Jesus calls us to join Him
in HIS church.
... revised 2/12/2011
(here's a volume control for the music)

Why Should Anyone
Ever Not Be Baptized?

In Christianity Today for January 10, 2000 several writers comment about a recent agreement between some Roman Catholics and some (liberal) Lutherans concerning whether more than faith is involved in human salvation. One article is by Douglas A Sweeney. It's titled, "Taming the Reformation."

The article begins, "On October 31, 1517, a 33-year-old Augustinian monk, parish priest, and professor of theology nailed 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, denouncing the papacy's sale of indulgences to finance the restoration of St. Peter's Basilica." The writer explains that "indulgences" are "papal certificates offering remission of the temporal penalty due forgiven sin, and granting sinners parole from the fires of purgatory." Indulgences assume that men can forgive sin, and that there is in fact a purgatory in which unforgiven sins will be atoned for by human suffering. Neither theory is taught in God's Word, of course. And the Roman church, despite approving the agreement with the liberal Lutherans, is again selling indulgences this year.

But these Lutherans and these Roman Catholics did agree that from now on they wouldn't condemn those whose views differed from theirs on the matters which led Martin Luther to revolt against Rome's dominion over Christ's church on earth nearly 500 years ago.

Luther had more on his mind than only indulgences. He had discovered that the Bible teaches men are saved by faith, and he had decided that they were saved by faith alone, which of course is NOT what the Bible teaches. Roman doctrine rightly realizes that faith alone is dead. The Roman church, however, teaches that the church can save, whereas the Bible clearly teaches that only Jesus can save from sin.

Lutheran doctrine differs from Roman doctrine, and both differ from God's truth. Jesus offers salvation to every man. Only those will be saved who repent and are baptized into Christ. Both the Lutheran bodies and the Roman Catholic bodies teach that babies and adults can be baptized by the application of water to them through sprinkling or pouring water upon them. The Bible teaches that baptism into Christ occurs when a repentant sinner who now believes in Jesus as Lord is buried in water and then raised up out of that water to walk in the new life which is given by and patterned after the earthly walk of Jesus of Nazareth.

The article by Douglas A. Sweeney comments, "Catholics (he means Roman Catholics) and Lutherans (he means some "liberal" Lutherans) have come a long way since the divisive days of the sixteenth century when each charged the other with having departed from the Christian faith. Not only are they now embracing one another as fellow Christians, they are also articulating a ‘common understanding of justification,' agreeing that their Joint Declaration ‘encompasses a consensus in the basic truths.' Moreover they are claiming that ‘the differing explications' of this doctrine within their respective traditions ‘are compatible' with the Joint Declaration, and thus are ‘no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.'"

Both groups are aware that Jesus wants us who call Him our Lord all serving in ONE body. Every Christian should know this simple truth. Together we should be committed to regaining the unity which marked the church in its first days. We note that the early church had no power structure such as denominations today have, where one man or one council is over everyone else.

Each congregation of Christ's church is independent and free in Christ. In each congregation, local men are elected by the group to lead and teach. Paul outlines the kind of men these "elders" should be. And the church thrives and grows by doing God's work in God's ways.

Unity does not consist in every Christian being alike. Rather, it's by us each being different. Paul compares it to the human body, where if all were an eye, where would the hand be, etc. So we complement one another and in our differing ways all work for God in fellowship. And without denominational divisions, the church of the Lord is ONE body with one head over all congregations. For men to have ambitions of leading others in other congregations militates against unity. God's church has no officers above the congregational level, and needs no organization above the local fellowship of believers.

So how are sinners brought into fellowship with the church of God? On the day the church was born, as described in chapter two of Acts, Peter "opened" (unlocked) the doors to the church. He invited seekers to turn away from sin (repent) and to submit to Jesus as Lord by being immersed in water and resurrected out of that watery grave, rising to walk in new life with Jesus. Acts 2 tells the tale.

It's not by grace alone. It's not by faith alone. It's not without a new birth that sinners become saints. Paul simply states the fact — it's in Christian baptism (in water) that repentant believing sinners "put on" Christ and bring themselves into fellowship with the risen Lord. Baptism is no "work" (Ephesians 2:8-10). Being baptized brings us "into Christ" (Galatians 3:26,27). Baptism simply completes the "new birth" by which sinners enter into the Way of Life with Jesus Christ.

Don't Leave Home Without It! An advertiser advises, "Our credit card — don't leave home without it." But some do so.

GOD advises, "You'll not reach my home without it." I speak of Christian baptism, which is commanded by Jesus Christ! And some decide they don't really NEED to be baptized. Jesus is Lord. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life — the WAY to God, the TRUTH from God, and the LIFE of God. He humbly advises that we understand, "No man comes to the Father but by me."

Do churches save? — Many imagine they can be saved by a church. But salvation is in JESUS, and in His atoning death on Calvary. Only those who are IN Christ are on the way to Heaven. So THIS study is about getting "into" Christ. It's NOT any church that saves. The one who created the church is our only Way to eternal life with God in glory. About the church, we should realize that Jesus built "His church" on earth. The unique Son of God is head of the church of God. We belong to Him. The church is made up of saved Christians. No one is "in" Christ's church until that person is in Christ and is living LIKE the Christ.

In the Bible, the church is named as God's assembly ("church" means "assembly"), the Lord's assembly, "the church of the saints (all Christians ARE saints see note saints below)", and the "church of the firstborn ones (we call them "Christians" -- ones who realize we belong to Christ)."

