Are Restorationists (Churches of Christ/Independent Christians) “evangelicals?”

Are Restorationists (Churches of Christ/Independent Christians) “evangelicals?” December 5, 2011

Today I received an e-mail from a Church of Christ member chiding me for saying (in the book Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicals) that I do not consider Churches of Christ “evangelical.” There I mentioned that, by and large, they seem to have a theology of salvation that borders on legalism or works-righteousness. The e-mailer disagreed and said he grew up in and was educated in a Church of Christ context.

This is one claim I have made about which I would be very glad to be corrected. As anyone knows who has read me, I want a “big tent” view of evangelicalism, but not one that is so flexible as to be meaningless. Many people want now to claim the label “evangelical” as it is enjoying something of a surge of popularity (at least in certain religious circles).  I am often asked whether I think a certain person or organization is really evangelical.  My tendency is to say yes, IF he/she/it CLAIMS to be evangelical and fits the traditional broad profile of evangelicalism. However, I can’t always be so generous.

So much depends on what meaning of the word “evangelical” is meant. It has become an essentially contested concept with at least six distinct uses.  (I detail those in my The Westminister Handbook to Evangelical Theology.) The typical journalistic use of that label is quite different from, say, the typical evangelical theologian’s!

Some years ago I was invited to be on a panel discussing religious responses to the 1990s Gulf War. I found myself sitting next to the region’s Lutheran bishop. He asked me why I was on the panel and I said I thought I was invited to represent the community’s evangelicals.  He drew himself up indignantly and said superciliously “Evangelical? WE’RE the evangelicals!” I once met a Unitarian who claimed to be “evangelical.” So, obviously, this is a problem.

Two specific problems emerge when trying to answer the question whether Restorationists (individuals and churches that trace their roots back to the Stone-Campbell movement in the early 19th century) are evangelicals. First, there is no evangelical magisterium to decide that. Second, there is no Restorationist magisterium, written or personal, to decide that. So, it is always at best a sociological and/or theological value judgment.

IF a Church of Christ or Independent Christian Church member says to me “I’m an evangelical” I’m not going to argue with him or her.  I’ll gladly embrace the person as a fellow evangelical.  However, when asked if the Restorationist Movement AS A WHOLE belongs under the “evangelical tent” I have two questions for the person asking it: 1) Do they WANT to be included there? and 2) Do they AS A WHOLE tend to display characteristics we associate with evangelical Christianity?

My experience over at least 40 years of paying attention to evangelicalism is that MOST Churches of Christ/Independent Christian Church people and churches DO NOT want to be included among the American evangelical movement.  For example, historically they have not supported Billy Graham crusades or joined the National Association of Evangelicals (although one small offshoot of the Stone-Campbell Movement is among the NAE member denominations).  Generally speaking these churches have stood apart and even criticized evangelical churches and organizations as inferior to them spiritually, theologically and ecclesiastically. They have often actively evangelized among evangelicals. TODAY there are many exceptions, however, and so the picture is much less clear today than some years ago.

Now, as to theology. I said (in the book mentioned earlier) that Churches of Christ tend to have a legalistic view of salvation.  My basis for that is their traditional belief that baptism is a necessary part of salvation (“for the remission of sins”) such that a person not baptized in water (and often not baptized in one of their churches!) is probably not saved.  I have had many experiences of conversations with Church of Christ/Independent Christian Churches people about this.  Often they will not say right up front “People not water baptized are not saved,” but it’s not difficult to tell after some conversation about the matter that’s what they do actually believe. The result, of course, is that people not yet baptized are headed to hell until and unless they get baptized.  And many of the Church of Christ people I’ve talked with will reluctantly admit that only their own water baptism “counts.”

Now, having said all that, I realize it is very possible that this is changing quickly and I’m simply not “up with the times.” So, I’m very open to correction. I have met some Church of Christ ministers who do not believe these things and who do have fellowship with evangelicals and seem to want to be considered evangelical.  Fine, I have no problem with accepting them as fellow evangelicals.  My statement was about Churches of Christ/Independent Christian Churches as a whole–as movements/informal denominations. My experience has been that those Church of Christ ministers who do not believe water baptism is necessary for salvation are “on the outs” with their associations.

So, now my answer to the question is “It depends. How much time do you have to talk about it?”

What do you all think?

"It depends on what "proof" means. Hans Kueng argues for "indirect proof" in Does God ..."

A Series: Christian Theology–Answers to Questions: ..."
"I don't know what "mistake" you think is being compounded here."

A Series: Christian Theology–Answers to Questions: ..."
"Have you studied Malcolm Diamond's anti-Kant revision of the ontological argument? It seems to me ..."

A Series: Christian Theology–Answers to Questions: ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ryan

    The groups that have emerged from the Stone-Campbell movement of the 19th century are quite diverse. I will only comment of my impression of the ‘churches of Christ’. I do think that many younger people are warming up to ‘evangelicalism’—however, the tradition as a whole has often been steered by an obtuse rhetoric that would include ‘evangelicalism’ with all ‘man-made’ vain religion. The irony of such a judgment notwithstanding, the churches of Christ have wanted to be simply Christians and to denounce any extra-biblical thought or practice. They have wanted to ‘speak where the bible speaks; and to be silent where the bible is silent’. Of course this has lead to many conundrums. In short, what started as a unity movement quickly derailed into a monochromatic dogmatic form of American Christianity. I would agree therefore that the churches of Christ branch of the restoration movement is still deeply inimical to evangelicalism.

    Regarding baptism and legalism, I think this is a difficult problem. The coC has tried very hard to be faithful to scripture and to ‘early Christianity’. I think the problem is that many have forgotten how to argue for a ‘fuller, better way’, making links between various understandings—instead people have just resolved to take the easier road of making things black-and-white. Many of the earlier restorationist were much more nuanced in their thinking and argumentation. By way of example I offer this old quote from a restorationist leader:

    “Dear Bro.:
    Replying to yours of the 15th, I have no doubt there are pious persons who have never been immersed. It would be absurd and ridiculous to deny it in the face of what we see and know of thousands of persons living and dead who have exhibited self-sacrificing love of God and man, which puts to shame all common disciples. I have as little doubt that many unimmersed persons will be saved in the final day. It is not necessary in order to contend for scripture teaching on the subject of baptism to take the ground that God has tied his hands and put it out of his power to grant mercy to any who have been misled in regard to that ordinance. He has bound us, but he has not bound himself; except that he is bound to do what he has promised. He has not bound himself to do no more than he has promised. Don’t injure the cause of truth by taking positions which rob God of the power to be merciful.

    Yours fraternally,
    J.W. McGarvey”
    (Gospel Advocate [vol 37 [December 12, 1895], 790).

    There is still a lot to dislike in this quote—but it is a far cry from what many coC teachers would say today.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for such a detailed (and thus helpful) response!

  • This is an interesting question to which you will not find a definitive answer, largely due to the fact that there is now huge diversity within the Restorationist movement. Simply looking at church of Christ affiliated colleges and universities, you’ll find the spectrum is wide between Freed-Hardmen and Pepperdine.

    Many years ago, I read an article which addressed this question and the one point I remember the author making is that those in the church of Christ are not fully evangelical in part because of the sacramental like belief of God working through baptism to forgive sins. By this criteria, the Lutheran pastor you mention would not be able to consider himself an evangelical.

    I guess in the end, I’d say some churches with Restoration heritage have embraced a more evangelical identity. These would be those who are considered change agents or liberals by their more traditional brothers and sisters.

    • rogereolson

      That’s an excellent way of putting it. I agree completely.

  • JohnD

    Roger, I am glad to offer you a correction. There are actually “strains” within the Restoration movement, with Disciples of Christ being “liberal,” Churches of Christ (non-intstrumental) very fundamentalist, and Christian Churches more in line with “evangelical.” It’s best not to get these mixed up. Some of the NI churches say unless you are baptized BY THEM, you’re not saved. And a certain feel of works righteousness might be prevalent.

    However, in the main the “plea” of the Restoration movement has been the Bible as the only guide to faith and practice (indeed, they would see many “creeds” of mainstream Protestantism as superfluous and, in some cases, misguided). So very evangelical in that regard.

    The big issue for many is the role of water baptism. Biblically (and historically) the case is strong that baptism has been the locus of the forgiveness of sins. It was not until Zwingli that this began to change. Nevertheless, “faith only” as practiced today by most evangelicals (e.g., “sinner’s prayer” style) was unknown to the early church. Yet these evangelicals strongly protest that a requirement of baptism is equal to a “work.” That is incorrect. “Works” as used by Paul means that which MERITS a return. No Restoration theologian believes that baptism earns you anything. It is merely your response to the gospel (just as, BTW, a prayer is. If you say a prayer for salvation, why is that not a “work” as well?)

    I highly recommend to you the systematic theology of Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, esp. his chapter on baptism. He also wrote an entire book on the subject.

    So I would say Christian Churches are definitely evangelical. Disciples of Christ not, and NI Churches of Christ must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

    • rogereolson

      Okay, but I know some Disciples of Christ churches that most definitely ARE evangelical–perhaps in spite of the tendency of the denomination toward a more liberal theological orientation. And, yes, I have met some Independent Christian people who are theologically evangelical. My problem is with those Stone-Campbell people who say that water baptism is necessary “for the remission of sins.” Only repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for the remission of sins (all evangelicals agree).

      • JohnD

        Only repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for the remission of sins (all evangelicals agree).

        That is a minority position in church history. Again, traced back to Zwingli. Is it biblical? Are there any instances of salvation in the Book of Acts that don’t involve baptism? Why is the Ethiopian eunuch’s response to the gospel message NOT “Let me say the sinner’s prayer” but “Look! Here is water. Why may I not be baptized?”

        It’s quite possible that the “evangelicalism” of the late 1800s and beyond has gotten this one wrong, because of the influence of the revival altar call model.

        Also, do you believe that faith must be expressed in some way? E.g., the common “sinner’s prayer”? If a prayer or some form of response must be expressed, that is also a “work” as some define baptism.

        • rogereolson

          The thief on the cross next to Jesus was saved without baptism.

          • Kenny Johnson


            Funny you mention that example. That was my first thought/comment when I had heard someone (from a independent Christian church) suggest baptism was required for salvation.

            It would just seem odd to me that someone could dedicate their whole heart and life to Christ and then be denied entrance His kingdom because they were never dunked.

          • JohnD

            The thief on the cross came before the resurrection, of course, and the institution of baptism in the name of Christ (Acts 3). He was saved in the OT dispensation. He is a perfect example to prove the rule.

          • rogereolson

            So since the Day of Pentecost (I take it) a person can’t be saved without baptism? So what about people who, like the thief on the cross, were saved under the “OT dispensation” and survived past the events of Acts 3? Were they then unsaved if they didn’t get baptized?

          • But the thief’s forgiveness and salvation was prior to Pentecost and the birth of the new covenant that Peter tied to baptism (Ac. 2:38). Can you give an example post Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit?

            This answer has been brought to you by my CofC Bible College training. These days I’m a heretic.

          • RK

            Acts 2:38 – “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

            What do we do with “for the forgiveness of sins” and it’s connection to baptism into Christ here? And, in view of a scripture connecting it in such a way, what do we do with the lack of any scripture connecting a “sinner’s prayer” to forgiveness of sins, a common evangelical practice?

          • rogereolson

            Huh? Acts 2:38 itself includes the “sinner’s prayer” as a condition of salvation. Acts 2:38 isn’t the only New Testament passage that offers conditions for salvation. Some others do not mention baptism. That’s why non-Restorationist churches tend to reject baptism as an absolute condition of salvation in spite of Acts 2:38. After all, as I have asked repeatedly here, the question arises what of the eternal destiny of someone who has repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ but has not yet been baptized through no fault of his or her own? What do you say?

          • RK

            Huh? I’m left confused as to how Acts 2:38 contains the sinner’s prayer. Please explain your thought on this further. While there are passages that speak of believing on the Lord Jesus for salvation, Peter still said that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was “for the forgiveness of sins.” How is this explained if it isn’t actually for the forgiveness of sins? And why should a church body be accused of teaching something falsely, if they are using Peter’s actual language? Will God, in his mercy, accept believers who love Jesus, and believe in him, even though they don’t have this understanding of baptism? This is a theological question more than a doctrinal one. The answer seems to be that grace, I think, will cover an inadequate understanding on a host of subjects and we are ultimately reliant fully on Christ’s atoning sacrifice and resurrection. That, however, doesn’t keep me from being accountable for saying all that the I see Bible saying about how one enters in to Christ and is forgiven.

          • rogereolson

            But you still didn’t answer my question. This is THE question I keep posing to people who believe water baptism is necessary for salvation. What is the eternal destiny of a person who has repented and put his or her trust in Jesus Christ but dies before water baptism?

