Issue #146 -------
September 10, 2004
Fanatical religion driven to a certain
point is almost as bad as none at all.
Will Rogers (1879-1935)
Pastor David Martin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tennessee has produced an obvious challenge to those within the group known as Churches of Christ in his article Common Sense Questions A "Church Of Christ" Preacher CANNOT Clearly Answer. The full text of this article can be found on his web site (see above link). In a brief biographical statement pertaining to Pastor Martin, and sketching the origin of the article in question, the following comment appears -- "This is one of the most controversial articles on the Church of Christ you will find anywhere. NO Church of Christ preacher can satisfactorily answer any of the questions posed by Pastor Martin."
I tend to agree with the first sentence in the above statement; the second assertion, however, falls far short of reality. I'm not familiar with his educational background, but if Pastor Martin has had any training at all in logic, on even an elementary level, he will know that statements phrased as absolutes are rarely proven true. For example, "All Catholic priests are child molesters!" is an illustration of a statement phrased as an absolute. Is it true? Of course not. To negatively characterize an entire group by the failings of a few is both ridiculous and repugnant. "NO Church of Christ preacher can satisfactorily answer ANY of the questions posed by Pastor Martin" is an arrogant, asinine assertion that is incapable of validation or verification. It is a flaw in reasoning that would earn most any student a failing grade in Foundations of Logic & Rational Thought.
More likely true is the assertion that any answer given by any Church of Christ preacher to any of Pastor Martin's questions will fail to satisfy Pastor Martin. This will undoubtedly be evidenced by the rejection of any response or argument proffered by those who endeavor to respond to this public challenge. Nevertheless, I am hopeful and prayerful that perhaps Pastor Martin will keep an open mind, as well as an open Bible, as I seek to address the various confused assertions of this religious leader concerning those of us within the faith-heritage fellowship known as Churches of Christ.
My Response to Pastor Martin
David states, "If you ask one of these 'preachers' any of the questions in this tract, you won't get a straight answer due to their 'screwball' theology." I believe the readers of this response will quickly see that this also is a false accusation. I will endeavor to be as straight-forward in my responses as I can. I will try not to "swim in circles" or "hop all over the pond" in an effort to defend my "screwball, heretical" theology.
Pastor David Martin declares: "The religious sect known as the 'Church of Christ' has many peculiar and aberrant doctrines that are contrary to the word of God. It is a most deceptive and dangerous cult." He refers to our "heretical positions," our "false doctrines," and refers to us as "Campbellites." Such inflammatory rhetoric is truly unworthy of one who professes to be a Christian leader. It serves no purpose other than to inflame passions and predispose the readers to the author's own bias. Thus, in my response I shall seek to evidence the spirit of our Lord who did not trade insult for insult, but rather sought to reach out in love to those in need of enlightenment. By the way, pictured here is a photo of a sample of Campbellite, which is actually a very rare form of copper mineral found almost exclusively in certain mines in Arizona. I don't resemble it in the least!
One point I would stress in my response to David is that to assume that all within the group known as "Church of Christ" are exactly alike in all matters of theology and practice would be about as accurate as saying all Baptists are identical in all aspects of doctrine and practice. Neither statement is accurate. There is as much diversity within the Churches of Christ (and perhaps even more) as there is within the Baptist fellowship. Thus, anyone who asserts that the "Church of Christ" believes this or practices that has only demonstrated his or her complete lack of understanding of those within this brotherhood of believers. To paint with such broad, sweeping strokes displays not only lack of knowledge, but lack of cognitive ability critical to forming conclusions consistent with objective reality and empirical data.
Are there those within the Churches of Christ who hold to the positions asserted by Pastor Martin? Of course there are. There are also a great many more who do not. Indeed, the views which David believes characterize our movement are for the most part characteristic only of a few that constitute a radical, extreme segment of our fellowship; views which most everyone I know within the Churches of Christ find just as aberrant and abhorrent as he does, and against which we ourselves speak out boldly and frequently. Thus, to dismiss an entire body of believers as a "dangerous cult" because of the extremist views of a few factionists within it is unconscionable.
