by Al Maxey

Issue #642 ------- December 19, 2014
The noblest question in the world
is: "What good may I do in it?"

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Hugh's News, Views & Qs
Twenty Questions Concerning Baptism

I have known Hugh Fulford for quite some time, and I genuinely respect him for his many years serving the Lord and his fellow man as a minister and author. Hugh currently resides in Tennessee, continuing to preach and teach, even though he could easily "retire and take life easy" (as many choose to do when they reach "the golden years"). The fact that he regards each new day as a blessing from the Lord in which he may continue to share the Good News with others is an inspiration to many, myself included. Hugh is my brother in Christ, and I'm glad of that. But, like most siblings (whether biological or spiritual), Hugh and I don't always agree on matters we each consider to be of eternal significance. He and I have communicated over the years on these issues, questioning one another's biblical understandings. I do not consider Hugh an "apostate," nor do I question his heart or even his salvation. I do, however, question some of his views (as he questions some of mine). I believe such respectful questioning and challenging can be helpful to both parties. After all, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). "Constructive criticism between friends develops character. The Talmud applied this to study: two students sharpening each other in the study of Torah" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1099]. Hugh and I are students of the Word, disciples of Jesus, and servants of God. We each take seriously our individual callings, and we each are convinced that our convictions are consistent with ultimate Truth. We are also each concerned that the other is professing and proclaiming that which is inconsistent with God's will. I don't believe Hugh is malicious in the promotion of his convictions, but merely misguided and misinformed. Because I believe he is the latter, rather than the former, I do not hesitate to respond respectfully to his concerns (and have been doing so for a number of years). This present Reflections (the final issue for 2014), therefore, will focus on a challenge recently posed by this brother-in-Christ. I pray he, as well as his readers and mine, will carefully consider the following response to his questions.

On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, in his periodical titled "Hugh's News & Views," Hugh Fulford wrote, "Baptism is an old, familiar, and often discussed topic. It has long been a theological battleground and the subject of numerous religious debates. Nearly every church has an 'official position' on baptism. What does the Bible say about baptism? By asking and answering the following questions, one can know the will of God regarding this important matter. For those not familiar with the content of the cited Bible texts, I would kindly urge them to turn to those passages, read them, and let God's Word speak for itself." Hugh is working on the assumption that by reading these verses, and then answering his 20 questions, a person will then "know the will of God" with regard to baptism. It also assumes that this person will arrive at the same conclusions and convictions that Hugh himself has. If we simply "let God's Word speak for itself," that message will always be the exact same one proclaimed by Hugh. But, if your understanding of these passages differs from Hugh's, then you are not listening to God, or you are trying to twist the Scriptures. If at the end of the test (the 20 questions) you have not arrived at the same theological convictions as the author of these questions, then you have "failed the test," for there is only one correct conclusion -- Hugh's. I can tell you up front: I failed Hugh's test. I imagine many of you did as well. But, did I fail to defend ultimate Truth (as best I understand it)? Did I fail my God? Did I fail to represent the teachings of God's Word accurately? I will let you, the reader, make that determination. Following are the twenty questions posed by Hugh Fulford, with my response to each.

Question #1 -- Is baptism a Bible subject? (Matthew 3:1-6)

This is an easy question to answer. Yes, the Bible most definitely has something to say about baptism. Thus, it is a biblical topic and worthy of our careful study so that we might know what the Bible has to say about it. The passage Hugh gave following this question deals with the baptism taught and administered by John the Baptist, about which I have done a number of studies in my Reflections. A few of those studies that you might want to consider are: Issue #586 ("Grandfathered Status Theology" -- in this study I respond to another of Hugh's theories), Issue #588 ("Pre-Pentecost Baptism Rivalry"), Issue #626 ("Why Then Do You Baptize?"), and Issue #627 ("John's Baptism of Repentance").

Question #2 -- Was Christ Himself baptized? (Matthew 3:13-17)

The answer is Yes. The passage provided by Hugh informs us of the fact that "Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John" (vs. 13). John was somewhat reluctant to do so, however, as he felt he should be baptized by Jesus. Nevertheless, he complied with the Lord's request.

