Spiritual Perspectives


TETELESTAI REPLY

Gary W. Summers

     When I wrote the review of the Tetelestai book that is disseminated by Campus Crusade for Christ to college students, Michelle asked if she could e-mail a copy of my article to them.  I told her, “Please do.”  I personally never received a reply, but she did—from someone identifying himself only as David; presumably he speaks for this organization.  Below is a review of his remarks.  David’s comments will be in quotation marks.

 

     “Campus Crusade for Christ is an interdenominational movement of Christians, and so we are accepting of differences in beliefs on some things that are not crucial to salvation, for the sake of Christian unity.”

 

     This opening statement highlights one of the differences between us: in the New Testament there are no religious denominations at all.  Anyone who accepts them as valid has the wrong philosophy.  The churches of Christ are congregations that simply belong to the Lord, as Paul mentioned them in Romans 16:16.  There are other Scriptural designations for the body of Christ, but none of them is used in a denominational sense.  The spirit of division is condemned (1 Cor. 3:1-4). 

 

     True Christian unity is produced by being “perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).  This harmony was produced among those baptized on the day of Pentecost, be-cause they followed in the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42) rather than the doctrines and creeds thought up by men or manmade organizations.  Unity is also not achieved by “agreeing to disagree,” but by a diligent study of the Word of God, prompted by a keen interest in truth.

 

     “However, when we encounter teachings that do not reflect the truth of God’s Word, that is where we draw the line and we’ll step out and recommend that someone makes a change.”

     We agree.  Since the book, Tetelestai, does not agree with the Scriptures concerning salvation, we recommended that college students exchange it for the Bible, and we vigorously oppose its false doctrine.

 

     “The pastor of your church is teaching falsely about the nature and requirements for salvation.”

 

     David makes unwarranted assumptions here (and elsewhere).  Neither Michelle nor I referred to me as a “pastor”: she correctly called me a preacher.  Even worse, however, is that he has bought into the denominational “pastor” concept that is not found in the Bible (pastors over a congregation are legitimate; a pastor has no Biblical authority whatsoever.  David could read the truth of the matter in “Who Is a Pastor?” which is on our Web site [www.spiritualperspectives.org]. 

 

     Second, I have never taught falsely about the nature and requirements of salvation.  Since he has made that charge (but failed to prove it), I hereby challenge him to debate the issue publicly, and we will see if he is willing to back up the preposterous accusation he has made. Below are two propositions, which were actually used in the Warren-Ballard Debate in 1953.

 

“The Scriptures teach that faith in Christ procures salvation without further acts of obedience.”

 

     David would affirm this proposition; I would deny it.

 

“The Scriptures teach that water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of past sins.”

 

     I will be happy to affirm this proposition, since it is the truth; David can deny it.  If he is not interested in an oral discussion, perhaps he will join in a written one.

     “The Church of Christ has two fairly distinct groups.  One is the ICOC (International Church of Christ) and is actually a cult that was started by a man named Kip McKean.”

 

     David does not have the facts.  One should not presume to tell somebody about themselves when they only have a cursory knowledge.  The movement was begun by Chuck Lucas in Gainesville, Florida, back in the 1970s, and it was referred to for many years as “The Crossroads Movement.”  When Lucas fell into disgrace, Kip McKean became the “head,” and for many years it was known as “The Boston Movement,” before assuming its current designation.

 

     “The other group is The Church of Christ, the one that your pastor in involved with.  This particular de-nomination has a fairly good grip on the truth, much more than the ICOC, but they have some serious issues that you might want to take a look at which are inaccurate (though mostly well-meaning) interpretations of the Scripture.”

 

     As already explained, I am not a pastor, and the church is not a denomination.  David is so used to popular terminology that the vocabulary of the Bible seems strange to him.  If David is going to call us a denomination, he should explain how he arrived at that conclusion, since we possess none of the characteristics of one, nor have we ever claimed to be one.

 

     But consider how contradictory his statements are.  He asserts that we have “a fairly good grip on the truth,” but we are wrong about salvation.  The apostle Paul was not so generous.  Paul proclaimed without hesitation that there is but one Gospel and that anyone who perverts it is accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).  I do not want to be unkind; perhaps David is well-intentioned, also.  If so, he will want to study the matter further to be certain that what he has been taught is correct.  If not, then perhaps he is not well-intentioned after all.  Regardless of him personally, how-ever, the “gospel” of Tetelestai is false; it will not save anyone, which is the reason it must be opposed.

