Issue #608 -------
February 21, 2014
No man is justified in doing evil
on the ground of expediency
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
An "expedient," by one definition, is "something done or a method used that serves to promote one's interests, regardless of whether said act or method is fair, right, or wise in the long term." It is that which is useful in the achieving of a desired end; that which expedites the ultimate realization of something sought. It is a "means to an end," regardless of how noble or right that means may be (which has led to the expression: "The end justifies the means"). Religiously, men often say or do things that may not have any actual basis in Scripture, but which serve to bring about a position or practice believed to be necessary. Some such religious expedients may indeed be positive and beneficial in nature, some may be just the opposite, but that determination of worth or value is largely decided by the motivation of those who create and employ them, as well as by the end result they seek to expedite. In other words, from the perspective of the Throne, our God is more interested in our motivation than in our methodology. Our arriving at the divinely desired destination is of greater concern to Him than the countless details of our journey, which may be filled with the use of numerous expedients to facilitate our walk with Him. Our God observes the "big picture" of our pilgrimage, while we humans too often obsess over the particulars.
That being said, it is nevertheless vital to our spiritual voyage that the means and methods we use to achieve the end result of our noble quest be consistent with those principles and precepts clearly specified by our Lord in His inspired revelation. Although we have tremendous liberty in the use of expedients, this does not suggest we can "do as we please." There are guiding principles: does this expedient honor and glorify God? Does it help or hinder our fellow believers? Will it serve to draw closer or drive away those whom we invite to walk with us in relationship with Him? And, is said expedient truly expressive of Truth, or does it in some way distract from or distort Truth, thus misdirecting our fellow travelers? These are questions honest and sincere believers will ask of themselves and others; questions that deserve an exacting evaluation and a reflective response.
Generally, we think of an expedient as being an action, but it may also be an expression. Not only are things we do expedient to achieving a desired result, but so also, at times, are things we say. The use of certain proverbs, for example, has proven expedient in touching hearts and modifying behavior. They are only effective in generating positive results, however, when they are grounded in some evident truth. A proverb based upon a falsehood, on the other hand, can actually cause more harm than good. One such proverbial statement, made by the poet Epimenides (c. 6th century B.C.), was given by the apostle Paul, who quoted, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12). This would be like someone saying today that all Jews are tight with money, or all Blacks are lazy, or all Hispanics are "illegals," or all Muslims are terrorists, or all Sicilians are tied to the mafia. We've all heard such hurtful proverbial generalizations, and most know them to be based on false premises, yet the use of such statements can indeed be expedient to bringing about a desired negative effect: prejudicial feelings and resentments against a specific class of people. Such expedients, however, are far from noble, for they compromise truth for the sake of some selfish end. Sadly, we find the use of such nefarious expedient phrases even in Christendom. One such "expedient expression," often used within our own faith-heritage (becoming somewhat proverbial by its popularity within Churches of Christ), an expression I believe to be spiritually misleading and thus potentially harmful to the proclamation of the Good News, will be the focus of this current issue of Reflections.
Undoubtedly, most of you have heard it stated emphatically that the penitent believer must "contact the blood of Christ" in order to be saved. Since Jesus shed His blood, at least in part, to redeem us from the bondage to sin and death, in some way that benefit of His blood must be applied to us. There has been great debate among disciples and theologians over the centuries as to precisely how and when one receives this benefit, but the prevailing position among those of our movement is that one "contacts" the blood of Jesus, and thus is "washed clean," at the moment of his/her baptism in water. Therefore, most of us have heard time and time again from our pulpits (during the obligatory "invitation") the plea for the "lost" to "come forward" and "be baptized," thus contacting the blood of Christ Jesus. This has typically been so much a part of our theology (moreso in the past than the present, thankfully) that we make it clear in our teaching that apart from the water there is NO "contact" with His blood. Dub McClish (one of the legalistic leaders within the Contending for the Faith faction) wrote the following in an article titled "Baptism and Jesus' Blood" -- "The Scriptural conclusions are unavoidable: (1) Forgiveness/salvation apart from the blood of Christ is impossible, (2) baptism is the means of access to the blood of Christ, and therefore (3) no baptism, no blood, no forgiveness/salvation." Dr. Doy Moyer, a professor at Florida College (an institution associated with, ironically, the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ), made this assertion in his article titled "Baptism and the Blood" -- "We contact Christ's blood when we obey the gospel and are baptized into Christ." When I served as the pulpit minister for the congregation in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1984-1992), one of the favorite expressions of my associate minister, Leroy Aragon, was "contacting the blood of Christ." So, yes, it was, and still is, a common expression "among us," and it was/is one of the expedients employed to get people to the water! As one particular Church of Christ blog writer recently stated on his site: "The truth about baptism is that when we are baptized, we are coming in contact with the blood of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is through the precious blood of Jesus Christ that we can be forgiven, and it's at baptism that we are contacting the blood of Jesus Christ." If the cleansing blood is "contacted" at baptism, then it only follows, as McClish declares, "No baptism, no blood" ... and thus: "no forgiveness/salvation."
