I received this note recently and I would like to respond to it publicly because I think this view is shared by many:
I am a Christian who worships with the churches of Christ, however, I do not believe that those in other churches will go to hell for not believing like I do. I do believe that there are some people who are obviously in error, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and others who either deny Jesus is God’s Son or directly contradict fundamental doctrines like the Trinity or sole authority of Scripture. But I do not believe that musical instruments, communion, and different views on baptism are damnable offenses. Most of those in other groups believe, for instance, that baptism should be practiced and that it is wrong to purposefully not do it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe any baptized believer who truly relies on Jesus for their salvation is a member of the Lord’s church. Just wanting to know your thoughts, I enjoy your articles very much.
I appreciate very much the honesty, sincerity, and love in which this note was written. And again, I think this viewpoint is shared by many. I will try to approach this topic very humbly and sensitively, so please forgive me if I ever seem to come across in any other way.
1. Do People in Other Churches Deserve to Go to Hell?
First, I want to respond to the statement, “I do not believe that those in other churches will go to hell for not believing like I do.” I think this reveals a fundamental – a widespread – flaw in our theology. People will go to hell for one reason, they have sinned (Romans 6:23). Because we have all sinned, we all deserve to go to hell (Romans 3:23).
Atheists and agnostics deserve to go to hell. Jews, Muslims, and Hindus deserve to go to hell. People in every denominational church deserve to go to hell. And, YES, even New Testament Christians (i.e. members of churches of Christ) deserve to go to hell. We all deserve to be condemned! We have all already committed, “damnable offenses.” All of us have!
Jesus Christ is the only solution to that problem. Becoming His disciple and hiding ourselves in Him is the only way we will escape eternal condemnation (Romans 8:1).
2. Is Every Baptism Valid?
When I read Scripture, I come to the conclusion that baptism is an essential part of God’s plan of salvation. It is emphasized in the gospel accounts (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:5), in the book of Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:26-38; Acts 22:16), and in the epistles (Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). Scripture is not ambiguous when it comes to the purpose for baptism. Baptism is an immersion in water “for the forgiveness of sins.” It is an act of faith, at which point God washes the sins of man away through the blood of Jesus Christ.
A person can get wet for lots of reasons. As a kid, I immersed myself in water because my mother told me to take a bath. I sometimes immerse myself in a swimming pool because I want to cool down. If two teenagers are “dunking” each other in a swimming pool, they are doing so because it is fun. The thing that separates these immersions from baptism, is the reason for the immersion. So, the reason a person is immersed is absolutely pivotal in this discussion.
The biblical reason for baptism is clear, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). If a person is baptized for any other reason – even an admirable or religious reason – it is simply not Christian baptism. I honestly admire the obedience of those who say, “I’m already a Christian and baptism has nothing to do with salvation, but I want to be baptized because the Bible says I should do that.” That is such an admirable attitude, but that is different than the biblical pattern. In fact, to say that baptism has nothing to do with being saved is a direct contradiction to Scripture (1 Peter 3:21).
I love my friends who are baptized because they want to be obedient, but I cannot pretend their teaching is in harmony with Scripture. Consider this for a moment:
- Man is lost because he has sinned (Romans 6:23).
- Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from sin (John 14:6).
- The Bible indicates that Jesus Christ washes man’s sins away and saves him at the point of baptism (Acts 22:16; Romans 6:1-7; 1 Peter 3:21).
- Therefore, if man is not baptized – according to the biblical pattern – he is still in his sins.
It seems to me, God will not condemn someone because they were not baptized for the right reason. He will condemn them because they didn’t follow His plan to be saved from sin. He will condemn them because, according to Scripture, they are not yet in Christ and are still in their sins.
If you are reading this and were baptized for any other reason than the biblical reason, I would implore you to surrender yourself fully to God and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Consider the example of Acts 18:24-9:7. These twelve men (as well as Apollos) believed in Jesus and had been baptized, but their baptism was not in keeping with the truth. Therefore, the only thing for them to do was to be taught the truth more accurately and be immersed again, this time for the right reason.
3. Will We be Condemned for Not Worshiping Right?
The second part of this issue is the idea of our worship. If a person is a Christian, can he lose his salvation because he is not worshiping correctly? Let’s look to Scripture.
In Corinth, there were lots of problems going on. Many of these problems dealt with their public worship. Paul corrected problems dealing with the way they dressed in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), the way they participated in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34), the orderliness of their assembly (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), the role of women in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:33-35), as well as many other issues. This tells me at least one thing for certain, the way we worship God is extremely important. If it were not important – if it really didn’t matter eternally – why waste time correcting these issues?
How can we look at God’s word and say it doesn’t matter how one worships? How can we say we can do whatever we want and call it worship? How can we say disobeying God’s word does not put our soul in jeopardy?
I am not God. I will not pretend to know at what point a congregation’s lampstand is removed (Revelation 2:5). But it is obvious from reading Revelation 2 and 3 that not every congregation of people claiming to be Christians are actually following Christ. As I’ve said many times before, it isn’t a name on a building that makes a congregation a part of the Lord’s church. A congregation belongs to the Lord if they are following Him in faithful and humble submission.
There is much more that could be said about this issue, but I will conclude by saying again, I am not the judge. All I can do is preach and teach God’s word to the best of my ability and understanding. It is Jesus Christ who saves and it is by His word that we will all be judged (John 12:48).
Jesus Christ is the savior of His church (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore, make sure you are in Christ and in His church, because in Him there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
I love you and God loves you,