By Steve Klein
A few months ago, a preacher from “a church of Christ” in our area had a Baptist preacher as a guest on his radio program. Throughout the broadcast, the former cheerfully referred to the latter as a “brother.” As I listened I thought to myself, “Doesn’t he know any better than that?” “How can he call someone a brother in Christ who has not been baptized into Christ for the remission of sins?” There would have been a time when nearly every true Christian listening would have been asking the same questions. But the times they are a changing.
A generation ago, perhaps only Carl Ketcherside and his fringe of followers would have argued that Baptists and other evangelicals who were not baptized for the correct reason were nonetheless brethren in Christ.1 Then, such a claim would have been firmly rejected by every sound Christian, and even by the vast majority of those who were not so sound. Now, many are apparently questioning truths they once held dear regarding scriptural baptism and fellowship. They are wondering if it is possible that an individual who thinks he has been saved by faith alone, and has only been baptized because it is commanded, could in fact be saved? They are wondering if baptism which was not performed “for the remission of sins,” could still be effective. And ultimately, they are wondering if fellowship should not be extended to believers who have been baptized for the wrong reason.
F. Lagard Smith, in his recent book Who Is My Brother? is currently leading the way in paving this broad path of fellowship. He writes that “despite their misunderstandings of baptism’s purpose — believers who are immersed in order to obey the command to be baptized might nevertheless be regarded in God’s eyes as saved believers” (128).
A generation ago, any book containing such a statement would have been greeted with cries for correction and demands for debate from virtually every corner of the brotherhood. Now, more than a few are touting it as “a good book” and “a breath of fresh air.” Its author styles himself a “conservative” and is received as such by congregations which view themselves as sound. Times have changed indeed.
What about Acts 19:1-7?
Times may change, but the Scriptures do not. In Acts 19:1-7, the Scriptures teach that baptism for the wrong purpose does not save. In that text, twelve men who had been baptized “into John’s baptism” were told by the apostle Paul that “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (19:4). Upon hearing this, these twelve men “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5). Obviously, a baptism which is not “in the name of Christ for the remission of sins,” will not save.
LaGard Smith does not agree with this assessment. He asserts that the case of the twelve men in Acts 19 is not applicable to the case of the modern day believer who is baptized for the wrong reason. He says, “Unlike these men (in Acts 19, sk), whose faith in God had been claimed through John rather than through Jesus, today’s Baptists, for example, are fully convinced about the necessity of being baptized in the name of Jesus” (127). “The men from Ephesus,” he asserts, “had to be re-baptized, not merely because of misunderstanding about timing and purpose, but because their baptism was not based upon the redemptive blood of Jesus. For those who are baptized in the name of Christ, however, the issue surely must be different” (129).
If LaGard’s reasoning on Acts 19 were correct, he would have the beginnings of a case for fellowshipping every baptized believer, regardless of the reason for their baptism. However, he would still have much to prove. For instance, even if the timing and purpose of baptism were not the issue in Acts 19, how does he know that these issues are not of consequence to God? Examples can be given from both Old and New Testaments demonstrating that God often considers the reason someone is complying with his will before he accepts them. God has rejected prayers, fasts, and sacrifices because they were not done for the right reason (Matt. 6:5; Isa. 58:4). To prove that God would not also reject baptism done for the wrong reason would truly be a very tough brief to argue.
But the reality is that LaGard is just wrong in his reasoning on Acts 19. He doesn’t even have the beginnings of a case. The basis of his reasoning is that the twelve men re-baptized in Acts 19 claimed their “faith in God … through John rather than through Jesus.” This is patently false. The context of Acts 19 would indicate that these twelve men had probably been taught by Apollos, a man who had been “instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). According to the text, the only thing Apollos did not teach accurately was baptism. He knew “the way of the Lord.” Please notice that the phrase “the way” is used seven other times in Acts, and in every other instance it has obvious reference to those who claimed their “faith in God” through Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:26; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22).
