The Church of Christ – Embracing Both How and Why Questions

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In Churches of Christ we are well known for our discussions on “how”. How do you baptize, how do you sing, how do you interpret scripture? These are all very important things, things that should require study and prayer and the answers we reached must be firmly rooted in the pages of scripture.

What I am seeing more and more is the tendency to answer these questions in a binary or mechanistic way that often misses the very point of the texts that are being used. It feels like there is a missing piece in how we go about reading scripture and then discussing it together (if you can call some of what I see out there discuss). I see people who are trying desperately hard to nail down the “how” question with venom, arrogance, and anger. It seems they aren’t reaching for the “why” because the “why” would result in not just scripture-centered doctrine but also Christ-centered lives and actions. We need a more holistic approach that takes into account more of the meaning of scripture (as scripture does give us the why over and over again), not less.

Here is one example from the Old Testament to illustrate the point from Micah 6:6-8,

6 With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

From a mechanical point of view, just reading scripture for exactly what it says…dotting i’s and crossing t’s…most of the initial question would be exactly what God requires. God did tell them to do burnt offerings. God did tell them to offer rams as sacrifice. God even told them to offer olive oil (Lev 2:1)! Certainly God doesn’t desire nor require human sacrifice…but that isn’t the point (a bit of hyperbole here). Micah asks God a perfectly legitimate question with potential answers drawn straight from scripture. Game, set, match. Of course God said He requires that people come before Him doing those things but that wasn’t the point. Just doing those things alone isn’t what it is about.

There is an approach that gets the text mechanically right but still comes out wrong in the end.

The point wasn’t to come up with a list of ritual obedience and obey it…doing it just because it is to be done as commanded in scripture. The point in those offerings was that there was to be an inner transformation that runs far deeper than making sure you do your offering to keep God happy. God isn’t pleased by obedience for obedience sake without inner transformation.

So there is another question we have to start asking and answering. This question is the one people are asking but we often fail to address. It is the question of “Why?” We often fail to address that question because that is not typically an “insider” question and most ministers live in insider land. Then we wonder why outreach is so hard when we are talking over and past people (if we even have an audience with them in the first place) without first taking into account the questions they may actually be asking. We also wonder why people aren’t very committed…how committed are you to a list of “how’s”? I don’t know about you but I am more committed to a person I love who gives me the how’s than I am to the how’s on their own. This impersonal approach to biblical interpretation, doctrine and practice has hurt the church and brought many people down with it. We are seeing more and more that how you do something doesn’t matter much until you know why it is important. Both are important but one has been lacking. Time for balance.

So let’s talk about “why?” a bit. Why do we do these things? Is it because God said so (there is a place for that at times…do something purely because it is the right thing to do or just because God said it even though we don’t get it) or because these acts do something transformative in the world? Why do we assemble? Why do we baptize with water by immersion? Why do we take the Lord’s Supper every week? Why do we sacrifice for others? Why do we follow Jesus? Why, why, why? It is a perfectly legitimate question and one that must be answered before we are able to answer the “How?” question adequately and even accurately.

Last, much of this comes down to relationship. Why do I dust the house? I don’t do it because I like to…truth is I really dislike dusting the house. I dust the house because my wife appreciates it and she knows that I do it even though I don’t like to. It isn’t done because it is on the “to do” list either. I do it because I know it makes her happy. The bi-product of that is, it helps make me just a bit more into the image of Jesus…submitting where I wouldn’t otherwise care to submit…doing things that I don’t enjoy doing….participating in a real, loving relationship that involves choices, love and connection. THAT is to “walk humbly” with my wife…just as the things I do in my life that connect me with God. I don’t do the faith thing and all that comes with it just for the sake of doing it. Instead, I have faith and live that out because doing so is me “walking humbly with God.” There is no other place I would rather be or thing I would rather do! Along the way the “to do’s” will get done because that is part of connecting with God. There’s my “why” and it doesn’t diminish in the least the fact that God requires things or expects things of me…it just gets me there through a more Christ-like door than getting fixated on only addressing the “how?”

