive. But when we meet a fellow member of the Churches of Christ, we Church-folk presume they are saved until we are given reason to doubt it. We welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ — as well we should.

    However, we flip the presumption: those in the CoC are presumed saved. Those in the iCC are outside our ability to judge. And yet God judges us all — not just those in the iCC. We change theology to suit our tastes — and this interferes with undertaking a seriously need re-examining of what we believe.

  21. Weldon,

    I think most in the CoC are genuinely embarrassed to have to treat all outside the CoC as damned. Therefore, many are delighted to find a way to feel less judgmental — but yet aren’t willing to let go of their 20th Century perspective on who is and isn’t saved.

    Part of this is due to not having been taught better. When exposed to better teaching, many are delighted to adopt a more generous view of grace. Of course, there are those who are unwilling to even listen to the other side. Years of teaching against the dangers of “liberalism” have made many deathly afraid of any teaching that’s outside our 20th Century traditions.

  22. Aaron,

    Well said. There’s a difference between, say, a member of the independent Christians Churches who has a faith that compels him to obey God to the extent of his knowledge and who, like all of us, sometimes fails — and demon in the legions of Satan.

  23. Rich,

    Paul does not say such a person is fallen away. Rather, he urges us to separate ourselves so that he’ll repent (5:5). Compare —

    (2Th 3:14-15 ESV) 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

  24. “Non denominational” is itself a denomination. The coc definition of “denomination” is different than the true meaning of the word in the context of churches.

    It is simply the grouping of people of like beliefs and practices under the same heading. To insist the churches of Christ is not a denomination is illogical. A group does not have to have a headquarters some place to be a denomination. We have people from Alabama or Tennessee who try to control churches as far away as Texas.

    Mario, you shouldn’t be shocked. Even church of Christ people don’t believe other church of Christ people are saved. Are the “denominational” ignorant any more so than our own?

  25. The Universalist says everyone is going to heaven, the Atheist says nobody is. Everyone else falls in the middle.

  26. Hey Mario! Glad to see you are still around.

    I was just thinking. The Universalist and Atheist agree that no one is going to hell. Is there any group that thinks everyone is going to hell?

  27. Lol good point Mike!

    Yeah, been busy. Aren’t we all though 🙂

    Good to be able to drop in every once in a while.

  28. Jay,

    i agree that the presumption starkly changes when CoC people are considered versus anyone else. i tend to think the presumption should be the same for everyone.

    (Although, i’d like to throw in something that came to mind. Many CoCer’s think that a person must believe that baptism is for the remission of sins in order for it to be, in fact, for the remission of sins. What are the odds of a person being taught this particular purpose for baptism in a CoC versus the odds that they will be taught such in some other denomination? Depending on the denomination in question, the odds could intuitively differ quite significantly. In such a case, i think that at least explains why the tendency would be to flip the presumption toward suspicion.)

    But while we might say that if we conclude that any given person is a Christian, we’re obligated to treat him as such, what does that change? That person still goes to his Pentecostal building and i still go to my CoC building and unless we work together or live next door or something, that’s the end of it really. i met the guy on a bus, decided his conversion was legit and then its over. i don’t see how theologically broader unity in theory has amounted to anything terrible different in practice.

    Despite the fact that i agree that there are disciples of Christ who are practicing members of different denominations than i belong to, a lot of this bashing just seems like empty-talk. People bash on traditional CoC-ism for theologically codifying the exclusivism that just about every denomination was already practicing anyway. So Baptists don’t teach that they’re the only ones who are saved. Nor Presbyterians nor Methodists. Okay, so what? Does that stop it from being an empirical fact that “birds of a feather flock together”? Baptists still generally stick with/work with other Baptists as a rule, just like the other groups who acknowledge saved people in denominations different from their own. Even though other denominations consider the scope of the “saved” to be broad, the scope of their functional-fellowship isn’t really any bigger than the traditional CoC. So the CoC behaved like everyone else yet decided to say that the scope of “the saved” was co-extensive with the scope of their functional fellowship, yet somehow that makes them the wicked witch.

    So what if all CoC’s started saying, “okay, well i guess Baptists are okay too”? We can all sit around feeling good about ourselves for thinking that Baptists are not going to burn in hell, but we’re still probably going to spend the majority our time with each other and not significantly increase the amount of time we spend cooperating with Baptists. We’ll still be in our buildings with our signs out front, and they’ll still be in theirs. i don’t really see what was gained, or that it’s worth much if something was.

    So again, just because we resolve not to parse words as a smokescreen, i don’t see how that makes us leaps and bounds better than the people who are parsing words.

    –Guy

  29. Jay,

    I’m sorry, but I’m not following your train of thought in your response. I understand that God is patient and gives time for one to repent. However, in both 1 Cor and 2 Th the person in question must repent or be condemned. Yet, we are to call them brother. Therefore brother and saved (positive relation with God) are not always synonymous.

    Am I missing something here?

  30. Guy wrote,

    So Baptists don’t teach that they’re the only ones who are saved. Nor Presbyterians nor Methodists. Okay, so what? Does that stop it from being an empirical fact that “birds of a feather flock together”? Baptists still generally stick with/work with other Baptists as a rule, just like the other groups who acknowledge saved people in denominations different from their own. Even though other denominations consider the scope of the “saved” to be broad, the scope of their functional-fellowship isn’t really any bigger than the traditional CoC.

    Guy,

    You make a good point, but things are changing in important ways. Here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama —

    * My church operates a Celebrate Recovery program, as part of a network of churches headed by Saddleback in California (Southern Baptist). The other church in town doing this is nondenominational (blend of CoC, SBC, Methodist). We have people who were eating out of dumpsters recover to the point that they are fulltime employed, contributing members of a society. We’ve had many conversions. But we don’t compete with the other CR program. Most participants attend both, because addicts need support more than once a week. Therefore, we schedule sessions on different evenings, allowing recovering addicts to attend at both churches.

