SOURCE: This article is a slightly condensed version of a small booklet that I wrote a few years ago. It’s purpose is to expose the false teachings of the so-called “Church of Christ.” If you attend a Church of Christ, or you know someone who does, I challenge you to read this study carefully, checking all of the scripture references in your Bible and praying for the Lord to show you the truth (Jn. 16:13). Remember, Jesus said SEEK and you shall FIND (Mt. 7:7).
What is the Church?
The Church of Christ people fail to realize that the “true church” is a spiritual organism, NOT a physical organization. In the tract, Introducing the Church of Christ, by Delton Haun (Haun Tract Co., Pasadena, TX.), we read on page 8 that, “The Lord promised only one kind and built only one kind–There is only one body (Eph. 4:4), and that one body is the church. (Col. 1:18)”
Here Haun isn’t referring to the SPIRITUAL body of Christ. He is referring to his own religious group, which he CALLS the body of Christ. He is referring to his particular group of people who believe and practice the same things, NOT a spiritual body of born-again believers.
This can be very confusing for an unsaved reader who knows not what it means to be born-again spiritually into the spiritual body of Christ (Jn. 3:3; I Cor. 12:13). The only “church” that the natural man can understand is a PHYSICAL church that he can see with his eyes. A natural man who has never been saved cannot understand how it is possible for people to be “born” into the spiritual body of Christ. Unfortunately, the Church of Christ people don’t understand it either.
On pages 9 and 10 of this same tract, Haun says that, “The church of Christ today is no more or no less than the New Testament church reproduced in doctrine and practice in this twentieth century.”
This is a common belief in the Church of Christ. Another tract titled, Are You Looking for a Church? (Exum Press, Crystal Lake, IL.), says on pages 11 and 12 that the Church of Christ people are actually going back and becoming members of the “original church that Christ built.” These people believe that the true Church ceased to exist for about seventeen centuries, and that THEIR church has restored the true faith for today. This would mean that such great Christian men as John Wesley, Martin Luther, John Knox, and George Whitfield were not really members of the “true church” because the “true church” didn’t exist in their lifetime.
There is absolutely NO SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT for this doctrine. In Matthew 16:18, the Lord Jesus Christ plainly said, “. . . . I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The true church has existed since the day Jesus started it. All throughout church history, millions upon millions have entered into the spiritual body of believers by receiving Christ as their Lord and Saviour (Jn. 1:12; Rom. 10:13). If you have received Jesus Christ as your Saviour, then you are a member of the true church, no matter WHAT denomination you are associated with, and if you haven’t received Him, then you are NOT a member of the true church, regardless of how many religious groups you join. Salvation is not in a church; it’s in a PERSON–the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church Name
The Church of Christ claims to reserve for itself the ONLY scriptural name for a New Testament church, although the term “church of Christ” is found nowhere in the Bible.
On page 4 of George Baily’s pamphlet, Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ (Lambert Book House, Shreveport, LA), we read these words: “Since the church belongs to Christ shouldn’t the church be so called? It is certainly scriptural to refer to the Lord’s body as the ‘church of Christ’.”
This is the result of human reasoning, not Bible study. There is nothing particularly wrong with the term “Church of Christ,” but it is wrong to insist that this is the ONLY scriptural name for the church when the term isn’t even found in the Bible! A Bookmark of Basic Bible References, by John Hurt (Hurt Publications, Smyrna, TN), gives several scripture references to “prove” that the term “church of Christ” is the only scriptural name for the church. The references listed on this bookmark are Romans 16:16, Acts 4:12, Matthew 16:18, Philippians 2:9-10, Isaiah 62:2, and Colossians 3:17. The term “church of Christ” is found NOWHERE in any of these references, because the Lord never specified a special name for the church. The disciples were first called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 11:26), but a specific name is never given to the church itself.
SOURCE: I fear that many members in the church of Christ are trusting in repentance and baptism, rather than Christ. We repent on the account of Jesus and his work and a hate for our sin; we are baptized on the account of Jesus work on the cross, the place He remitted sins. If we are looking unto water baptism as the agency whereby we are remitted of sin, we grossly fail to comprehend the work of Jesus on the cross. Doing so, we have turned the grace of God into a system or works whereby our obedience to baptism is efficacious and thus we preach another Gospel.
Remission of sins was a ONCE AND FOR ALL event. The book of Hebrews spells this out clearly. Jesus Blood is not like bull and goats which could NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. We do not appropriate the work of Christ in Baptism. We are justified “by faith in Hs blood.”