So keep asking how…but make sure that you back up and work on the why questions as well. By the way, God never desires you conclude a “how” that requires you to be rude or arrogant to make it happen.

30 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this, brother. I agree that the having/getting the “how” (as you put it), can be meaniningless if and when one’s heart and their “why” is askew. And I have no doubt, that many people err in focusing on and trusting in, their confidence of having their “how’s” all buttened down, without having their hearts right. People, who even take pleasure and find some type of self assurance, in pointing out the discrepancies in the incorrect “how’s” of others.

    At the same time (and maybe in response to that), I believe that there is a quickly growing number of people who give lip service to the importance of, “the how”. People who claim that it really matters and that it is very important, but when it comes down to it – it really doesn’t appear to be. In their view. To them, when really examined, the “why” is the only thing that actually does seem to matter.

    For example, at the beginning of this article, you write, “In Churches of Christ we are well known for our discussions on “how”. How do you baptize, how do you sing, how do you interpret scripture? These are all very important things, things that should require study and prayer and the answers we reached must be firmly rooted in the pages of scripture.”

    You write that “how” we baptize is a “very important” thing, and that the answers we reach “must be firmly rooted in the pages of scripture.” But, how true is that? What does that mean? Take baptism, as an example, a doctrine (a biblical teaching) that clearly states that baptism (literally, immersion), is a commend from heaven to repentant sinners who seek to be forgiven and to be born again.

    Now, is “how” we baptize really “very important” and to exactly what extent “must (baptism) be firmly rooted in the pages of scripture”? In other words, what happens if a person is either innocently ignorant and/or even rebellious to the “how” regarding baptism? What is a person is “baptized” in a way that is completely contrary to what is “rooted in the pages of scripture”?

    Allow me to give two examples:

    1) A believer is taught (or for whatever reason believes), that baptism means to be sprinkled (even as a non believing infant), and never actually is baptized according to the correct “how” as is taught and commanded from heaven.

    2) A believer who (for whatever reasons) believes that saying a “sinner’s prayer” (inviting Jesus into his heart via an heatfelt prayer), in place of the given “how” of baptism.

    Obviously, neither one of the above were actually immersed (baptized), into Christ. The just were not. Now, are the born again, nevertheless? Even though they were not actually baptized?

    If so, then I’m having a hard time understanding why and/or how, the “how” is so “very important”? As well as having difficulty understanding why and/or how their baptism ” must be rooted in the pages of scripture”?

    I mean, if baptism is taught by God to be for beliveing ainners to be immersion in water, must that be the case for ones “baptism” to be effectual? If not, I just don’t see why the “how” really matters at all – if any “baptism” (or even no baptism at all) is recognized and accepted of God, equally.

    To me, this is a huge matter. And no doubt, more and more people within the Churches of Christ are departing from what is actually “rooted in scripture”. What is more, I have noticed that those who argue and criticize and warn against such trends, are more and more accused if wording too much about “the how”.

    Again, I have no doubt that too many (perhaps even myself) from time to time, have been guilty of sinful attitudes in seeking to contend for the truth on this. Its all too easy to end up just trying to win an argument and/or feed ones own arrogant pride. But, it goes both ways.

    I hope the above makes sense and that it is accepted in the same spirit in which it is written.

    All praise be unto our Father

    1. Scripture gives us both the how and the why. We cannot neglect either. So I don’t endorse either one being left out and leaving one or the other behind. Leaving out the how leads to problems as does leaving out the why. So I chose to try to understand both. I can only judge myself and hold things up to scripture to discern what is right and do accordingly.

      I don’t really understand why you are chasing the baptism point. You know I believe and practice immersion. What is there to correct there? Help me understand your intent.

    2. We definitely agree it goes both ways. Many of the things labeled progressive or conservative are really just human problems with various spin placed on them.

  2. I DO know that you believe and practice immersion. As does (as far as I know) virtually everyone else within the Churches of Christ. Accordingly, I’m not attempting to correct anything that you personally believe and/or teach, relative to immersion.

