Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 9, 1970

To Baptists, On Baptism, From An Outsider

Edward Fudge

I am not a Baptist myself. I do have a great deal of admiration for you, however, and feel a close affinity to you. I was especially touched recently by these words of W. R. White, quoted in the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists.

I am convicted that Baptist distinctives are absolutely and indispensable to the basic needs of the developing world order before us. I am deeply concerned that we have spiritual fellowship and unity with other Christians but without betraying a most sacred trust. 1 Mr. White expresses what men of conviction always feel when conscience disallows participation in the ecumenical games that occupy most professing Christians these days. He is not alone.

This article is written in the spirit of such concern. Is it possible for men of good will to find common ground, from vastly differing backgrounds, yet with none violating his own convictions or sacrificing his own principles?

As a member of the body of Christ, and a preacher for a local church of Christ, I feel a strong pull toward Baptist and their convictions. True, there are significant differences between us, and I do not pretend to minimize these. Yet on the other hand, there is a common ground that binds us historically, as well as (what is far more important) a common area of truth that we share, and which distinguishes us alike from much of so-called Christendom today.

Probably the first difference of doctrine between Baptist churches and the churches of Christ that comes to mind is that regarding the nature and purpose of baptism. It is my conviction, however, that this is, to some extent, a problem of semantics. Each of us has his terminology, parts of which give offence to the other. I shall have more to say concerning this a little later.

There is no dispute between us over the glorious fact that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) There is no real difference between us regarding the wonderful truth of Ephesians 2:8, 9, which says: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."

So far as baptism is concerned, Baptist Standard readers are aware of the fact that even Southern Baptists are divided in several respects. The "alien immersion" issue is still alive, though it has been a source of thorny debate among Southern Baptists for generations. 2 Nor are Southern Baptists unanimous in their interpretation of even such a primary passage on baptism as Acts 2:38. For example, Glen T. Cain, a faculty member of Houston Baptist College, presented an article in the Standard about a year ago, in which he enumerated at least three significantly different views among the Southern Baptists on this one verse. 3 In fact, about the only grounds of universal agreement regarding the verse is that it does not teach "baptismal regeneration."

And, even more revealing was a survey cited by Southwestern Seminarian Carl A. Clark, to the effect that nineteen per cent, or almost one out of five, Southern Baptists said they believed "that baptism is necessary to salvation." 4

In fact, Baptists are first to admit (or is "boast" the better word!) that, unlike many denominations, they have no "official" position on anything. Rather, "each Baptist church establishes its own position, and those churches of like mind associate themselves in associations and conventions," as a Baptist Standard editorial put it not too long ago. 5 Such a lack of uniformity among Baptist laymen can be attributed in part at least to what another Standard writer described as the "very little emphasis" which he said Baptists have "placed on the meaning of baptism for those who submit to it." 6

One important likeness in belief between Baptist churches and churches of Christ is a profession, at least, to discard creeds and traditions of men for the Word of God. H. Rhea Gray sounded a challenge to Southern Baptists along this line, in an article entitled "Let's Return to the Baptist Position!" There he wrote:

There have been many articles in Baptist publications recently urging the keeping of the "historic Baptist position" concerning baptism. . . . Let us, indeed, go back; let us go all the way back to the New Testament. 7

It is an ironic, but admitted, fact that baptism is an overlooked subject among many Baptists. In an attempt (and a very successful one) to stay away from the rocks of sacramentalism, or salvation by works, Baptists have often strayed dangerously near the precipice of ignoring the Bible teaching on this subject altogether.

Could it be that during passing years both Baptists and members of churches of Christ have developed their particular and exclusive ways of expressing ideas, so that much of our apparent disagreement regarding baptism is actually a matter of expression? No one believes more strongly than we in salvation as God's gracious gift, through Christ, by faith. No group more strongly preaches the Biblical doctrine of salvation apart from "works of righteousness which we have done." (Titus 3:5) No one stands more fervently for the principle of grace and against the doctrine of sacramentalism.

The scandal for Baptists seems to lie in certain of our expressions which you choose to re-phrase. This is especially apparent where we use the words of Scripture as in the case with Acts 2:38. "Upon the surface," a Baptist College teacher wrote, "this passage seems to teach that baptism precedes and is essential to salvation. But because of a strong conviction that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is at variance with the teaching of the main body of New Testament passages, frequent attempts have been made to circumvent this surface... understanding."

Here is the paradox. Here is the scandal. We affirm that baptism (in Peter's words) "doth also now save us." Yet at the same time we, too, reject completely the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." Where is the D.M.Z.? Where can we meet — we who seem to say the same, yet so often are found face-to-face rather than side-by-side?

It is my earnest and prayerful opinion that this entire discussion needs to be resituated. The difference between us is not a matter of a sacramental attachment to baptism. It does not concern the saving validity of true faith. The question properly has to do with the relation of baptism to a saving faith. Yet this is exactly the location where previously we have failed to hold the discussion!

I have not seen our position on this point in a better nut-shell than this from the pen of Baptist Chaplain J. M. Jordan. 9 "Our conviction is that when faith in Christ becomes active the result is salvation, wrought by the grace of God." 10 The Apostles Paul and Peter both affirmed that the power of salvation is the power of God — the power demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:18-23; Acts 4:11, 12). Yet this is the power of baptism, according to Peter: "Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh," but the power of "the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (I Peter 3:21) And in this sense, in the same verse, Peter says that baptism saves.

This is the power of a saving faith. And yet Paul affirms that faith to be "saving" must show itself in the act of obedient baptism. So he states that one is "buried with Him in baptism," wherein also he is "raised with Him, through faith in the operation of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Col. 2:12)

Baptism is an act of faith. It is essentially a submission to God. There is no saving validity in the act of a physical immersion and emersion alone. Yet when a man does this apparently foolish thing as a submissive act of obedience to a gracious God who, in Christ, reconciles the whole world; then, and not until then, baptism becomes for him an "obedience of faith." (Romans 2:5; 16:26, A.S.V., New A.S.V.) Then that man becomes an heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Romans 4:1425; Col. 2:12)

If we can leave out of the picture hypothetical situations of men hit by falling trees on the way to be baptized; if we can stop trying to play God in determining the destiny of imaginative individuals; if we all will sit down together in a spirit of reverent inquiry into God's divine revelation, prayerfully seeking the guidance of His Spirit in understanding it, and then make honest application of it to our lives; if we will do this, partisan interests and factious feelings must fall into their proper insignificance, and the pure will of God must come to us like fresh streams to men in a desert. Honestly, can we do less?


1 J. D. Grey, "Debate and Controversy," Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1958), I, 355.

2 W. W. Barnes, "Alien Immersion," Ibid., p. 32.

3 Glen T. Cain, "Is Baptism Essential?" Baptist Standard, November 16, 1966, p. 24.

4 Carl A. Clark, "What Do Southern Baptists Believe?" Baptist Standard, April 6, 1966, p. 24.

5 E. S. James, "Southern Baptists and Alien Immersion," Baptist Standard, August 18, 1965, p. 4.

6 Ralph M. Smith, "The Doctrine of the New Testament," Baptist Standard, November 24, 1965, p. 6.

7 H. Rhea Gray, "Let's Return to the Baptist Position!" Baptist Standard, May 18, 1966, p. 24.

8 Glen T. Cain.

9 I am aware that Chaplain Jordan would disagree with my application of his words, as he does in his very next sentence. My point here, though, concerns what he said in this quotation.

10 J. M. Jordan, "Believer's Baptism," Baptist Standard, July 27, 1966, p. 7.