Arminian Today

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Reactionary Theology

I picked up an old book that I have on baptism written by a guy from the old International Churches of Christ (ICOC) back in when the ICOC really was cultic.  This book focuses on water baptism and makes the case that if one is not baptized in water by immersion with the heart of a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35) then they are not saved.  He builds his case from Matthew 28:19 and a host of other baptism passages mainly from the book of Acts to reach his final conclusion that baptism in water by immersion is essential to salvation.

Now anyone would know that this teaching comes from the Restoration movement and I have many friends within this movement.  One of my favorite theologians is Dr. Jack Cottrell and he identifies with the restoration movement.  I enjoy the teaching of Dr. Douglas Jacoby and he too is with the restoration movement along with other theologians such as F. Lagard Smith.  The Restoration movement finds its roots in the life and teachings of three main men: Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.  Sometimes the movement is called “the Stone-Campbell movement.”  I have read many of the works of Alexander Campbell and he was a deep thinker and a debater.  He once debated the famous 19th century infidel, Robert Owen.  Campbell also took on others who were willing to debate him over many issues.

I think there is much good that came out of the Restoration movement.  Their adoption of the creed “the Bible only” was a good step.  They also sought to return to the form of the New Testament Church in both practice and theology.  Yet I see in the restoration movement what I see in many other movements, an overreaction to the church around them.  For instance, I agree with the Restoration movement that the evangelical church has made too little of baptism.  Pardon the pun but the evangelical church has watered down the issue of baptism.  On the one hand is the practice of infant baptism which I believe is not taught at all in the New Testament but then the evangelical church has placed so much emphasis on “faith alone” to save that we ignore the New Testament commands to obey Jesus.  Jesus taught baptism for disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16) so just obey Him and be baptized.  The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized disciples.  All disciples of Jesus were to be baptized.  How can we declare someone saved then who would not be willing to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)?

Yet I think that too much stress can be given to baptism as well.  Baptism, alone, does not save.  Water does not save.  Only Jesus saves.  Even my restorationist brethren would (or should) applaud me there.  We should make much about Jesus.  We should tell people to be baptized but we should be careful to make much about Jesus and His work on the cross as the basis for our salvation and not water baptism or church membership or anything that we do.  Even faith can be stressed too much when we are not saved by faith in faith but by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus is our salvation.  Who He is.  What He has done.  His intercession at the right hand of the Father on high (Hebrews 7:25).  All of salvation is focused on Christ and His shed blood.  We should sing, praise God, rejoice in, and celebrate our salvation in Jesus.  We are not saved in our faith, in our works, in our obedience to God, etc. but we are saved in Christ Jesus alone.  From beginning to end, Jesus is our Savior and He is the One that we look to always for our salvation (2 Peter 1:10-11).  We persevere in faith in Him and this ensures our eternal salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 6:4-20).

Baptism points to Jesus.  Baptism doesn’t point to the power of the water.  Baptism in water points directly to the work of Christ.  Baptism confesses before all the people that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and our passion is to live for Him alone. The book of Acts records no debates over baptism.  They just did it.  They just obeyed Jesus.  So should we.  Rather than debating what baptism does, let us focus on preaching Christ and then baptizing people who repent of their sins (Acts 3:19). Baptism is truly the place of celebration as we praise God that a sinner is confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10) but let the focus always be on Jesus above all else.

In closing, we tend to react to others teachings.  When the evangelicals of Alexander Campbell’s day rejected their movement, the movement began to teach that their view of baptism alone was the only true teaching and many of them began to teach that unless you were baptized by a restorationist, you were not saved.  This brought comfort to those in the movement and anger from those outside.  It was a reactionary theology in my opinion.  Much the same as the early Pentecostals and their emphasis on speaking in tongues as the initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Spirit.

I pray that we are balanced in our teaching on baptism.  Make much about baptism but make more about Jesus our Lord.  We get so easily sidetracked with debates over end times, baptism, church government, etc. but we should make Jesus the focus first and from our love for Him and one another, debate these issues.

By the way, if disciple = Christian (Acts 11:26) then Jesus commanded Christians to be baptized in Matthew 28:19.  Therefore, the teaching of the old ICOC that one had to be a disciple of Jesus before baptism and thus became a Christian is false.  This teaching leads only to works-righteousness and brings guilt and shame.  Christians are disciples but not all disciples are Christians (John 6:66-71; Acts 8:9-24).

