by Al Maxey

Issue #601 ------- December 12, 2013
It is a universally recognized canon of interpretation
that one must not confuse the origins of institutions
and ideas with their developments or with phenomena
that are related but transfigured to bear new conceptions.

Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000)
Baptism in the New Testament

Aggressive Immersionism
Is the Burden for Baptism upon
the Immerser or the Immersed?

Over the centuries, as the Faith grew and expanded throughout the earth, many of the core teachings and practices of this Faith generated an enormous amount of discussion and debate, with the most heated perhaps focused on the nature and spiritual significance of water baptism. Is the act itself salvific, or is it symbolic and/or representative of our salvation? Is it a sacramental act that conveys a divine blessing, or is it an evidentiary act of faith, a participatory reenactment of the death, burial/entombment and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Over the years my own understanding and appreciation for this practice has grown, and I have documented that evolution in my third book: "Immersed By One Spirit -- Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice." Dr. Barry Perryman, an author and university professor, who wrote the Foreword to this book, stated, "Al Maxey has honestly offered a progression of his thoughts on baptism that have been formed, revised and expanded over the last decade. This work is a shining example of a disciple of Christ who openly, honestly and bravely reviews what he believes. He is not afraid to ask himself if he has embraced error. He does not study the Scriptures to reinforce what he has already become comfortable with. Seldom do we have a written record that chronologically records one's progression of thought on a single subject that is so core to Christendom." Not all have been pleased with my evolution of understanding, however. Indeed, a good many, primarily within my own faith-heritage (the Stone-Campbell Movement, and that wing of this movement denominated Churches of Christ), have condemned me for daring to challenge their theological comfort zones. As those attacks increase in their intensity, they also expand in their focus. Hardly a day goes by that the critics don't find some new "heresy" secreted away in my teachings that they feel "led by God" to expose and oppose. At times I am almost amused by how creative they have become in manufacturing ex nihilo these many "pernicious particulars" of my "false teaching." This past week was no exception.

On the evening of Thursday, December 5th, a leader within the Christian Churches (another wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement) sent out a statement to those on the mailing list for his newsletter. This individual is someone I have known for a number of years, and whom I have met a number of times in person. He is a dear brother-in-Christ, and I enjoy visiting with him. On most things we get along well, but he is convinced that I have gravely departed from Truth on one or two topics (baptism being one of them). He and I have discussed this at length, but all efforts to show him my true views on the matter do not dissuade him from continuing to tell others that he essentially knows better than I do what I believe. Such was the case again in this statement he put out to his readers. This brother is Ray Downen of Joplin, Missouri. You can read more about this dear brother at his Mission Outreach web site, which I would encourage you to visit and peruse. But, back to the statement he sent out on Dec. 5th -- I have reproduced it for you below (the "command" to which Ray alludes in the first sentence, by the way, is the Lord's "Great Commission," and the "lesson" to which he refers in the third sentence is my most recent article: Reflections #600, which is titled: "Foot-Washing, Kissing and Baptism"):

Ray Downen, and a number of other critics, are convinced that I am preaching and teaching "Baptist doctrine." I have no desire to preach or teach any form of sectarian doctrine, whether it be Baptist or Church of Christ or Christian Church. My goal is simply to preach and teach biblical doctrine. Nevertheless, my critics continue their attempts to make this a sectarian issue. The next morning (Friday, December 6th), after sending out the above statement to his readers the day before, Ray mailed out another statement in which he wrote, in part, that Al Maxey "surely agrees with Baptist teaching!" He stated that Billy Graham "doesn't believe in the baptism commanded by Jesus. I see the same teaching now being done by Al Maxey." Then, in this new statement, he returns to the idea that it is NOT the converted, but rather the converter, who bears the burden for baptism: "The command is to US, not to those who hear the gospel. WE are commanded to baptize each new believer. Is that what you hear Al teaching? Is that what Billy Graham teaches?" Later that afternoon (Friday, Dec. 6th), Ray mailed out to his readers a third rather lengthy missive in which is found this statement: "Al Maxey is convinced that Jesus was in error in commanding that each new believer (in the gospel) is to be baptized by the one who told them about Jesus."

