I recently received an email from one of the WTBW? regulars, "SammyBoy", requesting that we weigh on a prevalent issue/question within the church. Sam is a good brother and deep thinker. So guys & gals, read below and have at it.
Sam's email message to me...
I’m often involved in on-line discussions, with people from all sides of the faith spectrum. One discussion I’m in right now concerns baptism (as so many of our RM discussions seem to). I’m going to paste into this note an entry I’m making in that discussion. I wondered if it might be fodder for your blog, for you and others to respond to.
The question at hand is something like this: Can we have any hope that, in the Christian era, individuals have been/will be saved who have not submitted to immersion into Jesus (the main caveat being that the people under discussion miss immersion because of simple ignorance or bad teaching, rather than rebellious rejection; and that they are people who are, as best they know how, intending to be faithful to God, trusting in Jesus’ atonement for forgiveness from sin.)
Please note that I have no hesitancy in preaching the truth about immersion’s role in salvation. I teach it and preach it as part of man’s God-commanded response to the gospel. The question on the table is not so much about immersion as it is about God’s grace and the extent to which He may extend it.
Sam's aforementioned post:
Okay, here's how I see that aspect of "grace overlooking imperfect behavior and adherence" working in the NT scheme. What is generally acknowledged (by classic RMer's, anyway) as being necessary on man's side of the salvation covenant is: intellectual understanding of God's godhood and Christ's atonement (belief); emotional and volitional investment in God's godhood and Christ's atonement (faith); verbal and behavioral acknowledgment of God's godhood and Christ's atonement (confession);emotional, volitional and moral response to God's godhood and Christ's atonement (repentance); and submission to a specific expression of all that (immersion).
Two of these five items -- the first and the last -- are "point in time" things. There is a point in time when you come to initial intellectual acceptance of the whole idea (belief) and a point in time when you act out the specific expression called for (immersion). And as I said in another place among these conversations, that could be part of the reason we tend to be so adamant about baptism -- it's relatively easy to verify. If you tell me you've been immersed into Jesus' death, that can be checked (not that we ever do.) And if I've been immersed into Jesus' death, it's almost like an item on a checklist -- there we go, got that one accomplished; don't have to worry about it any more.
However, the other three are all things that we continue to grow into as we live out the Christian walk. And we fulfill them with varying degrees of success -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- throughout our lives. That varying response quality on our part is the reason we have to continue to rely on God's grace after our conversion. God commands of us these three things -- faith, confession, repentance -- as part of our side in the salvation covenant, just as strongly as He commands the two point-in-time events. But as perfect as I can be in those two, I am imperfect in these three things. I would like to be perfectly faithful . . . but I'm not. I would like to be perfectly repentant . . . but I'm not. I would like to confess God's godhood and Christ's atonement with every word I say and everything I do . . . but I don't. And so I rely on grace to cover for those times when I am imperfect in behavior and adherence.
I know that you would agree with that. But here's one of two places where this whole discussion comes to a head -- if God, in the NT scheme, is willing to apply His grace and Jesus' perfection to my imperfect behavior and adherence in these three, why wouldn't He be willing to do so in the other two? (And surely He does in the first -- when I first come to believe, there are huge gaps in my understanding of God.) If He gracefully accepts the atoning blood of Christ where my faithful intentions and efforts in faith, confession and repentance come up short, why do we believe that He would refuse to do so concerning baptism?
Three things I hope you'll note at this point -- 1) at this point, I'm not arguing or trying to convince you of anything or trying to score points in a debate. This is a point where I struggle to find just the right answer spoken just the right way. If you can help me toward that, I'll be grateful.
2) I'm still dealing with unintentional, faithful failure or ignorance, and not rebellious rejection.
3) Simply saying, "Because the Bible says to be baptized" does not address the question sufficiently. The Bible also makes commands about faith, confession and repentance. Now, if what I'm about to say is incorrect, i beg your forgiveness, but I'm going to guess that at least part of your response will be something like this: Once you're in covenant relationship. grace covers a lot of failure, but you have to first be in covenant relationship for that to be. And since immersion is what brings you into covenant relationship, its absence can't be allowed. In fact, you've essentially already said it, when you said [i]"I believe He is gracious to those of us in Covenant relationship because of our weakness but covenant is paramount to even be considered sons and you have already expressed agreement as to how one enters this state."[/i] But I would assert that all five of those items are commanded for entering the covenant, and I am certain that none of us can confidently claim perfection in faith or repentance at the time of our conversion. So the question remains, Why does grace cover unintentional, faithful failure in #'s 2, 3, and 4, and not #5?