4 Responses

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  1. As you might have deduced from my occasional comments here, I have been associated with Restoration Movement churches and colleges all my life. What you say about us has largely been true over the years. One distinction that should perhaps be made is that there have been two strong divisions in this “unity movement” (a sad commentary in itself), so that there are “left, center and right” sections of the RM. You are probably aware of them, but for some of your readers. One must note that this is a tremendously abbreviated overview, written in very general (but generally true) terms.

    Around the time of the Civil War, there came a split among us, largely concerning the “reading” of silence in scripture about certain aspects of corporate worship and church governance. The result was the growth of two branches of the RM tree, rather than one main trunk. The churches on one side continued to be called (unofficially) “the independent Christian Church”, and allowed in its church worship and governance such things as instrumental accompaniment of corporate worship and cooperation among multiple congregation in such things as evangelistic, mission and benevolent works. For the most part, churches and preachers remained true to the biblical presentation of the gospel, with baptism as the central public action of response to God’s grace.

    The other branch took the name (again, unofficially) “the Church of Christ”, and became known for their belief that, because musical accompaniment of corporate worship was not directly spoken of in the New Testament, it is therefore sinful to accompany corporate worship with musical instruments — thereby earning the designation “non-instrumental”. They also tended to speak against cooperative efforts in most church works, asserting that organization beyond the single congregation’s level was (like musical accompaniment) unauthorized and therefore wrong for the church. It was out of this branch that the ICOC grew. This branch has long been known for its tendency to see itself as the only true church, teaching the only true gospel (as you encountered in your friend.) HOWEVER, over the last 20+ years, there has been a growing percentage of their churches and ministers who have shown themselves to be far less legalistic and much more grace-oriented about how faith is lived and understood, and much more open to interaction with others. I am privileged to be part of a fellowship of ministers from that ever-growing number, even though I am part of the “independent Christian Church” fellowship.

    The second division began to grow strong during the first decade of the 1900’s, as a certain number of church leaders (from among the “independent” group) began to be open to (what many would call) more theologically and socially liberal ideas. It became a strong movement in itself, and culminated in the late 1960’s with the official establishment of the “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” denomination. While some of their more rural congregations remain generally conservative in their approach to faith, most of the movement continue to embrace many of the things that evangelical Christianity sees as damaging and unscriptural doctrinal and social standards.

    The “DoC / CC / CoC” spectrum of the RM lines up respectively with the “left / center / right” description of the spectrum.

    Now, Seeking Disciple, I said all that to say this: Your analysis is largely correct. In the center and especially in the right sections, I think we have historically tended to put much overemphasis on baptism at the expense of seeing it in its proper place in conversion (that’s what you encountered with the ICOC fellow), while the left has very nearly removed any meaning to it.

    Make no mistake — I do hold strongly to, and preach and teach strongly, the idea that baptism is, as one man wrote, “the place where our faith says ‘Yes’ to God.” Baptism is very clearly and strongly connected to conversion and salvation in the New Testament, and we dare not preach it any other way. But baptism cannot be the end goal or sum total of our conversion to God. In many ways, baptism is “the end of the beginning” of life in God, and should be seen as AT LEAST that, but NOT LIMITED to that.


    04/27/2013 at 12:12 PM

    • I enjoyed your comments. I too tell people who I share the gospel with to repent and be baptized. I am careful to make sure that Jesus and not baptism or their faith or their repentance saves them but Jesus alone. We have faith in Jesus, repent of our sins because of Jesus, and are baptized because of Jesus. It is Jesus!

      Many of the ICOC have left the ICOC itself or have embraced a more “grace” focused view. I have met with Dr. Jacoby and have heard him speak several times (including just today on an apologetics podcast) and he has evolved in his views. He once taught clearly the ICOC view of baptism but today he largely does as you do, he calls people to repent and be baptized but he makes the grace of God our basis for salvation and not our works.

      Thanks brother.

  2. Thank YOU, brother. There’s a book you would do well to have, concerning these things.

    Have a look at the preface in the “Look Inside” feature. Once you’ll read it, you’ll want to buy it. It’s a brilliant work on the history and place of baptism in faith, written by a couple of scholars from the grace-oriented end of the non-instrumental part of the RM.


    04/27/2013 at 11:05 PM

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