          • RK

            Please note my answer below on the other thread. And then, I gently ask, what did Peter mean “for the forgiveness of sins?” And again, why is it unsound for a faith community to speak the language of Acts 2:38 (or Acts 22:16 “…and wash away your sins)? Evangelical or not, is the position not unsupported by scripture?

          • rogereolson

            I don’t think it’s ever correct to take one verse, or even two, and create a universal and absolute rule out of it/them when there are other verses that seem to stand in tension with it/them. That’s where systematic theology comes in. The whole counsel of Scripture must be taken into account, not just one or two verses.

          • RK

            Correction: is the position not supported by scripture?

          • RK

            The problem however is that this understanding of baptism doesn’t come from one, or even two scriptures. Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:36-38, 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26,27, Colossians 2:12, I Peter 3:21 (and there’s more – like every story in Acts of someone coming to Christ). The Acts 2:38 passage is central in the Acts narrative. It’s not as if it’s obscure. It’s the day of Pentecost when the gospel was preached in it’s fullness for the first time!

            Nor do I see any of these in tension with any scripture on faith. It is faith in the finished work of Christ and his blood that leads one to identify with him in an act that is a fully Christ centered and cross centered event. Those who see baptism as “for the forgiveness of sins” understand the forgiveness to be granted only on the basis of the baptized one’s faith in Christ’s own death and resurrection.

            All said, we who hold this view still haven’t had a good explanation of what Peter meant by “for the forgiveness of sins.”

          • rogereolson

            Please. You know very well how most non-sacramental Christians have interpreted it, as the sign and symbol of forgiveness received. Now let me ask you. Since you make so much of these verses in Acts and interpret them so literally, does your church practice impartation of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands? Acts also contains those verses.

          • Lynn E. Mitchell, Jr

            Dear Roger: You may not remember me, but we are fellow Ph. d’s from Rice University. Evidently we never conversed. I have been a Church of Christ preacher for more than 50 years and I have never been a Fundamentalist, a baptismal regenerationist, or even an American style neo- Evangelical. I also have not been a “scientific creationist” since I was twelve years old. Being a close student of Stone and both Campbells, I also have never believed that no one could be saved without baptism or that no one was a Christian without being a part of “The Restoration Movement.” You probably need to read Campbell’s Lunenberg Letter or George Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament before you can deal with the views of Church of Christ scholars. The people you are arguing with should also read these materials before putting themselves forward as Church of Christ theologians or scholars. I have not been involved in debate like this in the Church of Christ for thirty years. Are you aware that two of the last Deans of Yale Divinity Schools have been Church of Christ preachers, as was the last dean of Notre Dame divinity school, and the last Old Testament Professor at Princeton , and New Testament professor at Emory, and dozens of others all over the United States? I would suggest you google the Christian Scholars Conference at Lipscomb U. to get some idea of the present state of Church of Christ scholarship. You also might be interested in the fact that Fuller helped sponsor a Biblical Equality conference at my church last month, and that my church of Christ is in full fellowship with a “”Cooperative Baptist” congregation in the same building. I am not exactly keen on being called an “evangelical” in the American sense either, since I believe American evangelicalism does not generally let enough people in heaven either.
            Nevertheless, keep in touch, because I love your books.

          • rogereolson

            Thanks, Lynn. I do remember you. I had lunch with Dr. Nielsen about a year ago. He had just turned 90! I’m aware that many Restorationists even if the Churches of Christ do not hold to the traditional, common doctrine of most Churches of Christ over the last century–that baptism is for the remission of sins. I wonder if there is a regional difference here? I come from “up north” and ALL the Churches of Christ I ever knew of or had anything to do with refused fellowship with any other Christians and often implied that members of other churches were not Christians at all. I know there are exceptions, of course, as there is no Church of Christ HQ to enforce anything. I even know of one Church of Christ (in Massachusetts) that is quite liberal theologically. The one thing I notice all the more “open” Churches of Christ have in common is educated ministers and members. So, in sum, many other Church of Christ people have corrected me about baptism as necessary for salvation, but I think it still holds for most Church of Christ members. That’s my impression, anyway. What do you think?

        • RK

          Sorry to draw a “please.” I certainly have meant no disrespect. You seem to invite such questions by posting the blog. When you’re beliefs are on the receiving end of the assertions made in this post, you appreciate the opportunity to respond, and it seems reasonable to ask pointed questions, as you’ve made very pointed statements in this post about a rather large segment of the Christian population. But I certainly want to be gracious.

          I do understand how non-sacramental churches interpret “for the forgiveness of sins,” but, as you know, I don’t believe scripture supports the view. Has always seemed odd to me that Peter would tell a group, to which he has ascribed guilt for having a hand in crucifying Jesus, that they should repent and be baptized “because” their sins have been forgiven (as a symbol of what’s already occurred), when there’s no indication at all that their sins have been already forgiven. “For,” seems, in my view, to be better understood as “to obtain.”

          It seems to me that this echos what Jesus said in Matthew 26 about the wine of the Lord’s Supper: “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus didn’t pour out his blood “because” sins had been forgiven (as a symbol of something already achieved), but to obtain forgiveness. Same phrase.

          I suppose if we had an Acts passage that had anyone other than apostles imparting the Holy Spirit by the laying of hands, we’d do similarly. But, we view the apostolic office as not having been continuous after the death of eyewitness believers who could serve in that role.

      • DJ

        If only repentance and faith are “for the forgiveness of sins,” then how does an evangelical theologian like yourself deal with the Great Church’s affirmation of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”? Is this an area where evangelicalism’s commitment to sola scriptura trumps the Great Tradition? (I could bring up Acts 2:38, of course, but “battling prooftexts” is a restorationist vice I’m trying to break. Whoops….)

        Just for the record, I’m one of those Campbellites who believes that our particular understanding and practice of baptism in no way binds the mercy of God. Most of us restorationists are simply trying to be faithful to what we believe is an apostolic practice–namely, the baptism of penitent believers for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

        Thanks for your irenic response to my original question.


        • rogereolson

          I’m a baptist, so I obviously do disagree with the “Great Church,” as you call it (Roman Catholic?) about baptism. The Great Church also has believed at least since the Donatist controversy that baptism of people already baptized (so-called “re-baptism”) is a heresy. So, I side with the heretics there! I have always said tradition gets a vote but never a veto.

          • DJ

            By “Great Church” I mean those who affirm the faith expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, including “I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.” The one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, I suppose. Roman Catholic? Sure. But also Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, most Protestants and Evangelicals. And restorationists, whether we recite the Creed in our assemblies or not.

            Interpret “baptism for the remission of sins” how you will. All of us free church, sola scriptura folk appropriate the Tradition cautiously. But the expression comes directly from the Creed via the Scriptures. No doubt, we restorationists have our peculiarities when it comes to baptism; so do Baptists. But we’re well within the scope of Scripture and Tradition when we affirm baptism “for the forgiveness of sins.” But not evangelicalism?

            I understand that you are a baptist. Splendid. We all have to pitch our tent somewhere. But what I truly cannot understand is how affirming “baptism for the remission of sins” amounts to a denial of God’s grace, a departure from the Great Tradition, and hence disqualifies one as truly evangelical. Am I reading you correctly? Or is it possible, in your view, for Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches to affirm baptism “for the remission of sins” in a way that meets your definition of evangelical? That is the impasse as I see it.

            Dr. Olson, whether we agree or disagree, you’re always welcome to break bread with us on the Lord’s Day. (And I suspect you’ll find the offer valid in any Independent Christian Church and the vast majority of acappella Churches of Christ to boot!)

            Signing Out,


          • rogereolson

            Again, as I have just written in response to another Restorationist commenter here, for me the issue is whether salvation is possible without baptism. I know that both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic and most Protestant communities believe it is. What do the majority of Church of Christ/Independent Christians believe about that?

          • DJ

            Maybe we’ve been talking past one another. Yes, I’d say most folks in the Independent Christian Churches and a growing number of folks in Churches of Christ believe that salvation is possible without baptism. There’s been a softening of hardline stances in both camps. Even Jack Cottrell, a conservative voice among the Independents, refuses to make water baptism the sine qua non of salvation. At the same time, you’d be hard-pressed to find a minister or scholar in either camp who denies that believer’s baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins.” But we’re not the only Christians, I suspect, who hold certain truths in tension, seeking to affirm apostolic practices while leaving room for the mercy of God. A generous orthodoxy (or evangelicalism?) requires as much.


  • The New Testament teaches that baptism is “a” requirement for discipleship, salvation, remission of sins, reception of the Holy Spirit, beginning a new life in Christ and belonging to God as sons. The nearly unanimous consensus of scholarship is that the New Testament knows of no unbaptized Christians. While not the “be all end all” of the Christian walk, it is none-the-less so necessary that some people had to do it twice to get it right (Acts 19).

    If this is what the New Testament teaches, why are we in the Church of Christ labeled “legalists” for holding what the New Testament teaches to be true?

    But if following scripture makes me “legalistic,” then fine. And if it excludes me from being an evangelical, I’m fine with that too. I’ll settle simply for the label of “Christian,” or “disciple.” At least that label is biblical.

    • WS

      Whereas, I completely agree on what you say about the New Testament and Baptism. It’s just how people from the Church of Christ talk sometimes. They just sound arrogant and legalistic sometimes.
      No offense implied. I have never felt anyone from the church of Christ was legalistic about baptism (how can you be legalistic about something Jesus and the apostles flat out said to do?) but more in how a host of other issues like instrumental music etc. are addressed? I wonder if people aren’t just blankly accusing members of the CofC of being legalistic without really discerning the issues?
      Anyone who is a disciple of Christ ought to respond to the command to be baptized just like they ought to repent, not lie, have faith, live a faithful life or any other thing that the Bible teaches. What does it say about someone’s Christianity who has to go around constantly arguing against baptism or telling people they don’t have to be baptized to be saved? Really, would anyone want to explain to Jesus when they stand before him why they dedicated so much of their life proving to people why they didn’t have to do something he commanded? Seems to me like more time should be spent on studying that matter and teaching people to obey what Jesus told us to do rather than proving with all of our might that we don’t have to do it.

  • Christian Penrod


    I don’t think you need to be proven wrong about how you have labeled (or not labeled) Restorationists. Being a Restoration Movement guy myself, I know that there are times where it is difficult to define us. Some will care, many won’t. If believer’s immersion is what keeps us from being included in that generalizing moniker, that will probably be okay with that. If you decide to include us later, again, not a big deal. Many of us truly believe that we are Christians only, and not the only Christians.

    Having said that, I do think your limited exposure to our churches and our people has you making statements about us that aren’t true. For instance, over the many years, many churches, and many Christians within the Restoration Movement I’ve come across, I’ve never met one that said you had to be immersed in one of our churches. I have heard stories, but there are always stories of people who go off the deep end. In fact, that kind of thinking was vehemently opposed by Stone and Campbell. The fact that you have met some who have said that, doesn’t make their position representative.

    The same is true for churches that cooperate with other churches in their community (in an Evangelical sense). I’ve been a part of and seen just as many that did cooperate as any given denomination in any given community. The main difference is that those denominations might have an official representative, regardless as to how many of their congregations actually participate in anything.

    I enjoy your blog, thanks for your writing.

  • Christian Penrod

    ” that will probably be okay with that” should read “many of us will probably be okay with that”

  • It sounds like you’re saying that if a Christian believes salvation is achieved by one more thing than Jesus–a work, like baptism–then they’re not evangelical. Which sounds reasonable. I might even go you one further and say they’re not Protestant.

    • rogereolson

      Well, that is my tendency, too.

    • RK

      K.W., salvation is fully achieved by Jesus, and Jesus alone. Paul connected baptism to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As a response of faith – it only has meaning as it’s connected to the person of Jesus and these events (Romans 6:3,4) and one’s faith in God’s power (Colossians 2:12). The direct connection of baptism to faith in the crucified and risen Christ may not make one Protestant or Evanglical, but, it seems to have a lot of biblical support.

      • rogereolson

        Please answer the question I posed in response to your other comment. What of the eternal destiny of a person who has repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ but has not yet been baptized through no fault of his or her own?

        • RK

          What’s meant by “no fault of his or her own?” Jesus taught those who make and those who become disciples to baptize and be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20). One gets as early in to Acts as Chapter 2, and those responding to Christ’s gospel are commanded to be baptized, and then every story of a person coming to Christ in Acts (without exception) has them being baptized without delay.

          It seems, at least to me, that if a person decides to believe and repent but not act on the Bible’s instruction to be baptized, that such a person would have to be convinced by a source other than scripture of baptism having a less important role than Jesus seems to convey.

          For Paul to say what he did in Romans 6:3,4; Colossians 2:12 and Galatians 3:26,27, and for Peter to say what he did in I Peter 3:21, at least implies that they assumed that everyone in their Christian audience had been baptized.

