Texas and Tenneseee Respond to a Baptism Question

A classic example of the divide between the Texas Tradition and the Tennessee Tradition is the “rebaptism” issue.  I reproduce a particular “for instance” here without comment. In my next post, I will offer a few observations.  Of course, this is but one example of many exchanges which actually began in the 1883 Gospel Advocate when McGary began to push his rather novel understanding and then started the Firm Foundation in 1884 to promote them. So, this is some twenty-two years down the road and the difference was still a wide one.

“The Purpose of Baptism,” Firm Foundation 20.10 (7 May 1905) 4.

Question from J. Wesley Smith of Lynchburg, Tennessee: Bro. Lipscomb: Would I do wrong to be baptized again, since I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, by a Methodist. I did not know at the time that baptism was for the remission of sins, but I did it to obey God. Is it right to make a knowledge of baptism for remission of sins a test of fellowship.

David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate: The leading design and purpose of God in dealing with man is to bring man and the world over which man rules into subjection to, and harmony with God. The highest and leading purpose and end of man should correspond to that of God in dealing with man, and be to submit to God as the Ruler of the universe. Only in this way can he secure permanent good to himself and the world. The purpose and desire to obey god is the highest and best pleasing to God of all the motives that lead his subjects to obey His laws. This purpose embraces and overshadows all other motives and ends and leads to an humble and trusting walk with God in all His ways, and to the enjoyment of all the blessings God has in store for those that love and serve Him. This desire to do the whole will of God, and so “fulfill all righteousness,” was the motive that led Jesus, the Christ, not only to be baptized, but this caused Him to leave heaven, come to earth and do and suffer all the will of God God to honor God and bless man.

The nearer we come to be moved by this motive that led Jesus in His word and mission, the better we please God in our service. There are different motives placed before man to lead him to serve God. The lowest is fear; the highest is love. “There is no fear in love; perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18. Fear, dread of torment, is a legitimate motive, but it is of the lowest order. It appeals to man in his fleshly state, before the spiritual man is cultivated and developed. But fear must lead to and be swallowed up in love. John warned the Jews to ‘flee the wrath to come.’ This was fear that ‘hathtorment’ dread of punishment. Jesus said: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode withhim.” John 14:23. When they abide with a man, he has no torment; love has cast out dread and torment.

Under Judaism they were slaves, moved by fear; under Christ we are children, to be moved by love. “The heir (or son), as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all, but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father” (Gal. 4:1, 2), which means, under Christ, fear is a needed motive while we are children, but it must grow into love. One moved by the desire to do the will of God is moved by love. One led to be baptized because he desires to do the will of God is moved by love, the higher motive. That is the motive that moved Jesus to be baptized. It is the motive that best pleases God. For a man to ignore and reject a baptism because he was led to it by love for God and a desire to obey Him and displace it by a lower or less motive, begins in the spirit and ends in the flesh. He repudiates the higher service for that less pleasing to God.

This man says when he was baptized he did not understand baptism was for the remission of sins, but he did understand it was a command of God, and he wished to obey Him. I presume, too, he understood that obedience to God was necessary to salvation. If he understood this, he understood about as much of the matter as he understands now. If he understands baptism is for remission of sins in any other sense than that it is a condition–to prove man’s faith and willingness to obey God, he understands it incorrectly. It is a step that brings him into that condition in which God pardons sin and accepts him who believes as a child of God. I doubt if many who insist the understanding it is for remission of sins is essential to its validity understand it right. True it is that God never prescribed such belief as a condition of pardon.

Any baptism to please man displeases God. A baptism or any service to please any church or any persons displeases God. A sectarian baptism is sinful. But a baptism to obey God is not sectarian baptism; it is the baptism of Christ.

Many of the rebaptisms are performed to please those who demand it as a condition of fellowship. In Texas a few months since I learned of a woman who had been baptized and desired fellowship with the disciples. Some objected to here because she had not been baptized among the disciples. She had been baptized to obey God. What kind of baptism would it be? I fear many of them are to satisfy those who demand it. A person ought to have a clear conscience that in all the service he renders he does it from faith in God and to do His will. When he does what God commands from this motive, he may rest secure in the mercy of God.