BUT, is this true?! OR, have too many "among us" been using this "expedient expression" for far too long for the purpose of expediting immersions in water? We need to ask some serious questions: Are we redeemed by His blood, or by water? Are we washed in the blood of the Lamb, or in the water of the baptistery? Are we cleansed by blood, or by water? The legalists will insist that it is BOTH, suggesting we are "blood bought, but water born." I'm convinced they could not be more wrong, and that they have been promoting false doctrine harmful to the foundational truths of the Gospel. By proclaiming a sacramental view of baptism, these people have, in essence, circumvented the blood of Christ, placing the power to forgive/cleanse/save in our act rather than His. Steve Rudd, a leading figure in the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ in Canada, asked in Lesson 15 of his Bible study series "Determine Your Salvation" -- "How do we come into contact with that cleansing blood?" His answer, of course, is: at our baptism in water. He then states, "If you have not been baptized for the remission of your sins, so that you can be saved, then the blood of Christ will be of no benefit to you, and Christ's death for you was in vain." Yes, we may sing a hymn that says, "There is power in the blood," but we deny that fact in our theology and practice, teaching instead that His shed blood is utterly powerless UNTIL we "get to a baptistery" and CONTACT that blood in the water! This will likely infuriate some people, but the more I study God's Word the more convinced I become that such a sacramentalist theology with respect to baptism is heresy, and, frankly, comes dangerously close to blasphemy. Hebrews 10:29 reads, "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has ... regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?" (NASB). The word translated "unclean" is the Greek word "koinon," which simply means "common, ordinary." When men elevate their own acts above that of the sacrificial act of Christ on the cross where He shed His blood, they reduce the latter to something ordinary and common; something of no real significance or value. A fearful fate awaits such people (Heb. 10:29-31), a fact our sacramental immersionists would do well to carefully consider.
A fact that may come as a surprise to many is: the phrase "contact the blood" is found nowhere in the Scriptures. Not one single time does it appear. It is a concept created solely by men. Thus, the notion that one "contacts the blood" of Jesus in baptism is of men, rather than of God. Proclaiming such a theology, and utilizing such an expression, may be expedient in trying to motivate men to "rush to the river for redemption," but it is far removed from the truth of the Gospel. Being a product of this religious environment (having been "raised" and "indoctrinated" within this denomination), I know where they are coming from with respect to this expression. My fellow "Church of Christers" will readily admit that we are "washed in the blood" and "redeemed by the blood." You will get no argument from them on this. "All men who respect the Bible readily admit that sinful man is saved by the blood of Christ. There is no controversy here" [Leroy Brownlow, Why I Am A Member Of The Church Of Christ, p. 113]. The question is: how do men avail themselves of this blessing? In our faith-heritage, the typical response has been: "by baptism." In other words, we "contact the blood" in the water, and apart from the water there is no "contact" with the blood of Christ, and thus no salvation. I believe such teaching undermines the very foundation of the Gospel, which declares we "contact the blood" (if I may use that expression) BY FAITH. Simply stated, we avail ourselves of God's gracious gift of redemption through the blood of Christ Jesus by trusting (having faith) in this loving sacrifice. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
