THE VALIDITY OF BAPTISM
T. PIERCE BROWN
Since the early days of the Restoration Movement questions have been raised about how much one must know about the connection between baptism and the remission of sins for the baptism to be valid. These are valid questions and demand a sensible and scriptural answer.
The fact that there are many values or results of baptism which God had in mind does not negate or lessen the importance of the fact that He revealed a relationship between baptism and salvation which apparently no convert mentioned in the Bible misunderstood when he was baptized. It is inconceivable that any of them went through the strange and contradictory mental gymnastics that we hear regularly: “Yes, one must obey God in order to be saved. Yes, baptism is a command of God. Yes, he said, `He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’. But one does not have to be baptized to be saved.”
Let me illustrate one of the points I am trying to make. Suppose a man should say to his gardener, “Go out in the front yard and dig for worms and you will receive five dollars.” If he goes out in the back yard to dig for worms, he is disobedient, no matter if he did not understand which yard was designated. If he goes out in the front yard and digs for gold, he is disobedient, no matter if he did not understand the stated purpose of his digging.
Also, note carefully: If he goes to the front yard and digs for worms, as requested, there may be various other results in addition to the worms which he does not need to know. He may turn up moist earth in which flowers will be planted. He will get some good exercise that he did not even think about. He may demonstrate cheerful obedience to his master. He will get five dollars. Whether he did or did not realize that one result of his digging was a beautiful flowerbed, it is still true that he did not obey his master unless he digs for worms. Even if he did not understand the command because he was not listening carefully; even if he assumed he was to dig for gold; even if he assumed he was being obedient to his master by digging because he heard the command “Dig,” he was still not obedient. Of course, if he had read the instructions in a letter, then expressly and vehemently denied the importance of digging for worms, one should easily see that he was not obedient, even if he firmly vowed that he was digging in loving obedience to his master’s command.
Note the very important point of this illustration: It is not necessary for a person to understand completely, and expressly and extensively categorize all the results or values of digging in order to please or obey his master. But it is necessary for him to understand the command “Dig for worms” before he can obey that command “from the heart” as Romans 6:17-18 says needs to be done in being made free from sin.
It is improper to cloud the issue with a long dissertation about the necessity of his being able to express concisely a “formula for digging.” If we can understand these principles, we can please God. If God says to do a thing at a certain time, one must do it at that time to be pleasing to God, even if he swears that he did it to please God, while doing it at another time and asserting that the time God said to do it is unimportant. If God says do a thing in a certain way one must do it that way. It is not satisfactory to claim that he is doing it to please God, but that the way is unimportant, so he will do it any way he chooses. If God says do a thing with a certain purpose, it is important to do it for that purpose. It is not sufficient to deny the purpose for which God said do it, and claim it is satisfactory because he assumed he was pleasing God, no matter for what purpose he did it. A man might take what he calls “The Lord’s Supper” in memory of the death of John F. Kennedy, assuming that it would be pleasing to God, but it surely does not take a brilliant scholar to realize that it would be a farce, for that is not its purpose. If a man’s has two purposes in baptism such as 1. To join some human institution and 2. To please God by doing that by the act of baptism, does that make his action valid? Paul’s purpose was to please God by putting Christians to death! Surely none of us assume that the good purpose validated the act!
Having the proper motive is absolutely vital. But until someone can explain how “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” is equivalent to “Ye shall believe error and error shall make you free,” we will find it difficult to understand how a person who denies the importance of doing what God says, the way God says it, for the purpose God says to do it, when God has specified those, can expect his actions to be counted for valid obedience.