Why I don’t debate any more

Before you read this be warned! This is a story of a doctrinal debate that happened in a denominational setting where I had the side that the denomination in question did not agree with.  You may well disagree with me on the question, and if that is the case, please understand that I have no intention of causing any offense to you whatsoever, nor do I wish to demean any point of view that differs from mine; this is a story about an incident that I very much regret and in many ways I am the villain of the story!

Twenty years ago, I found myself in a conversation with my boss about Baptism. He is the “Big Guy” in my recent post “Attitudes are powerful.” Mr. Big did not believe that baptism is necessary for a person to be saved into Christ.  I believe that it is the means by which we enter our covenant relationship with Christ.  With most people, you can exchange views, discuss them, bat them around a bit and all is well; an interesting discussion.  With Mr. Big, however, there was never a view other than his own. “My way or the highway” was one his favorite sayings in fact.

Well, he couldn’t handle my arguments, so he challenged me to debate his pastor.  Being young and foolish, I accepted.  Of course I knew that if I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it.  His pastor was excited about the opportunity and arranged a big event at his church that even included a Saturday night potluck.  He wanted all of his congregation to see how stupid it was to insist that baptism was in any way essential for salvation.  Of course, it was essential to join his congregation!

I knew exactly what his points would be, for I had carefully studied both sides of the question in Seminary, and even written a term paper on the subject; I was ready.  Any time you go into a debate on a doctrinal issue, you are ill-advised to argue about the conclusions, for when you do so, you will not change anyone’s mind, so I prepared to go after the presuppositions that back up those conclusions.  Pastor Larry was not prepared for that, I’m afraid.

We debated for the first hour in a very polite and kindly manner, and it went just as I had expected; he made his points and I made mine very politely, but I had a trap to set for the very end.  As I had expected, Pastor Larry kept reminding me that “the Bible means what it says and it says what it means” and that “the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.” I saved a verse for the end of the debate, which was supposed to be 90 minutes.

Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Mark 16:16

Pastor Larry did exactly what I expected him to do: He declared that I could not use that text because that final passage in Mark is not found in all of the early texts… I was ready.  For that night, I was using an old Bible that was beat up and about to fall apart.  I calmly stood up, ripped out the page from the Bible, wadded it up and tossed it over my shoulder and politely asked Pastor Larry if there were any more pages that I should rip out of the Bible so that he could win the debate.

There was literally a gasp in the room; Pastor Larry was mortified that I had treated the Word of God with such disrespect:

Gotcha!

If it is the Word of God, then how can you ignore it to make a point?  If it isn’t the Word of God, then surely you have removed it from your own Bible.  That was my “kill shot” and it worked… Pastor Larry could only stammer; he hadn’t expected that tactic.

In the aftermath, several families changed churches, and Pastor Larry was fired. Mr. Big’s son and daughter in law found another church as well…

Unintended consequences, and I felt absolutely terrible, I had never intended for anything like that to happen, I was simply trying to make the point that I had been asked to make.  I will never do that again, and when you see the way I respond to certain comments here, you will note that there are times when I am challenged and let it go.

Now you know why that is.

When the issue of baptism comes up, I usually suggest that since all of the Christian brotherhoods agree that we should be baptised, let’s not argue about the why, let’s just get it done.  When it comes to sprinkling or immersion, rather than argue, I just say that since everyone accepts immersion and not all accept sprinkling, why not just be immersed?  It covers all of the bases and we don’t divide ourselves with arguments.  Yes, I see this as very important, but I don’t wish to divide God’s people to win an argument.  There will be ample opportunity to teach God’s Word as we go from there…

 Well, the comments on this one should be interesting, I’ll say that!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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81 Responses to Why I don’t debate any more

  1. paulfpavao says:

    I just love the short summation of baptism. “I believe that it is the means by which we enter our covenant relationship with Christ.” Much shorter than anything I’ve come up with and expresses exactly what I believe.

    Knowing how to address truth–or shut up–at the right time and in the right way is all the more important in the divided age we live in. Great post.

  2. dirofpr says:

    That’s how I feel about debating most issues too. Unless it’s a belief I’m ready to die for, I figure it’s best to let the Holy Spirit work in either me or the other person to get to the truth. The older I get the more I can see that I’m just plain wrong about somethings – mostly due to my motivations/attitudes.

  3. novusanima says:

    I don’t debate, either, Brother Don, simply because I have concluded that it is often a complete waste of time in that it Can create offense, strife, etc. Besides that, No One person has the full and complete truth in rightly dividing The Word.
    When it comes to water baptism, I have been baptized, to show my old life being in the past and emerging as a new creature In Christ.
    If one is able to get baptized then of course they should. However, if a person, on their death bed, cried out to The Lord for salvation, then that person died directly after, I am certain this individual Would, indeed, be saved. Look at the story of the thief on the cross; he certainly was Not baptized, but Jesus assured this man that he would see Him in Heaven.
    Just some points, and they are given in peace, in no wish to offend, challenge, or start any type of argument.
    Blessings, brother,
    N

  4. I agree with the way you have given up the arguments. I have pretty much done the same. All denominations, non-denominations and individuals in general have pet verses to back up their doctrines and actions. I use to have just as many to back up what I argued and believed as well…
    We all can prove we are right, while really… we are all wrong!