 

     “When listening to what others have to say about Scripture, keep in mind that in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were some of the most learned men in Scripture, but they missed the whole point of God’s incredible love as a REASON for the law.  Men and women today are just as capable of misinterpreting Scripture.”

 

     David is a patient man.  It took him until the fourth paragraph to charge me with being a Pharisee.  Not many would have waited that long.  Of course, this charge is nothing but flummery.  It assumes that I do not understand the Biblical teaching about love, a concept I mention frequently—or that we believe that Law is greater than Love, which is foolish.  Does David think we have never read 1 Corinthians 13?  We do wonder, however, in light of his later remarks about minimizing obedience if he has read 2 John 6: “This is love, that we walk according to commandments….”

 

     Although the Pharisees are generally regarded today as legalists, it is not their obedience that Jesus condemns; it is their elevation of the traditions of men as equal to the law of God (Matt. 15:1-9).  They also had difficulty distinguishing which things were of the greatest importance (Matt. 23).  But even when Jesus reprimanded them for failing to have the right priorities, He never encouraged disobedience even in the smallest of matters (Matt. 23:23).

 

     We have not missed the love of God with respect to salvation; we have not omitted the cross.  We have never argued that these are not the most important matters.  We did not criticize Tetelestai for presenting God’s love or the cross of Christ—but for omitting baptism as part of God’s plan of salvation.  David has set up a straw man here to fight, which in logic is attacking what your opponent never argued in the first place.

 

     “There are many heart issues your pastor has that I’m concerned about….”

 

     Does David claim the spiritual gift of discernment, that he knows my heart so well?  Or is he being judgmental?  We will not speculate on his possible meaning.  Notice, however, how easy it is to cast suspicion upon someone by use of innuendo. 

 

     “This will not be an exhaustive look at why it is false to believe that the act of water baptism is a part of the salvation process.  But I ask you to imagine this conversation, of what it would be like to face Jesus one day when you’re before the Judgment Seat of Christ and say to Him, ‘The reason I’m here is because of my good works of obedience. Yes, Jesus I obeyed you and I was baptized in water like you said to. My faith in the fact that you were crucified, dead, and then rose from the dead FOR me was not enough, and I had to DO something to be saved. So thanks Jesus for conquering death for me, but I’m glad that I realized that I had to have my good work of water baptism [to] give me my right to come to heaven. You’re [sic] death on the cross was great though….’  Does that sound right?”

 

     Perhaps the reader has noticed that David cannot seem to provide Scriptures to establish any of his points; there is a reason for that.  Notice that he did affirm, however, that including baptism as a part of the salvation process is false.  Therefore, he should really want to debate the propositions on the preceding page.  If he really believes that the Bible does not teach it, al-though it clearly does (Mark. 16:16; Acts 2:38; et al.), then he should want to expose what he believes to be a false gospel publicly.  The doctrine that churches of Christ teach regarding salvation we teach all over this country and throughout the world.  Think of the harm we are doing!  We cannot imagine that anyone would let this go unopposed.  If Mormons or Jehovah’s Wit-nesses ever found the courage to debate us publicly over their false teachings, we would accept it quickly. 

    

    The conversation David supplies is both hypothetical and absurd.  It rests upon a faulty premise and is easily set aside.  Fill in the blank: “I had to have my good work of __________ to give me the right to come to heaven.”  Put repentance, worshiping, praying, or good works in the blank, and it all comes out the same.  The question is, “Does David believe that we have an obligation to obey God in ANY thing He requires, including love?”  What does David do with Hebrews 5:9?  “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”  Does he rip verses such as these out of his Bible?

 

     Since we are vainly imagining conversations, let’s try this one.  We are before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and He asks if you believed in Him.  You answer, “Yes, Lord.”  He asks again, “Did you really have faith in Me?”  Once again, you answer yes.  “Really?  Well, did you repent of your sins?”  “What?  And try to earn my way to heaven?  Oh, no, Lord.  I would not insult you that way.”  “Were you baptized for the remission of your sins?”  “No.  What could water have to do with salvation?”  “Did you attend worship each week?”  “No, Lord.  There were too many Pharisees there.”  “Did you live a pure and holy life?”  “No, Lord, I tried to blend in and not flaunt my Christianity.”  “Did you engage in any charitable works?”  “No, Lord, I already told you that I would never attempt to earn my way to heaven.”  Did you ever try to bring anyone else to Me?”  “No, you know how people hate busybodies.”

