July 01, 2006

On Baptism, Round Two

I wrote on this subject quite a while ago, but recently there has been a lot of discussion and debate on the issue of believers baptism as a condition of church membership among Southern Baptist bloggers (I'll link to all the posts I've read at the bottom of this one, and will add more as I find them).

The cause of this round of discussion and debate is Henderson Hills Baptist Church. In short, they have decided not to require believer's baptism by immersion as a condition for membership in their church. From one of their supporting documents (HT to Wes Kenney):

We see that it would be a tragic mistake to exclude Christians from membership, solely on the basis of baptism, who may potentially have a great impact on the Kingdom of God. For example, under our current rules, great theologians such as John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, and J.I. Packer would be considered unqualified for church membership

It should be made clear -- nobody who holds to believers baptism is implying that any of these great men were not born again. We may disagree with their ecclesiology, but we would never question their salvation or their committment to God. And I'd be inclined to agree with Wes that I wonder how their "impact on the Kingdom of God" would be lessened by their not being members of a Baptist church. I thought that ground had been covered pretty well by the Together For the Gospel meetings and blog. Ironically, Al Mohler is one of the people who are most in favor of cooperating with Presbyterians, and he's been accused of being a Donatist by some commentors at Reformed Baptist Thinker. He agrees that believer's baptism should be a requirement for membership in a Baptist church, but is willing and able to work with people who disagree with him (something the Donatists would never have done, by the way).

I'll have more on the Donatist comment later on, and will address the anonymous posters comments to me then. I think that part of the issue with believers baptism today stems from our lack of appreciation of what baptism is. If it really is just a symbol, then what difference does it make?

The very word sacrament that is used so often for baptism and communion is from a Latin word that was an oath of allegience. The oath that Roman soldiers took when they oined the army was a sacramentum -- they swore to obey orders and follow their commander. This is a perfect picture of what baptism is -- it is the oath of allegience that a believer makes to Christ. We are publically identifying with Him. Baptism is not salvific -- that's one thing that Baptists and Presbyterians can agree on. (I keep referring to Presbyterians since the main debate comes from conservative Presbyterians and conservative Baptists, who agree on most other things.) Throughout Acts, we read of those who received the word, and as a result of thier conversion were baptised, and as a result of these two things were received into the church. In the early church, baptism was immediate upon conversion -- so much so that the two seem to be one event. Membership in the church followed immediately thereafter, as much as a matter of survival as anything else. If someone wasn't committed enough to the faith to publically be baptised, to take that public stand, they weren't allowed into the church. They weren't committed.

Today, we look at baptism as something optional. It's pretty easy to be a Christian in the US, and our public stand isn't that hard to make. But if someone isn't willing to make that stand, that profession, should we let them join the church anyway? I think this touches on baptism as an act of obedience to Christ, a topic that has been covered in more depth by others.

Called According
Interregnum (and here also)
The Reformed Baptist Blogger
Conventional Thinking (Al Mohler)
Dennis Newkirk (pastor at Henderson Hills Baptist) -- there's a LOT more on this issue than just one post. Make sure you check out the archives for this one.
Between Two Worlds

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 10:44 AM | Comments (9) | Add Comment
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1 Thanks for the link. I should point out that HHBC has not yet taken this step. Their elder council is recommending it, and the congregation will vote at the end of this month.

Posted by: Wes Kenney at July 01, 2006 04:42 PM (yQWyr)

2 Thanks, Wes -- I've been reading through all the materials at the HHBC site, so I should have known that.

Posted by: Warren at July 01, 2006 04:48 PM (DPRNU)

3 While I agree that baptism is not salvific I would ask then, what is it? What significance does it hold? You took me up to the precipice with the comment about early believers and the conversion experience and baptism being inseperable and then you stopped cold in your tracks. I believe that the "optional" view that we hold today is insufficient. But how much significance should the sacrament of baptism hold?

Posted by: L.Porter at July 03, 2006 05:55 PM (uvGIY)

4 Good point. I was planning on doing another post, but got sidetracked -- I'm teaching adult VBS this week at church, so I've been getting everything ready for that. There will be a "On Baptism Round Three" soon.

Posted by: Warren at July 03, 2006 07:41 PM (DPRNU)

5 Ok. Thanks. I look forward to Baptism Round Three

Posted by: L.Porter at July 09, 2006 06:12 PM (uvGIY)

6 What happens when a HHBC member who has NOT been scriptually baptized and has gained full membership, leaves and wants to join a different SBC church ... asking for a transfer of letter? How could the SBC deny them if they were accepted before? Will the other church who may not agree with HHBC have to accept their membership? Jesus commanded us to disciple, baptize and follow him. Dennis, if you were face to face with Jesus ... do you really think your position would be one Jesus would agree with? In my heart, I know it isn't.

