Last week's article mentioned the attack upon churches of Christ by "Pastor" James L. Melton which he has placed on the Internet. When he turns to the subject of salvation, he insists upon so many strange ideas that it would take weeks to respond to most of them; instead we want to focus on a few of the blunders he makes. He begins this section with:
Of the many heresies taught by the Church of Christ, Baptismal Regeneration is probably the most well known, and also the most harmful. This is the ancient pagan belief that a person must be baptized in water in order to receive cleansing from sin and the right to enter Heaven.
Friends, don't ever hire this man to be your spokesman because he certainly won't use your choice of words to explain your position. Don't put him on your staff as a historian, either, since he does not document claims such as the one that baptism in water for the cleansing of sins is a pagan belief. Which culture taught this idea? What pagans developed this concept? Was it in connection with Zeus or Jupiter? While my knowledge of ancient mythology is not exhaustive, I don't recall this teaching. It would be helpful to know where one could attain the great "knowledge" that Mr. Melton has.
One source we cite to show the necessity of baptism is Acts 22:16, in which Ananias asks Paul, "And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." I've never really thought of Ananias as a pagan for saying such a thing; evidently, Paul did not regard him as one either, since he arose and was baptized (Acts 9:18).
Next Melton eagerly introduces the thief on the cross. His main fallacy (and there are several) is his insistence that the thief was saved "WITHOUT BEING BAPTIZED" (emphasis Melton's). He could not prove the thief had never been baptized if his life depended on it. Mark 1:5 states that "all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him [John, GWS] and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins."
How does Melton know (or anyone else, for that matter) that the thief had not been baptized by John (or later by Jesus) before he became a thief? Like so many others, he could have repented, been baptized, and then fallen into a life of sin again. Did that happen? We don't know, but it could have, and even the possibility of such an occurrence negates Melton's argument.
Melton also misses the point of Jesus' promise to the thief. Regardless of the fact that the thief may have died a few minutes after Jesus did, the Lord made the promise while they were both living under the Law of Moses. As an Israelite who was under the old covenant, his repentance at that point was all that he could offer. Why does Melton appeal to the thief and a situation that occurred while the Law of Moses was in force instead of observing the way people were converted under the New Testament system?
His third error is citing Scriptures that teach one is saved by faith, with which no one argues. What he needs is a verse that teaches salvation by "faith only."
When Melton reads one of our tracts, he apparently concludes that it says what he wanted it to say so that he could take issue with it. Observe:
Haun tells us on page three of his tract that "be baptized" means to be "immersed in water." This is where ALL Church of Christ people err so greatly. Church of Christ members are taught that there is only ONE kind of baptism: WATER baptism. The Bible teaches otherwise, for the Bible says that there are SOME baptisms which are NOT water baptisms. The Church of Christ wants you to think that all baptisms in the Bible are WATER baptisms, for this will cause you to think that Galatians 3:27 and Romans 6:3-4 are referring to water baptisms when they are NOT.
We in the Lord's church are not nearly so ignorant of the Bible as Melton fancies; in fact, if there is any ignorance, it seems to be in the way he misinterprets us and the Scriptures. Brother Haun did not say there was only ONE kind of baptism. Had Melton done even a modicum of research, he would know that Haun also published a tract entitled "Baptisms of the Bible." In it he lists the baptism of Moses, the baptism of suffering, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of fire, the baptism of John, and water baptism commanded by Jesus and the apostles. So much for his false charge that churches of Christ teach there is only ONE kind of baptism.
Neither did Haun contradict himself when he wrote the tract Melton cited. Had he read the subheading of the section he is criticizing, Melton might have noticed the words: "THE QUESTION CLARIFIED." Haun is explaining the words he is using in this tract. He has defined the word must and the word one. Then he writes: "By 'be baptized' is meant to be immersed in water." This statement does not deny that there are other baptisms; it merely states that the baptism under discussion in this tract is water baptism. Notice that Melton did not give the context of the statement nor give the precise quotation. This cannot be an accident; he is purposely misrepresenting Haun and the rest of us.
What members of the church have generally taught is that water baptism for the forgiveness of sins is "the one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5. This verse does not imply that there is one baptism, period, for the baptism by fire is yet to come (as when the devil and his wicked followers are cast into the lake of fire, Rev. 20:11-15). The baptism of suffering is a possibility in any age when Christians are persecuted. Holy Spirit baptism was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of a promise. The only baptism that is part of a command is water baptism (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). It was used throughout the book of Acts (8:35-39; 10:47-48).
