Maxey - Hughes Debate

Second Affirmative
to the First Proposition
by Al Maxey

Saturday, September 14, 2002

In reviewing Michael's first rebuttal to my first affirmative it becomes clear that one of the major arguments he seeks to make against my position is centered around the double use of the word "will" in the proposition. Notice again this proposition (the all-caps are included by me for emphasis):

FIRST PROPOSITION: "If a repentant, confessing believer in Jesus Christ has fully committed himself/herself to being obedient to Christ Jesus in baptism, but dies unexpectedly prior to actually complying with that command (due to circumstances beyond his/her control), God's grace WILL cover that person, and they WILL receive the gift of eternal salvation, based on the genuine intent of their heart at the time of their death."

Michael wrote that he is not interested, during the course of this debate, "about what God COULD do." He further notes: "The issue is not what God COULD do, but what God said He WOULD do!" Although my opponent seems to think that the use of the term "will" in the above proposition virtually guarantees my failure to promote and defend my position, I would point out the same burden falls upon the shoulders of brother Hughes with respect to the second proposition, in which the same word will pose the same problem for him (again, the all caps are supplied by me for emphasis):

SECOND PROPOSITION: "If a repentant, confessing believer in Jesus Christ has fully committed himself/herself to being obedient to Christ Jesus in baptism, but dies unexpectedly prior to actually complying with that command (due to circumstances beyond his/her control), that person WILL be condemned to eternal punishment in hell."

Although Michael seems to think I'm standing on shifting sand in asserting God WILL demonstrate grace in certain extreme circumstances, I wonder if my opponent is on any more solid ground when asserting God WILL NOT? Since he signed the affirmative in the second half of this exchange, then he will have the burden of seeking to prove that God WILL condemn to Hell all who have not perfectly and completely complied with the command to be immersed, and that there will not be a single, solitary exception in the history of mankind. That too seems like "a tall order."

Michael is convinced (seemingly) that there will be NO exceptions granted by our God; not even for one who was ONE SECOND away from being immersed, and whose heart was completely surrendered to the Lord. Remember, readers, we are not talking about those who willfully refuse to accept the Lord's conditions for salvation. We are not talking about procrastinators, nor about godless unbelievers. According to our proposition, we are talking about a person who has come to a depth of faith and personal conviction that has led him to repent of his sins, confess Jesus before others, and who is willing "to comply completely and immediately with all the Lord Jesus has required of a person as specified in His inspired New Covenant writings" (as per the definition of terms in my first affirmative, to which Michael offered no objection). Such a person has immediately sought to comply with the command to be immersed, but died suddenly before completing actual compliance with that command. Michael's contention is that God WILL (no exceptions) send this person to Hell, and that the intent of this person's heart, the depth of his faith, his willingness to comply, and his immediate effort to fulfill the command, will count for NOTHING. The fact that this penitent believer missed getting into the water, perhaps just by seconds, will cost that person eternal life ... according to Michael's theology. Thus, God seemingly puts more significance on a wet body than a willing heart.

With all due respect to Michael, I find such a theology a mockery of God's grace, and, frankly, an affront to the revealed nature of my God, who is a God of love, mercy, and compassion. Yes, Michael, I can ... and DO ... affirm that MY God WILL extend mercy and acceptance to that individual in this extreme circumstance. And how do I KNOW this with such deep conviction? Because, dear brother, I KNOW MY GOD!!! The God I serve is not the Ultimate Legalist, but rather the Ultimate Lover. He's not sitting on His throne with a stop watch, awaiting that magic moment the nose breaks the surface of the water, but rather is examining the intent of the man's heart.

COULD our God extend grace to such a one who died suddenly one second prior to baptism? I think you and I both agree, Michael, that He COULD. Our difference lies in whether or not He WILL. You seem to believe He will NOT .... I, on the other hand, regard such a contention as yours to be unthinkable. If indeed our God would torture in Hell one who came one second short of immersion, even though in his heart he had already committed to and completed the act, then to be very, very blunt, Michael, that is not a God I care to serve! And it certainly is NOT the God I read about in the inspired Scriptures and have come to know and love with all of my being. Perhaps YOUR God would do such a thing, Michael, but MY God would NOT. And I believe that with every fiber of my being.

We are told in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (NASB). The NIV renders it: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Can I PROVE with scientific certainty that God will save such a person? No. Neither can you prove with scientific certainty He will not. This is not a matter that can be assessed in such a manner. This is a matter of FAITH. A faith in GOD HIMSELF that "He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). A faith that allows us to declare as "sure" and "certain" that which we can't see or verify with the senses. I cannot PROVE there is a God, but I KNOW Him intimately. I cannot PROVE He will save me, but I KNOW I am saved (1 John 5:13).

