What Is “Sectarian Baptism”?

By Robert F. Turner

In the early days of what is now the Oaks-West church in Burnet, a young man answered the gospel invitation by declaring his faith in Christ, and his desire to be baptized into Christ. We had no baptistry at that time, so we asked leaders of another church in Burnt, if we might use their baptistry. We were refused. The preacher said, “You will baptize him into a sect; bring him to me and I will baptize him into Christ.” I replied, “You mean the one baptizing him makes the difference?” No reply! We took the boy to a lake and baptized him “into Christ” – not because we did the baptizing, or because we uttered the right words, but because that is what takes place when one obeys Jesus Christ.

I doubt the boy had any “views” on institutionalism. He had learned that he was a sinner, that Christ had died for sinners, and wanted each of us to trust and obey Him. By repenting of his sins and obeying the Lord in baptism the young man came into an acceptable relationship with Christ, his sins being forgiven. My baptizing him, even if I espoused a “sect,” would not make this act “sectarian baptism.” Nor was his baptism valid or invalid on the basis of “church authority” to baptize. Baptism is not a “church” ordinance, it is the Lord’s ordinance, depending upon the subject’s compliance with the Lord’s teaching for its validity. The “sectarianism” of the church who heard his confession, if it had any, would not invalidate his baptism. Scriptural baptism is a covenant, direct and immediate, between the subject and his Lord.

The subject must have proper respect for Christ, and act in compliance with the Lord’s will, in order for that baptism to have divine approval. For example, if the subject submitted to baptism out of respect for a “church” ordinance, as an initiative ritual of some sort, that baptism could be called “sectarian.” If he was baptized for some reason other than that given in the gospel of Christ, seeking to obtain some benefit promised, not by the Lord, but by some religious group, we could call that sectarian baptism. If he ignored the instructions of the Lord concerning the nature of baptism, accepting sprinkling or pouring on some “church” authority rather than the immersion commanded by the Lord, that would be sectarian baptism. It is very possible that some young people (and older people) have been baptized to “join” a local “Church of Christ” – with nothing more than sectarian baptism.

One’s baptism depends upon the genuineness of one’s faith in Christ (Mk. 16:16); and genuine repentance, crucifying the “old man” or former way of life (Rom. 6:6). It is the symbolic burial, before the resurrection to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-11). It is not “for remission of sins” because someone said this at the time of the immersion, but because divinity gave it this purpose (Acts 2:38; 22:16). It does not bring into the “right” church because it is the initiation ritual of any church, but because the Lord’s church consists of all who, come to Christ. We must put greater stress upon the true nature of baptism, and its indication of a changed allegiance and life, if we are to do much about the problem of sectarian baptism. If we continue to regard “our” baptisms as valid, and “their” baptisms as sectarian, we are arguing on the wrong basis (cf. Mk. 9:38f), and only adding fuel to the problem.

There are many things the scripturally baptized may not understand. But God-approved baptism involves conscious willful faith in Jesus as the Christ, recognition of one’s absolute need for Him, and a submission of man’s will to His will. Such a convert then grows in the knowledge of “all things whatsoever I command you” (Matt. 28:18-19). An attitude toward divine authority has been established that affects his treatment of all subsequent questions. His worship and work, collectively and individually, is dictated by his understanding of the Lord’s will, not to please himself or his peers. Church members who settle questions on the basis of traditional practices or “the great middle section,” have abandoned the Christ they once received and promised to serve.

When thinking along these lines some are prompted to ask, “Could a member of some denomination have been scripturally baptized?” It is certainly possible, although such baptism is contrary to most sectarian teaching, and the one with such an understanding is on his way out. One does not get into a denomination by scriptural baptism, and those who faithfully serve the Lord, growing in the knowledge and sincerely conforming their practice to each new truth learned, could not remain in a church whose worship and work is without divine authority. And when they do leave the denomination how are we to regard their baptism? The problem is not who baptized them, or where they were baptized. It is the far more basic, where they truly baptized? The fact that they are leaving some sect is encouraging, but we should be concerned that they are not simply “changing sects”; nor should we encourage them in a false hope.

It is true that sincerity in repentance and trusting faith are things we can but imperfectly judge, and some have concluded from this that we have no right to question anyone’s baptism. But that is tantamount to saying we can not help one another get to heaven. If our faith is true conviction, 94we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). With loving concern we examine their fruits that we may know them (Matt. 7:16-20). 1 question people who come from churches believed to be in error because of concern for their souls. If one has only been sprinkled as an infant, or, if allegiance was to some church rather than unto Christ, it is in their interest that the error be corrected. In the final analysis you might say I am questioning their faith rather than their baptism, but it is done in exactly the same vein and for the same reason that I would welcome their assisting me to a better understanding of God’s will, and the way to heaven (1 Pet. 3:15).

Sectarian baptism gives a false hope, both in “our” churches and in others. It is in the interest of eternal souls that we should avoid sectarianism in our own lives, and do all possible to bring others into true fellowship with God.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 15, pp. 455, 471
August 7, 1986