    My frustration/worry/concern is with what our brethren within the Churches of Christ “accept” from those who believe and teach differently and really, incorrectly.

    I guess, what I am trying to correct, is our response to those who teach what the Bible does not. For example, if we believe and teach that one must be immersed (baptized) into Christ in order to be born again, but yet accept and even acknowledge others as being born again – without ever being immersed – we contradict ourselves. Is that not so?

    If I KNOW that one must be immersed into Christ in order to be born again, and yet I treat, fellowship and defend one to be a brother (who I know was not immersed into Christ), do I not contradict myself? In other words, if I believe and teach that one MUST be immersed into Christ in order to be born again, but at the same time give the impression that some who have not been immersed into Christ, are born again nonetheless, do I not contradict myself?

    Basically, what I believe there is to correct, is our response to those who teach contrary to the word of God. Rather than accept them as if they were what we don’t actually believe that they are, I believe that a more biblical response would be to challenge them (in love), and seek to correct them according to the truth.

    But, it seems, that more and more brethren choose to correct the ones who seek to correct, more than they do the ones that actually need to be corrected..

    1. That makes sense and I think it is a completely fair question to consider. One has to wrestle with what Paul and Jesus meant when they talked about faith and life (Jesus) and faith and salvation (Paul) and what constitutes faith/how baptism coincides with that. I think what Paul taught in Romans 6 regarding baptism is unshakable…this is how you connect with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is how we die and are raised. Without that, things don’t seem so good. God can certainly save any way He wants so I think some don’t care to try to tease all this apart and leave it up to God (which is where it all ultimately stands anyway) and yet we do have the NT to guide us and it is pretty clear on what baptism means and does and it sure sounds like an identifying market of faith/God’s people in the NT.

    2. With all due respect, the above is kinda confusing. I don’t really understand your point.

      You do write, “God can certainly save any way he wants” (which is certainly true), but hasn’t he revealed the way “he wants” men to be saved? And doesn’t it include immersion? I know you believe and teach that it does – God is crystal clear on this.

      But again, if God has revealed unto us that immersion (baptism), is the way that he wants men to be saved, and if we consider and imply that men are saved without immersion, are we not then going against the will of God? Are we not making “exceptions” for him?

      Again, if we believe and teach what God says about immersion being necessary to salvation, and yet at the same time, we treat and accept others as being born again (who we know have never been immersed), isn’t that a problem?

      That is why I say that “lip service” is being given to the importance of the “how”. Why, is “how we baptize” so “very important”? Why “must” the way we baptize be “rooted in scripture”, if/when we are going to treat, accept and defend people as being saved who we know have never been immersed?!

      Its a very confusing and self contradictory position to take.

      And, I think its (part of) what contributes to so much tension within the Church of Christ. Because, people who stand behind and contend for what the Bible actually says about the necessity of immersion, are being called out as judgmental, unloving and legalistic. As if, they don’t really care at about the “why” and are focused solely upon the “how”. Which, is often neither fair nor true.

    3. To me, the one who claims to stand up for “the importance” of what scripture says about needing to be immersed in order to be born again, and yet simultaneously makes exceptions for those who have never been immersed, is at best – very confused.

    4. I am not making exceptions for God to say both…God told us to be baptized to have new life in Christ AND God is God and God has soveriegn authority to save whomever He wishes to save. God made exceptions all the time in scripture. That is His choice. I am recognizing the realm of possibility that God has a history of doing whatever he feels best, even at times going against the very words He said. He never calls us to make exception Law but exceptions still exist and God can do that. That is a perfectly biblical approach, IMO.

      People aren’t called unloving because they think baptism is essential. They are unloving because they act in unloving, un-Christlike ways in how they discuss these things…and so do I at times and I apologize for it whenever I find myself doing that. For the very first time today, I had a more conservative brother apologize to me. First time, ever…I don’t demand apologies but there are times they should have been offered. It shouldn’t shock us to be apologized too but it does very much surprise me when it happens. That speaks into the heart of the whole thing and it is very, very sad.