Paul wrote, "I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). Could Paul PROVE that God WOULD do what he expected? No, he could not. But, Paul could confidently declare his hope as a reality because of his FAITH in and KNOWLEDGE of the Father. When we KNOW the One in whom we believe (have faith), that faith becomes the ASSURANCE of that for which we hope and the CONVICTION of that which we do not yet see. "The Lord WILL deliver me from every evil deed, and WILL bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18). How does Paul KNOW this? FAITH!!

Drew Worthen, in his Hebrews Commentary Series, makes the following observation on the Hebrews 11:1 passage: "Our assurance is substantiated in the truth of who God is." Don Schwager, in his commentary on the same passage, writes, "To have faith is to believe and trust in someone." My faith and trust is in a God who has revealed the beauty of His love and compassion all through the Scriptures. The God I have come to know intimately is a God who WILL extend grace and mercy to one whose heart and commitment and faith and effort to comply is as described in the example given earlier.

My opponent in this debate will likely suggest that my position is highly subjective. He is correct. As is his own. We are not dealing with scientifically verifiable objective data, but rather with the nature of Deity. What is the essence of the nature of our God, and how might we expect that nature to exhibit itself in interaction with a contrite heart? Perhaps Jesus Himself (who said that if we have seen Him we have seen the Father) gave us a glimpse when He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery but rather extended mercy (John 8:3-11). Perhaps His refusal to condemn David and his men when they unlawfully ate the shewbread is yet another glimpse into that merciful nature of the Father, who evaluates hearts & need above strict enforcement of law (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28). Perhaps we have yet another glimpse in the Father's acceptance of the Passover celebration which was eaten "otherwise than prescribed" and "not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary" (2 Chron. 30). Perhaps we see even more "exceptions" made when we behold Jesus and the disciples using "cups of wine" in the Passover meal, which were NEVER authorized in the Law (and never even mentioned anywhere in the OT writings the so-called "law of silence"). The cups of wine were innovations of the rabbis, additions to God's Law, and yet there was no guilt assigned. Yes, Michael, our God is far more gracious and accepting (and even excepting) than we often are willing to admit.

Our God is a gracious, merciful, loving, compassionate God who has shown us more than once that He is willing to set aside rigid regulation in order to provide for the greater good of man. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). My God, in order to extend mercy and grace to one who may have, through no fault of his own, fallen one second short of full compliance to some regulation, can ... and WILL ... act in accordance with His nature. That nature is not one of rigid, unyielding legalism, but of acceptance of those who eagerly seek Him in full conviction of faith and devotion of heart. NOTHING "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39) .... not even an unexpected death one second prior to immersion.

Michael alleged: "Al IS denying the place of baptism in God's expectations. He does NOT believe that baptism is necessary!" My brother's error is in the assumption that a gracious exception by a loving God would constitute the voiding of a command. That is a false assumption. Most laws, both human and divine, can, and indeed have been on occasion, set aside if in so doing a greater good is obtained. Our God has even set aside the laws of nature itself for specific purposes and to extend His grace to those in need. "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

The speed limit in our neighborhood is 30 mph, for example, but if my child is bleeding to death in my car I can exceed that limit so as to get him to the hospital to save his life. My "special circumstance," however, certainly does not thereby forever invalidate that law for all others under normal circumstances.

The proposition which Michael and I debate is one that essentially asks the question, "Will God exercise grace over law in special circumstances?" I think there is sufficient precedent in Scripture to declare confidently: YES, such is the evident nature of our Father.

Under normal circumstances, which would be MOST circumstances, the way we come to salvation is through hearing, belief/faith, repentance, confession and immersion. There is a huge debate being waged in the religious world today over the last of these items. This has led to the question, "Are there ANY circumstances under which God will extend His grace to one who has not been immersed?" I have suggested in my proposition that I believe there is at least one such circumstance. Michael, however, denies that God's grace will cover such a one in such a circumstance. This leads me to wonder if Michael would actually go as far as the man I previously mentioned, who said he would contend that one would be eternally lost who had been plunged beneath the water, but who died prior to his nose breaking the surface of the water. Michael, would YOU go that far? And if NOT, then how is this situation different from the man who is standing in the baptistery and dies one second before being lowered into the water? Neither completed the act prior to death. Would you extend grace to one but not the other? Or, would you extend grace to neither? I look forward to your response, brother .... and I would sincerely appreciate a response to this. It will tell us something about your view of our Father.