          • rogereolson

            Okay, let’s say the person read a gospel tract and repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her savior but was killed in an accident on the way to the church to be baptized. What is his or her eternal destiny in that case?

          • RK

            I believe, understanding the gracious loving kindness of God described in scripture, that such a person is very safe and secure in the arms of Jesus. But, hypothetical situations like this are no basis, in my view, for determining correct teaching on a subject. It seems such arguments, instead of dealing with texts like Acts 2:38, or the others mentioned, seek to evade explaining their meaning. Baptism cannot be “for the forgiveness of sins,” because someone might be unable to complete their response of faith? Is this really a valid argument that explains away what the New Testament writers do say about baptisms role in our relationship to God?

          • rogereolson

            One exception would seem to nullify the rule, as a rule.

          • RK

            No. An exception means that God is not a God of technicalities. This is good theological reasoning, I think. That God’s teachings have a kind of “in general” nature to them, and are not written in a way that explains every possible exception, goes to the heart of who God is as described in scripture. It’s why he didn’t have David and his men punished when they entered the temple and ate the consecrated bread even though it was technically forbidden for them to do so. God, in his grace, can describe his terms, but he allows himself to look into people’s hearts and administer that grace accordingly. God is not one who seems to make “rules.”

          • rogereolson

            I agree. And I can’t imagine the God of Jesus Christ refusing to forgive a repentant sinner who places his trust in Jesus just because he didn’t get baptized. So what do you say about a sinner who enters a Salvation Army “church” and repents and accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior and the SA is all he knows? As you know, the SA does not baptize in water. Will God exclude him from heaven because he didn’t get baptized? I hope you’ll say no, but if you do, then it seems to me the policy that baptism is “for the remission of sins” is being interpreted as most Christians, including Baptists, have interpreted it–as the sign and symbol of sins having been remitted. But, please, don’t jump on that. Answer my question about the man who joins the SA after conversion and never gets baptized in water after his conversion.

          • RK

            It seems, that God looks into the heart, and will graciously accept the one who comes to Christ, and does so based on the knowledge that he has about how to respond. I don’t think this problem existed when the first churches were established. There was “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” I do tend to think that it’s a proper understanding of God to see him as gracious toward us when we have a less than perfect understanding of subjects such as mode and meaning of baptism. The central, non-negotiable in faith seems to be understanding the identity of Christ , and that his finished work is all sufficient. It does seem also, that even the person like our hypothetical friend who joins the SA, if he reads scripture at all, and very far, will have to be talked out of believing that baptism includes water, and is at least essential to being a disciple.

          • rogereolson

            It’s amazing, though, what people don’t see in Scripture because they are committed to a particular ecclesial context that ignores it. I’m glad you’re willing to say that the Christian convert who joined the SA and never received water baptism is nevertheless saved by the mercy of God. But that does seem like a huge concession.

  • Scott Gay

    “…it’s not difficult to tell after some conversation about the matter that’s what they actually do believe”.

    Eastern Orthodox……they are the only true church

    Roman Catholic…..spirituality is a two tiered reality….some ascend through their work to status many others will never achieve

    Assembly of God….you really never have been filled with the Spirit unless you speak in tongues

    Christian Missionary Alliance….your relationship with the Lord is suspect unless you have experienced healing

    Presbyterian…..God blesses financially

    Lutheran……think together as an indissolubility both God’s utter rejection of oneself and His gracious acceptance of oneself

    Methodist……one who does good to others

    Pentecoastals….we do believe in Christ alone, likewise in Reeve and Muggleton..None salvation-knowledge have but those of Reeve and Muggleton

    Anabaptists….love the Lord God with all your strength, mind, and heart…..and be deeply suspicious of your neighbor

    Anglican(Episcopal)….practice the middle way(translation=we have trouble with deciding)

    North American Christianity(in general.)…….do worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and community

    • rogereolson


  • Eric Miller

    As a member of the Independent Christian Church I would agree that it depends who you talk to. This is an on-going debate within the SCRM, with people on all sides of the issue. Since the second generation of our movement we have had to fight an ever present tendency toward legalism and rigid exclusivity. Thankfully, save a small sector of fundamentalism, this is not nearly as widespread as it use to be.
    A number of our scholars in the instrumental and a capella streams of our movement (many of whom hold to the “salvation-event” view of baptism) are branching out into the greater evangelical community. I would highly recommend the book “Evangelicalism and the Stone Campbell Movement” which deals with these precise questions. Finally, if you are interested in our view of baptism, held by the Church for 1500 years, I would recommended “Baptism a Biblical Study” by Jack Cottrell and “Baptism in the Ancient Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries” by Everett Ferguson. Thanks for engaging!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for your very helpful response and recommendations.

  • Kenny Johnson

    My wife and I attended a Christian church (part of the Stone/Campbell movement) for about a year when we were looking for a local church. We were ignorant of the Restorationist movement at the time, but my wife knew several people who went to the church. We ended up leaving the church after the associate pastor and lead pastor resigned and the church merged with a Praise Chapel (charismatic/pentecostal) church, which we had problems with.

    My experience with the people I came in contact with was that there were many in the church who probably also weren’t very familiar with the Restoration movement and would have considered themselves within Evangelicalism. The pastor of the church (before he resigned) widely read Evangelical authors and was even part of a local organization of pastors that met together called “The Gatekeepers.” There were certainly people there (I learned later) that believed water baptism was required for salvation… but I would not have thought that belief would exclude someone with the Evangelical tent.

    Lee Camp of Tokens ( comes form the Restorationist movement. The show is constantly engaging with Evangelicals and I’d assume Camp considers himself an Evangelical. But maybe I’m wrong. . .

  • DJ

    Every Church of Christ and Independent Christian Church minister I know holds that believer’s baptism is in some sense for the forgiveness of sins. Anyone who publicly professes otherwise will not pass muster with most elderships. On this there is near universal agreement, I think.

    But how it all “shakes out” in the end is another question. Some take a hardline view on the matter, arguing that all unimmersed believers are outside the grace of God and are therefore ripe prospects for conversion. Others (a growing number, I would argue) take an agnostic, God-will-sort-it-all-out-in-the-end approach, while still holding that believer’s baptism is a normative part of the conversion experience. I can’t think any churches in either fellowship, however, that openly advocate open membership or practice any type of baptism other than believer’s immersion.

    So, in answer to your question, I’m not sure! As someone who’s ministered in both camps, I can say that most of us care little about whether or not the evangelical magisterium (if there is such a thing) deems us sufficiently evangelical. Apart from a few scholars active in the ETA, we simply don’t have a dog in this fight.

    What I’m curious to know, though, is why one’s view of baptism qualifies or disqualifies one as an “evangelical” by your definition. The evangelical coalition seems to have allowed for some diversity of views and practices on the sacraments. Is it a question of restorationists’ commitment to sola fide that you question? Then again, even Luther ascribed some kind of salvific role to baptism, and no one questions his bona fides on sola fide. (Sorry!)



    • rogereolson

      Traditionally, British and North American evangelicals have insisted that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone plus nothing–implicitly, if not explicitly rejecting any soteriology that makes anything other than personal faith in Jesus Christ (including repentance) necessary for salvation. There are some Pentecostal groups that make speaking in tongues a necessary part of salvation; they are rejected even by other Pentecostals. Luther most certainly did not think baptism was necessary for salvation. In one case he even discouraged a man from being baptized who had been a Christian for many years who found out he was never baptized. He asked Luther what to do and Luther told him to get baptized then (after many years of being a Christian) would be to make baptism a work of righteousness. So, yes, evangelicals have traditionally questioned the Stone-Campbell Movement’s (especially Churches of Christ) commitment to salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

      • J.R.

        I would argue that many Baptist hold to the idea of repentance as a necessity for salvation. This has been my experience with Non-Calvanist Southern Baptist, Independent Fundamental Baptist, and anybody who follows the teachings of John MacArthur. Now I would say that even there many argue as to what it means to repent.

  • Paul

    I don’t mean to be overly negative on the Church of Christ (this is a sore point for me, but I have met younger members who surprised me in their beliefs), but my Grandmother and Aunt were/are Church of Christ and my father (who doesn’t seem to have any interest in Church or really Christianity since leaving the Church of Christ—it probably would have been better for him to have never gone to church as a child than go to theirs) we’re all taught that only people who are baptized, agree with their specific teachings (no music in church), and are part of a Church of Christ church (which means strict regular attendance) are saved…which means I, as someone baptized in a Presbyterian church and attending an Anglican Church, am going to hell (they’ve tried to evangelize me more than a few times). When my father, who’d already left the church, married my mother (who was a Baptist), one of his deacons called my mother to basically tell her she was an evil person who was taking my father away from the church and causing him to go to hell (not to mention what the Church of Christ minister preached at my Baptist Grandfather’s funeral about people who weren’t Church of Christ). As well, I’ve known more than a few people who were raised in and left the Church of Christ and have told me the same things about how everyone other than them are going to hell because only members of the Church of Christ are Christians. From all of this, I don’t see how they could be or would want to be Evangelicals because most of them hold such a negative view of everyone else who considers themselves Christians while, from my understanding, the Evangelical movement has often sought to include many denominations with a similar commitment to justification by faith, personal commitment to Christ, and evangelism within a common movement. I do think, as well, that they border on legalism and works righteousness with their views of salvation.

  • This one will be tricky, Dr. Olson. The problem is that the Churches of Christ are in a state of flux right now, with a growing divide between the progressive and conservative wings of the Churches of Christ (or better, the ‘ecumenical’ and ‘sectarian’ Churches of Christ) which would in one group embrace their part within evangelical Christianity, and in the other group, reject it as ‘denominationalism.’ As you point out, it is impossible to speak for the Churches of Christ “as a whole” because each local congregation is autonomous and led by a local group of elders.

    That being said, as a minister within a “progressive” or ecumenical Church of Christ, we have not required the rebaptism of a Christian who comes from other Christian traditions (for example, Methodist or Presbyterianism, etc.) and who has previously been baptized in their former tradition. My point being, I’m not certain it is possible to speak about Churches of Christ “as a whole” in the way you have mentioned, for the reason you have cited: TODAY there are many exceptions, and so the picture is much less clear today than some years ago. I am sure there are many leaders in our fellowship who would self-identify as evangelical, while there are many who would not.

    It has been my experience that many of the Christians in my fellowship read the same evangelical literature and listen to many of the same evangelical voices that are prominent within American evangelicalism today; thus, they think as evangelicals think, and speak as evangelicals speak. And so I remind your readers, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

  • Ken Haynes


    Great post and thoughts- I have read most your books and a longtime fan… highlight was meeting you when you spoke at Beeson years ago at the “Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail” thing…..

    Some random observations as someone who grew up in the Stone Cambell movement – but for past decade been moving in broader circles.

    – you are correct – the more “sectarian” part of the Stone Cambell (SC) movement would not seek to be identified as evangelicals. They would still probably look pretty fundamentalist

    – the sectairan part of the SC movement is often not too different looking than some of the more sectarian/fundman pockets in Baptist circles

    – There is a more moderate group with SC circles that probably would mirror an evangelical ethos very well- they are not sectarian- and embody those characteristics that would be considered “evangelical”- and fit very well into evangelical bible belt Christianity.

    – You would probably also have a group in SC circles that are not sectarian or legalist but feel like the term evangelical has enough baggage and of all terms to “get friendly with”- that is not the one.- ha…. : )

    – I would also think to be fair there is a substantial amount of people in the SC movement who have a robust, non- baptismal regenerationalist, healthy view and practice of believers baptism…but posture themselves with believers baptism within the broader practice of historic Christianity. Believers baptism as a “faith act” was obviously around way before a North American revivalist primitist sect getting momentum in 1800s….

    My hope- maybe my “naive idealism” is that there are a number of people in the SC movment that practice believers baptism for good reasons ( and there are many good reasons). They believe God saves not baptism….but they do practice it as a faith act with an understanding that it is all God’s grace. These same people also embrace those who may not be excactly where they are on that conviction and practice and ackowledge the “Mosaic of Belief” : )

    love the blog…..keep it going……..


  • It’s a great question, and one that I (as an evangelical, a member of an Independent Christian Church, and a staff member of an evangelical parachurch campus ministry) have often wondered.

    In my own experience, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have been reluctant to join with other Christians in parachurch activities, but I wonder how much of that reluctance is historical in its origin. Since the Restorationists began as an attempt to reform ALL Christian denominations, there was a high degree of separatism from the beginning. Then, one of the central issues in the split between Disciples of Christ and Christian Churches/Churches of Christ was precisely the degree to which local congregations ought to join together for mission or administrative purposes. In that split, the more evangelically doctrinal wing rejected the idea of parachurch or denominational structures, which I think created a disposition against participating other parachurch organizations.