George W. Savage, editor of the Firm Foundation: The above is given in full from the Advocate, for the Firm Foundation has no inclination to misrepresent old Bro. Lipscomb, for whom Chrisians have the highest regard as a teacher of God’s holy word. But just how a teacher in Israel can so far misrepresent the teachings and commandments of God is a question not well understood. Bro. Lipscomb and Bro. Harding continually call attention to the fact that men should be baptized “to obey God”–just as though God had made this a specific design of baptism. Where in all the realm of David Lipscomb’s reading did he read that baptism is “to obey God?” Why does he reject the expressed scriptural design and call it a fleshly act and substitute in its place a phrase as a design that God nowhere mentions in connection with baptism? Why dodge the issue with the general term “to obey God?” When these breethren say men are to be baptized “to obey God,” they admit that faith in the design, some design, is necessary to the validity of the act. And if faithin the design is necessary, why not place the design there revealed in the Bible and settle the question at once? Men do everything to obey God. We meet on the first day of the week to break bread. In this act we obey God. We do it to obey Him; yet there is a another design coupled directly with, and equally as spiritual as the general term, and that is “to show His deahtill He comes again.” To fulfill this design, Christians work and strive because God has placed it as a design for the act. Does Bro. Lipscomb contend that Christians can acceptably partake of these emblems in the absence of this design? Does it mean simply to take bread and drink wine before the world in an empty form without every effort to keep before them the central truth of the gospel? We are commanded to “take heed unto ourselves and unto the doctrine; continue in them. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” This is to obey God, too, but God couples with it two specific designs. One is “to save thyself;” the other is to save those who hear us. In doing this to obey God, we do it to save ourselves and them that hear us, for this is what we must do to obey God. In baptism men act “to obey God;” but in acting “to obey God,” they are baptized “for the remission of sins,” for this is obedience to God. The man who is not baptized for the remission of sins does not obey God, for God has told him to “be baptized for the remission of sins.” Acts 2:38. How could he be baptzied “to obey God” and at the same time refuse to do what God says? If you say it is because he is not taught, then it follows that he is not a proper subject for baptism, for Jesus said: “They shall all be taught of God.” John 6:44, 45. “Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Me.” It will not do to rest the excuse on the question of ignorance, and if the candidate is taught of God, not man, he understands the command to “be baptized for the remission of sins.” If he understands it and does not do it, he is not baptized “to obey God.” If he does not understand it and is baptized for some other purpose, he is not taught of God, and the theory of baptizing a man on the manufactured saying of “obeying God” falls by its own weight. Besides, there is not a sectarian baptism in Christendom but what says, it is “to obey God.”

Answering the question, “Is it right to make a knowledge of baptism for the remission of sins a test of fellowship,” Bro. Lipscomb said: “True it is that  God never prescribed such a belief as a condition of pardon.” I now propose to put the two statements side by side and allow the man of faith to decide. The Holy Spirit says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38. Bro. Lipscomb says: “True it is that God never prescribed such belief as a condition of pardon.” These two statements are far apart and can not both be right. One is from the God who created me; the other is from Bro. Lipscomb, who is a good but uninspired man. Which is right? I ask you, which is right? If Bro. Lipscomb is right, then men need not be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved. If the Bible language is right, man must be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved, and Bro. Lipscomb, however great he may be, is wrong.