    * Many of our young men participate in a Sons of Thunder program, founded by a local Methodist Church. They now have a third chapter at a local nondenominational church (largely SBC in theology). Because of this program, marriages are being repaired and young men are becoming Christ-like fathers and husbands. The growth in leadership is astonishing.

    They hold a joint community event at a member’s farm advertised to the public to recruit men from all denominations and none to join their fraternity, pray together, support each other, and hold one another accountable.

    * We have several members who volunteer at the local Good Samaritan Clinic, which is run by a Baptist Church. The result is that those too poor to buy health insurance and not poor enough for Medicaid receive free medical care from a team of Christ followers in the name of Jesus.

    * Several churches in town operate a soup kitchen, which provides free meals — and no two are of the same denomination. We sometimes volunteer, but most of our work in this area is through our own Harvest Hands program, which provides free groceries to families certified by social service agencies as needing additional help. One of our elders teaches a Wed afternoon Bible class of over 40 and many have been brought to Jesus — although class attendance is not at all a condition to service. Rather, the clients of the program ASKED for the class!

    The program receives food from several sources, across denominational lines. If we were perceived as exclusivist, many of those sources would dry up, and in this economy, we struggle to keep up with the demand.

    I’m in prayer that these efforts can be greatly expanded. In this city, the congregations are increasingly more concerned with their local community than their tribal affiliation, and it’s making a difference. I think it’s the Spirit at work.

    Now, this is not enough. But it shows the power a unified church could have. When the church gets away from its tribalism, and instead puts the focus on the mission, the world begins to change.

  31. Rich,

    Who says these men were damned? It’s a subtle but important point that there are two levels of “disfellowship” in the NT. Sometimes it’s discipline to encourage someone who is still saved but in grave jeopardy to repent. Sometimes it’s the exclusion of the unsaved from the body.

    Thus, Paul sometimes says things like,

    (1Co 16:22 ESV) If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed [anathema]. Our Lord, come!

    (Gal 1:9 ESV) Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed [anathema].

    The anathema was not discipline but the exclusion of wolves from the sheep.

    Or look at this way. I sometimes discipline my children. Sometimes they put in time out (when young) or grounded (when older) — both being a severance of fellowship, a separation from loved ones as a form of discipline to compel repentance. But they are my beloved children all along, even though they may be stuck in their room all by themselves for a while.

    But I know some families where a child never repented and so violated the family’s principles that the family eventually disowned the child — but only after years of trying anything possible to keep the child from leaving and to urge the child to repent. There would have been many disciplines, rebukes, and nights of tears — but eventually a truly rebellious child is disowned. But it’s not common.

    Just so, when we read the “disfellowship” passages, we have to remember that some disfellowships are about disciplining a brother — whom we pray will repent so he doesn’t stop being a brother. He’s in deep trouble but still one of us. Others deal with those who are outside the faith entirely or so dangerous to the church that they must be excluded so the wolves don’t prey on the sheep.

    (I cover the passages in detail at http://graceconversation.com.)

  32. Jay,

    Thanks for the come back.

    I am talking about the insiders and not the outsiders.

    I have always understood the not-eating-together as the ultimate “dis-owning” that only comes after many prayers and tears for the unrepentant one. You state very well in your posts concerning the love feasts how the eating together represented much more than just a casual meal in the 1st century culture. That’s also why it was so important for Paul to openly chastise Peter for not eating with the gentile believers. This symbolized all the camaraderie and blessings of family. Refusing eating together as a church family should only happen to those who are no longer walking in the light.

    While I was in college, my bible school teacher of 6 years (7-12th grade) left the church and his wife and two sons. Multiple affairs would be an understatement. He was a deacon, song leader, and the number one influence in my conversion. He was well respected by the whole church. We were all in shock.

    After several months of study (in formal bible classes), several one-on-one sessions with him, and lots of tears, the church disfellowshipped him. To my knowledge he has not come back. I still consider him my brother and would welcome him back in a heartbeat as I’m sure would that congregation, but I don’t believe he is saved.

  33. Rich,

    Sadly, disfellowshipping does not always work, even when done as well as it can be done. Not everyone wants to be rescued.

    My sense is that it works best when the community imposing the disfellowship is so loving and so close that being excluded from their presence would be unbearable to the man needing to repent. It’s not so much the moral shame of being exclusion but the separation from beloved brothers and sisters that, hopefully, brings the unrepentant brother back.

  34. Jay,

    Unfortunately, of the three times I have observed disfellowshipping first hand, none have worked. It seems, in our culture, by the time the person reaches that point they have already volunteered to distance themselves from the church.

    My bible teacher was a good man who made a mistake. I now know of it as a midlife crisis. I talked to him about 10 years ago. He said he had too much pride to come back to church. I suspect he had too much guilt.

  35. Jay,

    Suppose you were in the soup kitchen with a local Methodist and Baptist. A frequenter of the soup kitchen comes through the line and says he’s come to believe that Jesus is the Christ and wants to be baptized. You say, “good, you need to, that’s the new birth; let’s go take care of it right now.” The Baptist right next to you says, “don’t listen to him, you don’t need to, you’re already saved as you are; i can do the baptism for you and we can get to it the last Sunday night of the month.” Then the Methodist next to you says, “don’t listen to either one of them. It’s not as much trouble as all that. i can sprinkle you and your kids next sunday morning.”

    Then what?

    Or suppose he just said he’s wanting to hear about how to turn his life around and wants to start going to a church and asks the three of you where he should go. Are you going to tell him to go to the Methodist’s church? Is either of the Baptist or the Methodist going to advise him to go to yours? Should he just “join the church of his choice”?

    –Guy

  36. Guy,

    Which church should he join? Well, there’s only one church, and its boundaries aren’t defined by human names. That church is built on the rock of “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And all converts must confess this.

    Which congregation should he attend? I’m going to celebrate the growth of the kingdom. We are not in competition. Just like always and everywhere, it’s his choice.

    What about baptism? I’m going to teach Jesus. The Baptists will teach Jesus. The Methodists will teach Jesus.

