The Saare-Turner Debate

Part Two

Proposition: “The New Testament Scriptures teach that unregenerated sinners are saved by grace through faith alone, before and without water baptism.” Keith Saare affirms; Allan Turner denies.

Saare’s First Affirmative (posted10/04/06): Two points I wish to make in defining my proposition above. First, “by grace” I mean unmerited favor, undeserved kindness, a free gift, something that cannot be earned by good works. Secondly, the faith I shall affirm is saving faith (not dead faith from James 2 or other similar passages), has repentance as an integral part, and is synonymous with belief. Therefore, when I speak of “faith only” or “faith alone,” I do not mean to exclude repentance or believing. These three actions take place within the mind, heart, or will, and exclude any outward effort exerted by the unregenerated sinner in the form of water baptism, communion, confirmation, or other sacraments. I like to think of faith and repentance as “two sides of the same coin,” albeit with a slightly different emphasis.

Additional definitions for concepts I shall use outside the scope of this proposition are, but not limited to pending unique contexts, as follows:

·        Justification: the act whereby a redeemed sinner is declared righteous before God or other people. It does not make the sinner righteous, but is a declaration of the righteousness already possessed.

·         Repentance: from the Greek metanoia, a change of mind resulting in a change of lifestyle. Wherefore one who has repented will obey as true believers are characterized by their willingness to obey (cf. Acts 5:32 & Hebrews 5:9).

·        Sacrament: as opposed to ordinance which does not convey grace, a means whereby a sinner seeks to obtain grace through a human act such as baptism, confession, communion, or other such deeds.

In defending this proposition, I do not forbid the natural sequence of events which precede salvation. Romans 10:14 outlines some of these: “How then will they call on Him whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” My focus is upon man’s immediate response to the saving message of the gospel in order to receive salvation, and that I affirm to be before water baptism and by faith alone.

“Faith Alone”

At the outset of the second part in our debate, I am faced with the unique challenge to defend a proposition which states that salvation is by “faith alone,” yet the only place where the words faith and alone appear together in the Bible is in a context that explicitly denies justification by “faith alone”:

James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

In beating Mr. Turner to this punch, I remind him that the immediate topic of James 2:24 is justification, a declaration as defined above, not the salvation which I am affirming in my proposition. Though he may feel an urge to blur the distinction between justification and salvation (as with the translation and interpretation of eis in Acts 2:38), I choose to follow the grammatico-historical method of interpretation by observing the finer nuances of key biblical concepts. Henceforth, if Mr. Turner will submit himself to the finer distinctions of systematic theology, he must remain silent from arguing James 2:24 against my proposition since this would introduce irrelevant material to our debate. A “red herring” if you will.  

Though Scripture never states that salvation is by grace through faith alone in so many words, the concept is certainly to be found. And if Mr. Turner is apt to deny sola fide on these grounds, I caution his approach because the same argument makes for a strong refutation of Trinity, which neither he nor I wish to suggest.

The concept of faith alone appears in Scripture with a frequency exponentially higher than the distortions in favor of sacramental baptism. Though I have never counted, it has been suggested that some 200 verses in the New Testament address salvation or its accompanying blessings directly to faith alone, irrespective of mention to water baptism. I cite this because of the audacity some have to confuse a few verses about baptism while turning a blind eye to the hundreds of verses that link salvation directly to faith apart from baptism. This is exegetical ludicrous and results in spiritual suicide (cf. Galaltians 1:6-9).

In the following survey, faith appears alone as the sole condition for the reception of salvation or its attendant blessings. Hence, the concept that salvation is by “faith only” because faith is the ONLY condition stated.

Luke 7:50: And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

John 1:12: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.

John 3:14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

John 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

John 5:38: “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.”

John 6:40: “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:35: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

John 7:38: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

John 11:25-26: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”[To this question “Do you believe this?” Mr. Turner must answer “No!”]

John 20:30-31: Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Romans 1:17: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Romans 3:21-22: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.

Romans 4:11: And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.

Romans 10:9: That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

1 Corinthians 15:2: By which [gospel] also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

Galatians 3:2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Galatians 3:24: Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

Galatians 3:26: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

1 John 5:1: Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

1 John 5:5: Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

For the sake of words I am allotted, I must move on and leave out countless more passages addressing this theme. My purpose above is not to suggest my view is correct because I have more Bible verses than Mr. Turner does for baptism. Rather the point should raise a red flag at the suggestion that baptism is a condition for salvation as we clearly know faith is. If baptism and faith were on equal leverage for salvation, then why does the New Testament have so much more to say about the importance of faith than baptism? Hebrews 11 is the “Faith Hall of Fame.” Where is the “Baptism Hall of Fame” to be found in Scripture?

This much is obvious: the scale is unevenly tilted toward the side of faith only.

