HOW MUCH MUST ONE KNOW TO BE A CHRISTIAN?
T. PIERCE BROWN
The answers to this question seem to range from the idea that one must know the truth about practically every doctrinal issue to the idea that one needs only to know (or have a sort of vague belief) that Jesus is the son of God, and that he is willing to obey some command of Jesus. When many great gospel preachers such as Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb and others taught that all a person needs to believe is that Jesus is the Son of God, it is probable that they meant that a person has to believe WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES about the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. There is a great deal of difference in saying, “I believe that Jesus is the son of God” and actually believing in the Jesus of which the apostles wrote. I heard a modernist preach a “great” sermon about the resurrection of Christ, and was thrilled by it until at the close of his sermon he said, “Of course I do not believe there was any empty tomb.” All he meant was what some call “a spiritual resurrection”–a resurrection of hope in the mind of the apostles. How silly it is to assume that the apostles would have had “a resurrection of hope” if the Jesus in whom their hope rested had still been in the tomb. But the point now is that one may use the right words, “I believe Jesus is the son of God” or “I believe in the resurrection” or “I believe that baptism is essential” or any other number of expressions, and not mean what most of us may assume they mean, and what the Bible requires. A few days ago I heard one of our own brethren who is now teaching false doctrine say that he taught that baptism was essential. Hundreds of brethren assumed that he meant that baptism was essential to salvation, or was for the remission of sins. When he was asked about it in more detail, he explained that baptism was essential for a Christian to show his gratitude for the fact that Christ had saved him by His grace, but was not in order to get remission of sins.
The question raised in this article is, “What does the Bible require us to know?” Since Jesus told them to preach the gospel to every creature, (MK.16:15) before he said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” he must have meant that one has to believe the gospel before one’s baptism is valid. This conclusion is made even more definite when we read that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to all that believe (Rom.1:16). Then, we need to know what the gospel is. Is it merely the fact that a person called Jesus died for mankind? Surely any student of the Bible knows that although the basic meaning of the gospel is “good news” it is not just any good news. It includes the good news that although mankind is lost in sin, God so loved the world that he sent his unique Son to die on our behalf. Even a “confession” that one believes Jesus to be the son of God may only mean that God is the Father of the human race, and Jesus was one of the best humans that ever lived. That is not the confession Jesus had in mind when he demanded confession before promising salvation. However, the good news could not be complete if it did not also include how we are to accept the benefits of that gracious love.
So the gospel has to include commands that can be obeyed. Otherwise we could make no sense of 2 THES. 8, ” rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” One cannot obey the fact that Jesus died for our sins. He can obey the commands that tell him how to appropriate those facts and obtain the blessings provided thereby.
To help us understand better what the gospel is and is not, let us examine the statement of Paul in Gal. 1:6-8, ” I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel, only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.” Did these persons believe that Jesus was the Christ? Did they teach that a person should be baptized in obedience to the Lord? Surely there is no doubt that they did. But they were still not believing and preaching the real gospel. What was the result? They would be lost. There is no power in a perverted gospel to save a person. Can any thoughtful person properly assume that a person would be lost for preaching that perverted “gospel” but that a person would be saved by believing and obeying it? If not, how could one possibly conclude that a person could be saved merely by believing that Jesus was the Christ (though not necessarily the final authority) and by being baptized with some sort of false belief? When Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” could he possibly have meant, “He that believeth a perverted or false gospel and is baptized as a result of that shall be saved?”
Notice carefully that this principle has nothing whatever to do with the idea that a person must know the truth about everything God revealed, including all the blessings that are in Christ, or what the glorified body is like, or even whether one has to take the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week in order for his baptism to be valid. But since the gospel has to do with the good news that, although we are lost, we can be saved in obedience to the plan of salvation offered by God’s grace, if we do not believe that we are lost, do not know what the plan is, and if we learn what it, deny that we need to obey it, we are not believing and teaching the gospel.
Any discussion about whether or not we need to “regurgitate a formula” or need to have a theological comprehension of what is meant by the expression, “for the remission of sins,” may merely confuse the basic issue. In its simplest form, the basic issue is, “If a person has heard, believed and obeyed the real, genuine, true, authentic gospel, his baptism is valid, and he was saved from his past sins at that point. If he had not, he has no promise of that salvation.”
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600