Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 3, 1958
NUMBER 47, PAGE 2,6b-7

Intellectual Integrity

Leroy Garrett, Jacksonville, Illinois

Interim editor Charles Holt told the readers of this journal that "If there ever was any such thing as a modernist, Leroy Garrett is one." He stated that my faith is shipwrecked and that he would be glad to bring me back to the simple faith in Christ and His word that I once knew. Charles feels that Harvard is responsible for this condition.

Brother Holt charges that I am a modernist because I believe that one might go to heaven who has not been immersed. He quotes me from a tape recording to the effect that I conceive it possible for an unbaptized person to receive clemency at the judgment, and that men like Martin Luther might well be in heaven even though they never lived to understand and to obey the full import of "the form of doctrine" as taught by ourselves. This, according to Charles Holt, is modernism. I shall not burden the reader with a brief on those doctrine that are truly modernistic. Suffice it to say that such a viewpoint toward the pious unimmersed cannot justly be called modernism, and neither can it be grounds for charging that a man has lost his faith in Christ and the Bible. If believing that the pious unimmersed might (notice, please, the subjunctive mood) receive clemency for innocently mistaking the true form of baptism, then some of the leading lights of the Restoration, including Campbell himself, were also modernists.

Alexander Campbell says the following: "Many a good man has been mistaken. Mistakes are to be regarded as culpable and as declarative of a corrupt heart only when they proceed from a willful neglect of the means of knowing what is commanded. Ignorance is always a crime when it is voluntary; and innocent when it is involuntary." This is the essence of my own position on "available light." In the discussion to which Charles referred there was no question about the person who is willfully ignorant of immersion or who is rebellious to our Lord's command, but rather about the person who is involuntary ignorant due to illiteracy or some other tragic circumstance. This problem is closely related to the question of what will become of the millions of savages in Asia and Africa who have never even had opportunity to hear the gospel.

I realize that there may be considerable conjecture in any effort to answer this question, and it is for this reason that I am hesitant to postulate it as anything more than my own idea. I am willing to keep it in the area of opinion, and I most certainly would not make it a condition of fellowship nor even a position that every Christian should accept. It is simply my own viewpoint as to how we might attack the problem of the pious unimmersed. It was from this standpoint that our pioneers set forth similar views, and they felt that the idea of "in faith unity, in opinion liberty, in all things love," would be a proper incentive to a continual search for truth without fear that someone would be called bad names for wandering a few feet from the traditional ruts. The pioneers were men of intellectual integrity. Their honesty led them to face up to many unsolved problems and to question the arguments that had been parroted for generations by weaklings. Intellectual integrity should likewise motivate us to lay aside our cheap interpretations that only serve to satisfy the pride and egoism of our own little sect. It is imperative that we look beyond our cubicle of self righteousness and see the good in others. It is inexcusable for us to impress our neighbors with the idea that we think we are right and everyone else wrong and that we are pets of heaven that have priority on truth. This article is an effort in that direction.

Place Of Baptism

Charles would think he had arrived at the wrong place should he find Gandhi, Socrates, Plato, Tolstoy, or even Martin Luther in heaven. Since he believes that only "Church of Christ" folk will be saved he would expect to find almost no representatives of the human race in heaven from 150 A. D. to 1830 A.D. Some of the Guardian writers have contended that a man must not only be immersed, but he must be immersed by one of "our" men. One writer contended that immersion in the Christian Church is invalid.

This legalistic view of baptism is not the "one baptism" that is inseparably related to the story of love in the early church. Baptism is the door by which one enters the kingdom of God on earth and it is the means of entering into relationship with the King, but it is not the door or the means of entering into heaven! Study this point: nowhere is baptism made a means of going to heaven. One enters the church or the kingdom of God on earth by baptism. There is no other way. This is the ordinance of the King and it is immutable. If one is not immersed we cannot say he is in the church. But this truth has no necessary bearing upon the question of eternal tranquility. Apart from the ordinance of baptism as revealed in the divine Constitution (the New Covenant) God in his own goodness and mercy may offer pardon to many who have never even heard of the Christ, much less have been immersed into him.

Consider the fact that if baptism is necessary for entrance into heaven, if indeed God has ordained baptism as a condition of eternal peace, then there would be no room for the exercise of God's mercy to those who never heard the gospel. Since God's ordinance of baptism is as immutable as the movements of the solar system, so designed that even God himself will not alter them, there would be no possible chance of acceptance into heaven of any except the initiated. To say that baptism is essential for the remission of sins through Christ Jesus is safe and sound. Without this one cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5), which is the church. Now, where is the passage that makes immersion essential for entrance into heaven? Baptism saves according to 1 Pet. 3:21 and Mark 16:16 and according to Rom. 6:4 it puts one into Christ. This immersion is essential to covenant relationship with the Christ, and only the initiated ones make up the body of Christ or the kingdom. But all this is removed from the question of the extent to which God might go in bestowing mercy upon those who never heard or understood heaven's proclamation of victory through the Messiah.

If I should he asked if Gandhi, Tolstoy, or Luther were members of the kingdom of God on earth, I would answer: "Not unless they were baptized in accordance with the Constitution of that kingdom, just as one cannot be an American citizen apart from naturalization." But should I be asked if such men might go to heaven, I would say: "Surely God in his mercy might receive such men in view of their great struggle for truth and their loyalty to the truth they found, but of course I don't know, though it is consistent with God's mercy to conclude he might."