If I were a Campbellite, it would greatly disturb me having to eisegete baptism into every text like John 3:16 and Romans 1:16 which do not address the issue at all. Every statement of “whosoever” and “all” in the above plethora of verses must be qualified to mean “whosoever [is baptized]” and “all [who are baptized].” And then “believe” inevitably means “believe + baptism.” To hold my opponent’s view would give me the hermeneutical heebie-jeebies!

How could anybody miss the point of sola fide when the Bible speaks so much to the topic? The only answer I can think of is 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The Right Perspective on Salvation, Faith, & Works

Whereas faith is frequently alone as the sole condition for receiving salvation, the same concept receives more strength upon examining the biblical perspective of faith and works in reference to salvation. The Apostle provides the relationship of all three:

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Is salvation by works? No.

Why not? God does not want people to boast.

Is salvation through faith? Yes.

Does Keith Saare proclaim salvation through faith? Yes.

If salvation is through faith, not as a result of works, does this mean faith stands alone? Absolutely.

I am amazed how simple it is to walk through Ephesians 2:8-9 and see the logic unfold. The proposition I defend states this: “The New Testament Scriptures teach that unregenerated sinners are saved by grace through faith alone, before and without water baptism.” A side-by-side comparison of my proposition and Ephesians 2:8-9 is convincing:

Ephesian 2:8-9 Comparison

In other words, MY PROPOSITION IS EPHESIANS 2:8-9.

The question to the relationship between works and salvation is resolved by Ephesians 2:10 only after the efficacy of works is explicitly denied by Ephesians 2:9. Scripture states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Wherefore, one is not saved by doing good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), but one does good works because he is saved (Ephesians 2:10), a scriptural principle Mr. Turner must deny by virtue of his responsibility against this proposition.

It is interesting to note that biblical Christianity is the only form of “Christianity” in which salvation is 100% free. (See Philippians 1:29 and Acts 11:18—even faith and repentance are freely bestowed by God!) All other religions affirm meritorious efforts that one must exert to achieve some form of salvation or enlightenment. Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, etc., all teach salvation by works or sacraments, and so does Mr. Turner with his view of baptismal regeneration. Sad to say, he is in a poor company of apostate religions by the nature of his soteriology. My proposition, however, sets me apart from working one’s way into Heaven as though it could be earned. Christianity is an exclusive religion (John 14:6), and so is the soteriology I affirm because of its truly unique message against meritorious works.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

A “free gift” ought to mean something against works. Do you not agree, Mr. Turner?

Paul and James Fighting Back-to-Back

To sustain this proposition, it is imperative for me to harmonize Romans 4:1-8 and James 2:14-26. Though Mr. Turner should know the differences between salvation, justification, sanctification, etc., it is possible the readers may not. For this reason, I am willing to address James and Paul with further clarity to assist our reading audience rather than for Mr. Turner’s sake.

Though he should know better, Mr. Turner will undoubtedly seek to refute my proposition with James, but at the expense of harmonizing with Paul. Because the Bible is a coherent book, sola fide fits in quite well with James’ emphasis on works. The Protestant Reformers were fond of saying that one is saved by faith alone, but it is the kind of faith that is not alone which saves. Interesting paradox, but it is precisely what Ephesians 2:8-10 taken as a whole teaches.

(For those familiar with the issue, I accept what is loosely termed “Lordship Salvation” as opposed to “Easy Believism.” By my view in favor of Lordship Salvation, I find it quite simple to reconcile James and Paul while avoiding Mr. Turner’s sacramentalism as an alternative to sola fide.)

Scripture contains the following paradox:

Romans 4:1-5:  What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 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.

James 2:14-26: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder…. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

To state it simply, Paul and James stand back-to-back fighting different battles. Paul, elaborating on Ephesians 2:8-9, is combating those who believe one must work in order to gain righteousness. James, elaborating on Ephesians 2:10, is combating those who deny that works accompany one after gaining righteousness. The matter is quite simple to harmonize, and a few more observations help sustain my proposition.

First, according to Paul there is a distinction between faith and works; faith is not a work at all: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Simple enough. Jesus conversing with a crowd of followers declared in John 6:29b: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” However, let not my opponent take comfort in this, for Jesus was merely making a pun to communicate that salvation is entirely free and that outward rituals were not required by God for entrance into Heaven. If Romans 4:5 were not clear enough to distinguish faith and works, there is still Ephesians 2:8-9 in which salvation is also through faith but not by works. Hence, logic forbids faith for being a work in a strict literal sense.

Secondly, James seems to have the idea of philanthropy in mind when declaring that man is justified by works. He shows no concern for baptism per se as a prerequisite for salvation, but he does stress the importance of giving food and clothing to those in need (James 2:15-16). I think Mr. Turner would agree that the works James discusses by example do not fit his watery gospel of baptismal regeneration. Since baptism is absent in the context of James 2, one must eisegete it in if he wishes to view James 2 as supporting baptismal regeneration!

My final point for now, grammatically it is impossible to refute my proposition by James’ emphasis on works. He speaks in the second person when saying “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). That is, the reader, not God, is the one who observes the justification of others by their works. Since nobody has “radar eyes” to look at the condition of a person’s heart, the only indication of genuine faith is the works that the professed believer produces. Someone who says he is a Christian, but lives like the devil, is not to be trusted as possessing genuine salvation.

