Jerry C. Brewer
Anyone who has studied the New Testament and reads the Standard Manual for Baptist Churches is immediately struck by the great differences between them. Baptist theologians and preachers stoutly proclaim their devotion to the Scriptures but deny them in their faith and practice. That is illustrated by the following comparison of the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion by Philip in Acts 8 with his conversion if Philip had been a Baptist preacher. That true account is recorded by Luke:
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39).
The eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 aloud when Philip approached the chariot and asked him if he understood what he was reading. That chapter was a prophecy of the humble, suffering Messiah at His arrest and illegal arraignment before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. It describes His humiliation and death as a common criminal.
The eunuch admitted that he needed help in understanding the passage and invited Philip to sit in the chariot with him. He then asked Philip if Isaiah was writing of himself or someone else. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” What does it mean to “preach Jesus?” Preaching is aimed at producing a Bible result, so we may determine the meaning of the phrase by looking at the result produced by preaching Jesus.
Before Philip went to the Gaza road and intercepted the eunuch, he preached in Samaria. “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). What he preached in Samaria was the same thing. To preach Christ in Samaria was the same as preaching Jesus to the eunuch. His preaching of Christ in Samaria included preaching the kingdom of Christ and His authority. “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). The kingdom of God is the church, as Jesus explained (Matt. 16:18-19), and “the name of Jesus Christ” referred to His authority (Matt. 28:18; cf Col. 3:17). Christ’s authority as God’s spokesman (Heb. 1:1-2) and His church—which includes His reign as head over it (Eph. 1:22-23)—were comprehended in the phrase, “preached Christ unto them” and those same things were included when Philip “preached Jesus” to the eunuch. Furthermore, it is obvious that his preaching included baptism for the remission of sins which Jesus commanded and Peter preached on Pentecost (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38) since that was the result in both cases.
Now consider the scene if Philip had been a Baptist preacher.
When the eunuch read the Isaiah passage and asked of whom the writer was speaking, Baptist Philip “opened his mouth” and preached unto him the Baptist version of Jesus which rejects baptism in order to the remission of sins. But upon coming to a certain body of water, the eunuch—failing to comprehend baptism in the Baptist scheme of things—said, “I want to be saved. What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Baptist Philip said,
Baptists believe that only penitent believers are scriptural subjects for baptism. Only such as have repented of sin, believed to the saving of the soul, been saved by divine power, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, created anew in Christ Jesus, converted to God, are prepared to receive the ordinance. Baptists believe that no one is a scriptural subject for baptism till he is already saved. All well-informed people know that we teach this: then upon what ground can they say we believe baptism essential to salvation? We believe it is a positive command, enjoined upon the believing, saved soul (J.G. Bow, What Baptists Believe and Why They Believe it, ND, The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, p. 33).
Baptist Philip continued: “You have made the same mistake that a lot of folks make. You associate baptism with salvation. I can tell you now that baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is necessary.”
“Not essential, but necessary?” asked the eunuch. “Isn’t that a contradiction of terms?”
“Not at all” Baptist Philip replied. “You see, Baptism is not essential for being saved, but it is necessary to get you into the Baptist Church.”
“You mean I can be saved and go to heaven without being in the Baptist Church?” the eunuch asked.
“That’s right,” Baptist Philip replied.
“Then,” said the eunuch, “it’s easier to get into heaven than it is to get into the Baptist Church.”
“Well,” drawled Baptist Philip, “I wouldn’t put it that way. What we’re saying is that you need to be in the Baptist Church and give your money to help us. After all, we have expenses, and car washes and rummage sales just don’t raise enough money to keep us going—especially to pay our Pastors’ salaries.
The eunuch thought it over for a while, then said, “I’m penitent, I repent and I believe. I’m already saved by what you have told me. I feel like the Holy Spirit has regenerated me and now understand that baptism is not essential to salvation. And, I want to help pay salaries for Pastors and build nice buildings. Now can I be baptized?”
Baptist Philip smiled at him and said,
There are three classes of candidates, and modes of reception to membership [and one of those is] “By baptism—The church having listened to the religious experience of the candidate, and being satisfied with the same, and with his Christian deportment, votes to receive him to its fellowship, on being baptized. (Edward T. Hiscox, Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, 1903, American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia. pp. 19, 23).
“Okay,” the eunuch said, “now that I’m saved I want to join your church by baptism in this water.”
“You don’t hear so well, do you?” asked Baptist Philip. “Listen again: The church has to hear your religious experience and if they are satisfied with what you relate to them, they will vote you into membership. However, while you cannot become a member without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits you to its fellowship on receiving baptism” (Hiscox, p. 22).
“Ah,” said the eunuch as a Baptist light bulb appeared above his head, “I get it now. Where can we find a Baptist Church to vote me in?”
“That’s difficult to answer,” Baptist Philip said. “We had better try to find one at Gaza, although I am not sure one is there. There is nothing in Jerusalem but churches of Christ and a bunch of apostles and they all preach that a person can be baptized any time “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) which adds him to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47). Can you imagine? No vote or anything!”
So the eunuch did not command the chariot to stand still. Instead, they passed by a certain body of water since Baptist Philip could not baptize him without a vote of a Baptist Church. The Spirit did not catch Baptist Philip away and the eunuch had no reason to rejoice, so they both went on their way toward Gaza on a much wider road described by the non-Baptist version of Christ as “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction” (Matt. 7:13).