Question #3 -- Why was Christ baptized? (Matthew 3:15)

Jesus Himself stated the reason: "It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." There has been much speculation and debate over the centuries as to what specifically Jesus meant by "fulfill all righteousness," but we'll leave that to another study. Suffice it to say: not all biblical scholars agree on this matter. Thus, "let God's Word speak for itself" sounds good in theory, but the reality is that a hundred people may "let that passage speak," and the result may be a dozen different conclusions. For example, the eunuch from Ethiopia was reading from Isaiah (letting God's Word speak), but he was uncertain as to the significance of what he read. When Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, the eunuch replied, "How can I unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:30-31). I also can't help but think of Nehemiah 8:8 -- "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read." Obviously, just reading the Word and "letting it speak for itself" is not always going to produce understanding among the people. This is why God has always provided those Spirit-led individuals who can guide others into a better grasp of the meaning and spiritual significance of that which they have read or heard.

Question #4 -- Did Christ teach that others should be baptized? (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16)

Yes, He did. Few question the fact that we are instructed to baptize believing, penitent disciples. The debate centers around the ultimate purpose of this act and the particulars of its administration. I dealt with our Lord's "Great Commission" in the following study: Reflections #500 -- "Contemplating Our Commission." As for the reference to Mark 16:15-16, most scholars concur that this passage is not a part of the original document penned by Mark, but was added later, thus we should be careful of trying to build any doctrine upon anything in that text (I would refer the reader to: Reflections #530 -- "Mark's Mysterious Ending").

Question #5 -- How many valid baptisms are there? (Ephesians 4:5)

The apostle Paul declares in this passage: "there is one baptism." I doubt Hugh would claim this is asserting all other baptisms mentioned in Scripture (and there are several) are "invalid." Perhaps he would claim they are invalid now, but they were certainly valid in their time and for the purpose(s) they served. Further, what exactly is this "one baptism"? Hugh would insist it is "immersion in water." But, is he right? The text doesn't actually say that; Hugh has merely assumed it. Is it possible, therefore, that Paul had something else in mind? If so, what? And is there any evidence for an alternative view? I have asked these questions, and sought to provide a possible answer, in Reflections #505 -- "There Is One Baptism," which I would hope Hugh and others would carefully consider. Just because some assume it is a reference to baptism in water does not make it so. There may well be other equally reasonable and biblically consistent understandings of what this "one baptism" is, and those views should be at least given a fair hearing and consideration, for they are proffered by honest, devoted disciples who are just as committed to the Lord and Truth as Hugh.

Question #6 -- What is baptism as to its form or action (what some refer to as the "mode" of baptism)? (Acts 8:35-39; Romans 6:4)

The Greek word "baptizo" means "to dip, plunge, submerge, immerse." There is actually a separate Greek word for "sprinkle," which is "rhantizo." This word is used to speak of the "sprinkling" of the blood of Jesus Christ in our new covenant with God (1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 12:24). Traditionally, most disciples of Christ believe the ideal mode is immersion (symbolizing a burial, as per the Romans 6 passage to which Hugh referred), although most will also admit that in some circumstances, where immersion is not possible, other modes may be just as acceptable. Perhaps the example that lends itself best to immersion as the mode is the account of the Ethiopian eunuch (to which Hugh also refers). "They both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of..." (Acts 8:38-39). On the other hand, there are reputable scholars who believe the account of the baptism of the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16), given the circumstances in which this occurred, suggests the possibility of another mode. We simply don't have sufficient information as to how much water was available to them at that time and place. We may assume they had a sufficient quantity, but that is not specified (as in the previous account). My own personal understanding is that the spiritual meaning of this event is of greater significance than the physical mode. My preference would be immersion (as that lends itself better to the figure of a burial), however I would never suggest that another mode invalidated one's baptism, since I find nowhere in Scripture where such is even hinted at. Some may assume God would be displeased with another mode, but there is absolutely nothing in God's Word where such is declared. Thus, we should be careful, lest we condemn that which God has not. With respect to this question of methodology, may I suggest the reader reflect upon the following studies: Reflections #67a ("What Would YOU Have Done? Challenging Cases Involving Immersion") and Reflections #70 ("Ministering to the Dying: Discussing a Deathbed Dilemma").

