> Water Baptism = Salvation
International Church of Christ
The International Church of Christ
(hereafter: ICC) also known as The Boston Church of Christ,
was started by a University of Florida student, Kip McKean. The ICC
publication First Principles informs us:1
It was at this moment that God raised up Kip and Elena McKean to start a movement that has spread around the world to every major city in only 12 years. Beginning in 1979 with a small church of 30 in Boston, Massachusetts, God grew the Boston Church of Christ to a Sunday attendance approaching 5,000 at the famed Boston Garden…. (29).
The International Churches of Christ are a family of Christian churches whose members are committed to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible. We read and strive to abide by the entire Bible and hold it to be inspired and inerrant. We expect every member to be a disciple of Christ as defined in his teachings.3
So, if the ICC is “in accordance
with the teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the Bible” as they claim,
then everything the ICC teaches will be consistent with Scripture,
particularly on essential doctrine. Remember, and as seen, whether Mormons or
Jehovah’s Witnesses, all non-Christian cults claim that they are
in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Hence, to merely assert
that ones teachings are “biblical“ does not prove it true. We must, as the
Bible declares, “test all things.”
Before we examine the claims of the ICC, let us first clearly ascertain what a Christian is. It was Jesus Christ who defined Christianity: “Unless you believe that I AM4 you will die in your sins (John 8:24). Too often Christians assume that anyone who declares, "Jesus is Lord" must be Christian. For this reason, there has been so much confusion as to the category of the ICC: Christian or non-Christian? As mentioned, it was not the mere name "Jesus" itself, that had salvific efficacy, for there were many who were named "Jesus" in the first century.
But rather it was the Jesus of biblical revelation. When Jesus said, "he who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47) we must consider the meaning of the word "believe" ( pisteuōn). The word "believe" is translated from the Greek word, pisteuōn where, in soteriological contexts, has the denotative meaning of not only fully trusting in Him, but intellectual assent and knowledge of Him (cf. John 3:16, 36, 5:24; 1 John 5:1). What does this mean?: genuine Christianity is determined only by having accurate knowledge (cf. John17:3) of the Person, nature and finished work of the Jesus Christ of biblical revelation. It was Jesus who asked: "What do you think about the Christ?" (Matt. 22:42). Speaking of true Christians we read in Acts 2:42:
They [Christians] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship , to the breaking of bread.
Notice that they followed the teachings of
the apostles. And they were first called “Christians” in Antioch (cf. Acts
11:26). But does the ICC follow the apostolic teachings as delineated in
From the beginning, the ICC has been labeled by apologetic ministries,
counter-cult ministries, as well as many churches and biblical teachers
as a non-Christian cult, both sociologically and theologically.
But is this true? Again, we must test the ICC’s claims and doctrine in light
of the sole infallible inerrant rule of faith: Scripture alone.
The Denial of Original Sin and Justification by Faith Alone.
First, it should be mentioned that the ICC does hold to the doctrine of the Trinity and the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. However there are many theological problems within the ICC system. As with its rejection of original sin; assuming that it became doctrine not until A.D. 549.5 This does not follow though, for on those grounds, the doctrine of the Trinity could not be true because it was not formally stated until the fourth century! The question is, is there biblical justification for inherent sin? The ICC also quotes Ezekiel 18:20 to try to prove this:
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
But, Ezekiel, in context (vv. 1-32) was
not addressing the sin that is inherent in man. He is dispelling the false
notion that the Israelites had concerning their liability for their father’s
sin—not Adam’s. In other words, the point that Ezekiel was making has to
do with sins that a man committed while living, not inherent sin. King
David was not confused when he said:
The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth (Ps. 58:3; emphasis added).
David also declares:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (Ps. 51:5).
Commenting on the above passage the ICC asserts that, “Psalm 51:5 is a
hyperbole (over-statement for emphasis).”6
However, there is nothing in the context or grammar that even
suggests that David was using hyperbole. And David was consistent in Psalm
58:3. Hence, there is no biblical justification for the assertion of
hyperbole. We should allow all of Scripture to read for itself.
Commenting on the above passage the ICC asserts that, “Psalm 51:5 is a hyperbole (over-statement for emphasis).”6 However, there is nothing in the context or grammar that even suggests that David was using hyperbole. And David was consistent in Psalm 58:3. Hence, there is no biblical justification for the assertion of hyperbole. We should allow all of Scripture to read for itself.
Furthermore, the ICC is in error to think that the biblical idea of original
sin did not emerge until A.D. 549. First, they confuse
formal pronouncements (e.g., creeds and councils) with the biblical data.
