Brother Key Writes on Baptism

Gordon J. Pennock
Rockford, Ill.

On page 4 of this issue appears an article entitled, "What is Scriptural Baptism?" from the pen of brother Roy Key, preacher for the church in Maywood, Ill. While this article, in our judgment, contains many ambiguities, as well as some things which may be criticized and challenged, we recommend its reading to you. This is in keeping with the policy of TRUTH magazine, namely: that brethren who are involved in brotherhood controversies be privileged to be heard. We consider this policy to be both fair to the writer and of benefit to our readers. Having heard all sides of a disputed matter, it is easier to reach an intelligent decision.

It is furthermore our policy to forbid this medium to be used for displays of bitterness, insinuation, vilification or character-assassination. While we are well aware that some issues assume personification, we believe that discussion should be focalized upon the issue rather than upon the proponent of the issue. Proving him to be either saintly or demonic will not necessarily validate or invalidate his contentions. With respect for this principle, we now submit the following facts and comments to be compared and contrasted with brother Key's article on page 4.

An Unpleasant Situation

As is widely known, some of brother Key's positions regarding the subject of baptism as set forth in the past have been called in question by many brethren. He has been charged with advancing views which compromise, if not contradict, the plain teaching of the New Testament. The result is that these brethren have marked brother Key as being unsound and have largely withdrawn their fellowship from him. Responsibility has in a measure been laid upon the Maywood (now known as West Suburban) church -- especially its elders - since they apparently endorse brother Key's views. To be sure this is not a pleasant nor wholesome situation and should, if at all possible, be remedied immediately. If this disharmony is the result of misunderstanding, as contended by brother Key, then those concerned ought to end it without delay. But if upon the other hand, as is insisted by so many brother Key has taught, or is teaching things, contrary to the truth then he is obligated to both repudiate his error and return to scriptural positions so that unity can be restored.

But, brother Key refuses to repudiate any of his past teaching of the subject of baptism; he rather proceeds to supplement it. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect that his pastand present pronouncements should be harmonious with each other. But if his present statements contradict his former ones, then both wisdom and honesty demands that he renounce them. Sincere brethren will be glad to recognize and accept his change, and the cause of unity will be served.

With these preliminaries past, we now set before our readers some of brother Key's former statements upon the subject of baptism. We bid them to compare and contrast them with his article in this issue and the ones to follow. The quotations which we give are direct from his tongue and pen, with emphasis placed upon certain words and phrases in order to facilitate a quick analysis by the reader. We furthermore limit them to certain questions which have been asked of brother Key and his replies. Thus each statement is complete in itself and none can charge us with removing his words from their context.

Questions with Brother Key's Answers

We turn first to a booklet which was published by brother Key in 1954 entitled, "The Law of Christ." Commencing with page 35 and running through page 37 we give our first quotations. We read:

QUESTION: "If the true intent of circumcision, sacrifice, washing of hands, etc., could be realized apart from literal obedience to these rites, do you mean to imply that the purpose of baptism and the Lord's Supper can also be realized apart from literal obedience to these ordinances?"

REPLY: "May I make it clear that I do not wish to encourage anyone to neglect either baptism or the Lord's Supper. I would not, knowingly, teach anyone to break the least of God's commands. He has given them for our good and our salvation. It is the part of love and humility to accept them, seeing in them what He wants us to see, trusting His promises to bless."

QUESTION: "You have not answered my question. Do you preach their essentiality?"

REPLY: "I do not. I do not find the New Testament talking of essentiality. I do not believe that every unbaptized person will be eternally lost . . ."

COMMENT: Here is an example of the ambiguity which seems to characterize both the writing and the conversation of brother Key. He seems to say that baptism is important, yet it's not important. It's essential, yet it's not essential. He stresses it upon the one hand and minimizes it upon the other~ lie seems to conclude that although Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), he that believeth and is not baptized may also be saved. Or. while the Holy Spirit through Peter said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38), many will enjoy the remission of their sins, without obeying these commands.