    Now I believe it all boils down to the birth of Jesus, His baptism, His cross, His resurrection and His ascension. All of which was performed by the Only One who could perfectly handle all the details, jots and titles, perfectly represent all humanity and have the perfect faith required to open and enter heaven for any or all of us. Now He sits and invites us to join Him there in the Father’s House.

    I may be wrong but I think if any of us could have done it right, it would not have been necessary for Him to have done it at all..?
    I have decided just to trust in what He has done and stop arguing about all the other stuff we think we are supposed to do.
    Great post and God bless..

    • Don Merritt says:

      I appreciate your comments, and it brings something to mind. I’ve always believed that if a Christian will fervently and honestly seek God’s truth in Scripture, and if the person is willing to forget everything they think they know, that the Holy Spirit will lead them to the truth they are seeking. I’ve been told more than once that I am way too innocent in my thinking on this and maybe I am, but I think it is true. At any rate, if the Holy Spirit can’t do it, then I surely can’t!

      • No sir, you are not way too innocent in your thinking on that. That exact thing happened to me seven years ago and I have never been the same since. Long story short, I had just finished 9 months of aggressive chemo and radiation therapy for cancer and a strict regiment of advice from well meaning Christian friends from all denominations, most of which contradicted my own beliefs on biblical healing, word of faith declarations, administration of spiritual gifts, etc.
        I made a decision to lay aside my well worn, well marked, favorite translation of God’s word and listen to the ‘Word of God’ himself for a change. After a year in remission and recovery, physically and spiritually. I once again took up God’s word in a new way, with a brand new unmarked, unfamiliar version (translation) of the Bible and also a new philosophy and outlook on Life, both physical and spiritual. I had a new understanding on how I should be living for the Glory of God… The Scriptures were no longer things I had to do.. but only and introduction to Someone I needed to know and follow today! He is sitting up a Glorious Kingdom now, right in our midst and unnoticed by most.

        I may blog on it someday but I would probably get way too many arguments about it.

        Holy Spirit experiences do not agree with equations, procedures and formulas most of the time?

        • Don Merritt says:

          An awesome insight! You didn’t ask me this question, but I’ll chime in anyway… I think you should blog on it. You may get opposing remarks; that happens sometimes. Reply in love and without offense and let the truth shine out in the love you show. You won’t change the mind of the one who commented, but you will impact anybody else who reads the comments! Blessings to you, Don

  5. Steve B says:

    Life is interesting and has many twists and turns and as a Christian seems to have more twists and turns. When we first become christians we are immature and God hopes that as we move along in life we become more mature. Whether you made a mistake or not I don’t know since God may have intended the outcome but you perceived you made a mistake. Sometimes though you shouldn’t run away from the mistake but ponder and pray about what you think you did wrong.
    Our life here on earth for God is training for reigning.

  6. The man was practicing what I refer as “pen-knife” religion in his theology (Jeremiah 36). Just because a person ignores what the word of God says doesn’t mean it loses its emphasis. I don’t believe I would’ve torn out a page from a Bible, but for all intents and purposes that’s exactly what the man was doing with his argument.

    As to the issue of baptism and whether or not people agree about the lowest common denominator, that doesn’t change the emphasis that God has given to it. A person does not have to understand everything to be baptized, but to be baptized they must understand what they are being baptized for. Paul once met some people in Ephesus and their answer to his question about their baptism did not align with the will/word of God so they were correctly baptized, which is something that a lot of people need to do today due to their unintentional ignorance or due to being intentionally led astray or leading others astray themseleves.

    While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. (Now there were about twelve men in all.)” (Acts 19:1-7)

    I don’t see how’s there’s much to argue about. If one desires to be saved by Jesus start listening to what He said and stop listening to men and women whose teachings don’t follow what He said (which I believe was the root of the original argument that you made with Mark 16:16).

  7. zolljl says:

    Sharing lessons learned takes courage. It’s also a good tool in teaching, when others can be shown and learn from our own errors. Well written. Lesson learned. Thank you.

  8. paulfg says:

    Sounds like unintended consequences in every quarter of the compass. Someone commented recently that belief was more powerful than evidence. Put the two together in their purest form and there will be consequences. My lovely dad was always right. And on one occasion (similar but different to your situation) I KNEW I was right, enjoyed the moment, made my point and delivered the punch-line. His response – “Well you may be right, but if you/re not ….”. I think of debate as point scoring, and sharing confusion as fellowship. One is valuable, the other not. Both are easily confused. Thank you for a great piece.

