T. PIERCE BROWN
A few days ago I received a long thoughtful letter asking questions about the confession we commonly request before a candidate is baptized. Because so many have asked similar questions, we think it appropriate to write an article setting forth some of the questions raised and what we conclude are scriptural responses. Her first question was, “Does the statement that I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God satisfy the command to confess Jesus as Lord?” (Romans 10:9). The question was asked in view of the fact that many persons have said that they did not understand all that was involved in either the statement that Jesus is the Son of God or that Jesus is Lord. This problem relates to the Crossroads andBostontheory that if a person did not understand all the implications of the statement, he must be “rebaptized” with a “Lordship baptism.”
There are several points that need to be clarified about that question. First, no one ever understands completely all the implications of any statement, and certainly not all the implications of the statement that Jesus is Lord, or the Son of God. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God involves the fact that He was in the beginning with God, in the form of God, was to be born of a virgin, prophesied about as the coming Messiah, was to die on behalf of mankind, reconciled us to God, has all authority in heaven and on earth, is now reigning over His people as King of King and Lord of Lords, demands that we surrender to His authority in all things, do all we do to His glory, and many other things. No man who ever married a woman understood all the implications of the question, “Will you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, to honor her, to care for her in times of sickness, etc. until death does you part?” He did not understand all the ways he might honor or dishonor her, what kinds of sickness or difficulties he might encounter, or a hundred other things. That did not invalidate his marriage. Neither is your baptism invalidated just because you do not understand all the implications of the statements, or all the factors that might be involved in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. If you do not believe the simple facts of the gospel that are revealed in the Bible and indicate the fact that you are willing to do whatever Jesus asks of you, you cannot be His disciple. But to assume you have to understand specifically all that Jesus may require of you, and consciously call to mind all of the things that you may learn or understand after being a Christian for 50 years is an unfounded assumption. Any theory that concludes that an unborn child or a babe in Christ must understand everything that an adult Christian understands is false.
However, it is still true that a person might say the words, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” and not mean what the Bible teaches about it. He may say the words, but have no intention of surrendering his life to Jesus as his Lord with all authority in heaven and on earth. In such a case, the confession would not satisfy God. Jesus said that to be His disciple, one must deny himself, take up the cross and follow Him. One does not have to understand all the implications or results of doing that, but he has to be willing to do it, even though he does not consciously enumerate all that it may involve.
Then the question was raised, “Does one have to make this confession before baptism?” The answer is, “Yes.” However, that does not mean what some leaders, even preachers and elders, think it means. For example, I have studied with some persons in private. I ask questions to see what they understand and believe. I get from them the answer in some fashion that they believe the facts of the gospel that I have presented to them, and are willing to surrender themselves to the authority of Christ and become a part of His body, the church. If you ever study with someone and find out that they are not willing to do that, having believed the gospel, you have no authority to baptize them. When you have discovered that they believe what the Bible reveals, and are willing to obey the commands of Jesus, they will have confessed to you that they believe Jesus is the Son of God, regardless of whether they use those exact words. For someone to assume that for their baptism to be valid, they must now stand in front of some person or persons and in some ritualistic or formal way make the statement, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” is absurd and legalistic foolishness.
My unvarying practice for 50 years has been to ask such a person to make that kind of formal expression if their response or baptism is in a public assembly, regardless of how many times they confessed it in our private study. But it is not because their baptism would be invalid if they did not go through that ritual. I do it for the same reason that at their baptism I say something like, “Upon a confession of your faith in Christ, by His authority I now baptize you into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins.” I often hold my hand high in the air when I speak those solemn words. God does not require that I utter aloud a single word, or hold my hand in any particular position for the person’s baptism to be valid. I am trying to make sure that everyone who listens understands that it is necessary to confess Christ and that the person has done it. I want them to understand that the person is being baptized by the authority of Christ, not merely as a whim or a “church ordinance.” I want them to understand the solemnity of the occasion, and the fact that baptism is for the remission of sins. If a person does not know he is a sinner, and understand what Jesus said to do in order to be saved, he cannot obey the gospel (Romans 6:17-18) and be made free from sin. Jesus did not say, “You may believe a lie and be made free from sin if you mean well,” but “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But I do not have to “regurgitate a formula” as one of our well-known brethren inelegantly put it.
The plan of salvation is simple enough that it can be obeyed by any person who wants to obey it. But some questions that may be raised with regard to some implication of some part of the plan may cause it to sound complicated. To illustrate that thought, let us suppose I tell my little grandchild to turn the light on. She knows where the switch is, and obeying me is not too complicated. If she begins to raise questions about the nature of electricity, what is the difference in alternating and direct current, how one determines the wattage of a bulb as it is manufactured, and what difference it makes, she may assume that the matter is so complicated that she can never obey me. But the simple truth is that any normal three-year-old child can obey the command to turn the light on.
There are those who say, “The only thing that matters in baptism is that one must have the proper condition of the heart.” Two things are wrong with that statement. First, there is no scriptural definition of “proper condition of the heart.” Is it that one must feel a desire to obey the Lord at this time? Is it that one must be willing to surrender his own will to the Lord in all things, at all times? Is it that he must understand all the implications and consequences of what he is about to do? The second thing wrong with the statement, in addition to its ambiguity, is that even if we defined “the proper condition of the heart” in an exact and biblical way, it is improper to say, “That is the only thing that matters.” Philosophically, pragmatically, and theologically, there are NO situations of which we are aware where we can take any one factor and properly say, “That is the only thing that matters.” Neither salvation, nor any other event is ever accomplished by or dependent upon only one factor.
That is why it is both philosophically and theologically unsound to attribute salvation to faith only, grace only, love only, baptism only, or any other one factor. The Bible plainly teaches that we are saved by the preaching of the gospel, by the love of God, by the blood of Christ, by grace, by faith, by baptism, obedience from the heart and other things. This is not our subject at this time, but illustrates why one should never say, “The only thing that matters is—.”
To conclude what seems to be trying to grow into a small book, let us be aware that if we try to make “the five steps of conversion” into some sort of legalistic, ritualistic, simplistic formula we destroy the plan, and betray theMan.But if we try to complicate it by requiring that one understand all the questions that may be raised about each step, we raise barriers that make the hope and assurance of salvation impossible.
If one says, “Hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized are all that are necessary to salvation,” he has not done justice to the subject. Thousands have heard something, believed something, repented of something, confessed something and been baptized in some fashion and still have no promise of salvation. But when one has heard the same gospel the Apostles taught, believed the same truths about Christ they required, repented as they instructed, made the same kind of confession that all saved persons in the New Testament evidently made, and were immersed with the same understanding they had (however limited it may have been), we do wrong when we demand more. We have no right to suggest that less is sufficient.