T. PIERCE BROWN
Most parents know that there are at least two ways to ask a “why-question.” When my oldest son was small, I would say, “Frank, it is time for you to go to bed.” If he replied, “Daddy, why do children have to go to bed before older people?” I would take him on my lap and explain. But if he whined, “Why do I have to go to bed before you?” he got a different response!
We may not be as conscious that there are at least two ways to answer a “why-question.” One is with reference to a backward look that deals with “because of” something(s), and another is with reference to a forward look that gives a purpose for which the thing is done. We need to understand the value of both. A question debated by Lipscomb and McGary many years ago has not died, but Lipscomb, Srygley and many good and brilliant brethren of today overlooked one or two VERY important principles which we want to notice today.
Almost 40 years ago I read everything I could find in the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation in the running debate concerning the question of baptism for the remission of sins between Lipscomb and McGary, but do not recall Lipscomb adequately addressing the specific points we want to consider today. Both Lipscomb and Srygley were right in their conclusions that man can have no higher motive than to obey God, and that one does not have to understand all the results, designs, or purposes God may have behind ANY command. But that does not adequately deal with the issue.
My conclusion that it is necessary to understand both ends of the “why-question” for baptism to be valid is not based upon the assumption that one must “regurgitate a formula” or mouth some ritualistic statement, but is based upon some scriptural principles that relate to ANY act of worship or obedience to God.
Let us examine in more detail both ends of the “why-question.” A person may be baptized because Christ authorized it. Not only is that a perfectly good and proper motive of which there is none higher, if that reason can not be given for ANY religious act we perform, then that act is not proper! If I do it because my mother believed in it, or “my church” teaches it, the act is invalidated, even if the church or my mother taught the truth about it! This is true simply because all that we do in word or deed must be done by the authority of Christ! (Col. 3:17)
But having the proper “because” behind the act is not enough. Suppose one says, “I take the Lord’s Supper because Christ commanded it,” but instead of doing it as a memorial service (1 Cor. 11:25) one does it as a sacramental act of transubstantiation in which Divine grace is presumed to be automatically conferred upon one as he cannibalizes–eats the literal flesh of the Lord! Is THAT valid or approved? Surely NOT! The reason is that if God revealed the reason WE are to do the act, one must act for that reason in order for the command to be valid. Note carefully: God may have other reasons for which HE COMMANDED the act, and other results that would be accomplished by the act, but we do not have to know about those.
Let us try to clarify that point by a simple illustration. Suppose Christ says, “Go out in the back yard and dig for worms, and we will go fishing.” If I went to the back porch to read, and you ask me “Why?” I might reply, “Christ said, ‘Go out’ and there is no higher motive than to obey Christ.” That is true, but does not touch the issue. Even if I went out in the back yard to dig for gold, you might ask, “Why are you digging?” I might reply, “My Lord said, ‘Dig’ and besides, I want to find gold, buy a boat and go fishing with Him, for I love to be with Him.” All that might be true, but is beside the point. The principle behind all of this is that if God specifies the PLACE, TIME, MANNER, OR PURPOSE of my doing something, and I do not do it at the place, time, manner or for that purpose I have not obeyed my Lord, no matter what my motive may be! If God did not specify, that is a different matter.
Notice carefully: there may be other reasons or results Jesus had in mind when he commanded me to go out to the back yard and dig for worms. 1. He loves me and knows I need the exercise. 2. I would have to find a shovel, which I would need for later activities He has in mind for me. 3. The place I dig would make a good flower bed. I may or may not know anything about THOSE reasons, results or designs He may have in mind. But if He has specified that I dig for worms, I COULD NOT POSSIBLY be obedient to Him if I did NOT dig for worms, no matter how much I claimed to love and obey Him! The situation would be even worse if I KNEW He said, “Dig for worms,” but THOUGHT I already had enough worms, and dug because I THOUGHT He wanted to put a flowerbed there!
We must conclude that it is illegitimate exegesis, illogical argument and unscriptural reasoning that leads us to conclude that as long as one says he is performing an act in obedience to the command of Christ, the performance is valid and proper. Note carefully: Although the only proper answer for the background reason for ANY RELIGIOUS ACT is “Because Jesus authorized it,” that does not, of itself, validate the act.
Also, one can give a proper answer to the other end of the “why-question” regarding baptism, and say, “For the remission of sins,” and neither does that, of itself, validate the act. The Roman Catholic might answer that and mean, “I had water sprinkled on me for the remission of my sins (to remove my Adamic nature).” A Mormon might say it, and mean, “It is the act by which a faithful Latter Day Saint is entitled to enter the seventh heaven and procreate throughout eternity, but it has nothing to do with being saved.” A Baptist might say it and mean, “I was baptized FOR remission of sins which I received when I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior. But I certainly do not believe I need it to go to heaven!” None of these could have “obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine delivered” (Rom.6:17-18) and therefore have no promise of thus being made free from sin at that point. We thought that the principle, “If God authorized the kind of instrument on which a melody is to be made, any UNAUTHORIZED instrument is wrong and sinful” was well understood, believed and taught by faithful gospel preachers. But the principle is broader than the use of mechanical instruments in worship or the purpose of baptism. The principle has to do with EVERYTHING God authorized, and although stated above, may need to be repeated for emphasis. If God specified a WAY to do a command, one must do it that WAY, or the action is invalid, no matter what your motive may be! If you have the wrong motive, it is invalid, even if you did it the right WAY! The same is true with regard to the TIME, PLACE, MANNER, AMOUNT, PURPOSE, or anything else that God specified. A simple (and perhaps simplistic) way of putting it would be, “If it is not done RIGHT– the way God authorized and specified–then it is WRONG!”