By Kevin Campbell
In a recent debate with a Baptist preacher on the necessity of water baptism to salvation, an unusual argument was advanced. Rejecting the plain teaching of Scriptures such as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21, this preacher made several arguments that were based, not on the Bible, but on human wisdom and perspective.
One argument, which forms the basis of this article, was that if baptism were necessary to salvation, salvation would then be dependent on a third party, namely the administrator of the baptism. This could not be possible since salvation is a personal matter between the sinner and God, argued the preacher.
Now on the surface this sounds logical, although it certainly is not scriptural. Who would deny that salvation is a personal matter between God and each individual? Is it not true that each individual must make the choice to obey or disobey (Acts 26:19, 28; Rom. 6:16; cf. Josh. 24:15)? The question that needs to be answered is, “Can salvation depend or rely on the instrumentality of a third party yet re-main a personal choice or matter between the individual and God”? The biblical answer is “yes.”
Let us turn our attention for a moment to another consideration that is parallel to the objection stated above. Remember that the objection is to the necessity of baptism on the grounds that it requires a third party to administer or perform the baptism. Could not the same objection be raised against the necessity of faith? The answer is yes and it has been raised!
The Baptist preacher mentioned above is of the Missionary variety. Missionary Baptists believe that faith is essential to salvation and that each individual must choose to believe the gospel if he will be saved. Thus, it is imperative that sinners hear the gospel so that they might believe the gospel and be saved. It is because of this very emphasis on the preaching of the gospel to the lost world that these Baptists are called “missionaries.”
There are however other Baptists who do not believe in the necessity of faith to being saved. Called “Hard-shell” or “Primitive” Baptists, these people argue that God saves the elect apart from and without faith. Recently, while reading through some back issues of a publication called The Hard-shell Baptist, I came across this quote:
The “missionary movement” is all wrong when they say we must preach the gospel around the world in order that men might be saved for heaven and immortal glory. God saves his elect for heaven without a preacher. God is not dependent upon the preacher to save us eternally. God is not dependent upon our money to get preachers around the world to save his people (The Hard-shell Baptist, March 1984, p. 3).
Sound familiar? This is simply the same argument used by our Missionary Baptist friend being used against the necessity of faith. When confronted with the consequences of his reasoning on this point, this particular preacher stuck his head in the sand and would not address the issue. Such is typical in two ways. First of all, a false teacher will often make arguments that can be turned on him and applied to his own situation. Frequently, the trap that he will lay for someone else will ensnare him instead. Secondly, when con-fronted with the inconsistency of their position, false teachers will invariably ignore the issue rather than admit to their blunder.
The question however, is still before us: Is salvation, to some degree, dependent upon a third party? The answer is yes. This is true both of belief as well as baptism. Notice these points:
1. Paul argues that one must “call upon the name of the Lord” in order to be saved (Rom. 10:13). However, in order to call, one must first believe, and in order to believe one must hear, and in order to hear there must be a preacher (Rom. 10:14). Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17), one must hear the gospel preached in order to believe. The only way one can hear is to have a preacher or teacher come to tell them the “good news” of Jesus Christ.
2. Paul also states in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that God chose “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18), but it can only be effectual when it is “mixed with faith” (Heb. 4:2).
3. Philip was directed by the Holy Spirit to go up and join the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-29). When he approached and heard that the eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah, he asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” The eunuch replied, “How can I except some man should guide me?” The eunuch understood the need for someone to teach him that he might understand the prophetic message.
4.Cornelius was instructed by God to “call for Simon, whose surname is Peter . . . he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:5-6). Later, after Peter had come to Cornelius’ house, Cornelius said, “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). Peter later repeated the events to the Jews and told them that Cornelius had been told that Peter would “tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). From this example it is obvious that the household of Cornelius was dependent upon Peter to hear the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
5. Timothy was instructed by Paul, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save theyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).
From these and other related passages, it is easy to see that the salvation of lost souls is dependent, to a degree, on others. “But,” someone may ask, “cannot one read the Bible on his own without a preacher and believe the gospel without the involvement of a third party?” First of all, may I say from my own experience, that such rarely, if ever, hap-pens. I personally know of no one who learned the truth totally apart from any effort put forth by another individual. God’s plan is for the gospel to be committed to “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This is the purpose of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:46-48).
Secondly, even if a man did read the Bible on his own and believe the gospel message (and 1 am sure that such is possible and may have happened), is he not still relying on human instrumentality? Whose words are those that he is reading? Are they not the words of the apostles (men)? Is he not still relying on human instrumentality? Whose words are those that he is reading? Are they not the words of the apostles (men)? Is he not relying on their testimony and message for his faith? I realize their word is actually the word of God and not their own (I Thess. 2:13), but they are still instruments through which men believe the gospel (1 Cor. 3:5).
Thirdly, how is it that we have copies of the Bible today? Is it not true that men have copied and passed down through the ages the divine record? Again, I realize and preach that God is the one who has preserved his word through his providence (1 Pet. 1:23-25), hut we must also admit that God has used men as the instruments of his providence.
Let it be understood that I am not trying to diminish the significance of Gods work in salvation. Even when the gospel is preached and men obey the truth, it is only through Gods grace that we are able to be saved in the first place. The Lord is the one who saves, not man. However, the lord has seen fit to use men as instruments or vessels through which he saves the lost, whether by preaching and teaching or as the administrators: of baptism.
Understanding the significance of our responsibility in winning souls, let us be sure that we are using our abilities and talents as best we can to win souls. Let us strive to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all Iongsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Let us not be persuaded by the carnal and worldly arguments of those who would seek to confuse and cloud our minds and turn us away from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). And let us remember to give glory, honor and praise unto our God and Savior because of the grace that has been bestowed upon us (Gal. 6:14; Rev. 5:9-10).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 14-15
July 15, 1993