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Various Doctrinal Positions of The Campbellite Church of Christ And a Lutheran Response to Those Positions

Revised August 2006

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We use only the Bible to formulate doctrines. We do not have confessions, catechisms, creeds, or other ‘man-made’ writings to formulate doctrines.”

Leroy Brownlow, Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ (Fort Worth: Brownlow Publishing, 1945), 45-50.

Lutheran Response: This is an oft-cited claim made by the Campbellite Church of Christ. The reality is quite different. The Church of Christ, in fact, has many confessions, catechisms, and other “man-made” writings that have been used to formulate doctrines. The foremost of all doctrinal writings within the Campbellite Church of Christ used for the purpose of catechesis (indoctrination) is the five volume set of books entitled Sound Doctrine. These books were written by Charles Ready Nichol and were copyrighted by Nichol Publishing Company in Clifton, Texas. Written in the 1920’s, this set has served as the primary work of doctrinal formulation within the Campbellite Church of Christ.

Another primary text used for catechesis is the three volume set entitled Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons. Nicholas Brodie Hardeman is perhaps the most revered preacher within the history of the Church of Christ. During March and April in 1922, Hardeman delivered a series of sermons in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. His sermons are included in this set. Two generations of Church of Christ preachers have been brought up and trained on these sermons by N.B. Hardeman.

The writings, sermons, and lectures of such men as Foy Wallace, Austin McGary, Thomas Warren, Guy Woods, and Grover Cleveland Brewer are also highly regarded within the Church of Christ and were all significant contributors to the “oral tradition” of doctrinal formulation which was handed down throughout the 20th century.

For the Campbellite Church of Christ to claim that is has used only the Bible to formulate its doctrines is patently absurd and is an egregious fabrication. The historical truth is that this church body is replete with books intended for catechsesis.

The principal creed of the Campbellite Church of Christ is the claim espoused by Thomas Campbell: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” Even here, the Church of Christ does not adhere to its own creed. Rather, when the Scriptures are silent, the Campbellites have done much speaking and writing. They continue to do so.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “Ours is the church you read about in the Bible particularly in Acts 2. Ours is the only true, visible church on earth. Our church began in A.D. 33. A person must be a member of our church if he hopes to go to heaven.”

Ibid., 10-20.

Lutheran Response: Again, this claim is pure sophistry. The Campbellite Church of Christ that exists today did not originate in A.D. 33 in Jerusalem on the Pentecost festival following the Lord Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as the Campbellites claim. The Campbellite Church of Christ is, in fact, of relatively recent origin having its history entirely on American soil.

The Church of Christ actually began in Brush Run, Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 4, 1811. Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell, along with two other American frontier preachers (Barton Stone and Walter Scott) began the Campbellite Church of Christ. In the memoirs of Alexander Campbell written by his son-in-law, Robert Richardson, we find the following excerpt of Thomas Campbell’s “conversion” and “calling” by God to form a new church:

“By earnest and diligent prayer, and the constant use of all the means prescribed by sympathizing and pious friends, he sought, apparently in vain, for those assurances of acceptance and those tokens of forgiveness which were regarded as necessary accompaniments of a true faith and evidence of ‘effectual calling’ While in this state, and when his mental distress had reached its highest point, he was one day walking along in the fields, when, in the midst of his prayerful anxieties and longing, he felt a divine peace suddenly diffuse itself throughout his soul, and the love of God seemed to be shed abroad in his heart as he had never realized it. His doubts, anxieties and fears were at once dissipated, as if by enchantment. He was enabled to see and to trust in the merits of a crucified Christ, and to enjoy a divine sense of reconciliation, that filled him with rapture and seemed to determine his destiny forever. From this moment he recognized himself as consecrated to God, and thought only how he might best appropriate his time and his abilities to his service.”

Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Germantown, Tenn.: Religious Book Service, 1897), 23.

Thomas Campbell arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1807. His son, Alexander, along with the rest of his family followed in 1809. Thomas Campbell had already formed the “Christian Association of Washington County” in Brush Run, Pennsylvania in 1809. This was the first association of “Campbellites” to be organized. Thomas’s son, Alexander, upon arriving to meet his father determined later in the year that this association would be destined to further the cause of the church in America. In Alexander Campbell’s memoirs by Richardson, we find another revealing excerpt:

“He [Thomas] had, by this time [1811], become fully convinced that, on account of the continued hostility of the different parties, it was necessary that the Christian Association should assume the character of an independent Church, in order to the enjoyment of those privileges and the performance of those duties which belong to the Church relation. It was with great reluctance that he finally concluded to take this step, and to separate himself from those whom he desired to recognize as brethren. Such, nevertheless, is the usual fate of reformers. Religious reformations however they may be aided or modified by external circumstances, must always originate within the church itself. Such was the case with the Reformation of Luther, of Calvin, of Knox, of Wesley. Luther was a monk; Calvin as Romish curia; Knox a Catholic priest; Wesley an Episcopal presbyter. It commenced in a community claiming to be the purest portion of the Church, and, when proposed to its hierarchy, was rejected and denounced. Now, as before, the light shone in darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. Hence a separation became inevitable, and this separation appeared no less grievous to the human feelings and sympathies of Thomas Campbell than similar ones had done to those of other reformers. ‘He would have lived,’ as D’Aubigné says of Calvin, ‘to see all the Church transformed, rather than set himself apart and build up a new one.’ Having found it impossible, however, to effect this transformation, he felt it to be his duty to organize an independent community.

At the next meeting of the Association, accordingly, the matter was duly considered and agreed to, as the attitude which the religious parties had assumed, seemed to leave no other alternative. Before entering into this sacred relation, Thomas Campbell deemed it proper that each member should give some personal and public evidence of a fitting knowledge of the way of salvation; and he proposed therefore that each should be required to give a satisfactory answer to the question: ‘What is the meritorious cause of a sinner’s acceptance with God?’ With most of the answers to this question he was entirely satisfied and was particularly well pleased with the views expressed on the occasion by Joseph Bryant. The answers of two of the members being unsatisfactory, their admission was postponed. Neither, however, was received, both having subsequently proved themselves unworthy. James Foster happened not to be present at the above meeting, and when, on Saturday, the 4th of May, he with the other members, assembled at Brush Run for the purpose of organization the question arose: ‘Is James Foster a member, not having been present at the time the test question was propounded?’ Some seemed to think not, but Alexander, who, it would seem, was not entirely convinced that there was any authority for such a test, immediately arose and said: ‘Certainly, James Foster is a member, having been with us from the beginning, and his religious sentiments being perfectly well known to us.’ The test question was not propounded to him, nor to anyone else afterward. As this meeting, Thomas Campbell was appointed elder, and Alexander was licensed to preach the gospel. Four deacons were also chosen.

