Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #815 -- February 1, 2021
RITE, n. A religious or semi-religious ceremony
fixed by law, precept, or custom, with the essential
oil of sincerity carefully squeezed out of it.

Ambrose Bierce {1842-1914}

When Wrongs Make A Rite
The Elevation of a Sectarian Standard
to the Status of a Salvific Sacrament

Of first importance, before I write anything else, let me state emphatically that I totally disagree with everything stated in the graphic to the left which I found recently on a "Church of Christ" internet discussion site. In fact, when I saw this graphic my immediate reaction was personal sadness and even embarrassment that I used to teach such things as divine Truth. May God forgive me. As I further reflected on this graphic, I began feeling deeply concerned over the fact that far too many within my own faith-heritage (and within other sects, factions, and movements as well) are still proclaiming these things as though they were incontrovertible "Gospel" truths that were delivered directly from God Himself. I can only hope and pray that the majority of these brethren who are teaching such religious dogmas and rites are doing so in ignorance, as was the case with me, and that their minds aren't so closed and their hearts so hardened that they can't be reached. As for myself, I was for many years, back when I was younger, simply sharing what I had been indoctrinated to believe. It wasn't until I began to seriously study and think and reflect for myself on the Scriptures that I came to the heart/gut-wrenching realization that I had been seriously misled. As the apostle Paul might phrase it, he and I "acted in ignorance and without faith" (1 Timothy 1:13, Contemporary English Bible).

If we're willing to be honest with ourselves for a moment, we will likely agree that a great many of our religious rites and rituals find their basis and authority far more in human tradition than in divine Truth. We humans tend to love the ceremonial aspects of our various religions, and that can be fine. Most of our rites are rather harmless; indeed, they can even be very helpful to us in our spiritual growth ... until we elevate them to places of authority over us and invest in them a power to convey some saving grace. When that happens, we have taken a mere rite from the realm of symbol to the realm of sacrament, and that is a deadly error. "Religion is more than rite and ritual," wrote Yann Martel (b. 1963), the Canadian author who wrote the award-winning novel "Life of Pi." Our many "sacred rites" can trip us up very quickly if we fail to understand their proper place in our journeys of faith. Dr. Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) rightly observed that "the prime function" of our various religious rites is "to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward." Yet, by elevating these symbols to something more, we tend to restrain and restrict the human spirit from moving forward in our life-journey with the Lord. Dr. James W. Sire (1933-2018), an American Christian author and chief editor of InterVarsity Press, provided this insight: "To glorify God is not just to do so in religious worship, singing praises, and enacting the traditional rites of the church. To glorify God is to reveal His character by being who we were created to be: the embodiment of the image of God in human form." As I have often said, we are not called to go to church and do church; we are called to be the church - i.e., a called out people reflecting His glory in the attitudes and actions of our daily lives. The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung (1875-1961), in his work titled "Psychology and Religion," stated, "What is ordinarily called 'religion' is a substitute ... The substitute has the obvious purpose of replacing immediate (religious) experience by a choice of suitable symbols supported by an organized dogma and ritual." Christianity is all about relationship, not regulated religious rites; it is about who we are and Whose we are, far more than it is about what we do "according to the pattern" within the four walls of our buildings!

Referring to the rite of marriage (some would say sacrament of marriage), Judge Jacob M. Braude (1896-1970) made this witty observation: "Bigamy is two rites that make a wrong" [Braude's Treasury of Wit and Humor for All Occasions]. With apologies to the judge, I turned that thought around a bit for this present issue of Reflections in which I ponder the question: Is it possible for wrongs to make a rite? The answer is an emphatic YES. Indeed, this has been occurring in Christendom for centuries! Church history is filled with examples of how wrong theology has invariably distorted our religious rites. Look at the history of the Lord's Supper, for example. The regulated religious rite practiced by most Christian denominations today isn't even remotely what was known and practiced among the early disciples of Christ. Centuries of wrong theology left its mark, and the impact of these accumulated wrongs have created a rite that is more mockery than memorial. Just decades after our Lord instituted this meal, it was being victimized by wrong thinking (to the point where Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their abuse of this special rite, saying that it was NOT the Lord's Supper they were observing! - 1 Corinthians 11:20). For an in-depth look at the history of this tragic departure based on wrong theology, I would urge the reader to read my study: "The Lord's Supper: A Brief Historical Overview" (Reflections #114). For an even more thorough examination, consider my book "One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution, and Extremism," which may be ordered on Amazon (in Kindle format) or on my own Web Site.