In his introductory remarks, David asserted: "The idea that they are the one, true and restored church of Jesus Christ puts them in the same league with the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches." My temptation is to inquire of Pastor Martin if he believes anyone can be saved outside of his own fellowship, but I shall refrain from pursuing that line of questioning. Instead, let me assure our critic that most within the Churches of Christ do not believe that they, and they alone, are exclusively the One Body universal on the face of the earth, and that all saved persons on the planet will, and must, assemble for worship in a building that reads Church of Christ on the sign above the door. Are there some individuals, and even some congregations, within the Churches of Christ who believe and teach this? Yes, there are. Just as I have no doubt there are some within the Baptist heritage who profess the same. Neither view is biblically correct, and we need to expose such radical, exclusionary, isolationist thinking.
Pastor Martin, in his introductory remarks, further cautioned, "for heaven's sake, do not mistake being 'washed in the baptistery of the church' for being washed in the blood of Christ." I do not personally know of anyone within the Churches of Christ who confuses those two (although I don't doubt some probably do). We do not accept, nor do we promote, a "waterworks" based plan of salvation. We do not regard baptism as a meritorious work which earns salvation. "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" (Eph. 2:8-9). We do not teach a "works-based" plan of salvation, as I will address in greater detail later in this response.
In the remainder of this response to Pastor Martin I will seek to address straightforwardly each of the questions he has posed, and which he asserts cannot be clearly answered by a Church of Christ preacher or elder. Since I happen to be both (and have served in full-time ministry, both in the USA and abroad, for almost 30 years), perhaps this paper will lay to rest that false charge.
Just as a point of clarification, on a somewhat technical note, the word actually employed in the Greek of Matt. 16:18 is Hades. The use of the later term "hell" leaves an erroneous impression in the minds of most readers and is not consistent with authorial intent.
The One True Church was never in need of being restored for the simple reason it never disappeared from the earth. Down through the ages it has often been in need of reformation, but never of restoration. Wherever disciples are born from above, our God has sons and daughters, and wherever our Father has sons and daughters, the church exists. The Body of Christ (the church) didn't suddenly appear on planet earth again in the early 1800's as a result of the work of a handful of men such as Campbell and Stone. Indeed, for those who are truly aware of the religious history of this period, the purpose of these men was not to form a new church, but rather to unite the Christians scattered throughout the various religious groups into a harmonious fellowship of believers. It was an effort to promote the brotherhood of all believers, rather than to isolate believers from one another. Sadly, history records that what began as a noble effort to unite all believers in sweet spiritual fellowship around a common Father and Savior deteriorated into factional squabbles to the point that warring groups finally formed, and in time formalized themselves into distinct denominations of disciples.
Yes, there was a time when some of the more radical factions of our movement declared themselves the only true church on earth, and the "only ones going to heaven." Some of that thinking still persists in the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ today, but this is far from the perspective of what might be termed the mainstream within our fellowship. I actually heard an aged elder in the Churches of Christ, many years ago, declare that all humans on the face of the earth had gone straight to hell when they died until the "Campbells came along and got the name above the door right!" David, I abhor and oppose such nonsense as emphatically as you do. That perspective is not the dominant view among Churches of Christ. Although a few cling to such exclusivist, isolationist thinking (as I'm sure some Baptists do, as well), most thinking disciples realize this is just sectarianism gone to seed.
The one, true church of our Lord Jesus Christ has always had a presence on the face of the earth; it has existed uninterrupted since being formed on the day of Pentecost almost 2000 years ago. To suggest it disappeared for centuries, only to be restored in recent times by a handful of men, is ludicrous, and to maintain that this restored One True Church is exclusively the group known as the "Church of Christ" church (as denominated in the phone book's Yellow Pages) is a godless absurdity. Very few within Churches of Christ today proclaim and promote such narrow-minded, arrogant sectarianism. Thus, Pastor Martin, you err by seeking to judge the whole by the failings of a few.
The answer to these questions is an emphatic and unequivocal "NO." One's salvation and relationship with the Lord is in no way determined by the qualities or the qualifications of the one administering baptism. Immersion is a personal response of faith between a penitent believer and his or her Lord. Whether the one performing the immersion is a Baptist preacher or a Church of Christ preacher is entirely irrelevant.