Question #7 -- What is the element in which one is to be baptized? (Acts 8:36-38; 10:47)

As noted in the above passages from Acts 8 and Acts 10, the element of choice appears to be water. On the other hand, as noted in my studies mentioned at the end of the previous remarks, there may be times, when the preferred medium is not available, that a substitute might be acceptable. After all, it is the heart of man that concerns God, not the particulars of the peripherals pertaining to the practice itself. Yes, there is an obvious preference, when the medium is available (as is also true with regard to the Lord's Supper), but I find no evidence in the Scriptures that "hell awaits" those who don't have access to the water, wine or bread, and who make some substitution. I would also suggest that not every passage that speaks of "baptism" has water in view. There are other possible "baptisms" in view, thus we should be careful lest we assume every mention of baptism in the NT has reference to a baptism in water. With this in mind, I would urge a careful reading of my analysis of 1 Corinthians 12:13 in Reflections #353 -- "Immersed By One Spirit," where I do not believe Paul had water in view. I would also suggest this is true of Galatians 3:27 (see: Reflections #362 -- "Putting On Jesus Christ").

Question #8 -- Is baptism a command? (Acts 10:48)

Yes, I believe it is. It certainly was for Cornelius and his household, as Hugh noted: "And Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:48). Jesus, in His "Great Commission," also informed His apostles that they were to make disciples and baptize them (Matthew 28:19). I know of very few people who will argue that baptism is not commanded. Again, however, the issue is not whether this act is expected of us -- it clearly is. Rather, the issue that has led to significant debate is: what is the purpose of this act? Is it salvific, or is it symbolic? Is it redemptive, or is it representative? Hugh would suggest it is the former; I would suggest it is the latter.

Question #9 -- Must one be baptized in order to be saved? (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:21)

As previously noted (in my response to question #4), there is little evidence that the long ending to Mark's gospel record is genuine, thus I would discount anything said therein as a basis for the forming of doctrine for the church. As for his reference to 1 Peter 3:21, I believe Hugh has completely misunderstood and misapplied this passage. I would urge Hugh, and our respective readers, to examine my in-depth exegesis of this passage in the following studies: Reflections #217 ("Salvation by Immersion: Reflective Analysis of 1 Pet. 3:21"), Reflections #497 ("Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21: Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism"), and Reflections #613 ("The Filth of the Flesh: Pondering a Petrine Phrase"). To answer Hugh's question: No, I do not believe the Scriptures teach that our salvation is tied to a baptism in water. This is where Hugh and I part company theologically. We are saved by grace through faith; we are not saved by baptism in water. Yet, those who are saved, if their faith is genuine, will show their faith (James 2) in a number of ways, one of which is baptism. It is a testimony of man to what the "Son of man" has done for them! We are not baptized in water in order to BE saved, but rather because we ARE saved! Big difference! I have dealt with this extensively in my book on baptism, for those who might be interested in this in-depth biblical study.

Question #10 -- Is baptism necessary to receiving the remission of sins? (Acts 2:38; 22:16)

I would imagine that Hugh would agree with the view that we are cleansed of sin when "washed in the blood of the Lamb" (as the old hymn says, and which we proclaim each time we sing these words). The traditional teaching of those who embrace a sacramental view of baptism in water, however, is that this "washing" occurs in the baptistery. I most certainly believe that baptism in water is a symbol of that spiritual cleansing in the blood of Christ, but I do not believe the Scriptures teach that this evidentiary act of faith is when/where this divine forgiveness actually occurs. Is baptism in water necessary to the showing of our faith in receiving this grace? Yes. Is baptism in water necessary to the acquiring of this grace? No. To teach the latter is to elevate a symbol to a sacrament, which diminishes our Lord's free gift. We have all (who were raised in Churches of Christ) most likely heard countless sermons in which Acts 2:38 was brought forth as the proof text for the salvific nature of baptism in water. Most of this teaching centers around the Greek preposition "eis." I have dealt with this belief in great depth in Reflections #515 ("Peter's Problem Preposition: Reflecting on 'EIS' in Acts 2:38"), and I would urge Hugh, and others who believe as he does, to take some time to review this study. Acts 22:16, in which we find one of the three accounts of Paul's conversion experience, has also long been a favorite verse of those who believe baptism in water is the precise split-second that one is cleansed, forgiven, and saved. I have dealt extensively with this perception in Reflections #507 ("Wash Away Your Sins: A Reflective Study of Acts 22:16"). Those who believe as Hugh does, believe one "contacts the blood" via baptism in water. I believe this can be shown to be contrary to the actual teaching of Scripture, as I have sought to demonstrate in Reflections #608 ("Contacting the Blood of Christ: Examination of an Expedient Expression"). I followed up on this article, in response to yet another challenge by Hugh Fulford, in Reflections #609 ("Holy Spirit Home Remodeling: The Washing of Renovation and Renewal by the Holy Spirit - A Study of Titus 3:5"). In conjunction with these studies, I would also urge a prayerful review of Reflections #618 ("Set Free By His Blood: Reflecting on Revelation 1:5"). In these studies I have shown at length, and in great depth from the Scriptures, why I believe the answer to Hugh's tenth question is a resounding NO. This is NOT to suggest, though, that baptism isn't important or necessary. It most certainly IS. But the key question is: important/necessary to what?! It is here that Hugh and I differ dramatically.

