“And some men came down (to Antioch) from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according tot he custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren (there) determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.” (Acts 15:1-2)
And so we have what is called the First Church Council, convened by the early church fathers to answer the question ‘How are we saved?’ Is it by faith alone or are works of the law required? Must a Gentile become a Jew to be saved?
The reason this is on my mind today is that I’ve been in a dialogue with a preacher in the Church of Christ denomination (although he and their leaders insist they are not a denomination!). He gave me a packet of pamphlets written by one of their elders which he is distributing. I took it home with me, read through them, and was answering them. When I concluded he was more interested in defending their narrow (and erroneous) interpretation of the truth than in finding and doing the truth as taught in Scriptures, I shut the discussion down.
One of the pamphlets addresses the question “What must I do to be saved?” from Acts 16:30. But instead of giving the answer Paul gave–“Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, you and your household”–the writer proceeded to attack the very answer Paul gave. In one paragraph, he writes:
“Here are a few things taught by men which are contrary to God’s words: 1) Saved by grace only; 2) Saved by faith only; 3) Pray the sinner’s prayer; 4) Ask Jesus to come into your heart and save you and He will; 5) Come to the mourner’s bench; 6) You are saved by faith and then are to be baptized.”
What follows is my response…
One. First, it’s almost comical the way leaders of that group will say theirs is not a denomination. It puts us in mind of the old adage “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Mostly, it calls to mind I Corinthians 1:12 where the congregation in Corinth was splintering into little groups. One said, “We’re of Paul,” while another said, “We are of Apollos,” and a third group said, “We’re of Cephas (Peter).” Meanwhile, another group–with more than a touch of self-righteousness– insisted they weren’t part of any split, but “We are of Christ.” And they were just as divided as the rest.
Why they do not see this is beyond me.
Two. The First Church Council, convened in Jerusalem around A.D. 50 to answer the greatest question in human history–“How do we get in on the blessings of Christ and live forever with Him in the Father’s house?”–answered the question in no uncertain terms.
You will look in vain for any mention of baptism.
First, after Paul and Barnabas had presented their case, the Apostle Peter stood and said to the council, “We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:11).
Then, in issuing the verdict of the council, James the half-brother of our Lord and the apparent leader, said, “It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles,” but simply abstain from idol-worship, from sexual fornication, and from consuming blood and eating things strangled.
If the early church leaders saw anything wrong with “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,” this was their opportunity to set the record straight. They did not.
The Church of Christ, you will remember, insists that one must be baptized in order to be saved. We say Scripture does teach baptism, to be sure, but as an act that follows faith, as the first act of obedience for a new disciple. But baptism is not a part of the gospel of Jesus. Read on.
Three. Before replying to the misleading paragraph in the brother’s pamphlet, let’s set the record straight on baptism. I give you two Scriptures, Romans 1:16 and I Corinthians 1:17.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe…” Romans 1:17. Do you believe this? That the gospel alone is the power of God for salvation? Then, read on…
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” I Corinthians 1:17 Baptism, by Paul’s own admission, is not a part of the gospel.
Those trying to proect their erroneous teaching will insist that we are taking those scriptures out of context. We aren’t. Study the passages for yourself.
At this point, the question for a sincere seeker is: “Do you want to know God’s truth or simply to argue a point?” If you want to know God’s truth, there it is in front of you. You’ll find it there in Acts 15 also.
Well, let’s get to it…
Four. From the pamphlet written by the Church of Christ minister, here are what he calls “six things taught by men which are contrary to God’s Word”….
(1) Saved by grace only.
The early apostles would be surprised to find this listed as a heresy by the Church of Christ, when they themselves said so clearly in Acts 15:11 that this is how everyone is saved. It’s what Ephesians 2:8-9 says. Nothing could be clearer.
There is simply no reason for us to belabor this point with scripture upon scripture here.
2) Saved by faith only.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, along with your household.” Acts 16:31. So, according to the Church of Christ, Paul was preaching heresy.
If they point out that Paul and Silas immediately took the jailer and his family down to the river for baptism (16:33), we completely concur. That’s what we believe should happen. Baptism follows faith. It’s the same point as in Acts 8:36-37 where the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized, but Philip answers, “You may, if you believe with all your heart!” The man answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he was then baptized. Not in order to be saved, mind you. But because he had been saved.
Read the Gospel of John and show us where Jesus presented any other way of salvation than to believe. And if one insists baptism is essential to salvation, we give you John 4:2, where Jesus baptized no one.
