In the document that a Preaching Brother (P.B.) sent, written by a Ministerial Alliance (MA) in another state, the writers try to make a case for Biblical unity by saying that some things are not “essential” for salvation; however, others are. Some “doctrines are not open for debate because they are clearly stated.” Hmm. The first thing that ought to come to the mind of everyone reading those words is, “Who gets to decide what is essential for salvation and not open for debate and which topics are too difficult for us to understand, thereby allowing for disagreement?”
In other words, who gets to decide what is essential and clearly stated in the New Testament, and what is not essential to salvation because of its obscurity? The answer is, “Obviously, the Ministerial Alliance.” If they determine that “faith only” is a requirement that all Christians must agree upon, well, that settles it. If some object to the role that baptism plays in salvation, as per Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, they would probably say, “Why, that is too obscure to require agreement.” See how this system works? Anyone who has a question concerning what is “essential” Christian doctrine and what is not should just address it to these “learned doctors” of the Ministerial Alliance. Apparently, it has never dawned on them how presumptuous they are.
Concerning this position of theirs, we might legitimately ask, “What makes a doctrine essential?” For example, Jesus commanded that, as disciples of His, we love one another. Is that clear or obscure? Does it need to be repeated in order to count, and, if so, how many times? Or is one well-worded statement sufficient? Being baptized in water is a clear requirement for salvation, stated repeatedly in the Book of Acts (2:38; 8:35-39; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:31-34; 22:16). Why isn’t that clear?
The Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel are clear, short, and completely intelligible. No one can read Luke 13:3, and muse, “I just don’t get it.” How hard is it to comprehend when Jesus said that “unless you repent you shall all likewise perish”? Does someone need a theological degree to understand that principle and to know it requires effort on man’s part to accomplish? Is it any harder than when Jesus said, “for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24)?
The necessity of baptism as part of God’s means of saving us is just as intelligble as any of these. If none of the other verses cited are clear enough, how about, “There is an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism…” (1 Peter 3:21)? Baptism saves! No—not by itself, any more than faith can save by itself. But it is certainly part of salvation. If we can understand the need for love, faith, and repentance, we definitely should be able to understand the requirement of baptism—unless we are biased against it.
Is Baptism “Sprinkling”?
The men of the MA did not address whether infants should be baptized or not, although, when denominationalists do so, they do not baptize—but rather sprinkle water on the child. First of all, were any infants in the New Testament ever commanded to be baptized? Is there an example of one being either sprinkled or immersed? The answer to both questions is no. Some have argued it is implied because whole households such as Cornelius’ and Lydia’s were baptized. The reasoning is that these households must have included infants. But this notion is not a fact but rather an assumption. Not one clear passage can be cited for the practice. And yet the MA will fellowship both those who do and those who don’t practice “infant baptism.” In their eyes, infant baptism must be too obscure to divide over. However, the truth is, “The New Testament provides no authority to baptize infants.” It’s not obscure; they are just ignoring it.
Also, in this vein, we might ask, “Do the men of the MA not know what the word baptism means? When someone is unfamiliar with a word in the English language, he looks up the word in a dictionary. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, a student of the Bible looks up the definition of a word in a lexicon, which is the Greek equivalent of dictionary. Anyone who looks up the Greek word baptizo (translated “baptise” in the English) in a lexicon will find the following definition: “1. Prop. To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge…. 2. To cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water…” (Thayer 94).
One can study more than a column of information on baptizo and not find a single reference to sprinkling. Has no one in the MA ever bothered to check? Or are they just ignoring the fact that the word means “to immerse” and not “to sprinkle”? How can this group of men be of “the same mind” when some of them practice sprinkling instead of immersion? Now, the definition of the word resolves the problem all by itself. What a word meant to the people who spoke, wrote, and comprehended Greek is crucial. No one has the authority to force a word in another language to mean what it never meant. What kind of respect and reverence for the Word of God is that?
But God gave other means in the New Testament of knowing that baptism is immersion. John, for example, baptized in Aenon, for there was “much water there.” (John 3:23). If he only sprinkled people, why would he need much water? A single water pot would be plenty to baptize hundreds with. A person only needs “much water” if he is immersing people. God provided a specific example of that very point in Acts 8:35-39. It is not uncommon, while traveling, to take along water to drink. Many still do so even though not very far from water at any one time. People once carried canteens.