In Acts 2, Peter declared to them the Gospel, the death, burial, and resurrection. They was cut to their hearts and ask what they needed to do about their obvious faith in Christ as their sacrifice for sin. They clearly understood that Jesus remitted sin though His death and was raised that they might live. They knew sin was remitted on the cross, they knew Jesus shed blood not covered their sin, but took it away. Rom. 5:8-10, says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him: for if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” This verse is very deep and clearly states that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (when we were enemies) and it says how we are justified – by His blood. Jesus removed the wall between man and God, now we are justified by faith in the Blood which reconciled us to God when we were yet sinners. The church of Christ are so hung up on Baptism, that they do not even know when we were reconciled to God. By Jesus death we were reconciled while we were enemies while we were yet sinners.
Peter seeing that they had saving faith in the shed blood of Jesus, said; repent and be baptized on the account of remission of sins. The Greek word EIS points like a finger in a particular direction, and in this case, it pointed back to the sacrifice of Jesus – the One who shed His blood for remission of sins. They responded in faith towards the work of Christ. They were not responding as one seeking Jesus blood in baptism, but responding in faith TOWARDS the Gospel.
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“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
I find that when many Church of Christ’ers talk about salvation or being saved, they do not even use or have the correct definition of save, saved or salvation in mind.
The terms in Hebrew, Greek and English predominantly means to deliver, to rescue from harm or danger, to deliver from sin, to preserve and protect. These actions come from outside of us. They are not something we do. We are merely recipients. Webster’s defines salvation as “the act of saving someone from sin or evil : the state of being saved from sin or evil”, “something that saves someone or something from danger or a difficult situation” and “deliverance from the power and effects of sin”. It was Christ “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Galatians 1:4). Before the foundation of the world “… God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Salvation is simply not about what we do, but rather what God and Jesus Christ has done on our behalf, delivering us from the wages of our sin – death. There is a plan of salvation. And with any plan there is doing involved. But we are not the ones that do the doing. As it has been said before, “Christ has done it all”. I would contend that salvation is simply belief/trust in Christ finished work for our saving/rescue – by his death, burial and resurrection for our sins, according to scripture. Salvation is not about doing or “obeying” “the whole plan of salvation”. It is about believing the plan of salvation. And the focus of that plan is on Jesus Christ and his actions, not ourselves. Biblical Christianity is not a do religion, it is a done religion.
That salvation is not about what we do is also strongly indicated by the biblical use of such terms as redemption (to purchase), reconciliation (restoration to divine favor), propitiation (the act by where which God‘s righteous wrath is satisfied by the atonement of Christ), atonement (restoration to divine favor), deliverance (from sin), ransom (from the wages of sin) and justification (a onetime event in which God justifies sinners by reckoning Christ’s righteousness to their account through a legal declaration). The definitions of these words and their usage in scripture show us that salvation is not something we do (Eph. 2:9, Jonah 2:9). Salvation is done on our behalf.
Scripture also says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans8:28-30). We cannot make ourselves right before or acceptable to God. It must for done for us by God. We cannot even come to Christ unless the Father draws us and even our faith is a gift and not of ourselves. Another reason we are not saved by what we do is that we are not saved by our righteousness, which is like filthy menstrual rags, but we are saved by being made the righteousness of God – which is a free gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ and His name.
It must also be remembered that God works covenantally and the bible is a covenant document. It was predetermined in an eternal covenant between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world that Christ would be slain to take away sin for those whom the Father has given Him (Rev_13:8, Hebrews 13:20, John6:37-39, John 17:9-12, John 17:24, John 1:29). And because this contract agreement is between God the Father and God the Son we can rest assured that it will be fulfilled and that Jesus will indeed save and keep secure all those the Father has given him. We can rest in the fact that Christ has done it all for salvation and we are saved when we believe and trust in Him as the payment that the Father and Son made for the penalty of our sin.
To best introduce the study of Acts 22:16, let me relate the following story.
When I was in the Churches of Christ, I was told—and through experience was tempted to believe—that “evangelical Christians” would deny the necessity of baptism for salvation, even when they could not explain those passages which teach it; that the average Baptist or Bible Church preacher could not “get around” the obvious and natural meaning of such passages as Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, and 1 Pet 3:21. They were, I was told, like the Jews in the first century, in that even with a plain message of Scripture before them, they would deliberately shut their eyes to the truth and refuse to believe it and be saved.
Do you believe this was unfair?
With that as a background, let me share with you one of the most amazing confessions I have ever heard.
One day I was sitting in the office of a president of a Baptist college. The man had an earned Ph.D. in theology and is someone for whom I have a deep respect. No doubt he made this confession to me because he did not perceive me as an “enemy” from the Churches of Christ.
He told me that he had publicly debated with Churches of Christ preachers. He respected their general “fundamentalism,” but in matters of salvation he abhorred their theology. He believed and defended the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. However, he was not totally satisfied with his own interpretation of Acts 22:16 and 1 Pet 3:21. Acts 2:38, another Churches of Christ fortress, he could easily handle. However, Acts 22:16 was “very difficult” and 1 Pet 3:21 was, quoting Winston Churchill, a “mystery wrapped in a riddle and shrouded in an enigma.”