(saints –- When sinners learn of Jesus and turn to Him for salvation, we are born again by dying to sin, having that sin washed away in baptism, and then rising to walk in new life with Christ. Paul plainly speaks to this point in chapter 6 of Romans, among other scriptures.)
Christ's church roll (membership list) is in Heaven in "the lamb's Book of Life." The list of the saved is not a listing made by men on earth. It's written by the Son of God, who perfectly knows who is IN His church. Men often don't know who belong to God, but God always DOES know. So MEN can't put us outout of God's church, or bring us INTO it. Nor can I join a church of my choice and thereby find salvation in Christ.
(out — we ARE taught that rarely when one who claims to be in our fellowship is in open rebellion against Jesus either in deed or word that in such a case the person is to be treated as a non-member of the Christian group.)
GOD PUTS ALL SAVED SINNERS INTO HIS CHURCH. — Men who choose to follow JESUS have no choice about "joining" the church of the Lord. Jesus built HIS church. All who are saved are by Him added TO His church. No exceptions. Every Christian is a member of the Lord's church, made a member by God Himself.

We choose here on earth which part of God's family most needs our association, and "join" with other Christians in church fellowship where others can help us on the Way to Heaven, and where we feel we can best serve God and help others. But that fellowship in churches on earth is not what saves us. It's fellowship with Jesus Christ that saves. So how do sinners become associated WITH Jesus? What does the Bible say about that? I point you to two verses (one verse in particular) which address that question. Scholars will bring up several Bible verses and passages to answer this question. Let's keep our discussion simple by looking first to two passages and seek to understand from SIMPLE statements how simple, sincere sinners did become and can become simple, sanctified saints.

ACTS 2:38 — God Speaks through the apostle Peter — The first scripture is in chapter 2 of Acts. Jesus promised to build His church. The fulfillment of His promise is reported in this passage. Miraculous things God did at that time caused men to take note, and many rushed to hear and see what was happening. Peter, as spokesman for God and Jesus that day, pointed out to his hearers that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. He also said these people were responsible for Jesus having been murdered! Some realized Peter spoke truth. They inquired, "What must we do?" Peter was led of God to respond clearly and simply.

Peter tells what sinners must do to be saved — What they were to do about their sin was to turn away FROM sin (Peter used the word "repent") and turn TO Jesus as Lord, and they were each to be immersed in water because Jesus had said that was to be done. Peter assured seeking sinners that repenting and being baptized would result in their receiving remission of sins. Further, it would result in their receiving as an additional gift from God the indwelling presence of God Himself within each cleansed sinner.

Please note that NO scripture verse or passage ever contradicts Peter's simple message delivered that day when the church was born. Often it's emphasized that it's through faith IN CHRIST that men are saved. But NEVER do inspired men say that it's by faith ALONE! Or repentance alone. Or confession of faith alone. Or baptism alone. And never by prayer.

Some teach a different plan for salvation, usually by prayer. In our day few preachers reply to sinners as Peter did on Pentecost. The preachers and evangelists today do not agree with what God caused Peter to say. The best-known and best-loved evangelists of our generation ignore God's plan of salvation and substitute one they think better fits the needs of sinners today.

This may be because many have decided that baptism is a "work," and the apostle Paul makes clear that men cannot earn salvation through works. So we come to the second verse most important to our study. We will note in it that Paul, as Peter earlier did, carefully does NOT teach that baptism is a work by which men EARN salvation. The first passage is Acts 2:38, as it fits into the verses before and after it. The second is Galatians 3:26,27, and the verses before and after IT.

GALATIANS 3:27 — Paul's confirmation and assent to what Peter had said on Pentecost. — Paul was instrumental in establishing Christ's church in the Roman province of Galatia. In the short letter Paul later wrote to friends in churches in Galatia, Paul teaches many things. In particular, he's warning them against being taught wrongly by men who want them to seek to gain or retain salvation through keeping laws.

Paul writes, " … for you are all sons of God THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, for all of you who were BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST have clothed yourselves with Christ … " (Galatians 3:26,27). In this second simple passage, we can see that the way all sinners have come into Christ (Peter had said it was by repenting and being baptized) was by being baptized INTO Him (and into His body which is the church, since He adds us to the church when we join HIM).

IN BAPTISM WE ARE CLEANSED BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST — The blood of Jesus washes away sin. Peter helps us understand that it's NOT the water of baptism which washes away sin even though the washing is by way of our being baptized. It's God Himself who has made the Way by which sinners are saved.

Men didn't develop the "Way" that Peter opened on Pentecost, and that Paul describes in Galatians 3. It was JESUS who sent His apostles (and us who follow and seek also to serve Him) into the world with a message of salvation. Jesus said the Way was to tell sinners about a God who loved them and God's Son who died for them, then baptize each sinner who believed that good news, and then continue teaching each disciple more and more about the Way which leads to life.

See Matthew 28:18-20.
What Jesus said they should do is what Peter and the other apostles did do. And that's what Paul did after Jesus had called him to become apostle to the non-Jews. They shared the good news of a loving God who freely offers salvation to undeserving sinners. They baptized every new believer. And they continued to teach about the Way in which Jesus leads us to God and glory.

So why do many today choose to leave out what Jesus commands and what His apostles practiced? It seems to be because they've decided that the Way REALLY consists only of believing, but not obeying.

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Is Being Baptized a "Work"?

I wrote recently to a brother who for some reason thinks that doing what Jesus said to do was a human "work" which Paul points out is not involved in salvation. In particular, Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10 says that we are saved by grace (unmerited favor) through faith, not of works (lest any man should boast), and that we are saved for the purpose of DOING good work for God. Paul doesn't add the word "only" to faith, but some today feel that's what he meant to say.

BEING BAPTIZED IS NOT IN ANY WAY A "WORK" — They think of baptism as a work. But Paul didn't. And Peter didn't. And Jesus didn't. So why would WE do so?

If the Bible contradicts itself, then it's NOT from God, and is NOT true, and we should just ignore everything it says. So if Paul in Ephesians 2 is saying that baptism is a work which has nothing to do with our becoming a Christian, and in Galatians 3 he says that baptism is the means by which we come INTO Christ and are saved, then the two passages cancel one another out, and both should be ignored.