One of the things you will quickly discover as you trace the Lord's Supper through history is that it doesn't take long for wrong theology to move something beautiful and meaningful from symbol to sacrament, virtually destroying it in the process. My own faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement denominated "Churches of Christ") dismisses, for the most part, any sacramental aspect or application of this memorial meal, whereas the Roman Catholic Church (and a number of other "high church" groups) still regard it as one of the church's greatest "sacraments," even referring to it as "the food of immortality." Some fundamentalist Protestant groups shake their heads at the "wrong theology" of these "silly sacramentalists" ... and then they turn right around and do the same thing, and even worse, with baptism. Churches of Christ "flirt with" sacramentalist thinking and practice with regard to the Lord's Supper, although they would strongly deny it, but when it comes to baptism in water, they have taken this symbol and elevated it to sacramental heights and invested it with sacramental powers that even the Catholics find appalling. Even Jesus Himself, and His atoning work on the cross, must step back and give way to that one act which alone truly saves us: baptism in water. It's hard to imagine any heresy more troubling and/or at odds with the Gospel. One is almost tempted to wonder if the devil hasn't swept more people away from God with water than the flood of Noah's day!

Okay ... stop right here ... go read the graphic again, carefully, at the beginning of this article. It asserts one is saved by baptism, and one who is NOT baptized in water CANNOT be saved. Period!! That is the full-blown transformation of symbol to sacrament ... and it is the epitome of wrong theology!! If you love the Lord with all your heart, if you believe in Him with all your being, if you are genuinely devoted to serving Him and walking with Him every day of your life, and if you confess Him before men, and if you are standing in the baptistery ready and willing to be immersed to evidence that faith in and love for Him ... and you die of a massive heart attack ONE SECOND before being baptized, you will go straight to hell to be tortured forever and ever and ever (according to these people). Why? Because you died without being baptized, and it is baptism in water THAT SAVES YOU!! Brethren, that is blasphemy! I actually had a person write me years ago and tell me that he preaches an even stronger version. He said that if all the above is true, and a person is plunged into the waters of the baptistery and dies before "his nose breaks the surface on the way up," then that person is also headed for an eternity of torment in hell because he/she didn't actually complete the baptism. And people wonder why I get upset when I encounter this type of sectarian, sacramental "thinking"?!

I realize that I am going to get some "see you in hell" calls and emails over what I have stated above, but there comes a time when one must take a stand for what the Bible actually teaches, rather than perpetuating the false teachings and practices of our sectarian forefathers. Slaughtering the sacred cows of Christendom is never popular, and it most certainly is not painless. But, if we love the Lord and His revealed truths, then we have no choice but to expose those teachings and practices that stand in opposition to His nature and His revelation, no matter how popular and cherished those "favored fallacies" may be. So, let's tackle each of the false statements in the graphic referenced above. First, at the top of that graphic, we find this statement: "If your church teaches that you don't have to be baptized in order to be saved, you're in the wrong church." We could also declare (just by removing the word "don't"), "If your church teaches that you have to be baptized in order to be saved, you're in the wrong church." There are those within the universal One Body of Christ who would strongly contend for each of these views. The real point of contention here, however, is not the act of baptism itself (most would agree that we are commanded to submit to this rite, if possible, just as we are to the rite of the Lord's Supper), but rather the teaching that it is in the correct performance of this act that one is eternally saved. The precise split-second of salvation, therefore, occurs in the baptistery rather than in Christ Jesus according to these sacramentalists. Several years ago I heard a pastor declare, "Just as we come to the Father through Jesus, so we come to Jesus through baptism." Such teaching totally misses the point of baptism in water, and such teaching invests in this mere symbol a saving power that is not consistent with the Lord's original intent for this important rite. I would urge a reading of my book "Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice," which may be ordered on Amazon (in Kindle format) or on my own Web Site. May I also suggest a reading of my following in-depth studies: "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #617) ... "Sacrament or Ordinance? Thoughts on a Theological Divide" (Reflections #629) ... "Is Baptism A Sacrament? Reflecting on a Doctrinal Devolution from Visible Sign to Vital Sacrament" (Reflections #470) ... "'I Just Don't See The Point' - My Reflective Response to a Reader" (Reflections #669).