On the following day, being the Lord’s day, the Church held its first communion service. Alexander preached from John 6:48, ‘I am the bread of life,’ and verse 58, last clause: ‘He that eateth of this bread shall live forever…’

Afterward, his father delivered a discourse from Romans 8:32: ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ Thus there was formally established a distinct religious community, based solely upon the Bible, and destined in its future history to exhibit the entire sufficiency of the basis thus chosen.”

Ibid., 365-369.

As seen from this primary source record, the first Campbellite church ever to appear on the face of the earth had its origins on Saturday, May 4, 1811. On that date, the Christian Association of Washington County in Brush Run, Pennsylvania assembled to transform itself into a church. On Sunday, May 5, 1811, the Campbellite Church of Christ had its first worship service. Thus, not on Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem but in Brush Run, Pennsylvania on May 4, 1811, the group that would later declare itself to be the only true visible church on earth was born.

Today, however, the spiritual children of the Campbellites do not care to dwell upon the early history of their fathers and the church body they began. Mention anything about the origin of the Campbellite church and Campbellites prove themselves to be great “broad-jumpers” for they are able to leap all the way from our day back to Pentecost asserting it was this day that the “Church of Christ” had its beginning. Campbellites always seek to dodge any mention of the true history of their church as it exposes the organization for the cult that it is.

As Bob Ross correctly observes:

“What a change was wrought by the Campbells. On Friday, May 3, 1811, this group had only been an ‘association,’ but on the following day it had resolved itself into a ‘church.’ On Friday, the group would not have pretended to possess any authority for the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper nor for the ordination of ministers, but on Saturday, May 4, 1811, this ‘church’ appointed Thomas Campbell as ‘elder,’ and licensed Alexander to preach, chose four ‘deacnons,’ and on the following day, Sunday, administered ‘communion.’ The name of this unsaved, unbaptized, unscriptural, man-made ‘church’ was ‘First Church of the Christian Association of Washington County.’”

Bob R. Ross, Campbellism, Its History and Heresies, (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publishing, 1981), 21.

Thus was born the “only true visible church on earth.”

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe a person must complete five steps in order to be saved. A person must: a. Hear the Word; b. Believe the Word;

c. Repent of his sins; d. Confess his sins publicly; e. Be baptized by immersion only.”

Lutheran Response: Campbellite ally, Walter Scott, who met Alexander Campbell in 1821, became absolutely convinced that he was proclaiming the “ancient Gospel” with his rationally conceived “plan of salvation” which has long been central to Church of Christ thought and undoubtedly owes its origins to Scott himself. “The plan” went through several stages of development, however. The first stage in “the plan” took place in 1827, while Scott was serving as evangelist to the Western Reserve on behalf of the Mahoning Baptist Association – the organization with which the fledgling Campbell movement was at that time affiliated. By then, Scott had enlarged “the plan” from the simple proposition that “Jesus is the Christ” to a covenantal conception involving human responsibilities and God’s benevolent response. The human duties were three – believing the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, repenting of one’s sins, and submitting to immersion for the forgiveness of sins. In return, God responded with the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. Scott was absolutely convinced that he was proclaiming “the ancient gospel” when he made this six-point “plan” the primary substance of his preaching in the Western Reserve in 1827. In order to use the mnemonic device of five fingers, Scott reduced the number of steps from six to five in publicizing his meetings. He accomplished this reduction by collapsing the last two points into one – the gift of the Holy Spirit. Scott routinely spoke to children on their way home from school and taught them what he called the “five-finger exercise.” He placed one of his five points on each of the five fingers, and then told the children to make a fist and keep it closed until their arrived home. They would then open their fists, show their parents what was “on their fingers” and explain that the man who had taught them this exercise would be preaching that very evening.

Scott’s “five-finger” exercise brand of preaching produced a significant result from the legalistic tendencies inherent in the primitivism and rationalism of both Scott and Alexander Campbell and in due time came to dominate Churches of Christ. When this happened, Scott’s heirs transformed the five – point plan from one that emphasized both the work of humankind and the gracious response of God to one that featured only the work of the individual. By the twentieth century, this five-point plan of salvation had become commonplace and was routinely featured in Church of Christ preaching. It featured five human tasks: hear the gospel, believe the gospel, repent of one’s sins, confess the name of Jesus, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Even more startling is the fact that this more legalistic form of Scott’s “plan” was heralded as orthodoxy as early as the 1840’s.

Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith – The Story of Churches of Christ in America, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmand Publishing Company, 1996), 51-52.

The “five step plan of salvation” as is taught in the Campbellite Church of Christ is singularly the result of the era or legalistic rationalism in the early history of the United States when the power of the human mind was held in the highest regard. Nowhere in the Scriptures are these five steps spelled out as being “necessary” or “required” for salvation. Rather, the five steps are all gifts from God for the benefit of the sinner – Hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17); Faith (Hebrews 12:1,2); Repentance (Acts 5:30,31); Confessing (1 John 4:2); Baptism (Titus 3:5-7).

The five steps to heaven taught by the Church of Christ is pure salvation by works and not by grace. This is a good example of how the Campbellite Church of Christ not only confuses Law and Gospel but, in fact, turns them completely around. The Church of Christ has made the Gospel into Law and the Law into Gospel. This is another indication that the Campbellite Church of Christ is a cult.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe only five acts of worship are authorized in the Bible: 1. Acappella singing, 2. Praying, 3. Taking a collection, 4. Taking communion, 5. Preaching. To do anything else during the worship service is not authorized and is thus sinful and vain worship.

Lutheran Response: These “acts of worship” cannot be traced to any reliable historical source within the Campbellite Church of Christ. They are more likely part of the “oral tradition” originating from a preacher’s pulpit and circulating to eventually become “orthodox” teaching. Again, there is no location in the Scriptures that identifies these acts of worship as the only acts ordained by God apart from any others. This is merely more man-made rationalism coming from the strong influence upon Alexander Campbell and his dependence upon enlightenment philosophy, particularly the thought of John Locke and the perspective of the “Baconian” school of Scottish Common Sense Rationalism named after Lord Francis Bacon, father of the inductive method of reasoning and the new science.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe using “MIM” (mechanical instruments of music) during the worship service is not authorized in the Scriptures and any church that uses musical instruments is engaging in “vain” worship.

