by Al Maxey
Issue #770 -------
April 3, 2019
It is easy to understand the progression of thought
which passed from a veneration of the waters to
the belief that such waters bestowed "blessing."
Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray [1916-2000]
Baptism in the New Testament
Albert Camus (1913-1960), one of the leading French philosophers of the twentieth century, made the observation that "Life is the sum of all your choices." There is much truth to this, for each day we face choices, both large and small, and we make decisions, some well-informed, others perhaps ill-advised, and we then experience the consequences of these many daily selections, some of which are positive and life-affirming, while others are negative and life-altering. Yes, the nature of our journey through life, as well as our ultimate destiny, is indeed impacted quite significantly by our daily decisions, and especially by the sum total of them. None of us can claim a perfect record when it comes to making such decisions; we've all at times chosen poorly, and some of these have proven quite painful, both for ourselves and others.
Nevertheless, as a direct result of the free will our Creator has bestowed upon each of us, we are on occasion called by Him to make important decisions in life, even though He knows only too well the tendencies of our human nature. Some of these decisions will be rather minor in nature; others will be so significant that they will almost certainly impact just about every aspect of our lives. Perhaps one of the greatest decisions our God places before His creation, however, is whether or not to embrace His gift of life. Yes, even here we are able to choose; and life or death will result from our decision. "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Our destiny, both temporally and eternally, lies within our own hands to a significant degree. So, why would anyone choose death? It doesn't make sense, right?! Yet, sadly, most will, as history reflects only too dramatically! The Lord God will not force any person to embrace Him; a coerced love is no love at all. Thus, the choice of life or death, of union with Him or separation from Him, is entirely yours to make, although He will certainly encourage you to choose rightly. Jesus lamented, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often I have wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling" (Matthew 23:37). Our most momentous choices in life are often ones that determine whether we live or die. These must be taken seriously, for our decisions determine our destinies!
I wonder how we would respond if asked, "What is the most important decision you will make in your life?" We might think of marriage. Maybe our choice of career. Whether or not to have children, and how many. Whether to actively serve our country in time of crisis, or to remain passive. Our response to this question might even change as we grow older, or as we mature. Undoubtedly, many of us would tend to think along spiritual lines, rather than material. Will I commit to serving the Lord? Which church group will I choose to affiliate with for fellowship? These are all important considerations. Imagine my surprise, however, when I came across the statement that is contained in the graphic at the beginning of this article! It at first kind of shocked me; then, I'll have to admit, it angered me, for it reflects a sectarian mindset that is absolutely abominable, and against which I have been speaking out for decades. In case you can't see this graphic, it reads: "The most important decision you can make in your life is getting baptized into The church of Christ." The ignorance evidenced by this statement is appalling! It reflects false teaching on a number of levels, each of which I will address in this present study (although I have addressed each of them time and again in my sermons, classes, lectures and writings).
Let me state unequivocally at the very beginning of this study that I fully embrace both "one baptism" and "one church" as legitimate and even necessary New Covenant realities. The apostle Paul lists both in Ephesians 4:4-5 (although instead of "church" he uses the term "body"). We are called to be baptized, and we are called to be united in "one body" (church). Most accept these statements and concepts as elements of the divine will for those who seek a relationship with the Father (and by extension with His children). Those who are saved are most certainly IN the universal One Body of Jesus Christ. The church itself is not a saving entity; one doesn't enter the church in order to BE saved. One is in the church of God because they ARE saved. Again, most accept this as truth. BUT ... and this is critical: nowhere in the New Testament writings does it ever state that one is "baptized into the church." This is never stated in Scripture! Being baptized does NOT place one into "the church." If, however, one views baptism in water as a sacrament (an act which when completed bestows a divine blessing, grace, privilege or promise), and if one sees immersion in water as the precise moment of salvation, and if those saved are in the church of our Lord, then one can see how they come to the conclusion that this act is not only what saves you, but also what adds you to the church. Based on a sacramental view of baptism, this is a logical progression and conclusion. However, the Bible does NOT teach baptism as a sacrament, nor is there a single sentence in the entire New Testament canon that states a penitent believer is "baptized into the church." Such teaching is simply not there. And it most certainly is not taught anywhere in Scripture that baptism in water places one in a particular denominational group (such as the "Churches of Christ," that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement in which I was raised).