    Theologically, the insistence on “no creed but Christ,” as well as the autonomy of local churches, limits Christian Churches’ ability to find theological common ground with other churches. There’s no common theological language (other than the Bible, which quickly becomes subject to interpretation) and no representative for the Christian Churches who can sign off on denominational agreements.

    For example, regarding membership in the NAE, how would Independent Christian Churches even be able to join the NAE as a “member denomination”? Simply using the word “denomination” to refer to the Restoration Movement is a non-starter in traditional Christian Church circles.

    Despite this, though, there have been significant Christian Church contributions t to the evangelical mainstream. Just recently, I was introduced to the work of James DeForest Murch, a Christian Church writer and professor who was heavily involved with the NAE, Christianity Today, National Religious Broadcasters, and other evangelical associations.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks. I agree that there are Independent Christian churches and people (e.g., Murch and Ferguson, et al.) who display characteristics of being evangelical. The only problem is that every time I’ve met one and pressed the issue of baptism for salvation (i.e., that water baptism is “for the remission of sins”) they have eventually fallen back on that understanding even as they try to soften the blow. I’m sure there are exceptions whom I haven’t met. Regarding to NAE: Some non-denominational (e.g., Baptist conferences) groups have joined it. Traditionally, anyway, all Baptist “denominations” are really just conventions or conferences with every church being autonomous. Somehow, however, several have managed to join the NAE.

  • I’ll speak up, as a member of the Church of Christ. I feel no compulsion to be considered evangelical. No offense to the evangelicals out there. Does that mean I think you’re all going to hell? Not at all. I just don’t feel any real push to be defined by any -ism out there, be it evangelicalism or antidisestablishmentarianism.

    Do I believe that baptism is part of God’s plan of salvation? From what I see in the Bible, yes. I know that’s not politically correct, but it’s what I read in Scripture. (And no, I don’t believe that it has anything to do with where you’re baptized, who does it, etc. Yes, there have been some that believe that. They are a dying breed) Should baptism be done as a work, seen as a work, or considered as an addition to faith? No. It’s a part of faith’s response, like the actions we read about in Hebrews 11. Apart from faith, it’s merely a dunk in the water.

    So I don’t mind if you don’t want to call me evangelical. If you’re denying my status as a Christian, I have a problem with that. If my tribe and I are second-class citizens in the Kingdom because of our beliefs, then I’m bothered by that. But if we don’t meet the definition of evangelical, so be it.

    Hope that helps.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    • rogereolson

      Yes, that helps. Thanks.

  • I have been part of four branches of the Stone-Campbell movement in my life, and prior to that I was raised Roman Catholic. Between the two I was evangelical. I left Catholicism to be “evangelical” and only accepted the scriptural necessity of baptism by immersion with great reluctance and a lot of study and prayer. Somehow I felt that by leaving behind “faith only” salvation I was no longer evangelical.

    Looking at it now, I’d say the Disciples denomination is mainline Protestant, the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ are mostly evangelical (at least in style), the a cappella churches have been mostly fundamentalist (some change there, I know), and the International churches until several years ago could be considered a cult.

    It wouldn’t be fair to hold to tightly to such generalizations, though.

  • LFDS

    My experience with a church in the Restorationist Movement is similar to what you describe. I was told that I was not saved because I was not discipled in their church (with their curriculum) nor was I baptised by immersion in their church. This was in the late 80’s.

  • Jr

    I’d say you are right on in your assessment. Of course this is a movement that has Barton Stone, an Arian (i.e., a heretic) as half of its namesake. Come to think of it, I don’t even think he believed in substitution. So no, it is not evangelical.

    • It should be noted that very, very few members of Churches of Christ or independent Christian Churches would share Barton Stone’s views. We are trinitarian, and most are shocked when they learn about Mr. Stone’s rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. (I’m unfamiliar with Stone’s views of substitutionary atonement, but I’m guessing that I would represent the majority view that Christ died in our place in order to appease the justified wrath of God against our sins–the doctrine of propitiation.)

  • I will most happily agree that I am not an evangelical. The NAE is about as liberal as the NCC or WCC these days. As for the broad tent of “evangelicalism” the movement is so diverse and so far apart as to make any sort of unity superficial. The idea that Arminians are continually accusing the God revealed in the Bible of being a “monster” is enough to show there is no such thing as evangelicalism. Consistent Calvinists who are not neo-Kuyperians or semi-Arminians have nothing in common with Pentcostals, Methodists, Nazarenes, or Arminians in general. Why? Because the Synod of Dort definitively defines Arminianism as a heresy.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for being such a “reasonablechristian”! 🙂 The NAE about as liberal as the NCC or WCC? Hah! That’s a real laugh. So, if I take your comment seriously, at face value, you think “consistent Calvinists” and Pentecostals, Methodists, et al., don’t even have Christianity in common, right? So only consistent Calvinists like yourself are Christians? I think you went way out on a limb there.

  • Many localchurches of Christ believe they are the one true New Testament church with an unbroken chain from Pentecost until today. And I cannot consider a church evangelical when they seem to be as interested in converting other evangelicals to their theology as they are lost sinners to Christ.

    Calvinists can sometimes exhibit the same trait.

    • J.R.

      Independent Fundamental Baptist do as well, and they are a large contingency of baptist out there(most them especially the Older ones are mostly ex-Southern Baptists). While I still have many ties in that group(I came to Christianity as a direct result of an IFB church, and I still have many friends in there) I left that group do to there claims of being the only true church. Even though much of their doctrine is consistent with Evangelicalism they would be upset to be called one.

  • Scot McKnight

    I’m going to bite on this one.

    Roger, if we take Bebbington’s quadrilateral, they’re in (with their own distinctives), but they believe in crucicentrism, conversionism (with a heavy does of baptism et al), biblicism (strong Bible people in commitment), and activism (missionary movement). If we add your emphasis on the great tradition, they don’t embrace this as part of their 20th Century praxis so much.

    And there is significant shift among many of their leaders and, having spent lots of time with them, I find them “one of us.” In addition, they have more of a spread into the mainline than many evangelicals. (That one I can’t explain, but it might say that my tradition taught me that direction was a big No-No.)

    • Scot McKnight

      No idea why I had that “but” — “and” would be better.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for weighing in, Scot. It’s the “heavy dose of baptism” (as part of conversion) that troubles me. As much as I’ve used Bebbington’s quadrilateral (with my own addition of the fifth hallmark) sometimes I find it insufficient. For example, some Mormons I know claim to fit the profile. That’s one reason I added the fifth hallmark. With some notable exceptions, I don’t think most Restorationists embrace even a general respect for the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy even if they do affirm the deity of Christ and the Trinity. But, as I said, I’m open to correction. And, as I’ve said all along, I know there are exceptions.

      • Roger…there is certainly no one size fits all when it comes to the Churches of Christ. I know some younger Church of Christ preachers who have made more of an effort to embrace aspects of the liturgical calendar within their preaching, themes, etc throughout the year.

        I don’t think it is so much that Churches of Christ reject their heritage. It is more so that we don’t want to put that heritage, teachings, creeds, etc on the same level as scripture itself.

        Also, I would guess that there are a great number of doctrinal issues and things that have developed over time in Christianity that even those outside the Churches of Christ disagree on.

        • rogereolson

          So people like yourself are helping me re-consider my position that, generally speaking, Churches of Christ are not evangelical. One reason I felt comfortable saying that is that, in my experience, anyway, very, very few Churches of Christ WANT to be considered “evangelical.” Am I wrong about that? I have rarely seen Church of Christ ministers at transdenominational evangelical events. I have never known one to participate in a local (municipal, county) evangelical ministerial league. When I was editor of Christian Scholar’s Review we approached several Restorationist schools to ask them about joining us; none would. Individuals and individual churches may be evangelical, but as a whole I question the evangelical identity of the Churches of Christ. But I’m open to changing my mind if you and others who come here from that tradition insist that I’m wrong and show me that I am wrong. I have never doubted that there are individuals in the Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches that are evangelical. I know there are also Disciples of Christ churches that are evangelical. But I wouldn’t call the Disciples of Christ an “evangelical denomination.”

          • “One reason I felt comfortable saying that is that, in my experience, anyway, very, very few Churches of Christ WANT to be considered “evangelical.”

            Do you think the average church goer in any denomination would be able to accurately define evangelical?

            I don’t think many would really know the difference. The question that is more relevant to me would be, if you presented the tenants of evangelicalism to the average church goer would they be likely to embrace them. I think more in Churches of Christ would today than in years past. The one thing that might get them stuck is the elevation of tradition but I don’t think many would even care about that any more.

          • I’ve been a “pulpit minister” in the Church of Christ for nearly forty years. While “some” of our guys have embraced evangelicalism (whatever that is), I doubt they will be around us (Churches of Christ) for a 40 year tenure. I believe you got this right the first time.

      • DJ

        Does the typical restorationist in the pew embrace a general respect for the Great Tradition? Probably not, but no less than our Nazarene, Vineyard, and Baptist neighbors.

        That said, the story I see playing out on the collegiate and seminary level is quite different. The Independents–the most evangelical of the movement’s branches–have produced several prominent patristic scholars: Paul Blowers, Ronald Heine, and Frederick W. Norris, to name a few. Interestingly, all three are experts in the Eastern fathers (Maximus, Origen, & Gregory Nazianzen, respectively). One reason for this burgeoning interest in patristics, I think, has to do with our interest in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Sure, our practice and theology of the sacraments has at times been mechanical (some would say legalistic). But at our best we observe the Lord’s Supper weekly and celebrate baptism as an occasion of grace. (As an aside, two of the biggest complaints I hear from folks who’ve migrated to evangelical fellowships is that they can’t understand why their new church observes the Lord’s Supper only once a quarter and, in their view, pushes the sinner’s prayer at the expense of baptism.)

        So it’s no accident that some of our best and brightest have gravitated toward the church fathers to deepen and enrich what they see as apostolic and catholic practices. Whether or not this trend trickles down to the local church remains to be seen. (Although, the midwestern congregation where I serve has been very open to the observance of Advent and Lent.)

        For an engaging, if quirky, example of a restorationist engaging the Great Tradition, see Frederick W. Norris, The Apostolic Faith: Protestants and Roman Catholics.



        • rogereolson

          I have read and benefited from Norris’ work over the years; I did not know until just now that he is of the Restorationist persuasion! Thanks for mentioning him. Every Christian group of any size has produced some notable scholars which hardly means they represent the denomination they grew up in and belong to. Note Gordon Fee and the Assemblies of God. I once had a long conversation about The Great Tradition and especially the Trinity with a friend who is a minister of the Disciples of Christ. He told me they generally do not talk about the Trinity as it is an extra-biblical concept. They neither teach it nor teach against it; it simply doesn’t function among them (he said). I’m sure there are exceptions, but he confirmed my earlier and later experiences with Restorationist folks and I know many who are no longer in that tradition. At least Baptists have the Baptist Faith and Message that affirms the Trinity (even if many pastors and lay people know little about it). Feel free to talk back; I’m listening and learning.

          • The difference in the Churches of Christ is the emphasis of congregational autonomy. There is no one document that sums up the beliefs of the congregations and that those congregations are to teach and abide by. Well, we would say the document that does is the Bible. I know many elders, ministers, and church members in Churches of Christ who embrace the doctrine of the trinity.

          • DJ

            Sure. Are you familiar with John Mark Hicks, the theology prof at Lipscomb University? (He’s published quite a bit on Arminianism and Calvinism, so I’m guessing you might have crossed paths.) Anyway, he’s presently the go-to historical theologian among the acappella churches. His trilogy on the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and the Lord’s Day will give you a clear idea of how present-day restorationists are reexamining their heritage in light of Scripture, Tradition, and the “Restorationist Fathers.” (Check out his author’s page on Amazon.)

            As for the Independents, I’d say most of our current seminary graduates are fairly conversant with and appreciative of the Great Tradition. A good friend of mine is a philosophy prof at Lincoln Christian University & Seminary. He relates how his under-grads are constantly asking him what such-and-such church father would say about a given issue! BTW, the worship prof at Lincoln is a Robert Webber disciple.

            Emmanuel Christian Seminary, the school with the strongest ties to the Disciples and the old Protestant mainline, has positioned itself from its inception as a champion of “free church catholicism,” a phrase coined by the school’s founder and professor of church history, Dean Walker. Blowers and Norris were two of his students and later taught at Emmanuel. (You might also want to take a gander at the work of William Robinson, a theologian among the British Churches of Christ and active participant in the Faith and Order side of the WCC. His shadow looms heavily at Emmanuel.)

            I could blather on, but perhaps this gives you some insight into where our schools (and our most recent ministry graduates) are when it comes to historical theology and our own theological commitments.


