Maxey - Hughes Debate

First Rebuttal
to the Second Proposition
by Al Maxey

Saturday, October 19, 2002

I want to begin by thanking Michael for his extensive definition of the terms in the second proposition. They were very thorough, and I would not significantly differ with any of them. I would imagine that in a deeper dialogue about some of them, however, we might discover areas of difference, but on the surface we tend to agree.

One thing that stands out in virtually all of Michael's definitions is the focus on the heart. He points out, for example, that repentance "defines the character and attitude of one ..." and it entails a "recognition" leading to "godly sorrow." He speaks of the believer being "willing" to acknowledge Jesus as Christ and Lord, and those "fully committed" as being those "pledging themselves to full and complete obedience to the will of the Father." Michael correctly declares this is a person who "has determined" to devote themselves to doing exactly what the Lord has asked them to do. He speaks of obedience to commands as being essential for one who "wishes to be in compliance."

Thus, we definitely see a very strong subjective aspect to these definitions, and rightly so. Compliance begins in the heart, and indeed is often "performed" by the "inner man" prior to its being evidenced by the "outer man." For example, Jesus informs us that "the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good" (Matthew 12:34-35). In the previous verse He points out that the "fruit" of a tree is good because the tree itself is good; thus, the fruit is merely a reflection of the nature of the tree itself. The tree, therefore, is good ... the fruit merely reflects that fact. Similarly, when John said, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8), he was speaking of the visible evidences of an inner reality. The fruit displayed was not actually the repentance itself, but merely the evidence of that repentance. The repentance existed in the heart PRIOR to its actually being evidenced in specific actions.

The same is true of faith. Faith is an inner conviction of heart that one then evidences visibly. James said, "I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). Did the faith of James only become a reality at the precise moment he performed some work which demonstrated faith, or did his faith fully exist in his heart prior to that demonstration? I think it is obvious, both logically and exegetically, that it is the latter. The faith was present in his heart PRIOR to its actual demonstration, and is not to be denied or voided simply because it had not yet had opportunity to be visibly demonstrated. If the intent is there to demonstrate that faith, the faith itself is viable!

The same with obedience. Genuine obedience to the Lord flows from a willing, submissive heart. Obedience to the Lord is a demonstration of a heart already committed to such obedience. Compliance flows from an established commitment of heart. The former will never truly occur without the latter. This is true also of repentance. Genuine repentance is of the HEART, although it will obviously be visibly evidenced in subsequent fruit. However, if one were to die prior to any fruit being evidenced, that would in no way void the genuine repentance of one's heart, any more than it would void the genuine faith existing in one's heart. Both fully exist in the heart prior to being evidenced in one's actions. And if one is further committed to demonstrating both in his/her life, but is tragically prevented by an untimely death, that does not deny the validity of the faith and repentance which were both fully formed within the inner man.

This fact is evident in the second proposition: "If a repentant, confessing believer in Jesus Christ has fully committed himself/herself TO BEING obedient to Christ Jesus in baptism..." (caps mine, AHM). The phrase "to being" suggests INTENT OF HEART. The obedient act itself has not yet occurred, but the COMMITMENT TO obedience is already present and fully formed in the heart, and the person is completely devoted to immediately carrying out the specified obedient act. Thus, in a way, one can correctly declare that the act itself has ALREADY been performed WITHIN THE HEART, and it is simply a matter of going through the physical motions to display visibly what is already an inner reality.

That is exactly the case with Abraham's commitment to obey the Lord's command to offer Isaac on the alter as a burnt offering. When the command was given he immediately committed himself within his heart to comply with that command, and he immediately began the process of setting in motion the outward demonstration of his obedience. There were things he had to do in order to evidence the obedience that he already had committed himself to in his heart. He had to prepare for the journey, he had to gather wood, etc. In his heart, however, the act was already fully accomplished. In his heart, he had already obeyed. The inner reality was such that even though he never actually physically complied with the command itself (being providentially hindered), nevertheless Scripture declares he OBEYED. God judged the commitment to compliance within Abraham's heart, and his obvious physical effort to move toward actual compliance, as equal to the completed act itself.

Thus, our proposition speaks of one committing himself/herself TO BEING immersed into Christ Jesus. This is a deep inner conviction and commitment so strong that the person immediately sets in motion the necessary activities to bring this inner commitment to reality. They know what they must do, and they waste no time in setting about doing it. Their focus, and the desire of their heart, is simply to do the will of their Lord, and to do it as quickly as they possibly can.