Let me call your attention to several passages of Scripture critical to this understanding. Few disciples, if any, will boldly deny the fact that we are cleansed (figuratively speaking) by the precious blood of Jesus. I say "figuratively speaking," as the literal blood of our Lord obviously no longer exists, thus there is no vast supply of this "soul-scrubbing substance" with which to wash ourselves. The cleansing or washing away of our sins is a gift of God's grace through the sacrificial act of His Son on the cross. By becoming our great Passover Lamb, He died once for all, thus forever atoning for sin. When He shed His blood, He bridged the gap between the fallen and the Father. The writer of Hebrews states, "The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22). Jesus, who came to fulfill that law, offered Himself as that atoning sacrifice, thereby effecting forgiveness of sin and the cleansing of sinners. In 1 John 1:7 we are informed of this glorious truth: "The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin." He "washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5, KJV -- other versions read "freed" or "released"). The redeemed are described as those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). Peter declared that we are redeemed "not with perishable things, ... but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus, as He instituted the Lord's Supper prior to His death on the cross, took the cup and said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). We all, who were formerly separated from our God, are now "brought near through the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). Isaiah prophesied, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, ... and by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Zechariah foresaw a day when "a fountain will be opened" to "cleanse" us from "sin and impurity" (Zech. 13:1). This prophecy has even become the inspiration for one of our most beloved hymns ("There Is A Fountain"), written in 1771 by William Cowper:
E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
The descant of this hymn is: "Nothing can for sin a cleansing be but the blood at Calvary." Indeed, quite a few of our Christian hymns have as their theme the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. In 1876, Robert Lowry wrote the words and music to "Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus," which is the response sung to a number of soul-searching questions and confident assertions: What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again? For my pardon this I see. For my cleansing this my plea. The chorus emphatically declares: "No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus." And yet, too many have indeed proposed another fountain: the one that pours water into the baptistery! Where is the power to cleanse from sin? In the blood of the Lamb. As Lewis E. Jones wrote in 1899, "Would you be free from the burden of sin? There's power in the blood." In 1878, E. A. Hoffman wrote the words and music to another classic hymn:
We sing the above hymns all the time, but do we truly grasp the significance of what we sing? In the last hymn, for example, the question is asked, "Are you fully trusting in His grace?" Are we?! Or, are we trusting in our own ritualistic and meritorious acts? In the first hymn above, we sing that we see "the stream Thy flowing wounds supply" BY FAITH. Do we believe this? We sing about redemption being "by grace through faith," and then proclaim and practice baptism as a sacrament. So, which is it? Are we washed and cleansed by the blood, which is provided by grace and acquired by faith, or are we washed and cleansed in the baptistery? If forgiveness is in the blood of the Lamb, and if we are washed clean by that blood, and if this gift of grace is applied to those who have faith, then baptism becomes a response of faith to that grace, NOT the very act that results in our cleansing. When Peter saw that the Spirit had been poured out upon Cornelius and his household, and that they were "speaking in tongues and praising God," he said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?" (Acts 10:44-47). They had been accepted by the Lord in a very visible way, now they needed to reflect this reality in a faith-response. However, the important point we must note here is that their cleansing was by faith, not by any action they themselves later took. This fact is often missed by the sacramentalists, but it was not lost on Peter, who, at the Jerusalem Conference, said that when these Gentiles believed, "God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. ... We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:8-9, 11). Odd, is it not, that Peter said nothing about "washing in water," but rather spoke of their "cleansing" being a result of the Lord's grace and their faith! Yes, they were "washed in the blood of the Lamb," which they "contacted" BY FAITH. Their baptism in water was simply a physical response to this spiritual reality!!