There are so many falsehoods stated by Ray in his three mailouts that I hardly know where to begin. I am amazed that someone as intelligent and devoted as this brother-in-Christ could read my latest article and come away convinced that I actually teach such nonsense as he has attributed to me. Anyone even casually acquainted with my work should know better, and Ray has been following my public teachings for many years. Nevertheless, somehow he has come to the conclusion that I hold some strange convictions. First, he says that I don't believe the one proclaiming the good news about Jesus has any responsibility for baptizing those who believe that proclamation. Where on earth did Ray ever come up with this notion about my teaching? I have gone back over my last article and can't even begin to find anything therein that would even remotely lead to such a conclusion. The reality is: I teach just the opposite, and always have. For example, in Reflections #500, in which I contemplate the Lord's "Great Commission," I make the following declaration:

That last statement alone disproves Ray's ridiculous accusation. Yes, we who tell others about God's gift of grace also have an obligation to inform these believers (once they reach that point of conviction with regard to these truths) how to evidence their faith in their walk with Christ, and one aspect of that demonstration is immersion. Thus, in our preaching and teaching, the primary focus will always be JESUS, as the physical manifestation of God's love, grace and mercy. However, any such preaching and teaching will be incomplete if we fail to share with our hearers the particulars of how they embrace this free gift and how they evidence their newfound faith throughout their journey through life. Yes, we do indeed bear a burden for telling others about the place and purpose of baptism, and then helping them evidence their faith through this symbolic act. On the other hand, the person who hears the good news (including how to embrace it and exemplify it in their lives) also bears a burden in this whole process. We do not march people to the water at sword point (as happened centuries ago by religious zealots intent upon "converting" the heathen), but rather assist those who request this evidentiary act of faith. In Acts 8:36, for example, after Philip had informed the eunuch from Ethiopia about Jesus, the eunuch said, "Here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?" Did this man BEG Philip to baptize him? Of course not. But he did request it. In so doing he understood he bore the burden of responding to the good news proclaimed, and one aspect of that response was a demonstrating of his faith in a symbolic reenactment of what Jesus had done for him. Philip bore the burden of informing this man of what Jesus had done, and of this evidentiary act of faith, and the eunuch bore the burden of responding to it. I hope this helps Ray Downen see that his accusation against me with regard to this particular point is completely fallacious. Ray wrote: "What a pity that anyone who has been in church so many years still doesn't understand that we are told to baptize new believers!" Again, brother, where on earth did you ever get the idea that I don't believe this?!

Second, Ray seems to have a problem with my following statement (which he quotes) from my previous issue of Reflections: "Baptism is a human-to-divine and a divine-to-human interaction. The focus is on what He has done in service to us, and our subsequent faith-response to that act." I'm not sure why this statement upsets him so much. Water baptism is indeed an event between a believer and his Lord. It is a reenactment of what deity did for humanity (the death, burial/entombment and resurrection to life of God's Son), and in that evidentiary act of faith is a human response to divine grace. It is thus a divine-to-human and human-to-divine interaction. Yes, in some ways it is also a human-to-human interaction, for it is a testimony to those who witness this act of our faith in the Lord. But, baptism is primarily an event that is very, very personal: one that occurs between a man/woman and his/her God. I find it rather odd that Ray is so distressed by such an observation. What is unbiblical or untruthful about anything I just stated?!