The scenario which has led to our debate, however, is one in which the unexpected occurs to this devout individual. As this fully committed person is acting upon his heartfelt determination to obey his Lord as quickly as possible, he is tragically killed. Through no fault of his own his life is terminated just prior to actual physical compliance .... a compliance to which he was fully committed within his heart. The question is: Will our loving, compassionate, merciful Father regard the deep faith and commitment of one's heart as sufficient in this rare scenario and extend grace, or will He cast this person from His presence for all eternity and torture him without mercy in the fires of Hell for falling seconds or yards short of the water?

My opponent declares that if this person, whose heart is filled with love and devotion to the Lord, and who has genuinely repented of his sins and confessed the Lord, and who has committed himself in his heart TO BEING immersed into Christ, and who is actively engaged in immediately complying with that command .... my opponent says that if this person is plunged beneath the waters of the baptistery and dies suddenly before his nose breaks the surface of the water, that our merciful, compassionate, loving Father will take this person and cast him forever from His presence, and keep him alive for the sole purpose of torturing him without mercy in the fires of Hell for zillions and zillions and zillions and zillions of years, subjecting him to tortures beyond human comprehension, never being satisfied with the misery being inflicted upon him.

Brethren, this is nothing less than BLASPHEMY. It impugns the nature and character of my God, and it portrays Him as a foul and fiendish Father the likes of which make the most demented demon in the universe appear saintly in comparison.

Michael lightly dismisses the eternal fate of such a one (in his final paragraph of his third rebuttal to the first proposition) by saying that "that man took his chances and lost." He confidently declares, "he died lost." When I read those words chills went up and down my body!! I honestly could not believe I was actually reading such a remark from one who purports to proclaim the grace of a loving and merciful God. In fact, I had asked Michael to clarify if in fact he felt the person whose "nose had not broken the surface of the water" was lost. His reply was, "My answer is no they were not obedient and no they are not saved." Wow!!

Michael has made it abundantly clear that faith, repentance, confession, love, devotion, commitment, even immediate effort to obey, MEAN NOTHING to our God in the final analysis. Unless the person in question GETS WET (and his nose actually breaks the surface of the water), all is for nothing!! Salvation is extended ONLY at the moment the tip of the nose comes out of the water. THEN, and ONLY then, do faith, confession, repentance, love, devotion, commitment to obedience, and immediate effort to comply count for anything. Thus, in Michael's theology, salvation is not by grace through faith, but rather by works. Specifically, by a single work: baptism.

Michael obviously does not believe that the Lord will regard the intent of one's heart as equal to actual physical demonstration in certain special circumstances. However, are there examples (other than Abraham, which Michael rejects) where the intent of the heart IS regarded by the Lord as equal to the actual physical act itself? I believe there are.

Consider, by way of example, the command "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Most would agree this is a specific sexual act committed by two persons who engage in illicit activity with one another. Can a person "commit adultery" ALONE, however? Can adultery be committed without any physical activity at all taking place? Can a man commit adultery with a particular woman, and that woman not even be aware of the act against her? In other words, can adultery occur ONLY IN THE HEART, and still be considered as equal to the physical act itself?

Jesus said, "Everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her HAS COMMITTED adultery with her already IN HIS HEART" (Matthew 5:28). The act has "ALREADY" been committed, Jesus said. And it was committed only IN HIS HEART. It is clear that God DOES often regard the INTENT OF HEART as equal to the committing of the act itself. If such is true negatively, could not such also be true positively? Again, though Michael seeks to deny this, I believe Abraham's "obedience in his heart" to God's command to offer his son is a precedent.

It is simply a fact that the outward demonstration is merely a reflection of the already present inner reality. "For as he thinks within himself, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Michael, however, would DENY the inner reality, or declare it void, until that visible demonstration actually occurs. In other words, until James actually SHOWED his faith, Michael would likely deny that faith was even present, or if it was that it was not truly valid. Would Michael declare lustful intent to be "adultery," or would he insist the physical act be first completed? What if a man died while undressing a woman other than his wife, but prior to actual intercourse? Would the sin of adultery be counted against him? After all, he never actually completed his intended action!! He intended to do it, and he was working toward doing it, and if he had lived a few more minutes he would have done it, but he died just prior to the physical sexual act itself. Thus, did adultery NOT occur? Or, will God regard the INTENT of the heart, and the determination of the man to carry out that intent, to be equal to the act itself? I think we both know the answer to that question, Michael. Thus, if God will regard negative intent with regard to a command as equal to the act itself, why not positive intent with regard to a command? Why the distinction, brother?

