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Contending for the Faith: Baptist Baptism Delayed 20 Years

(A good friend and brother in the Lord, Don Craven, wrote concerning a Baptist preacher, James O. Newell, who was baptized recently during a Baptist service.  Several Baptists were confused about the matter and thought their preacher was being saved.  One Baptist approached Don and asked what he thought about it.  Don wrote the Baptist preacher and asked for an explanation.  Below is the explanation from the Baptist preacher and my comments on it.)

Dear Don,

Thank you for asking for the facts about the decision I shared at the Spring Festival of Worship and Praise. My opening comment was "I have a long story to tell, but we do not have time for a long story, so I will make it short."  Standing before the congregation I announced my desire to publicly confess Jesus as my savior and Lord and demonstrate my commitment to him through believer’s baptism.  Most, if not all, concluded I was saying the Lord saved me then and there, and in the context of Bro. Hill’s message, that conclusion is understandable.  However, the issue I wanted to settle Sunday night was the matter of obedience in baptism following my profession of faith made a number of years ago, after a long struggle with doubt about my initial profession of faith as a nine year old boy.  On several occasions as a teenager and young adult, I experienced times of doubt as to whether my decision as a child was legitimate.  In my late twenties, I decided to settle the issue by asking for the Lord’s forgiveness for my sin as though I had never asked him before.  In essence, driving a spiritual stake in the ground to serve as a definitive marker in my spiritual life.  What I did not do following that experience is follow through with a public profession and baptism.  So for nearly twenty years, I have lived under a cloud of disobedience at the point of baptism.  On Sunday night, the Lord convicted me about this and I decided to wait no longer to declare my faith in Christ by following him in baptism. I am sure, in retrospect, I could have communicated my intention more clearly.  I hope my explanation is helpful to you.  Please feel free to call me if you have further questions. I appreciate your prayers for me and JFBC (Jasper [Alabama] First Baptist Church–LRH) as we seek the Lord’s will for the future.

Yours in Christ,


James was not a Baptist for twenty years, for one cannot be a Baptist without baptism.  James was not a member of a Baptist church for the past twenty years.  What of all those he baptized?  Is their baptism valid since they were not baptized by a Baptist preacher?  (If James says he was a Baptist, then every unbaptized believer in the world would be a Baptist!)

He said, "I have lived under a cloud of disobedience at the point of baptism."  Since this fellow allegedly was saved twenty years ago, if he had remained in disobedience with respect to "a public profession and baptism," would he have been saved anyway?  If not, what becomes of the doctrine of perseverance, or "once saved, always saved"?  If he would have been saved without ever being baptized, then one may die in disobedience to Christ and still be saved.  Here are some passages which address the issue:

  1. When the Lord comes again, he will take vengeance on them "that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."  The disobedient shall be "punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

  2. Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him," not to those who disobey him (Heb. 5:8, 9).  "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).  Since James was not obeying him, Jesus was not his Savior.

  3. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (Jn. 3:36).  Thus, if James had died in his "disobedience," he would not have been saved.  However, Baptist doctrine says he would have been saved even if he never had obeyed the Lord in baptism.  How does that fit with what the Lord said – "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16:16)? 

  4. James said, "I decided to settle the issue by asking for the Lord’s forgiveness for my sin…."

    So, for twenty years, by his own testimony, he was living in sin because he had not been baptized.  If James had died in sin, before he asked "for the Lord’s forgiveness for (his) sin," would he have been saved?  If not, we again ask what becomes of the doctrine of once saved, always saved?  If he would have been saved in his sin, he contradicts the plain statements of the Bible.  Jesus said that if we die in our sins, we cannot go and be with him (Jn. 8:21, 24).  Let James tell us his spiritual condition before God as an unforgiven, unbaptized sinner.  James, were you saved during that time or not?

  5. If James was saved all those years in disobedience, without being baptized, he was saved before the Lord said he would be.  As noted above, Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."  Note other passages to the same effect.  (a) "Then Peter said unto them, 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" (Acts 2:38).  (b) "And now why tarriest thou?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). 

  6. As the passage just cited says, "And now why tarriest thou?"  Bible baptism was always immediate.  (a) Those in Acts 2 who "gladly received the word" which told them to repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins," were baptized "that same day," not twenty days or twenty years later, but "that same day" (Acts 2:38, 41).  (b) The Ethiopian treasurer was baptized the very moment he confessed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 8:35-39).  There was no delay.  Philip did not tell him to wait until he could make a "public profession" of faith and then be baptized.  He did not wait until he could give his testimony before a local church and see if they would accept him.  No, he was baptized right then.  (c) The same thing is true with respect to the jailer and his household in Philippi (Acts 16:25-34).  At the inconvenient hour of midnight, he heard the word of the Lord and was baptized "the same hour of the night."  There was no delay.  There was no waiting until he could give his testimony before a local church.  (d) So, the question of Acts 22:16 meets us again and again, "And now why tarriest thou?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."

  7. James asks for prayer for the Baptist Church of which he is a member.  Where does the Bible authorize a Baptist Church, let alone pray for one?  There were no Baptist Churches prior to 1600 A.D.  There is no reference to a Baptist Church or to Baptist Churches, in any literature written before 1600 A.D.  The Bible certainly never mentions one.  Men and women were members of the church, the body of Christ in the New Testament, but no one was ever member of a Baptist Church (Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4; 5:30-32).  So, why should we pray for an institution about which the Bible says nothing?

  8. James signs his letter, "Yours in Christ."  One is not "in Christ" until he is baptized, for we are "baptized into Christ" (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).  So, for twenty years, without being baptized, James was not in Christ.  If James was saved during the twenty years before he was baptized, he was saved outside of Christ, but that cannot be true for salvation is "in Christ" (2 Tim. 2:10).

Did James think himself to be saved "in Christ" before he was baptized?  Let him declare.  If he says, "yes," he contradicts the Scriptures which plainly show that one is "baptized into Jesus Christ."

If he says, "no, I was not saved in Christ before I was baptized," he denies his salvation prior to baptism!  Let him tell us which it was.