Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 1, 1970
NUMBER 34, PAGE 5a-6

Too Much Emphasis Or Not Enough?

Jimmy Tuten, Jr.

Brethren are still clamoring over the issue of "emphasis Christ.- "Too much emphasis on doctrine and not enough upon Christ,- is the oft repeated accusation. In reality, this sectarian concept is the result of not enough emphasis upon doctrine, rather than too much emphasis.

Sommer-Cowan Debate

At Sullivan, Indiana (Nov. 9-14, 1926) Daniel Sommer met J. N. Cowan of Robstown, Texas in debate. Baptism was one of the subjects discussed. Some remarks made by brother Sommer 43 years ago sound very much like present day statements coming from some doctrinally weak-minded, preaching brethren. Brother Sommer said:

"Now, I represent the churches who believe that when individuals are buried with Christ for baptism into death for the purpose of obeying the Saviour, that they are scripturally baptized" (Sommer-Cowan debate, p. 41).

The expression, "for the purpose of obeying the Saviour," really means that one does not have to know or believe that baptism accomplishes anything in order for his baptism to be acceptable. Brother Sommer argued that simply a desire to obey God was all that was necessary. He cited Romans 6:17-18 as a proof text, and said, "now, you notice, if you please, that Paul said, 'that form of doctrine;' he didn't say 'purpose of doctrine' " (ibid, p. 45). His remark on Acts 2:38 further reveals his sectarian attitude on the subject. He said:

"I say with reference to this last scripture, we believe he is scripturally baptized if he does not put too much stress on that expression 'for remission of sins.' If he does, and he is just thinking about 'for remission of sins, remission of sins, remission of sins,' rather than obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, I have my doubts about his baptism; thinking too much about himself instead of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is where the danger comes in. I don't care whether it is that scripture or any other, if we unduly emphasize until you make an error of it ... we may indeed be baptized with the general knowledge of obeying God or obeying Christ" (ibid, Pp. 43-44).

Brother Sommer said he could not question anyone's baptism if he had been immersed. That if he did he would be in the same position as the sectarian who sat in judgment upon this individual before his baptism and hears his experience and decides that he is a fit subject for baptism.

Cowan's Answer

J. N. Cowan got to the heart of the issue regarding sectarian baptism, when in his next speech he said:

"What brother Sommer wants to find in the New Testament, is where some person of character submitted to the command to be baptized and did not understand what it was for... If such a case can be presented by my opponent, it will settle this debate, and I will give up the proposition and say that I am wrong (ibid, p. 52).

Cowan then chided Sommer for calling him a heretic over taking the position that the New Testament does not teach that a single individual was baptized who did not understand the purpose and design of baptism. He challenged brother Sommer to Show how one could believe a false doctrine (Baptist doctrine, for example) and make a false confession ("I believe that God for Christ's sake has pardoned my sins") and be buried with Christ in baptism. How could one obey God while at the same time being doctrinally and verbally wrong in what he believes. This writer would like to see present day re-baptism opponents answer this argument!

With reference to putting too much stress on such phrases as "for the remission of sins," Cowan said:

"I wonder if it is possible that you could emphasize that truth until it would not be truth. .. You might say there is one God and emphasize that statement by saying there is one God and one God until finally he would not be God, I guess. I want to tell you people you cannot place too much emphasis upon the truth of God. It is the lack of this emphasis that has caused so much sectarianism to creep into the church of Jesus Christ, a part of the church has been neglecting that passage and preachers, desiring numbers rather than quality, have allowed people to run into the church over a part of the truth as found in Acts 2:38" (p. 53, jt).

Cowan illustrated the inconsistency of Sommer's position with a supposition. He said:

"Suppose one presents himself for baptism to brother Sommer during this debate, and the party presenting himself will tell brother Sommer: 'I have a desire to be baptized to obey God; I was converted last night during the meeting, gave my heart to God and felt gloriously saved, and now I demand baptism at your hands! Brother Sommer will you baptize him? Please tell these folks if you will or will not. If you say that you would not, then the same party will say, 'I will go to the Baptist church and tell them what I have experienced, and they will baptize me and then I will come back to brother Sommer and brother Sommer will say, "were you baptized to obey God?" 'Yes!' All right, brother, I will run halfway across the house to shake you in!' "


On doctrinal matters such as baptism, our problem is not too much emphasis, but too little. He who would pride himself in getting along with all people regardless of their beliefs has already lost respect for the uniqueness of the Lord's church and the authority of God's word. We cannot dispense with doctrinal emphasis.

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