Question #11 -- Is baptism necessary to being in Christ where all spiritual blessings (including salvation) are found? (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:10)

Although the passages Hugh lists at the end of question #11 are fabulous truths, they do not really declare what he says they do. I have dealt with the first one (Galatians 3:27) in the Reflections mentioned at the end of my comments to question #7. As for the other two passages cited, the "in Christ" phrase may well refer to agency -- our blessings come through/by/in HIM: He is their source for those who have faith. Having said this, I nevertheless agree with Hugh's premise that it is in relationship with the Father through the Son (and with the indwelling of the Spirit) that we enjoy the blessings God bestows. Yes, we need to be IN HIM; united with Him. Hugh's belief is that baptism in water is the very act that accomplishes this goal. I personally do not believe the Scriptures teach this. The Holy Spirit places us IN HIM when we, in our hearts and minds, turn to Him as our Lord in genuine faith. Knowing our hearts, He "immerses" (plunges) us into a spiritual union with Him. This is exactly what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13. That passage has nothing whatsoever to do with baptism in water, but is rather an immersion performed by the Holy Spirit: one in which He, knowing our hearts, unites us with Him, and from this union flows the blessings of His love, mercy and grace. I would plead with Hugh, and those who continue to embrace sectarian sacramentalism, to please examine my exegesis of this passage in Reflections #353 -- "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13." This study has opened the eyes of a great many people to what Paul is truly teaching. Again, please examine this carefully, then show me where my analysis of the text is flawed. As previously stated, I agree with Hugh that God's blessings are for those who are IN HIM; I disagree with Hugh that the specific act by which, and the particular time at which, this entrance into Him initially takes place is one's baptism in water. Yes, this evidentiary act of faith has a purpose, but this is not it. In conjunction with this, and the Galatians 3:27 text, please see: Reflections #362 -- "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14."

Question #12 -- Will baptism alone save a person? (Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Revelation 2:10)

The answer is NO. I found it interesting that Hugh cited four passages that don't even mention baptism. Instead, they stress the need for one to turn from one's sinful pursuits and turn to the Lord in faith, and then evidence this faith in faithful living thereafter. God calls us from the world and to Him. We make that turn in our lives by faith, and we evidence that faith in our daily attitudes and actions. These verses make that clear. Not only is baptism alone incapable of saving anyone, neither is it capable of doing such in connection with any other act performed by/upon man. Salvation is a gift of God's grace, thus nothing we do (or allow another man to do to us) merits that gift.

Question #13 -- In order for baptism to be valid, must one first be taught the things of Christ? (Matthew 28:18-20)

Baptism is a response of faith to the Good News that God, through the agency of His Son, loved us so much that He gave His Son to atone for our sins. Before I can accept a gift, I must first learn that such a gift exists ... and why I need it. When I become convicted of the latter (i.e., that I am a sinner and thus separated from God, the source of life), and I believe that He has graciously provided the bridge that spans the chasm that divides us, I then turn in trusting faith to come to Him. No sooner have I turned toward Him in faith than He stands there embracing me. My life will then be spent learning more and more about His will and expectation for my life, and, through the indwelling of His Spirit, becoming more and more like His Son in my attitudes and actions. In the Matthew 28 text cited above, we are commanded to make disciples (i.e., students of the Lord Jesus), and we are to baptize THEM. These disciples, who have come to a saving faith in Him, and who subsequently manifest that faith in the symbolic recreation of our Lord's death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6), should then continue their education in "the things of Christ." Or, as Jesus said in the above passage, "teaching THEM (i.e., those disciples who have come to a conviction of faith, and who evidenced that faith in baptism) to observe all that I commanded you." And what specifically has He commanded of us? It's very simple: Love God and Love One Another! Throughout our journey through life we should always be stimulating one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Must all of this be taught to someone before they evidence their faith in the act of baptism? No. All this is the "after teaching" concerning the nature of our walk with Him in the light. All that needs to be taught before one comes to that conviction of faith is: You have sinned and are lost; Jesus came to atone for that sin through His life, death, burial and resurrection; you can receive the gift of this redemptive work when you turn away from the world and toward the Lord IN FAITH (baptism simply being an act that manifests this "turning in faith to Him"). Thereafter, we continually help one another to come to a greater understanding of His will for our lives so that we might grow in this faith, manifesting it more perfectly day-by-day in our journey home.

