Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Great Commission and participles

Having recently read a lengthy paper on the great commission in which I was criticized by name along with my friend and brother Ralph Gilmore, I thought it needful to clarify some matters. I said in an interview in the Christian Chronicle:

"I believe baptized believers in the Independent Christian Church are my brethren, since everyone who is scripturally born of water and the Spirit is a child of God."

The question arose earlier this year whether one must know everything Jesus teaches in order to become a disciple of the Lord. Earl Edwards, in defense of Ralph, noted at FHU in February that he did not feel one had to know everything Jesus taught first before becoming a Christian. I share that view.

Part of the problem here is in trying to understand the phrase "make disciples" as it is used in Matt. 28:19. Discipleship begins when one who penitently believes is immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

But discipleship is a lifelong pursuit, and the goal is discipleship maturity. One can only mature as a disciple by learning to observe all that Jesus commands. Many people who obey the gospel by believing and being baptized do not grow to maturity (Luke 8:13). Throughout the New Testament we have saved Christians needing further teaching (Heb. 5:11-14; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Being a disciple, like believing and repenting and confessing, is a lifelong pursuit.

On the other hand, obeying the gospel, is culminated (after faith, love, repentance and confession) in the act of baptism. Baptism is the means by which the covenant relationship is sealed, while observing the commandments is how the relationship is lived out. One may consequently enter into a relationship in a moment but lives it out over a lifetime.

If one later fails to obey the teaching, this does not mean one never became a brother or sister in Christ. It means that one has failed to continue learning and observing all the commandments and loses fellowship with Christ. Baptism is a once-for-all act, but teaching and learning last for a lifetime. One can baptize after teaching the gospel on the same hour of the night (thus saving and making a new disciple) as Paul did the jailer in Acts 16 and Philip did the Eunuch in Acts 8; but discipleship lasts for a lifetime. It is only the one who endures that is saved (Matt. 10:22; 24:13). Those who turn back are not fit to be disciples (Luke 9:62).

We do not suggest here that a baptism apart from faith or repentance is sufficient (Please see the chapters on the ConversionProcess and Salvation in the Evangelism Handbook: ).

Consider: did these people know all the commandments of Jesus before baptism?
  • the people at Pentecost (Acts 2:36-42) why then the devotion to the apostles teaching after baptism?
  • the Eunuch after only one sermon (Acts 8)
  • Saul of Tarsus after the brief encounters with Jesus and Ananias (Acts 9:1-11; 22:12-16)
  • Lydia (Acts 16)
  • the jailer (Acts 16)

The belief that we must teach people all that the Lord commands breaks down in the practice of the apostles and prophets of the early church. We must not make rules for God and demand more of people than the Scriptures require.

Lest anyone accuse me here of saying there are no necessary things one must know to become a Christian, let me point them to

I am not alone in suggesting that a person believing in the Lord, loving Him, penitently confessing Him before others, and being immersed in water in His name for the remission of sins is my brother. There are congregations of the Lord's church that teach exactly what I teach in the matter of gospel obedience, and I count them brethren.

This does not mean that because of other teachings and practices, I can embrace them. I will call a person in the Independent Christian Church my brother; but I will also ask him to repent of using the instrument in worship. I will call the one-cupper my brother, but I will also call on him to repent of making a law where God has not made one (in binding the one cup). Are the teachers on pre-millennialism in Kentucky in churches of Christ my brethren? Yes, but I call on them to leave that false doctrine. Being my brother is one thing; fellowshipping my brother is another.

We should not so harden our hearts against a brother who teaches error that we no longer consider him a brother. James said, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

H. Leo Boles, in that 1937 unity meeting, gave a stirring rebuke to those who use the instrument in his hour and a half speech "The Way of Unity between the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ." But he called them brethren again and again.

Must those who come out of the Christian Church be baptized again? My answer is no, if they were Scripturally baptized to begin with.

Dan Goddard, who came out of the Christian church tells his own story:

"When I came to the truth in 1972 my wife and I decided that we wanted to be baptized over again. I asked several Old time gospel preachers what we ought to do. Men like Guy N. Woods, Gus Nichols, G. K. Wallace, Tom Warren and the list would include several others. These men told me all that was necessary for me to do was repent. To be baptized again was not necessary. So for a while I didn't do anything. I studied the question and decided that to be sure and safe in my relationship to God my wife and I would be baptized over again."

I certainly encourage those who have doubts to be baptized again; it is better to be sure and safe. But I think the "Old time gospel preachers" were right: rebaptism here is not necessary. I will not bind my opinion on others.

Were this a person who had not been immersed, had not believed at time of baptism, had not repented of sin, had not been willing to confess the name of Jesus, believed in some cultish prophet, or believed some great falsehood about the one God, I would have counseled proper, Scriptural baptism. But I see little need of counseling Scriptural baptism to the one who is already Scripturally baptized.

Those who disagree might do well to check out some of the sites online associated with the Independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ. There are many there that teach the gospel just as do we. (There are even a few that I feel more in common with than I do with those who destroy the need for immersion among churches of Christ.)

There are others who are denominational and compromising of the faith, committing the same error as those in churches of Christ who deny the one baptism. I cannot recommend them. I would have to ask some questions to know which are brethren and which are not.

I hope this clears up some of the ambiguity.



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