I truly wanted to write something today on the issue of allowing those who have only received baptism as an infant into the membership of a local Baptist church. However, I find that the more that I grapple with this question, the more problematic it becomes. This has tremendous repercussions on the local church, and I am certain that most pastors have not thought through this issue enough.
Let’s look at the big picture first. Thomas Cranmer wrote this, “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered.” (You can find that in the Forty-Two Articles of the church of England.) I am convinced that if Credo-Baptists (those who believe only in believer’s baptism) will not allow the paedo-baptist into communion (one who has only been infant baptized) then we are, in effect, stating that paedo-baptist congregations are not true churches. I do not see how we can avoid this implication if we use Cranmer’s (and John Calvin said something very similar in his institutes) definition of the local church. If we toss Cranmer’s definition, then we are left with redefining what we mean by “local church.”
If we confess that some paedo-baptist congregations are indeed within the church universal, then how can we also disbar them from fellowship at the local level? This is one of the troubling questions of our day. It has absolutely preoccupied my mind since I heard of Bethlehem Baptist’s decision to allow paedo-baptists into communion.
On the larger level, this question strikes right at the heart of what it means to be a “church.” Is a church made up of believer’s only? If so, what will Bethlehem Baptist do with those paedo-baptists who insist on treating their unbelieving children as members of the church. Indeed, they do not merely ‘treat’ them this way, they believe that they are members of the church. In some cases, they refuse to evangelize their children because they are already united with Christ Jesus through the covenant of baptism. This troubles me greatly. I cannot accept this for even a moment.
Yet, I hesitate to say that Presbyterian churches are not true churches. But the implication is there, and for me it is glaring. If our church continues to practice a membership made up of only professing and then baptized believers, I feel that our church is implicating this very thing. More troubling, I believe that they may be correct.
Is the Roman Catholic Church a true church? No. They teach a gospel that it incompatible with Scripture. Are there believers inside the Roman Church? Yes, undoubtedly there are regenerate people inside the Roman Church. Yet, if a Roman Catholic comes to a Baptist church with a credible confession, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and rejects Roman doctrines, even to the point of rejecting baptismal regeneration, should we allow them into membership without baptizing them? What if they believe that, while not regenerative, their baptism is valid because infant baptism is valid and they were baptized in the name of the Triune God?
If you do exclude them from membership, then you would probably do so based on the fact that you believe the Roman Catholic Church to be a false church. But why do you believe it to be false? Because the Word of God is incorrectly preached and the sacraments are not properly administered? Or shall we simply change the definition of a true church as “Where the word of God is purely preached.” This simply begs the question of, “Does the Word of God, rightly preached, teach infant baptism?” If the answer is no, Rome is still disqualified, and so are the Presbyterians. Baptists have always taught that the Bible nowhere teaches that infants may be baptized. Further, we believe that it is extremely dangerous to do so.
So what is a church? If we use Cranmer’s definition, then I believe that paedo-baptist congregations are no churches at all. They are groups of believers, perhaps, meeting together but defying the commandment and teaching of our Lord to be baptized in His name after they make the good confession. They are being irresponsible with their children and giving themselves a false sense of ‘covenantal’ security. This is a hard saying, and who can stand it?
Finally, we must ask ourselves if this is a hill to die on. Is it worth the rift and division that such a stand will certainly cause? Is this a position to die for? This is not rhetorical flourish, nor is it the banter of a fighting fundamentalist.
It was just such an issue for Balthasar Hubmaier. On March 10, 1528 he was burned at the stake for his belief in Believer’s Baptism. Three days later, his wife had a stone tied around her neck and was cast into Danube River to drown for the same belief. Before he was martyred, Hubmaier had already suffered torture at the hands of the authorities of Zurich, under the consent of Ulrich Zwingli. Frankly, it angers me to think that such men died over what we are now sweeping under the rug without even a peep.
If it is true that the practice of paedo-baptists is unbiblical, then I have no problem saying that they need to repent of this sin. If this makes them protest that such language is accusatory and implies that they are no true church, so be it. My conscience, as were the consciences of the Reformers before me, is bound to the Word of God. If I am in error, then I hope that I may find the humility to listen to correction.
We Must Do the Impossible
4 years ago