          • Amber

            I am a current MAR student at Emmanuel, and I think one has to remember that the Restoration congregations cannot be lumped as a denomination, due to how they are connected. There are plenty of congregations that are evangelical, especially in the South. There are also also those that fall under the definition of evangelical even though they may not want to use the term themselves. Each congregation is heavily influenced by it’s surrounding community and who their leaders look to as quality biblical scholars. I know I get irritated when one cannot tell the difference between a SBC and a Christian Church that’s down the road. As for the baptism issue: I don’t know a single Restorationist personally that believes that any longer. I know it’s still an issue in the A Capella churches and I know that many of my professors were brought up with that teaching – but I can say with confidence that I don’t know a single one that still believes that. Now it’s more about that if one will not be baptized, what does that say about your commitment to Christ. Since the restoration movement doesn’t support “Once Saved, Always Saved” usually (again, this is different in those congregations that have been influenced by more calvanist leaning communities) it becomes an issue of salvation because of an assumption that your commitment to Christ is half-hearted. I know the holes in this theology, but that’s sort of where we’re at at the moment.

        • DJ – I know JMH and he is an excellent thinker, writer and Christian man. Thanks for bringing him up. Maybe he will chime in.

    • Scot,

      I think you have this one nailed down pretty well in your reply. The 1989 Evangelical Affirmation laid out three requirements or beliefs of evangelicals (at least as I understand it…someone correct me if I am wrong – In some ways Churches of Christ embrace all three. We embrace more fully two of them with a partial or limited embrace of the third. We would completely agree with the requirement of belief in the Gospel and acknowledgment of scripture as authoritative. The third belief is about the doctrines of the Bible where it gets tentative. The doctrine piece includes the apostles creed and other historical confessions of faith that many would not embrace. I think we would all embrace the apostles creed but what other confessions are included? Churches of Christ would want the sole emphasis to be on the scriptures themselves, where the apostles creed derived itself from and not start getting out to put the same authority on various non-inspired creeds and confessions.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Roger, thank you for bringing up this discussion. My best friend in High School was a pastor’s kid from the Church of Christ. It was during that time in my life that I gave my life to the Lord. I had many long discussions with him – and I was greatly influenced by him and his Church when I was young. I was baptized by him at a Church of Christ youth camp when I was more isolated from the broader community of believers. When I returned, I became very confused with my new situation and decided to study the Bible intensely in order to be able to make up my own mind about the various issues. My Senior Thesis on Baptism in your class (in 1993) was my first wrestling with that issue since my brief 2-week membership with the Church of Christ.

    Concerning your question about the Church of Christ and Evangelicalism, I agree that they largely don’t want the label. They are Christians and the true Church – they neither need nor want a lesser label. There may be individuals who are more open to a wider view of Christianity who may fit into the category of Evangelical quite nicely – and I am glad my friend is among them.

  • jb7456

    In the first place denominations aren’t biblical. A better word for them is divisions. The only description of the early church was where it was located “the Church at Corinth” etc.. We are all so far off the path that it’s fruits are seen every day.
    Here’s a matrix of what Satan has done to the Church…

    • rogereolson

      I’m not as down on denominations so long as they see themselves as mere instruments of the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of God itself and as long as they don’t claim exclusive possession of truth.

    • Kenny Johnson

      The irony, of course is that the Restoration movement have become something of denominations themselves — even if they don’t use that name.

  • Frazier Conley

    “By grace alone through faith alone.” As a Restorationist it has always seemed to me that if it is by God’s grace alone, then it cannot also be by one’s faith or by one’s faith alone. And vice versa. Paul said, “by grace through faith” which does seem cogent. Why should Paul’s debating points against the Judaizers (and their works salvation) be used against an ordinance that he himself advocated? If saving faith includes repentance then it seems logical that it could also include baptism. If it is only a disposition of the heart that is meaningful one wonders why the disposition of God’s heart was insufficient for humanity’s salvation–why our Lord had to shed actual blood on an actual wooden cross. Distaste for ex opere operato baptism is hardly grounds for running away from the true scriptural practice of it. And what of the pious unimmersed? I could not definitively pronounce on the eternal consequences for an otherwise pious Christian who refused the Lord’s Supper (and I have known at least one–an excellent woman). Why should anyone be censured for not definitively accepting someone who refuses the baptism of the Great Commission? Having said that, my opinion is that the exception does not nullify the rule. Give me God’s command and promise relative to baptism and I can hypothesize all I want on unusual circumstance exceptions. Baptism is part of the gospel, and, depending on one’s definition, it is therefore evangelical. (I don’t usually follow your blog, so maybe my little essay is not suitable to your discussions. If so, my apologies).

    • rogereolson

      Note the different wording of the formula: BY grace THROUGH faith alone. Grace is the efficient cause of salvation and faith is the instrumental cause. Faith is not a work; it is merely receiving the gracious offer of free salvation. It is admitting that there is nothing one can do to be saved and not resisting the work of grace reconciling one to God through Christ and imparting the Holy Spirit.

      • Frazier Conley

        Baptism is not a work of merit. Baptism is not a work of the baptizee. It is the work of God.

        • rogereolson

          Again, the issue is whether one can be saved without it.

        • What has always confused me is how people will emphasize belief and repentance, which are both active verbs in the New Testament but say baptism is the work, which is a passive verb “be baptized.”

          Baptism is the one submissive thing that happens but is called a work. I can’t help but think it is because in years gone by, and in some quarters today, was taught as if it was a work that earned salvation. In my opinion the conclusion that baptism is a work is not come to by solid exegesis but by responding to or reacting to those who used poor exegesis and preached accordingly. Something can be important or even necessary and not be a work that twists God’s arm and forces Him to save us.

      • Frazier Conley

        “By grace through faith” is indeed the efficient cause followed by the instrumental cause. Thus it is superfluous to add “alone” once, much less twice. Paul’s wording remains the proper expression.

        • rogereolson

          The “alones” had to be added (not to the NT but to doctrine) because of the medieval Catholic church’s tendency to add works to faith as a necessary instrumental cause of salvation.

      • CarolJean

        To do nothing, to not believe in Christ and then have Christ come to a person and tell them that they are saved…that would be an example of salvation without works! Receiving something, anything, is an action which can be conceived to be a work of sorts.

        I think some folks need to reconsider what a “work” is. Baptism is just a much a work as having faith in Christ and repenting of one’s sins is a work, imo.

        • rogereolson

          I disagree, of course, but I get your point. To me faith is simply admitting one is a sinner and receiving the gift of grace apart from any merit. Is receiving a gift (e.g., a sum of money needed to survive) a “work?” I have never heard it so described.

          • But opening the envelope might be, or putting it in your wallet might be considered work.

          • rogereolson

            I can’t imagine it.

          • CarolJean

            No, receiving a gift of money is not a work of merit but then neither is the washing away of sins at water baptism since it is the Spirit doing the work and the baptizee receiving the cleansing.

          • WS

            If repentant sinner is baptized. Does that qualify as a work?
            Since Acts 2:38 commands the repentant believers to BE baptized rather than to baptize, does this qualify as a work on the part of the repentant believer?
            I don’t think it can. It is passive voice not active voice. It would have been one think if the Bible said “Repent and go out an baptize…” then there might be a discussion here but the fact of the matter is it says for the person to BE baptized, a passive voice. It seems to me that upon careful reading that the salvation dilemma that many pose here could not be considered to even qualify as a matter of salvation by works. No one thinks that it is necessary to perform baptisms to be saved but rather it is a matter of being baptized. It kind of seems to throw the ball back into the court of sacramentalism, if anything at all. (Not that I think it does). Simply put, grammatically speaking, there seems to be no issue whatsoever with baptism even entering into the realm of the salvation by works controversy/heresy unless we were talking about the salvation status of the one doing the baptizing, which no one is.

  • I think the “heavy dose of baptism” phrase is extremely generous. If baptism is absolutely necessary for the remission of sins, then baptism becomes the cross. That is more than a heavy dose.

    • Frazier Conley

      Faith is absolutely necessary for the remission of sins, but it does not thereby become the cross.

  • Interesting article. I can only speak for myself, so here goes:

    If understanding believer’s baptism to be a biblical part of the salvific process disqualifies me from being an Evangelical, then I guess I’m not one and most people in Churches of Christ aren’t either.

    The majority of our fellowship holds to a sacramental view of baptism just like Catholics and Lutherans (though few would describe it that way), only we do not endorse infant baptism.

    That being said, I am not a sectarian, and personally consider myself an Evangelical. But if must choose between retaining my tradition’s understanding of baptism and the label “Evangelical”, I’m perfectly comfortable losing the label.

    Regardless of labels, I’ll still play nicely in the sand box with others.

    • rogereolson

      And that’s what’s most important among Christians. Whether one is “evangelical” or not is secondary to that.

    • Frazier Conley

      In the classic sense a sacrament operates without the faith of the recipient. This is foreign to the NT doctrine as well as Restorationist views.

      • rogereolson

        Well, at least Augustine said so (and the RCC after him says so).

      • By “sacramental” I mean that God does something in it – not that personal faith on the part of the individual is excluded.

        The requirement of individual faith is precisely why we don’t endorse infant baptism.

    • Richard

      Just one question for all evangelicals. Was Peter an evangelical (Acts 2: 38)?

      • Roger Olson

        Now you’ll have to define “evangelical.” 🙂

  • Roger, thanks for the question, and I have read the responses above with interest. As a minister in the church of Christ, I would like to pose the following question(s) for consideration. As the wording in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:38 is virtually identical to the wording of Jesus institution of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:28, are you suggesting that those who partake of the Lord’s Supper, or have a high view of the Lord’s Supper, participate in “works salvation?” If Jesus gave his blood “for the forgiveness of sins” how can it be inappropriate to quote Peter when he says that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins?” Second, if none of the New Testament writers equated baptism with a “works salvation,” and the apostle Paul was the writer most interested in baptism, how can modern day ministers who accent baptism be accused of “works salvation?” (Ref. Rom. 6:1-11) The modern book that I have found to be the best discussion of the theology of baptism was not written by a member of the church of Christ but by a Baptist – “Baptism in the New Testament” by G.R. Beasley-Murray. Everett Ferguson’s magnificent recent work “Baptism in the Early Church” is also a must read.

    Finally, I have read with a certain amount of amusement (given the accusations leveled against me and my “tribe,”) that the comments from members of the churches of Christ have been far more irenical than those who disagree with us. Does this indicate a shift in outlook from our cantankerous 50’s and 60’s? I don’t know, but speaking only for myself I accept anyone who claims to have been baptised, and as I teach and preach on the subject I let the Holy Spirit work on the heart of the individual. If they desire to be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins I will visit with them and make sure they are not doing so out of denominational affiliation or compulsion. If they are responding as the Ethiopian eunuch, then I respond with the marginal note of Acts 8:37, “if you believe with all your heart, you may.” It is between a person and their God, not according to my orthodoxy.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Beasley-Murray’s book is excellent. I am not familiar with the Ferguson book.

  • Reading the comments is simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. As a member and minister associated with the churches of Christ (non-instrumental) and having parents and (3 of 4) grandparents who were also active within the churches of Christ, I have quite a heritage going back many years (some to the later part of the Stone Movement in Southern Ohio). That is however completely beside the point. I find encouragement in the comments that are kind and seemingly honest in their study and scholarship. I find myself discouraged by accusations based on limited experience with those in the SCRM. We like everyone else have our “nutters.” Some claim to speak for the whole, but as many pointed out, there not an official position proclaimed by any hierarchy in the independent branches of Restorationalists. Labeling us evangelical, liberal, or fundamental as a whole is an exercise in futility.

    Now on to why I (me, myself, and only me) teach the importance of immersion as part of our faith response to God:

    Salvation is completely of God through the good news (gospel) of Jesus’ (Messiah / Christ) death, burial and resurrection (cf. Rom 1:16, 1 Cor 15:1-4). It is only in contact with His efficacious blood that any can claim redemption (cf. Eph 1:7). In my study I accept that immersion is not a work of merit to earn salvation, but like confession and repentance an integral part of faith’s response to God’s Grace. I should not that the apostle Paul connects the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ with immersion in Romans 6. Immersion like repentance and confession of Jesus as Lord and Master is the action of a slave humbly submitting to the one who directs his life. As Tim Archer (I think it was Tim) implied, immersion apart from faith is just a dunk in the water.

    I close appealing to the pleas of the early American restorationalists; I desire not to be anything but (nor claim any title but) Christian.

  • Alan Watson

    I have recently affiliated myself with the Independent Christian Church after preaching in the non-instrumental Churches of Christ for over 30 years. I am now preaching in an Independent Christian Church. My view is very simple. Jesus said ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ If I have someone tell me it’s not necessary to baptize people I have a decision to make. Do I listen to them or do I listen to Jesus. I choose Jesus. So in my message to non-Christian I always include baptism. The Bible says that when Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 he ‘preached Jesus’ to him. I have no idea what was in that sermon but the fact that the eunuch said, “Here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ certainly tells me one thing Philip taught anyway. Philip simply followed the words of Jesus and baptized the eunuch. I see no reason to change that message when I find disciples and teach them.

