Somewhere in Richmond recently I saw a van advertising “The Bible Answer Man” along with a telephone number that I quickly entered and stored in my cell phone. That’s useful information: you never know when you’re going to need a biblical answer to a difficult question. As I was scrolling lazily through the numbers on my cell phone yesterday afternoon I saw that one, which I had entered as “Bible Ans,” and decided to give him a call.
I needed an answer.
On Friday of last week I had stopped by the home of a church member who was upset about the idea of changing our membership requirements to include Christians from other denominations who have not received believer’s baptism by immersion. I wanted to listen carefully, to hear what it was in all this discussion that was troubling him. He said that what it came down to, finally, was obedience to Scripture, that if the Bible says we should baptize believers by immersion then that’s what we should do, and if anybody wants to be part of a Baptist church they should get in the water, not because it’s some man-made membership requirement, but because it’s what the Bible teaches!
He said all this without anger, but he said it with conviction, with so much conviction that I drove away from his house determined to look into the matter further. Would a change in our membership requirements really be a departure from Scripture? If I had suggested that we stop making disciples or that we start baptizing babies that would be one thing, but church membership would be another, and I wasn’t sure the Bible said anything about that. So I called the number I had stored in my phone and someone picked up right away.
“Is this the Bible Answer Man?” I asked.
“Sure is,” he said, with a friendly drawl. “How can I help you?”
“I’m wondering about baptism,” I said. “Can you tell me what the Bible says about it?”
“Well, baptism comes from a Greek verb that means ‘to immerse.’ It means to bury you under the water and raise you up to new life.”
“That’s what we believe at my church,” I said (I didn’t tell him which church). “But what about people who haven’t been baptized that way? Can they still be considered real Christians?”
“Of course they can,” he said with a snort. “Baptism doesn’t save you! What matters is what’s in your heart, you know? Do you love Jesus? Have you been born again? That kind of thing.”
“I’m just asking because at my church we’re trying to decide whether Christians from other denominations can be members without being re-baptized. Does the Bible say anything about church membership?”
He had a lot to say about that, mostly about how, in the Book of Revelation Jesus speaks to the church (singular) in Pergamum, Thyatira, Laodicea, etc. “It’s not the churches,” he said. “It’s just the church. Like when Paul writes the letter to the Romans he addresses it to ‘the church in Rome.’ All those people there and only one church! That’s why, when people ask me what church I belong to, I tell them I belong to ‘The Church in Richmond.'”
“But you could go even further than that, couldn’t you?” I asked. “I mean, Jesus only has one church doesn’t he?”
“That’s true,” the Bible Answer Man agreed.
“And don’t you think he knows who belongs to his church and who doesn’t?”
“It’s been a pleasure talking to you,” I said.
“Same here,” said the Bible Answer Man. “Call me again sometime!”
Maybe I will the next time I’m looking for answers from the Bible, or even the next time I just need something to blog about. Either way, I’m keeping his number on speed dial.