Did PAUL teach sinners could be saved by faith ALONE? The brother of whom I spoke wrote to an e-mail list to explain why he thought men were saved by faith alone. He said that's what Paul taught. I wrote to ask him where Paul said that men are saved by faith alone. He replied —

From: Joshua Newsham
To: Ray Downen
Subject: Re: Salvation by faith alone -- Paul says?
Date sent: 16 Dec 1999

Well, where do I begin? Romans 3:19-31, Romans 4 (the entire chapter, though verses 9-11 are especially appropriate, as it deals with another misconception regarding actions earning grace) Romans 5:1-2.
Ray comments -- "Another misconception" than which misconception? I've asked for even ONE passage which teaches that salvation is through faith ALONE. Where in these passages cited does Paul say sinners are saved by faith ALONE? He simply does not say that!
As for the Galatians verse, simply glance a few paragraphs up, and read from Galatians 3:1 all the way to 3:27. The entire chapter screams out that faith justifies, not the Law.
Ray comments -- This is certainly true that it's not law-keeping that justifies. But in 3:27 Paul is not talking about entering Christ through law-keeping, yet he clearly does say how we DO come INTO Christ. And what he says is that it's by a process which culminates in our being baptized INTO Christ and thereby "putting on" Christ. It can't be denied that that's what Paul there wrote. The context doesn't change the simple declaration of fact in verse 27.

You're certainly right that Paul is teaching that law-keeping doesn't save us. But Paul is not saying that being baptized is trying to earn salvation by keeping a law. Why would we equate being baptized with any "work" at all? The Bible doesn't do so. Common sense doesn't do so. I don't do so. Keith doesn't do so. Why would anyone WANT to do so?

As for the Acts verse, I completely agree. There are places in the NT where it says that, or something very similar.
Ray comments — So are we looking for other Bible verses to prove WRONG what Acts 2:38 says? Do we really want to say that the Bible is not inspired, since we think we can find conflict within it?
Then there are places like a bit later in Acts, 10:44-48, where it is clear God came upon these gentiles, and they spoke in tongues and praised God, and after that Peter brought up baptism.
Ray comments -- Had you considered why Peter would think Cornelius and his household NEEDED baptism in water if the spiritual experience alone would have saved them? Shouldn't he, as some now do, have waited a few weeks to be SURE they were sincere?
Acts 19:1-6 is another problem. Here are men who have been baptized in water already, yet now Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit.
Ray comments -- Note that these 12 men had been baptized with John's baptism — NOT with baptism which is into Christ. Paul now baptized them INTO Christ for salvation. In the same way, no person today who was baptized thinking he was already saved has received Christian baptism, for Christian baptism is to bring a sinner INTO Christ, or else Paul was mistaken.
The same thing that Peter said in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit," Paul echoes here, in verses 5 and 6 of chapter 19, "On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied." Also note that before Paul even spoke to them, let alone baptized them in the name of Christ, they are referred to as "disciples" (v.1).
Ray comments -- The term "disciple" merely means a "learner, a student." It may refer to one who is beginning to learn about Jesus, or one who is now in Christ and still learning (as we should be all our lives, as is well stated in the postscript below). Note in Matthew's account of the giving of the "great commission" that Jesus refers to folks entering the Way of life as being disciples even before we are baptized INTO Him ("make disciples" precedes "baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)." Using the description of "disciple" does not state that a person was one who was already IN Christ.

As for Paul laying hands on them in order for them to receive "the Holy Spirit" which caused them to be able to speak in unknown (to them) languages, this is mentioned as an exception. The apostolic promise is that EVERYONE who is baptized will receive the Holy Spirit, but no mention is made of laying on of hands or of tongue-speaking in connection with that gift of the Holy Spirit.

I think the main thing here, as I pointed out in my post, is that, just as every book of the Bible is part of a whole, every verse is part of a chapter, which is part of a book, etc, etc. Anyone can pull out a verse here or there and have it say something. But presenting the entire Gospel message as an organic whole, we can right away dismiss many aberrations.
Ray comments -- Is Peter having an "aberration" when he tells inquirers that the way into Christ is through their repenting of sin and being baptized in water? Did Peter on Pentecost NOT present the entire gospel message? Could our DIFFERENT message be better than what God had Peter say?

Shall we seek to explain away Peter's aberration? Why would we WANT to do so? Was it not JESUS who commanded that every believer should BE baptized? Isn't Peter just obeying His Lord (and also our Lord if we choose to follow and do what He says we should do, like teaching and practicing baptism as He commands is to be done)?

I think the comparison between Abraham's sign of circumcision and the symbolism of water baptism is a good one to think on.
Ray comments -- What a pity it is indeed that Peter didn't get it right! You suggest that if Peter had just gotten the matter right, things would have been better for us all. Peter didn't KNOW about the "symbolism" of water baptism. I think Peter is the one who got it right, and those who differ from Peter have it wrong for sure. I'm not sure any Bible writer knew about "the comparison between Abraham's sign of circumcision and the symbolism of water baptism." I'm sure no inspired writer spoke of such a comparison. I do NOT think that's a good thing to add to the Bible revelation.

In both cases (circumcision for Jews and baptism for sinners), it is an outward sign/action that shows what has already changed inside, thanks to God's riches of mercy and grace. Peace, — Josh

Are we to believe that a baby being circumcised had already had an internal change which made him a son of Abraham? Are we to believe that a baby being baptized has already believed in Jesus and repented of the sins the baby will later commit? This comparison makes no sense at all!
P.S. As for being daring, I thank you for the compliment. I will most certainly speak out on what I believe, and if I am wrong, God's Spirit, either directly or through a brother or sister, will correct me. I do not shy away from controversy. Jesus didn't, Paul didn't, the Old Testament prophets didn't, so I don't feel bad just for saying what I think with conviction.
Does Joshua here claim that God's Spirit rests upon him as it did upon prophets of old? Were those prophets invariably corrected if they made a wrong call? Or was it sometimes necessary for the people to stone them when it became obvious their prophecy was NOT correct?

