Vol. 8, No. 3
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The quick answer to the question is, "If you have ever been baptized with the baptism authorized by Christ, at which time you were added to the body of saved persons, the answer is in the negative." Every Gospel preacher who has preached very long has been faced with the problem of how to advise various persons about baptism. There are young children who have been immersed, and when they get older, feel that it was not valid. There are those who were baptized just to please a nagging spouse or parent. There are those who were baptized from peer pressure. I knew a boy who wanted to be first in everything, so he was baptized so he would be the first to be baptized in the new baptistery. There are those who are baptized because their denomination required it for membership.
In our judgment, there are, as in most situations, two extremes that are both in error, and some other errors in between the extremes, partly as a result of those. On the one hand there is the error espoused by the Crossroads and Boston heresies. Stated in its simplest, and therefore perhaps not completely accurate form, it is: If you were not baptized with a total commitment to their theory of operation, you must be re-baptized. It has been called "Lordship baptism" and described in various other ways, and probably started, as so many of their ideas did, in a perfectly legitimate way. That is, if your baptism was done without accepting Christ as the Lord of your life, then it was not valid. That concept is probably true, but it kept getting "refined" so that it eventually led to the idea that if you did not really understand all that was involved in Christ being Lord, including surrendering the control of your life to your "prayer partner" and/or "spiritual advisor" [unscriptural practices, Editor], then you were never a Christian.
On the other extreme, is the theory that if you were baptized with a basic desire to obey the Lord, your baptism is valid, and you became a Christian, even if you did not know you were lost or in sin, and even if you obeyed a perverted or false "gospel."
We neither have the desire to revive old controversies about the matter, nor to assume that our statements will or should be taken as the final word on the matter. We simply want to clarify some points that we think may not have been properly addressed, and suggest some principles that may help some who need to consider the mater. The fact that one of my favorite teachers was a student of David Lipscomb, and I had some lengthy correspondence with the daughter of Austin McGary who had carried on such an extensive debate with brother Lipscomb regarding the re-baptism question, caused me many years ago to try to read everything that was written on the subject.
I have heard that some brethren think the one who does the baptizing must repeat certain words, or as one person rather inelegantly put it, "regurgitate a formula." I have heard that other brethren think one must be baptized by a "Church of Christ preacher" (whatever that is) in order for it to be valid. I have serious doubts that one Gospel preacher out of 10,000 teaches either of those things, so I do not care to deal with them at this time. There are, however, some principles that are basic, and generally accepted by all brethren, that need to be emphasized.
First, since Romans 1:16 says, "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation," a person who does not believe the Gospel does not have the promise of salvation. Second, since 2 Thessalonians 1:8 teaches that those who do not obey the Gospel will suffer the vengeance of fire, one who does not obey the Gospel and thus demonstrate his faith has no promise of salvation. Third, since Jesus taught that we must repent or perish (Luke 13:3), obedience to the Gospel includes repentance. Fourth, Paul taught in Galatians 1:8-9, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema." We therefore have no authority to offer salvation on any other terms than that which God ordained, and if we do, it is a spurious or false gospel, or as Paul puts it, a perverted gospel or not really a gospel at all. Fifth, as far as I know, most of us agree that if one is baptized just to please some person or group, even if it is a preacher or elder in the Lord's church, his baptism is not valid.
Now, let us examine a specific situation, and see how those principles might apply to it, or what we should do in that circumstance. A person comes to us who is a member of some denomination and says, "I want to be just a Christian. I realize my church is wrong, but I was baptized in obedience to Christ, and trying to follow his example." What should be our response? Should we simply accept his statement and assume his baptism is valid? Should we deny his statement, and assume his baptism is invalid simply because he is a member of some denomination?
Surely everyone who has any respect for God's Word and any love for a man's soul would want to try to help the person try to find out if he really understood what God wanted and actually did what God wanted. Even Lipscomb, who is spoken of as one of the leading men in opposition to the necessity of re-baptism says, "I never saw the day that I was willing to receive one from the Baptist Church or other church where the teaching was faulty without evidence that he understood the purpose or end of the ordinance of baptism in some of its leading features." So, we should ask the person some questions, not as a matter of getting him to do something to please us, but as a matter of helping him to clarify his position before God. It is not a matter of making him submit to a creedal statement, or answer correctly all the questions on a catechism before he can pass into our class. Everyone needs to understand what God's will is, and determine in his own heart if he has done it.
So, any question of which you can conceive that would help such a person to determine if he had really obeyed the Lord or had done what he did by the authority of the Lord would be helpful. First, he might be shown Paul's statement that he had lived in all good conscience before God. That is, he did all he did with the best possible motive, to obey God, yet was chief of sinners (Acts 23:1). He should be asked if he understands that having the right motive (to obey God) is not the same as obeying God.
Second, he might be asked if he understands that when the apostles preached the Gospel to people it involved the fact that Jesus was the Christ, crucified and resurrected, with all authority in heaven and on earth, and that before one can be a Christian he must believe in and submit to that authority. He must understand that he is lost and cannot be saved without having and demonstrating faith in Christ as Christ designated. It might be appropriate to ask him, "If a person should add to or take from that Gospel, as did those mentioned in Galatians 1:6-9, would they be accursed because they have perverted the Gospel and caused it to lose its saving power?" You might then want him to examine his experience and ask himself, "Was what I heard and obeyed that pure Gospel which Paul preached, or did I hear and obey something different?" If he says that he heard and obeyed that pure Gospel, you might then want to ask him, "Why, then, do you want to leave your denomination, if they are teaching the saving Gospel?" If he actually did hear and obey the pure Gospel and joined his denomination in the assumption that they taught it, he was saved when he obeyed the pure Gospel, and sinned when he joined a denomination contrary to God's authority. He should understand that baptism is for an alien sinner who recognizes he is lost and needs to be saved. An erring Christian who erred in joining some denomination should repent and pray for forgiveness, just as any other erring Christian should.
You do not need to confuse him with questions that relate to all that is involved in the terms "redemption, "propitiation," "sanctification," "remission of sins," "the glorified body," "the missionary society," "transubstantiation" or ask him if he knows 50 reasons why Christ came to the earth and died. But when you have asked him enough questions for him to see that he did or did not obey the Gospel, you have done him a great favor, for he may realize for the first time in his life that having the proper motive is not enough. You should try to make sure that you do not try to make his decisions for him, or tell him things to do that satisfy you. You should simply realize that you have the responsibility to help him insofar as you can to tell the difference in the Gospel which is the power of God to save the obedient believer, and a false or spurious "gospel" which Christ did not authorize, and which has no power to save.