Maxey - Hughes Debate

Third Rebuttal
to the Second Proposition
by Al Maxey

Friday, November 15, 2002

First, let me begin this final post in the Maxey-Hughes Debate by thanking my brother in Christ for the opportunity to discuss this important concept with him in a public forum. I have appreciated his demeanor and applaud his tenacity for the tenets of his tradition. At a time when many flee responsible dialogue with disciples with whom they differ significantly, Michael has stood his ground and defended his perceptions forcefully, and yet respectfully. I applaud you, brother. May God richly bless both you and your ministry for our God.

Let me also declare, as I have previously, that Michael and I are not that far removed in our beliefs about the methodology and meaning of NT baptism. We both regard it to be a vital aspect of God's plan of salvation. Michael has repeatedly sought to impress upon me, and the readers, the importance of immersion. He is preaching to the choir. I agree with him completely, and have been preaching the same thing myself for many decades.

Our debate is not about the place of baptism in God's plan of salvation. Rather, it is about the nature of our God and His matchless grace. Do we serve a God who is so infinitely legalistic that even the smallest infraction of some required rite or ritual will cause a sincere soul to be tortured forever without mercy? Is grace so restricted that it can only be acquired by absolute, perfect compliance with the minutest of legalistic requirements? And if so, is it truly "grace," or is it more correctly something else?

I suppose the biggest difference between Michael and me, and it is a chasm as vast as the Grand Canyon, is our perception of the nature of our Father. I essentially see a Father who is characterized by LOVE; my brother perceives Him as a stern, unyielding authoritarian, characterized by LAW. I believe Michael is wrong. Indeed, we had all better hope and pray that he is wrong, for if Michael is right then we are in big trouble with regard to our eternal destinies. If salvation is by complete compliance to rigorous regulation, heaven will be a mighty empty place.

Michael made the statement, "I did not however need his grace." This, of course, referred to MY grace, not God's (which we all need, as my opponent admits). However, that statement, and the context within which it is found, showed a mindset that if one can "keep law" (in this case the expectations of the Religious Debates list) then grace becomes unnecessary. If justification is acquired through compliance to regulation, then grace is not needed, just as Michael suggested with respect to our list expectations.

Where Michael has blurred the distinction, however, is with respect to our coming to God. He wrote, "I do however need God's grace which is precisely why I need to do those things which God has determined that I MUST do to receive it." Here is where I believe my brother has failed to perceive the true nature of GRACE. We cannot DO anything to receive grace. If we could, it would no longer be grace. To the contrary, "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20). This, of course, does not constitute license to "continue in sin that grace might increase" (Romans 6:1f), but rather simply shows the nature of grace. It is an unearned gift. Repeatedly in Romans 5 Paul characterizes grace as a "free gift." There is absolutely nothing men can DO to merit it. Nothing! Those who try have failed to understand the concept of God's grace.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Michael says he MUST DO something to receive grace. If that is true, then grace is no longer a "free gift" but wages paid. Paul, on the other hand, points out that grace was manifested "while we were enemies" (Romans 5:10), "while we were still helpless" (Romans 5:6), while we were "ungodly" (Romans 5:6), and "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8). Grace is unmerited, and it is simply received in gratitude by viable, visible faith. Those who try to earn it (by doing something so as to acquire it) will fail to find it.

Michael suggested there were no time limitations in the published rules of the Religious Debates List. He is correct on that. However, the moderator had informed me that one week was the limit in their thinking, and when that point had been reached there would be an effort to determine the cause of the delay and correct it. People are waiting in line on the Religious Debates List for their own debates to begin (only two at a time are allowed), and thus it is also a matter of common courtesy to keep one's brethren in mind and not delay them unduly. In point of fact, another member and I had been informed a few days ago that the Maxey-Hughes Debate would be terminated on a specific date if my opponent had not responded by then, and that this other member and I should go ahead and prepare to begin our new debate at that time. Yes, brother, there are expectations (albeit unpublished). Yes, I had appealed earlier to the moderators to extend a bit more grace to you so that the debate would not be put on hold or terminated, even though the expectations were not being met. Sin should not increase, however, that grace may abound. Thus, I agreed to the termination date on this most recent occasion. After all, I had appealed to you privately on at least two occasions and received no response whatsoever. Thus, I had assumed your intent of heart was NOT to complete the debate. I was glad to see you come through, however.

