A subscriber asks whether Churches of Christ are classified among “evangelical” Christians. He quotes a Churches of Christ seminary professor who says they are not, because evangelicals believe in “full assurance of salvation, coming not by any work of human merit, but through faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross” and deny that salvation is dependent on any “sacrament” (such as baptism).
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I would argue that some Church of Christ people are evangelicals and some are not. The non-instrumental Churches of Christ, like the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (instrumental), sprang from a 19th-century movement which set out to “restore” New Testament Christianity. All three of these groups practice believer baptism by immersion, which they see as the new believer’s formal declaration of faith in Jesus Christ and initial act of submission to him. I share this practice and this understanding of it. However, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ do not all explain the relationship between baptism and salvation in the same way.
According to one view, baptism is a condition of salvation, so indispensable that no one is ever saved without it or even before it. Clearly this view is neither evangelical nor biblical. “Evangelicals” (from the Latin and Greek words meaning “gospel”) believe that Jesus fully accomplished the only work that puts sinners right with God and that anyone who trusts in Jesus as Savior enjoys the benefits of all that he has done. A second view sees baptism as a formal confession of faith in the gospel which tangibly assures the believer, as a believer, of all the blessings that are enjoyed by faith. This view is evangelical but not sacramental.The third (majority) view is that we are saved by grace through faith, and that baptism normally (but in God’s sovereignty and freedom, not always) is the outward means through which that occurs. That is surely an evangelical view as well, although it is a sacramental understanding. (Interestingly, almost no one in these churches uses the term “sacrament” when speaking of baptism; the theology professor in the opening question is exceptional in that regard.)
A growing host of us within the Churches of Christ, who hold to either the second or third view described above, see justification by grace through faith as a fundamental gospel truth taught by Jesus and his Apostles, a truth which we in the Restoration Movement desperately need also to “restore.” We take at face value those New Testament passages that promise salvation to everyone who believes in Jesus (John 3:16; 6:37-40; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom 10:8-11). We also join hands with all other evangelical Christians who trust in the finished work of Christ to set them right with God. Whether we personally understand baptism as an ordinance or a sacrament, we know that Jesus commanded it. For those who call him “Lord,” that should be enough.