A RESPONSE TO A LETTER
by Wayne S. Walker
Author’s note: In the October, 1982, issue of Faith and Facts, I wrote an article entitled "A Search for Truth on Baptism," in which I attempted to chronicle Thomas and Alexander Campbell’s change of view about baptism. They went from allowing the particulars of baptism to be an individual decision and thus permitting the sprinkling of infants, to teaching that the immersion of believing, penitent adults is essential to salvation. In May of 1983 I received a letter disagreeing with my conclusions and asking several questions about them. I have reproduced the letter below and my response follows.
"First of all, I have no animosity, but I’m writing concerning your article ‘A Search for Truth on Baptism’ in Faith and Facts, Volume 10, October, 1982, Number 4.
"On page 233, you stated Campbell was immersed into Christ. Was it in 1812? He was not baptized for the remission of sins at that time, nor was Thomas Campbell, nor Barton W. Stone, nor Walter Scott.
"I am a graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and have done extensive research on the Restoration Movement.
"I was a member of the church of Christ but no longer.
"If you will do careful research, Alexander Campbell taught baptism for remission of sins as a theory in 1820.
"The first baptism for remission of sins as taught in churches of Christ today was in November of 1827.
"I’m confused. I worship in a Baptist church but by your definition I’m lost. Campbell and the others were not immersed for remission of sins.
"Why did you not include any material from Campbell’s son-in-law Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell?
"If you place such high regard on the writings of Alexander and Thomas Campbell can you really not be said to be ‘Campbellites?’
"I hope that in fairness to historical research you will clear up this matter. Sincerely yours, ______ _______" (signed).
Dear _______ _______,
Thank you for your letter in response to my article in Faith and Facts entitled "A Search for Truth on Baptism" (10/82, 10-4). It is always good to hear from others who read what I have written whether they agree or not. The spirit in which you wrote is appreciated. I was not able to detect any animosity.
You asked several questions. "On page 233, you stated Campbell was immersed into Christ. Was it 1812?" Yes, I had the 1812 event in mind. The article used the date of June 12 based upon the sources I used, but further investigation into more primary sources gives the date as June 2.
You further state, "He was not baptized for the remission of sins at that time, nor was Thomas Campbell, nor Barton W. Stone, nor Walter Scott." I am somewhat unsure of what you mean by "not baptized for remission of sins." Do you mean that the phrase "for the remission of sins" was not said when they were baptized? I really don’t know (or care) what was said at the time. I do know that, while a Baptist preacher was contracted to assist (becaue the Baptists practiced immersion), it was stipulated that it was not to be "Baptist Church Baptism" but New Testament baptism.
Furthermore, the validity of baptism does not depend upon what is said by the baptizer but what understanding is in the hearts of those being baptized. How do you know they were not baptized for the remission of sins? What sources do you have which provide evidence to substantiate that claim? Can you look into their hearts and determine what thoughts were in their mind on that occasion?
You seem to take some exception to my use of the words "immersed (or baptize) into Christ." That is an entirely scriptural term and concept (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-28). But let me quote from Alexander Campbell himself as he wrote in the Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell about his baptism on p. 113. "Accordingly, on June 2nd, 1812, my father, mother, my sister Bryant, my wife, myself, James and Sarah Henon, in all seven persons, were baptized into the Christian faith."
Alexander said that he and the others were baptized into the Christian faith. That necessarily implies that he had reached the conclusion that until that time, he had not been in the Christian faith. One cannot be in the Christian faith without being saved or having remission of sins. So if Mr. Campbell says that was the reason he was baptized, then I’ll have to take his word for it.
You say, "If you will do careful research, Alexander Campbell taught remission of sins as a theory in 1820." I assume this has reference to the Campbell-Walker debate. To prove your assertion, you would have to find evidence that Campbell never taught nor believed prior to this time that baptism had anything to do with remission of sins. And I would deny that he taught this as a theory; he taught it as a fact, because it is exactly what the Bible says.
It is true that those who sought in the early days of this country to reject the doctrines of denominationalism and return to the primitive order of things did not always arrive at their conclusions all at once. It often took long, hard, arduous effort and great debate. Theirs was a process of growth in striving towards the light. While we do not slavishly follow them, we are indebted to them since we live many years later and can benefit from their work and scholarship. This makes it much easier for us to reach our conclusions as we study the scriptures.
You tell me, "The first baptism for remission of sins as taught in churches of Christ today was in November of 1827." To what event you have reference as happening on that date is a mystery to me. However, I must again deny the truthfulness of your statement. Baptism for the remission of sins was taught and practiced in the first century. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…" (Acts 2:38, cf. 41 & 47). I preach exactly what Peter preached on that day. And there were churches of Christ then (Romans 16:16).
You state, "I’m confused. I worship in a Baptist church but by your definition I’m lost." I will try to say this as tactfully and as kindly, yet as simply, as possible–yes I believe you are lost. Why? Because I cannot read in all the pages of God’s word about a Baptist church. Can you? If so, where? All I want to be part of is the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18), which He purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28), and of which He is the Head (Ephesians 1:22-23)–the one which is described and defined in the New Testament. The Baptist church isn ot mentioned in any of those passages.
You wondered, "Why did you not include any mataerial from Campbell’s son-in-law Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell?" The answer is that I have not read that work nor do I have it in my library. Besides, my study began with Thomas Campbell’s change, although it necessarily led to Alexander’s as well.
Finally, you ask, "If you place such high regard on the writings of the Alexander and Thomas Campbell can you really not be said to be ‘Campbellites’?" The truth of the matter is I place very little regard on the writings of the Campbells. Where they have expressed truth, I accept it as I would accept truth proclaimed by any other. But there are areas in which I would strongly disagree with both Alexander and Thomas. I do find it interesting from a historical standpoint to see how they turned away from the creeds of denominational churches for the ancient apostolic pattern.
Nothing I believe, teach, or practice originated with the Campbells. I greatly respect their search for truth, but after all, they were just fallible human beings. The congregation I am associated with is not based on their teachings. It is simply a group of non-denominational, New Testament Christians who assemble together to worship God in spirit and truth, and who work together to accomplish His will in our community. I have generally found that this is a hard concept for those who have a denominational view of "the church" to comprehend. We are not tied to any movement, college, paper, or man.
It is my hope that this letter deals with those things you were concerned about. I do not claim to be an expert in "restoration history." All I know is what I have read and studied. But I am always happy to give an answer concerning everything that I have taught. If you would like any further discussion regarding these points, just let me know.
All I can do is encourage you to study the Bible, accept the truth, and live according to the teachings of God’s word.
P.S. Unless you object strenuously, I am sending a copy of your letter as well as my reply to Robert Welch. As editor of Faith and Facts, I feel he has a right to know what kind of response articles published in his paper are getting. (—Taken from Faith and Facts, January, 1984; Volume 12, Number 1; pp. 50-53)