Once again, if David assumes that the Churches of Christ preach and practice otherwise, he is sadly mistaken. That there are some within the Churches of Christ who undoubtedly believe such horrid nonsense is certainly true, though they are few and are diminishing as more and more disciples of Christ become better and better acquainted with God's Word and Will.
Your question belies your perception of us as promoters of a "waterworks" foundation for salvation. We do not teach such a doctrine. If indeed salvation is solely determined by a "dunking," then, yes, one might well be in spiritual jeopardy if the plumber delays. Since our salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, however, a plumbing problem alone is not going to send anyone to the lake of fire.
I believe baptism is a response of faith required of us by our Lord. Thus, I don't believe we have the option of refusing to be immersed. However, neither do I believe our Lord sits in Heaven with a stop watch!! If I have understood the intent of Scripture correctly, God is far more concerned with the state of one's heart than matters of external regulation and ritual.
In other words, if one has genuinely believed the gospel message and has sincerely chosen in their heart and mind to commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, and they are intent upon submitting to baptism in obedience to His will, but die prior to that immersion due to circumstances beyond their control, then I have no doubt in my mind that God will judge the intent of their heart as sufficient unto salvation.
I believe the example of Abraham's offering of Isaac is precedent for this conviction. Abraham was commanded to offer up his son as a burnt offering unto the Lord. Did he do so? No, he did not! He had resolved to do so, and was even going through the necessary steps to comply, but the fact of the matter is -- that particular sacrifice was never offered. He was providentially hindered. However, in his heart he had indeed offered up his son, and the Lord regarded the intent of his heart as sufficient obedience.
I heard a preacher once declare that if a man had come to a deep faith in the Lord, and had truly repented of his sins, and had sought to be immersed in obedience to the will of Christ; and if this person was standing in the waters of the baptistery and died suddenly one second before being immersed, that he would go to hell. Hogwash!! Another man stated he would go even farther -- he said that if the person was actually plunged beneath the waters of the baptistery, but died suddenly prior to his nose breaking the surface of the water, that person would be eternally lost. This is absolute nonsense, and makes a mockery of the grace of our Lord God and the power of sincere, compliant faith. This is not to say, however, that one can therefore obstinately REFUSE to submit to baptism, any more than we would consider as saved one who obstinately refuses to confess Jesus as Lord or to repent of a sinful lifestyle. A saving faith is willing to respond to the Lord in whatever way the Lord directs. A faith unwilling to demonstrate itself, and which indeed refuses to do so, is not genuine. Genuine faith will seek an outlet of response (James 2), and I firmly believe the grace of God will mercifully embrace those who may not have had, through no fault of their own, the opportunity to fully demonstrate that faith (IF the resolve and intent to do so was present in their heart). David, I believe you will find this to be the conviction of most within the mainstream Churches of Christ.
If one's salvation depended upon living a sinless existence after coming to the Lord, then you might have a point. Our hope of Heaven, however, is not based on our own moral perfection ... either before or after baptism. Our hope of Heaven is to be found IN HIM, who is our Advocate, and who is the source of our continual cleansing from all sin as we walk with Him in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Our best effort will only be "filthy rags" in the sight of God, but clothed with Christ Jesus we shall be regarded as wrapped around with spotless garments. "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). What a wonderful thought to come daily before our Father clothed with His Son!! Covered by Christ! Therein lies our assurance of a heavenly home, not in our own efforts at sinless perfection.
The only sin that can jeopardize a Christian's salvation is one he deliberately and willfully and rebelliously commits against God and man, and which he stubbornly REFUSES to repent of even though repeatedly admonished by his fellow disciples.
There is no force in the universe that can "separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). If you are determined to abide in Him, you are forever secure in His arms. However, God does not deprive you of your continued ability to choose whether to remain in His arms or to remove yourself. If you no longer desire to remain in the company of the Father, and choose rather to dwell in the "far country" (as the prodigal son did), He will allow you to leave. No child is forced against their will to remain.