    Whoever is studying with the potential convert teaches what he believes regarding baptism, and the others won’t embarrass Jesus by disputing over baptism around potential converts. (Learned that one the hard way.)

    If I’m the teacher, I teach what I believe without dissing the views of the others. If I’m not the teacher, I don’t contradict the teacher, but I answer truthfully if the convert asks my views.

    I know this will not satisfy many readers, but I know of no other way that doesn’t lead to ugly arguments in front of a convert, driving him straight into the arms of Satan.

    In my view, even if he’s taught in error on baptism, if he has a genuine faith in Jesus and a genuine penitence, he’s saved, even though by an imperfect process.

    The alternative, of course, is to set up a competing soup kitchen and to refuse all fellowship with the Baptists and Methodists. And I’ve seen how well that works.

  37. Jay,

    A courageous and truthful response to Guy’s hypothetical question. You are right, it will not suit everyone. Those who believe only the right churches of Christ are the only ones going to heaven will now be convinced for sure that you are indeed a change agent!

    Royce

  38. The Baptists and Methodists who would team up with two other denominations at a soup kitchen would not tell a guy who specicfically asked to be baptized not to be baptized.

    I visited Southland Christian an independant Christian Church church here in Lexington to hear Lee Strobel, a Baptist, speak. At the end, Strobel presented the sinners prayer plan of salvation. Then Jon Weese told the audience anyone who had just decided to accept Jesus as Lord could be baptized right away.

    Strobel who was still on stage did NOT respond by telling everyone that they shouldn’t be baptiized.

    It was obvious both men had different ideas about how to respond to Christ, but they were both respectful to each other. They trusted the audience was smart enough to decide who was right. (Besides what did they care if some asked Jesus to be there person savior AND was baptized?)

    Now another story.

    When my wife and I went to talk to one of the preachers and two elders at Southside Church of Christ about possibly worshipping there, one of the things that really stunned us was how they did not try to convince us we needed to come to Southside. They were fine with us staying with the non-institutional Churches of Christ. They were even fine with us going to another denomination entirely. But they did answer our questions and explained to us why they did things the way they did. (We do attend Southside now btw.)

    It is possible to disagree with Baptists and Methodists without fighting with them or refusing to cooperate with them.

    We don’t get that because we always fight with the members of the CoC that we disagree with.

  39. I don’t really get this site. It’s called ONE in Jesus and we have posts like Jay’s above at 5:02pm, but there are other posts that accuse many CoC traditionalist of some damnable “Galtian Heresy” or talk about how dangerous and violent dispensational premillenialism is (or Left Behind premellinialsm or whatever it was supposed to be about.) And just the tone of some of posts is off putting to me. I think if I was a conservative evangelical or a Calvinist, I’d be really put off by this place. I’m already wondering if there’s any point to my being here. On the one hand I see posts like this one but tomorrow it’ll just be the other board again.

    I’m thinking out loud here so maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that maybe there are two kinds of progressives, and that I’m the other kind.

  40. Royce,

    I am a change agent. At least, I’m trying my best.

  41. Mike,

    That’s right. Baptists and Methodists both baptize their converts. The Baptist may consider him already saved (some actually baptize for remission of sins). The Methodists would likely not immerse. But they all teach baptism and none would reject immersion.

    Therefore, any convert would be taught to be baptized regardless of the denomination doing the teaching. The differences would be regarding the mode of baptism and the effect of baptism.

  42. Mike,

    There are boundaries to God’s grace.

    Paul warned the Galatians against falling from grace and said that the false teachers were accursed — even though they taught faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to his commands. I don’t celebrate the fact that some within the Churches of Christ seem to be guilty of this same error. I grieve for those denied the joy of God’s good grace.

    Paul teaches that this error damns, and so it damns — and the most loving thing is to teach it and teach it plainly.

    I’d be delighted to be shown wrong, but my arguments have been posted here for nearly 3 1/2 years, and it hasn’t happened yet. I pray it happens tonight.

  43. In the soup kitchen scenario the Methodists and the Baptists would simple offer up their understanding of the purpose of baptism (neither would object – both groups practice baptism) and leave it at that. There would be no dogmatic insisting of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, only faith in God’s promise to do the cleansing.

  44. A brother offers helpful comments: Gregory Alan Tidwell, on June 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm Said:
    Jay; I have no trouble at all in the concept of a non-saved believer. The demons believe and tremble. (James 2:19)

    As to playing shell games with words and definitions, I find this to be much the case with my more progressive friends who will refer to baptism as a “new birth in Christ,” but will turn around and refer to an unbaptized individual as a Christian.

    As W. S. Gilbert noted, “If everyboy’s somebody — then no one’s anybody.” –Greg Tidwell

    Are all Baptists born-again Christians? Are all unbaptized believers in Jesus saved? No to both questions. Surely it matters WHAT we believe. If we believe we had no good reason to be baptized, but we accepted baptism in order to join a congregation, have we really been buried with Christ in baptism and then raised to walk in new life? It’s a serious problem indeed to find ways to work with other believers who teach a “different gospel” and sincerely are in error. Is it better to NOT work with them? Isn’t that what many of us do? We just keep our distance since we see no way to teach others truths they don’t want to accept. But if we know the truth, we need to stand up for it!

  45. Ray,

    According to the scriptures, what is it we have to believe to be saved?

    (Act 15:7 ESV) 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.”

    (Joh 8:24 ESV) 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he [the one from above] you will die in your sins.”

    (Joh 20:31 ESV) 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    (Act 16:31 ESV) 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

    (Rom 10:9 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    We are told to believe in Jesus and we’ll be saved. Nowhere are we told to believe in baptism. Now, do we accept the authority of the scriptures or not? The texts (and many, many more) say that those with faith in Jesus are saved. I believe them to be the truth.

    (Joh 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    It’s pretty plain. If you have faith, you’re saved. If not, you’re damned. Obviously, the demons don’t have faith in the sense in which Jesus uses the word in John or Paul uses the word in Romans, or else we make them out to be liars. I’ve written extensively on the meaning of “faith” in John and Paul, and it’s more than mere intellectual acceptance — it requires a changed heart, as well. James obviously had a narrower sense in mind — unless we wish to make James contradict Jesus.