 

     Of course, imaginary conversations like these are futile, but Jesus’ response to such an individual is not.  He would say, as He already has said, “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).  Faith is expressed in obedience (James 2:14-26); Love is expressed in obedience (John 14:15).  Why would anyone denigrate what the Bible clearly teaches on this subject and make it sound as though Jesus has no interest in our obedience to Him?  David needs to consider the following statement: “True – False.  A person can be saved before and without obeying any commandment of either the Father or Jesus.”

 

      Instead of imagining conversations, how about looking at a real one—the one that Peter had with the multitude on the day of Pentecost?  After Peter convinced them that Jesus had died on the cross for their sins, been buried, and rose again, the crowd asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  If David had been there, he would have answered, “People, haven’t you been listening?  Isn’t the cross sufficient for you?”  But Peter was just an inspired apostle who had never been taught the theology of the Campus Crusade for Christ.  He told them to DO two things if they wanted salvation—repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38).  Even the multitude realized that, although salvation was now available, there had to be a way for it to be appropriated.  They were not asking what they had to do to EARN salvation.  It never crossed their minds that they could do some meritorious WORK in order to be saved.  How do we get forgiveness?     

   

     Peter did not answer, “Just believe; Just have faith.  C’mon ya’ll. Say this little prayer with me.”  He commanded them to repent of their sins and to be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins.  Those who gladly received his word were baptized (Acts 2:41).  David, Dr. John White, and the leaders of Campus Crusade for Christ do not have hearts that are tender and receptive like those three thousand, because they will fight against those words and call those who uphold them Pharisees and false teachers.  We are content to let people study the Scriptures for themselves and decide what Peter said and what the people did.

 

     “Water baptism, along with any other good work such as going to church or preaching the Gospel to someone else, is an outward sign of obedience that you do out of love BECAUSE of what has occurred in your spirit by the Holy Spirit’s supernatural baptism of your spirit at the moment you trust in Christ by faith.  Water baptism is something we should ALL do out of love and obedience to Christ, but it’s not part of salvation.”

 

     Friends, there is a reason why David does not cite any Scriptures to support this error.  Water baptism is not a “good work.”  If so, who does it benefit?  Is God better off because we do it?  Are the poor less hungry?  Helping people is a good work (Matt. 25:31-46).  What good is baptism if it is NOT a part of salvation?  David and his friends think that, if they say that baptism is an “outward sign” often enough, people will believe it.  What Scripture says that baptism is an outward sign?

 

     “Going to church” is not a good work, either.  To begin with, we do not GO to church; we are the church.  The church meets together to offer up its collective worship to God.  Furthermore, we are commanded not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).  Worship is not an optional matter.

 

     There are many things we do because we love God, but there is not one verse of Scripture that talks about the Holy Spirit’s supernatural baptism at the moment of faith.  If so, where is it?  The apostles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but that was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus had made to them (Acts 1:4-5).  Peter did not tell the people who questioned him on Pentecost that they would receive what the apostles had received.  He did not tell them in Acts 2:38: “Just believe, and the Holy Spirit will baptize your spirit.”  The burden of response was upon them—not the Holy Spirit.  Notice again: “Then those who received his word were baptized…” (Acts 2:41).  They indicated that they were repenting of their sins and submitted themselves to water baptism.

 

     “But what about the last part of verse 38—“and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”?  Such is the result of repenting and being baptized, just as being add-ed to the church is (Acts 2:47).  The gift of the Holy Spirit has been explained in several ways—as salvation or a miraculous gift, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It does not, however, refer to Holy Spirit baptism.  

     “The Church of Christ has tried to do their home-work by using the original Greek language and discovering that the word “baptizo” means to be sub-merged.”

 

     David does not quite get our perspective.  We did not decide that baptize meant ”to immerse,” and then do homework to prove it.  We study the Bible to see what it actually says, and then we follow that.  There is a vast difference in these two approaches.

 

     “Most of the time in scripture, the word baptism in the Greek is referring to having your life submerged in CHRIST.”

