The Word Abused: Baptism

By Mike Willis

In the April issue of Restoration Review, editor Leroy Garrett continued his series on “The Word Abused” by writing an article on “The Rebaptized Church of Christ.” In this article, he criticized the Lord’s church for two things: (1) over-emphasizing baptism and (2) re-baptizing people who are uncertain about their baptism. (Indeed, about the only religious group which Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside ever criticize is the Lord’s church; they rarely ever condemn any denomination. When and if they do, they are quite gentle in their criticisms. But, in criticizing the Lord’s body, they employ sarcasm, they belittle, they buffoon, and otherwise abuse the church of our Lord. I do not know how many blows the church must suffer from these men before its members recognize that the one inflicting them is an enemy.)

Under the first point, Garrett wrote:

“There is unfortunately, more than one way to abuse the scriptures . . . . Still another way is through underemphasis or overemphasis, which either makes too little or too much of what the scriptures say. One might accept a scriptural truth and give it the right interpretation, but err in a failure to give it proper significance. All scripture may well be true and of course the word of God, but not all truths are equally important. We can abuse the word in failing to recognize this.

“Our purpose in this installment, however, is to notice an instance of making too much of what is written. Anything can be warped by stretching as well as by shrinking. Any truth can be overworked to the point of distortion . . .

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that many of us in the Churches of Christ have abused the scriptures in this way in reference to baptism.”(1)

If a person can abuse the scriptures in the manner in which Garrett asserts, no one is more guilty of so abusing the scriptures than he and his colleague Carl Ketcherside are! I have been reading Mission Messenger for over five years. Every article which I can remember reading in one way or another related to unity-in-diversity-the fellowship apostasy. Brother Ketcherside does not write new articles; he only retitles the same old garbage. Brother Garrett is only a little behind Ketcherside in laboring one point. “You who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom. 2:21).

One must, however, admit that gospel preachers have emphasized baptism in their preaching and, I think, for perfectly legitimate reasons. As a young lad growing up around cattle, I soon learned that a person works on the fence in the place where the cows are getting out. Through the years, denominationalists generally taught the truth with reference to Jesus, faith, and repentance, but refused or failed to teach the truth about baptism and the church. Consequently, we have had to spend no little amount of our time expounding these Bible doctrines. I am certain that by emphasizing these doctrines, we have inadvertently neglected some other areas. (Of course, if these were weaknesses of the flesh or ignorant mistakes, the Lord would automatically forgive them, wouldn’t He, Brother Garrett?)

Nevertheless, I am not so sure that we have overemphasized baptism. If some of the writings which come from the pens of the false apostles of the unity movement are any reflection of general belief, we need to keep on emphasizing baptism! For example, Garrett wrote:

“Only recently I heard a reforming Methodist, laboring within his own context for that one, great, spiritual community of God on earth. Praise God that he is using this man where he is! He is talking to Methodists, in their language and out of their history, of a better and more spiritual way. It would be folly for me to try to take him from his own people, converting him to the Church of Christ. He should paddle for the old ship Zion where God has dropped him down. And I think it would be equal folly for me to become a Methodist, even if I didn’t really become one, and thus cut myself off from my own roots.

“I met with a group of Roman Catholics a few times recently, some of them being business associates of ours, who are really turned on to Jesus. In their own `sanctuary,’ with their priest sitting with us, I laid before them a long view of the scheme of redemption in scripture, God’s eternal purpose in Christ. These folk want their people to get with it and turn to Jesus, and they are working to that end in various mini-meetings. How foolish it would be for me to try to bring them into `the church of Christ,’ where they would become mere spectators of our own particular set of traditions.”(2)

“I also sat in on a mock drill for door-to-door evangelism. The man to be `converted’ described himself as a Baptist, but an immersed believer who had ‘enthroned Jesus as Lord in my heart.’ I later told some of the fellows that in that case there was no evangelism to do, for the man was already in Christ, that I would express my pleasure in meeting a new brother, and I would wish him well in helping bring his Baptist friends closer to Jesus and to the scriptures.”(3)

Notice that Garrett considers Baptists, Methodists and Catholics as Christians; he has the typical denominational concept of the church! Thus, whether or not men have been immersed is immaterial to whether or not they are Christians, according to him.

Carl Ketcherside reflects the same uncertain sounds about baptism. Even some in the Christian Church, with whom I have talked, are worried about Carl’s stance on baptism. In August, 1973, he wrote,

“Much as I deplore what may seem to many the manifestation of an uncharitable attitude toward a people renowned for their gentle goodness, I freely acknowledge that, upon the basis of my understanding of the teaching of God’s precious word, the Quakers are not in the fellowship of the called-out ones. They may have heard the invitation to become citizens of the kingdom, but they have not responded to it in the manner prescribed by the King. . .

“Regardless of what else may be said about it, sprinkling or pouring do not constitute baptism in the scriptural context. . . Therefore, as cruel as it may appear to a modern and vacillating world, I do not consider those who have used a form unauthorized by Jesus, unsanctioned by the Spirit, and unknown to the apostles, as being in the fellowship of the congregation of saints . . .

. . . But to regard those who are unimmersed as having been brought into the family relationship upon the same basis as those who have been immersed would make an empty face of immersion and the testimony of the scriptures on the matter both useless and meaningless.”(4)

Although these quotations reflect a position that sounds like the testimony of scripture, just one year later, Ketcherside wrote,

“Turning to church history we notice a number of people who loved God, repented of sin, trusted in Jesus as redeemer, and demonstrated in their lives the fruit and power of the Holy Spirit, although they were never immersed. (Don’t the Quakers do the same?, mw) Think of Luther, Whitefield, Wesley, Finney, Moody, Livingstone, and Hudson Taylor. These were mighty men of God. Think of John Newton, Horatius Bonar, Fanny Crosby, and others whose hymns of warm devotion we love to sing. For us to consign such followers of Christ to outer darkness because they were not immersed seems the equivalent to accusing Josiah of great wickedness because for years he kept no Passover. Will not God’s verdict contradict ours?

“In the light of these things, especially the two lines of Biblical teaching, I distinguish between what I practice and what I recognize. I practice immersing without delay those who repent and trust in Christ, upon their confession of faith in Him as divine Lord and Savior, for such is the Bible’s command and precedent. At the same time I recognize there are a number of unimmersed disciples of Jesus who are Christians, for they trust in him, seek to obey him and to the extent of their knowledge do obey him in everything.”(5)

Obviously, during this period Ketcherside must have changed his mind. In August, 1973, the unimmersed were outside the fellowship of God; in August, 1974, the unimmersed were Christians. One time or the other, he erred!

Earlier F. L. Lemley, one of the most radical left-wing writers whose articles have appeared in Mission Messenger., had written the following:

“Has anyone ever heard of a preacher giving a candidate the third degree to determine if he knew the full import of faith and repentance, and that these are for the remission of sins? If immersion of the body will remit sins-in spite of defective faith and imperfect repentance, then why not allow also that valid faith and repentance may remit in spite of imperfect immersion? Why make such an issue of being sure the subject knows that baptism is for the remission of sins and being sure that every hand, foot and lock of hair is immersed? We ought to be consistent! . . . .

“These observations raise other interesting questions. Do the commands involved in conversion fall within the sphere of God’s grace or must one make a grade of 100 % on all of them in order to reach the sphere of grace? If perfection is required to reach the domain of grace, who can be saved? Who can lay claim to perfect faith and perfect repentance, and thus, to perfect conversion? We have always allowed a lot of latitude in everything but baptism. Why? . . . .

“It is a serious thing to allow those to escape whom God has ordained to destruction (1 Kings 20:42), but it is equally serious to condemn those who are within the realm of God’s. grace but who have not yet caught up to us in obedience and understanding. We cannot afford to sit in God’s judgment seat to condemn all those who may have been ‘circumcised in heart’ but who for some extenuating circumstance have not completed their obedience in outward forms, total immersion of the body in water.”(6)

My brethren, be sure to consider carefully what has been written by these brethren. They are saying that men can be saved without immersion or without knowing the proper design of baptism. They have accepted, or are in the process of accepting, the position of salvation by ‘faith only.” So long as I continue to hear these uncertain sounds, I shall continue to emphasize the commandments regarding baptism.

Garrett’s criticism reads like this:

“Not only have we hammered away at the ‘something you have to do’ bit, but we have made a big deal out of one’s proper understanding of the import of the act, which makes not only the act essential but a certain indoctrination as well …. It is evident that our theology of baptism has become terribly warped, for we have come to see it as something arbitrary and absolute rather than in reference to the Cross. We have so dogmatized the acts, rather than treating it as within the framework of grace and mercy, that we have led our people to suppose that this is the one thing that they must get right. Our warping has taken such extremes as to insist that one must have a certain education about baptism before the act is valid. One must understand what it is for and what it does, and this is pounded into our folk year in and year out, so that we have a lot of people that keep on being baptized in order to make sure they have done it right …. My position is that there is but one condition for baptism, and that is faith in Jesus. ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved,’ says Jesus. It was to believers that Peter said ‘repent and be baptized.’ No requirements are laid down about knowledge or comprehension. God will take care of all the benefits and blessings, for that is His part, not ours. Even when one supposes that some of blessings come before baptism, the fact remains that he has believed and been immersed. All who do that are my brothers, however well or poorly be their knowledge of the theology of baptism.”(7)

A more mixed up theology is unimaginable! Garrett said that baptism was based on faith and not on knowledge. But, what is faith? Is faith not the belief of a certain body of facts? And, how can one believe what he does not know? Yes, baptism is contingent upon knowledge as well as upon faith!