The twelve men in Acts 19 are also called “disciples,” and although John the Baptist had disciples (cf. Matt. 9:14), every single one of the other thirty-one times Luke uses the term “disciple(s)” in Acts, he plainly refers to disciples of Christ, not John. A disciple is a learner or follower. These men were disciples of Jesus. They followed Jesus’ teaching to the extent they had correctly learned it, but they had not been taught accurately concerning the purpose and effects of baptism. But suppose this is not right; suppose these men knew nothing directly of Christ and his teachings and that they only knew what John had said and done. They would still have known that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”! That’s what John taught (John 1:29)! They would have had faith in the redemptive power of Christ’s blood! But they had not been baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of their sins. They needed to be re-baptized for exactly the same reason people today who have not been baptized for the remission of sins today need to be — in order to be saved!
Can Baptism for the Wrong Reason Be “In the Name of Jesus”?
Read again the quotes from pages 127 and 129 of Who is My Brother? In essence LaGard is saying that those in Acts 19 had not yet been baptized “in the name of Jesus” but “today’s Baptist for example,” has been baptized “in the name of Jesus.” This is a glaring error. LaGard is claiming that any person who believes in Jesus, and has been baptized based on that belief, has been baptized “in the name of Christ” or “in the name of Jesus” — it doesn’t matter whether that person knows the meaning and purpose of baptism. According to LaGard’s reasoning, a person can be baptized not for the remission of sins (Acts 2:28), not to get into Christ (Gal. 3:27), not to have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16) and still have been baptized “in the name of Jesus.” As incredible as it seems, F. LaGard Smith simply does not know what it means to do something “in the name of Jesus”!
Jesus makes it abundantly clear in Matthew 7:22-23 that just because people claim to have done something in the Lord’s name, does not mean they have. Many claimed to prophesy in Jesus name whom he never even knew! To do something in Jesus name is to do something he has empowered, permitted, authorized, or asked us to do.
To do something in the name of Jesus also involves doing it for the reason and purpose that he has assigned. If we do not do what he has asked for the reason he has asked, he doesn’t accept it. How do we know this is true? Consider other things we are to do “in Jesus name.” If someone gives you a “cup of cold water” in his name, “because you belong to Christ . . . he will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). But if someone does that same charitable deed “before men, to be seen by them” he will receive “no reward” from the Father in heaven (Matt. 6:1). The reason the charitable deed is done is what determines if it is done in Jesus’ name or not.
Similarly, when a church withdraws fellowship from a sinful member “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” they do it “that his spirit may be saved in the day of judgment” (1 Cor. 5:4-5; cf. 2 Thess. 3:6). If a church withdraws from someone because it is following the lead of a bully (like Diotrophes) who wants to control everything (3 John 9-10), that church has not practiced withdrawal “in the name of Jesus,” no matter what it may claim.
To pray “in the name of Jesus” (Eph. 5:20) “is not merely to add to one’s prayers a meaningless formula, but it is to ask something from God as Christ’s representatives on earth, in his mission and stead, in his spirit and with His aim.”2 If I pray selfishly or not according to the will of God, I am not praying in Jesus name, even if I believe in Jesus and say “in Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end of my prayer (cf. Jas. 4:3; 1 John 5:14).
Yes, baptism in the name of Jesus requires that the one baptized “believes” on Jesus Christ (Acts 19:5; 8:37), but it also requires that the one baptized do so “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), to “wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16), and to “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). No one who has failed to be baptized for these reasons can possibly be in fellowship “in Christ” with anyone who has.
1. Though some may not realize it, this was Ketcherside’s position. In answer to the question “Do you think one must know at the time of baptism that it is for the remission of sins in order for it to be valid?” He wrote, “I do not. When one believes that Jesus is the Christ and God’s Son and is immersed because of that faith it is for the remission of sins, whether he knows it or not” (Mission Messenger, XXVI:12).
2. G.F. Hawthorne, “Name,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 3. 483; 1988).
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