Hence, the doctrine of the Trinity was formally pronounced (in exact language)
not until the fourth century. That many of the doctrines of Christendom were
codified in later centuries (e.g., Incarnation) does not mean that they are
not true, only that the early church did not articulate doctrines in exact
doctrinal terms, as with the “Trinity,” until later. The biblical data is
clear: man is born sinful (see Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3; John 3:5-7; Eph.
2:1-3), are all these verses hyperbole?
One more point, we
find many statements from church Fathers as early as the second century
attesting to original sin. Tertullian (c. A.D. 210)
Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ.7
Cyprian bishop of Carthage writing around A.D.
In the beginning of the world and of the human race, Adam… received God’s judgment…. We are all tied and bound with the chains of this sentence until we depart from this life. At that time, death is expunged.8
About a decade later Gregory of Nyssa
Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning. . . . Through those who by their disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions, from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus, sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till life’s term.9
We now come to a fundamental doctrine, which is as essential as the Deity of Christ: Justification by faith alone. Every non-Christian cult and world religion rejects: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE. But does the ICC teach justification by faith alone? Or, do they “add” to or modify the Apostle Paul’s statement: “having been justified through faith, we now have peace with God. . . . (Rom. 5:1)? (more on this important verse below).
The answer to that question can be answered by a question to the ICC. The question that I ask ICC members is: “Can I walk into your church right now, and receive salvation?” And the answer is categorically NO. Because, as I will show below, (a) I need to become a disciple first, which includes: faith, repentance, and reading the ICC publication First Principles and (b) I must be water baptized in order to become righteous/saved, and have my sins forgiven. And after this ICC process of “righteous things” I must do, then and only then I will be justified or a saved Christian. But Scripture bears no resemblance to the ICC doctrine:
Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone WHO BELIEVES ON HIM RECEIVES FORGIVENESS OF SINS (Acts 10:43; emphasis added).
is a man justified declared righteous BEFORE God? Answer: believe
in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (cf. Acts 16:30-31). More on
biblical justification below.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (vv. 19-20).
28:19 is the basis of the ICC process of salvation: disciple > baptize =
saved. Also, in First Principles, we find their so-called salvation
A. Am I a disciple?
B. Am I a Christian?
C. AM I saved?
D. What do I need to do to become a disciple?
And on page 14 of the same booklet we read:
Review of Plan of Salvation
A. Hear Romans 10:17
B. Believe Hebrews 11:6
C. Repent Luke 13:3
D. Confess Romans 10:9, 1 Timothy 6:12
E. Baptized Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21.
First Principles, we read that the only candidates for water baptism
are disciples (p. 7). And we read that water baptism, “is the
point in time a person is saved” (p. 12). Matthew 28:19 is most
utilized by the ICC to show their so-called salvation order. Never in church
history has anyone interpreted Matthew 28:19 as the ICC does. Concerning the
Matthew 28:19 process ICC founder Kip McKean, writes in book First
I do not know of any church, group or movement that teaches and practices what we teach as Jesus taught in Matthew 28:18-19: one must make the decision to be a disciple, then be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins to be saved and receive the Holy Spirit. When one is born again at baptism (p. 34).
he is right, no Christian church does because Scripture condemns a teaching
that views justification as a process of righteous acts. Speaking of the adders
to justification, the Judaizers, the Apostle Paul forthrightly
declares: “anathema” (i.e., curse by God; see Gal. 1:6ff).
are two basic reasons as to why the ICC exegesis falls face down: Contextually
the ICC goes against the entire context of Scripture on the issue of
salvation. Since it was Jesus Christ Himself, who made the statement
in Matthew 28:19, we should turn to Him for the clear prerequisite to
salvation, that is, eternal life: believing ( pisteuon)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes [pisteuōn] Him who sent Me, has [echei: (present indicative verb)] eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24; Go here for an exegesis of this wonderful passage).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes [pisteuōn] has [echei: presently, same as 5:24 above] eternal life” (John 6:47; emphasis added).
we will see, the ICC is in opposition with every New Testament author, on the
issue of how one is justified (esp. Acts 10:43; Rom. 4:4ff.; 5:1; Heb.
10:11-14; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1, 10).
Only by totally relying on the English translation does the ICC make this salvation process claim: disciple > baptized = saved/Christian. However, the New Testament was written in Greek. And the ICC Matthew 28:19 conclusion, is without any exegetical interaction whatsoever. In other words, the ICC does not bother with the Greek text: when it contradicts their doctrine—a tactic used by all non-Christian cults, especially that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
To be sure, the ICC does not accurately handle the Word of God. So, let us exegetically evaluate Matthew 28:19-20 on its own grammatical merit. First, the passage reads in Greek (with the Eng. at the bottom):
Going therefore make disciples all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all things whatever
eneteilamēn humin. . . (vv.
