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.
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:
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!