Bro. Lipscomb in the above makes baptism for the remission of sins a fleshly act, because it is not prompted by love to God, and baptism to obey God a spiritual act because it is prompted by love to God. How did Bro. Lipscomb learn that the man who is baptized for the remission of sins, just as God tells him to do, does not love God, and the man who is baptized to obey God because his sins are pardoned does love God. This first does what God says, and the second does what He does not say. Which is the test of love and loyalty to God? Certainly the one that loves God and does what He tells him to do. Jesus said: “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.” Again: “If a man love Me, he will deep My words.” And again: “He that loveth Me not, keepeth not My sayings.” John 14. From this we decide that the man who has the commands and keepeth them is the man that loves Jesus. And the man who does not keep them does not love Him. The test of loyalty and love to God is keeping His commandments. This is what Bro. Lipscomb calls the lowest motive and a dealing in the flesh. Jesus says this man is the man that loves him. Which is right? They can not both be right, for they differ. The man that has the command to be baptized for the remission of sins and does it is the man that loves Jesus. The man that has the same command and does not do it, but does something else “to obey God,” is the man that does not love Jesus, taking Jesus for just what He says. Friends, how can Bro. Lipscomb be right in this? What difference can exist between being baptized to obey God and being baptized to do what He says (for the remisson of sins)? How is it that baptism for the remission of sins because the man does it to keep God’s commands is of the lower order, while baptism because of the remission of sins, rejecting the direct command of God, is of the higher order of faith? The trouble with the man who asked this question is that he was not taught of God. He says so himself. He says he did not know that baptism is for the remission of sins. Not knowing this, he was not taught of God, and had the wrong faith, if he had any. Jesus said: “They shall all be taught of God.” He says he was not taught of God, and therefore, could not in this untaught state come to Christ. His faith was wrong; his baptism was no better than his faith. How could his obedience be right and his faithwrong? It may be true that many are baptized to please the preacher, but this does not answer the question. The question is, must God’s word be ignored, and must all our preaching stand for naught because some people who have been baptized because their sins are forgiven, or for no design at all, are satisfied with their baptism? Let God be true, though every man a liar, and if the truth makes us liars and reads us out of fellowship withGod, we ought not to blame the truth, but turn from our hardened teaching and bow in implicit obedience to Almighty God.

16 Responses to “Texas and Tenneseee Respond to a Baptism Question”

  1.   steven clark goad Says:

    they were pushing and shoving over baptism way back then

  2.   Zach Cox Says:

    Thanks for reproducing this. I look forward to your comments. The Texas Tradition seems to be rather fond of some strange proof texting in the above article. Or maybe I’m just missing something. The one that jumps out at me is the reference to showing the Lord’s death till he comes. I know when I was first taking the Lord’s Supper at the age of 12 I did not have the slightest clue as to the significance of that phrase (nor do I believe that I now have it all sorted out), yet I am positive that God looked down in favor upon me as an imperfect person progressing in my life of submission to His will (however imperfect that submission might have been and still is).

    Another one that I have heard is that one must fully understand the kingdom prior to baptism, for after the Samaritans “believed Philip’s preaching about the good news of the kingdom of God” they were baptized (Acts 8:12). Again, my understanding of the kingdom was incredibly flawed at my baptism. In fact, some of my basic beliefs about the kingdom at that time I now believe to be 100% incorrect and misleading. Shall I despair and be immersed again today, and then again tomorrow as I pick up my study of God’s kingdom again. I think Paul would say “ma genoita.”

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I, too, have heard something similar concerning the church (which some equate with the “kingdom of God” in Acts 8:12). Bobby Valentine quotes Barry Grider from a bulletin article that one must “understand the concept of the New Testament church” in order to have a valid baptism. The opens a wide door for creedalism as one must subscribe to a list of particulars about the “New Testament church” in order to be a proper candidate for baptism.

  4.   Brian Says:

    One of the aspects I find interesting about the article is the use of inspiration to tie together “commands” from the non-gospel books of the New Testament. The article relies heavily on Jesus’ statement that whoever loves me will follow my commands. Note that when Savage quotes Acts 2:38, he attributes the statement to the Holy Spirit as if Peter was not present and had no control over his choice of words. Sprinkle in a little Trinity theology so that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, and voila, you have “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” as a direct command from Jesus that you must follow exactly in order to love him.