In the central section of the above graphic we find a list of five things that are said to happen "when one is baptized according to scripture." My first thought when reading this phrase was: what is meant by "according to scripture"? Are they talking about the methodology of this rite? Are they suggesting, for example, that only immersion (not pouring, dipping, or sprinkling) is "the pattern"? Are they speaking of purpose? Must one know that they are being baptized to "wash away sins" and/or to "be saved"? Knowing my faith-heritage only too well, having been raised in it, I can rather confidently state that both of these were in the mind of the person or persons who produced the graphic. Let's look at each of the five statements that are made:

  1. When one is baptized according to scripture they put on Christ (Galatians 3:27) - This verse is often used as a proof-text that it is at the completion of the rite of baptism in water, and only then, that Jesus wraps Himself around us like a garment. By baptism we are clothed; not by faith (according to the sacramentalists). We need to be very careful here lest we fall into the trap of thinking that every occurrence of the term "baptize/baptism" is a reference to the rite performed in water. That is not the case. In this passage, and a few others related to it, "baptism" in water is not even in view. It is the Holy Spirit who "plunges" us into an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus; He places us "in Him." To confuse this divine act with a human act is to completely fail to perceive one of the most beautiful truths in the Scriptures. I have dealt with this in some depth in the following studies: "Immersed by One Spirit: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 12:13" (Reflections #353) ... "Putting On Jesus Christ: An Examination of Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27" (Reflections #362).

  2. When one is baptized according to scripture their sins are washed away (Acts 22:16) - This is yet another oft used proof-text for those who believe baptism in water is a sacrament. When one examines the passage, and its context, more carefully, however, one will come away with a much different (and much needed) perspective. Consider my study titled "Wash Away Your Sins: Reflective Study of Acts 22:16" (Reflections #507). Consider also: "Contacting the Blood of Christ: Examination of an Expedient Expression" (Reflections #608). Going along quite well with this point and the first point above is: "Holy Spirit Home Remodeling: The Washing of Renovation and Renewal by the Holy Spirit - A Study of Titus 3:5" (Reflections #609). On this idea of "washing," consider: "Set Free By His Blood: Reflecting on Revelation 1:5" (Reflections #618). May I also suggest reading: "Questions from Querists: Readers React to Reflections #763" (Reflections #764).

  3. When one is baptized according to scripture they are saved (1 Peter 3:21) - This statement by the apostle Peter ("...baptism now saves you...") has been so misused and abused (ripping it from its context) that few disciples even realize what Peter's original intent was! That authorial intent, however, can be discerned. I have tried to provide that meaning, for those who might be interested, in the following studies: "Salvation by Immersion?: Reflective Analysis of 1 Peter 3:21" (Reflections #217) ... "Critical Question on 1 Peter 3:21 - Pondering the True Meaning of the 'Pledge' of a Good Conscience as it Relates to Baptism" (Reflections #497) ... "The Filth of the Flesh: Pondering a Petrine Phrase" (Reflections #613).

  4. When one is baptized according to scripture they receive a new life (Romans 6:3-5) - I have dealt with this text extensively in my article titled "Reenacting Our Redemptive Reality: Significant Symbol vs. Salvific Sacrament" (Reflections #617). I would plead with each of you to please, please read this article, for it makes the very point I have sought to make here about the great danger of transforming a symbol to a sacrament, which invariably leads to "wrongs" making a RITE. Notice this excerpt from my article: "Symbolism has a valid place in the proclamation and affirmation of ultimate truth! Yet, at the same time, it must be understood that the symbols themselves do not constitute that ultimate truth; they merely reflect and represent it. By conflating the two, one quickly arrives at a very confused, conflicted, and convoluted conviction of the very truth he sought to perceive more fully. No scientist 'worth his salt,' for example, would confuse a symbolic representation with the reality itself. Yet, how often have we in Christendom confused the symbols with the substance they are designed to represent? When we bypass the Savior to grant 'saving power' to a symbol, we have greatly erred! Tragically, this is exactly what we have done with baptism in water, and we have wrested and twisted countless texts within the Scriptures to 'prove' our theological digression from Truth. Look at the context of Romans 6. Read it carefully. What is Paul talking about in this passage? Is he building a theology around baptism in water? Is he declaring this rite to be THE precise point of contact with the blood of Jesus Christ? Is this passage from the pen of Paul, as some claim, about baptism?! Far from it. Indeed, the rite of baptism in water is entirely incidental to his primary message; it is only mentioned in passing. ... Paul is nowhere in this chapter saying that baptism in water SAVES us; nor does he even suggest that we 'contact the blood' of the Savior in the baptistery. In our baptism we have publicly committed ourselves, in a visible profession of faith, to living lives 'dead to sin' and devoted to righteousness and holiness. Baptism is an act of faith, but it is also, in some ways, a vow. In this act of faith in what He has done for us, we vow, in a very public, visible manner, to die to self and live for Him. ... Paul informs the Romans that in their baptism they made a vow to the One who had saved them: a vow to die to sin and live to God. By their participatory reenactment of the Lord's death, burial (entombment), and resurrection, they not only evidenced their faith in His saving act on their behalf, but they demonstrated their willingness to walk in newness of life. Paul reminds them of their evidentiary act and calls them to live accordingly! ... Nevertheless, some want to make more of baptism than is declared in Scripture, and in so doing they remake this beautiful symbolic reenactment into a repugnant religious rite." Please also consider one additional study on this passage and its context: "The Paradox of Dying to Live: Considering the Intent of Romans 6:7" (Reflections #676).

