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Is Acts 2:38 Heresy? 

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Jesse L. Sewell was born in Overton County, TN in 1818. He grew up and became a Baptist preacher of some note in his native county. In the course of time, he learned the truth about Acts 2:38, (i.e., that baptism was in order to obtain remission of sins), from reading the New Testament. He began preaching this and it caused considerable confusion in the Baptist church. A Baptist preacher by the name of Jenkins Thompkins began to discuss Jesse Sewell’s departure from Baptist doctrine, and this resulted in a discussion of the errors taught by the Baptists. 

Finally, the Baptist Association brought charges against Sewell. He was convicted and excluded from the Baptist church. The clerk asked how to make the record of the charges in the minutes of the association. The moderator told him to write, “For teaching heresy.” To this, Sewell replied that would be recording a falsehood and that they could not make a true record in any other way than by stating that he was excluded for preaching faith, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, as taught in Acts 2:38. After some discussion, it was finally agreed that the record should be made as Sewell suggested, hence he was excluded from the Baptist church for preaching Acts 2:38. The minutes so record it. (H. Leo Boles in The Christian Journal.) 


The above story is true and a similar thing happened to my grandparents. They were members of Mt. Olive Baptist church, near Polk City FL. In 1914 they had occasion to attend a gospel meeting being held in the area, and one evening during the meeting, both obeyed the gospel, and that same night were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins as per Acts 2:38. As a result the Baptist church they had been attending took action to exclude them for the Baptist church. According to the minutes of the meeting held to exclude them from the Mt. Olive Baptist church, they were voted out of the Baptist church. What was the reason given and recorded in the minutes of that meeting? “Lucious and Missouri Thornhill are excluded from the Baptists because they have departed from both the Bible faith and the Baptist faith. (I have a copy of this statement, given to me by my aunt who was able to photocopy the minutes a few years ago). 


In both stories people were excluded from the Baptist church for teaching that according to Acts 2:38 a person has to repent and be baptized in order to gain remission of sins, not because his/her sins had already been forgiven. According to Baptist teaching this is heresy, BUT, this is not true. It is the Baptist teaching that is heresy! An inspired apostle wrote there is, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph.4:5).  Yet, the minutes concerning my grandparents exclusion from the Baptist church mentions two faiths, the Bible faith and the Baptist faith. The minutes name two faiths. One has to be wrong since the Bible says there is only (one faith.) I prefer to believe an inspired man, rather than an uninspired one. Read 1 Pet. 4:11. Which one do you believe?


With what is written, I can just hear some preacher say, “Oh, no! That is not what it says.” He then turns to the prepositional phrase “for the remission of sins,” and pointing to the preposition “for” exclaims, “Peter is saying that one is baptized because one has already been saved, not in order to be saved.” While it is true the word “for” in English sometimes means “because of,” but this” sometimes” is not true of Acts 2:38. Every reliable translation I know renders the phrase for the remission of sins” meaning “in order to” or “to obtain” remission of sins. None of them translates it “because of.” The message conveyed in this passage is that one must repent and be baptized in order to receive remission of sins. Why not just accept it for what it says, and not what you would like it to say?


Tommy Thornhill 

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