I realize that one page of print is not all that much. But I came across a single page in The Christian Standard last year that struck me as having an importance far greater than its size. Thus it is that this month we devote a whole meeting to "page 11." Club members should just be thankful for a very short reading assignment as we examine . . .
The Christian Standard, p. 11
August 22, 2004
On my bookshelf stands a little IVP book from the 70s titled The Water That Divides. It is, as you can probably guess, a book about baptism. The book is not all that helpful, but I find the title intriguing. Baptism is, unfortunately, the water that divides. It is dividing the restoration movement, and in fact probably has already divided it. Itís just that, being a movement and not an organization, we usually donít know we have been divided until long after the fact.
That was graphically illustrated on page 11 with this monthís title article. It was one of those "letters to the editor" pages. On the left - and Iím not sure if that was theologically significant - was a letter from Steve Bond. In that letter Mr. Bond expresses his "disappointment" in a previous series of articles by Jack Cottrell on the history of baptism. I am guessing that Mr. Bond represents a significant group of people who would consider themselves part of the restoration movement.
Now those of you who have been with the club for a while probably already know that I am imagining a slick British fellow saying, with the appropriate accent, "Bond, Steve Bond." This Mr. Bond has a "license to kill." And kill he would - though only in a metaphorical sense, of course.
For one thing, Mr. Bond wants to kill the messenger. Good old (and I mean "old" here in a metaphorical sense, too) Jack Cottrell has given us a very nice history of baptism. Itís a topic he might just know a little something about, given his credentials and experience. He presents "the facts, just the facts" about the thinking on baptism throughout the history of the church. For his trouble his presentation is branded "an unbiblical, works-based theology of baptismal regeneration."
Can poor Dr. Cottrell help it if prominent theologians throughout church history have taken a view of baptism that Mr. Bond, Steve Bond, finds upsetting? Sure, Steve - shoot the messenger.
One thing that greatly worries Mr. Bond is that, if Dr. Cottrell is right, it would invalidate "the abundant work of Godís grace in multitude of church movements around the globe." But that is not quite correct. If Dr. Cottrell is correct, it only means that the understanding of a "multitude of church movements around the globe" needs to be brought back to Biblical standards. Why should that be so startling? Isnít that what "restoration" is all about?
Apparently Mr. Bond would also like to kill this important point of our restoration movement. One very important emphasis in this movement from the beginning was the need to restore the Biblical purpose of baptism. Mr. Bond would, it seems, have us return to the Egypt of Zwinglianism.
I prefer the promised land, where the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit are promised at the time of baptism. While that does not preclude God saving whomever He wants - of course! - it does mean that if you want to be "standing on the promises" then you had better leave Zwinglianism behind. There is a home for those who would like to be Zwinglian immersionists. It is known as the Baptism Church - pick your favorite garden variety.
A few years ago I visited a little community church on behalf of our campus ministry. I had some friends there who wanted me to tell about campus ministry. Before becoming "community" this little place had been Baptist. I made the mistake of taking some newsletters that mentioned some of our students being "baptized into Christ." After my visit, the minister of that church called me to say that they were very uneasy with that phrase "baptized into Christ." I reminded him that I was just repeating the language of the Apostle Paul. He informed me that while he knew this was the language of the Apostle Paul, it could not possibly refer to water baptism because water just cannot possibly have anything to do with entering into Christ. Question-begging as that is, it is what one must say if one is a good Zwinglian.
The Zwinglians among us, like Mr. Bond, have a common refrain: Baptism is VERY important to us. In Mr. Bondís exact words, "It is not sidestepped or underplayed." The same can be said by any good Baptist. As nice as that sounds, it is not key to the matter. What is key is baptism into Christ. If you donít believe that we are baptized into Christ, then you just might be in the wrong movement.
Zwinglians, like Mr. Bond, like to claim that the idea that we are baptized into Christ is incompatible with salvation by grace through faith. Itís as though they think the Apostle Paul was somehow schizophrenic, because he is, after all, the fellow who insisted that we are saved by grace through faith AND that we are baptized into Christ.
I know a lot of Zwinglian immersionists, and they are mostly very nice people. They sincerely believe in Jesus Christ, and they are mistaken about the meaning of baptism. It happens. The nice thing about these people is that, if asked, they will tell you, "Iím a Baptist."
It would be nice if Mr. Bond and his kin would do the same.