Lutheran Response: The two primary passages of Scripture upon which the Campbellite Church of Christ bases this doctrinal position are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both passages calling upon Christians to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The Campbellite Church of Christ has fabricated what it calls the “law of exclusion” stating that what is not explicitly commanded is thus implicitly forbidden. This law of exclusion is simply more intellectual logic which becomes necessary for the church body to uphold its doctrinal positions. The claim is made that these two passages “authorize” only singing without the accompaniment of musical instruments. Both passages, however, include the singing of psalms with the Greek word psallo specifically meaning to sing with the accompaniment of musical instruments.

Over the years, Campbellites have attempted such elaborate arguments as to compare these passages with the command of God to Noah to build the ark only with “gopher” wood (Genesis 6:14). The Campbellite “law of exclusion” suggests that the wood God commanded Noah to use necessarily “excluded” the use of any other kind of wood. No “gopher” wood tree existed in Noah’s time. There is no such thing as a “gopher” wood tree. Rather, “gopher” is the Hebrew word simply describing indigenous wood that could be locally acquired.

Another argument frequently presented against the use of musical instruments is the account of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1,2). These two men offered “strange fire” before the Lord. They were consumed by fire and put to death for doing so. The argument is made that the two men died for doing what had not been expressly commanded. Campbellites fail to mention that Nadab and Abihu, in fact, did what God in Exodus 30:7-9 had specifically forbidden.

There is no express command of prohibition from God in the Scriptures forbidding the use of musical instruments in Christian worship. In Jesus’ telling of the parable of the lost son, He states that the older brother “heard music and dancing” when the younger brother had returned to his father. The Greek word for music is the word for a symphony (Luke 15:25). Thus, if no express command of prohibition exists forbidding the use of musical instruments, it cannot be imposed by any man or man-made church. The Campbellite Church of Christ is imposing a command of prohibition when the Scriptures make so such command. This is adding to the Scriptures something that is simply not in the text. Adding to or taking away from the Word of God is strongly condemned in Revelation 22:18,19.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe the Bible is interpreted in the following manner: 1. Direct Command, 2. Approved Example, 3. Necessary Inference (CENI)”

Lutheran Response: This three-fold method of Biblical hermeneutics is yet another example of Baconian rationalism which made up the early core of orthodoxy of the Campbellite Church of Christ in the middle nineteenth century. This hemeneutical trilogy was formulated by Moses Lard (1818-1880) and cannot be found in the Scriptures.

“In 1855 Jeremiah Jeter [Baptist critic of Alexander Campbell] launched a scathing attack on the religious principles of Alexander Campbell. Among other things, Jeter accused Campbell of confining all Christians to his own movement, and he ridiculed Campbell’s claim that he had based his movement on the Bible alone, apart from human judgment and interpretation. A graduate of Bethany College [founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840], Moses Lard took up the task of responding to Jeter at Campbell’s invitation and on Campbell’s behalf. Regarding the charge that Campbell thought his movement the true church, Lard shot back, ‘Mr. Campbell does not claim for himself and his brethren that they, as a body exhaust the meaning of the term the church.’ But Lard was quick to add, ‘so far as the body of Christ has on earth a denominational existence, they are that body.’

But it was Jeter’s other charge that struck directly at the heart of the emerging Churches of Christ. When Jeter claimed that Campbell and his followers interpreted the Bible rather than just taking the Bible at face value, he undermined the very philosophical premise of the movement. Lard therefore returned to this issue again and again as one of prime importance. In 1863, for example, he published a classic article in the literature of Church of Christ ideology entitled ‘The Reformation for Which We Are Pleading – What is it?’ Central to Lard’s understanding was the Baconian common sense principle that all persons can know a thing precisely as it is without any difference in perception whatsoever. Like Campbell, Lard applied this Baconian epistemology directly to Scripture. ‘The Bible, then, being assumed true,’ Lard declared, ‘we hold that its content may be so apprehended that the mind has…the highest possible assurance that its knowledge is correct.’ That was Lard’s starting point and, indeed, the philosophical starting point for the sectarian vision of Churches of Christ.

With this foundation, Lard was ‘prepared to answer more definitely’ the question regarding ‘our plea.’ ‘The reformation for which we are pleading consists,’ he wrote, ‘1st, In accepting the exact meaning of Holy Writ as our religious theory…2nd, In the minute conformity of our practice to the revealed will of Christ…Hence all practices having their origin in tradition, human reason, or expediency, are utterly eschewed…Thus it is proposed continually to construct the body of Christ after the Divine model.’

Several months later, Lard elaborated on these arguments in another key article, ‘Have We Not Become a Sect?’ There he argued that all Christians can see the Bible alike, ‘It is a humiliating fact [therefore]…that they will not see alike…[and] a grand lie that they cannot.’ He admitted in principle that there were individual Christians within the denominations, but he effectively read these Christians out of the true church when he argued that ‘if a man knowingly holds one false doctrine, or one which with reasonable effort he might know to be false, … it is certain that he cannot be saved if he remains in this condition.’ At the same time, he claimed that the Churches of Christ of the Campbell movement had been absolutely successful in conforming their doctrine and practice precisely to the Bible at every point. ‘Have we introduced into the church any foreign element or doctrine unsanctioned by the Bible…? If so, I shall only say that forty years watching and labor upon the part of our opponents who have lacked neither ability nor industry, have been wholly insufficient…to detect the element.’ Lard concluded that ‘we accept as the matter of our faith precisely and only what the Bible teaches, rejecting everything else.’ He left no doubt, therefore, that he believed the movement fathered by Alexander Campbell to be virtually identical with the nondenominational church of the apostolic era.

In spite of Lard’s contention that ‘we accept as the matter of our faith precisely and only what the Bible teaches,’ he nonetheless argued that a biblical doctrine or practice might be established in one of two ways: ‘by being actually asserted [in the biblical text]’ or ‘by being necessarily implied.’ He thereby made explicit what had been implicit among Church of Christ for many years – namely, the belief that the New Testament makes its requirements clear in one of three ways: through direct command, through example, or through necessary inference. This threefold hermeneutic has characterized Churches of Christ ever since, hardening into a virtual orthodoxy by the twentieth century.

Hughes, 60-62.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe communion should be served every Sunday.”