 

     Really?  Paul does say that our life is to be hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3).  But where are all those verses to which David refers?  Read through the book of Acts.  Such a verse is not found in Acts 8:38, because Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and came up out of the water.  It is not in Acts 10:47-48 where Peter commanded those who had received a miraculous gift to be baptized in water.  Let David provide a list of verses that clearly supports his reckless assertion (that is, verses that could not possibly refer to water baptism).  What historian or commentator has ever held such a view?

 

     “The hallmark verse of the Church of Christ is Mark 16:16 (interestingly enough this verse is in a part of Scripture that is not a part of the earliest manuscripts).”

 

     David has apparently never looked at the evidence regarding Mark 16:9-20.  There are two manuscripts that do not include these verses, but many sources predating them do have it, and it is quoted more than 200 years earlier than those two (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) to which he refers. 

 

     “There is no mention of water in this verse, be-cause it’s talking about be [sic] baptized SPIRITUAL-LY by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

 

     How can David make this claim since the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the verse, either?  A word must be defined by its general usage unless some-thing in the text indicates otherwise.  The only baptism practiced in the New Testament up to this point was water baptism.  John and Jesus had baptized in water (John 1:31; 4:1-2).  Why would the eleven en-vision anything other than water baptism?

 

     David is confused on this point.  Holy Spirit baptism was promised—not commanded.  How can any-one be commanded to receive a promise?  He can “arise and be baptized and wash away” his sins in water (Acts 22:16), but he cannot arise and demand to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, which is a promise.  David would do well to spend less time reading materials from Campus Crusade for Christ and more from the New Testament.  He sees Holy Spirit baptism in passages where it is not even hinted at.   

     

     “And notice what condemns a person…it is lack of belief.”

 

     This is obvious.  The one who does not believe will not repent of his sins or be baptized, but the promise of salvation is to those who believe AND are baptized.

 

     “Re-read such verses as Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21 with the understanding that baptism is not necessarily talking about water baptism.”

 

     We are apparently expected to do so on the basis of David’s assertions alone—since he offered no proof.  1 Peter 3 compares baptism to the Flood (i.e., water).

 

     “Your spirit is made ALIVE by trusting in Christ, and this immerses (baptizes) you into Him (not water).”

 

     We are baptized into Christ—WHEN we are buried with Him by being immersed in water (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27).  Is it possible that on the day of Pentecost, those 3,000 souls understood Peter to refer to a waterless, totally figurative baptism?  When it says that they were baptized, does that mean, then, that they trusted and were immersed in Christ without any water being involved whatsoever?  If so, the book of Acts lacks unity. 

 

     David does not realize that he is vacillating between two answers.  When he attempts to explain away water baptism, sometimes he says it is Holy Spirit baptism; at other times he advocates that it means being immersed into Christ.  Which is it?  He probably does not care—so long as it is not water.  Oh, no, baptism cannot possibly mean what everybody thinks it means.  What is this desperation to have it mean something else?

 

     “Notice 1 Peter 3:21 even says, ‘not the removal of dirt from the flesh.’”

 

     He spoke too much; he undercut his own case.  Consider baptism in water, baptism in the Holy Spirit, and baptism in Jesus Himself: which one of these might someone mistake for “the removal of dirt”?  That’s right, friends.  One would never associate the removal of dirt with the last two, but when someone is buried with Christ in baptism (in water), they might associate that act with the removal of dirt from the flesh—especially since we take baths all the time for just that purpose.

 

     “After we are saved by believing in Jesus, the rest of our life becomes a process of sanctification, not a process of justification.  If you are not sure on the definition of these words, I suggest you buy the book ‘Systematic Theology’ by Wayne Grudem.”

 

     Actually, these words are familiar because we study the Bible.  For example, Paul wrote: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).  We are aware that Jesus is the One who washes away our sins WHEN we are baptized, along with sanctifying us, and justifying us.

 

     “Christ justified us by His work on [the] cross.  You can not do ANYTHING except to trust in Him for your justification.  Water baptism is a part of our sanctification (growing in obedience), and it is not to be linked in any way to whether or not you are justified (made righteous before God’s throne.”  (He cites Philippians 2:12.)

 

     We agree that Christ obtained justification for us; the discussion centers on its appropriation—not its procurement.  What verse says water baptism is part of sanctification?  As we have just shown, Paul said that baptism, justification (as it is applied, not obtained), and sanctification all occur at the same time.