This confession still shocks me—especially coming as it did from a man of great learning and deep piety.
Was it confirmation of what I had always been told? Was this respected president a perfect example of someone holding to a doctrine in spite of the clear teaching of the Word of God? Was the Churches of Christ position the correct one after all?
It is because of such experiences that this article is written. Therefore, in order to present what I believe to be an adequate and satisfying interpretation of Acts 22:16, this article will state and evaluate the various exegetical options of this verse as found within the commentary tradition. It should be pointed out, however, that the commentary tradition, unlike its treatment of Acts 2:38, is not very extensive on Acts 22:16. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this. For one, it is a difficult text (commentators are notorious for commenting on the obvious and saying little on those passages where the problems exist!). Another reason is because this is the second of three times in Acts where Paul’s conversion experience is related, and most of the material—except this verse, which does not occur in the other accounts!—is treated elsewhere in the commentaries.
The context of Acts 22:16 finds Paul relating his testimony. He was going to Damascus to persecute believers when the Lord appeared to him. Blinded by the light, he was led into town to wait for someone to come to him. In Acts 22:16 Paul relates what Ananias, a believer commissioned by the Lord to go to Paul, said. It reads:
“‘And now why are you [Paul] waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'”1
I. The Sacramentarian View
The Sacramentarian view of this passage is quite straightforward: one washes away his sins at the time of (not necessarily by) his water baptism. Baptism, the biblically demanded act designed to manifest true faith, is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Paul was not saved (i.e., regenerated) on the Damascus Road, but later in the city when Ananias had ministered to him.
This view, while held by others, is best defended by apologists of the Churches of Christ.2
The defense of this position, like the sacramentarian defense of Acts 2:38, rests upon a straightforward, prima facie reading of the text. A few quotations from Churches of Christ commentators present this view with pointed force.
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SOURCE: What was the 5th Century Pelagian Controversy? How was this controversy similar to what is taught in the Churches of Christ today?
During the early part of the 5th century there was a religious controversy which occurred that placed at odds a very earnest, moral, and zealous monk by the name of Pelagius, against the Bishop of Hippo we know today at St. Augustine. This controversy became known at the Pelagian Controversy and came to a crisis point at the council of Carthage in 418 AD.
Pelagius was born on the British Isles. And sometime later in life when he traveled to Rome, he became alarmed about the godlessness he saw in the clergy and other professing Christians. It was while in Rome that Pelagius had the reputation for the calling of Christians ‘to the attaining of virtue and righteousness.’
In this way he and his followers had much in common with the Puritans in that they loved the law and the precepts of God, and were also very concerned about the moral laxity they saw in their own day.
The crisis point came, however, when Pelagius read a famous prayer written by St. Augustine, and in this prayer there was a statement that troubled him greatly. The statement was, “Oh God, grant unto us what thou dost command…”.
It was this very statement in that prayer which set into motion the controversy that was to ensue.
The question on Pelagius’ mind was, why would anyone need to pray such a prayer? For what Augustine was asking God for was that He grant unto them the moral and religious power and ability to do the very things that He had commanded.
For Augustine believed that, unless God grants the necessary grace, man by himself is inherently unable to live in perfect obedience to God, and that in our fallen humanity we lack the moral power and religious ability to do the things that God commands.
This teaching deeply concerned Pelagius.
How can it be that a Just and Holy God could render a law or command that in our own humanity we do not have the moral power and ability to obey? For God to be just and at the same time issue a law or command that we cannot possibly obey…(and then punish us?)…would not only be unthinkable but monstrous.
It was here that Pelagius rejected the teaching that man requires any kind of grace, or divine assistance outside of himself in order to live in obedience to the commands and laws of God.
No, Pelagius argued, God saves us by providing us with His laws and commands, by giving us the excellent moral examples of Christ and the saints, and by the cleansing waters of baptism.
For according to Pelagius, salvation can and is received by our own cooperation and obedience to the necessary commands and laws of God as found within the pages of the New Testament.
St. Augustine’s Response
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Here is a former Church of Christ member talking about the CoC style of preaching.
SOURCE: There are many wonderful Churches of Christ with uplifting biblical speakers. However, hard-line Churches of Christ use a preaching style that often uses up to 30 scripture quotes in one sermon:
1. Each scripture is intended to build the point or points.
The problem with this preaching style is that the context is usually lost by the third or fourth scripture citation, if it was ever established.
I have heard many preachers and members of these Churches of Christ express pride in the fact that so many scriptures are cited in sermons. Preachers are admired if they can recite many scriptures in a sermon off by heart.
The only way so many scriptures can be cited all in one sermon is to ignore each context of each scripture. This is fine if the entire congregation and all the visitors know the context of each verse cited, but this is seldom the case.