What do we mean by the term "essential" as we use it in connection with baptism and other matters? We simply mean that they are indispensable to the obedience of God's commands. Certainly, we are not questioning the ability of God to do what He pleases; we are simply insisting upon the "immutability of his counsel" (Heb. 6:17). "He (Christ) became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9).

Let us again hear brother Key as he writes further in his booklet:

QUESTION: "Do not the scriptures clearly connect baptism with salvation T'

REPLY: "They do, and I preach 'baptism for the remission of sins' and 'the gift of the Holy Spirit' continuously, leading people, as best I can, to make their commitment in faith to Christ in their baptism. I regret that erroneous teaching causes many people to make it elsewhere, and they miss the fulness of the meaning of Christian Baptism, but many of them still do, in fact, give their hearts and lives to Christ, and this is what baptism was intended to help them accomplish."

COMMENT: Certainly the New Testament teaches that sinners make their "commitment" to Christ in their baptism. Indeed there is no other way! But the implication of brother Key's statement is that men can, and in fact do, make it elsewhere. The Apostle Paul says: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). None have put on Christ - made their commitment in faith to Him - who have failed to be baptized.

But let us read some more from brother Key:

QUESTION: "If God's love is so great, why can he not save infidels and all?"

REPLY: "Salvation is not a legal decree. That seems to be the view that is troubling you. Salvation is becoming like Christ, so that one can will His will, work His work, and find eternal joy in His companionship. Baptism as an arbitrary condition of salvation has no place in the Christian era of grace. The comparison of two men whose hearts are equally committed to Christ having no difference except one has been baptized and the other not and ascribing salvation to the one and condemnation to the other is a speculative interest only to the legalistic mind."

COMMENT: This is a bold pronouncement indeed! Nor can it be misunderstood; it is crystal clear. "Baptism as an arbitrary condition of salvation has no place in the Christian era of grace," says brother Key. And furthermore, two men can be "equally committed to Christ," while the one has been baptized, the other not. He declares that to ascribe salvation to the baptized and condemnation to the unbaptized is of "speculative interest only to the legalistic mind."

Can brethren be blamed for taking issue with such statements? Surely not! To hold their tongues would be traitorous to the cause of truth. Listen friends: Jesus did make baptism an arbitrary condition of salvation, when He said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word as "fixed," "decisive," "absolute." Jesus did not command baptism as a may or may-not matter. It is a must! It is so because of the absolute authority of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that the Pharisees and lawyers to whom John the Baptist preached, "rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him" (Lk. 7:30). The same judgment rests upon those who fail to be baptized now.

Our next quotation is made from a tape-recording of a discussion which brother Key had with brethren James W. Boyd and Monroe Hawley, in 1954. The program provided a period of time in which each speaker exercised the privilege of questioning his opponent. These are questions which were asked by brother Boyd of brother Key, and his answers:

QUESTION: "Brother Key, how can a man obey a literal, specific command of God in any other way than literally?"

REPLY: "I would not say that God gives us literal, specific commands that do not have another meaning -- a spiritual meaning."

QUESTION: "Can a man obey the command to be baptized in any other way than by being immersed in water.

REPLY: "He can obey the spirit of that command, I think."

QUESTION: "What is the spirit of that command?"

REPLY: "The spirit of that command is to undergo in his own life the death, burial and resurrection-the death and burial of the old man and the resurrection of the new."

QUESTION: "And a man can do that without being buried in water?"

REPLY: "That is true."

COMMENT: What more needs to be said? The tap-root of brother Key's error is exposed in this quotation. Unquestionably he here displays an improper attitude toward the verbal commands of God. While he professes to believe and teach them ' he also insists that God does not give commands "that do not have another meaning -- a spiritual meaning." Throughout the discussion from which this last quotation is made he contends that the "aim, intent or purpose" of God's commands are all that are really important, and that it can be realized "without literal obedience to the verbal expression of God's will."

That brother Key needs to repudiate some things which he has written is the charitable and humble judgment of this writer. But we leave the matter with you, our readers, to form your own conclusions.

Truth Magazine I:6, pp. 6-7, 17.
March 1957