  9. Steve B says:

    When you debate you are setting up a contest with a winner and loser. The biggest problem is that the loser will not change their minds anyway and the winner may still not be right. For example I won’t debate because I am just lousy at it. If you look at Jesus, He never debated because He was/is the truth. His words word statements. However we are not Jesus since we do not know the full truth of anything. Also we lose stuff in translations and it would be really nice if we had the original manuscripts in Aramaic/Greek/Hebrew. My point is that debating is setting us up for a fall.

    What is more important is our attitude when we face a debate. Do we do it to win or do we do it because we love the other person? The fruit of the spirit is far more important than the theology of doctrine anyway. What would God have? Us to have full knowledge of the truth but no fruit or a little truth but lots of fruit?

    My solution to debating is that opposing debaters should debate the other side of the argument that they believe in. For example in Don’s case he should have debated the non baptism side and the other guy the baptism case. This takes the winning part out of the equation and there is nothing like standing in anothers shoes.

  10. taureanthrone says:

    if there were any more pages that I should rip out of the Bible so that he could win the debate. –
    You nailed it LIKE A BOSS :D:D:D

  11. retiredday says:

    We should never throw out the baby with the bath (or baptismal) water. It’s not debate itself that is a problem. It’s one’s attitude. As was said previously, the idea of a winner and a loser is not productive. But respectful debate can broaden one’s understanding by challenging us to support our conclusions. Instead of determining not to debate at all, perhaps you only need to change the way you debate, which is all about attitude. Ripping a page out of an old Bible isn’t really the exposition of an idea. It’s a dramatic gesture with emotional appeal.

    An excellent book about how to talk about your convictions is Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl. It gives simple methods for being ambassadors, rather than confrontational.

    A contest of ideas can be a good thing (“Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” — Proverbs 27:17). But Romans 14:1 counsels us not to pass judgement on one another over opinions on disputable matters. I believe this leaves room for a constructive, respectful and even loving discussion of our deepest convictions about doctrinal issues.

    But the most important thing to remember as Bible believing Christians is that we serve a supernatural God, not a methodological religion. We can only be “of one mind” with our brothers from different doctrinal positions if we are “in Christ”. Essentially, our faith is a thing of the Spirit of God, not our religious rules. As long as we keep our eyes “stayed on Jesus” there’s no real reason to think we can’t talk about such things as baptism.

  12. Wow Don, What an amazing post! I was really blessed. As a young theologian I have engaged in my share of debates and have come to the same conclusion as you. While I don’t mind having a good chat about controversial issues I have learned that arguing never really works. What I do now is I gauge the person who is challenging me and determine if, based on their attitude, a conversation would be beneficial. If they seem like they are searching I don’t mind a chat. If they appear to have made up their minds and are out to school everyone else I don’t even bother. I have learned over the years that when it comes to debate “you may win the argument and lose the soul.” Whats the point of that?

    Anyways, great post.

    Blessings,
    Marcos

  13. Indulge me in a bit of debate… haha: Don’t you think there is a place for disciplines like textual criticism? They these help us see that there really are texts in the Bible (and they are few!) that are not quite as reliable as the 99.9% majority.

    While these “white tower” critics are not always right, they have many insights us “lay people” can benefit from.

    Mark’s ending is one of these few questioned texts. Maybe, just maybe, we should listen to them and not treat extra-biblical material as though it were Biblical.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for a good article!

    • Don Merritt says:

      Well now that you put it that way, I’ll debate academic matters, such as whether or not that text is extra-Biblical, in an academic settings, but not in non-academic settings, and not with non-academics. Those debates can be quite illuminating for sure, as long as they don’t take time and energy away from making disciples. I’ll also present my views on Biblical matters persuasively (hopefully) to a general audience who are then free to decide whether or not to see it the way I do. What I won’t do is debate in a church setting or with anybody who wants to argue for the sake of arguing; that creates nothing good.

      Now of course a friendly chat is quite another thing 🙂

  14. John Stott was once commenting on the doctrine of eternally burning hell. He quietly took issue with his Anglican church family, dissenting from the traditional view. His rejoinder was this: “The biblical evidence on this matter does not warrant dogmatism.” I thought that to be a very elegant way of saying that it is all right to agree to disagree.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Don, why say “I don’t debate anymore?” You upset a few applecarts, seems it was a good thing. It shows that the audience actually reflected on it, and acted on their reflections. I think a big, big issue for the Christian church (especially today) is that it has become very complacent. Too many are afraid to rock any boat, and this means that evil and strife has wormed its way in. At the very least, not rocking any boats in the face of wrongness shows cowardice. Are we surprised with declining congregations, when no one shows any conviction or courage?