I gave command to you. . .
Recalling, the ICC views the English to teach: first, the candidate must become a disciple, which is a process, then assuming the candidate is worthy or a disciple, he or she must be water baptized, (in the ICC) then they are perceived as a true Christians. However there are several grammatical points we must consider.
The word translated “them” (autous) is a pronoun. Grammatically
both in English and Greek pronouns refer to nouns not verbs, and
“make disciples” (mathēteusate)
is a verb. Thus, “them” is referring to the noun “nations” (ethnē).
Hence, grammatically Jesus cannot be teaching that the person must be a
disciple first, before they are baptized. As we will see below baptizing
and teaching all that Jesus commanded is how a disciple is made.
The words translated “baptizing” (baptizontes) and “teaching” (didaskontes)
are participles. As participles, they refer to the verb “make disciples”
not the noun ("nations"). Grammatically these participles are known
as participles of means. As participles of means, they tell us of
the means a disciple is made: by baptizing and teaching them
to observe all that Jesus commanded.
Furthermore, the Greek word translated “make disciples” is mathēteusate,
which is the second aorist active imperative of mathēteuō
(“to learn”). Thus, the term means simply a learner or adherent of a
particular movement, and does not only indicate a saved Christian
(e.g., Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18; Acts 19:1-5; etc.). In fact, the term “disciple”
disappears after the book of Acts. Biblical scholar, Dr. Lawrence O. Richards
After the Resurrection, Jesus charged his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The mission was not to win loose adherents for a movement. Instead, Jesus said to his disciples that they were to teach those who believe “to obey everything “ he had commanded them (v. 20).10
(c) The great commission must be taken in its historically context, not from the perspective of a late twentieth-century reader. Jesus specifically commissioned His own disciples who prior to the not yet inaugurated church were ethnocentric in their evangelism, that is, targeting their own race—Jews. But Jesus now gives a new instruction to His apostles. As Christians, they were to be ektocentric, that is, to go out into the Gentile nations to make disciples. And in the book of Acts we see just that.11
In sum, Jesus had given the great commission to His disciples to go out to all nations and make what they were: disciples. How? By baptizing and teaching (participles of means). Jesus was not teaching that one must be a disciple first in order to be baptized. The ICC errs in the worse way. They claim that they view Scripture as their authority; however, their grammatical negligence proves the converse. Again, the ICC does not start with Scripture, rather it starts with their doctrinal conclusion: disciple> baptize = saved, that they are wishing to reach.
Based on their own literature and statements by ICC founder Kip McKean, that is given to their own people, the position of the ICC is clear: justification (salvation) is a process that includes faith, repentance, being a disciple, and water baptism, and thus not faith alone. In the ICC publication, The Disciple’s Handbook, they explain that salvation is a developmental:
we believe and expect every member of the church to be fully committed to living according to that truth… To our knowledge, we are the only group that teaches the biblical principle of discipleship as a necessary part of the salvation process. We believe that an individual is not a candidate for baptism, and, therefore, salvation, unless he or she is ready to repent of sin and make the commitment to live each day of his or her life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.12
Notice, according to the ICC “the principle of discipleship” is a “necessary part of the salvation process.” Salvation process? The ICC will assert that salvation is not by works, however what they mean, is similar to the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who say that God saved us freely by His grace, but we must to do good works to receive it. Listen to the ICC:
There is no deed or deeds we can do that are sufficient to earn us God’s forgiveness or pay for the debt of our sin. Sin can be forgiven only by the blood of Christ (Romans 3:23-26). . . The Bible teaches that without a changed and committed life, our faith is dead and does not lead to salvation (James 2:14-26).13
when they say, “sin can be forgiven only by the blood of Christ” we pick
up the actual meaning in the ICC’s most important publication, First
Principles, written by Kip McKean, ICC founder:
Jesus shed his blood when he died. In baptism [water baptism] we share by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Thus we contact the blood in [water] baptism and are forgiven of our sins and SAVED (13; caps theirs).
clearly the position of the ICC is that salvation comes through water
baptism. In the ICC’s most important publication, First
Principles, we read concerning water baptism:
Purpose of Baptism
a. Sin forgiven—Therefore this is the point in time a person is saved.
b. Holy Spirit is given to each who responded—power to live as God commands (121).