 

     “…life is a continual process of becoming more surrendered to Christ as God does the work in you.”

 

     God does work in us through the Word.  He does not take away our free will or make us better regardless of our efforts to the contrary.  We always have the freedom to accept or reject the will of God.  When we succeed in spiritual growth, it is by His grace, but it is also because we are responding correctly to Him.

 

     “Baptism is just one of those things that Christ commanded us to do, and we learn more and more about how to surrender to Christ throughout our lifetime.”

 

     This is the second time David has admitted that baptism is a commandment (see his imaginary conversation); why does he think they are optional?  Does he think Moses gave the Ten Non-Essentials?  And which definition of baptism is David using here?  If baptism (in water) is “just one of those things” we ought to do, why was the eunuch baptized out in the wilderness (Acts 8: 35-39), and why was the Philippian jailer baptized in the middle of the night (Acts 16:25-34)?

 

    “…it’s dangerous to assume that any good work of obedience has really anything to do with our justification.  The law never saved anyone, it is merely here to show right from wrong, or what we should be doing.”

 

     He is confusing procurement with appropriation still.  Once again, he is assigning us a position we never made.  We have never argued (and never would) that we are saved by law.  We are saved by the blood of Christ.  Our sins are washed away by that blood WHEN we are baptized in water (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5).

 

     “Should we be baptized in water? Of Course!  Have I been baptized in water?  Yes, praise God.”

 

     Why was he baptized?  He already said that most of the Scriptures aren’t referring to baptism in water.  He tried to argue that Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21 had no water in them. Why is he so thrilled to have done some-thing he has argued this whole letter does not need to be done—something we have misinterpreted? 

 

     “Did that water save me?  Absolutely not….”

 

     Finally, we agree—but for different reasons.  Baptism cannot save someone who already thinks he has salvation.  One must know that he is lost before he is baptized and saved afterward.  Otherwise, he is not obeying the Gospel, the truth.  Only truth can set us free from our sins.  But there is another error of great importance stated here.  No one has ever claimed that the power is in the water to save—the power is in the blood!  The power is also in the answer of a good con-science toward God—by obeying what God said to do FOR the reason God said to do it.

 

     “And neither does God count my sins of disobedience against me, because when He sees me he sees the blood of His Son, that washes away my sin.”

 

     This statement would be true if two prerequisites were true.  First, our disobedience must be repented of; God does not forgive the perpetually rebellious.  Second, if he had obeyed the Gospel in the way the New Testament teaches instead of believing that he was saved at the point of faith only, he would be correct.  But, sadly, the blood of Christ cannot cleanse the one who believes a false plan of salvation.

 

     “I suggest you go to a different church and find a pastor who does not have a passion for legalism, or trusting in Good works to save you.” 

 

     Now there’s a fine “non-judgmental statement.”  He did not even have the decency to talk with me person-ally or ask for any points of clarification.  He just makes assumptions and blithely offers recommendations.  I am about as far from a legalist as one can get, but I do possess a passion for Truth—as well as a passion for exposing error, because belief in it condemns the souls of men, for whom Jesus died.

 

     We believe that God has revealed Himself through His Word and that it is the only standard of authority we possess.  Jesus not only taught the truth; He condemned publicly those who taught false doctrine.  The apostles likewise devoted themselves to teaching the doctrine of Christ, which at times involved publicly demonstrating the error of others. 

 

     Not once did Jesus or the apostles resort to name-calling in lieu of a Scriptural argument.  They used the Scriptures to make their case, not human wisdom: they thoroughly refuted their opponents’ misconceptions.

 

     David dealt little with my previous article.  We asked why the author of Tetelestai avoided the books of Acts, which contains the accounts of conversion; David did not say a word about it.  We asked why Acts 2:38, the most obvious case of conversion of all, was left out?  He completely ignored it.  He answered no arguments made in the entire article.  All he can do is hurl epithets, such as legalist and Pharisee and provide fuzzy definitions of baptism.  Perhaps Dr. White would like to offer a better defense of his own work and David could pass the criticisms on to him.  We have no personal ill will toward David, but we are not fond of his personal at-tacks, and we know that the “gospel” he preaches will cause people to be lost. 

 

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "Whatever the article name from above is (12/14/04)."

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