Was Alexander Campbell's Baptism Invalid?

Ezra, The Scribe

Perhaps you are wondering why one would even dare ask such a question as this. Really, as this scribe shall proceed to show, the reason is quite simple.

Conspicuous in Church of Christ circles today is a generally held opinion that unless a person has been specifically baptized for the remission of sins, understanding that such is the purpose for baptism and that one is not saved until he is baptized, his baptism is invalid. Hear Thomas B. Warren, one of the more vocal proponents of this opinion, on this matter. He states on page 99 of his book, The Bible Only Makes Christians Only and the Only Christians, that the "right subject" for baptism is:

a penitent believer in Jesus Christ, who realizes that he is lost and that he must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. (This means that he must realize that he does not pass through the door which enables him to leave the state of being lost and to enter the state of being saved without being baptized in the name of Christ.)

Then again, on page 100 of the same book, he asserts:

If one is "baptized" (undergoes some religious acts involving water) without understanding that being baptized in the name of Christ is an act of faith which is essential to salvation, then he is not saved, because he has obeyed a mere human doctrine and not the doctrine of Christ.

In other words, as per Warren, to be baptized out of a desire to follow our Lord's example is not sufficient. To be baptized out of a desire to please the Lord is not good enough. And not even to be baptized out of a desire to obey one of our Lord's commands (as set forth in Scripture) is sufficient. Rather, one must understand a particular thing about baptism: That it is for the remission of sins, and that a person is lost until he is baptized. If this is not clearly understood, then a person is lost, even if he was baptized out of a desire to obey the Lord's command to be baptized.

What does all of this have to do with Alexander Campbell's baptism? Quite bluntly, as per Warren's representative views of current Church of Christ opinions concerning baptism, Alexander Campbell, as well as his father, Thomas Campbell, never entered into "the state of being saved." In other words, both of the Campbells, based upon the known facts concerning their respective baptisms, are undeniably and irrevocably lost. Does that sound incredible to you? Well, here are the facts concerning the Campbells' baptism.

On June 12, 1812, having arrived at the conclusion that infant baptism was without Scriptural authority, and that immersion was the only Scriptural mode of baptism, Alexander Campbell was immersed, along with six other people, including his father, mother, and wife, upon the simple confession that "Jesus is the Son of God." As has been pointed out by more than one source, at the time of their immersion, they did not perceive any connection between baptism and the forgiveness of sins, and there was apparently no verbal reference made to the forgiveness of sins on that occasion. Not only that, but in spite of this fact, neither Alexander nor his father ever felt the necessity to be re-immersed when, a few years later, their understanding of the relationship between baptism and forgiveness of sins became more complete.

So, there you have it. Based upon the known facts concerning the baptism of the Campbells, and based upon current Church of Christ opinion with regard to baptism, as represented by the above quotes from the pen of Thomas Warren, the baptism of Alexander Campbell, as well as that of his father, was indeed invalid. Not only that, but since, as far as it is known, neither of them were ever re-immersed with the "correct and proper" understanding that baptism is for the remission of sins, and that one is lost if he is immersed without that "correct and proper" understanding, then it must follow that neither Alexander nor Thomas Campbell ever entered into "the state of' being saved."

Who can prove it? Well, for one, this scribe cannot! It is one thing to say that the purpose of baptism is "for the remission of ins" ("'so that your sins may be forgiven" - NIV, 1973), but quite another thing to say that "for the remission of sins" is part of a baptismal formula which must be said over the one being baptized. And, it is quite another thing to say that the purpose of baptism must be understood in its full significance by the one being baptized (that is, that the person being baptized understands that he is not saved until he is baptized). That the purpose of baptism is "for the remission of sins," rests upon an express statement of Scripture. That "for the remission of sins" is part of a baptismal formula that must be repeated over the one being baptized, has no express statement of Scripture to rest upon, and thus is, at best, only a speculation or opinion of man. The same is true with regard to the claim that the one being baptized must understand that he is not saved until he is baptized. There is no express statement of Scripture which indicates such, and thus it is only a speculation or opinion of man.

Not only this, but to say, as did Warren, that to be baptized "without understanding that being baptized in the name of Christ is an act of faith which is essential to salvation" is to have "obeyed a mere human doctrine and not the doctrine of Christ," defies the very "logic" that Warren is so enamored with. It is beyond this scribe as to how not understanding the full significance of a divine command suddenly changes it from a divine command into a human command. Likewise, it is beyond this scribe as to how not understanding the full significance of a divine command makes it any less an act of obedience when, upon seeing the command, one seeks to obey it.

Thus, Thomas Warren and current Church of Christ opinion notwithstanding, to answer the question raised in this essay, in spite of the fact that Alexander Campbell did not understand at the time of his baptism that one does not "leave the state of being lost and...enter the state of being saved" until he is baptized, the conclusion drawn by this scribe is that Campbell's baptism was NOT invalid, but rather, quite valid. However, this is true not just of Campbell. You see, it is likewise true of anyone who is baptized out of a desire to obey the divine command to be baptized, regardless of the particular denominational environment that it may have occurred in; and regardless of his understanding as to what point salvation comes in relation to the act of baptism. After all, in an express statement of Scripture, we have a record of where our Lord himself said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."