  5.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I am a simple person at heart, but even more so in the head. It humbles me to read even these two diametrically-opposed writers because of their passion and scholarship and mastery of terms whose meanings I will either have to guess at or Google later on.

    That said, I find it hard to believe that a thorough, purely scriptural, near-doctrinally-perfect understanding of everything that baptism means is a prerequisite for submitting to its power.

    I was nine years old when baptized. I was, as Kris Kringle said to Albert in Miracle on 34th Street, “hardly old enough to have done anything to feel guilty about.” Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I’ve never felt a strong desire to be baptized again. I had a simple, trusting faith. I wanted to be part of the church, the body of Christ. I wanted to be free from sin. I wanted to be like Him.

    In simple and poor ways, I still do.

    And I think that can be said for a few of the brothers and sisters with whom I used to worship at Highland in Abilene in the back left rows on the south side of the worship center; simple folks whose minds and hearts will always be nine years old, whatever their chronological age. Sweet and beautiful people, whose whole being is into worshiping God when they sing. They have a basic understanding of right and wrong. Like the rest of us, they can be headstrong and do what they want to and do things that aren’t right, and they know what it means to be sorry and who Jesus is and what His death and resurrection means for them. When they want to be a part of that, I think Peter would ask, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?”

  6.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I think the chasm between Texas and Tennessee has not been bridged even in our own day.

  7.   rich Says:

    thanks john mark

    balance check…………….a O.K.?????

    my friend


  8.   Jason Says:

    I think the whole point of the “good news” or the gospel is being overlooked. The gospel is the fact that Jesus, the Christ was the son of God who was given as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. I think that God saves man according to his will and purpose and man responds to the gospel by accepting the grace offered. Whether God forgives at the point of belief in Jesus as his risen son and God or whether He grants forgiveness at the point of baptism is up to Him and nothing to do with us. We bring too much to the table when we dissect baptism to this point. Man only can respond to the good news of God, and God does His part, that last part is out of our hands. This has single handedly kept the restoration movement stagnant more than any other reason. This is coming from a guy who has been baptized in a Baptist church and went to school at Harding. I was baptized to obey God for love and that I believe is the reason to obey commands, not what will I get out of it! Can anyone tell me all the reasons God has us get baptized? Can anyone tell me what is in the mind of God or suppose what is in the mind of God. Thus saith the Lord is where it begins and ends, isn’t this one of the main premises that the restoration movement was based on? I think the “founding fathers” of the restoration movement would “turn over in their graves” if they could see what has happened to the cause they championed so many years ago. Brother Allen at Harding has a great book
    “Rebaptism” that should be required reading for anyone contimplating the subject.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I think your point is the one Lipscomb and Harding continually stressed–we believe and obey, and God will do what he promised.

      And, as you indicate, the “rebaptism” question had greater significance than simply what “point” are sins forgiven. Rather, it is was about the nature of sectarianism within the Stone-Campbell Movement itself.

      Jimmy’s book addresses the speicific issue well and is worth reading.

      Thanks, John Mark

    •   Jason Says:

      Thanks John Mark;

      My wife and I are currently thinking about moving to north alabama and though we were both brought up baptists we are more in line with non-denominational thoughts. I would love to fellowship with churches of Christ but just as I was at Harding the “don’t ask don’t tell” philosophy I’m afraid would be true in most churches. I would love to find a group or church of Christ that is holding fast to the original purpose of the restoration movement. any suggestions? the area is Cullman

  9.   Larry Short Says:

    Do you have to have the gift of prophecy to “fathom all mysteries” and “understand all things” to be baptised? If so, we better wait to be baptised in the Cyrstal River flowing from the Throne, when we will finally know enough.
    I suspect only some of Peter’s teaching to Cornelius was recorded, because he sure didn’t learn enough to be baptised in Texas! Baptism is an early step, Christian understanding & maturity comes later. Libscomb was much closer to the truth.