So where does someone find biblical justification for the statement that appeared on this graphic? It comes from a misunderstanding of just a few verses, and some assumptions that arise from this misunderstanding. In Acts 2:47, for example, Luke writes, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" [King James Version]. The first assumption is that the "adding" by the Lord "to the church" took place at baptism. The text does not say this. It doesn't even hint at such. Second, the phrase "to the church" has been added to the text. That phrase was not part of the original text penned by Luke. I dealt with this textual error in one of my very first issues of Reflections: "Added to the Lord" (Issue #9). The original Greek literally reads: "And the Lord added together daily the ones being saved." The passage does not tell us specifically to what or to whom those being saved were added. It merely states that all those being saved were "added together" or "numbered together." Hugo McCord, in his translation, has captured the original very well: "The Lord was adding together daily the ones who were being saved." This is exactly what the passage says in the original. Even the New King James Version acknowledges in a footnote that this phrase is omitted in the Greek text. So, we have two assumptions (UNnecessary inferences) being made here: that those being saved were added to the church, and that those being saved were being saved (and thus added to the church) at the point of baptism in water. Neither of these can be drawn from the passage. They are not there!
Well then, "What about Acts 2:41?," some will ask: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" [King James Version]. The KJV placed the phrase "unto them" in italics, which is a method employed to show the words are NOT in the original text, but were added by the translators. The text literally reads in the original Greek: "And there were added in that day about three thousand souls." Added to what/whom? It doesn't say. Some assume it means "the church," but that is not stated here. Nor does it indicate that the adding unto was the direct result of baptism in water. It might have been, but it also might have been a direct result of "gladly receiving his word." Or both; or neither. It just doesn't say. I think this is all cleared up by Luke's statement in Acts 5:14 (and in this passage the KJV got it right): "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women." Again, nothing is stated as to how this was done, or even the precise split-second when it was done. It simply states that "believers" were "added to the Lord." NOT to the church, but to the Lord. This, of course, greatly grieves "one true church" sectarians, for they are convinced that they, and they alone, are, exclusively, that One Body/Church of Christ on planet earth. Thus, to be "saved" from hell, one must be IN THEM. Too bad for them, however, for Scripture says something else entirely: those being saved, the believers, are IN HIM. It is to HIM they are added, and all those "in Christ" are "numbered together" as a result of that blessed union with HIM.
Let us also be very careful lest we teach that baptism in water is the precise moment in time when one is added to the Lord, and thus the precise moment in time that one is saved. These also are assumptions that are not supported by sound exegesis of the New Covenant writings. I have examined in great depth every single "proof-text" put forth by the sacramentalists, and I have provided that research on my web site for anyone to read and study. It is extensive, and it needs to be, for these teachers have twisted the text time and again in a desperate effort to find even a hint that their theological assumptions are valid. Sadly for them, they are NOT ... and it can be shown quite easily and convincingly. I would refer the reader to that vast body of biblical research that may be read in its entirety under the heading "Baptism" on my Topical Index page. There are 55 in-depth Reflections articles listed there. Further, one may like to read my book on baptism: "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice."
"Okay," the critics might argue, "then tell us how one is placed into Christ, and by whom." The apostle Paul has given us that answer! The how is "by faith" and the who is "the Spirit." Paul makes it clear that being "plunged fully into Jesus Christ" is not done by an act of immersion performed by another human being, but is an action performed by the Holy Spirit Himself, who takes "believers" and places them fully into (immerses them into) the Lord Jesus, and it is in that union with Him that we find our salvation, as well as our fellowship with all other believers who are also "in Him" by grace through faith. The passages where Paul presents this powerful Good News are 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27, and Romans 13:14. In connection with these three texts, I would urge a careful and prayerful study of my exegesis of each, with your Bibles and your minds open as you do so: "Immersed By One Spirit" (Reflections #353) ... "Putting On Jesus Christ" (Reflections #362) ... "Union of Faith and Repentance: The Defining Duo of Demonstrative Discipleship" (Reflections #602). It is also important to keep in mind that baptism in water does indeed have an important place and purpose in NT theology and practice. It is just NOT the place and purpose that we too often hear taught (as reflected, in part, by the graphic at the beginning of this article). It is also important to keep in mind that not every place where the word "baptism" occurs in the NT writings is a reference to baptism in water. Understanding this can prevent a great deal of confusion for the student of the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 12:13 is a perfect example). With reference to baptism in water, however, please read: "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #617).
