Issue #67 -------
September 5, 2003
Baptism separates the tire kickers
from the car buyers.
--- Max Lucado
A reader from the great state of Arizona recently wrote, "In Reflections #4, in describing the plan of salvation, you said of baptism, 'and they evidence this faith by being immersed.' My question is this: Is that all you see baptism as being -- an evidencing of faith? It sounds an awful lot like 'an outward sign of an inward grace,' which is one of the ways other groups describe it who do not believe that baptism is part of God's plan of salvation. Do you believe that sins are washed away in baptism?"
The noted theologian F. W. Robertson went straight to the heart of the issue when he observed, "The baptismal question is this: Whether we are baptized because we are the children of God, or whether we are the children of God because we are baptized; whether we are to understand thereby that we are made something which we were not before -- magically and mysteriously changed, or, that we are made the children of God by baptism in the same sense that a sovereign is made a sovereign by coronation." Others have asked the same question, but with different illustrations. The wedding ceremony, for example. Is it a signed and stamped marriage certificate, duly recorded by a county clerk, that marks the moment of union between man and wife? Is it words pronounced by a minister in an official ceremony that joins the pair? Or is this public ceremony and its legal certificate simply a visible demonstration of a covenant already entered into by a man and woman deeply devoted to one another, and who had already pledged their commitment to one another for life? Is the former merely visible evidence of the latter? Or, does the latter not truly exist in reality until the completion of the former?
These are questions that God's people have pondered for centuries, with good, honest, godly men strongly advocating both positions. Needless to say, both sides take their perspectives most seriously, with many regarding the matter to be a "salvation issue." Group #1 will condemn group #2 for diminishing the place of immersion in God's plan of salvation and proclaiming salvation by faith only, while group #2 will condemn group #1 for elevating the place of immersion in God's plan and proclaiming salvation by meritorious works of law. It is essentially the age-old battle of Law versus Grace, Works versus Faith, and, in most cases, neither side fully comprehends the position of the other, thus leading to ever increasing confusion, condemnation, and castigation. The reality is that both camps are probably closer to agreement on the issue than either realizes. Lack of communion is far too frequently simply a matter of lack of communication!
Perhaps Max Lucado summed it up best when he wrote, "Our danger is to swing to one of two extremes: we make baptism either too important or too unimportant. Either we deify it or we trivialize it. One can see baptism as the essence of the gospel or as irrelevant to the gospel. Both sides are equally perilous" (Baptism: The Demonstration of Devotion, p. 1). There is absolutely no question as to the importance of baptism to God's plan of salvation for fallen man. It is an essential feature. It is vital. It should never be trivialized. However, neither should it be virtually deified as THE focus of God's plan. It is an aspect of that plan, but I would no more characterize it as the pivotal point than I would confession or repentance. Each of these is critical, but the CENTER of God's plan of salvation is JESUS CHRIST, with God's grace and man's faith being the two dominant characteristics that make this wondrous gift of salvation accessible to all.
So, what exactly is the purpose and place of immersion in God's plan of salvation? Is it only an evidencing of faith? To the reader from Arizona I would assert: It is indeed that (an evidencing of faith), but it is also much, much more! Is repentance merely an evidencing of faith? Is confession? They are both evidences of one's faith. That is a fact. But, if one thinks this is all they are, then one does not fully appreciate their true significance as revealed in the Word. Each of these demonstrations of one's faith is additionally unique and special in its own right, and each is vital to our full acceptance of God's gracious gift of salvation. Thus, I would never deify nor trivialize the place of immersion (or any other aspect of our faith response) in God's plan of salvation.
In my first affirmative, in the Maxey-Hughes Debate, which was a formal debate centering on the application of grace to a special circumstance involving immersion, I affirmed the following:
As one can see from my above declaration, baptism is a multi-faceted event which, in the words of Max Lucado, separates the tire kickers from the car buyers! .... just as repentance or confession would. A faith one refuses to demonstrate or evidence in action, is not a faith one can rely upon for one's salvation. James points this out quite clearly in James 2. Saving faith must be a seen faith. Those who believe, but who refuse to demonstrate that belief, will be lost. I don't know how to state that any more clearly. "This is no optional command. This is not a trivial issue. If it was important enough for Jesus to command, isn't it important enough for you to obey? And if it is important enough for Jesus to do, isn't it important enough for you to follow?" (Max Lucado, Baptism: The Demonstration of Devotion, p. 12).
