John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
Who Is My Brother? (Part I)
I am in the process of reading Who is My Brother
by F LaGard Smith. The book is in three parts:
- The Quiet Revolution
- Five-fold Fellowship
- Rethinking Sacred Cows
Today I will comment on Part 1, The Quiet Revolution.
From the introduction:
For some years now, I have become increasingly concerned that our noble commitment to doctrinal purity has had the unwelcome side-effect of producing an unhealthy addiction to infighting and division. A pervasive party spirit, church splits, acrimonious brotherhood papers, and divisive issues of every kind have made a mockery of Jesus' plea for unity among his followers.
As Smith prepared to write a book on that issue, another imperative caused him to modify his plans.
However, as I was in the process of formulating my thoughts for such a book, it suddenly came to my attention that an equally compelling question was being asked by others from a completely different direction With surprising rapidity and intensity, I began to hear calls for a wider Christian fellowship with all who have faith in Christ, whether or not they have been biblically baptized.
So F Lagard Smith added Part 1 to the book to address the question of fellowship and baptism. His original ideas became Part 2 of the book.
In Part 1, he describes the problem of how to treat those who have an evident love for God but have not been baptized. Some within the churches of Christ have decided that such people should be accepted as brothers, and therefore they have adjusted their views on baptism to accomodate those people as brothers. Others within the churches of Christ hold to the literal teaching about baptism in scripture, and therefore cannot accept those people as brothers. One group takes fellowship as a given and adjusts baptism to fit. The other takes baptism as a given and adjusts fellowship to fit.
Smith argues forcefully for the latter position, that baptism is not optional. He points out inconsistencies he sees in the teachings of those who hold the opposing view. According to Smith, they try to hold onto the idea of baptism for forgiveness of sins as a requirement, but adapt the meaning of the words to allow more wiggle room. They treat conversion as a process rather than an event. Yet Smith points to numerous scriptures that paint baptism as a watershed event in the conversion process. In baptism we are clothed with Christ, we are buried and raised with Jesus, we receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc. The scriptural teachings about baptism are not helpful to those who wish to make conversion a process in which baptism is optional.
Yet he speaks of working side by side with unbaptized believers in many common causes. In those contexts he does not emphasize the differences on baptism, but their common commitment to the cause at hand. But in one case, the Promise Keepers, members are required to promise that they will accept people as brothers in Christ despite differences over the scriptures. Smith laments that he cannot do that in good conscience, since the Promise Keepers specifically teach salvation through the sinner's prayer.
For Smith, brotherhood and Christian fellowship with one another begins when a person receives forgiveness of sins and becomes a son of God. I strongly agree.
At the end of Part 1, he outlines the Five-fold fellowship concept, which is the topic of Part 2. I plan to finish the book over the holidays and will post on the remaining portions at that time.
Labels: Who Is My Brother