November 22, 2017

Mike Blackwell on Baptism

When a person indicates an interest in baptism, we tend to want to baptize him that very moment instead of waiting for the next assembly because we are convinced that should that individual die in their sleep they will be numbered among the lost.

Many people in the church fail to differentiate between what is normative for the Christian faith and what is exceptional. I remember growing up as a boy hearing sermons during gospels meetings (when we would sing "Just As I Am" 2,000 times during the invitation to insure that someone would go forward) and how the preachers would tell a tragic story about a young man or woman who decided to be baptized but before they could go into the water were killed in a car wreck or by a falling meteor. "How sad!" the preachers would wail, "He was so close to salvation, but now is eternally lost in the hell of fire!" The folks in the crowd would nod reverently in agreement. The message was quite clear: God does not consider circumstances or intent, only whether or not one made it into the pool.

This sort of thinking has led to various sorts of bizarre legalisms. When a person indicates an interest in baptism, we tend to want to baptize him that very moment instead of waiting for the next assembly because we are convinced that should that individual die in their sleep they will be numbered among the lost. I remember a man who was baptized and whose hand did not totally make it under the water. The baptism was deemed invalid by an observing minister and had to be done over again.

The implication is that the act of baptism itself, not God, is the salvific factor. For so many years we have engaged in polemics with folk who contended that the thief on the cross was saved apart from baptism that we have concluded God cannot save any-one unless that person receives baptism with our own imprimatur. In our history, Alexander Campbell was criticized when he wrote that a person could receive sprinkling as baptism in some contexts and be saved, and David Lipscomb was taken to task for suggesting that a person could receive immersion in a Baptist church and still be deemed a Christian. These brothers as well as others were seeking to steer the Restoration Movement away from a crippling legalism and Pharisaic thinking.

We must remember that the church belongs to Christ and he will admit or deny whoever he chooses. We are to teach immersion as the normative form, but at the same time we must not fall into a quasi-magical type of thinking. It is the relationship of the person to the Lord that is the pivotal factor. God can, and does, make exceptions. We are not to confuse the exceptions with the normative, but we are to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it comes to the ways of Providence.

Review of "Mike Blackwell on Baptism"

Larry Ray Hafley

If brother Blackwell were a Baptist and attacked his brethren who insist that one cannot be saved without repentance and faith in Christ, here is how his article might read:

Many people in the church fail to differentiate between what is normative for the Baptist faith and what is exceptional. I remember growing up as a boy hearing sermons during revival meetings (when we would sing "Just As I Am" 2,000 times during the invitation to insure that someone would go forward) and how the preachers would tell a tragic story about a young man or woman who decided to repent but before they could believe were killed in a car wreck or by a falling meteor. "How sad!" the preachers would wail, "He was so close to salvation, but now is eternally lost in the hell of fire!" The folks in the crowd would nod reverently in agreement. The message was quite clear: God does not consider circumstances or intent, only whether or not one believed in Christ.

This sort of thinking has led to various sorts of bizarre legalisms. When a person indicates an interest in God, we tend to want to lead him to faith in Christ that very moment instead of waiting for the next assembly, because we are convinced that should that individual die in their sleep they will be numbered among the lost. I remember a man who believed in God but did not totally repent and believe in Christ as the Son of God. His faith was deemed invalid by an observing minister, and he had to repent and believe all over again.

The implication is that the act of believing itself, not God, is the saving factor. For so many years we have engaged in polemics with Primitive "Hard Shell" Baptist folks who contended that the other, impenitent thief on the cross was saved apart from repentance and faith in Christ that we have concluded the God cannot save anyone unless that person receives faith with our own. In our history, Charles Spurgeon was criticized when he wrote that a person could receive faith in a Deity as a substitute for faith in Christ, in some contexts, and be saved, and Billy Graham was taken to task for suggesting that a person could believe in a Church of Christ and still be a Baptist. These brothers, as well as others, were seeking to steer the Reformation Movement away from a crippling legalism and Pharisaic thinking.

