The Question Which Divides Us
By Buell H. Kazee
When the subject of. modern denominations arises, we often hear the cry that we should all unite in one great body, that there should be no denominational divisions. The claim is usually made that we are divided on only the small, nonessential matters, and that we are all united on the main things. Such naive questions as, "Aren't we all striving for the same thing? Aren't we all headed for the same place?" are asked as if these should abolish all contention over our differences. How wonderful it would be if we really were divided over matters which are mere nonessentials!
Let us say here with all emphasis, our divisions are not limited to the nonessentials; we are divided on the main issue -- that is, how are we saved.
There are three general views of this question: (1) Salvation is by grace through faith alone. That word "alone" is very important. Baptists and a few other groups have been the chief exponents of this doctrine. It is always characteristic of a scriptural church. (2) Salvation by obedience and good works. The Romanists are the chief exponents of this doctrine. (3) Salvation by grace plus works. This doctrine, in varying mixtures, belongs to that great host of denominations and groups which lie between Baptists and Catholics. Our church and denominational differences, then, lie in this great and most important question: How is a sinner saved?
Furthermore, our divisions on this great question lie in two important phases: (1) We may be divided on the experience itself, or, (2) we are divided on the interpretation of the experience.
Here lies the battle ground of denominations. To us, the question of how a lost man is saved is not nonessential! And since, as we have already shown, a church is a preaching institution, it must be agreed both in the experience of salvation and
in the interpretation of that experience. On one or both of these points all denominations are divided.
In Chapter VIII we have shown how the ordinances become the symbolic interpreters of our salvation message. In our view, this means that the churches of our Lord are bound to His own chosen symbols of interpretation, and that the ordinances belong wholly to those churches which use them according to scriptural practice and purpose. The qualifying characteristics of a New Testament church lie embedded in the ordinances, and the qualifying authority for administering them lies embedded in the churches which hold to their message. This, it seems to us, is self-evident.
THE DIVISIONS LITERALIZED.
Since the ordinances are purely symbolical, they become valid and meaningful only according to their use. This is true of practically all rites or ceremonies. Because they do represent something important, they must be circumscribed to the fulfilment of what they represent.
Let us take, for example, a wedding ceremony: (1) It must be something which appropriately represents the union of man and wife in marriage. (2) It must have the design and purpose of making possible in society the blending of two lives into one. (3) The people who are marrying must be properly authorized (by license) and eligible for marriage. (4) The ceremony must be administered by a properly authorized person.
In the light of this analogy, let us look at the ordinances of the Lord's churches.
1. Baptism. ( 1 ) It must be an appropriate symbol to declare a death to sin and a resurrection to a new life. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into (or unto, i.e., in the likeness of -- BHK) death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4 ). The verses which follow make convincing application of the meaning of baptism and its symbolic portrayal. Whatever meaning one might assign to this passage of Scripture, it is clear that the ordinance of baptism appropriately declares a death and resurrection. (2) Its purpose is merely to declare symbolically what the believer has experienced in heart. It has no saving power or efficacy, is not a part of
the spiritual experience of being born anew and is necessary only as a preaching picture of one's saving experience in Christ. If used for any other purpose, it becomes meaningless. (3) Those who are being baptized must be those only who have repented "toward God" and have believed "in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). They must have shared in the experience of death and resurrection spiritually. The New Testament records the baptism of those only who have declared the saving experience of the new birth. ( 4) As in the illustration of the marriage ceremony, baptism must be administered by someone who is properly authorized. If the commission to preach the gospel was given to our Lord's churches, then, without question, the commission to baptize was also given to them. This not only is the declaration of the so-called Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), but it is the practice of the churches of the New Testament.
2. The Lord's Supper. (1) The symbols of unleavened bread and the "fruit of the vine" are declared by our Lord Himself to be appropriate representations of His body and His blood (Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25, et al.). The Apostle Paul corroborates this in his declaration of our Lord's revelation to him (I Cor. 11:23-26). (2) The purpose in eating the supper in our Lord's churches is not to save or help save, as Rome teaches, but to declare in symbolic fashion that we are walking in fellowship with the Lord and with His church, and that we are having the daily experience of His death and resurrection working in our lives. By remembering the Lord's death in His own chosen way, we declare that we are saving our lives by putting off the old man and putting on the new day by day. (3) Those only who have declared their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, both by word of mouth and by the solemn, symbolic ordinance of baptism (as prescribed above) are authorized or eligible to partake of this supper. This, we believe, is according to the precept and example of the Scriptures. ( 4) Logic drives one to the conclusion that the only proper administrator of this ordinance could be a church which has qualified itself by conforming to the requirements which precede this statement.