    As to someone’s eternity without baptism, thankfully my name isn’t ‘God’ and I don’t have to carry the burden of making that decision. That is one of the major reasons I went from the non-instrumental Churches of Christ to the Independent Christian Church because I have found much less judging and condemning in the ICC. Have I changed what I believe is the Biblical message of Jesus, one that includes baptism? No. Have I changed my attitude and judgmental way of thinking? Yes- thank God!

    • rogereolson

      Just to be clear, I have argued for a long time that baptism is necessary for full discipleship and even for calling oneself “Christian.” That seems clear to me from the New Testament and the Great Tradition. (Now, watch, I’m going to be attacked for that by Quakers and Salvationists!) I agree with those who say baptism is normally necessary for Christian discipleship and should be for church membership. My only quarrel is with those (and they seem to be numerous in the Churches of Christ) who say that baptism is necessary for salvation.

      • CarolJean

        What do you mean by “full discipleship”? Is it possible to be a partial disciple?

        • rogereolson

          Yes–a disciple in training. 🙂

  • This has been tackled over and over again in the past. Baker’s book Evangelicalism in the Stone-Campbell Movement addresses exactly this question as does Hughes piece in Variety entitled, “Are Restorationists Evangelical?” I don’t have the Hughes piece in front of me but I do have the Baker book. The conclusion is basically that it depends on whose definition of evangelical you go by but mostly, yes they are evangelical. I recommend anyone interested in this topic to read that book.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, it does depend on whose definition one is going by. This all started because I expressed the opinion that, as a whole, the Churches of Christ are not evangelical (note: in my opinion) because of their belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. I said there are exceptions. So, all I have done is express my own opinion based on my definition of evangelical and I have always said “with exceptions.” Max Lucado, in my opinion, is an exception. So is a local Church of Christ pastor and his congregation.

  • :)

    quick thoughts…
    If we include the Disciples of Christ in the mix that would definitely argue your point.

    I did a lot of growing up in TPCC, a prominant independant Christian Church. It was very easily describable as “evangelical” and it explicitly self-identified itself as such in the membership class. Its not definitive in itself, but its prominence suggests the sentiment might be shared by others in the North American Christian Convention.

    About coCs, in my experience they are faith alone in theory. They don’t consider Baptism a work. I’m not sure how that is supposed to fly, but in theory (if not finally) I think they pass that criterion, in regards to baptism atleast. Btw, you are likely to find many coC pastors who admit they suspect God will forgive those who never had a chance to get baptised.

    Further it is 2 totally different things to consider baptism a meritorious work and a necessary fruit of true salvation. Perhaps this a way out?

    Further still, the requirement to join a coC is likely not the concern per se. I suspect that it is rather that a person join the true Church, be baptised in the true Church. So, this occasional exclusivity would be the natural consequence of a definition error. Maybe the thought goes: They are the true church. Others churches are not them……. you follow. Easy error for anyone to make in an anti-intellectual culture.

  • ao

    Would N. T. Wright’s views on baptism exclude him from being “evangelical”? In his commentary on Romans, he argues that, from the Biblical perspective, we are justified when we are baptized. He also criticizes the Zwinglian perspective for being gnostic in its approach to distance anything physical (like water baptism) from being associated with salvation. Would that disqualify him?

    Or, from among Baptists, what about Robert Stein? Many from the Churches of Christ would agree with almost everything Stein says in his 1998 SBJT article on baptism. The one key disagreement would be that Stein argues that, while he thinks the Bible teaches that water baptism is the normal context for forgiveness of sins in the New Testament, someone can disagree with him on baptism and still be a Christian. Many Church of Christers would part ways with him there, believing that one cannot disagree with the CoC position on baptism and still be saved.

    But maybe this is a key difference. There are Christians who believe that the Bible teaches that water baptism is the context in which believers receive forgiveness of sins. Some of these Christians say, regardless of the correct Biblical understanding of baptism, one can be wrong about baptism and be saved (that seems like Stein). Others of these Christians say that one must be right about baptism in order to be saved (that seems like many, many, within the Churches of Christ, although that’s changing some, as many posters have already pointed out).

    Would Stein be an evangelical and CoCers not? Is the evangelical/non-evangelical issue really about the meaning of baptism? Or is it about what to do with people who disagree with you on the meaning of baptism?

    • rogereolson

      I know Bob Stein well. We were colleagues for 15 years. (He once told me he was an Arminian so I was surprised when Al Mohler hired him at SBTS!) I seriously doubt that Bob believes there is no salvation without water baptism. That’s my complaint about traditional Church of Christ/Independent Christian belief–it usually includes the teaching that water baptism is necessary for salvation. I would be very surprised to know that Wright (who I also know personally) believes that. Now, once again, as often, I will say I know there are many exceptions. My statement was that the Churches of Christ/Independent Christian Churches AS A WHOLE, AS MOVEMENTS, aren’t evangelical in our post-WW2 sense of the evangelical movement. Once you move out of that context “evangelical” can mean just about anything.

  • Brian

    Dr. Olson,

    Are you familiar with Luther’s statements about baptism in his small catechism (which I’ve pasted below)? Are you also aware that the church unanimously believed (until Zwingli) that baptism was the normative response to the gospel? Irenaeus even exclaimed that a “denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God” was a gnostic perversion. Faith is the sole means to the new birth, while baptism is the biblically prescribed (normative) occasion.

    “IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

    As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.


    What is Baptism?–Answer.

    Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

    Which is that word of God?–Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.


    What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

    It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

    Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.


    How can water do such great things?–Answer.

    It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

    What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

    It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

    Where is this written?–Answer.

    St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

    • rogereolson

      Again, as three times already this morning (!), for me the issue is whether one can be saved without baptism (e.g., before baptism). Luther was asked whether that was possible (somewhere in Table Talk) and his response was that, yes, a person (e.g., an infant) could be saved without baptism. But he requested that the person to whom he said this not tell people because some will use it as an excuse not to have their children baptized.

  • Krister S

    Fascinating topic, and look at the Restorationist friends engaging this challenging question. Love it. I thought I’d point you to a most insightful take from Richard Beck on “Why the CofC is not Evangelical”, in which he references Scot McKnight’s definition of Evangelical:

  • Tim Reisdorf

    This issue of baptism is really very slippery. In my view, the apostles/Biblical authors thought about salvation as a whole with many components. Repentance, forgiveness of sin, confession of Jesus as Lord, faith, the rite of initiation into the Church (baptism), membership into the Church, renouncing the devil and his works, and etc. When they spoke of one, they tended to mean all of them because they usually all went together. I don’t think they intended some sort of hard and fast formula because they didn’t express it like that.

    There is a problem, however, when some of the components become divisive. One never became a member of a local church. If we take the Bible in a formulaic sense, they are outside salvation. But that is not what was intended – though certainly activity in the local church was expected. Same with baptism. My own thinking is that baptism can actually be twisted in this “formula thinking” to be like circumcision was in Galatia. Baptism is a grandfathered-in and adopted rite of Christian initiation into God’s family. There is very useful imagery in going into the water and coming out of the water of baptism. It is a good teaching tool. Yet, I don’t think it is the only acceptable kind of rite of initiation (not that I have good alternatives). What I mean is this: it is not the particular rite of getting wet in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is important, but that there is a rite for entrance into the Holy Family.

    • J.R.

      I think at the end of the day one needs to separate what actually saves us from how we personally affirm our beliefs in it. That is why I am a firm believer that the best way to express it is to declare that Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient to save all men; essentially put he saved everyone upon His death and Resurrection. That is how we are saved, plain and simple. “Repentance, forgiveness of sin, confession of Jesus as Lord, faith, the rite of initiation into the Church (baptism), membership into the Church, renouncing the devil and his works, and etc.” are all ways we affirm our belief in what Christ has already done, but none of those things saves us; Christ saves us.

      • rogereolson

        The issue is what steps that we take are necessary for salvation. The problem many evangelicals (and others) have had with Restorationists is their traditional belief that baptism is such a necessary step.

        • J.R.

          I do not believe we can do anything to be saved. So, from that I would take issue with someone who demands I must be baptized to be saved since that implies Christ was not sufficient. My main point was that if we take a proper look at what actually does the saving then we come to realize that everything else is just an affirmation of our belief in His Saving Grace. Anything else is works salvation and only belittles the grace of God. However that being said I do believe in the importance of “Repentance, forgiveness of sin, confession of Jesus as Lord, faith, the rite of initiation into the Church (baptism), membership into the Church, renouncing the devil and his works, and etc.” since those things are good in enabling us to affirm our faith in Christ’s promise of salvation. If one refuses Baptism than do they not spit in the face of the One whose very death and resurrection saves them?

          • rogereolson

            I agree that a person who claims to be a Christian but refuses baptism is on dangerous ground. I compare water baptism to the wedding ceremony: water baptism is to the Christian life of discipleship what a wedding ceremony is to marriage. There can be a marriage without a formal wedding ceremony (in extreme cases), but that is not the norm. Baptism is the divinely ordained public vow of commitment to Christ and his church.

  • Rus Hooper

    Your post speaks of the heritage in which my faith in Christ was birthed, nurtured, and shaped. I have seen the worst and the best of this heritage. Just as you have described elsewhere the “baggage” you bring to the Bible, some in the Church of Christ also have similar baggage. Just as other SBC members cannot go with your “big tent” evangelicalism, there are soreheads and incorrigibles within this tradition, too, who would like to be the border chiefs of inclusion and exclusion (whether CofC, Independent Christian, or Disciples). Just as you would not like for certain ones at Southern Seminary to define what it means to be evangelical or Baptist (including or excluding you), so many in the Churches of Christ would not like to be confined by your question whether the SC heritage would fit as “evangelical” (or like for any border chiefs to describe who is validly Christian). My first reaction to your post was, “well of course the Churches of Christ would share the four or five commitments that evangelicals commit to.” But “evangelical” leaves much unsaid about the SC Restoration movement and may be too limiting with regard to Churches of Christ. Richard Hughes concluded that Churches of Christ have been becoming more and more evangelical. Is that entirely a good thing? In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. Too much that is worthwhile for the ecumenical church would be lost if the Churches of Christ were to be swallowed up by the evangelical movement.

    I have benefitted greatly from your writings, am a fan, and get others to read your books, too. I like and embrace your “both/and” emphases, post-conservative description, and centered set thinking, but also wonder what it would look like when your thinking is applied consistently to the questions surrounding baptism. You may share more consensus with the best representatives of Churches of Christ than this post indicates. (cf.

    Applying Chalcedon Christology to baptism, we may also find consensus. The relationship between God’s transforming work in baptism (gift of saving grace/immersion in the Spirit/forgiveness of sins/initiation into the kingdom) and the human practice of baptism (response of faith in God’s grace/immersion in water/reception of God’s forgiveness/entrance into the kingdom) is probably like the two natures in one person Christology. It is a mystery how they are related and made one, yet they are inseparably connected — a synergy rather than a monergy. God’s kingdom is where Creator and creation are being brought together as one — a new creation.

    We can perhaps summarize with prepositions about 2000 years of church history regarding the debates about the relationship of grace and its symbols with regards to sacraments. Four possible views have been advocated with regard to the relationship between God’s grace and its symbols: 1. God works BY the symbol (ex opere operato), 2. God works APART FROM the symbol (no relationship between salvation and baptism), 3. God works THROUGH the symbol (but not apart from it), and 4. God works IN CONNECTION WITH the symbol (they are inseparably related, but not humanly or magically controlled). In my estimation, the sectarians in the Churches of Christ have gone with option 3 regarding baptism, and ecumenicals in the Churches of Christ have probably gone more with option 4. (Robert Stein and George Beasley-Murray as Baptists appear to conclude a view like #4 as well).

    Everett Ferguson recently spoke at Wheaton ( and asked perhaps two more significant questions than whether Churches of Christ are “evangelical.”

    First, who in the early centuries dehydrated the new birth — the Great Church or the gnostics? For those who would reject water baptism today as having any connection to the new birth, who are truly their theological forbearers?

    And second, “Will the church that produced [myriads of faithful Christians] …will that church claim us as its heirs?” Perhaps ecumenical is a better category than evangelical (or paleo-orthodox, post-conservative, post-liberal, etc. etc.). Evangelical may be too limiting a platform for faithfully reconciling all God’s people in Christ for the long haul. With you, I agree that it is better to be big tent than small circle. Maybe your big tent “evangelical” circle is too small?

    Thanks for getting folks to think and discuss. Your blogs are very worthwhile.

  • So, if I’ve got this right, when asked what must I do to be saved, I am supposed to give a different answer than Peter gave. And if I give the answer Peter gave I am not a “Evangelical”. And if I agree with Peter when he says; “baptism now saves you” I am not a “evangelical”.

    However, if I tell you to “Pray Jesus into your heart” to be saved I am a “evangelical”.