  10.   Susan King Says:

    As offspring of a CofC preacher, my siblings and I used to “baptize” each other any time we found ourselves in a swimming pool (imitating our father, just as all children do).

    I put baptize into quotation marks because no thinking person would consider that what we were doing was indeed Christian baptism. The same thinking would apply to the term rebaptism in the context of people who were baptized at a very young age now wanting to be “re-baptized” because they didn’t know what they were doing before. Instead, I believe that what occurs in these instances is that either the first time they were being baptized and later they’re just being dunked or vice versa.

    In biblical terms (and within a post-first-century context), there is no “rebaptism.” There’s only Christian baptism and the technical, non-theological act of baptism (dipping, plunging, immersing).

    Along with that is the basic consideration about the relatively low significance of anything we do without knowing the purpose of it. True, God commands and advises many things without explaining their purpose. We do those out of obedience only. God didn’t explain the purpose; therefore we are not required to bother ourselves with the purpose. By the same token, then, when he does explain the purpose, we should concern ourselves with it. Therefore, people who do not know the baptism of the Lord Jesus (who know only the baptism of Methodism or John Smith/Brigham Young/Sidney Rigdon) need to submit to the only form of rebaptism the Bible recognizes: the rebaptism of the disciples in Acts 19, who had known only the baptism of John.

    I contend that this would be a model for those Methodists or Baptists or most Mormons* who would join our fellowship but whose immersion was for obedience but not “for the remission of sins.” Just like my siblings and me, they need to be baptized for the right purpose.

    However, that is not for me to decide. In this case, members of the congregation would not be the arbiters; that would lie with the person in question. The elders of most congregations of my experience usually give advice when asked but otherwise let the person decide.

    *Immersed in the name of a Jesus who was not the son of the God of the Bible, but the son of Adam (who has elevated himself to become the god of our planet). If the person being baptized did not know this and believed he/she was being baptized into the true Christ for the remission of his/her sins, then that baptism certainly would be Christian baptism.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I find it rather difficult to believe that one who is baptized in obedience to God, confessing Jesus as Lord, is not truly baptized. It seems to me that the motive to obey God, or the purpose of following Jesus into the water at the command of God, is sufficient. We would hope that one might grow in understanding of their baptism but obedience to God is a good motive and purpose itself. The model of Cornelius, who was baptized at the command of God, is just as good as the model of Acts 2:38 where the phrase “for the remission of sins” is not part of the command but part of the promise. It seems to me that whoever obeys the command has the assurance of the promise. And the command is to be immersed in the name of Jesus (which those baptized by the baptism of John after Pentecost were not).

  11.   Gina Morrison Says:

    This is interesting as I asked to be re-baptized in my little fundamentalist baptist church. I did not have any understanding of the true gospel of Christ and simply believed that theCoC water baptism somehow cleansed me of my sins. I was not saved, nor born again; I was simply dunked by a artificial formula of the CoC : Hear, Repent, Confess and Be Baptised for the Remission of My Sins. I wonder why the CoC does not institute a new baptism after every sin a member commits. The water bill might be high but hey, if my position in Christ can change because I sinned, it’s worth it. Right?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I don’t know of any who would say that water baptism cleansed another of their sins. We would all confess that only the blood of Christ can do that. The question is what role baptism does play in accepting and experiencing the grace of God. Is it a means of grace (as many have argued before “CofC” as John Calvin, Martin Luther, among others) or is it a mere symbol of something that has already happened (as Zwingli suggested).

      “Baptized for the remission of sins” is a biblical phrase. It is a mater of understanding its meaning. I don’t know of any who suggest that one should repeat a biblical baptism. Rather, in Christ, we are continually cleansed by the blood of Christ. And Scripture represents baptism as a movement “into Christ” as we are “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6).

      I would hope that your initial dunking was not simply formlaic, though you know your own experience and I don’t. Rather, I would hope that you were immersed confessing Jesus as Lord and trusting in him for your salvation.

      In any event, I am pleased that you have found confidence in Jesus rather than in a human formula.


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