  3. Let me ask you:

    Do you believe that one must be immersed into Christ in order to be born again? (I know you do)

    But, at the same time, do you accept and treat others as your brethren in Christ, whom you know have not been immersed into him?

    Is that not a problem, in any way?

    Maybe I am missing something?

    1. Why are you implementing a litmus test? Next it will be having the correct opinion on all of ten or so “hot-button” issues.

    2. Mark, it’s no “litmus test”, it more like thinking it through, and desiring consistency. One simply cannot believe and teach that a sinner must be immersed (baptized) into Christ in order to be born again, and simultaneously believe and imply that that sinners are born again, without ever being immersed. I mean they can, but they will contradict themselves, in doing so.

      I’m sure, that there are many who would likewise be accused of “implementing a litmus test” , who insist upon the neccesity of believing in the resurrection of Christ, in order to be saved.

      One guy – “Do you believe that in order to be forgiven, a sinner must first believe that Jesus actually came to earth and was actually killed for our sin?”

      The other guy – “Why are you implementing a litmus test? Next it will be having the correct opinion on all of ten or so “hot-button” issues.”

      Think about it…

  4. Matt, you wrote:

    “God made exceptions all the time in scripture. That is His choice. I am recognizing the realm of possibility that God has a history of doing whatever he feels best, even at times going against the very words He said.”

    So, since God has a history of making “exceptions all the time” and even goes “against the very words He said”, for all we know, he considers every believer who has never been baptized – as if they were?! Since he can save an unimmersed believer, we have no right to tell an unimmersed believer that he MUST be immersed in order to be saved! For, as far as we know, God could make an exception? Right?

    For that matter, as far as we know, he could make exceptions about people NOT having any faith in Christ, being lost. He could save faithless people, even though to do so goes ” against the very words he said”, right? Who are we to say he couldn’t.

    Further, he could make exceptions about drunkards, homosexuals and rapists not being able to inherit the kingdom if he chooses to go against his own words on that too. Right? Why not?

    In fact, if he chooses to (and how would we know) he might not ever send Jesus back. Even though it would GI against his own words, he could still choose that if he wants to. Right? Why couldn’t he?

    Shoot, he may choose to send Jesus back but just send us all to hell. I’m mean, he could, right?

    How would we know? Who would we be to say he couldn’t?!

    Or, do you have an idea about which things God can go against his own word on and which things he can’t?

    Because, I’d really like to know.

    Hope the above is not unbecoming of a Christian, to ask. In all seriousness, God knows I love you brother. But, I do think you are totally off on this..

    1. I think you totally missed my point and then, based on misunderstanding, went way far afield of anything I just said.

      Let me line it up this way:
      Does God make exceptions to his stated word in the OT? I answered yes
      Does God tell us to make Law out of the exceptions? I answered no.
      Does God expect us to teach what He has told us? My answer is yes.

      I hope that is clear enough. I really hope that helps. Would you answer these questions differently?

    2. If you don’t mind, will you be willing to answer the questions I’ve already asked? Before, I answer yours?

      1) Is the reason you are comfortable viewing unimmersed believers as your brethren in Christ, based upon your belief that God might make an exception for them?

      2) Are their ANY words written in the NT which God cannot “go against”?

    3. Certainly…

      1) Very good question. I have stated this a few times already but i will say it again. I believe that in baptism we are connected with the D,B,R of Jesus. Jesus taught that a necessary part of being a disciple was to be baptized. Peter taught at Pentecost that the response to the message of Messiah Jesus…killed and raised…was to respond with repentance and baptism. We see Paul teach the same.

      That is what I teach. That is what I teach because that is what Jesus told us to do and that is what He told us to teach. That is what we see the early church teaching as well. They taught it. People did it. We don’t run into the sinner’s prayer or sprinkling or any of that in the pages of scripture. So I don’t do or teach any of that.

      That is all I know to do.