Third, Ray made this statement: "Al doesn't agree with the apostle Peter who places receiving the Spirit AFTER repentance and baptism into Christ." Yet wasn't it Peter who shared the good news with Cornelius and his household, who received the Holy Spirit BEFORE they were baptized?! And what does Ray do with the statement in Acts 8:17? Peter and John were sent to Samaria, to a group of disciples who had become believers, yet they had not received the Holy Spirit, even though "they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." If baptism is the "magic moment" when one is saved and receives the Spirit, why hadn't they received the Spirit? And why did Cornelius and his household receive it before baptism? These are serious questions for those who promote a rigid legalism with respect to this ritual. If baptism were a sacrament, then issues relating to procedure and timing might be relevant. But, water baptism is not a sacrament. It is an evidentiary act of personal faith. To make it THE conduit of divine grace is sacrilege, and a subversion of the gospel itself. By arguing over what happens before or after baptism, one in effect makes baptism the central event of the salvific process. It is NOT. It is by grace through faith we are saved; all else is peripheral. If proclaiming this as Truth makes me an apostate, then so be it. I'm in good company (Eph. 2:8-9 -- "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast").

Fourth, I believe that Ray perhaps didn't really convey what he ultimately intended when he wrote, "Jesus didn't instruct the evangelists to teach about baptism. He told us to tell about Him and to baptize the new believer." Although Ray is technically correct in stating that Jesus, in His commissioning of His personal representatives, didn't command them to "teach about baptism," nevertheless IF this act has any spiritual significance at all then we who teach others about Jesus must at least include it in the instruction that accompanies the proclamation of the gospel message (which would undoubtedly fall under the umbrella of our Lord's command: "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" -- Matt. 28:20). If we do NOT "teach about baptism," then how are those who believe in Christ to know about it? We are told, for example, that Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch, yet at some point the eunuch requested to be immersed in water. Where did he hear about this, if not from Philip? On the other hand, if Ray is suggesting a distinction between gospel and doctrine -- indicating that baptism is NOT truly a part of the gospel message, but rather a part of the subsequent teaching for new believers -- then I would agree with his statement, as I point out in Reflections #117: "The Gospel-Doctrine Debate" and Reflections #176: "Is Baptism a Part of the Gospel?" Where we too often fail our hearers today is in making baptism a part of, even central to, the gospel message; indeed, some so venerate this act that it has virtually replaced Jesus as the focal point of one's salvation. Such is inevitable, though, when any act takes on the power of a sacrament, which, tragically, water baptism has become for far too many.

Fifth, Ray Downen wrote that the world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham "doesn't believe in the baptism commanded by Jesus. I see the same teaching now being done by Al Maxey." Again, this is a statement that is simply inconsistent with known facts. Graham most certainly DOES believe in the baptism commanded by Jesus. What Graham does NOT believe (nor do I) is that water baptism is a sacrament. Billy Graham and I both hold baptism in very high regard, but neither of us believe it is the precise split-second that God bestows salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, and baptism in water is simply (though importantly) a demonstration of our faith, as well as a participatory reenactment of the central event in divine-human interaction: our Lord's death, burial/entombment and resurrection to life. Baptism is a powerful symbol; one the new believer will not hesitate to embrace as a declaration of his/her faith. Notice the following quote from Billy Graham: "I believe baptism is important, and I have been baptized. ... Baptism is a conclusive act of obedience and witness to the world that we are Christ's. I believe in it wholeheartedly. In our crusades we don't baptize because we feel that this should be done by the local pastors -- and that if I baptized, some people would say they had been baptized by me, and that would be putting the emphasis on the wrong person. To one who has received Christ, baptism is a necessary and meaningful experience" (this quote may be found on Billy Graham's web site by Clicking Here). Although Ray would likely argue that one does not "receive Christ" before baptism, but rather AT baptism, I would again have to differ with Ray and agree with Graham, for to do otherwise is to invest water baptism with a sacramental quality it was never intended to possess. I would urge a careful reading of my following article: Reflections #470: "Is Baptism A Sacrament? Reflecting on a Doctrinal Devolution from Visible Sign to Vital Sacrament."

Sixth, Ray penned this statement: "And the church pays him a salary to preach truth! And thousands eagerly buy his books! I like Al. He surely is likeable! What a pity it is that it's BAPTIST doctrine he's promoting!" Yes, I have been blessed to serve as the pulpit minister and one of the elders at a congregation here in southern New Mexico for almost 16 years now. In 38 years of ministry I have been privileged to serve in some wonderful places, including Germany and Hawaii, and the Lord has always provided the means, through the generosity of His people, for me to do so. Yes, I am blessed, and do indeed seek (as I always have) to "preach Truth." Being human, and thus fallible, my teaching has fallen, at times, short of absolute perfection with respect to ultimate Truth, but is this not true of us all?! As we grow in grace and knowledge, we correct our misconceptions to comport better with Truth. It is a process, and we are all somewhere on that journey, yet short of that goal. Thank God for His grace! If only we would display it more toward one another! I'm glad Ray finds me likable; I feel the same about him. He and I are seen in this picture taken at The Tulsa Workshop about three years ago. I love you, Ray, and hope you can see that I do not seek to promote the doctrine of any sect or religion, but rather the teaching of my Savior and Redeemer. Yes, we differ in some of our perceptions, preferences and practices, but thank God we are united as one in the Person of Jesus. Ray and I are proof of the truth: you don't have to be my twin to be my brother!! May God bless you, Ray. I hope to see you in Tulsa in about three months! [NOTE: I'll be one of the speakers again this coming year at the 2014 Tulsa Workshop, and hope to see many of you there. If you haven't yet done so, begin making your plans now to be a part of this awesome annual event. The featured speaker this coming year will be Phil Robertson (of "Duck Dynasty" fame) on Friday evening in the Pavilion. Keep checking the workshop's web site for the schedule listing the other speakers and the days, times and locations of their talks (this schedule will be released in January). It promises to be a great time of fellowship!]

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Tennessee:

I just finished reading your latest offering (Reflections #600). Thanks for clearing up the difference between foot-washing, kissing and baptism. Yes, baptism is a command to be obeyed by a disciple. However, in writing to our mutual preacher friend in middle TN when he wrote on this subject, I expressed the time element we had to observe when I was in Russia in 1993 before we could baptize someone. It was October, and we were just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, and the temperature was 18 below zero. The only "baptistery" in that city of 50,000 was the one owned by the city (and it was a hot tub). We rented it, but could not use it until after closing time (which was after 10 p.m.). So, a person taught earlier in the day had to wait many hours to be baptized. This leads to the question: "What if that person or persons died before 10 p.m.?" The legalist would say, "They went to hell," or "It's regrettable, but God gave them other opportunities to obey and they didn't take advantage of those earlier opportunities." I remember the preacher who baptized me said that he actually had a man have a heart attack and die as they were walking down the aisle of the church building headed for the baptistery!! His inference at the time was that this man had died LOST, and was thus facing HELL. Anyway, thanks for the explanation concerning commands tied to culture (human-to-human) and those tied to God and man (divine-to-human and human-to-divine).

From a Reader in Canada:

Wow! Well done! Great step-by-step presentation in your new Reflections; obviously guided by the Holy Spirit. Your article makes it very plain just how important the command to be baptized is! Thanks for all you do in the Lord Jesus!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

In your article "Foot-Washing, Kissing and Baptism" you have challenged the status quo, as per usual, and have provided logical and truth-based conclusions. It occurred to me while I was reading: some people within the Churches of Christ will go to any lengths to define and defend their sectarian views! In my opinion, most of their arguments find root in a personal theology that does not come from an in-depth study and knowledge of the Bible, but rather from adopting what they perceive the Church of Christ church teaches. And once a person has "all the right positions" safely packaged in their religious box, it becomes anathema to even consider anything different. The end result? -- sectarianism, legalism and patternism, which must then be defended at all costs. Thank you, Al, for staying on the ragged edge of grace and freedom. You have helped so many to breathe free in their walk with the Father. God bless you, and Merry Christmas.

From a Reader in California:

Thank you so much for getting right to the heart of the matter in your last article. A more correct caption to the image at the beginning of your study would be: "Baptism: Water of Death." That may seem harsh, but Romans 6 teaches us that baptism represents the death of our old selves and being raised to a new life. When Jesus was in the tomb for three days, He was most definitely dead. To imply (as that original caption did) that baptism is the "water of life," is, if not heresy, certainly doctrinally ill-informed. As for foot-washing, my sister is part of the Free-Will Baptists, and, in their heritage, foot-washing is considered a part of their fellowship with one another. They draw a tremendous amount of comfort, unity and bonding through the practice. From what I read in the Bible, if it is socially appropriate and brings brethren closer together -- wash away. As always, Al, I truly appreciate your Reflections ministry!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, Congratulations on the publication of your 600th issue of Reflections. You are certainly steadfast in your work for the Lord, and in your desire to teach God's children.

From an Elder in Arkansas:

Thank you, Brother Al, for tackling the difficult task of expounding the Scriptures to the world with a very logical, common-sense approach!

From a Reader in Nevada:

After reading "Foot-Washing, Kissing & Baptism" (Reflections #600), I would say that you are quite adept at spotting sacred cows, rounding them up, and then making hamburger out of them! By the way, my wife and I plan to make it to Tulsa again this coming March for the 2014 Tulsa Workshop. We hope to see you there!

From a Reader in Australia:

As we approach the time we remember Jesus' birth each year, my wife and I wanted to say Thank You, Al, and let you know that even if we don't email you as consistently as we should, we do pray for you daily and love you dearly. Your weekly Reflections continue to "hit the mark." Well done! May you be blessed by our Lord and Saviour for the hard work you do.

From a New Reader in Malaysia:

Greetings from the Church of Christ in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Please subscribe us to your Reflections. We look forward to reading them. God bless!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Hello Al Maxey & Bobby Valentine, You both might find the lead article in the new issue of "Contending for the Faith" (Nov/Dec, 2013) to be very interesting. It is by Gary L. Grizzell and titled "The Danger of Self-Deception -- John Waddey: A Case in Point." It seems as if your (and my) adversary is now under attack by the same ultra-conservative folks he has been in camp with. Apparently he just isn't conservative enough for them any more. Those who "bite and devour" often get "bitten and devoured" in return. I certainly take no joy in seeing John Waddey being ridiculed in this manner, even though I disagree with him on many issues. I do find it ironic, however, that this man, who has spent years attacking other brethren, is now himself under attack from his own camp of ultra-conservative brethren through this "Contending for the Faith" magazine (which I call "Contentious for the Filth"). Al and Bobby, I really enjoy the articles that both of you write, and I appreciate the study and effort you put into them. May God bless both of your ministries.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

We have never met, but I want to thank you for all the great teaching and encouragement your articles have been over the years. I appreciate you so very much as you have been a great blessing to me as I have struggled to overcome the legalism I was taught when I was "converted" 40 years ago into the most conservative wing of the Churches of Christ. I am so glad I have been saved and freed by the blood of Jesus from all that stuff. My son is transferring to New Mexico Tech for the Spring semester of 2014, so I am going to use my trip out there with him to visit where you preach and personally thank you for your good work!

From a Minister in Arkansas:

I too am still ministering to the faith-heritage (Church of Christ) I grew up in. I realize many of your readers can't understand the decision you and many others have made to remain in this fellowship. However, where would you go? In my interactions with other denominational brethren (preachers) I have heard of the endless problems that they face as well. The apostle Paul testifies of the endless problems that exist when human interests usurp the will of God. It's almost like the old adage of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. One might very well leave their faith-heritage, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, only to be completely disillusioned by the trouble they find there. So, where would you go? I applaud your determination to continue to serve where you are, and to chip away at the boulder of legalism a chip at a time. Thank you for all you do!

From a Minister in Michigan:

I have been preaching full-time for about 10 years, and have been struggling for a while to give up the teachings of men like David Brown (Contending for the Faith), etc. In the process of studying God's Word, without the cloud of Legalism hanging over me, I stumbled upon something called GRACE. It has now got a hold on me!! I work with a fairly conservative congregation, but they do seem to be somewhat open-minded. I was told not too long ago that just a few years back they would never have hired someone like me who is searching out the Scriptures like I am doing and questioning long held traditions. Do you have any advice for this young preacher? I would appreciate any encouragement you could throw my way. Like you, I too am finished with Legalism!

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