Lutheran Response: Agreed! Acts 2:42 and Act 20:7 both indicate that Christians gathered for worship on the first day of the week and this worship gathering included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day has been the historical practice of the Lutheran Church. Many pastors within The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are working to reclaim this proper practice within their congregations. However, what is practiced in the Campbellite Church of Christ is not the Lord’s Supper at all. The Campbellite Church of Christ uses the incorrect elements (Matthew 26:26,27). It fails to understand the words of institution spoken over the elements (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). It refuses to acknowledge the presence of the body and blood of the Christ in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26,27; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17). It refuses to acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). The doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper as it is observed in the Campbellite Church of Christ renders the supper totally invalid.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe only a person who is old enough to know what he is doing should be baptized. Infants cannot believe and thus should not be baptized.:

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We believe baptism should only be by immersion. To baptize any other way is sinful and invalid.”

Lutheran Response: These two frequent assertions by the Campbellite Church of Christ regarding baptism shall be answered together. Simply stated, baptism is not something we do for God. Baptism is something God does for us. Baptism is a special activity that occurs in the church and is a means by which God’s spirit comes to us to fill our lives with forgiveness, acceptance, and love. The Lutheran Church views baptism as a sacrament because it is a special means of grace that Christ commanded His disciples and His church to do. And it comes to us connected to the physical element of water. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read in chapter 28:

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Even at this point, the Lutheran Church has been challenged to its referring to Holy Baptism as a sacrament. The word sacrament comes from the Latin Bible (called the Vulgate). This is the first Bible translation in which both the Old and New Testaments were translated into the same language. At first, this word described all of the saving truths of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, the redemption of souls, the church, etc. Later it was narrowed to refer only to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. It translated the Greek word in the New Testament for the mysteries of God.

God is the initiator of all the good gifts we receive in this life. God first gives us our lives and a marvelous world in which to live. We don’t ask for these gifts. They are simply given out of God’s grace. As we grow in years, God gives us the ability to discover, learn, and understand. We don’t ask for these abilities. They are simply given as part of who we are. God gives us the ability to love. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God even gives us the ability to have faith and then gives us the faith itself. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). We believe in God because God gives us faith.

All of these gifts come to us freely, whether we ask for them or not. God gives. We receive. God gives air. We breathe. God gives life. We live. God’s love and acceptance are not based on our own goodness. They are gifts that come to us whether or not we deserve them.

Often, one hears this response to these affirmations. “Yes, it is true that God gives us all good things. But we have to accept those gifts. Just as we may give a gift to a person we love, that person must either choose to accept or reject the gift. The deciding responsibility lies with the receiver of the gift.” Although this may be a true assertion when we are discussing giving gifts for a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or at Christmas, it is not true when we are discussing how God gives His gifts to us. God’s gifts to us are always given in the shadow of our fallen sinfulness. God’s gifts are very precious because they can only come from Him. When we consider God’s precious gifts to us in comparison to our sinful condition, we begin to see a very different pattern of divine “gift giving.” St. Paul gives us some clues into this giving pattern of God in his epistle to the Romans, chapter 4:

4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

And whose sins are covered;

8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.”

St. Paul is quoting from the Old Testament, Psalm 32:1-2. He also writes in his epistle to the Colossians, chapter 2:

13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

This language Paul is using is very interesting. He refers to debts, crediting accounts, charging accounts, payment of wages, forgiving of debts, and debts being recorded against us. They sound like terms an employer, an accountant, or an officer in bank would use in their account keeping. It is here we have the key to God’s method of “gift giving.”

Suppose you were issued a credit card from your bank. You now have the privilege to make “charges” on your credit card account up to a certain dollar limit. Perhaps you have been issued a “gold” card and you may charge as much as $5,000 or even $10,000 on your credit card account. Over a short period of time, let’s say you “maxed out” your credit card and you now have $10,000 of debt with interest piling up on top of it. Your monthly payment is larger than you can afford to pay and it is growing because of the accumulating interest. You are in serious trouble! You are in a position in which you can do nothing to help yourself. You face bankruptcy and financial ruin. You may even be facing criminal prosecution because of your crime of not paying your bills. The credit card bill comes each month giving you the bad news of how much you owe.

Then one month, the statement comes as usual. You cringe to see how much you owe. As you look at the statement, your fear suddenly turns to surprise. The statement tells you that your new balance is $0.00! You owe nothing! You no longer have the debt charged against you account. How can this be? What happened? You call your bank to investigate the matter. Surely, there has to be some error! After a moment, you find yourself talking to the president of the bank who tells you in a very kind voice that he had reviewed your credit card account and saw the massive debt you had accumulated. With a sense of compassion for your hopeless situation, he had decided to forgive your debt. The bank would pay your debt in your place. Indeed, this was truly a gift. This was a very generous gift. It is a very good example of what “for-giveness” really is – giving beforehand.

This gift was given to you without your having to decide whether to accept or reject it. In fact, the gift was given without your even being aware of it. The account was simply zeroed and cleared. You are now free from that terrible burden of debt.

At this point, what would you say to the bank president who had done this very generous thing for you? One response might be that you may become angry with the bank president and say to him, “I don’t need your charity! I don’t need your forgiveness! I am quite capable of paying my own debts, thank you! I demand that the account be left the way it was!” Or you could say, “Thank you for your kindness and generosity! I was so foolish to charge up my account with so much debt. I could have gone to jail over my total inability to pay my debt. Thank you. Thank you. How much more wonderful it would be for the bank president to say to you, “I hope you have learned a lesson from this episode. But it was my pleasure to help you in this way. If there is anything I can do for you in the future, I hope you will feel free to call.”

Now it is true this would be a wonderful story if it really happened. It is not at all likely that a bank president would do such a thing as the one in our story. But we do have a God like this. And this is His manner of forgiving us or giving us those things we truly need and canceling our debt even before we know to ask for it and certainly before we can decide to accept or reject it. The Scriptures state:

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

(1 Peter 1:17-19)

This is a very important key to understanding what happens in God’s precious gift of baptism. Baptism is a gift from God. It is given to us who could do nothing to receive or even to decide to accept or reject it.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of St. John, we find Jesus talking about baptism with Nicodemus. When Jesus said, “You must be born again…of water and the Spirit,” he was telling Nicodemus that baptism was essential. Baptism isn’t just a matter of pouring water over someone. It’s more than an admission that we are sinners who need God’s forgiveness. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work. Through, baptism, the Spirit gives new life and bring us into the kingdom of God.

We know God has created us and has given us the gift of life before we could prove we were worthy of it. We did nothing to initiate our own physical life. We simply received life from God. Our responsibility in life is our response of thanks and praise for the marvelous gifts God has given. Likewise, Christ died for us while we were sinners – before we even had faith. He didn’t say to us, “First be good enough and then I will love you.” By His life and death, He simply said, “I love you and want to save you regardless of who you are or what you have done.” Our responsibility in faith is not to make salvation happen. We simply respond to what God has already done for us. God gives. We receive. God acts. We react to that action. And that’s how it works in baptism.