      The reason I am open to the possibility that someone might be saved even though they aren’t baptized is due to two things: scripture (God makes exceptions but we aren’t guaranteed where and when – this is a matter of possibility, not a definite guarantee…the point I continue to make but you don’t seem to be catching or responding to but instead keep pressing this on me as if I am teaching this as a definite fact). Then there is Romans 2:14-16 as one example.

      The second reason is experience…there have been times in my life that I felt like one of the disciples who saw some other guy driving out demons in Jesus name and they asked if they should stop him. I have encountered people in my life who were extremely serious about their faith, exhibited the fruits of the Spirit, etc…their fruit was in line with things God produces. It left me saying “this person couldn’t be involved in that without God’s help.” It is like Jesus’ question about John the Baptist…was he from God or man? I have asked the same question about various people I have encountered that I just couldn’t bring myself to say what I saw in them was from man. Again, not a definite absolute law or principle to preach or teach that as long as you bear good fruit you don’t need to be baptized…just something that has made me believe it is entirely possible God can do whatever he wants to do when it comes to who He saves…that is how it is going to work out anyway as salvation is His decision and He will make it how He sees fit.

      2) Yes. I am not sure why that is even a question. Help me understand why you would ask that.

  5. 1) Well, we just see it differently.
    * I don’t see scripture teaching or implying anywhere that God will make exceptions about baptism any more than I see scripture teaching or implying anywhere that God will make exceptions about any other thing he said. To suggest (and act) as though he might make exceptions about the neccesity of baptism, IMO, is just as wrong as to suggest (and act) as though he may make exceptions to what he taught about faith.
    * lots of people were/are serious in their faith, believe in Christ, do many wonderful works in his name, and yet be told “depart…ye workers of iniquity”.
    * ROM 2 has nothing to do with people who don’t obey the specific and revealed law of God today. Rather, it had to do with the Gentiles who had no such law but were a law unto themselves. That was back when they were suffered to walk in their own ways, during the times if ignorance which God over looked. But now, those time are over and everyman will be judged by the law of Christ.

    2) The reason why I asked whether there were any words of the NT that God could NOT go against, is because I was curious of your answer to that. If we can say that God can (or likely will) “make exceptions” to what he said about baptism, why could he not “make exceptions” to any other thing(s)? You say that God has a history of going against his very own words. Well then, why couldn’t he go against anything. Being Sovereign, if he got so sick of his creation that he felt like going against what he said about heaven – why couldn’t he just condemn us all to hell? Who would we be to say that he couldn’t. And after tatalkingbout God’s history of making exceptions and going against his very own words, I don’t see why that question would strike you as odd.

    In my opinion, even if God WAS going to make an exception and go against his own words today, I believe that we should stay completely out of it. IOW, we should teach, act, and treat (fellowsip) others ONLY and ALWAYS according to what he has said. And NEVER leaving room for him to make any exceptions. Otherwise, if and when we treat others who have not been baptized as though they were, in reality, we are actually making the exceptions for him.

  6. Hank, you are making my points for me brother. I said we don’t act or teach as if God will make an exception even if he ends up doing so. You agree but then seem to talk as if I didn’t say that. Am I just not communicating well?

    I have a few other questions on the table but let me ask another…do you deny that God makes exceptions in scripture to His words?

    1. Allow me to start over, and try to be more concise.

      You believe and teach that in order to be born again, one must be baptized (immersed) Right? You also say that “we don’t act or teach as if God will make an exception even if he ends up doing so.”

      The confusion I’m having, is after saying 1) one must be baptized to be born again and 2) we don’t teach or act as if God will make an exception, BUT THEN
      you give several reasons as to why you are willing to treat a person as if he has been born again (baptized), even though he hasn’t. And one of the reasons you give for treating an unbaptized person as a brother in Christ is “because God can make exceptions”?!

      I mean, if you truly believed that “we don’t act or teach as if God will make an exception” then wouldn’t that mean that you would not/could not treat one (consider one) who has not been immersed as if he were. But, you also say that for several reasons, you DO treat and view certain unimmersed individuals as if they were. What am I missing here, brother? You seem to be having your cake AND eating it.