But, that is now past, and I only bring it out as a point of clarification to your first major point in your third affirmative. Yes, Michael, grace was extended to you, and as a result of the forbearing spirit of several, this debate has been brought to its consummation, albeit a somewhat delayed one, rather than dying an untimely death.

Michael stated, "Al missed the point concerning exceptions in the Bible. He tries to argue essentially that since God has stated certain exceptions that there will therefore be certain exceptions in other areas than the ones that He stated. Al, the argument that was presented and that you need to deal with is that God has already stated the ONLY exceptions that He makes. I even listed them."

My comment to this would be: Where does it specifically state in the inspired record that this list of exceptions you have compiled constitutes the ONLY exceptions God will ever grant in the history of His dealings with mankind? Can you absolutely affirm, with no equivocation, that God WILL NOT EVER make even ONE additional exception? Can you declare that as FACT, Michael? Or, is this an assumption? If the latter, then upon what authority is it based? And even more importantly, on what authority is it bound?

You stated I could never prove God WILL make an exception in a special circumstance involving baptism. I contend YOU cannot prove He WILL NOT. In the final analysis it comes down to our respective perceptions of the nature of God and His grace. Is He characterized by Law or Love; is grace merited or unmerited? I also realize that this debate ends with this post, so there will be no written answers to these questions forthcoming. However, I pray you and the readers will carefully consider them. They are vital.

I think our ancestor in the faith, brother Alexander Campbell (in his response to the so-called Lunenburg Letter, which was sent on July 8, 1837, and subsequently published in the Millennial Harbinger that same year), offered an interesting insight when he wrote the following: "My correspondent may belong to a class who think that we detract from the authority and value of an institution the moment we admit the bare possibility of anyone being saved without it."

Brother Campbell had immersion in mind (as the specific "institution") when he wrote the above. Needless to say, this statement created a furor. Some believed Campbell had "left the faith" and was denying the place of baptism in God's plan of redemption. Not at all, as further clarification from his pen revealed. He merely acknowledged, as I have, that we serve a God of GRACE. Exceptions do not negate the rule, they merely constitute gracious exceptions in light of special circumstances. To deny even the bare possibility of such exceptions places the sanctity of the law above the supremacy of the law-Giver. Jesus made it very clear He was "Lord even of the Sabbath," and that "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28). This was said in the context of a special circumstance where the Lord extended grace over law, mercy over mandate! I believe this is the very nature of our God, regardless of whether the issue at hand is the Sabbath or baptism.

Michael provided the example of a man who "has been a faithful Christian for twenty-five years. Prior to that however he was a drunk (what we today call an alcoholic)." He informs us this man, in his illustration, has lived faithfully to his Lord during those years. Then a great trauma comes into the life of this man (the nature unspecified), one severe enough to cause him to desire a drink for the first time in decades. In a moment of weakness and desperation (Michael's word) he heads to a store or bar to find a drink, but is killed in an accident on the way. Michael asks, "Is he lost forever now?"

As I have tried to show throughout this debate, the answer to this question is in the HEART OF THE MAN and in the NATURE OF OUR GOD. God will examine the heart and determine the fate of this individual. Does a singular moment of weakness negate a quarter century of faithful service? May a Christian stumble in his walk with the Lord, and still experience grace and mercy? We'd better hope so, Michael. If we must die in a state of perfection to be saved, then we are all lost. I believe 1 John 1:7-10 makes it clear that we all experience sin in our daily walk, and yet if our focus is on Christ and we are making our best effort (even though we stumble daily), then His blood continually cleanses us from ALL sin, and we are covered by His grace. You and I will both die sinners, Michael, just as this man in your illustration did. You will die in no better shape than he, although your particular besetting weakness may differ. If not for grace, dear brother, you and he are both lost.