This is the most important point to be made about what Christian baptism is: God is the active force. God is doing the giving. God is doing the accepting. As with all the rest of God’s good gifts, we do not initiate God’s gift of acceptance in baptism. We simply receive it. And later as we grow to know and understand that God has accepted us, we grow in our appreciation of His grace. First we receive. Then we believe. That is baptism.

But Why Do We Baptize Babies?

A well-meaning Campbellite friend comes up to you and tells you that you are wrong to baptize your children before they are old enough to make a choice themselves to be Christians. “Unless they know what is going on and make a conscious choice to follow Christ, baptism isn’t valid,” the friend says. How do you answer your friend?

To answer any question about baptism, it is important for us to remember that baptism is God’s gift of acceptance and forgiveness. God is the initiator of life, of love, and of faith. To assume that God cannot accept a child unless the child first accepts God is to place the responsibility for faith in the wrong court. It is, as the expression goes, “putting the cart before the horse.” God is the lover. God is the actor. We react to God’s love. God takes the responsibility for accepting us. To assume that a child should not be baptized is to assume that we do the acting in baptism and not God.

But God is the one who acts in baptism. His Spirit is at work, washing away our sins, giving us new life, and making us a part of His family. These are the gifts we want for our children as well as ourselves. Thank God He gives them even to infants.

15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read,

‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants

You have perfected praise’?” (Matthew 21:15,16)

The question of baptizing babies or the practice of infant baptism has been debated for hundreds of years and has divided branches of the Christian faith. Some branches of Protestantism argue that babies should not be baptized because they are too young to believe. They say that a person has to choose to follow Christ first and then be baptized. Otherwise the baptism isn’t real. The Bible’s answer to this logic is clear. God’s power is not limited by our faith – or lack of it. God’s power in baptism is not dependent on the child’s understanding or cooperation.

42 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42).

Even as an infant is capable of having natural trust in a mother and father, so it is capable of having spiritual trust in its creator.

Suppose a young woman just gave birth to a baby. The new mother and father are excited and happy about the new gift from God. However, their happiness quickly turns to anxiety when the doctor informs the young couple that the baby has a heart defect. The doctor goes on to explain to the couple that an outstanding heart surgeon is on his way to the hospital. The heart defect which the baby has is life threatening and surgery is absolutely essential. The doctor, however, assures the couple of the competence of the heart surgeon and his experience in doing this surgery many times. The doctor tells the new mother and father that the chances of the surgery being successful are excellent. The baby would have a full recovery and live a very normal and healthy life.

Of course, the parents give their consent to the surgery and are relieved and overjoyed that the outcome was just as the doctor had said. The surgery is a complete success and their new baby would be fine. Using this same scenario, it would have been nothing short of ludicrous for the doctor to have told the parents about the serious situation with their newborn baby and then to have told them, “but I would recommend to you that we postpone this surgery until the child is old enough to understand the nature of the heart defect, to understand the basic aspects of the necessary surgical procedure, and to decide for himself whether or not to have the surgery performed.” The effectiveness and successful outcome of the surgery rested in the hands of the skillful surgeon and not with the newborn child. This the way with God in baptism. God’s power creates faith in all of us whether young or old.

A very reasonable questions that follows from this position might be, “but can God create faith in a child or infant?” Rational logic might find this difficult to accept. However, rationalizations and logic must give way to the Scriptures. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read in chapter 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

6 “ But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (vv.1-6).

The Greek text of the New Testament (the language in which the New Testament was originally written uses the word micron which is translated as “little ones” in the final verse. A micron is the smallest unit of measurement in the metric system. It indicates that Jesus is referring and including children even when they are their smallest size. And it is these “microns” who believe in Him. Jesus indicted that little children really did believe in Him. Their faith was precious in His sight. He used a child’s faith as a model for the faith that adults should have.

In Luke 1:41-44, the Holy Spirit was working in John the Baptist’s life even before he was born:

1 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

Daniel Preus tells a very eloquent and winsome story about how a child can have faith. He writes:

“How the Spirit shows us Jesus may be better understood if we consider the nature of faith. Because many people misunderstand what faith is, they have concluded that we decide to become Christians, that we make a decision for Jesus and that this decision is instrumental in becoming a child of God. But if this is so and if it is also true that we are justified by faith, those who teach these things also are teaching that we are at least partially responsible for our own justification. But what exactly is faith? Lutherans frequently use the word trust to describe the nature of faith or as a synonym for the word faith. Who creates trust? The one who trusts or the one who is trusted?

Many years ago, my 4-month old son Dirk was lying on the couch when his oldest brother, Seth, began to play with him. Seth hugged and kissed Dirk, who cooed and smiled. Then Seth left. A few moments later, my daughter Kirsten walked up to the sofa to spend time with her little brother. Before Kirsten even touched Dirk, he began to whine and whimper. Kirsten, who was 3 years old, hadn’t yet learned how to be gentle with a baby. Dirk didn’t enjoy being rolled over or dragged around by the arm. Although Kirsten had no desire to hurt him, Dirk didn’t trust Kirsten. Dirk cooed and smiled for Seth because he trusted Seth to treat him gently and carefully. Did Dirk make a decision to trust Seth and not Kirsten? Did he decide to trust boys and not girls? Did he decide to trust 9-year-olds but not 3-year-olds? No, trust in his brother was created in Dirk by Seth’s behavior and distrust in Kirsten was caused by her behavior.

As another example, how would you react if a politician who has not shared his platform with you says, ‘I only have your best interests at heart. Trust me.’ Would you trust him immediately? No, he needs to earn your trust, which he does on the basis of the way he acts. If you come to trust this politician, it will be because he has acted in a trustworthy fashion. It is the nature of trust that it can be crated only the one who is trusted.

The same is true of faith. It can be created only by the one who is believed. The message about Jesus – who He is, what He has done for us – is the message that brings us to faith in God. The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus, how much He loved us, how He sacrificed Himself for us, how His passion for His wandering sheep was so great that He , the Good Shepherd, gave up His life for the sheep. The Holy Spirit shows us how trustworthy the Savior is, and faith is the result. Thus faith is created by the Spirit through His Word. Because of faith, we are justified, we enter the kingdom of God, and we enter the church. This is how we come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is how we come into fellowship with an uncountable company of angels, with those whose names are written in the Book of Life, and with God our Father and with Jesus, His Son.”

Daniel Preus, Why I Am a Lutheran, Jesus at the Center, (St. Louis:

Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 72-74.