      As to your question – here is my answer:

      While I do not deny that God has EVER acted in a way that would enable one to say that “he made an exception”, I do not believe that he makes any exceptions to his warnings or promises in the NT. I just don’t believe that it is wise or warrented to believe and teach that because God did or didn’t do this or that, in the OT – that it follows that he will make “exceptions” to any of his teachings now.

      Too, EVEN IF GOD IS GOING TO MAKE AN EXCEPTION, our job is to believe, teach and respond to every word of his as if he were NOT EVER going to make an exception. Out job is never to make them for him.

      IOW, if God teaches us that one must be immersed into Christ in order to be saved (which we both say we believe and teach), then my job is to never suggest or imply that a person might be born again, without being immersed. That’s what not acting like God was gonna make an exception would look like.

      Our job would be to consider all who are unimmersed as though they are dead in their sin. In love and compassion for sure, but not as our brother in Christ.

      The moment you treat an unimmersed person as if he were your brother in Christ, is the same moment that you ARE acting as if God will make an exception. And in so doing, you’re making it for him

    2. Who says I can’t have my cake and eat it too? The difference is between “can” and “will”…God can but will he? I don’t make that call on an individual or corporate basis. The only call I am allowed to make in my preaching, teaching, etc is what God has revealed. At the same time, there is the “possibility” that God can do whatever He pleases (actually that is exactly what God will do…He is God) and that “might” include making an exception for someone. So I can live in that tension…I don’t mind it. I don’t see it as tension at all but allowing room for God to be God while still carrying on and living under what He has indeed told us.

  7. “Who says I can’t have my cake and eat it too?”

    Consistency 😉

    Love you brother…

    1. I am allowing for God to exercise his sovereign reign. I don’t call those shots but I won’t tell him he can’t. It is all over scripture that God makes exceptions but we are not called to live in rebellion hoping for it

    2. Love you too bro…that never will change.

      I am still wondering if you think God never altered from what he said in scripture.

  8. Hey, I responded to your last comment, but can’t sew it anywhere. I’m going to respond again there for and I apologize if it makes a repeat comment. You wrote – “I am still wondering if you think God never altered from what he said in scripture.”

    Actually, I had already addressed it. I wrote:

    “As to your question – here is my answer:
    While I do not deny that God has EVER acted in a way that would enable one to say that “he made an exception”, I do not believe that he makes any exceptions to his warnings or promises in the NT. I just don’t believe that it is wise or warrented to believe and teach that because God did or didn’t do this or that, in the OT – that it follows that he will make “exceptions” to any of his teachings now.”

    But, I wouldn’t treat unimmersed believers as thought they have been immersed. I would not give the impression that those who have never been immersed could possibly born again without ever being immersed. However, IF I DID decide to treat non baptized believes as my brethren in Christ (on the premise that God “could make an exception” if he wants), I would admit that my actions (fellowsipping as brethren the unimmersed) were based on that premise.

    I definitely would not choose to act that way and simultaneously claim that “we don’t act or teach as if God will make an exception even if he ends up doing so.”

    Because, that would be saying one thing but actually doing the other. Wouldn’t it?

    1. I disagree that God makes no exceptions to His word in the New Testament. I also don’t see why we are limited to defining the possibility of what God can do based on the NT, but even with just the NT we still have enough to say as we ought, “God can and will do what He wishes”.

      Is that last statement objectionable…that God can and will do as He wishes? That is the essence of salvation that God saves who He is going to save. That is His choice. Romans 9-11 is proof positive of this.

      Here are some exceptions of note where God did otherwise from what He previously stated:
      Gen 3 – “You will surely die…eventually”

      Gen 6 – God grieved that he had made man and plotted a new course of action only to change his mind again and not kill everyone. Here is what God said in 6:7, “So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” He made exception to His spoken word.

      Exo 32:9-10 – “9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” God changed his mind.

