15 Jan 2020

Christ the Savior, the Judge, and Baptism

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Baptism, Christian hope, Church History, Grace, Journey, K. C. Moser, Love, Patternism, Precision Obedience, Restoration History, Salvation, Sectarianism, Unity

I realize, before I post this, that some will be troubled by it. Yet it is the truth as I understand it. My thoughts are not new and have shared them before. It is possible to hold biblical truth as we understand it yet do so in nonbiblical and sectarian ways, this seems especially true on the doctrine of baptism. Baptism is the victim of both neglect and zeal without knowledge.

I Believe Baptism is GOD’s Work

I believe the Great Commission: Preach, Make disciples, Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. I believe in Matthew 28.19, Acts 2.38; Romans 6, Colossians 2 and 1 Peter 3.21.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28.19)

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38)

all of us who have been baptized int Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.3-4)

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3.21)

These are wonderful and great texts in the New Testament. They, and other texts, many of us had memorized before we even knew John 3.16 or Psalm 23. We believe every one of them.

I celebrate the fact that the wider Christian world is rediscovering the beauty of baptism. (Some never lost it). May we also continue to grow in a healthy and robust doctrine of baptism. We need to stress the wonderful grace centered biblical doctrine of baptism, for a positive exposition of baptism as I understand it see my Baptism: Work of God, Dripping in Grace.

The great baptismal hymn of Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson captures well this part of our blog.

Come, Holy Spirit Dove divine, On these baptismal waters shine,
And teach our hearts, in highest strain, To praise the Lamb
for sinners slain …

“We sink beneath Thy Mystic flood, And thank Thee for they saving grace;
We die to sin and seek a grave With The, beneath the yielding wave

(Songs of Faith and Praise, #427, vv. 1 & 3)

Alexander Campbell celebrated the great work of Judson in India and Burma. No reason we cannot too.

Avoiding the Human Centered Sectarian Trap

Sometimes we react to the (seeming) trivialization of the sacraments in (especially) American Evangelical churches by going to the other extreme. One of the great gifts of the Stone-Campbell Movement has been pointing to the significance of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. We must stay grounded in healthy biblical theology by reminding ourselves that

Christ is the Savior, Baptism is not.
Christ is the Judge, Baptism is not.

But, sometimes, when I read brethren and sisters, I think we have come to view baptism like some ancient Israelites did Moses’s bronze serpent (Num 21) that became an idol that needed to be destroyed (2 Kgs 18). It seems to me that some of us in Churches of Christ make baptism their whole canon (with instrumental music possibly in there). Baptism is everything, that is it is exalted above every Christian duty. K. C. Moser even quipped,

I have long noticed that most any position is tolerated just so it appears to exalt baptism, even at the expense of faith or the blood of Christ.”

So recently, I had a brief discussion about baptism that highlighted this very sectarian tendency. I was accused of not believing in baptism because I will not declare that Martin Luther, John Newton and millions of others who have served the Lord sacrificially but were baptized as infants were automatically condemned to hell. According to this brother, if I admit that God is merciful – this is not an opinion but fact – then I deny baptism altogether. In his position baptism is the savior rather than Christ, in his position baptism is the judge rather than Christ. This is actually false doctrine even has he was attempting to protect baptism.

Mercy, Not Sacrifice: Who is a God like You?

I confess that I not only believe such servants of the Lord are in fact part of the new creation, but that I pray that is the case. These disciples are not Hindus, Muslims and witch doctors. It was suggested I “need to study the Bible more.”

I agree we all need to study our Bible more. And it is because I have spent years studying the Bible, that I am troubled by this position not only on baptism but more importantly on the doctrine of God and Christ that support it.

So let me pose some questions that give me cause for pause. When we do we will find out that God “delights” in mercy. What does the Bible mean when it says God “Who is a God like you, who Delights in showing mercy” (Micah 6.18)?

What does it mean when God claims to “forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin“? (Ex 34.6; Joel 2.13; Num 14.17f; Pss 86.15; 148.8; etc).