    So, your telling me Francis Chan is NOT a “evangelical”?

    And all this is so I will be considered to be in a “Big Tent”?

    Well thanks for the judgement. But I think I prefer to be judged by the judge. And BTW, I don’t much care what you call me. I am a Christian.

  • Alan Watson

    “Just to be clear, I have argued for a long time that baptism is necessary for full discipleship and even for calling oneself “Christian.” That seems clear to me from the New Testament and the Great Tradition. My only quarrel is with those (and they seem to be numerous in the Churches of Christ) who say that baptism is necessary for salvation.” REO

    In one way or the other we are both saying ‘baptism is necessary.’ (Some Baptists would argue with your wording here as well.) In a world gone mad with secularism and decay, I am thankful for those of all faith groups who are turning hearts and minds toward Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Our semantics and arguments will vary (just as they do within faith groups that are the same) but if Christ is accepted as Lord and Savior in the hearts of a corrupt and lost generation then I thank God the Spirit is still working in our world through His people, wherever they may be found.

  • Roger,
    I am a young pastor of an independent Christian church. I’m not really sure what makes an “Evangelical” but I do have a great desire to see people saved. And as far as I can tell, I agree with what I understand an evangelical is. It is unfortunate about some of my Stone-Campbell brothers and their desire to stay away from certain organizations mainly to do with how they do “alter calls.” I have grown up in the Restoration churches and even when to a Restoration College and I have always experienced this growing up. This is sad especially because at the heart of the Restoration movement is supposed to be “unity.” Because the Stone-Campbell movement at its core has always had a desire to see unity among all churches no matter their denomination. They simply offered the first church as an example for all to follow. I would say that their thinking was to use it as the umbrella in which all churches could fall under. Of course this not to say that all other churches don’t use the Bible as their source or look to the New Testament and Acts as an example. As far as baptism is concerned, we do have to be careful in how we present it because we can become legalistic. I do believe that it is essential and in my church we practice it as the culmination of conversion much like some use the “sinners prayer.” In fact I just posted something on by blog about this topic. I firmly believe that one is saved by faith not by baptism. And as far as it concerns “when a person is saved,” I simply preach the gospel, and those who have faith we baptize and I figure God has the “saving” under control. While this may be different than others, this is what I believe and teach. Also I agree with what some one mentioned earlier, Dr. Jack Cottrell is a great resource on this subject. And I one final and “nerdy” note, I just finished your book “Arminian Theology” and I learned a lot from it. Thanks for the books and articles, I find them a great resource.

  • J

    While the role of baptism in RM churches is relevant to the question of evangelicalism, it is not the only or (necessarily the) definitive issue. CoCs are fairly diverse, but all but the most progressive explicitly deny sola fide. The baptismal function is associated with a faith + works model in the teaching of most CoCs, even when articulated as a passive expression of faith, not a meritorious work, as several noted above. There is also a general denial of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit prior to regeneration and a general denial of man’s sinful nature (though this would be admitted in certain circles and defined in various ways). CoCs are traditionally solidly semi-Pelagian, with some of their more prominent writers explicitly affirming such. While individual preachers and CoC congregations have moved in a more evangelical direction, the CoC wing of the movement is still pretty solidly outside the bounds of typical evangelicalism as a matter of choice.

    • rogereolson

      That’s also what I’ve encountered in conversations with Restorationists–that they tend toward semi-Pelagianism. Of course, there are exceptions. One of the problems with this whole conversation is that nobody speaks for all Restorationists or even any one branch of them. So we’re talking about historical tendencies, not magisterial pronouncements or even definite doctrines (as if they had a creed or something).

    • JR

      An interesting illustration of the way this issue has played out in Churches of Christ can be found in the story of Professor KC Moser, who took a stand against semi-Palagianism with some excellent books. In what was called the “Man or Plan?” debate, he came down firmly on the side that we are saved by Jesus Christ and not simply by following a pattern set down in a plan of salvation. Of course for this he was called a Calvinist, and presumably still would be by the traditionalist elements in Churches of Christ. Throughout Churches of Christ, however, his view has taken root deep within a large number of congregations.
      In the churches influenced by the Christian universities, however, salvation by grace through faith is what is taught and preached.
      I am speaking of what is probably a minority in Churches of Christ, but it is a visible, active strand that is likely to be the one you will encounter on, say, a blog like this. The conservatives would never be caught reading a Baptist blog in the first place!

      • rogereolson

        Interesting. That confirms much of what I thought. So, would it be safe to say the majority of Church of Christ folks believe some kind of works contribute to salvation–not just as a kind of error due to not being taught but as a result of what they were taught in their churches? I get the point that there is a progressive wing of the Churches of Christ that disagrees with that entirely and I am happy to include them as evangelicals (in the sense of the book to which I contributed that started this whole thread) if they want to be included.

        • JR

          Yes, the majority believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, although most are trying to find ways of formulating that belief that mesh somehow with the notion of sola fide. But this same majority is more in step with the broader evangelical culture, meaning that they read the same authors, listen to the same music, etc. I understand, though, that you are advocating a more robust definition of evangelical. So I’m not sure.
          The progressive wing can be labelled evangelical, I think, even if the majority would not use that term themselves.In a few years the situation might have changed, though. I had a professor at Abilene Christian tell us that he would never call himself an evangelical, and his objection was coming from the left, not the right. A sign of things to come?

          • rogereolson

            I don’t know what professor you mean, but I suspect he might be reacting to the neo-fundamentalist take over of evangelicalism (which I don’t think is complete). I would be shocked to learn that any professor at ACU doesn’t believe the minimally necessary doctrines to be counted as evangelical. But I am surprised by something every day which keeps things interesting!

        • I think that there is a major caveat to mention here. While the “majority” of CofCs are rural, traditional, and fit the profile of the hardline baptismal regenerationist, Roger’s observation in the post that the position is possibly changing quickly has to be confirmed. The rapid rate of decline among traditional CofCs has coincided with the deep-delving critical self-reflection of the last few decades, led by ACU profs. and the like. If we’re not counting heads, from my perspective as a native of a very middle-of-the-road stream of CofC life, these thinkers are certainly the most influential voice in a discussion about whether Restorationists are evangelical. And if we are counting heads, the shift is happening very quickly anyway.

          Yet, as you (Roger) have repeatedly emphasized, the issue is the definition of evangelicalism. So, if the question is whether this “mainstream” CofC holds to the view of baptism that qualifies as faith+, the answer is . . . it depends on who you’re talking to and just how you parse out the semantics. At least on the face of it, while many would have no desire whatsoever to label themselves evangelical, they would have a strong desire to affirm salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And this is why I don’t find the question “do they want to call themselves evangelical” to be a very helpful litmus–because the issue (in the post/book) is actually how they fit certain criteria, and by and large, they do want to fit those criteria (again, “they” is the mainstream). As I think the book referenced various times in these comments, Evangelicalism and the Stone Campbell Movement (which is actually two volumes) demonstrates comically, the answer may actually be that CofCs are evangelical whether they want to be or not. (If these volumes are representative, it seems that Christian Churches are far more inclined to be evangelical.)

          A few other observations while I’m at it (thanks for the post–it’s very engaging!). McKnight’s observation about the puzzling “spread into the mainline” is actually very relevant to this discussion. Precisely because CofCs (you’ll have noticed I’m not trying to speak for all Restorationists) have had no interest in being evangelical or anything else defined by a particular set of positions (not that they don’t have their own, but this sort of discussion of “are we [insert label]” is just what the Restoration was about avoid by virtue of literal-logical biblicism) allowed for a paradoxical sort of theological freedom. Admittedly, the movement swam in the same cultural waters as everyone else and split down the middle basically along the lines of the liberal/fundamentalist divide in the early 20th century. But the freedom from imperatives not to go in one direction or another (referencing McKnight’s comment) actually allowed for a kind of early post-liberal/post-conservative thought in serendipitous moments. So more than moving in a particularly mainline direction, some have been more “liberal” in the same sense that post-conservatives are more liberal. This is, I believe, largely because we were not especially committed to a conservative agenda in the programatic way that most evangelicals are/were. The result is a strange hybridity that encompasses a good deal of conservatism and a very strong kinship with evangelicals but makes room unselfconsciously for more liberal kinds of theological moves on a micro level (but among influential, i.e. academic, voices). That’s a shot at explanation, at least.

          Speaking for myself, that kind of freedom of thought is what I feel anxious about losing when the question arises as to whether I want to be an evangelical. As you mentioned just below, some of that reaction is specifically to characteristics of neo-fundamentalist evangelicalism. So, perhaps you would make the same caveat that I did above–they may be the majority (? it sure feels that way) but they don’t get to define the whole. My anxiety arises, however, because the CofC (being largely Southern) is succumbing rather unconsciously to the pull of cultural evangelicalism, which is strongly colored with the “takeover” you mention. In other words, the degree to which the mainstream CofC is evangelical is less a matter of its intentional conformity to your book’s criteria or the quadrilateral or whatever; and more a matter of cultural assimilation. Sure, that’s not the definition you’re working with, but it is actually how many arrive at the positions you do want to use, as JR said, by virtue of the same devotional literature, music, media-hyped culture wars, etc. This is far from all bad. If I could caricature a little, there are no few middle-aged CofCers who have woken up, walked into Sunday Bible class, and found themselves quite mysteriously discussing their interpretations in a far less sectarian, semi-pelagian mode.

          So, when I consider whether I want to be evangelical, it’s virtually impossible for me to contemplate that possibility apart from the real-world implications of that direction for the congregations I know–pop-evangelicalism is evangelicalism. As a whole, they aren’t implications that appeal. Add to this the preference for “freedom” to revisit conclusions such as the place of baptism (I like the reference to N. T. Wright above–exegetical theology continues to nuance/challenge systematic conclusions) or to reflect critically on 4th century Greco-Roman-world credal formulations, and I’m very hesitant to say yes. The CofCs are getting over biblicism, and doing so while maintaining a healthy skepticism toward pat positions from the outside (not saying evangelicals can’t have healthy skepticism, but it is different for a committed insider) places us in a position for really fruitful biblical theology as a movement (idealism, I know…). Finally, considering the best impulses of the Restoration Movement, which were toward a very big-tent Christianity (alas for derailing), there is narrowness the the self-definition “evangelical” (with all due respect, truly) that isn’t what we’re (theoretically) about. And if the label “evangelical” isn’t being used in the sense of “faithful Christian,” then my question is, why would I want to be labeled as such–what do I gain. If it’s the approval of a large, influential association or getting to be “in” with those who define American conservative Christianity, I can’t say that motivates much. But I may well be missing the point.

          Now, if you’re asking whether I want to be a post-conservative, theologically substantive, kingdom-oriented follower of Christ, then the answer is absolutely.

          Finally, getting back to the descriptive notion of evangelical, there is an important though somewhat accidental sense in which CofCs are shown to be evangelical in regard to the question about baptismal theology. The entire question, in both the post (I think) and throughout the comments, is in reference to what one might argue to be a defining characteristic of evangelicalism–namely, a particular view of salvation. The question is about whether one is “saved” by God at immersion or only “saved” by grace through faith. But the reference is to a soteriology that both hold in common, which is fixated on personal forgiveness and salvation from sin and hell. I get that it’s important for evangelicals to uphold grace-along/faith-alone and for CofCers to be committed to textual statements about baptism, and there is nothing wrong with splitting hairs when they matter, but it is splitting hairs when you step back and see the commonality regarding what the religion as a whole is about (which is why, sociologically, I think there is not way CofCs don’t get labeled as evangelical).

          Turned out longer than I’d intended. Sorry.

  • JR

    Churches of Christ have no denominational structure whatsoever, and that makes it difficult to nail down any real definition as to what we believe. I have been raised in progressive Churches of Christ my whole life, and I do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Period. I could stand at my church’s pulpit and say it without causing a stir.
    My congregation in Abilene, Texas is actively involved with local Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian congregations. We recently swapped preachers with a large Baptist church for a Sunday. We are eager to be a part of the larger life of the Church in our community and in the world.
    If you look at the newly trained ministers coming out of places like Abilene Christian University, you will be hard pressed to find a single one who tells you that baptism is necessary for salvation. You certainly won’t find a single professor in their grad school of theology who would say that. All would agree, though, that ‘baptism is necessary for full discipleship and even for calling oneself “Christian,”‘ as you stated yourself.
    If Churches of Christ had more of a denominational structure, they would have formally split several times over by now. There is so much diversity. But if you are talking about the churches represented by places like Abilene Christian, Lipscomb, or Pepperdine, then the old assumptions about beliefs concerning baptism (or women’s role or instrumental music, for that matter) just don’t hold water.

    As far as the “evangelical” thing goes, we’ve never had it and, frankly, don’t see the need for it. Many progressives in Churches of Christ are finding more kindred spirits in the mainline than the evangelical world. And besides, the movement has always been wary of labels.