      Exo 33:1-3 – ““Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” Then God changed his mind and went anyway.

      2 Chron 30 – Hezekiah celebrates the Passover at the wrong time in the wrong way. It clearly states that all of this was wrong according to the written Law & God still accepted it.
      30:2-5, “The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. 3 They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. 4 The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. 5 They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written.”
      30:18-20 – “Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone 19 who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” 20 And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”
      Here God accepted specifically what was done “contrary to what was written” and what had been written was what God had said to them in the Torah.

      This is not to mention Jonah and the Ninevites and other stories that could be told. You get the idea. God has a history of making exceptions to what He has specifically stated.

      New Testament:
      Let’s start with Jesus and go from there…
      John 8 – the woman caught in adultery. The Law clearly said what to do and Jesus didn’t do it. He choose mercy.
      Lev 20:10 – ““‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”
      Deut 22:22 – ” If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”
      God didn’t give any provision that those who throw stones must not be guilty of sin. Jesus made exception and in doing so did not do as God had commanded in the OT. He choose mercy.

      Jesus stated in Matthew 15:11 that there aren’t really any unclean foods but what is truly unclean is that which our lives produce that come from within. That isn’t consistent with Torah (Lev 11:7-8). Jesus is even more specific in Mark 7:18-20. Like in the OT, God can do whatever God wants to do because He has the authority to do so. Jesus is in the same boat. He can make these calls because He is God. And yet that is exactly my point. God and Jesus can and do make exceptions to their stated words.

      Paul seemingly violated the conclusions reached at the Jerusalem council that eventually became scripture in the NT in Acts 15 when he had Timothy circumcised.

      That brings up Acts 15 and the decision of how to bring Gentiles into the people of God. Why not just say they need to repent and be baptized like us…those things Jesus taught and the things preached since at Pentecost, to Cornelius and beyond? Instead they add to the requirements things from the OT: ” “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” – Acts 15:19-21 They specifically state they are adding things from the Law of Moses to the requirements for Gentile believers. If you aren’t going to make things difficult why not just leave it at repentance and baptism? If you are going to add sexual immorality why not add murder and theft? James says that is a problem in the community he is writing to in his letter.

      Acts 15 points us back again to the OT for just a moment…in the OT there were certain things that God told them were going to be “lasting ordinance(s)” or done “forever” that God didn’t stick with. There are a few dozen of these but some notables include: Sabbath (Exo 31:17), promise of the land (Exo 32:13), and not eating blood (Lev 3:17 – See again Acts 15…where are we on that one today?).

      There are certainly solid explanations for all of this but none of it would have or could have been called in advance and none of this could have been supported by what God had already said. God doesn’t always work exactly as He has said and we obviously don’t get what we deserve. Grace is an exception. Praise God for that.

      I have a bit more to say but this is enough for one post. Thanks for hanging in their with me. There is a practical side to this we haven’t addressed but can eventually.

  9. hanks for all of that. I will not deny the fact that God can do whatever he wants. Including, extending mercy to those that might surprise us. I am fine with saying that. What I am not fine with, is surmising that God would (or should) make any specific “exceptions” to any things he has previously stated. Even if/though he technically “could”. In my opinion, it would be completely presumptuous for any of us to believe, teach and/or act according to any personal views on which we think God might make some exceptions to his revealed truth.

    My entire point on this is that IF God decides to save/add to the church a certain person that according to the Scriptures, normally would not be – that’s on him. And him alone. I mean, we would have no way of knowing if, when or with whom God will make these completely hypothetical “exceptions”.

    For example, we both believe and teach that sinners are added to the body of Christ when they by faith, are immersed into Christ. Right? That’s what the Bible teaches, over and over again. In fact, baptism is the only act ever described wherein one gets into Christ. But, you know that.

    Now, if God is going to save and add to the church an unimmersed believer, again, we would have no possible way of knowing that.

    Matt, here is where my problem lies – you already agree and acknowledge that:

    “we don’t act or teach as if God will make an exception even if he ends up doing so.”