God told the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament:

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

And some say that God cannot work in the life of a child and give that child faith! There is good news for these folks. The Bible teaches that God can and does work faith in the heart of even the smallest children.

Shoe Me Just One Place in the Bible Where it Says Babies Should be Baptized!

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’

The promise of the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit is for all people including children. Again, referring to the Greek text of the New Testament, the word used for children is teknois. It is a noun which is derived from the Greek verb tikto which means “to give birth.” Teknois is the best Greek word referring to children because it includes children of all ages from infancy on up. Bear in mind that the practice of the Lutheran Church is to baptize children of any age. It is not restricted to baptizing infants only.

In Summary – Who’s Doing What in Baptism?

If Christian baptism is only for those who have enough faith to repent and believe, we are wrong and hypocritical to baptize anyone who is too young to exhibit these qualities. But the Bible clearly shows that God is the creator of faith. Since faith, forgiveness, and acceptance are the work of God, we simply follow Christ’s command to baptize and teach all people. We must not put limits on God or try to dictate what God can or cannot do. Or whom God can love and accept as a child of the kingdom. We simply do as Christ commanded and trust in Him for the rest.

Can our Creator plant the seeds of faith in a child? If the answer is yes, it is a wonderful miracle of grace. If the answer is no, then God is not as powerful as the Bible indicates. However, the final, joyous conclusion is a triumphant yet. What God is able to do in the life and heart of an adult, He is quite capable of doing in the heart of even the youngest child.

Perhaps no single question is asked more often than this one. This question has been deliberated for centuries within Christendom. It is a valid question worthy of consideration. However, the answer offered here is entirely from the Lutheran perspective. Not all churches that baptize children and practice some form of effusive baptism teach the same theology or doctrine regarding such practices. Thus, the answer offered for this most commonly asked question does not attempt to speak for all such churches. It is only to speak from the Lutheran perspective.

Of infant baptism, Luther wrote:

“Let us look to the reason why they hold that children do not believe. They say: Since they have as yet not come to use their reason, they cannot hear God’s Word; but where God’s Word cannot be heard, there can be no faith; Romans 10:17: ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” etc. Tell me, is one who judges God’s works in this way, according to our ideas, speaking like a Christian? Children have not come to the use of their reason, you say, therefore they cannot believe? What if you have already fallen from faith through this reason and the children have come to faith through their unreason? My friends, what does reason do when faith and God’s Word are concerned? Is it not a fact that reason most violently resists faith and the Word of God so that because of it, no one can come to faith or put up with God’s Word unless reason is blinded and put to shame? A man must die to reason and become a fool, so to speak, yes, and must become more unreasoning and irrational than any young child if he is to come to faith and accept God’s grace, as Christ says Matt. 18:3: “Except yet be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” How often Christ points out to us that we must become children and fools and how often He condemns reason!

Again, tell me, what sort of reason did little children have whom Christ caressed and blessed and assigned to heaven? Surely they, too, were as yet without reason. Why, then does He order that they be brought to Him, and why does He bless them? Where did they get the faith that made them children of the kingdom of heaven? The fact is that just because they are unreasoning and foolish, they are better fitted to come to faith than the old and reasoning people whose way is blocked by reason, which does not want to force its big head through the narrow door…

But since their reason so besets me, we must attack them with their own wisdom. Tell me, why do you baptize a man after he has come to the use of his reason? You reply: He hears the Word of God and believes. I ask: How do you know? You say: He confesses as much with his mouth. Should I say: What if he is lying or deceiving? After all, you cannot see his heart. Well then if in this instance you baptize only because a man has outwardly professed faith but are uncertain of his faith and must wonder whether he has more within his heart than you can observe, then neither his hearing nor confessing nor faith is of any avail; for it may be a delusion and not a real faith. Who, then, are you to say that outward hearing and confessing are necessary for Baptism, that where these are not present we should not baptize and that where they are present we should?… Is it not true that you must admit: You have no right to do to know more than that the person to be baptized be brought to you and that you are asked to administer Baptism; and you must believe, or rather, simply commit to God where or not he really believes in his heart. Thereby you are excused, and you baptize correctly…

Beside, tell me, where is the reason of the Christian believer while he is asleep, since his faith and God’s grace admittedly never leave him? If, then, faith can continue without the co-operation and awareness of reason, why should it not also being in children before reason is aware of it?…

Commit the faith to Him who commands them to be brought and baptize them at His command, saying: Lord, Thou dost bring them here and dost command them to be baptized. Therefore Thou wilt surely answer for them; on this I depend. I dare not drive them away or forbid them Baptism.:

Edward M. Plass, What Luther Says – A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 51,52.

Scriptural Examples Commonly Cited to Support Immersive Baptism

Frequently, two Scriptures passages are held as definitive evidence that immersive baptism is the only valid mode of baptism. Both passages are frequently cited from the King James Version of the Bible.

The first passage comes from the Gospel of St, Matthew:

16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him…(Matthew 3:16)

The second passage frequently cited is found in the Acts of the Apostles:

38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:38-39)

In the first verse cited in Matthew 3:16, excessive emphasis is placed on the King James wording that Jesus “went up straightway out of the water.” The implication is made that if Jesus came out of the water in a straightway manner, then it must be understood He was below or under the water for Him to be able to emerge in such a straightway manner.

Investigating this text in the original Greek language, the word translated in the King James Version for “straightway” is euthus. This is not a word which carries the idea of a straightway direction. It is not a word that implies direction at all. Rather, the word has the meaning of rapidity in speed and deliberateness of intent. It is more properly translated with the word “immediately” which is a theme running throughout St. Matthew’s Gospel. In examining the sentence construction of the verse, we likewise find this applies not to the direction in which Jesus came forth from the water but in the rapid manner in which He did so. He came forth from the water immediately. The adverb also applies to the immediate opening of the heavens and the descent of the Spirit of God as a dove upon Jesus after His baptism rather than before.

The second verse from the book of Acts must also be carefully considered by the fact the text states both Philip and the eunuch went into the water and both emerged from the water. Must this then imply that both the baptizer and baptized should be immersed so as to afford a proper administration of baptism? Even immersionists would concede this places undue stress upon the activity reported in this Scripture passage.

The Greek Word for Baptism (baptizo) Means “Immerse”

This statement is correct. The Greek word for baptism (and its other cognates) does mean “to immerse.” The Lutheran Church does not oppose the practice of immersive baptism. It is a perfectly valid and proper mode of administering baptism. However, the Lutheran Church does oppose the assertion that such administration of baptism is the only proper method and further opposes the assertion that any other form of administration is thus consequentially invalid or defective in some manner.

