GRACE CENTERED MAGAZINE--THE UNBAPTIZED (PART 1)

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

Among the millions of websites one may run into on the internet is this one: . They call it Grace Centered Magazine, which is a misnomer. It would be better named Grace Over and Beyond the Emphasis Given to it in the New Testament Magazine (GOBEG, for short). The title page of the article from this magazine that we wish to review proclaims: "All Rights Reserved. No reproduction by any means without written permission from Grace Centered Magazine." This admonition may be a means of preventing quotations from being cited so that the material cannot be adequately reviewed. Such may not be the intention, but we will be careful to avoid direct citations whenever possible, resorting to paraphrasing.

Yet another peculiarity is that the author of "Are Unbaptized Believers Lost?" remains unidentified. Where one would expect to see his name, one only finds the words: "A STUDENT OF THE WORD," with footnote number 1 attached. The anonymous writer says that he does not want any ensuing discussion to center on him--but on the subject. He could have saved himself the trouble. Any discerning reader can tell immediately that the anonymous author 1) is a liberal; 2) mishandles the Scriptures; 3) desires to exalt grace above the emphasis provided in the Scriptures; and 4) has no respect for the Word of God. Had he attached the name of Rubel Shelly to it (or someone else of his ilk), it would have made no difference whatsoever. Most of us judge what someone writes on the basis of its content--not its author, and it is the content of this 34 pages that is flawed--no matter who wrote it. The document begins with a one-page introduction.

The writer reveals that he was once a faithful member of the church who believed the truth regarding salvation (but he no longer does). He once believed that a person's sins were removed at the point of baptism, but he has given it up. Why? He eventually decided that what happens to one who believes but has not been baptized is "an abiblical question," by which Anonymous means that the Bible does not directly deal with that question.

Really? Then why does he write a 34-page article on this subject? Here is the first false assumption of this treatise--that the Bible must address a subject directly in order for us to have knowledge on a Biblical topic. In effect, this approach does away with implication, which is a valid means that God has chosen to teach His principles. One might just as well argue that the question, "Can someone from the tribe of Judah be a priest?" is an abiblical question. Is there authority for Levites to be priests? Yes. There are explicit commands. But does any passage in the Law say that other Israelites could not be priests? No.

The fact that something is not directly addressed does not mean we have no information. Hebrews 7:14 makes it clear that a practice must be authorized, and that if it is not, it is wrong. God gave us the intelligence to figure out the implications of verses of Scriptures, and the fact that some infer what is not actually implied by God does not change that; it simply means that we must be careful. How could a question relating to salvation be abibilcal? Of course the Bible addresses vital spiritual questions--either directly or indirectly.

Every student of the Word knows that Jeroboam sinned in his worship changes. Forging the golden calves was a direct violation of the 2nd commandment. Setting them up in Dan and Bethel, however, was merely unauthorized. Changing the priesthood was also unauthorized and clearly a violation of the law (Heb. 7:14); moving the feast from the seventh to the eighth month also lacked God's approval. Only one of these was a direct violation of the law; the other three, according to the faulty reasoning of Anonymous, were abiblical. According to him, in the absence of a direct command, we could not draw a conclusion as to the sinfulness of such matters. Baloney!

It is the lack of authority for the use of musical instruments in the New Testament that keeps us from using them. No verse says: "Thou shalt not use mechanical instruments of music in worship to Me." Is this another abiblical question? Apparently, it does not matter that only singing is authorized. With the kind of rationale that Anonymous provides, we could not discuss dancing in worship, the use of prayer beads, or selling raffle tickets as a means of fund-raising, for they would all be abiblical questions.

The Bible and Baptism

What does the Bible say about the essentiality of baptism with respect to salvation? When Peter convinced many of the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that He had been raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ, they wanted to know what they should do. Peter answered, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). The reason for being baptized in this passage is to receive forgiveness of sins. So what happened to those who did not choose to be baptized that day? This is not a question that one must have advanced degrees in theology to answer. If a person needs to be baptized to have sins forgiven, then it stands to reason that, if he is not baptized, his sins are not forgiven. The only way this conclusion would not be true is if God had arranged more than one way to be saved.

Yet one's sins are not removed by believing only. Otherwise, Saul of Tarsus would have been saved on the road to Damascus, for he certainly believed after Jesus appeared to him. One cannot be saved as a result of fasting, because Saul did so for three days (Acts 9:9). One cannot be saved by praying, for Saul prayed, also (Acts 9:11). A person cannot be saved as a result of believing, fasting, and praying, because, when Ananias came to Saul, his sins had not yet been removed. Ananias then asked Saul, "And now, why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). If people could be saved by believing alone, why were they told to be baptized to have their sins removed?

The same apostle who preached to the Jews on Pentecost that they should be baptized for the remission of their sins later wrote: "There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism..." (1 Peter 3:21). If baptism is not part of salvation, then the Holy Spirit went to a considerable amount of trouble to make it look as if it is. These are just a few passages. Much more attention could be given to show that it is through baptism that we enter into the death of Christ, are buried with Him, and then are raised up with Him (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12).

How can all of these things be accomplished by baptism but at the same time occur without and apart from baptism? Elisha told Naaman to go dip in the Jordan River seven times if he wanted to get rid of his leprosy (2 Kings 5). The Assyrian commander was irate over this seemingly nonsensical solution to his problem and was not going to do it. Fortunately, for Naaman, he had a faithful servant at his side instead of Anonymous. He encouraged him to do what the prophet had bid him to do. Anonymous probably would have said, "Your leprosy will disappear if you just believe. After all, the prophet did not say, 'He who does not dip in the Jordan River seven times will not be cleansed of his leprosy.' That's an abiblical question!"