There are ample warnings given in Scripture against removing ourselves from this position of security. Jesus urges His disciples: "Abide in Me, and I in you" (John 15:4). However, He also warns that "every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away" (John 15:2). These were branches IN JESUS who were nevertheless removed and destroyed. Why? They refused to bear fruit. Paul cautions those seeking to return to Law with these words, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). You can't be severed from something you were never attached to, nor can you fall from some place you never were!
There is great security IN Christ Jesus. As long as we are in a relationship with Him, even though we stumble and fall daily, we are safe and secure. We are not automatons, however. We have the freedom to choose. Those who choose to refuse the safety and surety of a relationship with Christ, even though they had once embraced it (as the passages in Hebrews declare), must pay the penalty of their willful rejection.
First, God doesn't arbitrarily and capriciously "take away" your salvation .... you surrender it willfully and willingly by open rebellion against Him; rebellion from which you absolutely refuse to repent!! Can one regain one's place in the arms of the Father? Certainly. How? The same way the prodigal son did. You come to your senses, repent, and go back to the Father!
How does one know if one is saved? Easy. Are you in Christ Jesus and seeking daily to walk in the light where He is to the best of your cognitive ability? If so, you are saved!! "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). Our assurance of life is abiding in Him; our assurance that we are in danger of eternal destruction is a willful refusal to abide in Him and walk in the light. Believe me, David, if you are stubbornly refusing to dwell in Christ, and refusing to allow Him to dwell in you, you likely know it. We're not talking about daily sins which we all commit (often out of ignorance or weakness). These are covered by the continual cleansing of the blood of Christ. We're talking about willful, persistent rebellion against the Lord and a stubborn refusal to repent in spite of repeated warnings.
God is not an "Indian Giver." Salvation is assured to those who abide in Him through active faith (even though we stumble and fall daily). However, God does not promise Heaven to those who, once having partaken of His grace, turn and trample His Son into the ground or regard as common the blood by which they were sanctified. Such willful rebellion and rejection of God's greatest gift will leave such a person only with a "terrifying expectation of judgment." For God to reward such rebels with eternal life makes a mockery of, and cheapens the commitment of, those who remain faithful unto death.
See my response to number five above. The answer is the same.
David, I believe my response to number three presents the basic premise that will apply here. Our God knows and judges the intent of our hearts. A slip of the tongue, for example, one minute prior to a fatal accident is not going to be the determining factor in whether a soul is saved or lost. The heart of the matter is the heart. Those who are in Christ Jesus, and who are seeking to walk in the light where He is, will have their sins continually cleansed (and that includes the one just before the fatal accident). We are covered by the blood of Christ, and stumbling prior to death is not going to prove spiritually fatal for one clothed in Christ.
David, I'm tempted to respond that it is found in the same passage one finds the church called the "Baptist Church." But, I will resist that urge! Further, just for the sake of biblical accuracy, it should be noted that the disciples are characterized as the "Church of God" some eleven times in the NT writings (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:5). Nevertheless, I don't believe there is any one distinctive TITLE given by which the church must be denominated. The various phrases employed in Scripture are descriptive in nature; they inform us Whose we are rather than who or what we are. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We are the church of God. We are the church of the First Born. We could go on and on. These simply inform us that the Lord is the owner. The church belongs to HIM, not to any man or any point of view. Thus, for men to characterize it after some doctrine or practice (Baptist) is just as inappropriate as characterizing it in honor of some man (Lutheran). It is the church of Christ, and that is ALL the phrase signifies -- it is HIS.
You will discover an ever decreasing number among our fellowship who hold to the view that "Church of Christ" is the only "Scriptural" name to be employed. That phrase only identifies us as the possession of Christ Jesus, it doesn't denominate us. It is merely descriptive, nothing more! Some within our fellowship are even beginning to employ different descriptive phrases, and some are merely stating "Christians Meet Here," all in an effort to depart from this notion that the "name on the sign" is somehow relevant to one's salvation and the determination of fellowship among brethren. Even some Baptists are moving in this direction, David. For example, the Grace Baptist Church here in our town is now simply known as Grace Church. The Alamogordo Church of Christ is now simply known as the Alamogordo Church. The First Assembly of God here in town is now First Assembly. There is a growing awareness among many groups that who we are is really determined by Whose we are, and not words on a sign above a door.