Whether my opponent realizes it or not, he is promoting redemption by ritual, and he is elevating LAW over GRACE. We are not "saved by sacrament," but rather saved by grace through faith as a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). Nothing we DO can effect our salvation. Baptism is not a work that must be accomplished so we can earn or merit our salvation. Baptism is a response of faith. It is a demonstration of faith. It is a manifestation of faith. But, it is our FAITH, in conjunction with His grace, that saves us, not the demonstration itself. Immersion is merely a visible manifestation of that saving faith. It is not the RITUAL that redeems, but rather the reality that underlies it.

When Michael elevates the act of baptism above the faith of the man seeking to comply, he has placed more redemptive weight upon the demonstration of faith than upon the faith itself. Thus, it becomes salvation by grace through immersion. Faith counts for NOTHING until the nose breaks the surface of the water. Such a theology is works based, and it smacks of legalism (something soundly condemned throughout the writings of the apostle Paul). Thus, our God is no longer the Ultimate Lover ("God is love"), but rather the Ultimate Legalist ("God is law"). I reject Michael's theology as a mockery of grace and a blasphemy of the fair name of my Father.

Just as an aside, Michael wrote near the end of his third rebuttal, "If he had evidence showing that Nadab and Abihu were drunk he should have presented it. I see no such evidence." Michael apparently still believes, amazingly, that these two brothers evidenced "good intent" in their service to the Lord. I would encourage Michael to read my sermon on the sins of Nadab and Abihu at the following web site. It will answer his above question, and give him a little more insight on the "good intent" of this pair.

Nadab and Abihu
The Nature of Their Fatal Error

In his first affirmative to the second proposition Michael makes this assertion, "Al suggested in his second affirmative that I was going to have problems in my affirmative because I would be in a position of proving that a person that has not been baptized WILL be condemned." Actually, this is not quite what Michael has the burden of proving. He must prove that God WILL condemn those who are not immersed WITHOUT A SINGLE EXCEPTION IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. In other words, Michael must prove that God WILL NOT make ANY exceptions at all to this rule. I think that is a rather tall order, quite frankly.

Has God EVER made exceptions to His Law, Michael? Are there examples anywhere in the Bible where God HAS made exceptions to something He has commanded? Even a single, solitary example of an exception, Michael? If so, then we have precedent for a God who DOES make exceptions on occasion. Thus, can one say definitively that God WILL NOT make an exception with regard to baptism in some special circumstance? I think not. Therefore, Michael's proposition is going to be impossible to prove, in my view, because he has to prove that God will NEVER, EVER make a single exception to this command, even though our God has demonstrated a willingness to make exceptions before in His dealings with mankind in special circumstances.

Michael spent a considerable amount of time and space seeking to demonstrate the need for immersion. He is preaching to the choir. I concur with him. This debate is not about whether or not baptism is a part of God's plan of salvation. It is about whether or not God will extend grace IN A SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCE and MAKE AN EXCEPTION to the rule. We are NOT debating the existence of the "rule," we are debating whether an exception can and will be made to the rule in rare special circumstances. I believe there is justification and precedent for expecting such exceptions. Michael, therefore, must prove there is not. Merely asserting the RULE does not constitute such proof. He must prove the absolute impossibility of a single exception. I believe there is no biblical basis for such an assertion. Indeed, the biblical evidence is to the contrary.

Additionally, Michael has the unenviable task of trying to demonstrate how no exceptions to this rule would portray a God of love, mercy, compassion and grace. He must demonstrate how a Being who would torture endlessly one whose nose did not break the surface of the water, but whose heart was fully committed to Him in loving faith, is the God of love, mercy, compassion and grace portrayed in the Bible. He must show us how "justice is served" by such cruelty.

My opponent concluded his first affirmative with these words, "...we can say nothing other than the one that dies without being baptized will be condemned. There are no exceptions without adding to the word." I do not believe Michael has proved this assertion. He has two more tries to do so.