    The content of faith is “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”

    I readily admit that it’s difficult to reconcile these truths with the baptism passages, but we can’t just ignore these verses as though the Baptists slipped them in while the translators weren’t looking. There are far more “faith saves” verses than “baptism saves” verses. And God never meant for there to be a separation of the two in practice — but it happened. That’s how they are reconciled. When written, it was assumed that baptism would alway correspond with coming to faith. No longer is this true.

    So the question is: Does God keep all his promises? If the answer is yes, then John 3:18 and Rom 10:9 and countless other passages teach that those with faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah are saved. Otherwise, the promises are broken.

    Just so, does God require a perfect faith to save someone? Or a perfect penitence? Then why on earth would he require perfect baptism when faith and penitence are are of the essence?

    Of course, if someone refuses baptism out of a rebellious spirit, insisting on going his own way, he doesn’t really believe that Jesus is Lord — so we aren’t talking about such a person. But this is a very rare case. After all, nearly all believers believe themselves baptized.

    It’s a colossal mistake to add things to be believed as a requirement to be saved to those specifically stated in the scriptures. It’s not enough to show that something’s true. It must be something required to be believed to be saved.

    You know, sometimes I wonder why we ask our converts to confess Jesus to be baptized and don’t ask them to confess their faith in baptism while we’re at it.

  46. Don’t give them any ideas, Jay.

  47. Jay,

    This “only one church not defined by human names” is pie in the sky. Yes, i agree, that’s what the Bible teaches. But that’s not the situation on the ground. We can talk about this grand ideal all day, but the fact remains we’re all in different buildings teaching different things and not cooperating much.

    Yes we’re in competition. Does a Baptist pastor’s superior call him up and congratulate him for door knocking and telling a bunch of people to go join the Methodist church? A former roommate of mine worked at a faith-based social-work agency. Mostly they helped ex-cons learn job skills. There was a Methodist pastor there. His superior expected a regular report of how his efforts there furthered the work of the *Methodist* church. When your preacher does Bible studies with people, does he encourage converts to go join the Methodist church or Baptist church? It’s lovely to think we’re all supposed to get along and not compete, but surely the Methodist and Baptist did not show up at the soup kitchen in hopes that the local CoC would grow in number.

    Teaching Jesus included baptism in Acts 8. And i don’t see how “believing on/in Jesus” in scripture was used to reference only mental assent to propositions. You, yourself, have pointed this out in other posts. That being the case, verses about “believe on/in” do not answer questions regarding to which propositions we must give mental assent to be saved.

    –Guy

  48. Ray Downen asks “Are all Baptists born again Christians?” He concludes they are not, and I agree.

    Ray, are all church of Christ members born again Christians? Obviously they are not. Some of our so called “brothers” will be glad to point out which ones are lost.

    Only those who are today, present tense, actively trusting Christ are saved. If their lives don’t match their confession they are not saved. How anyone can study the Bible and not come to the same conclusion Jay stated in his last comment is odd to me.

    Not every person baptized “for the remission of their sins” is saved. Only those with faith in Jesus are. The body of Christ is not the same as the combined total of the churches of Christ, dead and living, on earth. Every church by every name has imposters, hypocrites, make believers, and people who believe they will finally be saved because they have done the right acts, are in the right church, and have lived good enough. They will be lost if they don’t repent and trust Christ alone.

    Royce

  49. Guy,

    First, it is wickedly sinful to compete with other congregations of the Lord’s church. Our competitor is Satan, not the church down the road. “Unity” must become more than an abstraction for us to be true to the scriptures.

    Second, some churches have actually figured this out. Five years ago, when we elders interviewed our current preacher, we specifically said that our goal is the growth of the Kingdom, not necessarily our congregation. A conversion in Europe or Africa or in another congregation is in town is worth just as much to God as a conversion in our own congregation. And we are not alone in thinking this way.

    For that matter, we’re the product of the merger of two congregations who were wise enough to see the futility of competing when we can instead be one.

    For too long, congregations have stolen members from other congregations and called that “growth.” Indeed, much of the Church Growth Movement is built on transfer “growth.” We’ve been fooling ourselves to avoid doing the hard things necessary to actually grow the church.

  50. Jay Guin’s comment, June 12, 2010, 5:02 pm … This answer represents for me the looking glass, both in the scriptural sense of now seeing through a glass darkly and in the Lewis Carroll sense of stepping through the looking glass into an alternate existence.

    When I go to events sponsored by Lipscomb, ACU or others from the progressive ranks of the CoC, Jay’s comment is the language and attitude I often find. It is the oxygen therapy that prevents me from smothering to death in my religious walk. It is as if I am stepping through the looking glass into a parallel existence; a place where the term grace is not used parenthetically.

    Were I to offer Jay’s answer at my home congregation, I would be looking for a new home in short order. In fact, offering this post may very well put me at risk. There was a time when I worried about that, somewhat like Delmar’s question to Everett in the movie “Brother Where Art Thou” when he asked if they’d been thrown out of just the one store or the whole chain. I don’t fret about that anymore.

    I am where I am because I believe I serve a purpose there. Should that cease to be the case one day, either by my own decision or someone else’s, I am confident the Holy Spirit will find other work for me in the Kingdom. And the Kingdom stretches much further, no disrespect indended, than the subscription list of the Gospel Advocate.

    Now we see through a glass darkly. One day, Christians from many small, isolated Church of Christ congregations will be face to face with more than a few folks they presently refer to as “so-called Christians.” If only we had the charity here and now to put away our childish, puffed up, parsed lanquage, we would be much more productive in true Kingdom work and much less distracted with the rearranging of deck chairs.

  51. Say on Rob!!

    I for one sure appreciate your attitude and your boldness in writing.

  52. I just don’t know about all this working with the Baptist organizations or the Methodists organizations. They are groups that have different goals, methods, that go further then small disagreements about the how baptism is done.