Brethren, I realize that by sharing these insights in a public manner I am making some enemies, and am gathering a host of devoted detractors who would like nothing better than to silence me. Some individuals I dearly love, and with whom I was once in fellowship, now view me as an apostate, and they will not even speak to me. Yes, this hurts! I know well what David meant when he wrote, "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God" (Psalm 55:12-14). I can also relate to how the apostle Paul must have felt when he wrote forcefully against the legalism that was rising in the church: "Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?!" (Galatians 4:16). I once heard an aged pastor sigh and say, "Walking with God can be a genuine thrill, but speaking for God can get you killed!" Tragically true! It is my prayer that many of my brethren, who may be blinded by the theology represented in the poster presented at the top of this article, will have their eyes opened to the wonders of God's grace and the freedom we find in union with Him through faith in our Redeemer. We are given a choice: Preach a pattern, or preach a Person! I have made my choice, and it is a decision that has transformed my life! May the joy of Jesus rest upon each of you. God bless!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, thanks for this latest article titled "Procrustean Bed Theology: Sectarian Stretchings and Severings" (Reflections #769). It is a never ending battle to change men's mindsets. We seem to be obsessed with tail-end theology, because then we feel we are in control, even though we are not. What some of these people need to ask themselves is why Romans chapter 4 is exclusively about Abraham, except for the last two verses. And even the last two verses make the rightful application: "by faith." Paul carefully crafts the analysis of Christian theology in Romans by showing, particularly in Romans 3:21-5:21, the doctrine of justification by faith. It is both interesting and significant that Romans 6 is not about one's initial salvation, but is an answer to a question regarding ongoing sanctification: i.e., Jesus has died to release us from the power and penalty of sin, but the practice of sin is something we must make a decision about, and this is the emphasis of the entire chapter. I am saying all of this to say: God wants us to put our faith in Him, and not in a system; not in a new "restoration discovery," but a simple living-out every day in faith to please Him and to help others through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I love your Reflections #769 about "Procrustean Bed Theology." The "bed" you describe is very uncomfortable indeed! The problem I personally have with leaving the group I am presently in is that every other group in this area also has their own problems. Thus, for me, better the Devil I know than to change for something just as bad! At least here there are people I know and love, even though they are greatly misguided. At this state in my life, I will continue placing my faith and trust in the Lord to carry me to the end of my life-journey. Love you, brother!
From an Author in Arizona:
Another "Award Winning" essay, Al. You're getting better and better, and I am just getting older and older! May He who blesses the best continue to confer His grace upon us all.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I learned a new word from your new article: "Procrustean." Funny how God created us all differently, like snowflakes. And yet, some in the church want to transform everybody into exact duplicates. Seems counter-intuitive and unproductive. Blessings, brother! Keep treading on those religious misconceptions.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, your analogy and application in this issue of your Reflections ("Procrustean Bed Theology") pinpoints the destructive nature of exclusivism in religious ranks. Spot on, my friend! Blessings!
From a Reader in Kansas:
This is a bit off topic, but still very important to me. Please explain John 17:3 to me. To me, this seems to teach against the doctrine of the Trinity, and to intimate that Jesus is not equal, or co-equal, to the True God to whom he prayed.
I dealt with this passage in my article titled "'The Only True God' -- John 17:3 -- Examining the JW's Favorite Proof-Text in Denial of the Deity of Christ Jesus" (Reflections #97). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, that was a very good article on Procrustes and his iron bed. We all "make our bed," thinking our bed is the pinnacle of beds, and thus we want others to make their bed in the likeness of our bed. In a general sense, in most churches, that "bed" is the worship assembly. We build "our bed" based on what we think is the Golden Pattern set by God. In a very real sense, the bed itself is God's will, and the end of the bed is God's silence, where God's will "drops off." When people attempt to naturally go beyond that end, then we bring out the axe. Many churches, especially Churches of Christ, Puritans, etc., have made and settled on this bed structure because they think it is a Godly pattern, without realizing that this never was the pattern of God. Going back to the OT, God made many laws that affected man daily, and man operated within the silence of God's laws on a daily basis (even in regard to worship). Yet, God didn't "cut off the feet" of the Israelites when they went "beyond the foot of the bed." Fast forward to the NT, where God said that man was a temple, the priest, and a living sacrifice. The bed was now made to fit the man (not man to fit the bed). God bless!
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