Is baptism in water an important human act? Absolutely, for it evidences our faith and trust in the Lamb who shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In that blood we are washed clean, and through the power of that blood our cleansing continues throughout our lives (as John states in his first epistle). Baptism, then, is that "marker" in our physical space-time continuum that evidences OUR faith in HIS act of redemption. We embrace this gift of grace by faith; we evidence the reality of that gift in a symbolic act known as baptism. It is not in the latter that we are washed; it is in the latter that we provide a witness to that washing -- it is our visible testimony to those about us that we have been washed in the blood "by grace through faith." I believe if one truly examines Acts 22:16 in this light, one will see that sacramental immersionists have greatly abused that passage, twisting it to teach that one is washed clean of his/her sins at baptism. This is a false teaching that has led to the distortion of God's Gospel of Grace. I have dealt with this false teaching rather extensively in Reflections #507 -- "Wash Away Your Sins: A Reflective Study of Acts 22:16" -- which in-depth study I would very strongly urge the reader to go examine at this time, as this is a favorite "proof-text" the sacramentalists will always turn to in order to "prove" it is baptism that is the means of "contacting the blood." Scripture, however, teaches us it is FAITH that is the means of acquiring the benefit of His blood; baptism is simply the means of reflecting that saving reality. May God help us to begin teaching truth, rather than tradition. The Gospel will be better served thereby.
From a Reader in California:
Al, I just read your latest Reflections titled "Ever Seeing, Never Perceiving" and it is BRILLIANT! Your Reflections have taught me how foolish I would be to say that I know where the Spirit of God is NOT -- i.e., that He doesn't dwell with some people simply because they are in a group different from mine. Thank you for tackling this difficult, but perhaps the most vital, lesson of all.
From a Reader in Texas:
What you wrote in your Reflections is truth, Al; although a very sad truth! Yet, the light of truth must be taught. Thank you, brother.
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you so much for your article "Ever Seeing, Never Perceiving." For many years (almost ten) I have been increasingly aware, via the avenue of prayer and meditation, of the grace of God and our wretched and helpless estate apart from Him. The practice of prayer and meditation has brought increased sensitivity to my own sin, awareness of the need for repentance, and a greater compassion and understanding toward the sins of others. It has also shed light upon hypocrisy, especially that of Pharisaical leadership. The more we come to perceive and experience grace, the more we also deeply sense those who do not perceive His grace. By far, the greatest opposition I have experienced has been from such blind individuals who loved to point out my sin while seeking to justify their own. As Proverbs clarifies, such people are "fools." I have found the best tactic is to remain silent, or humbly open to their criticism, lest I fall into their folly.
From a Reader in Georgia:
I really enjoyed this issue of Reflections, and how you communicated that God finally gave the rebellious what they desired. I would imagine that most parents, at some time or another, finally allowed their child to do something, knowing full well it was going to turn out badly for the child, yet knowing it was necessary in teaching an important lesson. I can relate to hard-headed people more than I am comfortable admitting! Also, your paragraph on the "blindness" of the legalists reminded me of this verse which seems to always come to mind when I hear people speaking on this subject: "If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness" (Matthew 6:23, ESV). Have a blessed week, my friend, and thanks again for all the encouragement and instruction provided weekly in your Reflections.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thanks for your studies! One comment on your previous Reflections. In the readers' section, an individual from Oklahoma wrote about Zacchaeus, "Didn't Jesus know that this wee little man needed to fall out of that tree into a pool of water before He could declare him 'saved'?" That comment reminded me of something. John the Baptist performed a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). Jesus' disciples also baptized. Wouldn't Zacchaeus have been a very good candidate in need of such a baptism? Interesting that Jesus declared him saved, yet said nothing about any need for such a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins!
From a Reader in Alabama:
My dear brother, Thank You!! Thank you for this article concerning those "Ever Seeing, Never Perceiving." Thank you also for showing me the true nature of Jesus. Man, have you ever helped my heart!! This is one issue of Reflections I'll need to read again and again to get this truth to stay in my heart and mind -- that and prayer! Thank you for taking the time to really search and find answers from Scripture that stay true to the kindness, patience and love of Christ. I also thank you for allowing me to write and ask you questions, and for taking the time to answer them!
From a Minister in California:
Your explanations for foreknowledge, predetermination, predestination, and free will, which were imbedded within the longer study of Reflections #260 -- "Judas Iscariot: An In-Depth Reflective Analysis," were extremely helpful to me. Thank you so much for that study. Thank you also for all that you do. I have a couple of your books sitting here, just waiting for me to read as soon as I finish the one, by another author, I'm currently reading.
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