For instance when a sermon on the inspiration of the scriptures is preached, there is usually a progression from Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles and imbuing them with power from the Holy Spirit, to the Day of Pentecost, then statements by the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus (2:20–“the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”). The clincher is from Paul’s letter to Timothy (II Tim. 3:16–“All Scripture is Godbreathed”). Then Peter’s comments about Paul’s writings (II Peter 3:15). Wrap it up with Jude 3: “The faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”. That about does it.
I probably heard II Timothy 3:16 quoted at least one thousand times in sermons. I do not ever remember the context being given. I do not ever remember being mentioned the fact that Paul is speaking about the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in this passage. The hard-line Churches of Christ see the Old Testament ending at the cross and the New Testament beginning with the Day of Pentecost. They see a sharp dispensational change between the Old Testament and the New. To have the one favorite verse on the inspiration of the scriptures refer to the Old Testament scriptures (the New Testament had not yet been written) would seriously rankle, if the context were known.*
2. Even when the truth is being taught, to jump from passage to passage without understanding who wrote the book, and to whom, is a poor way to teach the Bible.
3. The biggest issue that arises from contextless sermons is the theme that the New Testament has a hidden blueprint for the work, worship and organization of the local congregation that is obvious if an honest person reads it (Taking the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, having no financial cooperation between congregations, no instrumental music, etc.).
This doctrine of a hidden blueprint in the New Testament can only be taught by ignoring the true context of the passages and imposing a distinctly hard-line Church of Christ presupposition onto the New Testament. **
- One has to assume that God is a rules-oriented God when it comes to commanding the practices of church worship.
- One has to assume that whatever the early churches did in response to Christ had to be because they were following strict rules that were given to them orally by the apostles that were never written down.
- One has to assume that these unwritten rules are so important that, in order to preserve the sanctity of these rules when others disagree, one has to divide and split churches.
When the context of these favorite blueprint passages are studied they do not indicate rules at all–only examples of the early church’s response to Christ.
4. These sermons are exciting to members of hard-line Churches of Christ, because they see their raison d’etre so powerfully laid out in scripture upon scripture, like a beloved memorized catechism comfortingly repeated as a ritual week after week. And for the same reason, these sermons are boring, if not irritating, to those who come to church wanting their understanding of their relationship with God to be expanded and empowered to be able to face the stresses and temptations of life.
SOURCE: Ask a member of the Church of Christ what the doctrine of justification by faith alone is, and they will most likely tell you ‘It is a doctrine teaching that a person can be saved simply by believing the basic facts or truths of the Christian faith.’ These facts may include believing in God, believing that the Bible is the Word of God, and believing the facts that Jesus died on the cross and rose again.
But here the Church of Christ member will often justify their rejection of this doctrine by saying, ‘But even the demons believe and of course this doesn’t do them any good whatsoever.’
Here it’s important to know that those who believe we are saved by personal faith in Christ do not believe salvation is merely by believing facts of the Christian faith, or by simply believing in some general way that Jesus lived, died on the cross and that He rose again.
Rather, we are believing God’s promise that Jesus Christ saves us.
That is, as Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness”, we are also believing God’s promise that on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself and received in His body ALL of God’s wrath, anger, and righteous indignation for OUR sin, and that God punished Jesus (our substitute) so that He would NOT have to punish us, and raised Him from the dead.
SOURCE: THE BAPTISMS OF THE BIBLE
The Baptism of John– Repentance
The Baptism of Jesus– Anointing, begins ministry of prophet and priesthood
The Baptism of Fire– Purifying or judgment
The Baptism of Moses– Deliverance of the nation Israel
The Baptism of the Cross (or Cup)- The suffering of death for our sins
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit– Being saved and put in the body of Christ also for service.
The Believers Baptism– Identification with Christ by water baptism.
Baptism is to identify with a person, a group of people or the message.
The Baptism of John – Matt. 3:6-11.(repentance)
The water was symbolic of the Kingdom of God which John was preaching. When a person was baptized by John, he was identification with the coming Messiah and his kingdom. The new believer was “identified” with Johns message of repentance, they then became part of the believing remnant, it was the person who was the messiah they were looking forward to.
To be baptized by John was a spiritual identification a visible sign of their repentance ,Johns proclamation was the coming “Kingdom of God” and to prepare oneself by repenting to prepare their heart.
Acts 13: 24: “Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.”
All the apostles except one were baptized by John and following his ministry. (the exception is Paul who saw the risen Christ) Acts 1: 21 “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and began his ministry after he was consecrated Luke 3: 21
Acts 10:38 tells us that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit. As a human, He was in submission to God to fulfill all righteousness and was anointed for His ministry like all priests.. He received a special anointing of the Holy Spirit for His public mission. ( Acts 10:38 ). Jesus was divinely consecrated for the work of redemption, being an eternal priest from the order of Melchizedek. In Matt. 3:15, Jesus tells us that His baptism was ‘to fulfill all righteousness.” The basic action of baptism is identification, so Jesus identified with righteousness in obedience to the Mosaic Law. The Levitical Law required that all priests were to be consecrated when they began their ministry at about 30 years of age). He being a man needed, to be anointed like the prophets of old. He Identified with the believing remnant and also with sinners even though he was not one also with mankind (sinners even though he was not one) (1 Cor. 5:21; Matt.3:11 ).