Fortunately, I don't have to be correct in every opinion, as every man has his own relationship with God, and as our friend Paul said "Let God be true, and every man a liar," so I know I am fallible. If I am wrong, and my ideas drive someone to search the Scriptures to prove me wrong, we have both gained: my brother or sister has corrected me, and I learn yet another lesson in humility, while God will surely bless that person for loving me enough to reprove me. :) ---

Very good — more comments from Ray follow
And I appreciate your good attitude. But it's not clear why you didn't answer my question rather than bringing in all this good material which fails absolutely to provide the answer for the question which I asked. I'll rephrase my question in case it was not clearly stated before. You are affirming that Paul teaches that sinners are saved by faith alone. Please give me even ONE reference to a passage where that's what Paul or any inspired writer teaches.

You're wasting your time and mine by referring to something we already agree on and trying to persuade me that Paul teaches that faith in Jesus is key to salvation. I'm very familiar with the passages you cite — all of them. And none of them in any way teach that we find salvation through faith alone.

A very sensible rule of Hermeneutics (see Proper Bible Understanding Leads to Christian Unity, at Viewpoint web site) is that we let the simple and clear passages help us understand the more difficult ones. We don't pick on an obscure reference and say that because it doesn't seem to agree with what the clear passage says that the clear passage must mean something other than what it says. Well, some do. But none should.

Please leave Acts 19 out of your thinking for the moment, and look at Acts 2:38 for just what it clearly does say. Then compare Galatians 3:27 for what it clearly does say, and see if you can see agreement between those two simply-worded and clear teachings.

We build on simple foundations — << You affirm that baptism is like circumcision was, and say that circumcision was just an external demonstration of an inward change. Boy babies were to be circumcised on the eighth day of their lives, as I remember. In what way do you think they had changed? Had they developed faith in God like that of Abraham? What is this inward change you think had taken place that the circumcision of the baby boy affirmed? I disagree that either circumcision or baptism fits the part you've assigned to them.

If you leave out what you imagine Paul might have meant in teaching about salvation by grace through faith, and go back to Pentecost in A.D. 30 or so when the gospel was first preached, and when sinners were first invited to become Christians, figure out what those first disciples might have understood Peter to be saying. Those who heard Peter had no other New Testament teachings to compare with what they heard Peter preach. Surely they just figured out what HE meant, and either obeyed for salvation, or else rejected and were damned as those will be today who reject Christ‘s invitation.

Now if you HAD found any clear passage where an inspired writer taught that sinners are saved by faith alone, you'd have trouble doing what I asked you to do. But you can't find any such passage, for there is none.

So we find Peter explaining that Jesus, who is now risen from the dead (his hearers had no doubt that Jesus HAD been put to death — Peter testified that he personally, and many others, had seen Him alive after His dead body was put into the tomb) had proved Himself to be both Lord and Christ. Peter, speaking FOR Jesus, invited sinners who sought salvation to turn away from sin and to be baptized "for the remission of sins."

Scholars may debate until the judgment whether "for" here could mean because your sins have already been remitted, but common sense should tell us all that Peter was telling people who had asked him what they should do about their sin what they had asked about (they asked what they should do about their sin, which is to repent and be baptized). He did NOT say, "There's nothing you CAN do or need TO do to be saved. Jesus did it all for you. You're saved already. Because you ARE saved, you should turn away from sin and be baptized."

Sinners need to repent and be baptized —

Instead Peter just simply told inquiring sinners what they needed to do because they were lost sinners and had murdered God's unique Son. Comparison of Peter's reply here with what later sinners were told to do, and what they DID do in order to be saved (as Luke tells us about it in the book of Acts), shows that they were immediately baptized, and never for the purpose of "joining a church," but always simply in obedience to the Lord Jesus because they wanted to be saved by Him. So let's not waste time searching for Bible verses or passages that prove they didn't understand how to be saved, but let's accept Luke's account of how sinners became Christians. Every one of them started out by hearing about the risen Lord. Until the hearing was joined by BELIEVING, the sin was in place — the sinner was lost IN sin. And Peter and Paul teach that until the believer turned away from sin and was baptized INTO Christ the sinner had not yet been joined to Christ, who alone can save FROM sin but does not save a person who still loves sin and chooses to wallow in it.

Yes, there are some passages which might seem to imply otherwise, such as Acts 19, and the unusual response in Samaria where Luke reports that although many were baptized, none had "received" the Spirit. Since these are obvious exceptions, we do well to first consider the NORMAL experience which is clearly taught AS normal. As for example, in the latter part of chapter 8 where Philip taught a man about Jesus. Hearing the gospel led that man to ask why he should not be BAPTIZED. Philip suggested that if the man DID believe, there was every reason he SHOULD be baptized. He did believe. He WAS baptized. And by taking away the evangelist then, God showed that was the end of the traveler lacking and needing the new birth.

A "new birth" of water and spirit — << Which brings us back to John 3 where Jesus clearly teaches that the new birth, essential for salvation, is a new birth of water AND spirit. Comparing John 3:5 with Acts 2:38 where Peter explains in other words how to be born again, sensible students realize that the "water and spirit" is simply "repent and be baptized" because of faith in the risen Lord Jesus about whom the sinner has now learned. Peter later explains that we are "begotten" (for new birth) by hearing the story of Jesus. Begetting leads on (gestation) to the birth itself, which is through water, which then causes Peter to say that we are saved BY baptism. He carefully does NOT (1 Peter 3:21) say we're saved by baptism alone, just as all inspired writers never say we are saved by faith alone or by grace alone.

