May 1981

God's End Of The Stick

Robert F. Turner

Recently a lady asked what she should tell a friend who had proposed the old "died-on-way-to-baptistry" question. I answered, "Don't tell her the subject is lost." She looked a bit surprised, but I was not finished. "And don't tell her the subject is saved." Now she was even more puzzled so I added, "We have no right to whittle on God's end of the stick!"

Truth is, God promised remission of sins at the point of genuine submission to Christ in baptism (Mk. 16: 16, Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6:4-f). We have no part in setting up the rules, nor in making final judgments. That is God's end of the stick. All we can do is teach what God's word says; and trust the Holy Spirit, through that instrument, to generate in the hearer an obedient faith. It is rank presumption to suppose man can make exceptions, or do a better job of judging than can God. We are completely "out of our league" in such matters.

If we say the subject is lost we often play into the hands of a prejudiced querist who wanted such a reply as justification for rejecting "those Campbellites who play God." If we say the subject is saved the same prejudiced person may think this is justification for "faith only" or the like. Far better we take the discussion back into the scriptures, and make it clear that this is all we, or anyone, can know about God's business.

Exactly the same attitude must be taken toward questions about sinning, and dying before one can recognize, repent, and ask forgiveness for sins. Our end of the stick calls for a present active walking in the light, involving a present active confessing of our sins (1 Jn. 1:7-9). The grammatical construction, as well as the general context, point to a habitual course of conduct; as in 1 Jn. 3:5-9. Contingent upon this, God promises the blood of Christ "cleanseth (present active) us from all sin." This is what God's word says, and I teach it. But God must judge the validity of one's baptism, and God must judge the validity of one's life. I must not try to whittle on His end of the stick. It seems significant that in the very middle of these inspired statements John says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

There are times when, on the basis of "fruits," we must judge one's baptism and life — to determine those with whom we can have the kind of fellowship inherent in congregational activities (Acts 19:1-5, 1 Cor. 5:1-f). There is no way, nor reason, to avoid such judgments. But there is every reason to strive for righteous judgments (Jn. 7:24); and, to realize our judgments are not infallible. We may reject one whom God receives, or receive one whom God rejects. Final and irrevocable judgment is God's end of the stick, and we must not try to whittle on that end. Remembering this should keep us humble while rendering such judgments as are necessary.

There is nothing more foolish than for brethren to try to shape God's end of the stick — unless it is for brethren to make a "brotherhood issue" over the shape we should give it. Little children, grow up!!