    I hope that you are speaking tongue in cheek with the title. I would be disappointed if you decided, like soooo many others, to bite your tongue, and stick to the status quo.

    Take heart, this was one page of an old bible. Think of Jesus walking in with whips and overturning the money changers tables! You would be in good company, you know, by showing some courage.

    Atta-boy!

    • Don Merritt says:

      I love this comment! Thank you for it, but no, I wasn’t being tongue in cheek at all. This story was from almost 20 years ago and in the time since then I’ve rocked quite a few boats, and upset many apple carts, in fact I’ve overturned some tables too. I’ve found that there are more effective means for that sort of thing than debating, so I hope I can keep the atta boy, they don’t come along all that often!

  16. Thank you for sharing your experience. Well done

  17. The New Testament speaks of two kinds of baptism, or tevilah. Both inspired by the Jewish mikvah which translates as gathering.

    So, a couple of questions. One is, why is it literally necessary to baptize the spirit in water but not fire (other than the obvious physical damage), and why aren’t we simply baptized by the spirit of the gathering of people who are alive in Christ?

    • Don Merritt says:

      I think that the answer to your first question lies in the word “baptize” which comes from the Greek word “baptiso” meaning “to immerse.” It’s clear that being immersed is a matter relating to water as Jesus Himself was immersed in water. The second part relates to the fact that theologically, baptism is an entry into covenant, in this case, the New Covenant. Jesus established it in His own blood when He took our place and suffered the penalty for sin. When we are baptized, we put our old life to death in the grave and rise again as Jesus rose again in a new life and in a new covenant relationship with our Lord.

      Hope that helps!

      • I promise I am not trying to be difficult here, as your story is what drew me to your blog. I understand it from the perspective of being previously married to someone with a similar issue. Unfortunately, it became our destruction.
        As for the above description, that is exactly what I understood it to mean for many many years, until they began to re-translate biblical text after the reconstruction of the dead sea scrolls began to be vastly completed. Therefore, the word I used was not the Greek term, but if I am correct, it would be Aramaic. Therefore, that is where the discrepancy in my understanding of what the real meaning of baptism is now. Because if it really is gathering, then when we come together in the belief, then we are thus being baptized in the spirit.

        • Don Merritt says:

          This is probably not the answer you are looking for, but might I suggest you follow my posts on Biblical covenant? As we continue this series of posts, you might get the answer you are seeking, or you may confirm your point, I’m not sure which. Of course, the story in this particular post isn’t so much about baptism as it is about debate and division.

          In any case, I really appreciate your comments here, they are certainly of interest both to me and those who might be looking over our shoulders and reading them!

          Don

  18. Amplitudo says:

    *sigh*

    Reading this hurt my heart, not only at the consequences, but that in your hubris you seem to have never attacked your own erroneous presuppositions.

    You used showmanship rather than consistent exegesis to win a sham of a debate. It does not surprise me your heart hurt over the consequences. Those who stand to speak the truth of Christ are almost always maligned and shunned, but they rejoice in these trials; they do not regret standing to speak.

    “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” – Augustine

    • Don Merritt says:

      That I used showmanship is a point I have admitted. Do notice that it was at the very end of the process in which exegesis was both consistent and, in my view, accurate. Sadly, this comes to the whole point of debate and argumentation; two points of view, both well-intentioned, both believe they are correct, attempting to persuade an audience that has already made up its mind, equals a waste of time and energy that could be put to better use.

      • Amplitudo says:

        It is neither a waste of time nor energy, as it is a pertinent concern for many individuals; myself included. I have never been properly baptized, and without consenting to be a member of a church have no opportunity to be baptized. There are millions of Christians the world over in the same situation.

        Do not, dear friend, dare to impose upon their conscience a requirement for salvation beyond the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Because if you do, the immediate question that will follow is, “Who is qualified to baptize one into the covenant relationship? How can I be confident it was done correctly?”

        Would you impose your framework on others to the point of saying the thief on the cross did not obtain glory because he was not baptized before he died?

        • Don Merritt says:

          Thank you for your clarification, I appreciate it very much. I am not sure what exactly it is that you see me attempting to impose here, unless it is that baptism is an essential for salvation. If that’s it, I am imposing nothing, for the role of baptism is clearly described in scripture. As for the thief on the cross, I would suggest that this famous promise of the Lord was given during the Old Covenant, not the New. In addition I would suggest that there isn’t a single word in the New Testament that prohibits Christ from forgiving anyone He chooses. What we do know is that baptism is our entry into covenant, but that does not, in my view, limit the mercy of Christ. Clearly, baptism is a response to the gospel, one denoting our acceptance of it.