So Paul summarizes it in Galatians 3:26 and 27, pointing out that the faith which leads to salvation takes us into baptism's waters where we actually "put on" Christ for salvation. And that's exactly what Peter had taught on Pentecost. Why, Joshua, if you believe that we're saved by faith ALONE have you not yet pointed to a text that says that we are saved by faith ALONE?

You really don't need to convince me that salvation comes through faith in the CHRIST. I already knew that. What I've asked for is a passage that teaches the work is done by faith ALONE. The only inspired writer who uses the two words together is James, and you know as well as I do what James says about faith alone. So why do you want to convince me or anyone that James and Peter and Paul and Jesus were mistaken so that we really ARE saved by faith alone (by a new birth of spirit but no water)?

<< Or am I misunderstanding you?

To the Viewpoint Discussion group, I added — >> << Is there any way to explain the new birth of water and spirit to a person who has become convinced that it's only a spiritual rebirth? What do you think? >>
I've explained above what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace through faith. This is not what either the Roman Catholic church teaches, nor what the Lutheran bodies believe. But it IS what the Bible teaches. So is their new "Joint Agreement" a good thing? Sweeney rightly says, "To work for unity is to do the will of God," if we can believe that the "unity" is of those who truly love Jesus and seek to humbly serve Him.

"In signing the Joint Declaration, the Catholic Church (he means the Roman Catholic group whose signatures are on the document) now affirms (for the first time ever) that its condemnations at the Council of Trent of the Lutheran doctrine of justification are no longer valid — the Lutheran position is acceptable, and not a church-dividing doctrine."

But this can only be true if indeed Lutherans no longer believe in salvation by faith alone. For those who DO believe the Bible cannot agree that salvation is ever based on faith only. To believe and teach so is to deny that the Bible is inspired and is in fact the Word of God. For James spoke for God to point out that faith alone is dead — that our faith must lead to obedience to Jesus or we didn't REALLY love and trust Him to be our Savior and Lord. Those who teach that salvation is entirely up to God either do not understand what James wrote, or do not agree with it.

In claiming that faith is God's gift to the "elect," those who believe in salvation by faith only are saying that God selects those who will be saved and gives THEM the ability to believe the gospel. All others are lost. I don't really believe that Roman Catholics or any Bible student ought to agree with that theory. All who hear gospel facts are free to believe the gospel and be saved. God does not enable some TO believe while others are divinely prevented from believing.

Those who believe are free to obey the gospel. Some do. Some do not. Of those who do, the new Christians are free to continue to follow Christ, or to go back into the world. Some do follow Christ, and produce "fruit" for Him, in varying degrees. Others fall away and are lost, and much worse off than if they had never heard and obeyed the gospel. But all men are FREE. None are divinely prevented from believing and obeying the gospel. Jesus really meant that WHOSOEVER will may come to Him for rest and life and joy and peace. And those who come to Christ are free to remain in Him and go to Heaven, if they remain full of faith. So have sinners earned salvation by turning to Jesus and letting Him save them? None of us believe that. The RC-Lutheran Joint Agreement reads — "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."

Surely those who love God and His Word will see that this is just a restatement of Ephesians 2:8-10 except for the addition of the word "alone" to grace. And surely also we realize that if we're saved by grace through faith then the grace is not alone, but is accompanied by the obedience which Paul says is OUR part in salvation. We who trust in Jesus are sure to OBEY Him. Adding the "alone" to grace signifies an admission that the signers realize that our obedience doesn't cause us to deserve God's mercy even though we are receiving it.

Sweeney points out — "Sounds great. But both parties would have affirmed this phraseology in the sixteenth century, while fiercely opposing the finer points of one another's doctrines of justification. The Roman Catholics in their Council at Trent never denied that justification comes by grace alone. Nor did they deny that it is based entirely on Christ's saving work, or even that God accepts us initially without regard to human merit. "HOWEVER, they did deny that we receive this grace by means of faith alone."

As well they should, of course! James rightly points out that faith ALONE is dead, surely unable to move a mountain or a fingernail, and powerless to save any sinner.

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The Gift of Salvation
Consider this report of an earlier gathering of churchmen seeking greater fellowship among believers in Christ -- In a monthly publication, Seek The Old Paths (STOP) dated June 1998, Dennis Gulledge (P O Box 345, Mabelvale, AR 72103-0345) reports that "On October 7, 1997 a group of 16 Roman Catholic and 19 evangelical Protestant theologians together signed a document they called, 'The Gift of Salvation.' One of the Protestant signers was Max Lucado of San Antonio, Texas."

Gulledge quotes Christianity Today of 1/12/98 as reporting, "The document . . . represents signers' ability to 'express a common faith in Christ and so to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.'

In an earlier CT article, Gulledge reports, it was stated that this document "directly addresses . . . the doctrine of justification by faith alone." Readers will realize that the Roman position has been that justification is through "sacraments" of that church in addition to faith in Christ, whereas some Protestants have insisted that Ephesians 2:8-10 clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works or obedience of any kind. Early reformers insisted that salvation was by faith alone, which of course goes beyond what God has told us, and in fact contradicts scriptural truth.

The document itself, according to Gulledge, states, "We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide)."

Since the only Bible reference to faith alone is a clear statement that salvation is NOT by faith alone, it seems strange that these devoted and well-educated men would agree that the author of salvation is mistaken in how sinners are saved. Gulledge says their action is spiritual high treason.

The Roman Catholic men are, in effect, saying that the Roman church is wrong in teaching that salvation is earned by receiving the "sacraments" of their church. The Protestant men are, in effect, saying that their theology is wiser than the inspired men who taught that salvation is by grace through faith but certainly not by either alone. Any person claiming to be Christian while he or she teaches that salvation is by grace alone or by faith alone may be mistaken, but may not be such a wicked person as Gulledge claims.

Surely we can understand why people who see error may respond by overcompensating. Martin Luther's reaction to the error in the Roman teaching of salvation for sale to those with money or a willingness to work to try to earn righteousness took the form of his deciding that work for God was never appropriate -- an overreaction indeed.