We must remember that the church belongs to Christ, and he will admit or deny whomever he chooses. We are to teach repentance and faith in Christ as the normative form, but, at the same time, we must not fall into a quasi-magical type of thinking. It is the relationship of the person to the Lord that is the pivotal factor. God can, and does, make exceptions. We are not to confuse the exceptions with the normative, but we are to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it comes to the ways of providence.

Additional Observations

First, how would brother Blackwell refute the parallel above? It "proves" that one can be saved without faith in Christ as well as his article "proves" that some will be saved apart from "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 6:17, 18; 16:26).

Second, did anyone bother to count the number of Scriptures brother Blackwell used to establish his position?

Third, if you counted the same number I did, what shall we say of his article in view of the following pas-sages? (1) "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20). (2) "(We are) not to think of men above that which is written" (1 Cor. 4:6). "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). (3) "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me. . . .And the things that thou hast heard of me . . . the same commit thou to faithful men" (2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2). (4) "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15). (5) "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them" (2 Tim. 3:14).

Fourth, since brother Blackwell appeals to Alexander Campbell, does that not open him up to the charge of being a "Campbellite"?

Fifth, does brother Blackwell stand with Campbell and Lipscomb in their adamant opposition to mechanical instruments of music in worship? Or, would he say that while singing is "the normative," that we should "cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it comes to the ways of worship and allow, under certain conditions, the use of pianos and organs?" If brother Blackwell does not agree to be "flexible" in the area of music in worship, but insists on singing only, would that not "steer the Restoration Movement" toward "crippling legalism and Pharisaic thinking"?

Sixth, "Alexander Campbell was criticized" when he became an advocate of the missionary society in the work of evangelism. Would brother Blackwell have joined with Campbell in his effort to promote such organizations to do the work God gave the church to do? Or, would he oppose them and "steer the Restoration Movement" into "a crippling legalism and Pharisaic thinking"?

Seventh, with respect to immersion, music in worship, observance of the Lord's supper and the giving of our means "upon the first day of the week," would brother Blackwell say:

"We must remember that the church belongs to Christ, and He will admit or deny whatever practice He chooses. We are to teach immersion, singing, giving, and the taking of the Lord's Supper `upon the first day of the week' as the normative form, but, at the same time, we must not fall into a quasi-magical type of thinking. It is the relationship of the person to the Lord that is the pivotal factor. God can, and does, make exceptions. (Hence, we may play a piano in worship, give, and take the Lord's supper on Saturday.) We are not to confuse the exceptions with the normative, but we are to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it come to the ways of the worship of the church." (See Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16, 17; 2 John 9.)

Eighth, brother Blackwell says that insisting on baptism the "very moment" one indicates an interest in it is a form of "bizarre legalism." (1) When 3000 in Acts 2 were baptized "that same day," was that a case of "bizarre legalism" (Acts 2:37-41)? (2) When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch the "very moment" he expressed "an interest" in baptism, was that a "bizarre legalism" (Acts 8:35-39)? (3) When the jailer in Philippi was baptized "the same hour of the night" (midnight), was that an example of the "bizarre legalism" to which brother Blackwell referred (Acts 16:25-34)? (4) When Saul of Tarsus was asked what he was waiting on ("And now why tarriest thou?"), was that yet another case of "bizarre legalism" (Acts 22:16)? Brother Blackwell, could you please cite a case of baptism being delayed until "the next assembly" for penitent believers who indicated "an interest in baptism"?

Ninth, if baptism is valid when one's hand is not immersed, what about his head as well as his hand? Would that be "deemed invalid"? If not, what if both hands and his head and shoulders were not immersed? Would that baptism be "deemed invalid"? If a man said only his head had been immersed, would you deem his baptism to be "invalid," or would you say it "had to be done over again"? If you did, would that make you guilty of a "bizarre legalism"?

Would you be endorsing "a crippling legalism and Pharisaic thinking" if you were to deem a man's Methodist sprinkling "invalid" and insist that he be immersed? If you insisted that a product of the Methodist sprinkling system had to be immersed, how would you respond if the Methodist were to say, "We must remember that the church belongs to Christ, and He will admit whomever He chooses. We are to teach immersion as the normative form, but, at the same time, we must not fall into a quasi-magical type of thinking. It is the relationship of the person to the Lord that is the pivotal factor. God can, and does, make exceptions; therefore, my Methodist sprinkling will suffice for baptism. We are not to confuse the exceptions (sprinkling) with the normative (immersion), but we are to cultivate an attitude of flexibility when it come to the ways of baptism"? How would you answer the man, brother Blackwell?