  53. Some of those efforts sound like they fill bellies, but leave souls a bit empty, if they have competing theologies how can you have anything but confusion?

    Jesus didn’t come to heal bodies, and fill stomachs. But to heal spirits and fill souls. Not that we completely neglect those things, concerning the body. I guess the question I would ask how much effort should be given to each? 50/50? 20/80?

  54. Mario wrote,

    Jesus didn’t come to heal bodies, and fill stomachs.

    (Mat 4:23-24 ESV) 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.

    In fact, he both preached the good news and healed — and those two things cannot be set at odds. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and. Remember —

    (Mat 25:34-36 ESV) 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

    Jesus seems to be pretty big on healing and filling stomachs in this his last public teaching recorded in Matthew.

  55. Mario,

    The Baptists and Methodists have different goals? They want to seek and save the lost and care for those in need, too.

  56. Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    Luk 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

  57. Laymond,

    I know you are implying that the Baptists and Methodists say “Lord, Lord” but will not enter Heaven, but in context, this horrifying scripture comes on the heels of the passage about bearing good fruit. So it seems to me if you follow the continuity, Jesus is saying that if you are crying “Lord, Lord” but did not bear good fruit, you get thrown into the fire.

    I don’t think Jesus is referencing the Baptists.

  58. Jay would have us believe that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. He plainly says so, quoting many passages which speak of the need of faith by anyone seeking salvation. I hope any who read this note will realize that not one of those passages speaks of faith alone. How foolish we are then to in OUR thinking add “alone.” If faith alone could save, surely at least ONCE an inspired writer would have said so. But no, the only time “alone” is added is when the inspired writer says that faith ALONE is dead. Quite the opposite of faith alone saving. It leads to death. A brother affirms “Not every person baptized “for the remission of their sins” is saved. Only those with faith in Jesus are. The body of Christ is not the same as the combined total of the churches of Christ, dead and living, on earth. Every church by every name has imposters, hypocrites, make believers, and people who believe they will finally be saved because they have done the right acts, are in the right church, and have lived good enough. They will be lost if they don’t repent and trust Christ alone.” Does Royce know more than the apostle Peter did when HE instructed sinners seeking salvation to repent and BE BAPTIZED? The obedience to the gospel is caused by a living faith in Jesus as LORD, of course. But only those who OBEY the gospel will be saved. And Jesus commands that we who tell others about Him are to baptize them! Some day? When it’s convenient? Look at the Bible examples and tell us when baptism which is immersion in water is to be performed, and why. God adds to the church all who do obey the gospel. We have no right to assemble with separated disciples if an undenominational fellowship is possible.

  59. JMF, I am not implying anything, just reminding of what Jesus said, I believe he is saying there are two sides to every contract, and both sides have to be fulfilled.
    The implication here to me is, there is work involved,. not just saying I believe, we need to show that we believe.

  60. Jay says Jesus healed so we should also seek to heal and help. Surely he’s right. Yet when Jesus told the apostles (and us) what was most important for them and us to do, he said the important thing was to speak gospel truth. We’re to tell others about Jesus If our deeds match our words, that’s good. If there’s no match, that’s bad. But the commission calls for us to teach and baptize and says nothing about healing bodies instead of healing sin-sick souls. It’s because we love Jesus and others that we DO seek also to heal bodies and minds. Isn’t it? But we see some who have forgotten the commission and only seek to heal bodies and minds. First things first is never wrong.

  61. In the note just posted, I see my disobedient computer omitted an “e” in “tell.” We’e to TELL others about Jesus. As well as to demonstrate love by our deeds.

  62. The Bible is pretty plain that we can never keep our end of the deal sufficiently. (That is SIN) Jesus died for our SINS according to the Scriptures. He was buried and just as He had said was raised again on the third day because of our justification.

    Jesus died for ungodly sinners (thats all of us before we were born again) and based upon His keeping perfectly a deal we could not God counts as righteous those who take Him at His word.

    Lost people are DEAD spiritually. God makes those DEAD people ALIVE, by grace you have been saved.

    In the end will we boast in Christ alone or will we boast in our “faithfulness”, “knowledge”, “church”, “heritage”, and many other things which compared to the grace of God demonstrated in Christ to sinners is all trash.

    Jesus promised that the message of the cross would offend and it does. And, just as in the first century it offends church folks more than anyone else.

    Royce

  63. Ray,

    The gospel should be first but is it? Preaching the church of Christ, a cappella singing, the Restoration Movement, and our views on baptism is not the gospel is it?

    In our coc fellowship we preach all sorts of things and call them “gospel” and then seldom get around to preaching the gospel. Doctrine is very important, the themes mentioned are important too, but they take a back seat to the gospel.

    James said if you see a fellow hungry and unclothed don’t just say be full and clothed and go on down the road. And, I learned from the silence of scripture, that it is not OK to hammer on the guy to get into the baptistery hungry and unclothed either.

  64. laymond wrote–“JMF, I am not implying anything, just reminding of what Jesus said, I believe he is saying there are two sides to every contract, and both sides have to be fulfilled.
    The implication here to me is, there is work involved,. not just saying I believe, we need to show that we believe.”
    RAY: The apostle Paul just warns that hell awaits all who “do not know God and who do not obey the gospel.” Obey is not the same as believing, if we can accept the word of James who calls for deeds rather than only words.
    Royce Ogle asks a good question by way of comment. The gospel says nothing whatever about singing, either with or without accompaniement. The gospel is about Jesus. We do well to call gospel truth gospel truth. Our opinions are not gospel truth even if we inherited them legally from others in “our” movement. I agree with Royce about merging help and necessary adherence to doctrinal practice. We should help. Indeed we should. We should teach about Jesus without apology. No one should ever be bribed into a baptistery. Royce is right.

  65. Royce Ogle asks, “Preaching the church of Christ, a cappella singing, the Restoration Movement, and our views on baptism is not the gospel is it?”