If the Ethiopian eunuch was traveling with water in his chariot, Philip could have taken some and sprinkled him; they would have not have even needed to stop the chariot! And when they did come to some water, Philip could have just reached down and taken enough to sprinkle the eunuch. Instead, however, the text says, “So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.” Obviously, the eunuch was immersed (in harmony with the meaning of baptize). Only one reason exists for going down into the water. Verse 39 adds that “they came up out of the water.”
When a person knows the definition of the word and notes the example of the baptism of the eunuch, he is not surprised when reading Romans 6:4 to learn that baptism is a burial in water: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Now are any of these passages difficult to understand? Are they too “obscure” to comprehend? What baptism is—is clear. Fallible human beings can understand it. It is essential for salvation and not really open for disagreement. But despite these facts, the MA would not agree, would they—not because they cannot understand it; after all, they have the same Scriptures in their Bibles that you have in yours. They have the same lexicons that are available to all. Their problem is that some of the members of the MA practice sprinkling, and they are not about to give it up even though it is not baptism.
They also will not baptize people so that they might be saved. They baptize them because they believe they are already saved. Yet John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). And he prepared the way for Jesus, who also baptized (John 4:1-2). On the Day of Pentecost, when the multitude asked what they should do, Peter did not answer like the MA would have. He did not say there was not anything they could do; Peter told them: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). This is the exact same message presented earlier by John, continued by Jesus, and taught by the apostles as well.
Even Saul, the former persecutor of Christians, was told, “And now, why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of
the Lord” (Acts 22:16). In baptism, God removes a person’s sins with the blood of Jesus (Rev. 1:5). That is the reason baptism is for the remission of sins. Not one of the MA believes that, although it is plainly set forth in the Scriptures. And they have the same Bible that everyone else does. Therefore, the only Scriptures that are “very clear” and not open for “debate” are those that the MA selects. If they do not believe it or refuse to practice it, then it suddenly becomes obscure. The MA is just playing fast and loose with the Scriptures while trying to sound high-minded.
In their emphasis on unity, the MA quotes from Thomas Campbell who “advocated closer relations with all Christians.” But what they do not point out is that Campbell was decrying arbitrary divisions that kept “believers” apart. His views changed as he understood the Bible better. But whatever his views were is irrelevant. The questions are, “What is our understanding today?” and, “What is actually taught in the Scriptures?”
Unity cannot exist between “Christians” when we do not all have the same definition of who a Christian is. If God requires people to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (and He does), it is at that point that they are born again (John 3:5). Three thousand repented and were baptized on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), and they were added to the church (Acts 2:47). Those who are not baptized are not Christians Anyone who aspires to please God must do what He says. We must all be of the “same mind” on something so crucial as salvation!
If someone, therefore, comes to us and says, “I was sprinkled as an infant, can you accept me as a Christian brother?” The answer is, “No.” This response does not mean we don’t like the person or that we would not like to fellowship him; it means that we have respect for the Scriptures and the teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The man must be taught the truth and obey from the heart that form of teaching concerning salvation (Rom. 6:17-18).
But even if we disregard the most crucial matter of salvation, how can the MA be united when they hold different positions morally? In most communities, at least one denomination supports abortion. Sometimes it is the United Methodist Church, as in Denton, Texas. In fact, the doctor who performed abortions was a member there. So how can pro-life “churches” have unity and be of the same mind with those denominations that promote abortion. Jesus is not both for and against the practice; how can His followers be?
Or take the subject of homosexuality. How many in the MA uphold this sin? How many will perform homosexual marriages? Do any of the men oppose the practice? If the MA has men in both camps, how can they say they are of the same mind? Jesus is not both for and against homosexuality. He condemned it (since it is included under the broad topic of fornication). Once again, a Greek lexicon would be helpful in discerning what porneia refers to.
The point is simply this. The Ministerial Alliance is not united in regards to baptism and the manner of becoming a Christian, nor are they united in the kind of morality the Bible teaches. (Or will they say that these two moral issues are so murky that they can still fellowship one another?) The MA has tried their best to insist they can be united when they neither believe the same doctrines nor practice the same morality. They are only fooling themselves about their so-called “unity.” They are only united against us.