A gracEmail subscriber writes: “Over thirty years ago I left the Baptist church to enter into a new relationship with our Lord through the Church of Christ and a new baptism. With all the changes going on in the Church of Christ today, I feel like the leaders have betrayed me and others of like belief. To suggest that one is saved before baptism and to accept as brothers in Christ those who have not been immersed is to leave the old paths that we have held as truth for many years.”
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Your feelings are common and natural to those believers who were once persuaded that their standing with Christ was deficient while they were associated with any church other than a Church of Christ. Interestingly, the founders of the Churches of Christ did not believe that their group encompassed all true Christians or that Baptists needed to be rebaptized. Nor did David Lipscomb and many of the leading brethren who came later. Those notions were popularized by Daniel Sommer, Austin McGary, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and others who sectarianized the Churches of Christ during the period from about 1890-1930.
The notion that one must necessarily have the words of Acts 2:38 in mind while being baptized rather than, say, the words of Matthew 28:19, is horrendous and has done much harm to many good people. We in the Churches of Christ ought to apologize publicly for ever having taught such a thing and determine never to do so again. Jesus’ true church consists of all who trust and follow him — including many who do not understand the details of baptism just as we do. The gospel truth is that we are saved by grace through faith. It is a tragic detail of our history that we have sometimes become so fascinated with baptism as to obscure that truth.
If you were taught that the Churches of Christ represented God’s only true people, and that baptism must follow a formula based on Acts 2:38 and no other Scripture, you were simply sold a bill of goods. Those who did the deed were no doubt sincere and well-intentioned but they were also wrong. Those same people always taught us to follow Scripture rather than tradition. We honor them now by making whatever changes that priority may require.
Yours is not the only Christian group that has erred extravagantly in claiming to be the only true church. So, at times, have the Roman Catholic, various Eastern Orthodox bodies, certain Presbyterians, Landmark Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Worldwide Church of God, International Churches of Christ and the more cultic Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Others, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Exclusive Brethren, do not claim to be God’s only people but refuse to eat the Lord’s Supper with Christians outside their own circles. There is room for repentance across the spectrum.