Baptism is when we become a Christian, a son of God, and at that same point we become members of the church, the family of God (Ibid., 23).
their official website under the tile What We Believe, the ICC
does not hide that fact that obedience (e.g., works, water
baptism, etc.) is required to receive salvation:
A person is saved by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ; and a person must, through faith and obedience, reach out to receive this free gift of salvation. (Ephesians 1:1-10; James 2:14-26).14
However this kind of double talk: “salvation is a free gift,” but then, to say it is received “through faith and obedience” is similar to the LDS Church’s 3rd Article of Faith:
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by the obedience of the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (Pearl of Great Price, 3rd Article of Faith; emphasis added).
And in accord with the Book of Mormon:
Be reconciled to God: for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23; emphasis added).
us read one more statement concerning the ICC doctrinal position on water
baptism, as we turn again to their official website, under the topic, Baptism:
The members of the International Churches of Christ are simply following Jesus. "Our doctrine" is not important. The Bible is the only doctrine that matters. Jesus, Peter and Paul all express very clearly that the only candidates for baptism are those who truly believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior and who repent. We are to baptize disciples in water for the forgiveness of their sins. They bury their old life and participate in the cross and resurrection of Jesus in baptism. Baptized disciples receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God himself adds them to his church. They continue to teach each other to obey his commands. And that begins with, "Go make disciples, baptizing them. . . . " (Matthew 28:18-20).15
ICC teaches that the only ones who can even receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit are “Baptized disciples.” But of course, they have much
difficulty explaining that in Acts 10:44-48 the Gentiles received “the gift
of the Holy Spirit” BEFORE they were water baptized (vv. 44-45).
Clearly then, the ICC holds to what is know as baptismal regeneration,
that is, water baptism is necessary for justification. The Apostle
Paul's Epistle to the church at Galatia was specifically an anti-Judaizer
polemic. Paul was very concerned as to the pervading heresy of the Judaizers.
They taught that "faith in Christ" was not enough. Hence, one
had to add to the finished
work of Christ the Old Testament ordinances especially circumcision and the
keeping of the ethical and ceremonial laws:
Some men came from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom [Law] of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; cf. Gal. 2:1ff).
To the Apostle, this kind of teaching was not a doctrinal "on the
rim" issue. By teaching that man must co-operate with God's grace by
adding works to his faith, the Judaizers stripped the Atonement of its
So toxic was the works/salvation doctrine of the Judaizers that the Apostle wasted no time (from his the opening statements) sharply anathematizes (i.e., pronounces a Divine curse) men, and even angels from heaven, who would promulgate it:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed [anathema]! As we have said, before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6-9; emphasis added).
by adding “things” (e.g., reading ICC literature, becoming a disciple,
water baptism, etc.) to justification, that is, eternal life, the ICC anathematizes
(Divine condemnation) their church and its members. Again, I ask the
question to ICC members: “What did you have to do to be saved?“ “Can I
walk in your church and receive salvation?” The ICC answer is NO, I
must do “righteous things” to justify myself before God:
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6; emphasis added).
ICC should consider that if water baptism were in fact necessary for ones
salvation, then why would Jesus Christ hide salvation from the Corinthian
church. Did Christ forget the requirements the salvation which He is the
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void (1 Cor. 1:17; emphasis added).
ICC uses the standard baptismal regeneration passages that Mormons and other
groups use to try to prove that water baptism is necessary to receive
salvation, they are as follows:
Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (vv. 19-20)., We have already dealt with this text, and saw how the ICC tinkers with the text to make it say what they want to say, thus disregarding what God actually said.
Go here: Baptismal Regeneration, for a Biblical response to these passages.
Baptismal regeneration is a doctrine that utterly vandalizes the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. It teaches that the sacrament of water baptism is fully required for the sufficiency of salvation. When I dialogue with members of groups like the ICC, the Mormon Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the main theological target that I shoot for is to biblically respond to their idea that works are necessary for justification, that is, salvation.
Remember our question to the ICC: "Can I walk in your church today,
and receive salvation?" Which the ICC’s answer is: NO. I have to become
a disciple first, and then I must be water baptized. Contrary to Scripture,
which utterly condemns that justification, is a process.
Clearly, the ICC rejects the biblical teaching of Justification:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. . . . (Rom. 4:4-6; emphasis added; cf. John6:47; 10:28-29; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; Eph. 2:8).
Greek reads: ean gar en pisteusēte
eimi ["I AM"] apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humōn,
“UNLESS YOU BELIEVE THAT I AM YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS”
7 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 3:220.
8 Ibid., 5:487.
9 Cf. J. D. N. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 351.
10 Lawrence O. Richards Th.M., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Words, 227.
Cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar the Beyond the Basics,
The Disciple’s Handbook, 120.
13 Ibid., 125.