Remember he was introduced as the lamb to take away the sins of the world. This was a unique baptism because it had nothing to do salvation but a submission to the will of God. He Identified himself with the preaching of the Kingdom and repentance by John the Baptizer. ( Matt. 3:1-2 ) Jesus identified with righteousness in obedience to the Mosaic Law, to fulfill all righteousness.
The Baptism of Fire
There are two views on what the baptism of fire means: There is a judgment coming at the 2nd Coming of Christ when all nonbelievers are taken from the earth. Jesus taught several parables in reference to the end of time when believers and unbelievers will be separated Mt.25 the sheep from the goats. They will join the unbelievers from all time in hell who are waiting for the Last Judgment (The Great White Throne Judgment in Rev. 20). This occurs at the end of the Millennium when they are resurrected and put back in their bodies and put in the lake of fire. The Bible teaches that this baptism is for unbelievers in judgment.
SOURCE: It is interesting to note that the Churches of Christ often “write-off” the doctrine of justification by faith alone simply because they are convinced it is a “Calvinist” doctrine.
Church of Christ evangelist Gene Taylor of Centerville Road Church of Christ of Tallahassee Florida wrote the following in his introduction to the doctrine of Calvinism:
“Whenever someone contends that a) faith is a gift from God b) affirms that he has been saved by faith only c) embraces false teachings about the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in the conviction and conversion of sinners d) and believes it is impossible for a child of God to sin and be eternally lost, he has fallen victim to the Calvinist system of doctrine.”
This is amazing because when one compares these points with the actual teachings of Calvinism and the “free-will” (i.e. Arminianism) view, one would think the only difference between the two from what Mr. Taylor writes is the “P” of TULIP and the perseverance of the saints.
In other words, the Churches of Christ may be surprised to learn that BOTH Calvinists and “free-will” types believe in the doctrine of the fall AND the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
However, what is actually debated between Calvinists and “free-will” types is not the dynamics of the fall nor the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, but rather how resistible God’s grace is to man- i.e. the doctrine of election.
Here, the point of contention is that if God calls you- must you respond positively to His gospel, or in the finial analysis does man reserve the ability within himself to reject the God and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and thus be lost and eternally condemned?
At this point the Arminian will say yes to “free-will” while the Calvinist answers no.
However, it is the “Pelagian” or Church of Christ view that is being argued against here.
Pelagianism rejects the doctrine of the fall and rejects the teaching that man has a “sin nature” or predisposition to sin and to do evil. In contrast it believes that man has the ability within himself to respond positively to all the necessary moral and religious commands and laws of God in order to be saved.
Thus, making the same assumption about human ability, the Church of Christ therefore rejects the doctrine of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, believing anyone can be saved through “Patternism” or in other words, their own New Testament law-keeping.
Again, both Calvinists and Arminians or “free-will” types reject this view.
Both believe that because man is fallen, has a sinful nature, and therefore lacks the moral and religious ability to save himself “by New Testament Law-Keeping”, the only hope for sinful man is to place faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in Him alone to do what we could not possibly do in our own sinful selves.
SOURCE: One of the most common methods cult leaders use to establish their false doctrine is to employ segmented text attention. That is, isolating verses which on the surface seem to the novice Bible student, to affirm the cult’s doctrine.
In line with the cult’s false gospel of works as opposed to grace (Romans 11:6), in order to be justified (declared righteous) before God, many cults teach that one of several necessary steps to becoming saved is to be baptized in water. This inevitably removes the focus from Christ’s finished work and imputed righteousness to the individual (faith in Christ alone by grace alone), and subtlety or overtly leads to the conclusion that “official” baptism by and into the cult (the one and only true church) actually will save.
There are about eight main verses that the cults use as proof-texts for their doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but the most popular is Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, `Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”
Notice that on the surface it seems to prove their point, but not when one applies sound principles of interpretation. Remember the question to always ask is, “What does the passage mean“, not, “What does it say?”. For instance, Jesus seems to say in Luke 14:33 that one cannot be a disciple (Christian) unless he first gives away all his possessions. Obviously we have to interpret the verse in light of the context and in relation to the rest of Scripture.
First is the historical context. Jesus and the Gentile converts to Judaism were very familiar with the symbol of baptism for cleansing and separation. It was normal practice (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 122; New Bible Dictionary, Douglas, p. 131). John the Baptist continued the symbol of baptismal cleansing of repentance, but noted there was a baptism which superseded it — that is baptism with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).
