T. PIERCE BROWN
Occasionally when I think of what I presume to be a thought that is worth sharing with those who read such articles, I re-phrase it and send it to the editor of some newspaper. It is my hope that you will do likewise, for there are thousands who read letters to the editor who never see a gospel paper. If you find in this article any information that you think would be proper for the general public to use, do not hesitate to take it, put it in your own words and send it to your local editor.
In our newspapers, and even in our religious communication, we frequently hear of some person who claims or disclaims responsibility for something. Someone bombs a bank or building or shoots someone, and his lawyer claims that he is not responsible. His parents, his upbringing, society, or almost anything or anyone is said to be responsible, but the criminal is not. The liberals in the government claim it is the responsibility of the government to see that all poor people are fed, clothed, and given proper housing, all sick are provided with all the medical care they need, all criminals are provided with all the comforts and conveniences they can get inside the prison walls, and the whole society is responsible for taking care of all the needs of all the individuals in the society. Apparently, the primary responsibility of the individual is to support the government in spending for all the programs that anyone can devise.
I am not trying to make a political statement. I am simply trying to get each one of us to be more aware of some of the things we need to consider in order to determine who is responsible for what. The first thing I suggest is that it would be helpful if we would start with the word itself. One of the primary elements in determining responsibility is to determine response ability, or the ability to respond. Whether one is a priest, a Levite or a Samaritan, when one finds a hurting person who needs help and he has the ability to give the proper response to that need, he has a responsibility to do that.
We can think of a possible exception to that general rule, and there may be other exceptions. If you should see two persons drowning and you have the ability to respond to their needs, but cannot save both of them at the same time, you may have to choose which one you will try to save first, and may even allow the other to drown. Analyze that principle with any situation in which you may be found, and it may help you to decide how to respond.
Suppose a beggar comes by your home or office, telling you how desperate he is with little starving children in the car, and is on his way to Florida to pick beans, but ran out of gas just as he got to the church building, and knowing that you were a compassionate servant of God decided to ask for your help. You have the ability to respond to his plea, for you have at least $10 in your billfold. Is your response ability always the only factor in determining your responsibility? It should be evident that it is not. You need to try to determine if he is simply a lying deadbeat who makes more money lying then you do in preaching the gospel. Your responsibility is to love and help those in need, but it is also your responsibility to try to find out whether you would actually be helping or encouraging his pernicious ways. It is also your responsibility to try to use the resources God placed in your power in the best ways to glorify God and advance His cause. It is similar to the situation where two persons are drowning, and you can only help one at a time. If you help the one who just seems to be drowning, and can actually swim out on his own, the one who really needs help may be lost.
So, although you always need to consider your response ability in order to determine your responsibility, there are other factors involved. But this realization is important, even in determining when a person has the responsibility to be baptized. Those of us who preach, and those parents who have young children who may want to be baptized do not have the responsibility of making the final decision about who can be baptized. We do have the responsibility of teaching others that until they have the response ability–the ability to respond properly to the fact that Christ died for them, that they are lost in sin, that they need to repent, they do not have a response ability, and therefore no responsibility to be baptized. When I asked a little girl what repentance meant, and she replied that it meant that you would never be tempted again, my responsibility was to do a little more teaching. When I asked her if she had ever sinned, and she said she had not, I knew she did not have the response ability that would give her the responsibility to obey the gospel.
When Jesus said, “Except ye believe that I am He, ye shall die in your sins,” he meant something important. Suppose you discover that the person who might want to be baptized has said that he believes Jesus is the Son of God, but he only means that all human beings are children of God, and Jesus was an especially good human being. You generally only ask him, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” and assume, if you are in a gospel meeting, or he has been coming to where you preach, that he means what you mean. However, you should know that it is very possible that he does not. It is not your responsibility to baptize such a person. Normally, you do not even ask him if he has repented of his sins, for you assume that he understands that he must, or he would not respond to the invitation. However, if you are privately studying with a person, it is your responsibility to try to make sure he understands what is involved in repentance, and if he does not, he does not have the proper response ability, and therefore does not have the responsibility to be baptized at that time. And you certainly do not have the responsibility to baptize a person who does not give some kind of evidence that is penitent. If he does not know he is a sinner, or lost, it is difficult to see how he could repent. Yet, strangely enough, there are those connected with the Lord’s church who teach that a person does not need to know that he is lost, but his baptism saves him in some fashion or for some reason if he does it because he thinks the Lord wants him to do so, but has no idea why.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600