No one takes issue with Elisha. Is the reason that this concerns a physical disease such as leprosy instead of the spiritual problem of sin? Can we only view dispassionately and logically subjects unrelated to salvation? Does emotion cloud our judgment when Jesus, Peter, and Paul include baptism as part of salvation? Who wants to affirm that the leprosy of Naaman would have been removed if he had not dipped in the Jordan River at all, only once, or six times? Everyone knows full well that the only way Naaman's skin would be made whole was by doing precisely what the prophet said.

Yet Anonymous refuses to believe that Peter or Paul mean what they say. He specifically takes issue with Jesus regarding Mark 16:16. He thinks that Jesus should have taken advantage of the opportunity in that verse to say, "He who is not baptized will be lost." The Lord gave people credit for having more sense than Anonymous seems to possess. Those who refuse to believe are lost (Mark 16:16-16; John 8:24). Those who believe but refuse to repent are lost (Luke 13:3). Those who believe but refuse to confess Jesus are lost (Matt. 10:32-33; John 12:42-43). Now why would someone who does not believe, refuses to repent, or balks at confessing the name of Jesus desire to be baptized? Anonymous has a problem both with the Scriptures and common sense. Since the Gospel must be obeyed from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18), baptism cannot be a mechanical act or the result of a decision made by someone else. It is a sequential decision that would be meaningless unless one first believed, repented of his sins, and confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

If anything is missing from the first part of the sequence, everything afterward becomes invalidated. Suppose someone has a locker combination involving the numbers 36, 15, 28, and 4. If the 36 is not entered first (if someone does not believe), the lock will not be opened. If the 36 is entered, but the other two numbers are forgotten, the lock will not open by just going to the last number--4. One cannot believe, but skip repentance because it is too painful, and then be baptized; his sins will remain with him. Similarly, if only the first three numbers are entered, will the lock open? Everyone knows that it will not. If we are progressing toward salvation, but stop short of doing what God said, then we do not get the promise.

Anonymous insists that there are two "fatal flaws" in this "logic" (aha! he is aware of the word). Whatever definition he has of the word logic, however, he soon abandons when he says we are wrong to assume that faith could ever be of equal weight with anything else, such as baptism (32). Yet he offers no proof for such an assertion. Faith, hope, and love are lumped together in 1 Corinthians 13:13, and the greatest of those is love. A case for obedience being an equivalent of faith can be made. Consider Matthew 7:21; Jesus taught: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

Someone might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; they might even acknowledge Him as Lord. But if they refuse to do His will (whatever that might be--baptism, correct worship, righteous living), they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation "to all who obey Him" (5:9). One wonders how some of these liberals can sing songs common to us all. Can they bring themselves to sing, "Trust and Obey"? Or do they change the words to "Trust and Trust Some More"?

We do not have any trouble equating, as Jesus did, belief and baptism because faith begins the process of salvation and baptism (in which the blood of Christ actually washes away sins--Revelation 1:5) completes it. Furthermore, baptism is an act of obedience, and obedience has always been necessary to please God.

His second objection to Mark 16 is that Romans 4 disproves that both faith and baptism are required. He imagines a similar formula for Abraham: "If Abraham believes and is circumcised, he will be declared righteous, but if he doesn't believe, he will not be declared righteous." His point is that Abraham was declared righteous before circumcision. First, God did not put it that way; Anonymous did. Jesus did say what is recorded in Mark 16:15-16. Second, what if, having been declared righteous, Abraham had refused to practice circumcision? Genesis 17:14 answers that.

Baptism and Heresy

Anonymous says that the idea that God grants salvation at the point of baptism is heresy (1). How sad that one who once knew the truth could wander so far away from it as to denounce it entirely. The word heresy should not be used lightly. The role of baptism in salvation is amply supported throughout the New Testament--especially in the book of Acts. The writer of "Are Unbaptized Believers Lost?" demonstrates how one who knows the Truth can be blinded by Satan and then wrest the Scriptures to make them appear to have the very opposite meaning.

Clearly, Anonymous wants to eradicate "faithful obedience" as necessary to salvation. Just think, brethren, what that does to every doctrinal and moral issue in the Bible. They become irrelevant. I can believe in nearly any false doctrine (premillennialism, Calvinism, Pentecostalism) yet still be saved! I can practice any kind of immorality I choose (adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, theft, murder) yet still be saved because I believe (at least in my mind) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Never mind that all such people are denied an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-11). I can lie to my heart's content, and even though the apostle John says all liars have their place in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 21:8), Anonymous assures me I can be saved anyway because we are saved "by grace through faith" (1).

Did Anonymous actually say these things? No; he would argue that engaging in such actions disproves the idea of a living faith. But he argues that God makes us righteous "before our act of obedience" (23). If we are saved initially before obedience, then why should obedience be required after we are saved? If we do not need to obey anything to become saved, then how could anyone argue that we need obedience to remain saved?

The fact is that genuine faith, like genuine love, moves people to obey God. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Faith is always expressed in terms of obedience. Hebrews 11 is usually referred to as the "faith" chapter. In every instance, those with faith demonstrated it in some way. No one is listed as faithful who simply sat around and twiddled his thumbs, chanting "I believe, I believe, I believe."

How amazing it is that those who believe in "faith only" will travel land and sea to win one proselyte--in order to make him twice as much a son of hell as themselves (Matt. 23:15). Imagine, writing 34 pages to try to convince people (in this case, brethren) that obedience has nothing to do with their salvation! How absolutely ludicrous! We could only wish that Anonymous (with his GOBEG doctrine) had remained in the shadows and that this work had never seen the light of day. But the light of the Gospel reveals its hideous features.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "GRACE CENTERED MAGAZINE--THE UNBAPTIZED (PART 1)" (01/26/03)."


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