Monday, June 20, 2011

David Lipscomb on Baptism

In the following excerpt, David Lipscomb is using the a difference in translation between the Common Version and the Revised Version of the Bible to throw light on the question of rebaptism in the Churches of Christ. On the one hand, there were those who believed that unless someone believed that his or her baptism was "for the remission of sin" that a rebaptism was necessary to be in communion with the Churches of Christ. Lipscomb considered this view misguided. He compared it later in the text to believing that a man who misunderstood when he crossed from Tennessee into Kentucky must not really be in Kentucky at all. The argument is that the decision to seek forgiveness in Christ is more central to salvation than a correct understanding of the moment in which that forgiveness is received.

While the question of rebaptism for "conversion" between denominations is not nearly as heated today as it was in Lipscomb's day, the kind of misconceptions about baptism that fueled the rebaptist position are still alive and well in many churches. To that end, Lipscomb's comments are no less crucial than ever for understanding the role of baptism in the plan of salvation. Lipscomb rightly places the emphasis on Christ rather than on baptism, a lesson that is always timely.

David Lipscomb, "The Revised Testament and Rebaptism," (1913):

Baptism is said to be “for the remission of sins” in the Common Version. “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. ” (Mark 1:4). Luke 3:3 gives the same. Peter told the people: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. ”

In the Revised Version, the expression, “Be baptized [or anything else man can do] for the remission of sins, ” is not found. In that version the participles, prepositions, and other secondary words have been more carefully translated, and the American Revised Version is regarded by those competent to judge, the best version or translation [p. 922] in the language. The Revised Version translates “for the remission of sins, ” in each of these cases, “unto the remission of sins. ” The difference in the meaning is, “for the remission of sins” suggests the idea that the baptism is to pay for remitting the sins as a man pays for a horse. It is giving value received; that we are entitled to if for the service rendered. The human heart is prone to run to this extreme. The proneness to run to this extreme has caused God to especially guard against permitting it in any of his dealings with man. Even Moses, the meekest of men, was uplifted with personal pride, took to himself the honor of giving blessings which belonged only to God and forfeited an entrance in the land of Canaan. (Ex. 17:1) In Deut. 9:4, God through Moses, gives the Jews the terrible warning that he does not give them the land of Canaan on account of their merits, but on account of the wickedness of those he drove out. It is such a sin to assume to merit the blessings God bestows that no encouragement to the position in doubtful translation should be given.

To be baptized into Christ, into the name of Christ, teaches plainly and truly that in entering into Christ we come to and enjoy the remission of sins: because of and by virtue of our entrance and union with Christ, we become children of God. This is the expressive declaration that we are saved by the blood of Christ, and not because we have been baptized for the remission of sins—a selfish end. To be baptized into Christ is an expressive declaration that baptism is the step, the last step a man takes in entering Christ. So when he is baptized, he is entitled to all the privileges of a child of God—to all the blessings that oneness with Christ, our Lord, brings. The only sense in which baptism is “for the remission of sins” is, it is the act appointed by God to test our faith, and the act that puts one into Christ, in whom we enjoy all the blessings and favors of the redeeming and purifying Son of God.

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