In John 12:42-43 we find the following sad account --- "Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God." These were men who had faith in Jesus Christ. That faith alone, however, did not result in the approval of God. It was an undemonstrated faith .... a faith they refused to evidence before men, for they cared more for the approval of men than of God. Their faith did not save them because they refused to display it. One may have faith, but if they refuse to demonstrate that faith in the way our Lord has specified, by repenting and confessing and being immersed, then that faith alone (unevidenced) will not result in salvation. Does baptism alone save us? Does confession alone? Repentance alone? Faith alone? NO!! But, neither is one saved without them. Together they lay hold of the gracious gift of God's salvation in Jesus Christ. Faith evidenced (repentance, confession, immersion) secures the gift offered by His grace. Faith unevidenced is sterile and DEAD (James 2) .... and so, ultimately, is the one who possesses it.
As previously noted, the blessings and benefits of evidenced faith are multi-faceted. When our faith leads us to acknowledge Him, turn from our futile life of sin, and visibly demonstrate our devotion in immersion, our Father pours forth His blessings upon us. We are acknowledged as His beloved children. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our sins are washed away. We begin our walk with Him in "newness of life." We are incorporated into the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are redeemed; we are justified; we are sanctified ... we are saved. Are we perfect? Sinless? No, of course not!! But we are now covered by the One who IS! "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, "And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16). When we do what he did, we receive the same blessing. If Saul of Tarsus had refused to evidence his faith by being immersed, he would have continued in his sin, separate from God. Had he been immersed apart from genuine faith in Jesus Christ, the result would have been the same. Neither alone was efficacious! Faith evidenced, however, secured the gift of God. It will do the same today!
Praise God that He has given us such a bold, daring and visible manner in which to demonstrate our faith in Him to the world about us. May those who come to conviction of faith comply with the same eagerness as the jailer in Philippi, who immediately (Acts 16:33) sought to evidence his faith in the manner prescribed by the Lord. May such a one then go on his way rejoicing, as did the eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:39) when he came up out of the water, with heart aglow in the knowledge of saving union with the Lord Jesus!
From a Preacher in California:
Hey Bro. Maxey, Thanks for directing me to Reflections. This is a source of strength and encouragement for many who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus and who are paying dearly for it. It is comforting to know that some of us are shouting GOOD news from the roof tops!
Concerning the restoration of a pattern, I would ask the patternists where this pattern is lined out in the text. If the answer is described in terms of some mysterious puzzle where the pieces have been hidden in the different writings of the NT, then it seems odd that we were not told that the way to heaven is the reconstruction of this mystery. Also odd that the early church fathers reveal no great urgency or impetus to reel everything back to this mysterious pattern. And, why is it that the simplicity of Christ is made so much more difficult than Moses? When God gave the "heavenly pattern" in the Pentateuch He did not hide it in fragments throughout the five books.
From a Preacher in Missouri:
I just want to say that I enjoy reading the readers' comments as much as I enjoy the Reflections themselves. I also read the whole Maxey-Thrasher Debate, and, just like the preacher from California (my home state), I have modified my view on the subject. I will teach others on this. God bless!
From a Reader in Texas:
Your treatise on The Shibboleth Syndrome was a very real teacher for me. I thought I knew what the word meant just from the context --- wrong! It is said that no day is wasted in which one learns something. Thanks to your writing, I'm off to a good start! Have a good day in the Son!
From a Reader in Great Britain:
Al, how odd that the congregation that refused entry to your Elder friend and his family didn't see the foolishness of their actions. In their eyes, your friend wasn't "good enough" to associate with, yet they offered "communion" (which is with both Christ and the Body!). I'm not even sure my mind can get around the convoluted thinking that must have been present, and I don't think I'm going to try. How tragic and saddening it has to be to our Father to see His children quibbling over stale crumbs of human reasoning in the dirt, instead of feasting at His table. Very poignant article this time! Keep it up!
From a Reader in Montreal, Canada:
Al, I have been reading your Reflections for the past several weeks and have been truly inspired. I must express my disappointment with so many preachers, pastors, evangelists, and church leaders who profess Christ as Lord, Savior, and Example of love, yet who show little of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I'm referring to those men who disagree with your position on issues, but who, instead of contesting your position with love and Scripture, resort to name calling and insulting dialogue. I am truly concerned for the people of their congregations. Al, I can't believe that brothers in Christ would be so cruel as to speak the words to you that they have. The greatest enemy to the church today is not the world ... it is "brothers" and "sisters" in the church!
From a Preacher in New Mexico:
I very much appreciate your Reflections on The Shibboleth Syndrome. It's time for the walls between erring siblings in Christ to fall, so we might all recognize we are united as One with our Savior. That was His prayer. May we humble ourselves to honor His wish that we be united with our Savior as He is united with our Father. Down with the room dividers and partitions that separate us from siblings we are commanded to love as ourselves.
From a Reader in Michigan:
I seem to enjoy your material. I saw your picture ... you look different than what I expected! I am always amazed (and encouraged) at how some disciples stay focused and continue to keep on keeping on when I myself have found more excuses to just slide by. Thanks for being there!
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