It was Jesus who chastised some pretty sophisticated Bible students with these words, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” (Mt 12.7-8, citing Hosea 6.6 which Jesus also quotes in Matthew 9.13)

If such people like Augustine, Luther, William Tyndale, John Newton, C. S. Lewis, and millions more are automatically lost, in spite of a lifetime of sacrificial service to the Lord because they were poured on rather than immersed, this is hard to reconcile with the claim God “delights in mercy.” It is not out of line with the pagan deity Zeus however!

So when we say “who is a God like you?” the answer is none because our God “delights in mercy!” Are we like the Pharisees who need to “go learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice?‘” (Mt 9.13, citing Hosea 6.6).

Do we have the courage of Hezekiah to pray for those who were technically wrong (and it was not even a mistake but deliberate!) about the technical details … read 2 Chronicles 30, not once, not twice, but three times. All 27 verses. Underline everything from v.16 to v.20.

Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests splashed against the altar the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

If this is not mercy over sacrifice then nothing is. Here the Holy Spirit is teaching us what mercy means. Hezekiah’s prayer is rooted in his faith that Yahweh is a certain kind of God, one who delights in mercy. That is the basis of his intercession. Is not the story of Hezekiah written for our learning (Rom 15.4)? What do we learn from it? Is it not something that is good for doctrine and makes us wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3.15-17)? What doctrine does it proclaim for our salvation?

It blows me away to, absolutely, insist that those heroes that gave us our Bible itself … Caedmon, Alfred, John Wycliff … men who loved the Lord with all of their heart, soul, strength and mind – like William Tyndale – who gave the ultimate sacrifice to the Lord. Tyndale was burned at the stake — and we are going to insist that these men who sacrificed everything they had to share God’s word (and we ourselves would not have it, if not for them) but they are no better than a pagan witch doctor to us? None of them were immersed. But they all thought they had been baptized!

Christ the Savior, Christ the Judge

But Jesus himself said “not greater love has any man than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15.13). These disciples (and many more) certainly have more love for Christ than many a sectarian, who is technically correct on baptism.

The Jesus who is the Savior prayed for those who hung him on the cross, “Father forgiven them,” … are we going to believe that Jesus the Judge is going to look at these people and on the day of judgment not stand up for them before the God of Steadfast Love??

Is failing to be dipped a bigger crime than crucifying the Son of Man?

Again what does it mean to “delight in mercy” (Micah 7.18-20)? I find it interesting that Jonah certainly had no doubt that Yahweh would forgive, at the drop of a hat, even the pagan Assyrians … Notice his words, carefully, in Jonah 4.1-2 … God “is gracious, merciful, full of steadfast love and relents from punishment.” Jonah, like Hezekiah, knew what kind of God our God is. G. C. Brewer once lamented, and for years I simply did not know enough of Bible to grasp how truthful he was, “we sing a better gospel than we preach.”

To admit that God has reserved judgment for Christ, the One who died for the ungodly enemies (Rom 5.1-11), and that William Tyndale and John Newton will be saved in the end … in no way minimizes the reality of faith in Christ and being baptized in his name. It simply recognizes the biblical truth that God has a long record of forgiving people that God’s people would not because he delights in mercy.

And He ordered us to preach to the people and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10.42)

He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness/ through a Man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ …” (2 Cor 5.10)

Jesus is the Judge. The Judge is not even God the Father. Jesus has been appointed by the Father to that role.

The Judge is the One who died, the One who shed his blood, the One who said “Father forgive them.”

I simply do not believe that that Jesus will look at a person who has loved him in everything, worshiped him, served him, many have even died for him but failed to understand a technical point on getting wet will be treated as if they are a rebellious rejecter of God. I think of those 45 disciples who were slaughtered in Alexandria, Egypt in 2017 refusing to deny Christ, yet not one had been immersed.

An old time preacher named Basil the Great commented on baptism and those who died without it but died in the service of Christ. It is insightful and I agree with it.