          It was my opponent in this famous episode who took the position that one can only be baptized to join his church; not me. I am aware of some churches that will only baptize someone to join their congregations, and I disagree with this position. I am also aware of many who will baptize a person into relationship with Christ, and who will impose no requirement to join their church, and I am one of them. As for who is qualified to baptize someone, I know of no verse in scripture that states that there is such a thing, therefore I do not accept the notion that one person can baptize and another cannot, if they are a follower of Jesus, and if the person being baptized believes in and accepts the gospel.If I might respectfully make a suggestion: You might want to follow my series of posts on Biblical Covenant, the most recent of which you can find here. It will take you through the entire subject, and if nothing else you can get an idea of my point of view on the subject; it might be helpful in your deliberations.

          Thanks again for your comments, it is a pleasure to hear from you!

  19. imperatorwall says:

    I’m on my work computer so it was automatically posting using my anonymous ID, this was not my intent. I commend your willingness to explain covenantal theology, as it is a vital truth that is being eroded and lost; but I will stand with John Gill, Charles Suprgeon, and Gordon Clark in my understanding of it.

    Your comment, “the role of baptism is clearly described in Scripture” is misleading, given that historically it has been clear as mud. Some of the reformed fathers were willing to commit murder to enforce their understanding of it. The correct statement is, “given the presuppositions I approach the text with, the role of baptism is clear.”

    Even your stance on Mark 16:16 is shaky at best, and I hope you have been challenged on it beyond, “You can’t use that verse!” Within the verse itself, the statement is qualified such that only those who do not believe are condemned. John Gill interprets this verse to indicate only that faith must precede baptism. Given that the answer to the question in the New Testament, “What must I do to be saved?” is a resounding, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!” after which we find those new converts being baptized, I find I agree with Gill’s hermeneutic.

    Like the Lord’s Supper, water baptism confers nothing on the believer that they do not already enjoy through the wondrous love and grace of Christ. Nor does it in any way ratify ones place in the covenant, this was done by the shedding of Christ’s blood. What’s more, it is not consistent exegesis to interpret every instance of the word “baptism” in the New Testament as referring to water baptism, as it can, and often does, refer to the baptism of Christ’s blood that effectually cleanses those He calls. This flaw in exegesis, not recognizing that a literal water baptism is not always meant, is what leads to the over emphasis on the importance of water baptism that you advocate.

    John Gill on Romans 6:3

    “were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death:
    and therefore must be dead to sin, and consequently ought not to live, nor can they live in sin. This does not suppose, that some of this church were baptized persons, and others not; but that some might be baptized in water who were not baptized into Christ: there is a difference between being baptized in water in the name of Christ, and being baptized into Christ, which believers in their baptism are; by which is meant, not a being brought by it into union with Christ, which is either secretly from eternity, or openly at conversion, and both before the baptism of true believers; nor a being brought by it into the mystical body of Christ the church, for this also is before it; but rather it designs a being baptized, or a being brought by baptism into more communion with Christ, into a participation of his grace and benefits; or into the doctrine of Christ, and a more distinct knowledge of it: the power of which they feel upon their hearts, and so have really believed in Christ, heartily love him, and make a sincere profession of him; though rather the true meaning of the phrase “baptized into Christ”, I take to be, is to be baptized purely for the sake of Christ, in imitation of him, who has set us an example, and because baptism is an ordinance of his; it is to submit to it with a view to his glory, to testify our affection for him, and subjection to him, without laying any stress or dependence on it for salvation; such who are thus baptized, are “baptized into his death”; they not only resemble Christ in his sufferings and death, by being immersed in water, but they declare their faith in the death of Christ, and also share in the benefits of his death; such as peace, pardon, righteousness, and atonement: now this proves, that such persons are dead to sin, who are so baptized; for by the death of Christ, into which they are baptized, they are justified from sin; by the death of Christ, their old man is crucified, and the body of sin destroyed; besides, believers in baptism profess themselves to be dead to sin and the world, and their baptism is an obligation upon them to live unto righteousness.”

    • Don Merritt says:

      I would like to thank you for supporting my position on debating. We can go on all day with point and counter-point, but in the end what will we achieve? We might become irritated with one another, we might pass the time. But seldom in human history has one debater persuaded another, only the audience is in play, and that is usually not the result, for people simply become confused more often than not, just as they often do in elections. You are quite right that I reject the Calvinist argument.

      So what will we do? My original point was that rather than argue, we use our time, energy and talents to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need to hear it. All of the gentlemen your referenced would agree that they be baptized in response to the Gospel, so you will receive no criticism from me when you baptize them. Wouldn’t you agree that we would better serve our Lord in this way than we would in endless and pointless debate?

      • imperatorwall says:

        *chuckle*

        I’m not debating my friend, this is just how I converse.

        I too, consider debate pointless, as it is often times just a contest to see who has the bigger ego. In this case, however, I get the sense that your avoidance of debate also entails a resistance to deep and involving discussion in the search for truth. Never in business or in life have I learned or accomplished anything without much travail and struggle in discussion. If all this place is is a platform for your own exposition without being held accountable to logic and history, so be it. But when I see someone discussing the Bible, I can’t help but chime in hoping to find a brother or sister seeking the same truth I am.