SOURCE: My admission of having “left the Church of Christ” may come as a complete surprise to many who have known me through the years; to others who have followed my writings on the institutional church, it will not come as a shock. The decision to cast off the shackles of traditions and laws of men came after many years of prayerful study of the sacred scriptures and the history of the development of the first man-made religious entity – the Catholic Church.
Betty, my faithful and loving wife of over 44 years, has been by my side all the while, studying, praying, and affording me a sounding board where I could test newly discovered hypotheses. She has often served as a good balance to my occasional impetuosity. Today, we stand in complete agreement on what I shall set forth in this article. When I state the reasons why I left the Church of Christ, I really am speaking for Betty also.
It is with great emotional difficulty that one declares he left something behind that was once very near and dear to his heart. Especially, when it involves long-time friends and loved ones. No doubt the apostle Paul shed many a tear as he contemplated the meaning of his decision to leave Judaism in order to embrace the liberating Christ:
Brothers, I pray to God that the Jewish people will be saved; that is my heart’s desire. I tell you the truth, they have much enthusiasm for God, but they don’t understand! They ignored God’s righteousness and tried to establish their own type of righteousness. They did not put themselves under God’s kind of righteousness (S.E.B. Rom. 10:1-4).
This is the second time I have had to make this kind of heart-rending determination. I was born to Roman Catholic parents and was raised a Catholic. I was “baptized” as a baby, attended catechism (religious instructions), and was “confirmed” at the age of twelve. Later, Betty submitted to catechism to become a Catholic that we might marry. We remained Catholics until I was 24 years old. By this time we were introduced to the teachings of the Church of Christ. I remember that much of the discussion centered around identifying “The One True Church.” As a Catholic, I was conditioned to the “one true church” concept and had no difficulty accepting it. Also, I could see that Jesus and the apostles taught “immersion” as being necessary for the remission of sins. After much study and deliberation we left the Catholic Church and became “members of the Church of Christ.”
Four years after our conversion in Wheeling, West Virginia, I gave up a promising career as a country music entertainer and moved to Temple Terrace (Tampa), Florida where I enrolled as a student in Florida Christian College (later changed to Florida College). I wanted to study the Bible in an intense program, and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I preached for various congregations over the next 30 years. During this time, I arrived at scriptural conclusions that were considered erroneous and dangerous by some of the clergy (preachers and elders) of this sect. We were branded as “unsound in the faith.” Those preachers, elders, and churches which were under the influence of Florida College were warned “to have nothing to do with Dusty Owens.” Interestingly, I have been invited to entertain (sing) at lectureships, homecomings, etc. many times, but never once asked to present a Bible lesson. I have often been solicited to make a financial contribution to the school, but never asked to contribute to their spiritual well-being.
I did not intend for this article to be a biography, but I felt that the reader ought to know these pertinent points. Please keep in mind that as I discuss why I left the Church of Christ, I hold no animosity or ill-will toward any person. God’s child is my brother or sister in Christ. I will state up front that I do hate the system men devised that robs God’s people of their rich inheritance, including the blessings of joy, peace, hope and love. And now, why I left the Church of Christ.
Emphasis On “Church”
When members of the Church of Christ claim they are “the one true church,” they mean that emphatically. They profess to be the only, therefore the true church, that Jesus will save. They go on to identify it by name, “Church of Christ,” and insist that one must be a member of this “Church” in order to be saved. Furthermore, they contend that one must be “a faithful member of the church” to be saved. “Faithful” includes attending every announced assembly (“worship service and Bible study”), and giving to the church liberally of your financial earnings and your time. It also includes doing everything according to “truth,” which, of course, is determined by the preachers and elders. If your study of the scriptures does not produce the same conclusions that they have reached, you are in “error,” judged “unfaithful,” and subject to “marking” and even “disfellowshipping.”
Gradually, as I studied the scriptures and the original language of the New Testament (Greek), I could see the errors of these contentions. Basically, there is one error – a faulty premise. When you assume the existence of a “church,” everything about the church seems to fall into place.
SOURCE: A person challenged me to show one verse in scripture that ‘salvation is by faith alone’. I replied with the following:
Considering the CHURCH OF CHRIST’s own standard of “necessary inference”, a person can identify this as plain as the nose on his face because there are at least 154 passages throughout the New Testament which tell us salvation is by placing faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Consider for a moment the following passages:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“Most assuredly, I say unto you, he who hears my Word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come to judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24
“…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph. 2:8
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16
These verses and provided passages plainly and clearly state:
* a direct relationship between salvation/ justification and faith- with nothing else being mentioned in the sentence or context, and/ or,
* a direct eternal benefit from faith- with nothing else being mentioned in the sentence or the context;
* therefore, since nothing else other than “faith” is mentioned in the thoughts or context being communicated-
Faith Alone or “faith only” is what is implied and required.