Anyone reading Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians cannot escape the point he keeps making again and again, that by the works of the law no one is justified. And by the law, he’s talking about “works of the flesh,” not just circumcision and Sabbath-keeping.
3) Pray the sinner’s prayer.
The Church of Christ guy says this is a false way of salvation taught by men. However, we have the words right out of the mouth of our Savior Himself….
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself…. But the tax-collector, standing some distance away, was unwilling to lift up his eyes to Heaven, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me the sinner!’ I tell you this man (the tax-collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other….” (Luke 18:10ff).
If that’s not a sinner’s prayer, someone please tell us what it is. But according to the Church of Christ preacher, Jesus was teaching error.
(4) Ask Jesus to come into your heart and save you and He will.
“Behold I stand at your door and knock,” Jesus said. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will dine with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name” (John 1:12).
What could be clearer? We are not saying–as the critics may imply–that there are magic words which one may say and God is obligated to obey. We are saying what is said all through the New Testament that when people repent and put faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God saves them.
When I was saved, I said nothing other than a tearful, “O God! O God!” I was 11 years old, kneeling at the altar of the New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church outside Nauvoo, Alabama. Friends and relatives gathered around me at the altar (mourner’s bench?). I couldn’t get a word out, I was so heart-broken over my condition. But when I stood up a few minutes later, I was a new person. Saved. Free. And I’ve been saved ever since.
It’s not the words. It’s the heart.
(5) Come to the mourner’s bench.
Wherever you are, you can be saved. There is no one place, no magic words, and no wrong way to give your heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Period.
(6) You are saved by faith and then are to be baptized.
According to the CofC preacher, this is heresy. And yet we have the Great Commission: “As you are going therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I’ve commanded you” (Mathew 28:19-20). Baptizing whom? Those who have been made disciples.
Those are the six attacks on the veracity of God’s word, where the CofC minister contradicts the very things taught by our Lord.
And then we have the smoking gun: Acts 2:38.
The problem, of course, and the basis for almost every false thing taught by the CofC denomination is found in Acts 2:38. At Pentecost, when the crowds heard the preaching of Peter, they said, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….”
Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness (or remission) of sins. That is the single sentence upon which all their flawed doctrine is based.
–Let me say first of all, we have no trouble with the sentence. If a person repents of sin and turns to the Lord Jesus Christ and is baptized, they are forgiven and saved.
–The problem is the comma after repent. As though Peter said, “Repent, and then be baptized.” To the CofC interpretation, “repent” is one thing and ‘be baptized for the remission of sins” another thing. And it’s the baptism that produces the forgiveness.
There is no comma in the original. The Greek language had no punctuation such as we do. So, in Bible translation, where to put periods, semi-colons, quotation marks, etc., is a matter of interpretation. The Greek simply says “repent and be baptized.” No comma.
Imagine building an entire doctrinal system on a comma.
–The CofC friend accuses us of downgrading baptism, of making it unimportant. Some have done that, let us admit, and made it optional. They’re wrong to do so. But neither should we elevate baptism as a requirement to be saved.
–Here is what one of our scholars wrote concerning Acts 2:38. (Anyone wishing to know the source may text me.)
“This might better be translated ‘because of the remission of sins.’ Baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The reality of forgiveness precedes the rite of baptism. Genuine repentance brings from God the forgiveness (remission) of sins (cf. Ephesians 1:7) and because of that the new believer was to be baptized. Baptism, however, was to be the ever-present act of obedience, so that it became synonymous with salvation. Thus to say one was baptized for forgiveness was the same as saying one was saved.”
Are there problems with any doctrinal position?
Probably. Few doctrines are as clear cut as we would wish them to be. For instance, we have Paul’s epistles emphasizing faith and not works, but we have the little letter of James emphasizing that “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
We have the above clear teachings about baptism, but we also have “whereby baptism now saves you” from I Peter 3:21. There are clear answers to this, and I suggest the sincere seeker after the Lord’s truth look into it. Read those who believe in baptismal regeneration and those who do not, and make up your own mind. (This article is overly long as it is.)
What we must not do is conclude any little group has the edge on all the truth and all those other faithful, loving, dedicated followers of Jesus throughout the world are deluded and hell-bound because they did not dot their “i” or cross their “t” the way we think they should. I’m happy to tell you no Southern Baptist believes we alone have the truth and that all others are wrong. We gladly call millions of sincere believers with whom we may have doctrinal differences our brothers and sisters.
Jesus once said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it is from God…” (John 7:17). Indeed.