Michael asked: "If God's grace saves one that has not been baptized then is not the following true?" --- (A) He saves one whose sin has NOT been washed away, (B) He saves one who has NOT put on Christ, (C) He saves one who has NOT been born again, (D) He saves one who has NOT become a new Creature, (E) He saves one who has NOT been buried with Christ.

A special circumstance, or an exception, is just that .... an exception to the rule or the norm. We are born from above by the Spirit, and we are washed clean of our sins by the blood of the Son, and we are clothed in Jesus Christ, and we arise to newness of life in Him . and these are realities received by those willing to demonstrate their faith in Him. That demonstration of faith is found in repentance, confession and immersion. That is the normal circumstance. Faith is acceptably DEMONSTRATED in these ways. If one is intent within his heart on DOING each of these things, and immediately sets out to comply with each of them, but is prevented through no fault of his own, then that constitutes a "special circumstance" ... which is the very focus of this debate. Will God regard the honest, genuine intent of one's heart, and the effort to immediately comply, as sufficient unto salvation? Is His nature such that He would make an exception in this special, and rare, circumstance? I believe the answer is an unequivocal YES.

Remember, Michael, we are saved by grace through faith, NOT through any human effort on our own part. Faith DEMONSTRATED (the "works" of which James speaks in his epistle) is merely evidence of the FAITH we have that lays hold of God's grace. A faith we REFUSE to demonstrate will NOT save us. THIS is what James meant when he said that faith alone, without works, would not save. Abraham DISPLAYED his faith by ACTING upon it, just as we are required to do today. However, if one immediately seeks to ACT upon that faith, in the way prescribed by the Lord (as Abraham did), but is prevented from completing the prescribed display of faith (as Abraham was), will that intent of heart be counted as sufficient? I believe it WILL. And I believe the example of Abraham's offering of Isaac is sufficient precedent for this conviction.

Michael asked, "If all of the above is true, then at what point does that individual obtain salvation?" Since I believe God CAN and WILL extend grace in certain special circumstances, I don't believe any of us can pinpoint the precise second when salvation is imparted. All things being equal, and given no hindrances, one is expected to hear, believe, repent, confess and be immersed. Unless there is some special circumstance that requires God's grace, I would say salvation is imparted (from a human space/time perspective) at some point when the above requirements are met. I leave it to God to determine that precise moment in time (if such even concerns Him). However, since God operates outside of space and time, and is certainly not limited by either, that may not even be the relevant question. Perhaps we should ask: When exactly has a person acceptably responded in their heart to the call of God in Christ? When is that moment when they give their heart fully and completely to Him? Does it come before, during or after immersion? And if such a committed heart stops beating one second before being plunged under the water, is that heart rejected by God in eternity on a temporal technicality? THAT is the question, Michael. I would like to hear your response.

Brother Hughes quoted James 2:21 -- "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" Michael then states, "James says that Abraham was justified because of WHAT HE DID, not in spite of what he DID NOT DO as brother Maxey claims." Let's look at what James says Abraham DID. He says he "offered up his son on the altar." God said to offer him as a burnt offering. Did Abraham DO this, Michael? Did he kill his son? Did he burn him? He took the wood to do so, but did he use it on his son? NO!!! In point of fact, the only place where his son was fully "offered up" was IN HIS HEART. The actual offering on the altar never occurred.

Yes, Abraham IN FAITH "offered up" his son, and that HEART offering (which he did indeed immediately seek to offer up in actual fact, but never completed) was reckoned unto him as righteousness. Michael falsely stated, "Al says Abraham did not obey God, i.e., he did not offer his son. The Hebrew writer says that he 'offered up Isaac,' i.e., he obeyed God." Brother Hughes, you have misrepresented me in the above. Abraham most certainly DID obey God. He offered up his son IN HIS HEART. You and I both know that historically Isaac did NOT die on that altar. Thus, he was NOT offered up on it in actual historical fact. However, God regarded the HEART of Abraham, and IN HIS HEART that action WAS completed. Thus, you are right, brother .... Abraham DID obey fully, and as a result was blessed. This is exactly my point in this debate, by the way. God's grace will be extended in such extreme special circumstances based on the HEART, not whether some specified action actually occurs (IF the person was hindered from complying against his/her own will, and IF the heart was intent upon seeking immediate compliance).

This whole matter boils down to one's perception of the nature of God. Is He a God of grace or of Law? We had better hope and pray He is the former, for if He is the latter we are all in serious trouble, and countless souls will face losing life based on mere technicalities.