One of the major questions in religious circles, especially among scholars, pertains to this concept of biblical "authority" -- what is it, and how is it determined? There are a number of differing hermeneutics proffered and promoted by the various religious heritages. The one that the Churches of Christ frequently utilized in previous generations is known as CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference). It was assumed that if the NT Scriptures were "silent" with regard to some practice (the use of instruments in worship, for example) that such practice was thereby forever forbidden by God, and said practice was to be considered sinful. Thus, using instruments to accompany worshipful singing would send one straight to hell, even though God has never, ever actually said this anywhere in the Bible ... nor has He even hinted at such a restrictive doctrine! Such dogma was the product of a subjective and flawed hermeneutic; a hermeneutic employed largely to defend one's traditions, rather than to promote God's Truth.
Thus, according to this interpretive view, "authority" for all matters pertaining to doctrine and practice must come from either direct command, an apostolic example, or an inference logically drawn from the text, or so it was asserted. Thrown into the hermeneutical mix was the concept of "expediency." If the NT Scriptures were silent with regard to some practice, but it could be "inferred" that such practice was an "expedient" to the carrying out of some clear biblical precept or principle, then it was thereby "authorized." The problem with such a hermeneutic, of course, is that it is woefully subjective in nature. As one might imagine, it inevitably led to numerous feuding factions within the Churches of Christ, each rallying around some human deduction invested with the aura of divine "authority."
This hermeneutic, thankfully, is being largely abandoned among more reflective disciples of Jesus Christ. As a result, practices once regarded by extremists within our religious heritage as "unauthorized" are now being reconsidered in light of a more valid approach to biblical interpretation. Worship, for example, is no longer being regarded (among most in mainstream Churches of Christ) as five specific, highly regulated ritual acts (preaching, praying, giving, singing, and the Lord's Supper) which must be performed at specified times in specified locations in specified ways, with any deviation from their "pattern" being sufficient cause for eternal damnation. Instead, worship is more correctly regarded as a vital aspect of everyday life for the disciple of Christ; something expressed in many ways, individually as well as collectively. Simply put, worship is of the HEART, not just acts performed by rote at specified times in specified ways in specified locations. One of the best definitions of worship I have ever heard is: "Worship = the expression of the adoration of one's heart." It is the daily outpouring of a love-filled heart by a child unto his or her Father.
The division that has been generated in the past over such items as pitch pipes, hymnals, instruments, four-part harmony, pews, indoor baptisteries, water fountains, fellowship halls, kitchens, and the like are "issues" of a past unenlightened age for most within the Churches of Christ today. Yes, there are still significant numbers within the ultra-conservative and non-institutional wings of our fellowship who still retain some allegiance to these narrow views and legalistic dogmas. Cherished traditions die hard! But such thinking is fading, thank God.
Thus, David, the focus of the criticism of your question above really no longer applies to most disciples within the Churches of Christ. For most of us, the issue of instrumental music as an aid or accompaniment to singing in worship is a NON-issue. It is regarded simply as a matter of personal preference. Some use it, some don't. Frankly, it makes no difference one way or the other. In our view, God accepts both as legitimate expressions of worship. Such differing convictions and practices should never become the cause of schism in the One Body.
First, let me hasten to stress that the "Church of Christ" does NOT teach that a sinner is forgiven of sin "when he is baptized in water by a Campbellite elder." That is an absurd assertion and is not based on fact. As mentioned earlier, the qualities or qualifications of the one performing the baptism is not a factor with regard to the acceptability of one's immersion. One can be just as validly immersed by a Baptist pastor as by an elder in the Church of Christ (or by neither, for that matter).
As for the Scriptural connection between water baptism and the forgiveness of sins, consider the following:
This would literally be translated "Rise up, be baptized and wash away your sins." The word "apoluo" conveys the concept of procuring cleansing through an act of washing. That washing would be a reference to the act of baptism. Both "baptize" and "wash away" appear as 1st Aorist Imperatives (2nd person singular), and they are connected by "kai." Thus, the two are inseparably linked together in this grammatical construction. Paul is commanded to rise up and cleanse himself of his sins via the washing of baptism. It came as no surprise to me that you conveniently left this passage out of your "exegesis of baptism" from NT sources.
