(Originally printed in the November/December 1996 Issue MCOI Journal)
The ICC (International Churches of Christ) are orthodox with regard to such doctrines as the deity of Christ, the Tri-unity of the Godhead, inspiration of the Scriptures, etc.. They err primarily in their view of salvation and authoritarian control. As we have pointed out in previous issues, the ICC holds that one must be a disciple with a discipler over him before he can become a Christian. In a series such as this, it is difficult to deal exhaustively with the errors associated with a shepherding group such as the ICC, and we recommend Flavil Yeakley’s The Discipling Dilemma or Rick Bauer’s Toxic Christianity for those interested in doing further research on this subject.
As we stated in the last issue, the Bible should be interpreted using the same rules as we would use to interpret other literature. We must ask certain questions in order to understand what the Bible writers intended to convey. The questions are: Who is writing?, Who are they writing to?, When are they writing?, What are they saying”, and “How does it apply to me?.” It is a severe mishandling of any text to try to mix, match, and distort in order to support a particular teaching. We will look at several of the ICC’s key texts in context in an effort to bring clarity to the issue of baptism and salvation.
“BAPTISM NOW SAVES YOU”
The ICC partially quotes 1 Peter 3:21 and then smugly says, “What could be more clear? Baptism now saves you.” We agree that baptism saves us, but does our saving baptism spoken of in this verse involve our getting wet? The text actually teaches the opposite:
“…who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21. NASB).
The context leading up to this quote has to do with suffering for righteousness and uses Christ as the supreme example.
In verse 20, we are told that eight souls were saved by water. What does the water represent? God’s judgment. Did the eight souls get wet??? NO! They were in the ark and stayed dry, being preserved from God’s judgment while the ark got wet. The ark, representing Christ, took God’s punishment in their place while they “were brought safely through the water” or delivered from judgment. Peter further clarifies this in verse 21 by stating, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” (KJV), This baptism is not an outward action which can be performed by mere men, “but the answer of a good conscience toward God” (KJV) It is an inward cleansing, performed by God Himself.
Paul carries this same theme throughout his writings. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 he writes,” For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …”. This is an action the Spirit performs when we believe. He immerses or places us into the Body of Christ. In Romans 6:3 Paul writes that we are baptized (or placed) into Jesus’ death. We weere buried with Him, not like Him, when He was buried, since we were baptized (or placed, or immersed) into His death (vs:4). We should live as resurrected ones for we were resurrected with Him (vss:5-8). There is not a word in this passage about water. These works are all performed by God’s Holy Spirit supernaturally, to those who believe. Again, no human minister can superimpose himself into this saving action. Yes, this Spirit baptism is necessary for salvation, and only God saves!!! Man can have no part in saving another man, which is exactly what salvation by water baptism involves.
In Ephesians 4:5. Paul stated that there is one baptism. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 he said, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…”. We must ask ourselves, “Is this ‘one baptism’ the one that is performed by the Spirit, as Paul teaches, or by water, as the ICC teaches?”
I have had ICC members point out that “God is not the author of confusion.” In fact, they have said “Whenever a person is confused about which way to be saved, something is wrong.” We agree. The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that true Christianity was lost off the face of the earth and that they alone represent restored Christianity and are preaching the true gospel today. The Mormon Church makes the same claim. We could continue listing for several pages the groups that have “cleared up” the confusion of salvation. They, like the ICC and Church of Christ, can trace their roots to the Cambellite movement. Most of these groups use the Bible to prooftext their teaching, yet they do not agree on what the Bible teaches. Does mean that God is authoring the confusion in the cults, or is it more likely they are confusing themselves by disregarding contextual reading in favor of defending their special doctrine’s.
WHY WAS PAUL BAPTIZED?
The question is posed based on Acts 9:17-18; 22:16. If baptism doesn’t mean salvation here, why was Paul baptized?’ First of all, we cannot build doctrine from historical narrative passages. Not all of the information is given, it is only a snapshot of the event being described. For example, where in the text does it say Paul wasn’t saved during his encounter with Jesus Christ? Where in the text does it say he was saved later by water baptism?
Why was Paul baptized? What do the Scriptures tell us had been taught up to this point? At the time of Paul’s conversion and subsequent baptism, none of the New Testament had been written. The Jewish believers, the sect known as the Way (Acts 9:2), had not been preaching to the Gentiles but only to Jews, (Acts 11:19) and these Jews were strict observers of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5; 21:20). In Acts 2, we see that the believers were baptized at the hands of the apostles in order to receive the sign gifts. In Acts 8:12-16, we see that it was necessary for the apostles to lay hands on the already baptized believers in order to bestow the Holy Spirit on them.
In Acts 9, the account records that Ananias laid hands upon Paul, who then received his sight and the Holy Spirit. In Acts 22:16 Paul’s account includes water baptism. As we draw these two accounts together, we see that Paul was baptized at the hands of Ananias and, through that baptism, the Holy Spirit and accompanying sign gifts were bestowed. Paul spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), he healed the sick (Acts 19:11-12; 28:8-9), raised the dead (Acts 20:9-10), was bitten by deadly serpents and was not hurt (Acts 28:5-6). These sign gifts were in force as a testimony to Israel (1 Corinthians 1:22) and Paul points out that they were signs of a true apostle (2Corinthians 12:12). Paul was baptized in order to receive the Apostolic sign gifts. If the ICC were baptizing for the same reason Paul was baptized, they would naturally be exhibiting these same sign gifts, which gifts are part and parcel of that baptism.
A PUZZLING PUZZLE
As pointed out previously, the ICC has several parts to the “puzzle” of salvation. Salvation is not a puzzle we must put together just right, but a gift to be received with joy and gratitude. The ICC is proclaiming a different gospel. Paul expressly warns believers against receiving any gospel other than the one he had preached to them (Gal. 1:8). The false gospel would not be some entirely foreign teaching, but would be a perversion of the true gospel, thus making it more difficult to spot (Gal 1:7.) It is so serious an offense to pervert the true gospel that Paul says the perverters should be accursed. The perverted and accursed gospel is spelled out in clear detail for us in the third chapter of Galatians. It involved faith, yes, but faith was only the first piece of the puzzle; works were necessary to complete the process. The two different gospels look like this:
Christian view……Faith = Salvation + works
Accursed view…..Faith + Works = Salvation
As we look at the puzzle, we don’t see any substantial difference between the ICC, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, Mormonism, and many other “boot strap” religions in regard to their view of salvation. Again, it is true the ICC believes in the deity of Christ, the Tri-unity of God, and other fundamental doctrines of the historic Christian faith. But, if you have the wrong view of salvation, it doesn’t matter what else you may have right.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2, the Apostle Paul).