Here’s a heads up to anyone who wishes to engage in selling your church to me in the hopes I’ll drop all other spiritual activities to join yours: slamming my church isn’t going to help you.
A young couple came to my door Wednesday night to invite me to their Bible study after criticizing churches based on a false baptism rule
Sooner or later, I’m going to have to learn to stop answering my door. No one comes to my door with the exception of people trying to invite me to Bible studies these days.
And the Bible studies they invite me to seem to be held by people who have a skewed view of the Bible.
This particular couple, an attractive girl who looked to be about 20 and a man who appeared about five years older, began their pitch pretty much the same way previous visitors have, with one big twist in their approach. (I’ll get to that in a moment.)
They politely introduced themselves and said they wanted to invite me to a Bible study they conduct in the neighborhood. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.
They then inquire about my faith. When I tell them I have a church home, they ask me which one. That’s a bit personal, I always think, but when I named the church, that twist in their approach kicked in.
The name game
They inquired about the church, specifically its denomination. I think I saw a slight flicker of an eyebrow when I mentioned that it is non-denominational. Then they laid this on me: They told me they couldn’t open the Bible and read about my church.
I asked him to clarify that statement and after some prodding, he explained that the church mentioned in the Bible was called the Church of Christ. Therefore, any church with a name other than the Church of Christ is not a true church and certainly isn’t the church described in the Bible.
I wish I’d have thought to ask the woman, who did not utter a single syllable — clearly a victim of the “women should be seen but not heard” attitude some churches perpetuate — to snap a photo of the expression of my face. If I’d thought to do so, I’d have had a photo record of what my face looked like when I was being flabbergasted.
That’s about the best word I can come up with to describe my reaction to that little gem.
He went on, obviously not aware of the fact that he’d already effectively made my decision about attending their Bible study for me, to suggest that my church can’t be following Christ.
All because of the name thing.
“Let me give you a piece of advice,” I finally said. “Before you walk around being so judgmental as to condemn a church you’ve never bothered to set foot in, I think you should pick up the phone and get in touch with that church’s lead pastor and arrange to meet him for coffee. If, after about an hour, you don’t walk away saying he not only knows the Bible, but knows it better than you do, you’d be lying.”
He didn’t really react to that, which did not surprise me at all.
The baptism argument
He then moved on to doctrinal issues.
That’s when he went into the familiar baptism argument. He asked, as every other such visitor hoping to lure me to what must be the same Bible study, if my church does baptism.
“Of course it does,” I say.
“When do they say you are saved?”
I told him that I believe you are saved when you accept Christ as your personal savior, which I knew was what he would consider a “wrong answer.” The only answer these people will accept to that question is after you are pulled back up from the water during baptism.
They insist that without baptism, there can be no salvation. They insist that’s absolutely in the Bible, and therefore, cannot be questioned.
So I used my classic “practical approach” argument.
“Imagine that a man who has lived away from God, rejected God his entire life, finds himself on his deathbed and, while reflecting on his life, realizes how wrong he has been about God. Before he dies, he genuinely confesses his sins and accepts Christ as his savior with earnest. Do you think he can’t be saved?”
He inserted an extra little scene into my scenario: he said he believed God would make the way for a baptism to happen before he died, and even related a story of a woman he knew who was in such a situation. She was able to be transported from her hospital bed to her son’s hottub at his home — I am not making this up! — and was baptised.
I wasn’t expecting the hottub detail, but I was expecting the “extra time” argument.
So I then tried to nail him down a bit more. I asked if he believed there was a set time in which we were all going to die and that only God knows when that is. He said he absolutely believed that.
“So, let’s suppose there’s a man who is just moments away from that particular moment, is unaware his death is coming so quickly and makes that same earnest prayer. Would he not be saved?” I asked.
And his answer blew his whole argument.
He related another story of a man who was in prison and who was very ill, and who requested a pastor to come to baptize him because he had prayed the prayer of salvation. The man died, he said, before the pastor arrived. With what appeared to be a look of the sincerest regret on his face, he said, “So he wasn’t saved.”
“You don’t know that,” I countered.
“But he wasn’t baptized. It’s in the Bible.”
“Stop with the legalism for a minute,” I answered. “You don’t know what happened when he got ‘up there.’ You don’t know what decision God made. You can’t know that. Neither can I.”
He agreed with that much. But he protested that God surely wouldn’t violate his own rule about baptism.
So I gave another example: “Suppose there’s a student really, really struggling in math. His teacher sees that while this kid still hasn’t mastered it, he’s genuinely trying to get there. And so the teacher gives him the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t flunk him.”
He agreed that he could imagine such a scenario.
“Do you honestly believe God isn’t capable of a higher level of grace than some random algebra teacher?”
But since my hypotheticals are apparently far too imaginative to someone so buried in rules without any regard for the people on whom he wants to impose them on, there is certainly a well-known Biblical example that defeats his argument on baptism.
Remember Christ’s crucifixion? Christ wasn’t alone. Two other men, a pair of thieves, were also meeting the same fate. Consider the Biblical account of what happened between Christ and one of the thieves:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There is no Biblical record of God “providing extra time” for Christ and the thief to be removed from the cross and made bodily whole again long enough for Christ to baptize the thief.
And since their argument requires a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible, no assumptions are allowed here.
That means one of two things: either the thief was saved as Christ promised without actually being baptized, (which shoots down his theory that no one can possibly be saved without being baptized) or Christ Himself was a liar who was just trying to get the man to shut up and obviously cared nothing about him (which calls into question everything else He said).
I certainly know which one I believe.
A better witness strategy
If you really want me to consider visiting your church, here’s a great way to do it: Tell me your story. You’ve probably heard of the concept: it’s called testimony.
Tell me what the church has done for you. Tell me why it’s so important to you. Tell me the good it does and how it strives to follow God’s laws but not at the expense of His children.
Leave my church out of it. You’ve never been there. You don’t know what it teaches. You don’t know its people. You don’t know its priorities.
One’s choice of church is, after all, is a deeply personal thing. Attacking mine is like attacking me.
That’s not going to get me to your church.