    “Our views on baptism” may indeed be gospel truth. It’s not sensible to cause anyone to assume the Bible teaches just any act called baptism is actually baptism. Did the apostles speak of “baptism” at any time? No they used a word in another language, never the English word, ‘Baptism.” If they were speaking Aramaic, or if they were speaking Hebrew, or if they were speaking Greek (the common languages in lands where the apostles taught, I think) the word they used would have been “immersed” rather than “baptized.” Or “immerse” rather than “baptize.” We do well to point out not only the apostolic way sinners were baptized but also the purpose for which they were baptized. Surely that IS part of the gospel.

  66. I disagree completely. Baptism is not part of the gospel. It is one response to the gospel. Baptism is not faith, not the “good news” about Jesus.

    The gospel is not…Jesus died for your sins and if you will confess him, be immersed in water for the forgiveness of your sins, and live a “faithful” life you will be saved in the end.

    The good news (gospel) is about the worth and work of Jesus on behalf of sinners. Everything else is not the gospel.

  67. So the news that you can have your sins washed away, isn’t good news?

    For many of us that were lost in sin, it sounded like pretty good news to me.

  68. In Mark 14:9 we see the use of the term gospel to describe something beyond just Christ’s death. and in other parts it talks of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of God (perhaps referring to the father), the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of Christ, etc

    I don’t know if we can limit that term.

  69. i don’t see where the NT treats “the gospel” as a technical and categorical term either, but i’ve read a lot of progressives quote a small portion of 1Cor 15 as though it obviously follows. Not obvious to me.

    If the pre-Christ Roman uses of the word are of any bearing on the matter at all, i definitely don’t see how we can treat it as a technical term with finely defined content. Yet it seems to be one thing that progressives are desperately insistent on–at least in my personal encounters.

    –Guy

  70. Mario and Guy, Maybe it is because that only through Christ we can have eternal life and a resurrection to immortality. I’ll say it a plainly as possible. I am very cautious and curious about anyone who talks more about baptism than the one the baptism points to. It is as if Jesus and His work is only one aspect of salvation rather than being central.

    Sins are washed away but only by the blood of Jesus. Baptism in water is not unlike communion. Neither is a means of grace but rather a reenactment and reminder of what God accomplished for sinners by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

    A substantial percentage of church of Christ members have been immersed in water two, three or more times. They thought the act would do for them what It could not. Only when a person puts his or her whole trust in Jesus is baptism anything more than another religious ritual.

    I am convinced there will be people lost who think they are saved just because they have been baptized using the correct formula and lived a good life. A gospel “system” never saves, it is the gospel man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone saves those who believe on Him.

    Technical? If you want to put it that way, I’m guilty. I preach the Christ of the church, not the church of Christ, there is a big difference. It is a life and death matter.

  71. Royce:
    I will chime in briefly to suggest that errors in understanding in some churches of Christ should offer no reason for discarding what Paul wrote in Titus 3:4ff. Numerous students of the Word — inside and outside the Restoration Movement — have concluded that Paul is talking about baptism as he talks about a “washing of regeneration” paralleling a “renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

    It should soak into us deeply that the Jews knew well the background of baptism into Christ. The forty or so “immersion pools” in Jerusalem alone in the first century (see the Mishnah) and the use of baptizo in Mark 7 signal the background with clarity. Jewish cleansing by immersion was commonplace in Jerusalem.

    Certainly, ritual should not lose sight of Jesus and indeed sins are washed away only by the blood of Christ. But is that not why we hear, “Rise, be baptized and have your sins washed away, calling on the Lord’s name.” (Acts 22:16) Baptism is where we participate in His death and resurrection. Correct? (Romans 6:1-11).

    G. R. Beasley-Murray’s summary of apostolic teaching seems to get at all of this well. In baptism we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Baptism in the New Testament, 174).

    Baptism is a saving action of God’s grace. Not a sacrament; not holy water; not magic water. But a participation in His death and resurrection. I hope we continue to grab hold and teach without reserve what the apostles taught– keeping at the center of our vision the Lord Jesus.

    You are correct; it is a life and death matter.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  72. Jay:
    It remains curious to me when we participate with other religious groups in feeding/helping others, but do not encourage them to wade into biblical study with us regarding baptism as an action of God’s saving grace. We need to help some groups see that what they have believed about baptism is nothing less than the corrupting work of Satan — as certainly as his corrupting work via poverty, drugs, etc.

    I can speak from experience. My family reaches out to help others — together with the rest of the Katy congregation. And we also reach out to teach. A neighbor of mine is indeed chewing on some discussion. He has come to the conclusion that baptism is indeed a sealing by God — and it is leading him to further reading in the Word. He is a Southern Baptist leader, and he has expressed appreciation for the conversation. Isn’t such work as important as any other work we can do?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  73. Bruce,

    I don’t think any objective observer can deny that there has been an over emphasis of things other than the good news about Jesus and His living and dying and living again for sinners in our RM churches.

    John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. His baptism was not repentance, it showed that the one being baptized had repented, and it set them apart from the world at large as the people of God. In the same way, the flood separated 8 people from the rest of the earth’s population. The people were in the ark, they were saved because they took God at his word.

    Peter’s testimony concerning Cornelius and his household was that their hearts were purified by faith. And, since they had received the Holy Spirit, just as he had when he believed, he baptized them. Phillip preached Christ to the official from Ethiopia and only after he was assured that the man believed with all his heart did he baptize him in water.

    It is the gospel (telling of the story of Jesus’ work for sinners) that is the power of God for salvation. It is in the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed. And it is by believing what the gospel offers that men are justified (set right with God).

    Preaching a “formula”, or gospel “system” as Apologetics Press calls it, is a poor substitute for the gospel of Christ. It appeals to the human ego to hit 5 or 6 bases and be counted safe. It is an insult to the human ego that God makes wicked sinners righteous by faith in Christ and justifies them based wholly upon the merit of Jesus. Paul insisted that salvation had to be by faith to be by grace. only by grace is boasting excluded.