Protestants decided that it was somehow possible for salvation to be both by grace alone and by faith alone, which of course is only possible by adding other alones, none of which are taught in the Bible. Those who study the book of Acts, the history of early years of Christ's church, are apt to be able to see that every potential convert was called to repentance (a work?). No one was ever told salvation had occurred prior to sorrow for sin and change away FROM sin. And will we not observe that in most reported cases baptism in water was an immediate part of any process of salvation.

Sinners then were not asked to pray a "sinner's prayer." They were not asked to place their hand on the radio or TV and pray or say or write ANYTHING. With one exception, no vote was ever taken prior to the believer being baptized in water. Why do some do these other things today? It's because our theology is not in agreement with that of the apostles. We don't act like they did because we don't think like they did. We've learned much more than we think they knew. But in fact our exalted theology is at fault. We should be doing as the early church did if we hope for the same eternal life which was promised to them. Is it not so?

Should Max have participated in signing this document? Does signing it make him a traitor to God and God's truth? Should we reconsider OUR doctrine because Max Lucado, our brother, seeks unity with other Christian believers at the expense of doctrines some of us still strongly believe? Of course we should always be willing to restudy and, if we see we were wrong, to change our minds!

But do you suppose any person who heard the sound of rushing mighty wind on Pentecost in the church's infancy, and then heard Peter invite seeking sinners to receive remission of sins by repenting and being baptized in water (as the Lord Jesus had told the apostles TO teach and practice only a few days prior to that event) would later decide that repentance and baptism had nothing to do with salvation (as is the claim of those who teach salvation by faith alone)? Should we who have read the Bible and seen that the apostle Paul teaches that those who are baptized into Christ have in being baptized "put on" Christ now conclude that he didn't really mean what he then said? I think not.

I choose to not believe that God's plan of salvation has been changed so that sinners are saved prior to baptism. I'm not willing to accept as saved brothers or sisters persons who have chosen to not submit to Christian baptism. Nor do I want to endorse the false teaching that some now are doing which places salvation as God's gift to unbaptized sinners.

It's JESUS, who has every right to do so, who commands the practice of baptism -- the baptism of every person who has heard of the risen Christ and believes that good news to be true. It's JESUS who teaches that salvation is a process of new birth of water and Spirit in which gospel seed germinates until repentance and baptism bring forth death to sin and new life in a newly-born follower of the Way. Theology which differs with divine truth is not satisfactory theology in any sense. Those who hold wrong ideas should be called to account and urged to teach TRUTH from God's Word.

And many who mean only to please and honor God teach wrong doctrine. Our opportunity in such cases is to point out truth as convincingly as we know how, while loving and respecting the one whose teaching was not entirely true.

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Brother Given O. Blakely points out how sinners are to be


"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
How can a person stand before the Lord in an acceptable condition, cleansed from all sins, and pure in the eyes of God? Is it possible to come before the Lord with a true heart, and yet be dominated by a strong confidence and boldness? Indeed it is! Justification deals with these realities. To be justified means God pronounces us righteous, or holy, in his eyes. It is to be viewed by the Almighty God as innocent and free from sin.

Of old time, Job asked, "But how can a man be righteous before God?" (Job 9:2). David knew that no one could stand before God if He saw their sin. He wrote, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:3). The man after God's own heart knew that no living man is righteous by nature, or through his own efforts. Therefore he said, "Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous" (Psalm 143:2). In confirmation of this circumstance, Scripture declares God's own observation: "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-4; 53:1-3). Is justification, or complete exoneration, possible? It is. Are we to forever be consumed with guilt, and settle for moral and spiritual contamination? Indeed not! Our text speaks of a present state of righteousness: "BEING justified." It affirms the appointed means of that condition: "Being justified BY FAITH."

Our present standing before God is also pronounced: "We HAVE peace with God." The means of that peace is also affirmed. "We have peace with God THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST." Over the centuries, theologians have haggled about this truth, but it has been revealed and can with certainty be believed! Our status before God is owing to our belief of the gospel! As Abraham of old, our righteous standing is the result of believing divine testimony.

How clearly this is declared in Romans 4:20-25: "He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore 'it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised (for) because of our justification."

God has provided us a record of His Son -- Who He is, what He has accomplished, and where He is. If we will believe that record, embracing it with our whole heart, God will give His own righteousness to us, fully absolving us of the guilt of sin.

He is able to do this justly because of the atonement accomplished by Christ Jesus. Jesus "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). Those who choose to believe this, casting the weight of their souls upon Christ, "will not be disappointed" (Romans 10:11). Being justified, from this perspective, is having the very righteousness of God imputed, or credited, to us. This is the declaration of Romans 3:21,22. "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe." That is a precise declaration, and we do well to believe it with all our heart.

As important and indispensable as our works are, they are not the foundation upon which our justification, or state of righteousness, rests. The truth of the matter is that Jesus Christ is the only one "who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). No amount of arduous activity will put any one of us into that class. But faith will!

Saving faith sees the Son of God as the preeminent object of faith. It perceives Him as taking the responsibility for our transgressions in His death, bearing them away from the sight of God. Then, having risen from the dead He ascended into heaven to rule in the behalf of all who "receive Him" (John 1:12,13), that is, we who accept and recognize Jesus as our Lord, and therefore are baptized into Him and continue to obey Him as our Lord.

The heart believes and embraces these things, to the glory of God. On the basis of our faith in the risen Christ, God views each believer as spotless in the Son, and an heir together with Him of all things (Galatians 3:29; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 21:7). Sinners can never be saved except for the grace of God. The Roman church has suggested that the church saves. It does not. We are exclusively saved by God's grace and our personal response to it. — Given O. Blakely

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Randall R. Smelser, in the Christian Standard weekly magazine for 10/19/97 writes on the subject, The Old Testament Empire Strikes Back. He's writing about law and grace and their differences.

