13.) Do we recognize that the “New Birth” that Jesus was speaking of to Nicodemus is not merely water baptism, and when are people going to require that their leaders present evidence (in their lives/actions/speech) that shows that they have experienced the New Birth?
Whether or not the Churches of Christ have put an over-emphasis upon baptism through the years, our preaching and teaching regarding the institution have been more anthropocentric oriented than theocentric. We reduced it to a legal duty, or a meritorious act, that concentrated more on the human side than the divine. One evidence of this has been the number of people in later years who wanted to be rebaptized because they say they lacked knowledge when they were originally baptized.
Certainly we have not emphasized that baptism is a divine act of grace whereupon God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit so as to transform us into the image of Christ. It is not a legal duty, but is to be an expression of faith submitted to joyfully and thankfully for God’s grace and love in sending His Son that we might be saved, having our sins washed away, and it is an occasion which externally announces to others our desire to please God and transform our lives. Primarily though, it is an institution where God does something for us, not us for Him.
Back in the early 1800s when Walter Scott came up with his five-finger illustration of salvation he did us both a service and a dis-service. He helped us to clarify the response of man to God’s grace, but over the years the emphasis began to be put upon a lock-step plan and man’s duty to comply with it rather than God’s grace and that Christ is the savior, not our ability to comply with the plan. By the way, we changed brother Scott’s steps over the years. His were faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. It was changed to faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and remission of sins. Even here is evidence of making salvation human centered.
As to leadership I see changes occurring and coming. Unfortunately, as is often the case in legalistic bodies, change comes about in a turbulent way with a lot of ache and pain rather than in a loving, orderly, reasonable, scriptural way. Legalists have little room for tolerance and they tend to react out of fear to any challenging or questioning of the status quo and create a crisis. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by some of the change that is occurring.