(EDITOR'S NOTE: Be sure and read Bro. Pennock's "Response To 'A Response" Elsewhere in this issue.)
1.Since Brother Gordon Pennock has in two different papers criticized statements from me on baptism and raised questions as to why I have not replied, I give a few reasons.
2. Anything I say can always be so worked over as to make it of little value in clearing away the fog of misunderstanding, and the words can be pressed to erroneous and harmf ul conclusions. This has so often been done that I hesitate to say anything that can be made to serve as more fuel for the flame.
3. For example, my usage of "essential" and "arbitrary" has been misunderstood or twisted, and I have been pictured as teaching what I have never taught, but always repudiated. My usage of both these terms I carefully explained to Brother Pennock after his article in the Gospel Guardian and before his criticisms in Truth.
4. Brother Billy Boyd had an excellent introduction to his review of my first article. Then, disregarding his own very good advice, he proceded to read into my article (or suggests its implication of) an argument which it never made. I did not so much as dream of teaching now Holy Spirit baptism as received by the apostles. His one other criticism was that I misused John 3:5. After he got through with his argument, he obviously agreed with the truth I was stating. He just thought I included one too many verses in demonstrating it. Since we agree on the conclusion, I merely suggest that he study John 3:5 a few more years, and he may come to see that what he said of it is true, but there's still more of it.
5. Several brethren have informed me that when they say, "Baptism is essential to salvation," they mean simply that it is a part of God's plan of salvation. They do not deny God's sovereignty. They do not mean He is powerless to extend mercy where He will. It was my judgment when I wrote The Law of Christ that the majority of those who use the term "essential" mean that God cannot save any unbaptized adult of normal intelligence. Brother Pennock denied that he meant such. I then declared to him, "I accept your definition of terms and do according to it preach baptism as essential to salvation for the proper subject."
6. He said that I should make such a statement openly, which I have been doing in various ways. He further stated that brethren would not be satisfied with my stating what the Bible teaches on baptism. I would have to go beyond that and do negative teaching. In my recent second article I did point out the errors of infant baptism, sprinkling and pouring, and the view that Bible baptism was "because of" remission of sins.
7. Brother Pennock says that we could not agree. I thought we did agree here. A clear statement in Truth was to prepare the way for full and unhampered fellowship. He felt some former statements of mine were inconsistent with these, but knew that I could not in good conscience repudiate them, since I see their consistency. Yet, he commented, "Your present statements are in themselves a repudiation of your former ones." My reply was, "You can regard them so, if you choose."
8. It was, therefore, shocking to see that he chose to ignore our entire conversation, not only asserting inconsistency, but representing me as teaching baptism not to be essential. The doctrine of "non-essentiality" I have repudiated everywhere, including the pages of The Law of Christ. To find Brother Pennock ignoring in his public criticisms the crucial matter of my acceptance of his own definition of terms was a severe blow. I saw little hope of saying anything that would be accepted, and 1 could not affirm the Biblical teachings any more plainly than I already had.
9. Had a staff writer contributed the two articles I did write, I am certain they would have received an editorial blessing. The kind of review they got indicated to me that anything I said would be viewed long enough through the magnifying glass to find something to challenge.
10. What were the chief criticisms? The articles were "vague" and over-emphasized the Holy Spirit. They stated definitely that baptism is for remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, salvation, or eternal life. They definitely condemned errors already mentioned above. Is this "vague?" Is it "vague" to include the whole of Acts 2:38, rather than only the first half? Is it over-emphasizing the Holy Spirit to say what Peter said? Let's face it, Brethren. The last half of Mk. 16:16 is vague and confusing to those who want to stop with the first half and the last half of Acts 2:38 is vague and confusing to those who want to go on blithely declaring, "Remission of sins is the design of baptism."
11. There's nothing vague about this. The facts are simple. We just don't ordinarily preach the whole truth. Now, if we mean what we say about our great willingness to be shown something from God's word, let's be thankful that we find more light breaking forth from the Scriptures and quit clipping Acts 2:38 half-into. After all, I didn't write the passage. I merely wish to preach the whole truth on the matter and encourage others to do the same.
12. As for Brother Pennock's charge that I claim baptism is not "fixed" and "according to God's will," because I deny it to be an "arbitrary" command, I can but lay the facts before you. I have consistently used this term to mean "capricious, according to whim or fancy, tyrannical, despotic." I even pulled out my Thorndike's Century Senior Dictionary and read him the full definition: "1. based on one's own wishes, notion, or will; not going by rule or law. A good judge does not make arbitrary decisions. 2. capricious. 3. tyrannical."
13. The unabridged dictionaries show other possible usages, but I employed the common one. Even were I incorrect, for Brother Pennock to ignore the usage that I explained to him and attribute to me another is something I simply can't understand. Before God, I could not do this to my bitterest enemy. My brother might as well finish his job and accuse me of tossing out all God's commands, for I insist that God has no "arbitrary" commands in this era of grace and maturity.
14. Here, then, is another reason I have not replied. I cannot understand the working of a man's mind or conscience when he is told how a term is used and can go on as if he had been told nothing, even attributing to his brother a meaning and usage which he knows the brother did not have in mind. This is comparable to my insisting that Brother Pennock does not believe God can possibly save an unbaptized man I since he says, "Baptism is 'essential'... I once thought he so believed. I thought many others who used the language meant the same. I was wrong. Therefore, I do not wish to prejudice a term. Baptism is an essential part of God's plan, as is repentance and faith.
15. If Brother Pennock were confronted by a dumb man and Rom. 10:9,10, he would have to decide whether the law is so inflexible as to make no provision for human need and limitation. If he concluded that sometimes God accepts the man who has not fully obeyed the commandment, he would not be playing fast and loose with God's word. Nor would he necessarily be encouraging others to disobey who can and should and must obey. Those who refuse any command, knowing it to be God's will, are in reality refusing God. I explained all this to our brother and pointed out that the charge of inconsistency he was hurling at me could by the same logic be turned upon him, if be insisted that confession with the mouth is an integral part of man's response to the Gospel and must not be tossed out, yet admitted that it was possible in some circumstances for one to accept Christ without it. The same could be said of the command to sing.
16. 1 would make a fuller defense against the charge of inconsistency, if it would not appear to some to be arguing against God's law. Now, that there can be no excuse for any who reads these lines to doubt that I teach the Bible on baptism, and further defense would be more personal than an upholding of God's word, and since anything I say can be tragically twisted and misinterpreted, I close with this.
17. When there is greater care among us, a freer and more open-minded atmosphere around us, less suspicion within us, we can learn more from one another. Till then we can work and pray and wait.
18. I have repeatedly admitted mistakes. I do so again. I have made statements that led people to draw wrong conclusions about what I believe and teach. I failed to get across my message. I accept the blame as mine, not merely the reader's or hearer's.
19. 1 have sent copies of letters and revisions of The Law of Christ as far away as Texas and California. If it were true, I would gladly confess, "Once I did not believe baptism to be for remission of sins, but I have changed, and I pray your forgiveness and God's." But this is not true. For that reason I have to say that I have never believed otherwise.
20. If I must be thought thick-brained and inconsistent, I am deeply sorry. I want to make every concession that I can in honor make. I desire to assume all blame that I can with, integrity assume. What else can I do? I cannot lie, nor play God false. I can only work and pray that through His Holy Spirit He will work in our hearts for true love, Christian understanding, and a real unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Truth Magazine II:1, pp. 6-7, 18