Question #14 -- Must one believe the gospel before his/her baptism would be valid? (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5)

I've already commented on the use of the Mark 16 passage. It is not part of the inspired Scriptures. As for the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul informs us what the gospel he preaches IS -- the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. He tells us that if we believe this Good News, we shall be saved. If someone does NOT believe this, why would they submit to baptism in water? The latter is a testimony to one's faith/belief in the Good News of what Jesus has done for us. If you don't believe this, why would you indicate you do?! If such a one goes ahead and is baptized, yet does NOT believe this good news, then how "valid" is his testimony? He is testifying to something he doesn't even believe. So, yes, I agree that one must actually believe the message to which he will later give testimony, otherwise the whole thing becomes a shameless sham.

Question #15 -- Is baptism for babies or young children who have not come to a personal faith in Christ, who have not developed a consciousness of sins to be repented of, and who are not capable of acknowledging their faith in Christ as the Son of God? (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:36-38)

If some divine grace is actually bestowed through the act of baptism (which is the sacramental view, and which came to be the accepted view for quite some time), it becomes easy to see how and why this would be conferred upon infants and pagans (sometimes by force, as during the Crusades). The biblical teaching, however, is that baptism is something one consciously chooses to submit to because of (and to manifest) their faith in the Lord and what He has done for them. An infant can hardly give testimony to the grace of God in sending His Son to atone for his sins and to bring him eternal life. Only those who possess this faith can attest to it through this rite. Otherwise it is a meaningless religious ritual. The same can be said for the Lord's Supper. You can give a pinch of the bread to an infant, but do they appreciate the spiritual significance of what the bread represents? Can they give testimony to the blessings received because of the shed blood of the Lamb? Rituals, symbols and representative acts are meaningless to those who have yet to perceive the Great Reality behind them. I have dealt with this somewhat in my article titled "The Age of Accountability" (Reflections #159). I would also suggest my study of the doctrine of Paedocommunion in Reflections #316 ("Toddlers at the Table").

Question #16 -- In the light of question #6 and its answer, if one has only been sprinkled with water, or had water poured on him/her, has that person been biblically baptized?

I would agree that when this rite is connected with water, the implication of the text, at least in some of the cases, seems to refer to enough water to fully immerse the penitent believer. Even the word itself tends to suggest this mode. Also, that which this baptism in water symbolizes or represents (death, burial, resurrection) is best represented, in my view, by full immersion. On the other hand, I don't find anything in the NT writings that specifies this mode as the only mode acceptable to God. Indeed, there are some cases, such as that of the jailer in Philippi, where many scholars feel, given the circumstances, that full immersion may not have been possible. We humans tend to take far too far the particulars of our rituals, even to the point of suggesting any departure from what we regard as "the pattern" will result in eternal damnation. I personally doubt our Father is all that concerned with legalistic particulars pertaining to some religious rite. He focuses on the heart, while we tend to fuss and fight over forms. Although my preference, based on my understanding of Scripture, is full immersion, I would never condemn another who may not have that same understanding. If a penitent believer submits to baptism, and his/her form or mode differs from mine, yet their heart is totally committed in love and faith to their Lord, and they submit to this rite to please Him, then I would say their baptism is just as valid as mine. Man obsesses over the externals; the Lord observes the intent of our hearts. Thus, I would respond to this question by saying that whether or not one is "biblically baptized" is not so much determined by the form or mode of that rite, but by the heart of the one submitting to it. It is the latter, not the former, in my view, that determines divine acceptance or rejection of such evidentiary acts.