David, on your web site you wrote, "In Acts 2:38, the people were baptized because their sins were forgiven." I understand that this is what you would like for Peter to have said, but the reality is he did not. The people were told, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." The word that is translated "for" is the Greek preposition "eis" which signifies "into, unto, with a view to." It denotes an entrance into a state or condition. It is not a look backward, but a look forward. One is not baptized because one's sins are already forgiven, one is baptized unto, or with a view to, the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus clearly declared, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Our Lord has clearly specified immersion as a required demonstration of one's active, obedient faith in Him, and He has commissioned us to be about the business of immersing disciples who would come to Him for cleansing (Matthew 28:19). Thus, it behooves us to comply with this directive, rather than seeking to contradict or to circumvent it.
The apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:21, likens the waters of baptism to the waters of the flood through which Noah and his family were brought to safety. Peter declares, "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." Peter is quick to point out, however, that it is not "getting wet" that is efficacious. There is no magical power in the water. Rather it is the evidence of the inner conviction (the faith) of the one being immersed, and his visible "appeal to God" from a good conscience. Our baptism is not a work which earns us our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. However, our willingness to comply with this command to be immersed is a visible, outward demonstration of an inner willingness to submit in simple, trusting faith to the One who does save us and wash us clean of our sins -- Jesus Christ!! It is a demonstration of faith required of us, and thus we comply willingly.
David, do you desire to be found "clothed with Christ" as you stand before your God? I certainly do. How does one clothe himself with Christ? "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Are you naked or clothed, David? Or, are you like the Emperor who thought he was clothed, but in fact was deluded and nude? You may well be right about one thing, my friend -- "heaven and hell depends on what you believe about this."
I couldn't agree with you more, David. You are absolutely correct. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by means of any effort on our own part. We can't earn or merit salvation or justification. It is a gift. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "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" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Where you are incorrect in your above assertion, David, is in the statement: "baptism is a work of righteousness." That is not true. You don't believe this, and neither do we in the Churches of Christ. If I taught baptism as a work which earned or merited salvation, I would be wrong in that teaching. That would be false teaching.
Baptism is not a work, it is a response. Suppose I place a million dollars in a bank in your name and then inform you of this fact and tell you it is a gift from me to you, and that you don't need to work for me to earn it. It's free! I then inform you as to the conditions for accessing this GIFT. You must go down to the bank and sign a simple form which transfers the money over to you. Will you comply with this condition, David? If you don't, if you absolutely refuse, will you be able to draw from those funds? And most importantly to our discussion: is complying with this condition a work which in some way merits or earns you the million dollars?
It should be obvious that the money is yours for the taking, David. It is a gift. You did nothing to either earn or merit it. If you had, it would no longer be a gift. All you had to do was respond to my offer. A response of simple, trusting faith is NOT a meritorious work. Baptism is no more a meritorious work than the confession of the Lordship of Christ Jesus or a resolve to repent and turn away from one's sinful way of life. Yet both of the latter are also necessary to our salvation. Surely you would concur with this.
I believe part of the explanation for what occurred in Acts 10 can be found in a comparison with the events of Pentecost in Acts 2, both of which are a fulfillment of a prophecy recorded in Joel 2:28-29. God had declared that "in those days" He would "pour out My Spirit on all flesh." The Jewish perception of "all flesh" was really rather simplistic. "All flesh" consisted of those who were Jews, and those who weren't. The latter were the pagans, the barbarians, the Nations, the Gentiles. They were known by many pejoratives, but essentially they were the NON-Jews.
God had promised that "in those days" He would "pour out" His Spirit on ALL flesh (i.e., Jews and Gentiles alike). In Acts 2 we see the pouring out of the Spirit upon the people of Israel. And it is only natural it should go to them first, for they were a people of promise. Indeed, even Jesus instructed His disciples to take the Gospel to Jerusalem first and then begin spreading it outward from there. The Gentiles would be incorporated later (as evidenced in the book of Acts).