“Has” or “Has Not”?

Throughout this debate so far, there has been a deafening silence from Mr. Turner in not addressing the present active indicatives in passages applying salvation blessings directly to the individual who believes only. I have made the observation several times that since belief comes before baptism, salvation likewise must come before baptism. Like John 5:24 which I previously exegeted, a literal interpretation of John 6:47 is devastating to those who disagree with my view of “faith only.”

John 6:47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (emphasis mine, note the present tense verb).

I envision this conversation taking place:

Mr. Saare: “Mr. Turner, do you agree that believing begins before baptism?”

Mr. Turner: “Yes, I do, but….”

Excuses, excuses. The only view the grammatico-historical method supports in this regard is mine.

John 3:5 and “Born of Water”

At this point, let me back up and recount our dealings with John 3:5 during our debate. In Mr. Turner’s first affirmative for the first proposition, he simply referenced the verse as supporting his view in favor of baptismal regeneration, yet he completely neglected to exegete the passage or explain why “born of water” means baptism. The reader will notice a deafening silence to the matter in his treatment of John 3:5:

…Jesus taught that unless one is “born again” he cannot see the kingdom of God. Perplexed, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter again into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Therefore, the new birth or born again experience of which Jesus referred involved both water and the Spirit. Hence, if Jesus is here referring to baptism, and I hope to demonstrate that He was, then being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit involved not just the water of baptism but the Holy Spirit, as well.

Clearly Mr. Turner has a knack for jumping to conclusions. He interprets without exegeting. Afterwards he made no attempt to demonstrate the matter in spite of his blurb “and I hope to demonstrate that He was.” If the reader reviews the context of John 3:5, he will notice that baptism is nowhere mentioned in the entire discourse Jesus had with Nicodemus, unless one is prone to eisegete it in. In fact the next time baptism is mentioned by John is in a whole different context which points forward to an entirely different narrative rather than to Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus (vide John 3:22-4:3). Additionally, we must remember that Jesus baptized nobody per John 4:2, yet He is the Savior of the world. Wherefore baptism must not be part of the salvation process in a like manner that it is not listed as an element of the gospel outlined by 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

The silence of baptism not being mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 is excruciating to Mr. Turner, and so he must shun this passage as though it did not exist.

For good exegetical reasons in John 3:5, I am convinced that “born of water” is clarified as being nothing other than “born of the Spirit,” so that water is the emblem of the Spirit. It is John’s custom to equate water and the Spirit in figurative language, such as in the next chapter of his gospel:

John 4:13-14: Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

At least in John 4:13-14, water does not make a very clear picture for baptism. Could it be the Holy Spirit? A later direct statement seems to say yes:

John 7:38-39b: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive (emphasis mine).

Even the Old Testament contains similar imagery. Note the Hebrew parallelism in Isaiah 44:3:

            For I will pour out water on the thirsty land

And streams on the dry ground;

I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring

And My blessing on your descendants.

The exegete of the Greek text will have no problems seeing the affinity that water and Spirit share in John 3:5. There is one preposition performing duty for two substantives, joined by single conjunction: ex hudatos kai pneumatos. The syntax in an of itself does not necessarily suggest that water is the Spirit; alone it is not strong enough to be definitive. But it is a possibility and certainly leans in this direction nonetheless. If water and Spirit do stand in apposition meaning the same thing, two acceptable interpretations showing the crescendo effect of the Greek text would be:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water—in particular the Spirit—he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water, even the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

The function of kai possibly meaning “even” or “in particular” is so well known that the matter is beyond debate. Nobody disputes this, not even Mr. Turner! But the question at hand is this: Does the context lend support to this idea for John 3:5? Indeed it does, and I have already listed two reasons from the syntax and surrounding context of John’s gospel in chapters four and seven. But there is more evidence in the immediate context to settle the matter in my favor.

It is significant to note that the reference to “water” from verse 5 is immediately dropped and the role of the Spirit alone is developed in the following statements. According to John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (emphasis mine). Here there is not water mentioned because Jesus assumes it to be one and the same with “Spirit,” such can be expected according to my view. As John Calvin observed:

By “water,” therefore, is meant simply the inward purification and quickening of the Holy Spirit. Nor is it unusual to employ the word and explanatorily when the latter clause is an explanation of the former. And the context supports me too; for when Christ at once adds the reason why we must be born again He shows without mentioning water how the newness of life which He requires comes from the Spirit alone. Whence it follows that water must not be separated from the Spirit.

When Nicodemus asked the question “How can these things be?”, Jesus went on to explain, not by baptism, but by mentioning faith alone: John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Hence John 3:5 is definitive in affirming faith alone. My proposition is sustained by the words of the Lord Himself.

Let us see if Mr. Turner will believe what Jesus Christ has said.

Turner’s First Negative
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