    If the good news about Jesus is of first importance then everything else is in second place on back. That doesn’t mean that they are not important, it does mean that nothing is more important than the gospel. The apostles were not thrown into jail and finally killed for preaching a 5 step plan, they were hated because they preached a risen Christ who had the power to save men from their sins.

    I have preached and taught Christ and the gospel all of my adult life (45 years) and baptized those who put their trust in Jesus. I plan to major on Jesus and his work on behalf of sinners and minor on everything else until I am no longer able.

    We wont agree on some things but I hope we can agree on the supremacy of Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Royce

  74. It does not follow from being “central” to salvation that there is nothing else referenced by the term “gospel.” It does not follow from being “of first importance” that the entire denotation and connotation of “gospel” is thereby demarkated.

    –Guy

  75. Baptism is a response to the gospel. In and off itself, it is not part of the gospel. Consider this — the significance of baptism is dependent upon the heart.

    If it were not so, we’d consider ourselves baptized everytime we go swimming.

    Our King James friends did us no favor translating the greek word as baptize rather than immersion.

    Baptism/Immersion has no significance unless the intent of our heart is where God desires it to be.

  76. The most important part of our “getting baptized” part of the service is the confession we make before we enter the water, not the going under itself.

  77. Royce:
    I think I will be one of those people who will “deny that there has been an over emphasis of things other than the good news about Jesus and His living and dying and living again for sinners in our RM churches.”

    I grew up listening to some excellent teaching/preaching by a man who preached good news — holding together truth and love. He loved Jesus Christ and he preached Jesus Christ. And he preached the Word of the risen Christ. I remember the teaching of other men who focused on Christ, including Frank Pack and J. W. Roberts. Is it possible that some of the reactions in our time are the result of short and selective memory?

    Also, let me express with kindness: I believe that those who “give up” baptism as a participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Romans 6:1-11) — who see/read the teaching by Paul and speak as if it does not exist — have turned away from the supreme authority of the risen Lord.

    That can sound harsh in our day; probably the result of a postmodern U.S. where religious beliefs are not seen as the stuff of good or evil. It is one of the powerful deceptions of our time.

    I will comment more regarding Cornelius, et.al. later. But I think this is enough for one post. I think you know I care about the feelings of people and know that the above words were not easy for me to write. Most of us want to write positive stuff. I am no different.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  78. Alabama John:
    How about what Romans 6:1-11 says, that in baptism we participate in His death and resurrection? That we actually take part in it with Him?

    That is why I continue to believe that what churches of Christ (and Independent Christian churches, and some others) have taught for decades is so important. We have seen and taught how baptism is an action of God’s saving grace; it has been one of the great strengths of the Restoration Movement.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  79. When Jesus died he died “for us”. He died as our representative. The reason we are free from the penalty of the law is that we have representatively paid its penalty. One who is dead is free from obligation. When Christ died we died with him. In the same way, when Jesus was raised from death we also rose with him.

    We once had Adam as our representative in sin and death because of sin. Christ is the new Adam, representing us.
    He lived a life of perfect obedience, a life we could not live.
    He never sinned, something we can’t keep from doing.
    He died paying the penalty for our sins in full.
    He arose making immortality possible for every man.

    Paul says it like this: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

    And, Paul further develops this in the first several verses of chapter 7 of Romans. We died when Christ died. Baptism beautifully pictures that.

    Think of it this way. We bury dead people. Even so in baptism we bury what is already dead, the old man. We died with Christ when he died. His representative death was “for us”. So, we are baptized “into death” in the same way John baptized “into repentance”. Baptism is not literal death any more than John’s was repentance. Paul ends the teaching in chapter 6 of Romans by saying “Now live as if the old man is dead”. “Count yourself dead”, live as one alive in Christ, not as one who has not died with Christ.

    God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That reconciliation, our salvation as to penalty, was complete over 2,000 years ago. The good news is that Jesus has died “for”, in the place of, every man. The door to the prison of sin has been opened and the shackles are off. Will you believe this, will you by faith accept the pardon and live as free men?

    If you will, say it with your mouth and figuratively bury the old you in the waters of baptism and purpose to live as a freed man. Baptism is not a picture of drowning, putting one to death, it is the picture of burying one who is already dead. If we died with Him we shall live with Him.

    Royce

  80. On something I had said before concerning the goals of the Baptist organization and Methodist organization, don’t kid yourself they are there to make more Baptists and Methodists, respectively. Otherwise such organizations would cease to exist.

    On baptism, It would seem to me that those in the coC tend to talk more about baptism, because others talk so little about it. Seems to hold true about most subjects that seem to be over emphasized, it’s because those subjects are marginalized by the rest of the religious bodies, or the world overall.

  81. Royce,
    How does that work for the putting on of Christ in baptism?
    Galatians 3:27

  82. Alabama John, on June 15, 2010 at 6:30 am Said:
    The most important part of our “getting baptized” part of the service is the confession we make before we enter the water, not the going under itself.

    AJ, the little rite of holding up one’s hand and declaring that Jesus is Son/Lord has no scriptural basis. We in the CoC have yanked out of context Paul’s urging his readers to confess Jesus with their mouth. “with mouth/lips/tongue” is a Hebraism for one’s life style, not unlike “in the name of” (Col 3:17).

    This falls in the same category of forcing the Lord’s supper on and only on Sunday based on Ax 20:7.

  83. If you don’t believe in what is confessed before going under the water in baptism, then all you got is wet!

    The confession wording is not required, I agree, but, if that belief is not there????

    Which is more important if we had to rank them, the belief and faith in Jesus or the act of baptism itself.

    My point, is our teaching must be foremost to cause belief, confession, that will bring one to Christ and then in obedience the baptism.

  84. “You know, sometimes I wonder why we ask our converts to confess Jesus to be baptized and don’t ask them to confess their faith in baptism while we’re at it.”

