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IS BAPTISM AN OUTWARD SIGN OF AN INWARD GRACE?

by Leroy Garrett

Essay 484 (5-15-15)

I thought you might be interested in my response to this reader’s question about baptism. First his letter:

     I wanted to run something by you, as it represents a change in my belief of a basic tenant of our faith in the Church of Christ/Christian Church. My father was a very conservative Christian Church minister, with the typical viewpoint concerning baptism, of course based on Acts 2:38. But there are so many scriptures that emphasize that we are saved through faith in Jesus that I cannot any longer discount those passages. Our previous minister here in Bakersfield actually could not bring himself to include John 3:16, as it so clearly states that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It didn’t include baptism as saving us, so he was embarrassed to include it in the plan of salvation. But it is quite clear that anyone who believes would be saved. Of course, the Baptist viewpoint is that one is first saved through faith, and then is baptized as an “outward sign of an inward grace.” I have come to believe that they are correct in this viewpoint.

     My wife went forward to accept Christ when she was 10 years old. She wanted to complete her obedience with baptism, but her parents felt she was too young. They finally acquiesced when she turned 12. I feel that from 10 to 12 years of age, she was in a saved position through her faith in Jesus. I certainly do not envision her being turned away because she hadn’t been baptized. I am certainly glad that God is the judge and not I. But I know that the Scriptures do not lie when they say that we are saved through faith in Jesus.

     What do you feel concerning this matter? You say you agree with the Baptists” reference to baptism being “An outward sign of an inward grace.” Even though it is not a biblical phrase, I agree with you that it is an acceptable description of baptism. Peter gets close to saying this in 1 Peter 3:21: Baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Answer could be rendered sign or assurance. That is, when one obeys the Lord in baptism it gives him the assurance or sign of a good conscience toward God. If one refuses baptism he has no such assurance.

     When Alexander Campbell referenced baptism as a sign he said it is like going from Pennsylvania into Ohio. How do you know you are in Ohio? A sign reads “Entering Ohio.” How do I know I’m saved? I’ve been to the river and been baptized. Or it is like a wedding ring, Campbell said. The bride wears a sign on her person indicating that she is married.

     Luther understood this when he responded to the pope referring to him as “That drunken monk in Germany.” “The pope can’t talk about me like that,” the reformer said, “for I’ve been baptized just as he has!” He didn’t say “I believe in Christ just as he does.” Faith is not a sign or answer. Baptism is.

     The Baptists are saying more than they realize when they assert that baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. They neither believe this nor practice this. They hold that baptism has nothing to do with being saved, that it means nothing more than a way to join their particular denomination. If they believed it then they would have to say that the unbaptized have no assurance of their salvation, for they do not have the outward sign.

     In turning from your former emphasis on Acts 2:38 — and your dad’s — to an emphasis on John 3:16, aren’t you exchanging one set of Scriptures for another? Why not emphasize both — both faith (John 3:16) and baptism (Acts 2:38)? The rule is that if any verse requires a condition for salvation, there can never be less than that required, but there may be more required in other Scriptures. For instance John 3:16 says nothing about repentance, but it is abundantly mandated in other Scriptures. If we say, as we might, that repentance is implied in John 3:16, then we can also say obedience (baptism) is implied.

     While we in Churches of Christ/Christian Churches have made Acts 2:38 monumental, there are other Scriptures equally demanding or more so. Take Acts 22:16: “Why do you tarry? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins!” Saul of Tarsus, the terrorist, is now a believer and saved, but he does not yet have the sign of assurance — or the answer of a good conscience — and so baptism is dramatically mandated. How could a passage be clearer? Not exactly a Baptist verse!

     Even more compelling is Colossians 2:11-12 where baptism is referred to as a circumcision not made with hands, administered by Christ himself! We are not circumcised in the heart by Christ when we believe but when we are “buried with Christ in baptism” (Verse 12).

     This makes baptism into Christ something to be taken very seriously. There are those in Scripture who rejected the will of God by rejecting the baptism of John (Luke 7:30). How much more serious to reject the baptism of Christ!

      Yes, of course, your wife was saved when she believed at age 10. To say otherwise would make God a demon. It reminds me of another Campbell story. When J. B. Jeter, prominent Virginia Baptist minister and author of the critical Campbellism Examined, visited Campbell in his old age he told him there was one thing he needed to do before he died — correct the impression that he believed in baptismal regeneration.

     Campbell’s response is most enlightening. Citing Titus 3:5, he said that baptism is not regeneration per se, but the washing of regeneration as Titus 3:5 says. Regeneration begins with faith and culminates in the washing (baptism) of regeneration. As he put it in another context, one is actually saved (regenerated) at the point of faith and formally saved (regenerated) at baptism. Another way to see this — and I got this from Carl Ketcherside — is that just as in a natural birth life does not begin at birth but at conception, so life in Christ does not begin at baptism but when one believes (conception). The believer has life and is our brother. The assurance of this comes with baptism.

     I recall while visiting an Indian province (the nation India) that it was against the law for one to be baptized before age 17. Our people there allowed their teenagers to profess their faith in Christ nd then wait until age 17 to be baptized.

     And if in the meantime they die? Its like asking the old bromide, “If one believes, confesses Christ, and then a tree limb falls on him and kills him on the way to be baptized, is he saved?” Anyone asking such questions not only misunderstands baptism but makes void the grace of God. But for a legalistic, biblical answer, such ones die amidst being regenerated (incomplete because of unavoidable circumstances) and are of course saved. Unless God is a bully.

 

Leroy Garett was an author, publisher, scholar and preacher of the Churches of Christ. He resided in Denton Texas.  He passed away on Sept. 29, 2015.  His funeral was held at the Singing Oaks Church of Christ  in Denton.




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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