        The command is not to make converts, but disciples; and not disciples who are satisfied with milk, but crave the challenging meat of Scripture.

        • Don Merritt says:

          Pardon me if I chuckle here…

          Although I rarely mention this on my blog, I received my doctorate in theology from a well known seminary that requires a Calvinist point of view. I have studied it quite thoroughly; I could write an academic textbook on the subject, for that matter: Therefore, how can I not reject it?

          Not knowing your background, I suggested an easy way for you to do some digging into the view you were questioning, and you dismissed the suggestion. What would you have me to conclude?

          You made a very good point about disciples, and that is certainly what this blog has become, a tool for making disciples who crave solid food. I would invite you again to check it out. But sorry, I won’t debate you in the comments section.

  20. imperatorwall says:

    By all means chuckle, I am trying to convey that I wish to keep the atmosphere light. I know I come across as overbearing, but it’s just the way I write.

    I had already guessed at your education by the terms and concepts you use, and the fact that your presuppositions are unassailable while everyone Else’s are not. Education is a double edged sword in that when one has studied a subject they tend to file it away as thoroughly contemplated, and so do not profit from continually challenging their must fundamental of beliefs.

    I plan to look your blog over when I have the time (I can’t resist any form of theological writing), but I’m at work right now and replying to you on my second screen while I work. Regardless, it strikes me as odd that you would appeal for me to read your position on covenantal theology while already admitting you won’t discuss it or answer questions over it. Are these disciples you are making supposed to accept what you write without verifying it with Scripture? Do you honestly expect me to read it and come away with no questions?

    • Don Merritt says:

      You had me going there for a moment; good job! I started to wonder if I’m going through these too quickly, if I’m doing too many things at once, or if I’m just loosing my mind! So, believe it or not, I went back to the beginning of this string… Whew! No, I’m not crazy, you were accusatory and insulting from the beginning! OK, I feel better now! 🙂

      By all means, feel free to ask questions; of course! But let’s work on the writing style just a tad. Remember, I can’t see your face here, I can only see the words, and questions usually have question marks at the end, and constructive ones don’t usually begin with a preamble that has an accusation in it. Arguments usually look like that, not questions… fair enough?

      • imperatorwall says:

        Don, I’ve been in the middle of watching an in depth ERP presentation and then financially closing our ERP system for the month. When multi-tasking in this way certain subroutines get shut off to make room for more important processes. One of the first subroutines to go is worrying about what I write sounds like. I have meant no offense, I was just writing my responses very quickly in between doing other things.

  21. Steve B says:

    The thief on the cross died in the New Covenant.

    Heb 9:16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.
    Heb 9:17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.
    Heb 9:18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.

    The thief satisfied all of Christ’s works. He repented and believed.

    Luk 23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
    Luk 23:41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
    Luk 23:42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

    The New Covenant was not completed on the death of Jesus since it needed his resurrection and presentation to the Father in heaven however for all intents and purposes it was competed in that the future events was happening no matter what.

    The thief was the first to die in the New Covenant. He was not baptized ergo baptism is not necessary for salvation however having said that baptism is a outward sign of inward belief.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Now Steve, sure you don’t want to rethink this?

      Of course you are welcome to disagree with me, but it seems to me that Hebrews 9:16-18 as you quoted them say otherwise. V. 16: Jesus was alive when He was speaking to that thief. V. 17: If He was alive and talking, He wasn’t dead.V. 18: The New Covenant, like the old required that blood be shed, and while He was bleeding, the “shedding of blood” was incomplete; the will hasn’t taken effect. You even noted this fact in your own comments, at least as I read them. If you really want to rely on the Covenant being in force prematurely “for all intents and purposes” OK, but that’s a little too shaky for me. Have you considered Acts 2 as a better text to establish an example that is clearly within the New Covenant? Recall that Peter preached the gospel to the crowd at length in vv. 14 ff. Then the people respond in belief to his message in v. 37: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” Seems to me that they had come to believe at this point. Then, in verse 38 Peter answers their question:

      “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

      It seems rather clear to me at this point. If we were debating, and remember that I won’t debate any more, you will need to challenge the meaning of the word “for” in order to continue with your point. If we were going to debate the question (and we are not) you would need to say that the word “for” can mean either “because of” or “in order that”. Your side would assert that Peter is telling the people to be baptized because of the forgiveness of sins. I, of course would say that it means “in order” for the forgiveness of sins. Then we would discuss other passages of the exact same wording to establish what “for” means here, and I would point out that there is only one such time in the New Testament where this exact wording occurs in the Greek: Matt. 26:28 which says, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I would then ask you if it is your position that Jesus’s blood was poured out because sins were forgiven, or in order that sins are forgiven. You would be left in a pickle at this point.