In this connection, Blackwell charges that Christians in the past unwittingly have made "baptism itself, not God, the (saving) factor." That is a slur and a slander against the truth and the people of God. It is a lie and an insult to the faith of Christ! When the Spirit says that "baptism doth also now save us," does Blackwell believe that Peter was implying that "baptism itself, not God, was the (saving) factor"? No, he was not, and neither are we.

Tenth, since brother Blackwell acknowledges a standard, or a "normative form" for the work and worship of Christians and admits that we should not "confuse the exceptions with the normative," the standard, the pattern of the word of God, will he tell us how he establishes what is "the normative form" as opposed to "the exceptions"? If he replies, let him take up Philippians 3:16, 17  "How-ever, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." (Note that those who followed "the exceptions" rather than the "standard" to which Paul appealed were called "enemies of the cross of Christ"  Phil. 3:18). Paul was inflexible in those areas. Perhaps he was merely lapsing back into his former "Pharisaic thinking"!

Eleventh, since the Old Testament was "written for our learning," what do we learn about "the exceptions" to "the normative form" (Rom. 15:4)? (1) Should Nadab and Abihu have been allowed their "exception" of "strange fire" (Lev. 10:1, 2)? The "normative form" was to burn incense with fire from the coals of the altar (Lev. 6:12, 13; 16:12). The "exception" was disallowed! (2) The "normative form" in Numbers 15 was to do no work on the Sabbath. The "exception" of picking up sticks resulted in death (Heb. 2:2, 3; 10:26-31). (3) The "normative form" (the standard, the rule of the word of God) was that none was to touch God's holy vessels (Num. 4:15). In an exceptional circumstance, Uzza "put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark; and there he died before God" (1 Chron. 13:9, 10). Again, "the exception" was disallowed.

Twelfth, in the areas to which brother Blackwell refers, he affirms that "God can, and does, make exceptions." Where did he learn this? Further, he speaks of "Pharisaic thinking." The Pharisees sought to add their human traditions, their "exceptions," to the word of God. This sounds like brother Blackwell! He is the one who contends for the acceptance of human "exceptions," as opposed to "normative form" of the word of God; hence, he is the one who is guilty of "Pharisaic thinking." Rather than cultivating "an attitude of flexibility when it comes to the ways of Providence" (which, as used by Blackwell, the word of God no where encourages), why not "cultivate an attitude" of obedience to the word of God, "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 1:9, 10; 3:17; 1 John 4:6)?

Incidentally, is brother Blackwell binding his "attitude of flexibility" upon us? If so, would that not be a form of "crippling legalism"? However, we do have "an attitude of flexibility." We feel flexible enough to reject his appeal. Will he grant us that flexibility, or will he rigidly bind his crippling, legalistic brand of flexibility upon us?

Finally, do not be deceived by brother Blackwell's subtle words. When he speaks of "what is normative for the Christian faith" as opposed to "what is exceptional," he is bidding for a reception of unscriptural, denominational doctrines and human traditions (cf. Rom. 16:17, 18). His first sentence, in essence, says, "Many people in the church fail to differentiate between what is taught in the word of God and what is not taught in the New Testament." Brother Blackwell, "Thou art the man." Our appeal, "our own imprimatur" (official approval), is the "normative form" or pattern of the word of God (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42). "Exceptions" to the teaching of the word of God makes one's worship void and vain (Matt. 7:21-23; 15:8, 9).

It is not a question of what God can do. The issue is not "our history," nor the practice of "the Restoration Movement." The question, ever and always, is, "What saith the Scriptures?" "How readest thou?" Whether it be baptism or Sabbath service, tell us what the Bible says! If that be "crippling legalism," then, by all means, cripple us with truth, and let the Lord carry us home (Rev. 2:10)!

Guardian of Truth XLI: 11 p. 10-13
June 5, 1997

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