Jan 16

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There is a practice among us to quote the early preachers (1800 – 1900), those who were “searching for the ancient order of things,” and to use them as authority. As one who teaches, “The history of the churches of Christ in America” (Having changed the term by which his period is identified because of how it has been abused.), one of the early things I learned was that it was not easy to come out of denominationalism! Then, as one who came out of denominationalism, I can say first hand, it is not easy to put away what one has been taught and embraced as truth for years! Thus, I have a firsthand experience, yet, my “darkness” was not near so “dark” as those early searchers!
In my teaching, I have described their efforts as, “one step forward and two backward” and two steps forward and one step backwards,” but finally, they were taking more steps forwards than they were taking backwards. Yet, at times they appeared to fall backwards! However, it is described, it was never as easy as one might believe! This continuing struggle can be seen in the writings of many, if not most, of those early “searchers!” One place this can be seen is in the subject of baptism.
Before getting into their writings, which show the personal struggles, allow me to point out that we have among us some young and some not so young preachers today, and yesterday, who have taken up the same debate, that a person does not have to believe that baptism is unto remission of sins; in order to have his sins forgiven in baptism. That is, if a person believes that he was saved, that his sins were forgiven before baptism, nevertheless, his baptism is biblical. Meaning, it is still according to Jesus’ words: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). In fact, this person may believe that these words do not be belong in the New Testament at all! This person in fact, does not believe Peter’s words: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (eis, into, unto, to, towards) the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). As he believes that he was saved before being baptized; that his sins were forgiven before and without baptism! Yet, it is now being taught, and has been taught by some through the years, that this person’s baptism is biblical and should be acceptable.
It is easy to quote from the early preachers, of which we wrote above, at different times in their writings views which go backwards and forwards. Take a quote from Alexander Campbell: “Therefore, none but those who have first believed the testimony of God and have repented of their sins, and that have been intelligently immersed into his death, have the full and explicit testimony of God, assuring them of pardon. To such only as are truly penitent, dare we say, ‘Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord,’ and to such only can we with assurance, ‘You are washed, you are justified, you are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God.” (The Christian System, 1839). Does this read like Campbell was teaching that a person who had no idea, or one who even did not believe that baptism is unto the remission of his sins, should “Arise and be baptized?” Just ask such a person, “When did you receive remission of your sins?” If he should say, “I received remission of my sins before being baptized;” it is clear he was not had not “been intelligently immersed into his (Christ’s) death;” that he did not “have the full and explicit testimony of God, assuring them of pardon.” Yet, you might read in another place in Campbell’s writings: “There is no occasion, then, for making immersion, on a profession of faith, absolutely essential to a Christian–though it may be greatly essential to his sanctification and comfort. … But he that thence infers that none are Christians but the immersed, as greatly errs as he who affirms that none are alive but those of clear and full vision” (Lunenburg Letter, 1837).
However, in 1851, reflecting on almost 30 years of controversial discussion about the subject, Campbell wrote: “I say, then, that in order to the union of Christians, we must have a definite and unmistakable term indicating one and the same conception to every mind. If, then, the Christian Church ever become really and visibly one, she must have one immersion, or one baptism.”(Millennial Harbinger, 1852, p. 210).
So, what is the point? Men are subject to change; therefore, our authority does not rest in man, but in Jesus Christ! In “the teaching of Christ”(2 John 9) we have fellowship with God and Christ and outside “the teaching of Christ” there is no fellowship with God, or Christ!

— Frank R. William

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