Randall is located in Germany where he seeks to influence sinners to seek salvation in Jesus, and where he aims to help those who know Jesus to best understand the Word of God. (Jesus, God's unique Son, is spoken of as the Word. And the revelation sent BY Jesus is also seen as God's Word).

In Germany as Randall wrote, the Star Wars Trilogy had just been re-released. Perhaps many U.S. brothers and sisters have also been seeing it. Because we do not have to face a Darth Vader or the Empire, we can enjoy watching this drama presented. We do not feel personally threatened.

Think about a similar conflict that DOES involve each of us. The Old Testament "empire" (in which men based their words and acts on a code of law and a way of life which was good for God's people in O.T. Times) was canceled on the cross. A New Way replaced the Old. Some preferred the old. They didn't want to change allegiance from law to grace. They acted vigorously to show their preference. Paul (then called Saul) was an outstanding example of one who at that time chose law over grace.

It was not just in those first days of change that conflict came between those who chose law and we who know we are saved by grace. Several times throughout church history this O.T. empire looked dead, only to revive and strike back. Men and women of Stone-Campbell heritage (and others) have sought to fully restore the N.T. church again in the world. Yet, even in OUR scattered congregations, the O.T. empire continues to strive to dominate.

The N.T. church is far superior to the O.T. empire. Yet we observe tendencies to slide backwards into the inferior ways of the O.T. Why? Because humans are used to earthly ways, and most of us are human. The new Way is spiritual, not of this world.

We often are unaware of our slide. The switch back to legalism has happened several times over the years since the church of Christ was built. Each time rebuilding on the good foundation has been possible, and each time it has been done only with great difficulty. In what areas shall we say that there is conflict between the O.T. empire and the church of Christ? In particular, it is seen in membership, in meeting places, and in how public meetings are conducted.

Membership Methods

The O.T. empire observed the "nation" principle -- those born into the families were considered members of the empire. They weren't asked their preference. Boys born just were circumcised to make them members of the O.T. empire, inheritors of the promises God made to Abraham. Later, the child was taught the meanings of what had been done, and was expected to appreciate and accept membership.

Membership in Christ's church is by mature choice. It is not conferred upon unthinking, unbelieving infants. Nor are small children to be encouraged to "join the church" until they have reached an age appropriate for making fully-informed choices. Only those who deliberately choose to live AS JESUS DID should ever be on the membership roll of any church which claims to belong to Christ. The O.T. empire strikes at us!

Meeting Places

Buildings for Christian meetings are not necessarily wrong, but their use often becomes inimical to spirituality rather than helpful. Christians are promised that wherever they go, God is with them, living in their hearts and spirits. This is no more true inside a "church building" than in any Christian's place of work or in his dwelling place or wherever tht Christian is.

In the O.T. system, worship and sacrifices were centralized, organized, corporate. One went to the tabernacle, the altar, or the temple to worship. God lived in the holy place. It became important to have a beautiful, impressive, God-honoring place of worship. In the Christian age, as the centuries went by, the practice of their meeting in a functional, simple place changed into a felt necessity of glorifying God by meeting in big, beautiful (and seldom-used) buildings. Europe is filled with such sanctuaries which glorify those whose money built them. And is the U.S. quite different?

Jesus respected the temple for Jewish worship. He taught that Christians were the temples for Christian worship. His followers have been won over by the Empire so that now many think their oh-so-expensive buildings are where God lives!

Worship Practices

O.T. "worship" was based on a priestly system and a central location for public praise to God. Christians experience God's presence wherever we may be, and each Christian is a priest. No inspired guide tells us there is to be a special class of Christian priests in the Way of Christ.

A Christian can worship God anywhere. If only one Christian is in that particular location, his or her worship can be every bit as effective and restorative as if there had been 5,000 or 50,000 met together. Our worship is not dependent on some highly-qualified "worship leader." It doesn't need someone with lots of talent and training. It only needs persons who know Jesus as Lord, and who love Him.

The European churches have normally operated by the O.T. system rather than the Way of Christ. And today most European churches are museums to the spirituality of their forefathers. Who will say that many U.S. churches are not heading in the same direction?

What was the primary purpose revealed in the Bible for which believers then came together? The assembly of believers in Christ was to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:23-25). Group worship was a natural by-product of individual daily walk with God rather than an organized service (please read thoughtfully Acts 2:42-47; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 14:17,23,26). Their purpose for meeting was to edify one another! There may be danger when some imagine their purpose for coming together is "worship." That's not what the Bible calls us to do! We can quickly become very "self" oriented instead of "other" oriented (as we should be). Is that making us better Christians, or is it converting us to followers of the O.T. empire?

Sun-day Or Every-day Religion?

Christianity is a way of LIFE, not for a Sunday show, but for a daily walk. A religion where the many watch a few "perform" staged rituals in a designated "holy place" is something other than the Way of life to which Jesus calls us.

Your progress in the Christian Way is not judged by how you help spend the money you and others give to "the church," but by how you invest ("give") your life and money to others in the name of Christ. Christ's church grows and thrives when individuals give themselves to His service.

Relying on "government" to nourish and protect the church is not at all what God invites us to do. We are HIS people. We need to walk with Him each day in every way. Thousands may be baptized while very few are added to the number of the faithful who are in Christ. Let's walk with Christ and resist every appeal to rejoin the O.T. empire! — Randall R. Smelser. <>
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And consider this word from CECIL MAY

(in Preacher Talk from Faulkner University, 5345 Atlanta Hwy, Montgomery, AL 36109, issue dated June, 1998)

No They Don't!
It is said by some, "Most denominational preachers understand God's grace better than we of the Restoration Movement do." Whoever says that does not understand most denominational preachers, does not understand grace, or maybe both. Preachers for most denominations are, to some degree at least, Calvinists. This affects their understanding of grace. To Calvinists, election is unconditional, atonement is limited to the elect, and grace is irresistible.