Michael suggests that if I declare the above man in the illustration NOT lost, then I "will have to concede the issue on baptism as well." In what possible way?! On the contrary! Grace is extended in both situations to one who had fallen short of God's expectations, but whose intent of heart overall was desirous of doing His will. When you let go of your infant child and watch him take those first faltering steps toward you on its own, and he falls down (as he will) .... do you shoot him in the head? Family is a safe haven where failure is not fatal. All those walking toward the Father with arms outstretched, or walking with the Father and holding to His hand, will not be rejected or banished with each successive stumble. Such an attitude or action is inconsistent with the nature of our loving, merciful, gracious Father who loved us enough that, while we were yet sinners, He allowed Jesus to die in our place.

The same question we are examining in this debate was posed to brother Max Lucado several years back. I thought his response was interesting. With regard to what God will do with one who dies while actively seeking to obey and be immersed, Max wrote, "The answer to this question is found in the character of God. Would a God of love reject an honest heart? No way. Would a God of mercy and kindness condemn any seeking soul? Absolutely not. Having called you and died for you would he cast you away because of a curious sequence of events? Inconceivable" (Baptism: The Demonstration of Devotion, p. 11).

Michael stated, "It is therefore necessary for every person to somehow have that sin taken care of. God devised baptism to accomplish that." Odd .... I thought He sent His Son to take care of that!! We are saved by faith in HIM. Baptism is merely a demonstration of that faith. God did not "devise baptism" to take care of sin. Baptism is merely a visible demonstration of our faith in the One who DID come to take care of our sin. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Rev. 1:5 clearly informs us that our release from our sins came through the shed blood of the Son. He bore them to the cross. We accept this "free gift" of salvation BY FAITH. "Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). This is a faith that is active, and thus visible. It is seen initially in a demonstration of faith known as baptism. We are saved by grace through faith, and we demonstrate that reality via our immersion (a symbol of our own death, burial and resurrection effected IN HIM), and then a life lived in faithfulness. Baptism is not the reality itself, but merely represents that reality in symbolism! One who dies prior to evidencing that reality, still possesses the reality, if in fact that faith was in their heart and it was moving them to respond visibly.

With regard to baptism, Michael wrote, "We are not His prior to that, nowhere does it teach that we are." I would hope that my brother would seriously reconsider the account in Acts 10. PRIOR to the baptism of Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit of God "fell upon all those who were listening to the message" (Acts 10:44). The Jews with Peter "were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (Acts 10:45). Michael, were these Gentiles "His" at this point? Was God demonstrating His acceptance of them? In the retelling later in Jerusalem (Acts 11), Peter made it clear that he believed God had accepted these people by pouring out His Spirit upon them, and thus, in view of that obvious acceptance, he immersed them (a big move, since this was up to that time a JEWISH church). Before the Jews would accept the Gentiles, they needed to know GOD had. God demonstrated that acceptance PRIOR to their immersion.

Michael concludes with this thought: "One in the process of 'being baptized' is not one that has 'been baptized.' They have not been added to the church, they are not in Christ, they are therefore not in the body, their sins have not been washed away, they have not put on Christ, they have not been born again, therefore I MUST conclude that my proposition is correct. God will not save the person that has not yet been baptized."

Michael's contention is that the person is NOT a genuine child of the Father, and will not be perceived as one by the Father, until the nose breaks the surface of the water in the baptistery. Using the same reasoning, we might say that if a full-term fetus dies one second before the head emerges from the birth canal then that fetus is NOT the child of those parents, and they should simply discard it as so much dead tissue. If it takes a breath and then dies, however, it is their precious son.

Brother, I can assure you, as one who has performed funerals for babies who died in such circumstances, that this infant is considered just as much their son as the one who completes the birth process and grows to maturity. There are tombstones with the NAMES of such children on them, and the parents visit these sites regularly. This little being was their son, even though it failed to complete the birth process it had clearly begun. Next time you perform such a funeral, Michael, please tell the parents to cease their grieving since the blob of tissue wasn't really their son anyway ---- why? .... because it died a second before taking a breath. I'll visit you in the hospital afterward!!!

To suggest that God discards those in the process of being born again who fail by centimeters or seconds to complete that process, through no fault of their own, is to portray a heartless God. I think you are wrong, Michael .... woefully wrong!!

With these few thoughts I bring this debate to a close. I thank the Religious Debates List for hosting it, the moderators for keeping it moving along, and Michael for being a worthy opponent. May God bless all who read this exchange, and may it facilitate further exploration into the Word for the purpose of truly knowing our loving God and His matchless grace.