With regard to the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost, Peter declared, "this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). This is not the "gift of the Holy Spirit" which disciples receive when they turn to Christ Jesus and accept Him (Acts 2:38), rather this was a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with confirming signs attending, for the purpose of evidencing God's embracing of "ALL flesh" into His spiritual kingdom. In Acts 2 the Jews were embraced.
In Acts 10 the time had come to embrace the Gentiles, and this was done with the very same visible miraculous demonstration (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, just as it had been upon the Jews at Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem). "And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed" (Acts 10:45). Why? Because God had "poured out upon the Gentiles also" the Holy Spirit, and these Gentiles were also speaking in tongues just as the Jews did on Pentecost. Later, Peter tells those in Jerusalem, "The Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). He later says that "God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us" (Acts 11:17). Thus, Peter links the outpouring in Acts 10 to the outpouring in Acts 2. In this way, therefore, "ALL flesh" has now been embraced by God through these two representative actions. This was an important message for the Jewish believers to comprehend.
Once God had demonstrated His acceptance of the Gentiles, however, notice what action then followed immediately. Peter, at the home of Cornelius, declared, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (Acts 10:47). Well, of course not!! Therefore, "he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:48). Why ORDER them to be baptized, David?!! What was the point? The point was, and still is, that our Lord has commanded baptism (and this is water baptism) as a demonstration of our faith in Him. To refuse to respond is to refuse the gift. No one in their right mind would do such a thing. But, if they did, they would fail to acquire that precious gift of life! Again, immersion does not earn or merit the gift, it merely receives it. God had shown His acceptance of the Gentiles by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Gentiles now needed to show their acceptance of Him by their water baptism. Thus, it was a visible demonstration of saving faith. A faith that will NOT show itself, is NOT saving faith (James 2).
David wrote in his tract, "The Bible says in Acts 5:32 that only those who obey God may receive the Holy Ghost." Pastor Martin also noted, "We know that unsaved people do not receive or have the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who have believed on Christ." This leads me to wonder what Pastor Martin would do with the situation presented to us in Acts 19:1-7. We find 12 disciples who clearly believed in Jesus Christ, but who had NOT received the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey, according to Pastor Martin's own declaration, it leaves one wondering what part of obedience was lacking in these twelve men. Paul questioned these men about their baptism, and he soon discovered they were not yet immersed into Christ. Notice the conclusion of the matter: "And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5). The next verse tells us they then received the Holy Spirit. I wonder if those 12 men, if they could speak to us today, would tell us baptism was purely optional and had nothing to do with one's cleansing from sin and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit? Not likely.
The other day I wrote to Pastor Martin and presented for his consideration a situation wherein a person professed to truly believe in salvation by faith alone, and who therefore, "to be true to his conviction," was adamant in his willful refusal to be immersed regardless of what Scripture said. I bluntly and pointedly asked Pastor Martin, "Can I still be saved eternally if I absolutely REFUSE to be baptized?" David wrote back and responded, "Hypothetically, yes." David, to his credit, went on to say, "But, who in their right mind would refuse baptism? .... Why would someone refuse to obey the Lord and publicly declare their faith in Christ by being baptized?"
Good question! And yet many do, as we both know!! For these obstinate rebels who refuse to obey their Lord and demonstrate their faith in Christ Jesus, Pastor Martin declares they are still saved. Thus, Pastor Martin is extending the assurance of everlasting life to those who willfully refuse to acknowledge and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. In his tract, David asks people to write in with their questions, and he "will provide you with sane, sensible and scriptural answers to your Bible questions." Is extending the assurance and security of salvation to willfully disobedient deniers of the commandments of our Lord Jesus a "sane, sensible and scriptural" response? If so, God help those taught by the likes of Pastor Martin.
In this response to Pastor Martin's confused criticism of the Churches of Christ I hope and pray I have provided a degree of enlightenment to those who may have been influenced by the irrational ridicule of our fellowship by this misguided and woefully ill-informed Baptist leader.