    • J

      I think your observations about the inevitability of additional splits if there were more formal structures in the CoC are correct. Even without such formal structures, additional divisions are becoming increasingly apparent. Even those moving in a more “progressive” direction are going to be divided. My guess is it will largely be on the issue of women’s roles. While I would be/am viewed as “progressive” (or a heretic) by many of my CoC brothers, I find myself sharing more in common with many evangelicals on questions of the authority of scripture and the role of women within church ministry than many of my progressive brothers in the CoC. I think some of the latter have lost their ability to let scripture speak authoritatively for fear of returning to the shackles of legalism.

      • JR

        I think that the issue of the role of women in the church is one of the most visible factors in what is leading quite a few in Churches of Christ on the fast track out of fundamentalism and into the world of the progressive, mainline traditions. But as you alluded to, attitudes towards the authority of scripture are changing dramatically as well. I am comfortable with that, but I can see how even people on the progressive end of things are a little scared by what they see happening.

        Sorry for hijacking the comment section, Roger. Us Church of Christ folks love to talk about ourselves!

        • rogereolson

          Not a problem. I have encountered a few progressive Churches of Christ. A few years ago I was at a symposium with a Church of Christ pastor in Boston. It was apparent to me that his Church of Christ bore very little similarity with others I have known. I admitted to me that most other Churches of Christ will have nothing to do with him or his.

        • J

          I think that is an excellent point. The question of women’s roles is merely indicative of ongoing paradigm shift(s) and debates within the CoC, not determinative. I’ll confess, though, it makes things difficult for guys like me. I am a complementarian, and I sometimes feel there is no place for me, either with the strict traditionalist/conservatives among whom I live or with the progressive, egalitarians with whom I share much sympathy. I am too “liberal” for the conservatives (among CoC) and too “conservative” for the liberals, or so it seems. 🙂

          • rogereolson

            That probably puts you in the right place!

  • Roger,
    I think you have brought up some good points. I think that we need to continue this conversation within our movement (Restoration). This is what I am trying to do with my blog. I love my movement,. I am a pastor in an independent Christian church. I feel a great responsibility for it, and feel a great need to be a good leader not only for Christ but also for my movement. I want to see the Stone-Campbell movement continue to grow and be fruitful for the Lord. We are suppose to be a movement of unity but instead we have turned the guns on our fellow brothers in Christ and even on members of our own brotherhood. I would really love it if you had time to read over my blog and give me some thoughts. I’m a not great theologian, I’m just a Georgia boy who loves Jesus and loves the Bible.

    • JR

      In my experience, Christian Churches have been much less hesitant to embrace the culture and media of evangelicalism than Churches of Christ, both for better and for worse. I don’t know if you have enough experiences with Churches of Christ, but in your experience, would you say that is the case?

  • JR

    One last thing, then I’ll stop clogging up your comments, Roger.

    Here’s one significant difference. While most people in Churches of Christ are certainly politically conservative, I think that politics do not hold as important a place in Churches of Christ as in the evangelical world. I don’t recall ever seeing an American flag (or Israeli flag) placed behind the pulpit at a Church of Christ. Not that that doesn’t happen sometimes, but it just isn’t something we do. Could be a holdover from the pacifism that was pervasive in the tradition up until the period between the World Wars.
    Now I know you’re fighting to wrest the name evangelical away from the stereotypical Republican/Focus on the Family/700 Club image, but that’s the baggage you’re fighting against. Sorry, brother!

    Finally, sorry to J.R. I am JR, minus the periods. Didn’t mean to steal your name!

  • Frazier Conley

    Since 11 years of age I have been a member of the Restorationist movement, closely associated with all kinds of its ministers, writers, scholars, and other members. I have never heard a single one claim to be saved by his own works of merit or teach it. One and all they assert that the ground and basis of their salvation is the work of Jesus on the cross. The simplistic rhetoric of some of them smacks of works salvation, but not one holds that he is sinless and perfect in his conduct and can be saved apart from the cross of Jesus. Paul’s arguments in Romans and Galatians were against Judaizers, not the gospel sermons and examples of salvation in the book of Acts. Salvation through “Jesus + nothing” (that is, without condition, instrument, or means) is either salvation of everyone, salvation of no one, or salvation by the sheer arbitrary and capricious choice of God–none of which appears to be congruent with 99% of Scripture. “Jesus + faith” is not works salvation. “Jesus + repentance” is not works salvation. “Jesus + calling on his name” (confession) is not works salvation. “Jesus + baptism” is not works salvation. Just saying that it is does not make it so. The question is not whether one can be saved without baptism–whether there are unusual circumstances causing reasonable exceptions to the rule– (the rule being salvation in Jesus accessed by means of an obedient faith expressed in repentance, confession, and baptism), the question is, what is the rule. Give me the rule, you can have all the exceptions you want. God will one Day (positively or negatively) judge our treatment of his rule. I for one am not bold enough to say to anyone, “Oh don’t worry about baptism, you can be saved without it.”

    • rogereolson

      Your last sentence is belittling of my point. My question is whether a person can be saved BEFORE baptism–as in all those people who come forward at a Billy Graham (or similar crusade) and accept Christ by faith. What if one of them dies in a car accident on the way home and never gets baptized? Can he or she be saved and “go to heaven?” And what about all those people (millions upon millions of Christians) who were baptized as infants which, I assume, you, as a member of a Church of Christ, believe is not baptism at all? Can they be saved or not?

  • Norman

    As one who comes from many generations of churches of Christ I can attest to an exhaustive and long pedigree back to at least the Civil War.

    However I want to mention what sometimes gets overlooked in the Baptismal discussion, is whether it was considered as part of the signs and gifts accompanying the Holy Spirit. The time after Pentecost comprised the period of the Apostles and the laying on of hands which often bequeathed the signs of the miraculous to the early church. This era of the apostles may be equated with a period of a New Exodus in which was a time of trials and tribulations until the word became fully established and able to stand on its own without the miraculous signs and gifts. If Baptism can be demonstrated as having pertained to that apostolic era, then its original function and purpose may have ended with the Apostles and the miraculous gifts as well. We in the churches of Christ use this very argument against the Pentecostals regarding their present day tongue speaking.

    The churches of Christ are well documented to have recognized the ending of the miraculous such as tongues speaking but perhaps we may have missed the same implication for the purpose within the infant church for baptism as a temporary expression. This discussion though will not find traction within church of Christ circles because we have invested much in the appropriation and distinctiveness that Baptism has historically given us. However it would be interesting to understand how evangelical churches have arrived at their lesser application of baptism, especially in light of its strongly held application within NT scripture and evangelicals adherence strongly to patterns found within . I personally tend toward the evangelical model but that is my own personal opinion from my studies and yet I’m not concerned with being approved as a card carrying evangelical. 😉

    I consider Christ as the Head of the church worldwide and within it are many members whom bring a diversity of gifts and opinions. Some positions are weak, some strong but God only judges His servants and lifts us all up through our faith in Christ our redeemer.


  • Roger,

    I was unaware of this conversation till this morning. I had noted your perspective in the Four Views book on Evangelicalism. At some point whether one uses the label “Evangelical” or not is secondary to me as it is to you–being Christian is certainly more important. At the same time, there are some within the Stone-Campbell tradition who embrace the label Evangelical, others who do not, and others who don’t care. We are a diverse bunch.

    I have attempted to write a few things that (1) seek to bridge the gap between “Evangelicals” (more specifically Southern Baptists) and people among Churches of Christ and (2) develop a “kinder, gentler” (which is dangerous language) but biblical understanding of baptism among Churches of Christ.

    The first is available on my website entitled “Consensus Tigurinus and Baptismal Rapprochment Between Southern Baptists and Churches of Christ” ( The second is my book with Greg Taylor “Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Power” which is directed more toward members of Churches of Christ.

    I can see the discussion has gone long enough and while I have not read most posts, I think your ponit about the absolute necessity of baptism is on target. Alexander Campbell, for example, did not think baptism absolutely essential to salvation. In his debate with the Presbyterian N. L. Rice, he said: “I do not make baptism absolutely essential in any case” (p. 519).

    As I have said before to you, I appreciate the movement toward post-conservatiave perspectives that you encourage.

    John Mark Hicks

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for weighing in, John Mark. I respect your point of view highly. I am being made aware as never before of diversity among Church of Christ folks. I guess my comment in the Four Views book was aimed at a traditional view that may be dying out. I have been told by several former Church of Christ members (who became Baptist) that in their Churches of Christ they were taught that persons only baptized as infants are not saved EVEN IF they have full faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That’s my real concern here. What is our view of people without believer baptism? I venture to say that the vast majority of evangelicals (99.44%?) would say they are saved if they have placed their trust in Jesus Christ. I’m trying to figure out if there is any kind of consensus among Church of Christ folks about that today. Are my friends who left the Church of Christ wrong about what they say they were taught? Is that just one opinion among several available to Church of Christ folks? Is there a consensus among Church of Christ folks beyond “Baptism is important?”

      • Norman


        Yes, you are probably about 10 to 15 years behind the times on our trend concerning baptism. You are possibly beating a dead or dying horse. 🙂

        To provide some anecdotal background I am a part of the eldership of a fairly large church of Christ in south Texas; we have around 25 variations of church of Christ congregations in our local county. The other 24 together may not match our single progressive congregation in membership so the trend is not good for the older generation of churches of Christ that you may be getting feedback from. I expect this trend to continue into the future until we eventually see little distinction between a congregational church of Christ and a congregational Baptist church.

        However presently the core old time church of Christ adherents will still dogmatically adhere to some form of Baptismal regeneration even within our progressive congregation. This is less evident to an outsider though because our congregation is made up of about a 50/50 split between those raised in the church of Christ and those who have joined from other heritages. Given time the trend appears in place for this issue to disappear within the next 20 years when demographic changes and those adhering to the old ways sleep with their fathers.

        By the way one of the quickest means of turning a staunch church of Christ adherent around on this discussion is for their children to marry someone outside the church of Christ. They then have to grapple with the implications for their children and grandchildren regarding their thinking on Baptism regeneration. Somehow they tend to drop the hardline edge along the way.


  • Roger,

    Among Churches of Christ you will find diverse answers to your question about believers without believer’s baptism. Some will regard them as brothers/sisters and some will not. Diversity is wide-ranging on this question. It is an intramural discussion among us–and it has always been present within our literature (as Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone both recognized the transforming work of the Spirit among believers who were baptized as infants).

    However, I think the consensus among Churches of Christ beyond “baptism is important” is that God does something through baptism. The emphasis is on what God does through this means. Historically, as with Alexander Campbell himself, it becomes very much Calvinian (I avoid “Calvinist” because it is not about TULIP) over against Zwinglian (traditionally understood) in its understanding of the design/purpose of baptism. Baptism is a true means of grace; it is the ordinary response of believers to the gospel through which believers participate in the gospel.

    The consensus within Churches of Christ (as much as a non-creedal community can have a consensus), in my opinion, is that baptism is part of the conversion narrative and that baptism–rather than the 19th century mourner’s bench or the 20th century “sinner’s prayer”–is the ordinary response of believers to the gospel. At the same time, among many in Churches of Christ there is a recognition that faith is more important than baptism and that faith is the fundamental means of salvation. The consensus would content that baptism participates in the means of faith and God promises/offers efficacious grace (by faith) through baptism.

    I appreciate your work very much and value your leadership in the Evangelical community. I hope this is helpful in some way.

    John Mark Hicks

    • rogereolson

      That’s very helpful and I won’t pester you any more. I obviously have much to learn about contemporary Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches and will remain open to correction. If what you and many others here have said is correct, I expect to see greater engagement between progressive Restorationists and other evangelicals. I do think most evangelicals will find it difficult, however, to accept anything other than the personal response of repentance and faith as “part of” initial salvation. (Admittedly many evangelicals do practice infant baptism, but most of them do not see it as part of salvation; it functions rather as initiation into the people of God and perhaps a sacrament of prevenient grace.)

      • WS

        I think it was David Lipscomb a preacher in Nashville of the Church of Christ back in 1921 in a book called “Questions and Answers” (that may be incorrect title) who explained the commonly held historical Church of Christ point of view: (Utilizing the KJV, of course) One believes UNTO salvation, one repents UNTO salvation, but one is baptized INTO Christ. He made an argument that I find very helpful in understanding his CofC point of view on the subject that I thought was very cogent. He viewed Faith and Repentance as preparatory the same way a person perhaps would get dressed in the morning and drive to work but that person is not actually at work until they walk through the door. Seemed like a reasonable position to me, personally. I can find no fault with views like this, it’s some of the other views held by the mainstream CoC that don’t seem to match up with the Bible. But we are all learning. I am thankful for this informative post, too bad I got here so long after the conversation was had. Thank you to all for sharing your points of view.