  5. When one is baptized according to scripture they are added to His church (Acts 2:47) - Actually, this is false. The phrase "to the church" in the King James Version of Acts 2:47 has been added; it is not in the original Greek text. I pointed out this fact in one of my very first issues of Reflections (Issue #9) titled, "Added to the LORD." I dealt with this glaring error more recently, and also more fully, in my article titled, "A Perversion of Immersion: Are We Baptized into the Church?" (Reflections #770). It is certainly true that those who are being saved by grace through faith are "numbered together" by the Lord. ALL who are IN HIM (placed in Him by the Spirit) are thereby numbered together with one another within the universal One Body of Christ. Yet, we are added to an Individual (Christ), not to an institution (church). It is not a "what" to which we are added, but a "Whom."

The final falsehood in the graphic at the top of this study is this: "According to Scripture, it is impossible to be saved without being baptized." That is not true! First of all, baptism is not a sacrament; therefore, baptism is not what saves a person. Baptism in water is an evidentiary act of faith: it is a public proclamation that we have been saved by the grace of God; a proclamation we make willingly because we are saved, not in order to be saved. It is a proclamation of faith and trust that our Lord has asked His true believers to make, and thus we comply with that directive. Further, we know from the Scriptures that our gracious God has made provision for those many persons throughout the history of this planet (even in this present dispensation) who, by no fault of their own, never heard of Jesus, or the church, or the Lord's Supper, or the rite of baptism. Many of these individuals will "walk the golden street" with us one day, for God has provided a way for them to do so ... and that way has nothing to do with baptism in water. I dealt with this in great depth in my study titled "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light" (Reflections #158). Mankind will be judged by the Lord based on their response to the available Light they have been given. Paul makes that rather clear in Romans 2. There are a number of other places in the Scriptures, however, that teach this same truth, and I have sought to present that evidence in a clear and complete form in the above study. The reader may also find the following helpful on this matter: "Guilt-Ridden and Conscience-Stricken: Cheering Confirmation of Creator over Conscience - An Analysis of and Affirmation from 1 John 3:19-20" (Reflections #735) ... "These Brothers of Mine: Reflecting on the Nature and Necessity of Brotherhood" (Reflections #386) ... "Evangelical Inclusivism: Definition and Reflective Analysis" (Reflections #549) ... "The Spirit of the Law: Accepting a Legalist's Challenge" (Reflections #722) ... "A Special Guest Reflections: An Article by Dr. Barry Perryman" (Reflections #495). In this guest article, my dear friend Barry presents a two-part study titled "Is Salvation Dependent Upon Hearing the Gospel? Or, Who is My Brother According to Scripture?" Barry offers some excellent insight from which I know each of you who read it will benefit greatly.

So, to sum up: this present issue of my Reflections shows you why I become so frustrated with legalistic patternism and sectarian sacramentalism. They are both an abomination of the Deceiver (Satan), and they have both been embraced and promoted by misled and misinformed disciples of Christ who should know better. My prayer is that God will open the eyes of such persons so that they may perceive His ultimate Truth. This article is presented in the hope that perhaps something I have written may be just the right catalyst to help someone abandon their spiritual ignorance and embrace spiritual enlightenment. May God bless each of you who have read this!

NOTE: After I had finished writing my above article, I received a brief devotional email from J. James Albert that he sends out to his mailing list periodically. I have known this brother for many years, and his thoughts are always edifying and challenging! They make people think!! I'm sure he would be happy to add you to his mailing list if you would like to receive these devotional thoughts. His email address is: On Friday, January 29 he shared "For Your Thought - #90," a portion of which I would like to share below, as it goes along so well with what I wrote in my current Reflections. He wrote: