By Steve Wallace
With the giving of the Great Commission, the early disciples, as well as all Christians, received their marching orders. It is a commission to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Of course, it is the gospel of Christ that is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Those who are lost in sin throughout the world cannot “come to the Father” without submitting to the Son (Jn. 14:6). The conditions which Jesus gave for salvation in Mark 16:16 are both belief and baptism.
As we have the early disciples for our example, let us “follow” them in seeking acceptable soil for the gospel seed to be sown in. We find the first instance of the commission being executed in Acts 2. Having heard the gospel preached the people asked the question, “What shall we do?” (v. 38). Taken in light of the conditions laid down in Mark 16:16, two things were necessary: (1) understanding; (2) positive reaction. One could not believe what he did not understand; nor would one be baptized if he did not react positively to the gospel message. So really we have three categories of people under consideration: (1) those who would both understand and react positively; (2) those who could not understand; (3) those who could understand but would not react positively. Let us briefly consider the latter two.
Those who contend that infants are fit subjects for baptism need to keep the divine order, i.e. belief before baptism, in mind. The argument made by some, that what Jesus said in Matt. 19:14 (“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me”) authorizes infant baptism misses the point of the verse entirely. The Lord went on to say, “For of such is the kingdom of heaven,” denoting the present innocent condition of little children. One must first be lost to be in need of salvation. The gospel is the divinely ordained means of saving the lost. In order to be scripturally baptized, one must first believe. That is, he must first understand before being able to positively react to the requirements the Lord has placed upon him. An infant cannot do this. Those who would find infants in the accounts of the household conversions in the book of Acts are not only guilty of presuming beyond the realms of divine revelation, they must also circumvent the order for salvation of believing first and then being baptized.
Let us now consider those who could understand but would not react positively. There were many people who heard the gospel preached by the early disciples who did not react positively. Some need to hear the gospel more than once (Acts 17:32). Some need to be studied with privately (Acts 18:26). It is necessary that a Christian not maximize the importance of one soul and minimize others. They are all the same in the sight of the Lord. The idea that we simply “must” convert one who is a member of our family or a close friend often ignores more fertile soil at the expense of what is often a wayside hearer. There are people in this world, perhaps representing the majority, who have no interest in their spiritual state (2 Cor. 4:3-4). People who are guilty of following religious traditions (Matt. 15:8-9) and those whose hearts have become hardened by sin (Matt. 7:6) are many times unwilling to make any change in obedience to the gospel. The Lord realized this and clearly shows what our reaction should be to such people (Tit. 3:10; Rom. 16:17-18; Acts 13:46).
Let us go forth preaching the gospel to the good and honest hearts round about us. Let us not be found seeking to baptize those who are incapable of believing. We ought also strive to be perceptive enough to realize when to turn from those who are unwilling to submit to our Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 5, p. 134
March 3, 1983