I grew up when Diff'rent Strokes was a popular television show. That's no big deal unless your last name is Willis. To this day I still hear those famous words popularized by Arnold: "Whatchu talkin bout Willis?" Usually they are uttered by someone looking at me as though I may have never heard it before. Yeah, right! Well this blog is what I (Willis) am talkin bout...my thoughts, observations & opinions. Enjoy...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Your Thoughts?

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?


David H. Willis said...


No responses yet. Sorry bro. Some folks don't care to speculate, but I'll throw my thoughts out since this is a frequently asked question & is debated often.

I heard Bob Russell say years ago that he wondered if the God who has enough grace to forgive our moral errors has enough grace to forgive our doctrinal errors. Now, that's too broad for my liking, but it is a provocative point nonetheless.

Jack Cottrell used terminology in his baptism book that made a few RM folks uncomfortable. He wrote of "absolute necessity" (faith) & "relative necessity" (baptsim). He developed his thoughts well and you've probably read them.

I think it was Olin Haye (sp?) who said somethiong like "When asked if unimmmersed believers coud be saved, I used to day 'no way.' Now I say 'I hope so.'" I get that and want it to be my approach too.

Now I understand some of our brethren's hesistance to take up such a discussion becusse it presents a slippery slope of sorts. I prefer rock solid ground myself.

I like to use a courtroom analogy to explain my view. Picure the uimmersed beliver on judgment Day. What is his destiny? Some of our guys want to be his prosecutor (I used to be that guy). Many others these days want to be his defense attorney. All I can do is be a witness & tell the truth. Whatever the Judge decided is infallbly right and I am most happy about that! It's not my call.

I say baptism is "essential for the assurance of salvation" (another Russell quote). I used to belittle such a view as beling "soft" but now I prefer it! Gp figure.


Anonymous said...

Hey dude,

I've been out of town for a week, but I'll jump right in. No fear...

I still hold to the view I grew up with--baptism is the time and place when God applies the cross to a person. However...

I totally think Sam's thinking has validity. And like you, I'm no longer willing to step into God's shoes.

Instead, I take Hezekiah's view. Back in 2 Chronicles 30 (or somewhere around there), Hezekiah sent out an invite to all the tribes to celebrate Passover. Only four showed up, and many didn't prepare properly. Hezekiah's prayer is revolutionary: May the Lord pardon every one who prepared his heart to seek God. They didn't obey some of the conditions for eating the Passover... but God forgave them anyway.

Hezekiah's prayer should be ours (I learned that nugget from Faull). After all, we've all changed views on certain things after lots of prayer and study, and may certainly do so again.

Levi said...

So I can't add much here that hasn't been said. I hope God is merciful but I'm sure that those who have been immersed are going to be saved. It's kind of like what will happen to those who never heard the gospel and had a chance to accept Christ question i've gotten many times. My answer I don't know but I do know that those who have accepted and meet him in immersion are saved through Christ's sacrifice. Our response as Christians is to share the truth and take it to everyone.