In the Bible, grace is not something the Spirit irresistibly imposes on those God has unconditionally chosen. Grace (and salvation) is received by faith, and faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith is man's voluntary, free-will response to God's gracious offer of salvation. Saving faith is living, active, obedient faith. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). Not faith but grace is the gift of God. -- Cecil B. May, Jr.

Many who believe in salvation by faith alone also believe in "irresistible grace." They do believe that God selects those who will be saved, condemning all others who are NOT elected to eternal death. I believe neither the Roman brothers nor the Lutheran brothers hold to that Calvinistic doctrine.
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Consider what Walter L. Spratt sees in the Word —

Ray: I just spent some time at your web site. Downoaded Study #67 for further study. I think you have improved the appearance of your web site. I like! I think we are saved by faith alone, but, of course, I include a lot more in faith than do our "Faith Only" friends! What do you think of the following as related to Colossians 2:11-13?

To what extent did the covenant of circumcision that God made with Abraham and renewed or restated in the covenant God made with Israel have to do directly or individually with their soul's salvation? Was not that covenant related primarily to a proliferation of their people; a physical nation or kingdom; and a parcel of land to call their own? I take all of this to be a type of which those entering into the new covenant through Christ is the anti-type or fulfillment. A type does not prove anything; it only illustrates! A new covenant is not required to match in every detail.

The Scriptures do not say that baptism is a sign of the new covenant as circumcision was of the Mosaic covenant. The circumcision here referred to by Paul is a circumcision of the heart and performed by God and not by man. It is probably a metaphorical reference to the purity of the heart accomplished by the cleansing blood of Christ.

This cleansing; this purification; this covenant relationship; this salvation; this forgiveness; this redemption; this rescue; this transfer into the kingdom of Christ; this circumcision of the heart -- all are done BY GOD when we have the kind of faith that leads us to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and by His command to be united with Him in His death by burial in the waters of Christian baptism.

It is all consummated, not BY the act of baptism but IN the act of baptism! It is all because of God's amazing grace. In no way do we ever deserve even the privilege of surrendering our hearts -- our lives, to permit God, in His marvelous power, to accomplish all of this when we are baptized. Colosians 2:12 explains that -- "having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead" certainly makes this association. Baptism does not take the place of circumcision as a sign of an already existing covenant relationship.

Baptism, ordained and commanded by God, is the PLACE, POINT, or TIME, determined and announced by God, where we come into contact with the blood of Christ that blots out our sins, reconciles us to God, brings us into that new covenant relationship with God, and enables us to rise from that baptismal grave a new creation.

Our being baptized into Christ completes our being born again of water and Spirit. Baptism as such does not save us. It is God who with HIS great power saves us by doing all that is involved in bringing us into a saved relationship with Him when we have "faith in the power of God" to submit to His command to be baptized. God's grace, like God's love, is unconditional in its extension. But the benefits of His love and grace are conditioned upon our faith and obedience.

I do not see baptism as a sign of anything. I do see it as a symbolic reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my obedience to His command that I be buried in (immersed in) water, I understand and accept by faith the power of God to: circumcise my heart; forgive my sins; make me alive in Christ Jesus, and restore me to that eternal living relationship with my God -- a relationship that was broken by my sin -- my failure to live up to the perfection for which I was created -- sin that brought upon me the sentence of death and condemnation.

There are several important factors in our relationship with God associated with the blood of Christ. With His blood, He purchased the church (Acts 20:28). We are baptized into His body, the church! (1 Corinthians 12:13, and compare Colossians 1:18). With His blood we are brought into an eternal covenant relationship with God (Hebrews 13:20, and compare Matthew 26:28).

I do not fully understand just how God does or accomplishes all these things when I submit to His command to be immersed in water, but I believe He does accomplish them. Praise to our great God for His power; His love and His grace.

It seems reasonable to me that if we are baptized into His death (Romans 6:3 says we are) and it was in His death that He poured out His blood — the blood of the new covenant, that it is as we are baptized ("into Christ") that God applies that blood to our sins, thus blotting them out (Revelation 1:5) and at the same time brings us into (as Paul affirms in Galatians 3:27) covenant relationship with Him.

Thus, no baptism, no contact with His atoning blood, no forgiveness, and no covenant relationship with Him.
No blood -- no cleansing, no salvation!
No blood -- no circumcision, no purification, no salvation!
No blood -- no covenant, no salvation!
No blood -- no redemption, no forgiveness, no salvation!
No blood -- no rescue, no transfer to Christ's kingdom, no salvation!
No baptism -- no application of blood, no salvation!
No faith -- no surrender to His Lordship, no baptism, no salvation and no hope! ~ Jack.....

In its entirety, a study on PROPER BIBLE UNDERSTANDING can be read at this web site. The 32-page booklet can be mailed to you. $3 by mail. This study as a 32-page booklet $3 by mail. — Ray Downen

And now that you know what I'm saying the Bible teaches on this subject, of course you'll want to get busy reading THE BIBLE. Please don't forget that we learn simple truths first, and no inspired later teaching will CONTRADICT simple truth.

The Word of God contains some things which challenge the minds of those who know God best. It also contains mostly simple truths which we all can easily see and understand, and the more we do read, the more we WILL understand of God's truth. The Bible is God's written Word to bless and build us up — to prepare us for Heaven where we'll see all and know all. If it were written for school children to fully understand, where would the challenge be for scholars?

God speaks to us all in both simple and challenging words. We need to not fret about harder parts, realizing that we will later know more through our study, and someday we all WILL fully understand. Meanwhile all who love Jesus should indeed seek unity with all others who name Him as Lord!
Another Viewpoint booklet on baptism is,
"Were You BURIED With Christ?">"

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