Question #17 -- In light of question #14 and its answer, if one did not personally believe in Christ, repent of sins, and confess faith in Christ, has that person been biblically baptized?

Again, baptism in water is a testimony (in somewhat symbolic form) of a penitent believer as to his/her acceptance of the gift of God's grace. If one has not turned from his/her pursuit of worldliness, if they do not believe in the Lord, if they reject Jesus as the Messiah and our atonement for sin, then to what are they testifying by their baptism?! The eunuch asked, "What prevents me from being baptized?" Peter simply stated, "If you believe with all your heart, you may" (Acts 8:36-37). Why is faith/belief the precondition to baptism? Because without that strong conviction of the heart in submission of one's life to the Lord, one's baptism is a hollow testimony. One cannot evidence what is not there. Without faith, baptism means nothing. But, when faith is present, a faith that has accepted God's gift of grace, manifesting that faith in this action just follows naturally. Faith shows itself, just as love and repentance do. Baptism is just one of many ways the saved demonstrate their faith.

Question #18 -- Do we have any example of people being baptized again who had received an invalid baptism? (Acts 19:1-5)

Again, I would hesitate to characterize their previous baptism as invalid. The baptism of John, for example, was certainly valid for those who submitted to it. On the other hand, once the Messiah had come and accomplished His mission, this other rite testified to the fact that One who was coming had now arrived. Thus, John's baptism was valid up to a point (as it anticipated the Coming One), but the baptism submitted to under the new dispensation showed one's acceptance of the gift given by grace of God's Son. Since baptism in water is primarily a testimony to a Truth now realized, it transcends any religious rite that only anticipated that Truth. Yes, there were those who were previously baptized, but upon hearing the Good News that what they longed for was now present eagerly testified to this great reality in that representative recreation of our Lord's death, burial and resurrection (something the previous baptism did not do). Again, it is primarily about a testimony. With regard to the Acts 19 passage, please consider my in-depth evaluation of this NT text in Reflections #585 ("The 'Dirty Dozen' of Ephesus: Pondering the Purpose of their Baptism"). As for the practice of rebaptism, consider: Reflections #407 ("A Study of Rebaptism") and Reflections #580 ("Already You Are Clean: A Reflective Study of John 15:3").

Question #19 -- Is baptism the end or merely the beginning of the Christian life? (Romans 6:1-4; 2 Peter 1:5-11)

It is neither. It is no more the beginning or end than partaking of the Lord's Supper is the beginning or end. It is simply an act of faith that testifies to the reality of God's gift of grace, which gift we accepted by faith. That saving faith, if genuine, displays itself time and again in our lives. Baptism is one way we show our faith during our walk with Him (and, yes, this does generally take place early on in that walk), but it is not the only way. We are saved by grace through faith. Period. We display this reality daily. To suggest that one of these evidentiary acts is, in and of itself, what saves us is to make more of it than was ever intended by inspiration. Baptism in water, as a testimony of the fact that we are saved by grace through faith in our Lord's redemptive act, has a place in our journey, but it is not the "alpha and omega, the beginning and end" of that journey. Nor was it ever intended to be. Those who seek to make it so are merely elevating a symbol to a sacrament; a representative act to a redemptive act. In so doing, they tarnish the beauty and simplicity of the true gospel message.

Question #20 -- Have you heard the gospel of Christ (been taught the way of Christ), believed in Him, repented of your sins, confessed your faith in Christ as the Son of God, and been buried with Him in baptism for the remission of your sins?

Yes, I have heard the gospel. Yes, I have repented. Yes, I have believed and confessed. Yes, I was baptized in water (at age eleven, by the way). Back then I was told it was for the remission of my sins. It wasn't until many years later, after doing my own study of the Scriptures on the purpose and significance of baptism in water, that I realized I had been taught what isn't true. Going into the water isn't what forgave and removed my sins. It attested to that reality, but it wasn't what accomplished it. Throughout the years of my walk with Him, I have grown in my understanding and appreciation of this important act of faith. I have learned what it is, and what it is not. I have shared this evolution of understanding in my book: Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice. I hope and pray that Hugh Fulford will give serious thought to what I've shared here, but, frankly, I'm not overly confident that he will. A dear friend called me on the phone as I was writing this issue of Reflections, and we discussed whether or not Hugh would even bother reading it. This brother was rather skeptical, as am I. But, this response to Hugh's 20 questions is not so much for him, but for those countless people examining this exchange on this important issue. It is for them, the open-minded seekers (the Bereans), that I took the time to put this response together. I pray that it will prove enlightening, and that some may thereby find the way out of their captivity to legalistic patternism. May God bless you in that journey!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Florida:

Al, I have been preaching for some 42 years, was well grounded in biblical studies by "our" schools (and "denominational" graduate schools), was a resident missionary, a trainer of young men for ministry, etc. But, during all of this, I was always a student of those who practice independent thinking who have an affection for God and their fellow man. I've struggled for years with the eschatology issues, and was always unsettled with the "forever torture" doctrine. Not only is it inconsistent with God's character, but it was also based on an irresponsible literal view of biblical metaphors. You and Edward Fudge (in your writings and in your book From Ruin To Resurrection) have validated my doubts in this area, and you have taught me a better way of viewing God's intentions for us. Moreover, your piece on baptism and the jailer (Reflections #641 -- "Who Got Washed First?") finally threw the theological switch that I have been searching for in the dark! The light has come on! I now am settled on how to reconcile the sequence of saving faith and baptism. What you have presented in your studies just makes sense. For the past several years I've been teaching and preaching both here and in my mission opportunities that the plan, the only plan, of God is: salvation in Jesus, not in the "five steps." JESUS is God's plan for saving men. I, like you, continue to baptize believers, but no longer rush them to the water as a 911 emergency "water or hell" crisis. Both of these areas of understanding that I've mentioned here are liberating at the age of 70. Oh how I wish I'd taught the same truths at 30 or 40.

From a University Professor in Oklahoma:

I left my congregation of the Church of Christ when I was 18. I had read my Bible and had come to the conclusion that the Church of Christ was not anywhere close to the Body that Christ had intended. Up until I discovered your writings, and began reading your Reflections, I was ready to prepare a scathing blog that dissected the beliefs of the Church of Christ denomination. Your work, however, has dissipated my anger, which is no small accomplishment. Because of your work I am putting on hiatus my call for an all-out exodus from the Churches of Christ. I just wanted to say Thank You for that, and to seek a private dialogue with you about the Churches of Christ. I do not mean to be rude, but for the longest time I have viewed the Church of Christ as a group of degenerates who were incapable of logical thought. I have not experienced any leader in this group whom I would consider rational ... until you. I have always felt that the Church of Christ's most devious sin was in believing the rest of the world was going straight to hell, and then not doing anything about it. The second was that it held that belief in the first place. From your writings I can now tell that this is not a universal view within this group, and perhaps (though I find this hard to believe) not even the prevalent view. My father was a Church of Christ minister, and wrote several books and spoke at many of the Church of Christ lectureships. Every Sunday every sermon was about some fallen denomination, and why WE were better. I believe you to be different. I believe you to be a sincere and BRAVE Christian, and I applaud your work and heart.

From a Native Minister in India:

Beloved Brother, I am still in shock after reading your eye-opening Reflections article: "Who Got Washed First?" I have no words to express my thanks to you for this!! God bless you.

From a Missionary in Nepal:

Al, I have just read your latest. Your article is excellent. One of the worst things our faith-heritage has done is give up the truly holy ground that works of faith are not meritorious but rather evidentiary. Keep on priming the pump!

From a Minister in Michigan:

I find myself being repeatedly amazed at how blessed you are with a talent to effectively communicate in your writings. God has a mighty knight in you. Treasure it and allow the King to continue directing your charge!

From a New Reader in Arkansas:

Brother Maxey, A friend of mine has been mailing me your Reflections. I don't want to take a chance of missing any of them, so I'll tell him to cease sending them as soon as you add me to your mailing list. I have also sent several of your articles on to my own email group. THANK YOU FOR YOUR WORK!!

From a Reader in California:

"Who Got Washed First?" was outstanding. Al, you are lifting so many burdens with your thoughtful and logical approach to so many issues that plague members of the Church of Christ faith-heritage. As you know, I spent over a quarter of a century in the Churches of Christ, and it was "Christians" like those who viciously attack you constantly who finally caused me to leave. In fact, I almost abandoned God altogether as a result of these people. But, Al, it was your gentle and Christ-like love that convinced me NOT to run away from God. After much repentance and prayer, God led me into another faith-heritage where I now serve Him with a joy I had never known! Had it not been for you, my brother, I would have certainly suffered spiritual destruction! May God continue to bless you in His kingdom.