      Yes, maybe we should simply agree to disagree, and work together as brothers in Christ to build His kingdom!

  22. Steve B says:

    Jesus was alive when he spoke the promise but the thief dies after Jesus which means he died in the New Covenant. You have to understand that there is a legal issue involved. Satan would make mincemeat of any “special dispensation” case for salvation. Even though God can do anything He likes, everything He does even in mercy is done legally.
    Legally the thief died in the New Covenant even though the promise is in the Old Covenant. If the thief died first then the promise would have been null and void and of course Jesus wouldn’t have made that promise in that case.

    The Greek word ‘EIS’ can be used for looking forward or backward in time. It is one of the most complex prepositions in Greek and unfortunately we would have to ask Peter what he really meant.

    I always agree to disagree but I would rather people came to the truth.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Steve, I’d rather people come to the truth as well, but I’ve often found that people (and I’ll include myself) have a hard time changing their views once they’ve made up their minds. I will gladly leave it up to someone else to decide if this applies to either of us or not.

      Now you’ve made an interesting legal argument here, and you might have persuaded me if you hadn’t previously said:

      “The New Covenant was not completed on the death of Jesus since it needed his resurrection and presentation to the Father in heaven however for all intents and purposes it was competed in that the future events was happening no matter what.”

      I guess the two comments seem to defeat one another for me, but I’ll respect you if you don’t agree.

      As for the meaning of “for” I’m not comfortable dismissing Peter’s words at Pentecost quite that quickly; they are profoundly important. If Peter was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he uttered them, and if Matthew was under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit when he penned his words in 26:28 in the same grammatical structure, doesn’t it stand to reason that, apart from any preconceived notions, that they would mean the same thing? If they don’t, then we’ve just set Biblical hermeneutics on its ear; how can we interpret at all if we ignore hermeneutical method when it doesn’t support our theory?

      Well, I’ve gone on more than I intended to, maybe I’m just a semi-crazed and hopeless case! May God continue to bless you Steve, I’m sure we’ll see eye to eye on another matter one day!

      Don

  23. Steve B says:

    For the record I am not dismissing Peter’s words but with the complex nature of EIS it makes it difficult to render his real meaning.

    Back to the thief. Think of a person who dies and leaves a will. A will takes time to process. However the beneficiaries of the will (if they know the contents) can claim the benefits before the process is over. Of course if the beneficiaries don’t know the contents then they cannot claim anything. In the case of Jesus death, the process took at least 3 days (maybe 4) since He forbid Mary to touch Him on the day of the resurrection since He had to go to the Father to present Himself. However legally the benefits of the will are immediate to His death since the contents are already known.

    Clear as mud 🙂

    • Don Merritt says:

      Steve, you are awesome, why this little “conversation” is almost as much fun as a good rant, and thanks for it!

      Tell you what, I’m willing to accept your will explanation of how Jesus could forgive the man at that point in time in place of my saying that He could do so because He had the authority to do so. (Remember that the thief isn’t the only guy that Jesus forgave on earth.)

      How does that affect baptism? It doesn’t.

      As for EIS, the way that we can understand it is by doing a word study, wherein we find a parallel passage with the same wording and see if we can discern its meaning from the parallel. Matt. 26:28 is the parallel passage for Acts 2:38, with the result that we can understand Peter’s intent. Well, that’s how I see it anyway. 🙂

      Hey brother, thanks again for this comment string, I’ve enjoyed it and look forward to some more discussion soon!

      Don

  24. vwoods1212 says:

    Bible does warn us about debating and strife…Guess you live and learn. BTW, I believe God is a covenant God and Jesus emphasizes this point. I also believe in total immersion to wash away the sins.

  25. Reblogged this on Eucharistimatic and commented:
    I appreciated this post–the words echo my own thought process.

  26. musicman707 says:

    Great post. Having seen some very egregious unintended consequences from my own need to be “right” in the past, I can identify with what you said. The internet seems to be an especially poor place to carry on disagreements. So I let a lot of things go, and am trying to learn to let stuff go even when it is a topic I feel very passionate about.

  27. People Empowerment Project says:

    It is good to see that when you are tempted by knowledge to debate things which are spiritual, that you are now refusing to take “de bait” of the enemy. His goal has always been to divide, and debate is the simplest way to do this.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Absolutely, our challenge is to unite for His purposes, not to simply pursue our own

      • People Empowerment Project says:

        Well said. There are so many ways for didactic communication to break down. Sometimes it is in the “invisibles” of dialog, while other times it revolves around the oversimplification of the issue being discussed. I think that when we ponder the art of human communication, we need to keep in mind what type of need we are dealing with, whether it is conceived, contrived or concrete. It is no wonder that Jesus sent His disciples on their way into Sycar so He could talk with the woman at the well ALONE. You can just sense the debates that were swirling in their heads by the questions they asked when they got back.