Needless to say, Melton does not like this passage of Scripture. Watch how he treats it.
According to the Church of Christ, one will be damned if he is not baptized. Haun says on page 5 of his tract that "Jesus is pointing out what it takes to be saved. He describes the kind of man who is pardoned. That man is one who believes and is baptized. Jesus did not say that the man who believes shall be saved or the man who is baptized shall be saved. He said both belief (faith) and baptism are essential. It is like saying that two plus two equals four. Faith plus baptism equals salvation."
Did you notice the prejudicial way Melton introduced the quotation? Haun did not explicitly say: "One will be damned if he is not baptized." A person might draw that conclusion from what the Scriptures teach, but that was not Haun's point. His point was that God listed two things as prerequisites for salvation. Brother Haun is exactly right in what he says; so how does Melton deal with the argumentation? He doesn't; he tries to toss out the whole passage.
The church of Christ specializes in confusing people by taking verses out of context and IGNORING the rest of the Bible. Did you read verse seventeen, which speaks of apostolic signs of casting out devils and speaking with new tongues? Does the church of Christ practice these signs? No, they don't. Do they practice verse eighteen by drinking deadly things, taking up serpents, and laying hands on the sick? No, they don't. Then why would they steal verse sixteen from its context and then leave the next two verses alone?
The charge of taking Mark 16:15-16 out of context is fatuous. Those two verses complete that particular thought and are similar to Matthew 28:18-20, which is called by most people "The Great Commission." Baptism is a part of that passage, also, but no mention is made of serpents.
Actually, we are more than happy to study the entire context of Mark 16:9-20, most of which Melton ignored in his frantic but failing efforts to discredit us. Notice the following facts (all emphasis is mine--GWS).
1. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus and told His disciples she had seen Him alive, but THEY did not BELIEVE (Mark 16:9-11).
2. Then two more disciples who had seen Him testified to the fact, but THEY did not BELIEVE them either (Mark 16:12-13).
3. "Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their UNBELIEF and hardness of heart, because they did not BELIEVE those who had seen Him after he had risen" (Mark 16:14).
4. It is at this point that Jesus then commands them to preach. Notice the shift in pronouns to "HE who believes and is baptized will be saved; but HE who does not believe will be condemned." In other words, the text has been referring to the apostles in the plural (THEM), but Jesus designates as singular (HE) the one who believes and is baptized.
5. In verse 17 the pronoun shifts back to the plural: "And these signs will follow THOSE who believe." Although it would be easy to conclude that the HE who believes in verse 16 is equivalent to THOSE who believe in verse 17, the entire context shows that the THOSE who believe in verse 17 is once again the apostles, who have been the subject of this entire text.
6. The apostles are the ones that will have signs following them. The apostles did cast out demons, speak with other tongues (especially on the day of Pentecost), and avoid death if they drank any deadly thing. The "taking up of a serpent" brings to mind Paul on the island of Malta. When the natives saw the viper fastened on Paul's hand, they expected him to die, but he suffered no harm (Acts 28:1-5).
7. It is true that other Christians besides the apostles also spoke in tongues, but brethren are not the subject of these verses; this fact is borne out by verse 20, one that Melton ignored entirely. "And THEY went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with THEM, and confirming the word through the accompanying signs."
8. The message they preached was, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." The signs spoken of in verses 17-18 followed THOSE who were doing the preaching--the apostles. God confirmed that what THEY spoke was the truth by giving His endorsement with accompanying signs.
Notice that Mr. Melton has not gained a thing, and Mark 16:16 still mentions baptism. He assures his readers "it certainly does not teach that 'faith plus baptism equals salvation'!" Oh, really? Tell us, then, how a person would communicate that idea.
He repeats the old Baptist refrain: "One is damned from NOT BELIEVING. No one is damned for not being baptized," which is true, as far as it goes. It does not dawn upon him that the unbeliever, however, has no motive to be baptized. He is sore that Mark 16:16 does not say, "He who believes shall be saved." That is Melton's doctrine. He would cut out baptism and use Jehoiakim's penknife to do it. Because baptism is there, he tries every trick he can think of to get rid of it. "Context," he shouts, but context only establishes the point. "Unbelief," he sputters, but Jesus still made baptism a prerequisite to salvation. God joined baptism and faith; man should not try to put them asunder. (Continued)
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "MELTON'S SKEWED VIEW OF SALVATION (11/23/97)."