Posted by: pad at July 14, 2006 07:21 PM (aQqMy)

7 pad, I think you've made a good point, and it's one that the other churches in HHBC's association have to consider. When that happens, it's gone beyond local church autonomy and impacts other churches and their beliefs. And just as an aside, I'm not sure that Pastor Newkirk even knows about this site.

Posted by: Warren at July 14, 2006 07:42 PM (DPRNU)

8 Baptism is not just symbolic. You err there by not seeing it's true significance. In I Peter 3:20 (re: people of the Days of Noah) "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." The act of baptism is the believer’s witness to God viewed in Christ’s presence before his throne in heaven affirming your belief and witnessing before all mankind - in heaven and on earth - that Christ is resurrected and reigning. Thus clearing his/her conscience of any doubt of being lost being completely cleansed from since and justified - made righteous. I do not agree with SBC on this because it seems ritualistic without any supernatual significance. Baptism establishes a good conscience between God and believer. We must give answer to God. Repent. Something significant happens from that day forward. Note, that baptism is not necessary for salvation unto eternal life for the Holy Spirit regenerates the spirit of man. However, baptism is a witness by the Holy Spirit with the believer's spirit that he is indeed saved and it is very necessary for attaining to maturity and a victorious life in Christ. What happened to Jesus? The Holy Spirit manifested himself. God spoke for a witness before Christ and the world - from heaven - that left no doubt. I have worked with many believers who found the benefit of a new walk with the Lord following scriptural baptism (i.e. adult immersion following genuine repentance). Baptism is a type of "saving" not for salvation I repeat, but by the Holy Spirit that confirms to that person his/her right standing with God – “fulfilling all righteousness” as the one chosen of God. It is life changing and it is world separating ...just as the ark separated Noah from the world - a picture. No longer will this sensitive conscience desire the things of this world. A circumcision has taken place. (Why are there so many carnal Christians? Have they no consciousness of their sin … yes but not unto repentance … for they are vexed in their spirit just a "just" Lot was in Sodom and Gomorroha. The carnal Christian needs scriptural baptism following genuine repentance.) This is the circumcision of the heart that is made manifest to a believer. Many of the paedo baptism devotes (many great theologians) saw a connection with circumcision and water baptism that is why they adopted infant baptism … a picture of of infant circumcision. Jews circumcised infants. So they thought that was the connection. That was wrong. Baptism is more than a rite of membership. It is a witness. First it is a witness to the believer who has "fulfilled all righteousness that God requires." Second it is a separation from worldliness (new conscience). Third, it is the witness of the Holy Spirit that this believer has indeed a new spirit and is born again. Settled. There is no fear of death from that day forward. Matt 3:15 (Jesus’ baptism) And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. Yes, baptism is significant. Jesus commanded us to be baptized as he was. To understand why he was baptized in the Jordan River you have to understand what the rite of baptism was to the Jew during this time. Baptisms were nothing new in John's day. Jews were constantly purifying themselves with water. There are baptismal founts everywhere in the ancient synagogues. The Jew was constantly having to go through the right of baptism for purification. So were women especially after their periods. According to Jewish writings on this, the baptismal founts were allowed (though viewed as not the best) as long as the water (in this case) was perfectly still and a certain depth .... it was acceptable and convenient. However, the highest form of purification was to baptize oneself in running water such as river, lake, sea, or from a bubbling spring. The Jewish candidate would enter the waters not to be touched by anyone and squat down immersing him/herself three times completely each time coming up out of the waters fully … all in the presence of witnesses ...the priests, prophets, scribes, and others. The baptismal founts had to be dug deep enough to completely submerge the largest man - a certain measure. (Remember the Pools of Bethesda healing - stirring the waters.) Now John the Baptist’s baptism was different only in that he required repentance first ... not just the ritual. That was the requirement: a change in behavior. (Do you see this yet? A change in behavior.) Jesus was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness." The only thing that changed in his behavior was to begin his ministry for he had no need of repentance. And that is why we must do this correctly with knowledge. There is a wonderful benefit? I have interviewed many many Christians who confirm that after Baptism their walk was completely different, that they never questioned their salvation, nor did they fear death or even think much about it. They knew they were right with God. So, there is much to learn. As you can see, I am called to teach.

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