Either a person must believe that the purpose for which a man is being baptized is important or he must say that it is not. There is no middle ground. If knowledge and belief of why one is being baptized is unimportant, I could go down the street with a concealed .38 pistol and ask people if they believed in Jesus. If they answered in the affirmative, I could take out my .38 and proceed to take them to a baptistry where I could baptize them. That would be believer’s baptism! But, on the other hand, if the purpose for being baptized is important, a person must be baptized for the right reason. That reason is “in order to be saved,” or however you might chose to express it (e.g. “for the remission of sins,” Acts 2:38; “the appeal to God for a good conscience,” 1 Pet. 3:21; to get “into Christ,” Gal 3:27 etc.). Now which is it? Is the knowledge of the purpose of baptism essential or nonessential?

My brethren, if one can be saved by God in spite of his noncompliance with the purpose of baptism, why can he not also be saved by God in spite of his lack of compliance with the action of baptism? Or again, if the improper purpose of baptism does not affect its validity, why will the improper action affect its validity? Brethren Ketcherside and Garrett have succeeded in expressing that the action and subject of baptism are more important than its design. Or, have they thrown this out as a test to see if you brethren are ready to accept the conclusion that one can be saved without believer’s baptism? If a person can be saved without 100% knowledge of the purpose of baptism, why can he not also be saved without 100% knowledge of the action of baptism? If he can be saved without being totally immersed (Garrett ridiculed re-baptizing a person whose arm did not go completely under the water during his baptism), can he be saved if he is poured? Exactly what percentage of his body must get wet, Brother Garrett? 99%? 75%? 50%? 16%? 5%? 1%? Or again, if a person can be saved without 100% compliance with the purpose of baptism, can he be saved without believing the proper facts about Jesus? Exactly what percentage of the facts about Jesus must a man believe before he can be saved? Can he be saved while disbelieving the virgin birth, resurrection, or ascension (surely there must be some honestly mistaken modernists)? I have raised all of these questions to press this point: that argument which proves too much proves nothing. Garrett and Ketcherside know that they cannot produce any passage which promises salvation to the unimmersed. Consequently, like any other Baptist, they argue situation doctrine to reach the conclusion which they want to believe. Why the hypothetical argument will only work for the Baptists and not for the modernists as well has not been explained. I thought that we had already concluded that book, chapter, and verse were essential for the establishing of religious authority. Brother Garrett, if you know of a passage of scripture which proves that one can be saved without knowing the purpose of baptism, we will be glad to consider it. Heretofore, you have given us your “thinkso’s” but no scripture. We want the Bible! We know that the doctrine that a person can be saved without believing that baptism is essential to salvation is the teaching of Restoration Review 17:4, but Restoration Review has not reached the status of inspired literature to some of us; indeed, it is not even inspiring!

My conviction is this: baptism involves three important aspects-the right subject, the right action, and the right design. If anyone of these is incorrect, the baptism is invalid. I have not seen any scripture to persuade me to believe otherwise. The very arguments employed by Garrett and Ketcherside to reach the unity-in-diversity fellowship apostasy ultimately led to universalism. Already it has led to fellowship of not only all of the liberals among us, but now of Baptists as well. When Garrett persuades you that one can be saved without 100% compliance with the purpose of baptism, you are set up for anyone who asks you, “Must one have 100% compliance with the action of baptism in order to be saved?” You cannot answer “yes” to one and “no” to the other. If Garrett has proved anything, he has proved that men of every denomination are in the body of Christ, regardless of whether or not they have been scripturally baptized. Are you ready to accept that?


1. Leroy Garrett, “The Word Abused: The Rebaptized Church of Christ,” Restoration Review (April, 1975), XVII, No. 4, p. 62.

2. Ibid., “Shall We ‘Hang In’ Or Leave?”, Restoration Review (November, 1974), XVI, No. 9, p. 367.

3. Ibid., p. 375.

4. Carl Ketcherside, “Questions About Baptism,” Mission Messenger (August, 1973), XXXV, No. 8, pp. 116, 118, 120.

5. Ibid., “Was King Josiah Saved?”, Mission Messenger (August, 1974), XXXVI, No. 8, p. 124.

6. F. L. Lemley, “Heart Circumcision,” Mission Messenger (May, 1972), XXXIV, No. 5, pp. 72-73, 74.

7. Garrett, op. cit., “The Word Abused: The Rebaptized Church of Christ,” Restoration Review (April, 1975), XVII, No. 4, pp. 62-63, 64, 65.

Truth Magazine XIX: 42, pp. 665-668
September 4, 1975