    Irony smirks and lurks. Jesus commands that we teach others about HIM, then baptize those who believe the message about HIM. Converts are not expected to know to ask for baptism. Teachers of the gospel are expected simply to baptize new believers. As a result of REPENTANCE and BAPTISM, sin is washed away. Jesus says that the new birth is “of water and spirit.” Many, apparently including Jay Guin, are willing to disagree with Jesus. Peter makes clear that the way in is through believers repenting of sin and being baptized. Those who believe Bible truth will never imply sinners are saved by faith alone. Note that what each sinner must DO is to repent because of faith in Jesus. The “BE BAPTIZED” is passive. The new believer can’t baptize himself or herself. But the one(s) who told the sinner about Jesus is COMMANDED to baptize the new believer, which Paul says brings the sinner “into Christ.” As a result of the new birth of water and spirit, Jesus comes to live within the former sinner (Acts 2:38). This does not precede baptism. It FOLLOWS baptism into Christ.

  85. Alabama John, on June 17, 2010 at 7:54 am Said:
    If you don’t believe in what is confessed before going under the water in baptism, then all you got is wet!

    The confession wording is not required, I agree, but, if that belief is not there????

    Which is more important if we had to rank them, the belief and faith in Jesus or the act of baptism itself.

    My point, is our teaching must be foremost to cause belief, confession, that will bring one to Christ and then in obedience the baptism.

    Dan replies,

    John, I believe that baptism (the natural response to faith) is one’s initial confession of the lordship of Jesus AND the beginning of life-long repentance (seeking the mind of Christ).

    Dan

  86. So, Ray, if Tom Hanks had washed up on that South Pacific island with his dead buddy’s Bible, he need not have bothered to read it, I suppose. Water, water everywhere, but no one to do the honors.

    Okay, too hypothetical.

    What about an American POW in an Afghani prison camp? Where does his salvation fall through the cracks? They simply won’t baptize him. Or, they agree to let him baptize himself. Or, his Moslem guard agrees to baptize him; but this is certainly not the one who would have taught him or who was a believer himself in Jesus the Son of God. Is grace still out of reach?

    Jesus is on record about “the rules” being made for man, not the other way around. People with servant hearts for God should and do submit to baptism. Most of them, however, are dismissed by our jot and tittlers because they didn’t understand it correctly or didn’t do it quick enough or … or … or. And as for someone in unusual circumstances who may have a shower handy but no tub at their prison camp, well, they should have stopped by a baptistry on their way to enlist.

    I apologize for the tone. And, Ray, I respect your convictions. But Walter Scott himself (who came up the the RM’s five-finger method) worried later in life that this system of teaching was not only overly-simplified, but could lead to a rigidity of focus that obscured the gospel itself. The differences of opinion on this blog seem to suggest he was right.

  87. RAY: If we discuss how converts are normally brought into the kingdom, we do well to let the inspired Word guide us. Bringing up exceptional cases proves how normal conversions should occur? Or does it? The inspired examples tell us that we obey the commision by teaching the gospel. The inspired examples show us how sinners responded to it in the apostlic age. If there are exceptions, it behooves us to recgnize they are EXCEPTIONS. We do not do well to try to change the normal because of a few exceptions! We can trust Jesus to handle exceptions all right without us telling Him wat He has to do. The inspired Word tells us how to handle spreading the gospel and bringing souls into the Lord’s church. Why would we think we were too wise to follow the inspired teaching? That is what you’re suggesting, isn’t it?

  88. (who came up WITH the RM’s five-finger method)

  89. Dan Smith wrote, “John, I believe that baptism (the natural response to faith) is one’s initial confession of the lordship of Jesus AND the beginning of life-long repentance (seeking the mind of Christ).”

    What evangelists (gospel teachers to the unsaved) are to teach is about Jesus to create faith and those who come to believe in Jesus will properly sorrow for having sinned. So we teach about the need for faith in Jesus and repentance from sin. In Acts 8, Luke says nothing about Philip preaching baptism. But the text makes clear that he had done so in explaining how a sinner is to respond to the call of Jesus Christ. The urgent need is for us to tell others about JESUS, which will cause sinners to want to turn away from sin. We call that repenting. Then, aware of their faith in JESUS, we baptize them “into Christ.” At that time, they receive both washing away of sin and also they receive the gift of Jesus coming to live within them. The new birth of water and spirit is completed in repentance and baptism.

    It was Walter Scott who made use of a 5-finger exercise and won many converts thereby. As I understand it, his five points were faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Later, replacing the final two which come as a result of the first three, many chose to speak of hearing, believing, confessing faith, repenting, and being baptized. Scott’s was the better teaching method, most of us would admit.

  90. Ray, consider how many “exceptions” are made by conservative (CoC and other) Christians who cite various and sundry scriptures to disqualify all the other “so-called Christians” (a parsing citation to try to keep this relavent to the discussion at hand). Even when people are baptized, we never fail to reckon that the vast majority of the time some imperfect practice or another (IM, incommensurate communion, women teachers, etc) renders their salvation null and void, making even “proper” baptism of none effect because of the tradition we have established.

    The Kingdom came with power. The church glorifies the Lord. And yet by our estimation the Kingdom today comprises only 0.03% of the world. I am not suggesting we ignore inspired teaching. I am suggesting we quit pretending to own it.

    By the way, Scott’s initial system was, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized, and Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit. But around the end of the 1800’s when the Holiness Movement began to pick up steam, the CoC became uncomfortable with the Spirit because we didn’t want to look like “those folks.” So the last step “knuckled under” (pun intended). But because it looked so much neater to use all five fingers, someone soon tacked “hear” onto the front end and we’ve continued to keep a good grip on things ever since.

  91. Rob.

    Beliefs are held and never questioned until a person(s) that is dying actually looks you in the eye and tells you they believe in Jesus and want to go to Heaven and dies.

    You cannot say to that person “sorry, but you waited too long, you cannot be baptized so, suffer for eternity in hell”.

    Easier to say on a board, much harder in real life.

    Parables of those coming late rush to your mind.

    Thoughts of those eating the shew bread too.

    We emphasize the one that touched to ark being struck dead.

    Lets go over the scriptures like the shew bread story and Gods overlooking and forgiving just as much.

    God is not the OGRE we paint him to be.

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