To further illustrate the above reality, as well as to show how ‘selective’ those in the Church of Christ are in applying their own standard, this individual applied the “faith only” argument to the illustration of Noah building the ark – with gopherwood “only”.
“Make yourself an ark of gopherwood (only); make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch (only). And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits (only). it width fifty cubits (only), and its height thirty cubits (only). You shall make a window for the ark (only), and you shall finish it to a cubit from above (only); and set the door of the ark in its side (only). You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks (only).”
His point: It’s utterly ridiculous for the Church of Christ to assert its ‘no verse in scripture specifically says we are saved by faith-only’ argument when honest consideration is given to the biblical verse(s), text, and context of those passages.
To refuse the plainly stated truth from the Word of God that salvation is simply by grace though faith in Jesus Christ alone is like saying:
‘Noah was told to to build an ark with gopher wood, but the Scripture NEVER specifies that he was told to use gopherwood “only”.’
SOURCE: The Church of Christ denomination often state that Christ Church started at Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. But is this really true.
1. The church is referred to before Pentecost, both by the word “church” (Matthew 16:18; 18:17) and by its figurative names – flock, bride, house, etc. (Luke 12:32, cf. I Pet. 5:2; John 3:29, cf. Ephesians 5:22-31; Mark 13:33-36, cf. I Timothy 3:15).
2. The English word “church” is a translation of the Greek word “ekklesia”, which means a called-out assembly. Jesus’ disciples were both called-out and assembling with Him before the day of Pentecost (e.g. Matthew 4:19; John 1:35ff).
3. Apostles were set in the church (I Corinthians 12:28) before Pentecost (Matthew 10:1-2; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13). The gospel was preached by them before Pentecost (e.g. Luke 9:6).
4. Ordinances were instituted and observed before Pentecost (John 4:1-2; Matthew 26:26-30).
5. John the Baptist prepared a people ready for the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 1:17), not for the day of Pentecost. Mark 1:1ff. indicates the gospel age began with John’s ministry. Cf. also Matthew 11:13 and Luke 16:16.
6. The church was commissioned before Pentecost: first the limited commission of Matthew 10:1-4 and then the extended commission of Matthew 28:18-20.
7. Jesus sang in the church before Pentecost (Hebrews 2:12; Matthew 26:30).
8. The last days refer to the church age, and the last days were in existence during Jesus’ ministry (Hebrews 1:2).
9. There was church discipline before the day of Pentecost (Matthew 18:17).
10. The church had a business meeting before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26).
11. The Lord added to the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41-47), so there had to exist a church for people to have been added to it.
12. There was an ordination service before Pentecost (Mk. 3:13-14).
13. The church had a treasurer . John 12:4-6
There is no reason to suppose that the church could not exist with her visible Head present. Nothing in scripture says the church was or had to be started on Pentecost.
SOURCE: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
BAPTISMAL REGENERATION teaches that ritual, water baptism secures the forgiveness of sins and marks the moment at which the one being baptized is “born again,” or incorporated into the “Body of Christ.” It is generally understood to be the person’s “spiritual birthday,” the rite by which he becomes a “Christian.” Is this belief consistent with what the Bible says is true regarding God’s salvation?
There is only one Gospel that must be proclaimed to a lost and dying world! Gal. 1:6-12. Yet, a realistic look at the “Christian” scene today attests to the fact that there are many “gospels” preached. Each gives its own particular formula for what people must do to be saved. While each of these “gospels” claim that faith in Jesus Christ is important, some add baptism or other “commandments” as prerequisites to “the new birth.”
There is also the widespread practice of “easy believeism” whereby simple mental assent to the “Lordship of Christ” is deemed sufficient to obtain God’s salvation (without even specifying what one must believe about Jesus Christ in order to claim Him as “Lord!”). The convicting and enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit through the clear, Biblical presentation of what God says one must believe in order to be saved is totally disregarded by this “numbers-oriented” form of evangelism.
A careful consideration of the Gospel as presented in the Bible is of tremendous importance. The salvation of lost souls is at stake! If the message we preach varies in the slightest from the revealed truth of God’s Word, then it is of Satan—not of God. There is a sad tendency today among many professing Bible believers to accommodate those who embrace a false gospel, supposedly for the sake of “unity” and “the spirit of love.” It is necessary, however, to stand firm on the Gospel of the Bible which teaches that there is only one way of salvation—and that by grace, through faith, alone!
Proponents of Baptismal Regeneration
The Roman Catholic Church was one of the earliest and most influential perpetrators of this error. Roman Catholic teaching most certainly has not changed in recent years either, nor has the “Charismatic Catholic” departed one iota from the belief that salvation is secured by ritual baptism into the Roman Catholic Church: Vatican Council II says, “The saving act of Jesus was applied to Mary in the moment of her conception; to us in our baptism…” (Lumen Gentium 1, 53); “…I have washed you clean and given you new life, my life in baptism [these were supposedly the words of Christ Himself]” (Prophecy from the 1988 Roman Catholic Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame). Rome teaches baptismal regeneration.