More needs to be included regarding this oft-stated argument. When consulting an authoritative Greek Lexicon, the student discovers more than one definition for the Greek verb baptize. In the highly authoritative Greek Lexicon of Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and revised by William Danker (2000), the following citation is found for the word baptizo:


wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify

to use water in a rite for purpose of renewing or establishing a relationship w.
God, plunge, dip, wash, baptize

“The transliteration “baptize” signifies the ceremonial character that NT narratives accord such cleansing, but the need of qualifying statements or contextual coloring in the documents indicates that the term β. was not nearly so technical as the transliteration suggests” (p.164).

As shall be discussed, the Holy Scriptures seem to prefer using “wash” as the definition in association with baptism. Four passages of Scripture are offered for consideration.

In the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 7, the text reads:

4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.

The Greek New Testament text renders the word baptison in this verse that is translated with the word wash. Clearly, however, the Gospel writer is not referring to Christian baptism in this citation. Rather, he speaks of the Jewish ceremonial washing regulations that were being practiced by the Pharisees and Scribes in Jesus’ day and of which St. Mark mentions in an account of the Pharisees charging Jesus that neither He nor His disciples were complying with these ceremonial rules.

Also in the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 11:

37 And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.

Again, the Greek New Testament text renders the word baptizo which is translated with the word, wash.

A third passage of Scripture is offered for consideration. From St. Paul’s epistle to Titus, chapter 3:

4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

In this passage, St. Paul is clearly writing of the regenerative nature of Christian baptism. But he does not use the word baptize. Rather, St. Paul uses the word loutron in emphasizing the washing nature of baptism.

A final passage of Scripture indicates the same technique used again by St. Paul. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 6:

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

St. Paul is again clearly writing of the regenerative nature of baptism. However, he uses the word form apelousasthe rather than the aorist form ebaptisthen.

The assertions made with this evidence are threefold:

The New Testament does not command the mode of Christian baptism to be singularly that of immersion. If it is not commanded in the Holy Scriptures, men cannot command it.

The Greek word baptizo is not always used to refer to Christian baptism in the New Testament and is sometimes used with its other meaning (wash) intended.

Christian baptism is not always intended exclusively with the word baptizo. On occasion, other words are used to denote Christian baptism.

The Early Church Practiced Baptism By Immersion

Again, this statement is correct. However, it is not a complete assertion as is usually held. The early church had other practices which related to baptism and early Christian literature sheds light on these facts. In his book, The Church of the Catacombs, The Early Church, From the Apostles to AD 250, Walter Oetting writes:

“Justin described the baptismal rite: ‘Those who believe what we teach and are willing to live accordingly are instructed to ask God in prayers and fastings to forgive their past sins. We pray and fast with them. They are brought to a place where there is water and bathed in the name of God the Father and Lord of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit,’ (1 Apology, 61).

A manual of instruction and liturgical rules called the Didache, probably originating in Syria in the late first or early second century, adds: ‘If you do not have living [running] water, baptize with any other water; and if you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times. (Didache, 7). The Didache, Justin Martyr, and Hippolytus make it clear that the common form of baptism in the early church was immersion. This symbolized dying and rising again with Christ. But immersion was not the only mode of baptism being used. Pictures from the Roman catacombs depict the initiate being drenched with water poured on him with a seashell. Cyprian, the bishop at Carthage in the middle of the third century, wrote that the method of sprinklng was also used. He went on to assert that the manner in which the water was applied was of minor importance as long as it is done by a priest of the true church. (Letter 69,7-11).”

Exactly How Do You Baptize in the Lutheran Church?

The method of administering holy baptism employed in many Lutheran congregations is not at all unusual. We do not baptize only infant children. We will baptize a person of any age. We have on occasion baptized and entire “household” of husband, wife, and children. Such a practice is taught in the Scriptures such as Acts 16:14,15 and Acts 16:29-31.

In our Lutheran congregation, the water is applied with a brass metallic “seashell” symbolizing the same seashells which were used by the early Christians. Water is scooped form the baptismal font and it poured over the forehead of the candidate three times – each in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

A Question For the Immersionists

Early Chrisitan literature indicates that the immersion of the baptismal candidate was indeed a common practice. However, the literature also indicates that the baptismal candidate was immersed three times. As the proper mode of administering the water is the crucial component in baptism in immersionist churches, why is this not practiced today?


It may be reasonably asked that if the manner in which the water is applied is not necessarily of primary importance in the Lutheran Church, then why not immerse the baptismal candidate in water alongside the same principal as pouring the water? The answer involves the matter of our confessional witness to the world and to the other churches in the local area. For Lutherans, the matter of the mode of baptism is a matter of adiaphora which means the mode of baptism is not specifically commanded in the Scriptures nor is any mode specifically forbidden.

Thus, for any church to teach that only one mode of baptism is valid and all other modes invalid is to violate Scripture. It is to do nothing less than add to the Word of God when no such word is given. When a Lutheran congregation finds itself (as it often does in the southern United States) in the midst of immersionist church bodies that make such claims, it must in Christian love and gentle faithfulness stand up to such assertions and give a clear witness that it will not be bound by nor pressured into these positions when they are brought to bear on the Lutheran congregation or on any of its members. When a clear witness is called for in the face of opposition, a practice which should rightly be a matter of adiaphora can no longer be such. The mode of baptism is a matter of Christian freedom. It should remain as such.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We reject the doctrine of original sin. Babies are born ‘safe’ and ‘innocent.’ Thus they do not have any sin needing forgiveness.

Lutheran Response: The Scripture passages the Campbellite Church of Christ holds up to support this absurd position are Ezekiel 28:15 and Ezekiel 18:20.

15 You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you.

20 “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

Both passages are Hebrew poetry in which literalistic meaning cannot be derived. Even if this were not the case, both passages of Scriptures pertain to actual sins which had been outwardly committed and say nothing about the spiritual nature in which a child is born. In Ezekiel 18:20, the passage states that “the son will not share in the guilt of the father, not will the father share in the guilt of the son.” This passage is correct. All persons are held accountable to God for their own sins and not the sin of another person including parents or offspring.

In contrast, Psalm 51:5 reads:

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

Also, Psalm 58:3 reads:

3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

In John 3:5,6, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus reveals that the necessity of one being born again (baptism) is due to the fact that flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Jesus’ usage of the word “flesh” always indicates sinful flesh. Sinful parents can only give birth to sinful children. Thus, the need for them to be born again in baptism.