There have been some who in their championship of true baptism have undergone death for Christ’s sake, not in mere similitude, but in actual fact, and so have none of the outward signs of water for their salvation, because they were baptized in their own blood. Thus I write not to disparage the baptism by water, but to overthrow the arguments of those who exalt themselves against the Spirit.” (quoted in Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 591)

Our “Fathers” Understood Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Alexander Campbell met Nathan Rice from November 15 to December 1, 1843 in an epic debate. Campbell certainly did not back away from his understanding of biblical baptism. He also did not divorce it from biblical theology. He said, seemingly anticipating a myriad of bad Facebook memes and posts,

according to our teaching, there is no one required to be baptized where baptism cannot be had. Baptism, where there is no faith, no water, no person to administer, was never demanded as an indispensable condition of salvation, by Him who has always enjoyed upon man ‘mercy, rather than sacrifice.‘” (Campbell-Rice Debate, pp. 519-520)

This is a deeply embedded biblical principle in Campbell. Campbell himself had been baptized as an infant and knew that he loved the Lord, worshiped the Lord, served the Lord and even had fellowship with the Lord for a good portion of his life before he came to believe that adult immersion was the proper biblical practice. So he wrote in what has become known as “The Lunenberg Letter,”

I cannot, therefore make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of the father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy … as aliens from Christ and the well grounded hope of heaven … Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians. Still I will be asked, How do I know that any loves my Master but by his obedience to his commandments? I answer, In no other way. But mark, I do not substitute obedience to one commandment, for universal or even general obedience. And should I see a sectarian Baptist or a Pedobaptist more spiritually minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah, than one who precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach, doubtless the former rather than the latter, would have my cordial approbation and love as a Christian. So I judge and so feel. It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves; and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known.” (Alexander Campbell, “Any Christians among the Protestant Parties,” Millennial Harbinger 8 [September 1837], 412)

These words by Campbell are not cited to give him biblical authority. They are cited because they demonstrate understanding of biblical theology and nonsectarian Christianity. For a deeper look on Campbell’s baptismal journey see Alexander Campbell, Rebaptism & Sectarianism.

Conclusion

I believe and teach baptism as much as anyone (its in books with my name, there are articles on my blog, there are sermons, I’ve baptized many over the years). I will continue to do so. But when we make baptism an idol we gut the biblical witness and loose any credibility when we paganize those whose faith dwarfs our own.

I love baptism. It is God’s work. But I know that as Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” that that same principle applies to baptism. Sectarian positions on baptism are powerful obstacles that often hinder presenting the biblical and historic Christian teaching on baptism.

Baptism serves faith; faith does not serve baptism.

We have faith in Christ our faith is not in baptism nor any other thing we may treasure and hold dear. We honor baptism by kneeling before Jesus’s cross … “nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Christ is the Savior. Baptism is not.
Christ is the Judge. Baptism is not.

Paul, quoting the Lord God himself, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9.15; Exodus 33.19)

That settles it. For me. God is Merciful and does not ask my permission.

I already know some will go say I do not believe in baptism.

3 Responses to “Christ the Savior, the Judge, and Baptism”

  1. Ed Dodds Says:

    Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elders.

    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

    Paul and the Elders responded to prophecy in order to equip Timothy for his ministry (call, commission, holy orders, ordain, what have you). See also Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning in Acts.

    If we spend all our time fussing about baptism then we don’t focus on the gift / ministry discernment praying and fasting elders should be doing for each member.

    Baptism is an allegiance pledge against all other so called gods (1 Cor. 10) and the Holy Spirit is the Father & Sons seal as we as holy-fied / sanctified to Yeshua Jesus as the Caesar of Caesars and Lord of Lords who is above every power and principality, etc. If you aren’t part of the guerrilla war against the shedim, etc. mode of baptism is irrelevant.

  2. Dwight Haas Says:

    Bobby, I am truly convinced that in the minds of many, baptism saves, while Jesus is involved in this process. Ironically, while the Jews placed their faith in circumcision, Paul made the argument in Romans 2 “So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circimcized?”
    So then, on parallel, a person who behaves as a Christian, who has not been baptized, should be regarded as baptized. And they will judge those who have been baptized in the flesh, but not in the heart.

  3. John Acufff Says:

    and too often we have buried people who had not died and that really creates a problem

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