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

The sad thing about the ultra-restrictive branch of the Church of Christ is that there is little joy, if any at all, in that line of thinking. I just wish they could experience the relief of realizing you can't be good enough long enough to obligate God to do what He offers as a free gift. I am sad to say that in my life of preaching for the Churches of Christ I probably scared hell out of more people than I actually converted to the Lord Jesus. For this I am truly sorry. My change was largely due to independent study of God's Word in an historical and linguistic fashion. I also have mentors such as you, Al, to thank for your probing materials. God bless and don't let the "Ding Dongs" keep you awake. You are doing a wonderful job.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother in Christ, "Who Got Washed First?" is yet another "Reflection of Truth" from you. WOW!! I have been a member of the Lord's Body for 57 years, yet I find myself dropping my head in shame that I never saw this passage in its proper perspective (which you presented in your article). I have changed many of my views because of your determination to actually present Truth, no matter the cost to you personally. Also, once again, I thank you for your book Down, But Not Out, as well as all your other efforts to please our Lord.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, "Who Got Washed First?" is another well-presented delivery of the True Gospel, and also another example of being saved by Jesus through faith in HIS ability to save! Funny how the CENI crowd dismiss the examples that don't align with their doctrine. Love ya, brother! Oh, by the way, I sent your Reflections articles on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (#499 -- "Male Chauvinism's Proof-Text: Reflective Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35" and #592 -- "Challenging A Corinthian Quotation: Paul's Powerful Refutation of Church Sexism") to a guy I know. He appreciated it. Some folks use Matthew Henry. I'm an Al Maxey guy!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I read you article "Who Got Washed First?" and this is my favorite part: "...but the 'Good News' is not about 'laying down law,' it is about 'lifting up love' -- specifically: God's love for man, which was evidenced in the gift of His Son, and the love of the Son in laying down His life for those lambs who are lost." This reminds me of a youth song we used to sing ages ago titled "Lift Him Up." It goes along with Jesus' words in John 12:32 -- "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." Thank you for yet another wonderful lesson, one I needed to hear today! God's blessings on you and your family this Christmas season, brother!

From a Reader in Alabama:

My brother, THANK YOU for this issue of your Reflections ("Who Got Washed First?")! It was much needed for this recovering legalist. I can only hope that one day the feelings of "am I working hard enough and proving my love to God well enough" will go away permanently. Our former teaching makes me feel that nonbelievers have more joy because they don't have all the pressure to DO ENOUGH to be saved. There is no joy in "performing" all the time. I need rest. I need the Jesus rest of Matthew 11:28-30. Bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Texas:

Sadly, we as a people have felt so strongly for so long that our beliefs are infallible that we fail to look deeper into God's Truth, and therefore we attack any and all who disagree with us. Thank you for these deeper studies, brother!

From an Author in Texas:

"Who Got Washed First?" is an excellent post. I stand corrected! I had taught that the Philippian jailer was not concerned about eternal salvation when he asked the question "What must I do to be saved?" But, you make a good case against that idea.

From a University Professor in California:

It's been a while since I've written. I've been in the process of moving into a new house and finishing up grading at Pepperdine, so I only read your article "Toe-to-Toe with Torquemada" (Reflections #639) this evening. Believe it or not, my research background is in the Spanish Inquisition (my dissertation was based on the trial of a female visionary by the Portuguese Inquisition in the 17th century). You mentioned Torquemada's role in the expulsion of the Jews, but there's an additional bit of background you might find interesting (and probably all too familiar). It's the story of the Holy Child of La Guardia. This is a good reference in English: Click Here. There is also the possibly apocryphal story that Ferdinand was considering not issuing the Edict of Expulsion. To help him in that direction, the story goes that the Jewish leaders offered him 30,000 ducats. An unfortunate number, because when Torquemada heard about it, he confronted Ferdinand and said, "Judas sold our Lord for 30 pieces of silver. Will you do it for 30,000?" He then handed the King a crucifix and said, "Go ahead; sell Him!" Well, you know the rest of the story!

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