When I was at Freed-Hardeman College, Brother Hardeman told us of his unimmersed Methodist mother who died having never heard what he called "the gospel." He explained that while he understood that she had not obeyed the Lord's command on immersion, she had never disobeyed it, and that insofar as he knew she was always faithful to do what she knew to be right, and that he felt it consistent to believe that in the judgment she might receive clemency. I did not then nor do I now consider such an idea "modernism" or in any way contrary to the will of God. The use of the word "clemency" itself implies the existence of law to which compliance has not been made. It is the prerogative of a judge to offer clemency in view of extenuating circumstances. Who will dare deny the Judge of all men his right of clemency? God knows the heart and he knows all the circumstances and conditions behind our conduct. Many people are sick all their lives. Many are reared in the slums and never have any real chance in the world. Millions in history have "gone to pieces" psychologically. Many could not understand the gospel and render a sensible obedience to it even if they should hear it. Environmental factors must be considered. Myriads are so troubled with life's complexities that it is almost impossible to create a teaching situation so that they might learn the fundamentals of heaven's proclamation. Some in their gallant effort to find heavenly truths never live to find it all.

All these God will judge. We cannot say that they will be lost because they haven't been baptized. This reflects not only upon the goodness of God, but upon his revealed word. Neither can we take judgment into our hands and say they will be saved. We can speak only in terms that we feel are consistent with the character of God and his revealed truth. Our concern for the billions who have never heard will lead us to look for the answer.

What Does The Bible Say?

I could quote at length the pioneers of the faith to show that if I am a "modernist" because of this position then the restoration movement is modernistic to the core. Not only did the pioneers recognize the existence of Christians in the sectarian bodies, but they held to a hope of heaven for the pious unimmersed who obeyed what light they had. Think of what Wycliffe, Tyndale, Calvin, Luther, Knox, Zwingli, and thousands of others overcame in their flight from darkness! Who can believe that God will reject them because they never lived to realize the great restoration truths that we feel we have found? And let us not forget that "with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged."

But I shall go to the Bible itself for grounds for conviction rather than to our pioneers. I only want to remind the reader that one goes too far in suggesting that our great pioneers were "modernists."

What principle does Paul have in view when he says, "I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:13)? This teaches me that God makes a difference between those who act in ignorance and unbelief and those who act with knowledge and disbelief. Note the difference between unbelief and disbelief! Is it the unbeliever (the one who hears but rejects) that God condemns? Can you find the passage where God damns the unbeliever? Many condemn the disbeliever. Certainly the unbeliever is not in the kingdom, but it is in God's hands as to whether he goes to heaven.

In Acts 14:16-17 Paul speaks on what some call "natural revelation:" "In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways: yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Notice that God witnessed both by food (nourishment for the body) and gladness (nourishment for the soul). If God witnessed, then man could respond. Is it unreasonable to suppose that God worked through teachers, poets, and philosophers to reveal truths regarding himself and thus make human hearts glad? This may well be since Paul himself refers to a Greek poet as revealing a basic truth about God (see Acts 17:27-28). In this passage Paul shows how people apart from the gospel "might feel after him and find him" since "he is not far from each one of us."

The apostle further contends in Rom. 1:19-23 that men can "know God" and "honor him" because "his eternal power and deity has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." Is it so far amiss to conclude that the millions living today are exposed to a revelation of God despite the fact that they may never hear the gospel? Of course, it is only the gospel that can save them and bring them into the ecclesia of Christ. But God in his goodness and mercy will judge such ones in keeping with their response to the light that has been made available to them irrespective of whether they hear the gospel. So Paul argues in Romans 2 regarding the Gentiles who were without any special revelation such as the Jews had in the Old Testament. God never leaves himself without witness! He gives all men life, breath, and everything (Acts 17:25), and all shall be judged according to their response to God's mindfulness of them.


Charles says it is a shame that I have lost my faith and he only wishes that he could help me, though he fears that I am too far gone to be rescued. He might start by manifesting a greater measure of intellectual integrity. Paul says something about "longsuffering and teaching" and "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." And so Paul could say, "I have taken advantage of no man." One takes advantage of a brother when he puts the worst possible construction upon his words or actions. It is obvious to me that my brother lifted from the tape those statements that he felt would put me in the worst possible light. Statements on the same tape expressed my complete confidence in the Bible and in the meaning of baptism. But Charles' interest was in certain statements that he thought were extreme enough to make me look like a gone gosling. This illustrates how brotherhood conditions will never be improved until we have more of that attitude expressed by Alexander Pope when he prayed, "Lord, help me to hide the fault I see, and that I to others show that mercy show to me."

In closing I might remind Charles that one might lose faith in the frail and flimsy concepts of "Church of Christ-ism" without losing faith in Christ and his word. Intellectual integrity will lead one to search for new truths and better ways of expressing old truths. He will lay aside any cheap interpretations that traditionalism has taught him. He will forget the Shibboleths of sectarianism and think for himself in the light of his own study of the Bible. He will have the courage to say, "I was wrong," and if necessary he will slay his own intellectual children, born of insipid legalism and nurtured on the arrogance of sectarianism. I will choose to be a "modernist" and maintain a measure of self respect and some semblance of intellectual honesty rather than to do obeisance to an un-written creed and run the gamut of proud partyism. I had rather be a "free" disciple than a "loyal" traditionalist.