Off on a Side Track
Off on a Side Track

Here is a curious article from 1904 that could have started, “A preacher gets on a train with a Baptist and a Methodist. . . .”

Actually, this is more a transcribed conversation than article. One might wonder, Was this real or imagined? Did it really occur?

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Off on a Side Track

By Joseph A. Walters
Oct. 1, 1904; p. 11

“I don’t like your exclusive baptism,” said a Methodist preacher to a Baptist preacher, a few years ago, on a train on which I was traveling in a Western State.

B. Why do you dislike it?

M. I believe we should give candidates a choice as to the form or mode in which to receive baptism.

B. Do the Scriptures say anything about modes of baptism, or candidates having choice of the way in which to be baptized?

M. No. But our Discipline does.

B. Then your Discipline and the Holy Scriptures do not agree.

M. We believe that baptism may be Scripturally performed by sprinkling or pouring as well as by immersion.

B. Where do the Scriptures so teach?

M. Of course the Scriptures do not say this in so many words, but, as I said before, we give the candidates their choice as regards the mode of baptism.

B. What choice do you give infants?

M. Well, I do not wish to consider at this time the question of baptism respecting infants. At any rate, I regard baptism of no great importance.

 B. Of course, then, you do not believe what John Wesley said in his doctrinal tracts on baptism. Wesley said the original sin cleaves to every child of man, therefore infants are liable to eternal damnation as well as others, unless this be washed away by baptism.

M. I think about as little of that teaching of Wesley as I do of Baptist teaching that Baptist Christians should not commune with other Christians, simply because they have not been put under the water. Is there any Scriptural rule or rules forbidding any Christians communing with any other Christians?

B. Well, no. But our rule will not allow us to commune with unbaptized Christians.

M. Then, your rules are different from the Scriptural rules.

B. It does seem that way.

M. But there is the whistle for the station where I get off. I say again there is nothing in the mode or form of baptism.

B. It is quite natural for you to say that, as you are off on a side track as regards what constitutes baptism. But tell me before you go, if everybody who should hereafter conclude to be baptized, should be immersed, would it not be baptism, to say the least, and could you not therefore say amen?

M. Certainly.

B. Then, you can well afford to cease advocating sprinkling and pouring, to which so many preachers and people can not conscientiously say amen.

Soon the Baptist preacher took a seat at my side, saying, “I noticed you smiling when I told that Methodist brother that he was off on a side track on the baptismal question.”

W. Yes, sir. I am always inclined to smile when anything tickles me.

B. Are you a preacher?

W. I am.

B. A Baptist?

W. I baptize people, and I am a Baptist on that account.

B. What is the name of your church.

W. I have no church.

B. To what church do you belong?

W. To the church which Jesus said to Peter he would build, and the first mention of the existence of which is in Acts ii. 47: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” It is called in Heb. Xii. 23, the “church of the firstborn.” And as Christ is the first-born from the dead, the church to which I belong is therefore the Church of Christ. Paul says in Col. i. 18, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have pre-eminence.” Paul also calls it in Corinthians, “the church of God.” Nowhere in the Scriptures is it called the Methodist or Baptist Church; nor are its members called Methodists or Baptists, but disciples or Christians.

B. Well, there is nothing in a name.

W. I must say to you on this question what you said to the Methodist preacher on the baptismal question. As you are off on a side track as to the importance and significance of a name, it is quite natural for you to say that there is nothing in a name. The apostle Peter thought and taught in Acts iv. 12 that there is salvation in no other name than that of the Founder and Head of the New Testament church. The church is married to Christ, as Paul teaches in Rom vii. 4, and, in Rev. xix. 7, is called his wife. Some poet has well said:

“Wives take their husbands’ names,
Nor would they sanction any other:
Why should not we do the same?
What do you say, contending brother?”

Well, I see very plainly you are a Campbellite.

W. Hold now; if there is nothing in a name, why not call me a Christian instead of a Campbellite? Truly, as Solomon says, “the legs of the lame are not equal.”

B. You and your brethren are great sticklers for the name “Christian,” but merely being baptized and taking the name “Christian” does not make a man a Christian.

W. I am aware that implicit faith in Christ and genuine repentance and confession of Christ with the mouth are all required as well as baptism in order to be a Christians. And Christian preachers everywhere so teach. They teach also that such faith, repentance, confession and baptism do not make Methodist or Baptist Christians, but Christians only.

B. Can’t a man be a Christian and also a Methodist or a Baptist?

W. Admitting that he can, it is certain that a man can become a Christian without those denominational peculiarities that constitute some people Methodists and others Baptist. And hence it follows that what makes a man a Methodist or a Baptist is not the gospel, and is not therefore essential to salvation, and on that account should be abandoned for the sake of the union of Christians for which Jesus prayed in the seventeenth chapter of John.

B. I understand you; you want everybody to come to you.

W. You evidently misunderstand, or you otherwise are inclined to misrepresent us. We do not say come to us, but come to Christ, unite with us in him and under his name and upon the Holy Scriptures, to the exclusion of all human creeds.

B. You admit, then, that you are not the only Christians in the world?

W. We aim to be simply Christians, or Christians only, but not the only Christians. Hence our invitation to all Christians to unite with us on the gospel basis. We say Baptists are Christians, but they seem timid about admitting it.

B. There is the whistle for my station. I must bid you good-by.

W. Good-by, my Baptist-Christian brother.

Valparaiso, Ind.

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Walters wrote about 100 items for Christian Standard from 1867 to 1909, everything from articles to news items to obituaries.

J.H. Painter provided a “Biographical Sketch of Joseph A. Walters” for the Iowa Pulpit of the Church of Christ published in 1884 and available through Abilene Christian University’s website. This sketch says Walters was born in 1837 in Monroe County, Ohio, initially tried to overthrow “Campbellism,” and then “yielded obedience.” He lived, preached, and studied in various places, including Bethany College. He was encouraged in ministry by Isaac Errett, among others.

The sketch concludes: “He is an earnest and industrious worker, is always finding some place to push the claims of the Gospel. Is companionable, cheerful and a true yoke-fellow in the Gospel, who is always on hand ready to do his part.”

This obituary for Walters appeared in the Jan. 21, 1911, Christian Standard:

Joseph A. Walters was a true minister of God. A graduate of Bethany College, he freely and fully gave his life in caring for his Master’s flock. About thirty years ago he held meetings at our old home church, Exira, Ia., where, under his earnest preaching and singing, many souls were born into the kingdom. Some years after, when the organ and missionary questions (brought up and agitated by a “traveling preacher”) had torn the church into fragments, Bro. Walters, without promise of compensation and without reward, except the few dollars my father gathered from a few faithful ones, came and patiently took all of the abuse heaped upon him until the whole church was reunited and harmonious. Truly Bro. Walters was one of the “pure in heart,” and the lives of his son and daughters testify to the Christian home life of Bro. Walters and his good wife, departed some years since. Personally, Bro. Walters was my father in the ministry, as he has been of many others, and his decease separates from us one who was loving and beloved. Even in his old age, and before he was stricken by paralysis, he held many meetings of value, the additions running into the hundreds in some places. May our Lord raise up many patient, humble souls like him.

Charles E. Smith
Bethany, W. Va.

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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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