From a New Reader in Singapore:
I am from the tiny nation of Singapore. I attend an Assembly of God church, for the simple reason that it is just a five minute walk from my apartment. I was searching for articles on "proof-texting" and came across your article on that subject. Further browsing of your web site showed that there is some similarity between us in wanting to "handle rightly the word of truth." I wish to subscribe to your Reflections, and look forward to learning from your meditations.
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
I just recently came into awareness of your web site and material. I have found it to be interesting and uplifting. I guess I would say that I am on a journey from the bondage of strict legalism that I grew up with in the "Church," and am moving away from the well-held positions of the "conservative" branch. I have opportunity from time to time to travel to southern NM on business, and I hope to worship with the Alamogordo congregation.
From a Reader at Texas Tech University:
I enjoyed your analysis of the New World Translation. I have used the Emphatic Diaglott through the years. When the JW's come by, I usually order a copy from them; they are so inexpensive, and I tend to let my copies get away from me. I have read that Benjamin Wilson was a part of the Restoration Movement. I can't remember now where I read it. Are you aware of the validity of this? Also, I think the JW's bought the plates from the publisher quite some years ago.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, Thank you for your Reflections!! I am learning, and most of all thinking, after studying your essays. Please continue with your Reflections. They are a blessing to me and to many others.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Al, I have just about finished reading your book Down, But Not Out. I have been pleased to read it, and feel that it has given me more hope and understanding than I had before. Al, I was brought up in a traditional/conservative surrounding. I feel that I had a great zeal, but am now seeing myself much like Saul/Paul before his conversion. I have allowed myself to be misled and misguided. In the process I feel I have done more harm, and had more of a negative influence, than I ever could have imagined. And never did I set out with that intention. I thought I was doing what was right and was trying to be loving and compassionate in the process. But holding and defending some of the views and doctrines as I have, has done more harm, I believe, than good. Through much study since the divorce, reading material and books like yours, and meeting with a spiritual friend and counselor, who I feel is much on the same page as yourself, I am beginning to see everything so differently. You had a section in the latter part of your book that spoke of, I think, five different groups or folks: the covenant breaker, the victim, the church, and a couple of others. I was very intrigued and interested in that section. I saw myself almost as being in each category in some way.
I still want to reconcile, but realize it's pretty much hopeless. I feel my faith has been delivered a "knockdown blow," I guess you would call it. And I was preparing to live life accepting the "knockout blow," as you call it. It has been rough. Things are not the way I want them, but I am beginning to find hope. And Al, I thank you for your part in that process. So many things in your book were beneficial and appreciated. I could go on and on, and I'm sure you've heard it all before. But I just want to let you know I greatly appreciate you and your kindness. God bless you!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, Thank you so very much for choosing to print the encouraging words from the "Minister in Kentucky" addressed to me in our trying situation. It really helped me to hear that. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for providing a venue for the exchange of ideas, and for the words of encouragement that came my way so unexpectedly tonight. You probably know the Minister in Kentucky, and I would appreciate your passing on my appreciation to him. He can't possibly know how much it meant to me.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Brother Al, I thank Jesus for His work in and through you. I am almost to the point of tears of joy when I read some of your Reflections articles. Your recent article "Yeast from the Beast" puts into words better than I ever could why I left the Church of Christ some 25 years ago (while a Bible major at Harding University) to seek fellowship among other brethren of the Lord's one body. The Churches of Christ teach many important truths, the correct teaching about baptism is one of those truths, but I did not think I would ever see the day when the Churches of Christ would finally see the biblical practice of partaking the Lord's Supper during a meal. Praise Jesus! Thanks for blessing us with all of your meaningful sharing of God's Word.
From an Elder in West Virginia:
Dear Al, In some ways, I wish I had never read the article on "The Sojourners." I was so disappointed to learn that not only are there people who do not support such a work, but actually condemn it! I guess it's good for me to know such people's thinking, though, so if by chance I should encounter such thinking I would not be totally "taken back" as I was when I read your article. Trust me, I will pray for the "Sojourners" tonight before I go to bed, and will do so holding to the "pattern" that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ teaches me in His word!
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers. A CD
containing these articles may also be purchased. See
The Archives for details & past issues of Reflections: