by Al Maxey

Issue #503 ------- September 20, 2011
Conduct is the ultimate test of the worth of a belief.
Theodore Roosevelt {1858-1919}

The "Belief After Baptism" Doctrine
Sectarian Sacramentalism & the Philippian Jailer

This picture (to your left) comes from Jeff Larson, who is the talented creator of the wonderful cartoon series "The Back Pew." If you are unfamiliar with his work, I would encourage you to check it out. He not only has a wonderful sense of humor, but he'll also make you think!! In this cartoon we see Paul, the jailed apostle, stopping the Philippian jailer from killing himself (Acts 16:27-28)! Of course, the singing at midnight by Paul and Silas (vs. 25) wasn't the problem in this case, though I must admit that I have been in "worship services" where the singing actually was so abysmal that if a weapon had been handy it might have been tempting!

The Lukan account of Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi, singing at midnight, the earthquake, the jailer's near suicide (for fear that his prisoners had all escaped), and his subsequent coming to faith in Jesus is all very familiar to us. We've read it, studied it, and heard it preached many, many times during the course of our lives. This moving story can be read in the latter half of Acts 16, and there is much there to inform and inspire us in each of our individual journeys of faith.

Unfortunately, this rather powerful passage from Acts, like countless others, has also been ransacked by the rigid religionists in their tireless pursuit of proof-texts, and they can be quite ingenious in their wresting and wrenching of just about any biblical text! This is especially true in their seemingly never-ending quest to substantiate their sacramental perception of immersion. Although they will typically deny this vehemently, the reality of their dogma is that baptism IS "obeying the Gospel," and God's grace and our faith are utterly impotent apart from it. You could be the most godly, penitent, loving, righteous, benevolent, faith-filled and Jesus-focused person on the planet -- you could even have God's Holy Spirit poured out upon you and be praising His Name from the very depths of your being (as was the case with Cornelius) -- but unless and until you "get to the water," you are doomed to hell. However, the split-second your nose breaks the surface of the water of the baptistery you are saved. This, my friends, is sacramentalism ... and sacrilege!! It is a mockery of God's grace, and, as such, unconscionable! Those who teach this must be exposed and opposed by those who genuinely grasp grace and our response of faith.

Let me give you a recent example of this sacramentalism that still exists among some within my own faith-heritage. Hugh Fulford is a respected minister in the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, and currently preaches in Tennessee. He is a regularly featured writer for the very legalistic publication The Spiritual Sword. Hugh also sends out via email a little publication called Hugh's News and Views in which he shares his thoughts and insights with those on his mailing list. I have received this for quite some time, and have corresponded with Hugh for a number of years regarding various matters pertaining to our heritage. Although Hugh and I certainly do not share the same convictions on a number of issues, he has nevertheless always been kind and respectful in his exchanges with me. If you would like to receive his mailout, I'm sure he would be more than happy to place you on his mailing list. He may be contacted at --

The above referenced example of sectarian sacramentalism appeared in the September 13 issue of Hugh's News and Views in an article titled "Baptism." Since I will be commenting upon a statement made by Hugh within that article, but do not have the space to print that entire article here, I would strongly urge the reader to contact Hugh for a copy of this article so that you may determine for yourself if I have fairly represented his view on the matter in this current issue of Reflections. In fairness to Hugh, I made a point of writing to him and asking for clarification regarding his comment, just to make absolutely certain I was not misunderstanding, and thus misrepresenting, his intent. We exchanged several emails over a couple of days, with the result being that he made it quite clear to me that he did indeed intend to convey what I had perceived him to be suggesting by his statement (in fact, Hugh stated to me in one of his first emails: "My point is not a difficult one to grasp"). His comment pertained to the conversion of the Philippian jailer and the relationship of his faith to his baptism. Hugh Fulford wrote in his article: "All who believe the Bible understand that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). The question is: 'What does it mean to have faith in Christ?' The Philippian jailer was told to 'believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household' (Acts 16:31). Yet, he is not said to have believed until after he and his household had been baptized (verses 32-34)." By the way, the emphasis on the word "after" in this statement was Hugh's, not mine.

Naturally, when I read this statement I was greatly puzzled by Hugh's insistence that it was after the jailer's baptism that he was said to have believed!! Was Hugh suggesting that saving faith follows baptism? Is not baptism a response of faith, rather than faith being a result of baptism?! I just could not fathom Hugh actually professing such a doctrine, thus I pondered his statement further for some other explanation. I finally decided that he must have simply meant that Luke (the author of Acts) didn't mention in the text that the jailer had believed until after he had mentioned in the text that he and his household had been baptized. This, of course, is textually true -- Acts 16:33 states the fact of the jailer's baptism, whereas it is verse 34 that states he "rejoiced greatly, having believed." So, yes, Luke mentions this man's belief after he mentions his baptism. But, I wondered, "So what?! Why would this sequence be something that would call for a special emphasis by Hugh?!" After all, Luke also referenced the jailer's "belief" as having come after washing the wounds of Paul and Silas, and after bringing them to his house and setting food before them. Was there some special spiritual significance to this order also?! Does tending to wounds and preparing a meal also generate saving faith?!! Yes, they may reflect faith (and love, mercy and compassion), but do these acts result in faith?! It just wasn't making sense!!

And then it struck me!! This was yet another attempt (somewhat subtle; clearly clumsy) to manipulate a text so as to "substantiate" the sacramental view of baptism -- i.e., one is saved by baptism! It is at the point of baptism, not faith, according to this doctrine, that saving grace is imparted!! The "fullness of faith" (saving faith) comes after baptism! Such a doctrine is shocking, but not surprising (for it is the inevitable position that must be embraced by all of those who promote baptismal regeneration -- i.e., baptism as a sacrament. For my study on this false doctrine, see: Reflections #470 -- Is Baptism A Sacrament? Reflecting on a Doctrinal Devolution from Visible Sign to Vital Sacrament). About this time I started receiving emails and phone calls from people who had read Hugh's article. They too were perplexed. "Is Bro. Fulford actually saying what I think he is saying?!!" I assured them that I would contact him and try to find out, and if he was saying what it appeared he was saying, I informed them I would respond to that teaching in my next Reflections. Well, as I've already pointed out, I contacted Hugh, and he was indeed suggesting this bizarre interpretation. In an email sent to me Wednesday evening, September 14, he stated, "The point is: he was told to believe. After certain things had transpired, including his immediate baptism, he is said to have believed. I don't find that a particularly hard matter to grasp."

But, doesn't Scripture teach that baptism is for believers? So, doesn't faith precede baptism?! Hugh responded to me, "Certainly one can be a believer at a certain level -- and must be a believer at a certain level -- before one is baptized." And just what IS this "level" of faith? Well, friends, it is just enough belief to get one "to the water," for, you see, the "fullness of faith" (i.e., saving faith) comes AFTER baptism. Therefore, the faith one has BEFORE baptism is insufficient to bring about salvation. However, mere seconds later, after one's nose breaks the surface of the water of the baptistery, THEN one suddenly and miraculously is in possession of the "fullness of faith" (saving faith). What about Cornelius?, I asked Hugh. We are told he was "a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually" (Acts 10:2). This man was informed by an angel that his "prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God" (vs. 4). He was "a righteous and God-fearing man" (vs. 22). While Peter was still speaking to Cornelius, and before his baptism, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him by God, and Cornelius was "speaking with tongues and exalting God" (vs. 44-46). Was this man, at this point, lost?! Was his faith insufficient in God's sight? According to Hugh Fulford, it was! Thus, had Cornelius died before getting to the water, he would have been cast headlong into hell by our merciful Father. Poor Cornelius -- with God's Spirit upon him, he would have marched himself right into the flames of perdition, speaking in tongues and praising God all the way there!! What nonsense!! And yet, it is the view that must ultimately and inevitably be taken if one embraces the sacramental view of baptism. This is why Darrell Broking, in his debate with me, declared, "Cornelius was no more saved when he spoke in tongues than was Balaam's ass" (see my analysis of this in Reflections #472 -- Cornelius and Balaam's Ass: Was this Godly Centurion as Damned as a Donkey prior to his Baptism?).

So, yes, Hugh states that faith ("at a certain level") precedes baptism ... i.e., just enough "faith" to get one into the water. THEN, and only then, saving faith (fullness of faith; a higher "level" of faith) somehow appears. After all, that is what Luke said, right?! -- the jailer was baptized, and AFTER his baptism THEN "he believed." Brethren, I must admit, this is one of the most appalling things I have seen in some time!! Yet, it is nothing new. The apostle Paul was also forced to deal, at least in principle, with this very same misconception that was being promoted by legalists within the early church. He did it by reminding his readers of the respective places and purposes of faith and circumcision in the justification of Abraham. In Romans 4:1ff Paul emphasizes the fact that God justified Abraham by his faith, and that this occurred BEFORE Abraham was circumcised!! When Abraham submitted himself to circumcision, his faith was evidenced, not established. Was circumcision necessary? Absolutely! If one SAYS he has faith, but is unwilling to SHOW that faith, then a mere claim of faith is insufficient. After all, anyone can SAY they have faith. The proof is in a life lived daily in evidence of that profession. Circumcision was one such evidentiary act. So also is baptism. We are saved by grace through faith; it is the GIFT of God, and NOT as a result of any act we might have performed in obedience to some law (Eph. 2:8-9). Just like Abraham, God justifies/saves us based upon our faith. Throughout our walk with Him as His children this faith will prompt us to respond to His grace in various ways (baptism being one of those responses of faith ... just as circumcision was a response of faith). To suggest, however, that God doesn't convey His grace (grant His gift) until AFTER we OBEY some law/command, reduces His gift to wages due. "Now to him who works, his wage is not reckoned as a gift, but as what is due" (Rom. 4:4). Thus, Abraham's circumcision was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11). Yes, circumcision was a necessary "covenant seal" for Abraham, but it was NOT the basis of, nor the precise point of, his receiving the gift of justification. That came BEFORE by virtue of grace through faith ... a faith he then demonstrated AFTERWARD by being circumcised (and by various other acts of faith throughout his life as well). Brethren, when we proclaim baptism as a saving sacrament, and then teach that saving faith (fullness of faith) comes afterward, we destroy the divine truth that we are saved by grace through faith. Paul declares in Galatians 5 that those who proclaim such false doctrine are fallen from grace and severed from Christ. In my book, that makes it serious.

"What Paul and Silas gave the Philippian jailer was the same Christ-centered Gospel that had been proclaimed since Pentecost: 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 465]. "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: through whom we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:1-2). Our access into this grace wherein we stand is BY FAITH. Those who seek to ADD some human act to this truth, no matter how important that act might be within the broader context of our life journey with the Lord, have fallen from that grace (Gal. 5:4), and that, my beloved friends, can prove deadly. NO ONE is denying the place, purpose and importance of water baptism. It is a response of and manifestation of saving faith, one that NO genuine believer will obstinately and willfully REFUSE to embrace once he becomes aware that it is a symbol (much like the Lord's Supper) in which we actively participate, in a visible, tangible way, with the reality of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Just as we proclaim the Lord's death through the emblems of the bread and wine, so also do we, by entering the water, proclaim our faith in the fact of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf. We are "released (washed -- KJV) from our sins by His blood" (Rev. 1:5), but we manifest our FAITH in the reality of that washing away of sins by His blood through the symbol of baptism. It too is a proclamation (just like the Lord's Supper), not only to ourselves of what our faith has accomplished, but also to those around us. To reduce this beautiful symbolic act, to which our love and faith and gratitude prompt us to submit, to a grace-imparting, soul-saving sacrament is an assault upon the Gospel itself!! May God have mercy upon those who do this out of ignorance (and may He help us to enlighten them), but may the full force of His vengeance be poured out upon those who do this knowingly! Such persons annoyed Paul so deeply that he wished they would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12)! I won't go that far, but will simply say: the less these legalists are able to reproduce their own kind, the better it will be for the Family of God.


I completed the writing of my above Reflections article on Friday afternoon, September 16. Sunday morning, September 18, I decided to check my email prior to heading out to the church building for our morning assembly. There, in my inbox, I found an email from Hugh Fulford. Notice the following portion of that email -- "Bro. Al, this morning as I was eating my bowl of cereal, piece of toast, and having my third cup of coffee, I turned on the TV and was surfing when I came to 'In Search of the Lord's Way,' with Phil Sanders speaking. The first words out of Phil's mouth were, 'The New Testament never calls anyone a believer who had not been baptized into Christ.' I nearly dropped my bowl of cereal! ... I could not help but think, 'I wonder if Al may be hearing (or will hear) this?'"

I ceased being surprised by statements like this a long time ago. Disappointed and saddened, yes ... surprised, no! This is all just an effort, on the part of those who have taken a sacramental position on baptism, to promote it as THE point of salvation -- THE point when God confers His grace. When one takes that view, one will be forced to elevate baptism and diminish faith. Thus, the Philippian jailer is said to have believed after baptism, and no one in the NT is said to be a "believer" who has not been baptized. The problem with Phil Sander's statement, of course, is that it is not true. When I read Hugh's excited post to me, I immediately thought of Acts 5:14 -- "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (KJV). I'm sure that both Phil and Hugh would not hesitate to declare that their understanding (and this is the understanding of many within the more fundamentalist sects of Christendom) of the phrase "added to the Lord" is that it means "added to the Lord by baptism." So, Hugh and Phil, WHO was "added to the Lord"?!! That's right --- none other than "believers" ... "multitudes" of them!! This verse alone proves Phil Sanders wrong!!

Also, what about the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch? The eunuch expressed an interest in being baptized, and he asked Philip if there was anything that might prevent him from doing so. Philip responded, "If you believe with all your heart, you may" (Acts 8:37). The eunuch affirmed his belief, and was then immersed. Was he a "believer" before he was baptized? Yes! And what was his "level of faith" before his baptism? He believed with all of his heart!! And yet, according to Hugh and Phil no one is really a "believer" until AFTER they're baptized, and such persons only have a "certain level of faith" BEFORE baptism. Good grief!! May God give us the courage to continue exposing such nonsense!! (By the way, when I wrote Hugh Fulford back on Sunday and shared the above two NT examples with him, he wrote me back later that day and stated he had no desire to continue our discussion of this matter ... and, no, he never even mentioned my two biblical examples. How sad!!)

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dear Bro. Al, That account in Mark 9:38-41 and Luke 9:49-50 has come to be my favorite NT account!! Sadly, I had read those verses hundreds of times for more than 20 years, and I never once stopped to think that Christ could have actually been talking to ME!! This issue of your Reflections ("What Is Jesus Looking For?") is one of your most powerful yet!! If one truly considers himself to be a "person of the Book," then this lesson of yours will genuinely humble him, and give cause to pause! This message from you should be preached from every pulpit, and taught in every classroom, in every church in America!!

From a Reader in New York:

Dear Bro. Al, How refreshing, and what a great blessing, it is to receive your writings!! I just read the Reflections you sent today ("What Is Jesus Looking For?"), and I have been praying, crying and glorifying our Lord for opening the eyes of my soul and making me see how wrong I have been for years on the interpretation of those passages! I intend to translate this article into Spanish (even if it takes me a while) so that all my brothers and sisters who don't speak English can use it in their study also. Until just three months ago I was having this "he/she isn't Church of Christ; they are NOT part of 'the one true church'" attitude. However, the Lord and your Reflections have helped me a lot to see things completely different. So, now I intend to share your Reflections with others I know. Again, Thank You for your writings! God bless you!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, With respect to your article "Can We OBEY the Gospel?" (Reflections #501), and your Australian reader's comment that the Dutch language NT uses "listen to," and not "obey," in Rom. 10:16, the Swedish, German and Icelandic renderings are likewise rendered "hearing - listening - giving heed."

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Brother Al, In Russian, the word used in Rom. 10:16 means "listen to, harken to, listen intently so as to understand," rather than "obey." Of course, there are several words for "obey" which could have been used if "obey" was truly the meaning. The understanding of the term that was used by Paul, I conclude, is: "harken to, listen to, pay attention to."

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, The exchange between Jesus and John in Mark 9 and Luke 9 points out the desire of our flesh to control others, which is one of the many expressions of our sinful pride.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, You asked "Can We OBEY the Gospel?" I have pondered this question over the past few days; following are my thoughts. Our equating of "being baptized" with "obeying the gospel" is a result of our redefining of the concept of "good news." Acts 5:42 very clearly states that the "good news" is "that Jesus is the Christ" (Messiah). This great declaration comes about in the context of the Jewish leaders -- in fact, the entire Sanhedrin (with perhaps the exception of Gamaliel) -- refusing to believe. What we have done, though, is substitute a series of rules and laws as the new "good news," and so the natural conclusion is that "good news" must be obeyed, and that means obeying laws that we have constructed. My conclusion does not require the in-depth understanding of the Greek words used in the text (which you have detailed so well for us), but simply a return to a biblical understanding of "good news." Keep on, brother! Continue to make me think!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Brother Al, I am 80 years old, have been married for 59 years, have been an elder in three congregations, and a missionary in a Muslim country, and the Director of a Church of Christ preacher's training school in Africa. I praise God for His mercy and grace! I have just recently been led to your Reflections site, and have been greatly blessed by them. I noticed in your topical index that you addressed the issue of the Holy Spirit a few times. I read them all, and they were refreshing, and so very rare among our people! Al, let's have even more and deeper studies from you on the Holy Spirit. It will prove very profitable for the church!!

From a Reader in Canada:

Dear Brother Al, I cringe at the number of times that I've used the phrase "obey the Gospel," and I must admit that I had baptism in mind when I did so!! Over the past decade, however, I've come to realize that the Scriptures teach differently. I can't "obey" a GIFT; I can only accept or reject a gift!! As always, Al, you amaze me at how simple you make the doctrines and practices that we, in our heritage, have spent a lifetime trying to make difficult.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I am a former minister in the Churches of Christ, and I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate so much your work and your Reflections. I thoroughly enjoyed your last issue: "Can We OBEY the Gospel?" I even posted it on my Facebook wall, and, unfortunately, it stirred up a small hornet's nest among some of my Church of Christ friends on Facebook. It just reminded me of how much work still needs to be done, as there is still this mindset that "it's all about our obedience." It's like -- without "perfect obedience" we won't "go to heaven." Al, I wish many blessings on you and your work!!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, Wow!! Of all the many Reflections articles that you have written, "What Is Jesus Looking For?" hits the closest to home!! You are a true blessing to me, and also to so many others! God bless you!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Thanks for all the powerful articles you have published on common misapplications of Scripture. As a former Church of Christ deacon, and long-time supporter of the work of Cecil Hook, I must say that I admire the courage, humility and persistence you have shown in the face of the false accusations and brutal criticisms that have come your way. God has truly blessed you!! I am confidently praying that He will continue to provide you with everything you need to fulfill your mission!!

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