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Progressives From the Restoration Movement

 

There are seemingly an ever-increasing number of people in or from the Restoration Movement who identify themselves as “progressives.”  This in itself is not surprising when you consider our history.  The Restoration Movement began as a unification movement but our record has been any thing but that.  In the small California town in which I live, we have three groups that identify as “Church of Christ” and we have the Christian Church but we very much go our separate ways.  Sadly, our history has been one of bickering and division.

 

What does the word “progressive” mean?

A progressive is a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.  One who is promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies and ideas.

 

What seems to be the driving force of the progressive movement?

There has been a positive influence to emphasize grace, love and faith and move away form the legalism and divisiveness that has engulfed us.  Also a greater emphasis on having the Spirit of Christ and more emphasis on the “Man” instead of almost total concentration on “the plan.”  Who would disagree with those goals?  Not I, but some do.

But unfortunately, from my viewpoint, there has been a negative influence.  Baptism has become one of those dividing issues.  Some are denying that baptism has a necessary role in the way of salvation and others are more subtly maintaining that baptism has a role but explaining there may be exceptions.  Contact with religious people from other backgrounds, who are seemingly equally spiritual or even more spiritual than us, yet do not subscribe to the same doctrine of salvation, has influenced some brethren. These religious people believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but typically they do not believe in baptism for the remission of sins; they see baptism as an “outward sign of an inward grace.”  This has led some to question whether baptism is necessary in God’s plan of salvation when we have so many who appear to be deeply committed to God but do not see the necessity for baptism.

 

What seems to unite some in the Restoration Movement who consider them to be progressive?

They seem to be united in finding some way to circumvent, minimize and find an example or Scripture where the necessity of baptism that leads to salvation is diminished.  You have probably guessed, by now, that this writer believes baptism for the remission of sins is a necessary part of God’s plan.

 

Is there a need for individual and corporate progress in the Restoration Movement?

I can only offer my opinion; I do not consider myself to be the judge of anyone or group of people but I would say, if most are like me, there is room for a lot of progress.  I struggle and falter then struggle some more.  I really thought that I would do better but even at 78 years of age, life is a continuing struggle.  I have many regrets for the sins I have committed and continue to commit.  I am the tax-gather who prays every day, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner,” What shall we do?  Shall we throw up our hands in despair?  No, like Paul we must “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.”

Yes, there is need for change and growth individually and corporately.  As a body we need to hear more about grace and love and faith.  We need to rethink, in my opinion, some ideas about the Holy Spirit and we need to minimize the legalistic attitude but do we need to give up baptism as non-essential?  No, I don’t think so.

 

What then should be our approach to the progressivism in the RM?

First, recognize that we are not judges of other Christians, just pilgrims on the road to heaven.  Still we have a responsibility to try the spirits.  Second, baptism is a part of the plan but it is certainly not the whole plan.  Salvation is by grace through faith.  We need to emphasize the balanced plan but we do not need to give up baptism.

 

What do the Scriptures say about love and obedience?

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  (John 14: 15)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandment are not burdensome.  (1 John 5: 3)

 

What does this seem to tell us about those who seem very loving and spiritual yet do not obey?  We are speaking of people in this country who have every opportunity to ask, to seek and to knock.

You say, “Now you are judging them.”  No, I am really not, and I hope for their sakes that I am wrong.  But the Scriptures seem to be saying that if you love God, you will keep His commandments.  If this is true, then the logical conclusion about those who are disobedient is that they don’t love God.  They may honestly and sincerely think they are serving God, in which case we would say that they are sincerely deceived.  How will God deal with that?  I don’t know.  I am not the judge. 

 

What do the Scriptures say about faith and obedience?

Not everyone who says to Me. ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 7: 21)

You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.  (James 2: 24)

You see that a man is justified by works and not faith alone.  (James 2: 24)

 

What does this tell us about the faith of those who appear quite faithful yet do not obey?

You say, “Well now you are judging again.”  No, are we not supposed to read the Scriptures and make application to our lives?  If I thought I was in that position, I would be fearful because I can read of those who believed in some sense, yet were not received because they had not obeyed.  I would be fearful because the Scriptures seem to say that works of faith perfects faith and that faith alone does not justify.

 

How does some so-called progressive attempt to diminish baptism?

I don’t claim to be familiar with all neither do I charge all with this goal but let me give you an example of three: Jay Guinn, Edward Fudge and Max Lucado.  I hope not to misrepresent their positions.

 

Jay Quinn- One in Jesus

Jay appears to be taken with some of his associates who seem to be highly spiritual, perhaps more spiritual than himself or other Restoration people, yet they don’t see the necessity of baptism in regard to salvation.  How can this be, he reasons?  Perhaps we have overemphasized baptism.  He reasons that we are admittedly all imperfect; therefore the obedience that we render is also imperfect.  Yet if God is able to accept this imperfect response, perhaps He is able to accept those who are imperfect in baptism.  Some baptize in different modes and for different reasons.  Or perhaps He can accept those who do not baptize at all because they simply have not understood its significance.  And on it goes.

 

Objections:

 

Edward Fudge- Grace Centered

Edward sees that Cornelius and his household received the Spirit before they were baptized in water.  Therefore, having the Spirit, he assumes Cornelius was saved before he was baptized in water.  This is not a new argument; it has been around a long time, but Edward with his more grace centered approach has appropriated it as a solution to the baptism problem.  His assumption is improvable.

 

Objections:

 

Max Lucado- Books Galore.

Everyone knows, reads and loves Max Lucado.  Either he has stumbled on to something or he is telling the people what they want to hear.

Max has discovered that Abraham believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15: 6) Max finds this verse particularly appealing because no works are specifically mentioned and this event took place before Abraham was circumcised.  He reasons that since no works were mentioned, none were necessary. And likening physical circumcision to baptism, he reasons therefore, an individual can be justified before he is baptized.

 

Objections:

 

Why did John baptize Jesus the Baptist?

Jesus tells us that He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.  But what does that mean?  First, we must say that he was not baptized because He needed to repent.  John knew that and at first did not want to baptize Him.  Second, Jesus statement probably has reference to the consecration of priests under the Law.  They were washed with water from the laver that stood before the doorway of the tent of meeting before they put the priestly garments followed by the sacrifices and the anointing with the oil of gladness.  He was, I believe, complying with this ordinance of God. Even though He had no need to be cleansed, He complied.  Likewise He was clothed with His own righteousness and would present a more excellent sacrifice.  And of course He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Thus He complied with the righteousness of the ordinance.  Third, he was giving us, who need to be cleansed, an example.  It is amazing to me that people who claim to be followers would hesitate and argue about the necessity of baptism when the Son of God, Himself, was baptized.  It is amazing to me also that followers argue about the mode of baptism when Jesus, Himself, was immersed in water.   

 

God bless,

Arland Pafford,

 

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Last Update   09/26/12