Remember, our point of view is that a church must be agreed both in the experience of salvation and in its interpretation. This is because a church is a preaching institution. The ordinances
become the symbolic preachment of the full gospel, they are chosen by the Lord Himself and given to the churches for this purpose and, in the declaration of the gospel, the churches are bound to the ordinances as the guide of their interpretation. We shall now see that the division among the various denominations comes either in the experience of salvation or in the interpretation of it, perhaps more in the latter than in the former.
Let us take, fitst of all, the broadest statement we can make concerning the faith of Baptists gennerally. Baptists believe that all who repent toward God and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved anywhere, everywhere, under any condition, without church membership, without baptism, in any church or denomination or with any kind of baptism. This has the sound of broad-mindedness. But they also believe that those only are saved, who have thus repented and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, have had a personal, saving experience with the Lord. Here we part company with all those who believe in salvation by works, including those who believe we are saved by repentance and faith but can be lost afterward through sin, with those who believe that baptism or the Lord's supper have any saving efficacy or any part in our salvation. With this little word "only," we have separated from the Roman Catholics and several other groups who share more or less in their doctrines of salvation.
But come now to the realm of interpretation. We reject any baptism that is not performed by immersion. Here, again, we depart from a large host of people who sprinkle or pour for baptism, or who will admit immersion if it is desired. Their mode of baptism, to us, is not scriptural, and we reject their form of interpretation of the gospel.
Coming a little closer to our view, we find those who require immersion, will have no other kind, but they believe that baptism helps to save. In their view, their baptism is a necessary part of salvation. This we reject because it contradicts what we believe about the saving experience as well as the purpose of baptism. Here, again, we have separated from another large segment of religious people.
With these considerations, we cannot recognize them as scriptural churches, the result of which would be to hold them as unqualified as the adminstrator of baptism, thus nullifying the validity of the ordinance. A further conclusion of this matter is
that those who have been "baptized" by these unscriptural churches have not received scriptural baptism, and we would therefore, by the logic forced upon us, if not welcomed, have to reject their baptism.
Who shall judge the validity of the ordinances?
We realize that we are advancing farther and farther into the realm of divided opinion, but these questions must be faced if we are to arrive at any practical conclusion about the ordinances. The answer to the question, in our view, is the churches which have met scriptural requirement.
As a result of the great variety of churches today, we often have people coming from a church in one denomination seeking membership in a church of a different denomination. Often we have heard them say: "I wish to become a member of your church, but I am satisfied with my baptism." To which we usually give a stock reply: "If you are, why do you want to make a change? If you are satisfied with the baptism your church has given you, why should you leave it? If its baptism is right, then the church must be right?"
This usually stops the procedure for good, but if the applicant is in earnest, it may lead to a very helpful discussion on the validity of the ordinances.
If baptism and the Lord's supper are as important as the Bible so abundantly indica:tes that they are, does it not seem reasonable that they be given a validity which ranks with that importance? If John's baptism was declared valid by the Lord Himself (Luke 20:4-8), if the baptism of Jesus and the apostles was valid, yet, if the baptism which some twelve disciples thought was John's baptism was not valid (Acts 19), does it not stand to reason that there must be an authority or validity in baptism? And does it not also stand to reason that not all baptism is valid? Surely, anyone who minimizes the importance of the ordinances has contradicted the burden of New Testament teaching concerning them.
If the ordinances are so important that they carry the weight of authority in spiritual affairs, they must be associated with some institution which can give them this weight. What else could that be but the church which preaches their message?
It is a church of Jesus Christ which judges the validity of the ordinances. The judgment of baptism and the Lord's supper
and the authority of their administration are all in the church, not in the applicant who seeks membership in it. Before there was a command to be baptized, there was a commission given to someone to do the baptizing. It is the church which has the commission, and it is the church, not the applicant for membership, who must be satisfied about the baptism.