  28. jakecole0171 says:

    I think you missed the point of the issue of debate (and the point of baptism, but that is not really the issue). Debate is not for the people debating, it is for the undecided, to present themselves with alternatives and let them decide. Two people who are firmly convinced on the issues will rarely move from one side to another.
    Judging by some of your comments though, I gather that you embrace covenant theology, which has some merit, but I have found to be wanting and make some rather difficult leaps in logic, especially when it comes to baptism. I also find it interesting that Peter is the only one who emphasized baptism accompanying belief, after all Mark was Peter’s scribe and Luke captures it in Peter’s Pentecost sermon; Jesus elsewhere seems to emphasize belief alone, as did Paul. Now, this is not to diminish the importance of the symbolism of baptism, a believer ought to be baptized, but is it necessary, really necessary? I can’t find any evidence outside of Mark 16, or anyone other than Peter, for it; after all, “on the word of two or three witnesses, let the matter be established” And if we’re going to bring the Eunuch from Acts 8, we have to note that he asked to be baptized, which opens up a whole other can of worms.
    Great article though.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Certainly a formal debate is for the audience and not the participants, but for the vast majority of people who read the post, there is no formal debate in front of an audience, there are simply two people going at it, and that is more the point, don’t you think? And of course the application is simple: It would seem that you and I may see baptism a bit differently, but rather than correct one another, why not join together to bring the lost to Christ; to belief and to baptism and on to a whole new life? Surely that’s more productive than the academic discussion of whether or not it is “necessary.” Anyway, that’s where I was trying to go…

      • And now you see why debating is indeed necessary. You know what the “point” of baptism is, and you know that its necessity and purpose was taught by more than “just” Peter. You can’t just side step baptism and call for an embrace of unity without actual unity being present on such key doctrines as faith and baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). And you know that the apostles and prophets didn’t take such a stance. The spirit of unity and the unity of the Spirit are two different things, and therefore there are times when a debate is absolutely necessary when it comes to contending for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3, Acts 17:17). You can contend without contentious, but you can’t contend without standing up to doctrinal error.

    • Hi, Jake.

      Just wanted to point out something you said about the eunuch and your overall point. Acts 8 says that Phillip, beginning with the scripture that the eunuch was studying from, preached Jesus. That’s all it says. But since it was the eunuch that brought up baptism that clearly shows that to preach Jesus by necessity means that baptism must be included in what’s being taught. That’s just one small example, among many others, of how the Bible shows that more than “just Peter” emphasized the importance and necessity of baptism when it comes to believing in the gospel of Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).

      Just something for you to consider.

  29. Pingback: Unity, Debate and Leadership | Life Reference

  30. Pingback: Unity, Debate and Leadership | Life Reference

  31. muchgrace says:

    If I may join the debate … as I understand it, Baptism is the placing of an object into another object in order that the primary object will change – yes?!?

    I heard it preached once that this is simply what happens to a ‘pickle!’ So a cucumber is placed into a jar of vinegar and other spices – left to absorb – and finally out comes a gherkin!

    As such I submit that ‘me’ without being immersed into the Holy Spirit remains just well intentioned but ineffective la la … but the ‘me’ that comes out having been changed by absorbing the Holy Spirit is (in God’s eyes) beautiful – and just like His Son Jesus!

    Love ya xx

  32. Pingback: Why I don’t debate anymore, either. | Cannot Contain

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  34. Pingback: Bonus Post: A question about baptism | The Life Project

  35. Thanks my dear brother for pointing this article out to me. Sounds like the Holy Spirit is reminding ALL of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ that it takes work (as James likes to point out) with faith to “endeavor and strive for the unity of the spirit in the bond of Peace, an essence of love itself.” Sometimes we forget that to be wise like Christ is just a matter of asking, for the Word says that He will give it generously to any who ask!
    You and I have had very similar experiences, though my debates were never public but definitely did involve other leaders as well as Pastors. There isn’t enough to be said about “growing in the Lord” and the benefit of maturity!! It appears from the abundance of the comments, the Holy Spirit has allowed a lot our brothers and sisters to mature through experience! Still, I know plenty of “ministers” who still love the debate stage for the reason of ego and “scoring points” all of which our Lord has no part in and admonishes us in the same thing. Ego, is all about self (selfish) and as I like to point out a lot, that is not love.
    It warms my heart to see so many others “hearing” the Holy Spirit also. It reminds me of when I think things look bleak spiritually, the Lord is still saying, “I have hundreds who will not bow down to Baal,” and it keeps me humble.
    Again dearest brother I needed to read this and the comments as a confirmation from our Heavenly Father! Thank you for the love exemplified in this article AND for your steadfastness! God bless you and I pray His Grace continually abounds in you and yours!!

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