Another argument that is made comes from the question of why babies and children die? The only reason for anyone dying is because of sin. Romans 6:23:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

However, a more important question needs to be raised here. What is the eternal disposition of the child’s soul after death? The answer which has been offered to this writer is “children go immediately to heaven” because they are “safe” and ostensibly because they have no sin needing forgiveness. This must then mean children go to heaven without the need of a Savior since they have nothing from which they need to be saved. Consequently, they have no need for Jesus Christ who is the only Savior of the world and the only way to eternal life in heaven. Finally, if children have no need for Jesus Christ as their Savior because they have no sin needing forgiveness, then it must mean (albeit only for infants and children) that there is more than one way to heaven.

St. Luke writes in Acts 4:12:

2 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

There is only one way to heaven and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Infants, children, and adults all get to heaven the same way.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We teach the ‘age of accountability’ doctrine that states a person’s sins are not held against him by God until he is ‘old enough’ to know he is doing wrong.”

Lutheran Response: The doctrine of an “age of accountability” is a doctrine of subterfuge within the Campbellite Church of Christ. It is a doctrine which was created out of necessity to reconcile the paradox the Campbellites created for themselves between the doctrine of the essentiality of baptism in order to be saved and their denial of the doctrine of original sin. On the one hand, Campbellites teach the absolute necessity for any person to be baptized in order to be saved. On the other hand, they must reject the doctrine of original sin otherwise they would be forced to acknowledge the necessity of baptism for infants and children. Thus, the doctrine of “the age of accountability” was created.

This doctrine states that a child is only held accountable by God for his sins once he reaches the age of his being cognitively aware of his sins. The Scripture passage held out to support this doctrinal position is Isaiah 7:16:

16 “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.”

It is interesting how a church body that so vehemently rejects the binding nature of the Old Testament must subsequently depend on it so heavily in its attempts to support such strange doctrines.

A quick review of this passage of Scripture shows the context which is offered here in the prophet’s writing. The paragraph of text for this section begins with verse 13:

13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 15 “Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.

This is a clear passage of Messianic prophecy pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Certainly Jesus Christ was the only child who was born perfect.

It is true that children have a continuing progression of developing reason and discernment in their lives that continues throughout adulthood. But discernment and “accountability” are two very different things. There is no point in a person’s lifetime here on earth when he is not accountable to God for that life and the conduct of his life. Romans 14:11,12 states:

11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We teach that baptism is for the remission of sins. But only for a person’s past sins.”

Lutheran Response: This is a doctrinal position not well know even among members of the Campbellite Church of Christ. However, two sources bear this out:

“Churches of Christ have stood almost alone in the religious world on the subject of water baptism. We have insisted that immersion of a penitent believer is essential to salvation from past sins.”

Alan Highers, ed., The Spiritual Sword, no. 2 (January 1994) : 1.

“Though in becoming a child of God, one is commanded to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, it is, and can be, only for the sins committed before becoming a child of God, for he is guilty of no other sins before that time.”

Charles Ready Nichol, Sound Doctrine, vol. 5, (Clifton, Tex.: Nichol Publishing Company, 1920), 65.

As the Campbellite Church of Christ stresses the absolute necessity of being baptized, rejects the biblical doctrine of original sin, and yet affirms an “age of accountability,’ baptism in the Church of Christ, by definition, must cover only a very small portion of a person’s sins during his lifetime. Only those sins having been committed from the moment the person reaches the “age of accountability” [and who decides when that age is reached?] until the moment he is baptized are remitted in the baptism. Any sins that have been committed before the “age of accountability” and any sins committed after the person is baptized must be absolved somehow by the person himself as his baptism is not efficacious outside this very narrow window of remission. Rather, baptism is for the forgiveness of all sins.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We teach that observing Christmas, Easter, and other “religious” holidays in the church is sinful. Worship on Sunday should be the same every week.

Lutheran Response: The Scripture passage that is held up as supporting this position is Romans 14:5:

5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

Stated simply, a careful reading of the entire chapter of Romans as well as Colossians 2:16,17 –

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,

17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

will reveal that the passages of Scripture purported by the Campbellite Church of Christ to prohibit festivals in the church are the very passages that support the church’s freedom to celebrate the significant events in the life of our Lord and of His church.

Campbellite Church of Christ Position: “We reject that Christ descended into hell between the time of His crucifixion and resurrection.”

Lutheran Response: Again, most members of the Campbellite Church of Christ are not aware of this doctrinal discrepancy. In an oral presentation made on December 13, 1998, Campbellite Stephen Wiggins stated that Jesus Christ descended into the “realm of the dead” [Hades] but that He did not descend into hell itself. Mr. Wiggins states that he believed there were four eternal destinations. Paradise and heaven and well as Hades and hell. The Scriptures teach that only two eternal destinations exist – heaven and hell.

1 Peter 3:18-20 reads:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,

19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

The Greek word used for “prison” is phylake which is an eternal place of punishment from which there is not escape.

Concluding Comments: The Campbellite Church of Christ has existed for almost 200 years (est. 1811). Its doctrines and paralogistic methods of argumentation place it in the same category as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Watchtower Society. It consistently lies about its true history and rejects any attempt to the contrary.

In its more recent history, this organization has spawned an even more bizarre sect known as the “Boston Movement” or more recently as the “International Churches of Christ” led by Kip McKean. This very strict cult focuses its recruiting and proselytizing efforts on young college students most of whom are away from home for the first time.

The well known author, Max Lucado, is a member of this organization preaching in a large congregation in San Antonio, Texas. Also the much publicized special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, is a member of the this group.

The position of this writer is one that claims the Campbellite Church of Christ to be a cult. It has throughout its history lied and distorted the facts concerning its origins and many of its aberrant doctrines.




Today, the Campbellite Church of Christ is a seriously divided fellowship. It is comprised basically of two groups – the “(a)historical hardliners” who continue to deny the Campbellian origins of their fellowship and the “contemporary conservatives” who have recently made outward overtures to unite with the Disciples of Christ which is another branch of Campbellite history. Members of the Church of Christ should be encouraged to abandon thus spurious organization and begin catechesis with a conservative congregation of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

For anyone reading this document, please do not misconstrue its polemical character with any personal animosity toward anyone who may be associated with the Campbellite Church of Christ. Many people within the Church of Christ maintain their membership on the basis of familial loyalty and a genuine fear that to depart the fellowship means forfeiture of one’s eternal salvation.

However, the doctrinal matters discussed in this documents are of the highest importance and should be regarded in a serious manner. Indeed, the eternal souls of many people are at stake.

Dr. Keith W. Schweitzer

Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church

505 NE Dodge Street

Greenfield, Iowa 50849