I beg the indulgence of readers who are not associated with Baptist churches or Churches of Christ, as we look in three gracEmails at those two groups of Christians, both particularly populous and highly competitive throughout the southern United States.
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Baptists and Church of Christ folk have far more in common than either of them sometimes acknowledges. Right-thinking people in both places know that we must trust Christ’s work on the cross for salvation. Neither group attaches any significance or value to baptism apart from faith-trust in Jesus Christ. Both groups baptize converts in obedience to Jesus’ charge in the Great Commission, and both do so by immersion (Matt. 28:18-20). Both are congregational in church government and both prize freedom of individual conscience.
Alexander Campbell, a founding father of the Restoration Movement which spawned modern Churches of Christ, belonged for a while to a regional Baptist Association. He broke that connection before being expelled from it, after he inferred from Acts 2:38 that the chief purpose of baptism was the forgiveness of sins. Although Campbell saw baptism as the “formal” means of forgiveness, he did not consider it the actual or “effective” means, and he personally regarded unimmersed believers as Christians. However, his focus on Acts 2:38 (rather than the same Apostle Peter’s remarks, for example, in Acts 10:43) eventually led the majority of Church of Christ folk to conclude that only those who were baptized “for the remission of sins” had received New Testament baptism.
By the 1880’s, David Lipscomb, a Nashville educator and editor of The Gospel Advocate, still received Baptists without rebaptizing them — insisting that obedience to Christ was not only an adequate reason for being baptized but was the noblest reason possible. In 1884, Austin McGary, a former sheriff and recent convert in Texas, started his rival paper, The Firm Foundation, specifically to oppose Lipscomb’s teaching on this subject and to insist on rebaptizing Baptists. Eventually many Baptists returned the favor, arguing that Church of Christ baptism was invalid because it looked to baptism for salvation rather than to Jesus. Church of Christ folk denied the charge, of course, but the dogmatic rhetoric of their prominent debaters often drowned out their most earnest protestations.