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Four Important Answers

by Bob Russeii

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION

Dear Bob,

     I am attending a Bible study.  The leader said that you personally have stated that you could not know for sure that you were going to Heaven. He added that Southeast Christian, where you preached for decades, teaches that when you are baptized the water literally washes your sins away and that you must be baptized to be saved. He also challenged the rationale of taking communion every week as you do in your church. Is there Scripture that speaks to that?  Also in light of this class, what do you say when you baptize someone, “I baptize you in the name of ____________??????.      

MY ANSWER

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer the questions raised in your Bible Study class.  Please feel free to pass along my answers to the one whose teaching prompted your email.

(1) God’s Word promises, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Jesus Himself promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). I am confident I will go to heaven when I die because I have put my trust in Christ…and He keeps His promises!  The Bible says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).

(2) Southeast Christian has taught consistently from its inception that we are saved by placing our trust in the atoning death of Jesus.  “It is by grace that you are saved, through faith, this is not of yourselves, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).   Only the blood of Christ can wash away sin.

When Simon Peter preached the first gospel sermon, the people in Jerusalem realized they had crucified the Son of God, and they desperately needed saving. The Bible says, “They were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other Apostles ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’”  (Acts 2:37-38).

It’s Jesus who saves, not the water of baptism.  But repentance from sin and baptism into Christ was the commanded response for those trusting Jesus. When people today ask what they are to do to receive God’s forgiveness I tell them to do the same thing that Simon Peter told them to do on the Day of Pentecost.   While I acknowledge that God saves some people without baptism, (The Old Testament patriarchs, the thief on the cross, little children, souls who are incapable of understanding the gospel or being baptized), those who genuinely put their trust in Christ are to express their faith by repenting and being baptized.

Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus, “And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Ananias certainly wasn’t saying the water would literally wash Saul’s sins away. Only Jesus could do that.  But clearly, when the believing, repentant sinner was baptized, he was assured that he belonged to Christ and was saved.

(3) There is no command in Scripture that specifies how often we are to observe the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus said, “As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me.”  While there is no direct command to take communion every week, there is an apostolic precedent.  The early Christians apparently observed the Lord’s supper every Sunday. Luke wrote, “On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).  Early church history confirms that the First Century believers had the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  In our attempt to restore New Testament Christianity we emulate their example. We don’t maintain that others who observe communion periodically are wrong…that’s just our practice.

(4) When I baptize people, I baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I do that because that’s exactly what Jesus commanded us to do when He gave the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  I’m aware there are some fringe groups (the Oneness Pentecostals) who insist that in the book of Acts people were baptized into the name of Jesus only and any other formula pronounced over a baptismal candidate is invalid.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, either pronouncement is essentially the same.  I am a husband, a dad, and a grandfather.  If you call me any of those names, you are addressing the same person.  Can you imagine God going to all the trouble of sending Jesus to die on the cross to save us and then eliminating some from salvation simply because the person baptizing them chose to use the wording in Matthew 28:18-20 instead of following Acts 19:5?  God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself, and God has not made the way to salvation a trick formula.

I am somewhat concerned that you are in a Bible study where the teacher is critical of other leaders who believe in the inspiration of God’s Word and the Lordship of Christ.  Please encourage this teacher to read the fourteenth chapter of Romans, especially verse 4 which asks,  “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?  To their own master, servants stand or fall.  And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

To attribute statements to me or others in the ministry of Southeast Christian such as, “when you are baptized the water literally washes your sins away” is blatantly false and borders on slander.  There are hundreds of sermon tapes available, and I would challenge this teacher to find one time that statement has been made.  Proverbs 6:19 warns against sowing discord among the brethren.  In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul pleads with Christians to be united. Ephesians 4:25 commands us to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”  If the leader of your Bible study continues to be divisive or make false claims, I think you would be wise to find another study.

 

                     Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

 

www.Bobrussell.org




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8