The candidate for baptism and church membership does not submit to the ordinance for any other reason than to receive the symbolic expression of what that church teaches on the matter of salvation. If the applicant confesses the experience and qualification which the church requires for membership, the church recognizes this by its baptism. In effect, the church is saying: "We teach that men are saved as our baptism declares. Your confession scems to be in line with our experience and with what we teach. We put upon you the baptism which represents what we believe and what you profess to have experienced. It is thus that we find mutual fellowship, both by experience and by interpretation. We invite you to the Lord's supper for the testimony of a continuing, sanctifying walk with our Lord and with us."
We see, then, that baptism is not something which the candidate for membership brings to the church, that is, something of his own origination, but rather something he receives from the church, the recognition which the church gives to one who makes a confession in accord with that church's belief. By these ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper, the church declares the message which it preaches about salvation, and the believer confesses his experience to be in line with its teaching. The believer is bidden to be baptized, but, as we have said, before that, somebody was given the authority and commission to baptize; and if it was not the churches, then, we ask, who was it?
Let us examine this matter in the light of circumcision. In Colossians 2:11-13 circumcision and baptism are directly related in meaning. Circumcision meant that God rejects all that the flesh begets. It was the symbol of death to the flesh and cleansing to the life. Likewise, the New Testament ordinance of baptism means the same.
When circumcision was properly observed, every child born of Israel was circumcised. Did the child know all about the meaning of it and why it must be observed? Certainly not. He would be learning about it all the rest of his life. Can the
young new-born soul know a great deal about baptism? He can be taught something about it, but all his life he will be learning its meaning. Can we not see then that if the judgment of baptism is left to the young, inexperienced, untaught convert, its meaning would vary with the individual? When one considers the different denominational views about baptism and its meaning now, what would it be if the matter were left to every individual person?
Paul emphasized this position when he asked the twelve men that most important question, "Unto what then were ye baptized?" (Acts 19:3). Their answer clearly proves that they were not capable of judging the validity of the ordinance. They said, "Unto John's baptism." Paraphrazing Paul's answer, he said: "Oh, no! You must have gotten the wrong idea about John's baptism. John's baptism meant, not only that you should change the mind (heart) toward God (repentance), but that you should believe also in him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. And if you had done that, you would have had the Holy Spirit by now." Now, who sat in judgment on that baptism? The apostle Paul, of course. The candidates were baptized again, scripturally this time.
Not all Israelites were saved people, but they were all types of saved people. Circumcision was associated with Israel in an institutional sense. It identified the child with the people of God. It did not make him an Israelite; it was the sign of his public recognition and identification. Baptism does not make one a child of God; it publicly identifies one as such. Thus, the judgment of the ordinance must be in the hands of the institution, the church.
It is true that this view presents many problems in practical church life. However, it is also evident that the problem originates in the most important question of all, how lost men are saved. We are divided either on the experience of salvation or on the interpretation of it through the ordinances. If we would find unity, let us begin there.
When we take the position that men are saved by grace through faith alone, that is, without any other possible requirement, we begin drawing lines which divide us. First of all, we draw a definite line between the lost and the saved. In the experience of salvation, we separate not only from that great throng which makes no profession of religion at all, but also from that great host of people and denominations who cast their
hope of salvation in what we consider a false premise, whatever it may be. This leaves yet the entire group of the saved, and they will be found both in the churches which hold to the true gospel and in those which have erred from the truth. But all who have been saved anywhere, any time, have heard from some source, maybe not their own church, the message of salvation which has been sustained by the true churches of Jesus Christ.
The division between the lost and saved is experiential; the division between the saved is doctrinal. It is good to know that all of God's children will at last come to be with the Lord, and in Him all differences of fellowship will be made clear; but while we are in the limitations of the flesh, where error can be so subtle and so fatal, we have work to do which demands a separation in church fellowship wherever we cannot agree on the vital interpretation of how our experience took place. We are here to preach, and our message on this question of salvation is important enough to separate us in our walk as churches if we cannot agree on its presentation to the world.
In this, the Word of God is the only ground of agreement. We cannot be one in the Spirit while we are divided on the fundamental truth of His Word. There is no such thing as spiritual unity apart from the Word. We agree that there is a variety of truth in the Bible on which we can tolerate disagreement and still walk in fellowship, but we exclude from this list the question of how men are saved. This is the fundamental of fundamentals, and on it there can be no compromise, either in the experience of saving faith or in the interpretation of the faith that saves.
============[Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 108-115.] Chapter 12
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