    And with that, I agree. 100%, I agree. THAT is my point. What you said ^^^

    However, even though you say that, you simultaneously admit that you extend Christian fellowship to many who you know were not ever immersed into Christ. Who have never been literally baptized. You treat them and act with them as though they ARE Christians. What is more, your justification for that, is based on the premise that God “can make exceptions”?! Again, IMO, in doing that, you are actually making them for them, based upon your own assumptions.

    Now, you have to admit, that in taking the approach that you do, your actions go against your very own words. For while on one hand, you claim to NOT act like God might make exceptions, on the other hand, you actually do. Namely, by treating people who according to revelation are not brethren in Christ, as though they were.

    Finally, where would that stop? Where you may view unimmersed believers as saved, based on the premise of “God can make exceptions”, others go one step further and do the same about even non believers. For example, a recent Pope has said:

    “Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith, says Benedict XVI.”

    Is it against God’s will, for us to believe and treat certain unbelievers as our saved brethren in Christ?

    Why not?

    1. I think we are mostly agreeing here. We are speaking in hypotheticals. I don’t go around asking people who proclaim to be Christians if they are baptized. I extend fellowship to people who say they are Christians. I don’t give them a sheet to fill out to find out exactly what that means. So to your point that you say I extend fellowship to the unimmersed…I have no idea when or who or how. I take people at their word regarding their faith and following of Jesus Christ. I am curious if, when you meet someone who says they are a Christian, if you ask them if they have been baptized before you “fellowship” them. That is the practical point I said we need to dig into a while back.

  10. Good question. No, of course, whenever I meet someone who says they are a Christian “have you been baptized”. And, I’m glad that you brought this up. When someone (anyone) tells me that they are a Christian, I believe them and consider them my brother.

    OTOH, if and when I hear of someone claiming to be a Christian, that I know was never immersed (baptized) into Christ, I do not consider such a one to be my brother or sister in Christ.

    THAT, is my point….

    Now, let me ask you, if/when you learn of (or meet) a person who claims to be a Christian whom you also know was NEVET baptized (immersed) into Christ, do you still consider and treat such a one as a fellow member of the church?

    Surely, in all your years of church ministry, you have came across countless people who believed and claimed to be Christians, who were never immersed. Surely, you know of many even now?

    Do you consider them Christians? All? Most? Some? Any?

    Whener I hear of or meet a “Christian” who has never been immersed, I consider them outside of Christ and lost. They need to be baptized into Christ! Of course, I ought to love them and pray for them and teach them. But, outside of Christ, I know they are lost and not actual Christians.

    For me to believe, act, assume, defend one to be a Christian, would be acting as though God might make an exception for such a one.

    And we both have said, we shouldn’t do that. Right?

    What do you think?

    1. “Good question. No, of course, whenever I meet someone who says they are a Christian “have you been baptized”. And, I’m glad that you brought this up. When someone (anyone) tells me that they are a Christian, I believe them and consider them my brother.”

      I agree 100%…that is my point. In practice is where this is worked out. By default you are accepting/fellowship unbaptized people as Christians just like I am. Your approach is the same as mine.

      “Now, let me ask you, if/when you learn of (or meet) a person who claims to be a Christian whom you also know was NEVET baptized (immersed) into Christ, do you still consider and treat such a one as a fellow member of the church?”

      Great question…this depends on the context/situation. If I am in a ministry role or even a personal role talking things over with someone and find that out, I would do my best to have that conversation. Let’s say I meet a speaker at a lectureship somewhere who is from a group that does infant baptism or something…I could well know a bit about this person but I don’t see it as my place to confront them on it publicly or walk up to them and try to convince them of this while they are there.

      Most of the people I spend time with are baptized believers…I need to do a better job of getting around those who need Jesus more.

  11. Suppose someone asks you – “Do you believe, speak and/or act like the church (the actual body of Christ), contains many, many Christians who have never been immersed (baptized) into Christ?”

    I would say no.

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