The Orthodox Churches also teach baptismal regeneration: “Baptism is a new birth. It is being born to the life made new by our Lord Jesus Christ. It means to be alive in Christ… Through Holy Baptism all become Christ’s. We become Christians and have the opportunity to inherit God’s Kingdom… Why in the world would any parents who claim to be Christians want to put off making their offspring Christians as soon as possible? Don’t they want their infants to share in the Kingdom of God? The baptized one becomes a member of Christ’s body—His Church” (Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church, ONE CHURCH, 1981).
Mormonism says you must be baptized in order to be saved: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, they who believe not on your words, and are not baptized in water in my name, for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the Holy Ghost, shall be damned, and shall not come into my Father’s kingdom where my Father and I am” (Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, nos. 84:74).
Seventh Day Adventism teaches baptism is the vehicle in procuring the forgiveness of sins: “Is it necessary for a person to be baptized to be saved? Answer: Yes, indeed!… A Christian is a newborn ‘babe’ in Christ. This is why the experience or conversion is called ‘the new birth.’ No past exists in God’s sight. It was buried in the watery grave of baptism…” (“Buried and Forgotten by God!”; a Seventh Day Adventist publication).
The Church of Christ, Episcopalians, and many Lutherans hold the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration in one form or another. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others could be added to this number, many within Protestantism included.
These groups invariably equate membership in their particular church with salvation itself. With notable consistency, religious bodies which profess to be “the one true church” incorporate ritual baptism as an essential step in their “What must I do to be saved” formula. It is claimed that by means of this ceremony one is introduced into the membership of the “church which alone can save.”
Every believer who has shared the Gospel of God’s saving grace with a Catholic knows the common reaction: “Of course I believe in Christ as my Saviour!” However, after further questioning, it becomes obvious that “belief” in Christ is not their sole confidence, for they believe that their continuance in faithfulness to “the church” and the sacraments of the church are also essential if there is to be any hope of obtaining everlasting life. That kind of “believing in Christ” is not the unconditional, absolute faith that produces Bible salvation.
Efforts on the part of mainline Protestants and even “evangelicals” who have historically subscribed to “salvation by faith alone” to seek common ground with groups such as those listed above have resulted in a haziness with respect to the definition of the Gospel message itself. They will seemingly go to any length—even disregarding the essentials of the Gospel message itself—in order to avoid offence and make the baptismal regenerationist feel comfortable in Protestant/evangelical circles.
For example, notice the following representative statements from a few prominent religious leaders of our day who supposedly represent churches where “salvation by faith alone” is the standard. Note how they lend credence to religious groups such as those just mentioned which espouse the false gospel of baptismal regeneration:
“In two short decades, we have moved from the living room dialogue in which Protestants and Catholics were just discovering one another to be Christian, to widespread recognition of one another’s baptism” (Dr. Arie Brouwer, former General Secretary, National Council of Churches, spoken at the 1988 Arlington, Texas “Gathering of Christians”).
TIME magazine for 10/27/61 printed the following quote by Dr. Billy Graham: “I still have some personal problems in the matter of infant baptism, but all of my children with the exception of the youngest were baptized as infants. I do believe that something happens at the baptism of an infant, particularly if the parents are Christians … I believe that a miracle can happen in these children so that they are regenerated, that is, made Christian through infant baptism.”
Again, at Amsterdam ’86, Graham revealed the same strange thinking when asked by this writer how churches from such a broad spectrum of belief—those holding to a “works salvation” included—could be brought together for joint evangelistic outreach. Here is Graham’s answer: “Evangelism is about the only word we can unite on… Our methods would be different and there would be debates over even the message sometimes, but there is no debate over the fact that we need to evangelize… I think there is an ecumenicity here that cannot [be gotten] under any other umbrella.”
Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, gave a similar answer when we questioned him about Roman Catholic and Orthodox involvement at the Amsterdam ’86 conference: “The Holy Spirit of God is doing something unique in most major denominations—Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic… In all denominations I think there is a return to New Testament faith.”
The basic difference between the gospel preached by churches which advocate baptismal regeneration and those which do not is being rubbed out by today’s evangelical leaders. This is a very serious matter.
What is Essential for Salvation?
What is essential for salvation? Faith alone or faith plus water baptism, church membership, “good works” or whatever? This is a tremendously important consideration, for the “faith” of the former cannot possibly be the same “faith” as the latter. The sinner in need of salvation cannot be saved by a faith which stands alone as the sole requisite to the new birth, and also be saved by a faith to which another step or steps must be added in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life. To err at this point is to be eternally lost regardless of how sincere a person might be.