Thursday, October 06, 2005

Baptism and Exclusion

I have a burning question running through my head and heart right now that is being stoked by the fires of this ‘baptism’ controversy.  It may not be controversial to you, but I believe that this issue is a big, big deal.  I believe that this issue forces us to examine what we mean by “church membership.”  I believe that this issue forces us to examine what we mean by “church.”  It also drives us to define what we believe about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline.  It makes us examine what it means to be a pastor and teacher.  It defines how we understand a confessing church, and it compels us to deal with whether faith or baptism is the door to the church.  It causes us to examine how the faith of a believing parent affects the heart of an unregenerate child, or if infants of believing parents are to be treated as unregenerate at all!  There is much at stake in this issue.

As I mentioned in an earlier post the church over which John Piper serves as elder, Bethlehem Baptist Church, has voted to allow confessing believers to join the church membership even if they refuse New Testament baptism.  To be clear, they say that they will not allow someone to join if they have never been baptized at all, but this simply begs the question.  “What is baptism?”  If baptism is something done to professing believers only and by immersion, then nothing else qualifies as baptism at all.  If that premise stands, then Bethlehem Baptist has voted to allow non-baptized members to join the membership of the congregation.

I understand the impulse behind this move.  (Since I last posted, I have read over sections of the statement that Bethlehem Baptist has put out on this issue.)  If I am consistent in my position, I would have to withhold the Lord’s Supper from R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and if they were alive, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield and John Calvin and Martin Luther.  All of whom are tremendous heroes of mine.  All of whom I trust are safe and secure by grace alone to Christ alone forever.  I embrace them as brothers, and I love their work and exhortation dearly, and I am grateful to God for them.

But they are and were wrong about baptism.  It is not for infants.  Baptism does not replace circumcision.  Baptism cannot bring the faithless into the fold of the church.  Baptism does not regenerate the soul.  With all of the statements of this paragraph, I trust, the elders of Bethlehem Baptist would agree.  Yet, they have still decided to allow members into the church based on a profession of faith alone without submitting to the clear New Testament teaching of baptism.

Here is where I am really upset about this.  The Lord Jesus Christ left us with two ordinances.  Two.  That’s it.  Was the practice of baptism and the commandment of our Lord so unclear that we cannot even figure out how to practice the only ordinances He left us!  Can we not stand, without wavering, on the New Testament practice of believer’s baptism without capitulating to the tug of our heartstrings?  Yes, I love Sproul and Calvin and Edwards, but love requires me to say that they were wrong.  If I am in error on this, I would expect the same courtesy from them.  In point of fact, I spent a good portion of my day yesterday in dialogue with John Calvin via his Institutes on this very subject.  I listened intently.  I took notes.  And may I say that he had very harsh words for me.  He lumped me into a category with a man that was beheaded in his Geneva (Michael Servetus).  He railed against my position as ridiculous.  It was no minor matter to my dear friend Calvin.  I respect him for that.

I respect him for another error which I believe he avoided.  It is an error that is rampant in our society and our churches.  While he held to the priesthood of all believers, he never elevated the individual over the health of the church as a whole.  The church of God is more important than you and I.  I do not care if it hurts my brother’s feelings and breaks my heart, infant baptism is wrong.  I do not care how ancient the practice or how venerated its advocates, it is nowhere taught in the Sacred Scriptures and its practice cannot now be presumed as if we were at liberty to presume on God’s Word!  If it is taught there, then produce the evidence.  Believer’s Baptism is as clearly presented as the Trinity.

Here is what I explicitly and exclusively see in the New Testament:

  1. Believer’s are baptized.  That’s all I ever see in the New Testament.  

  2. They are baptized by immersion.

In future posts, if God permits, I am going to deal with a few subjects that relate directly to this subject:

  1. Can we bar someone from communion and still believe that he is regenerate?

  2. John Bunyan’s unsuccessful attempt to convince Baptists of this very position.

  3. The nature of The Lord’s Supper in the Church.  (open vs. close vs. semi-close.)
4.  Anything else that may pop up due to interest.

5 comments:

brother terry said...

Dude you're killing me!

We're in the same boat. When my wife told me about your blog, I felt like I had found a long lost brother!

I'll keep reading!

brother terry said...

Thanks for stopping by. I would like to further explore Communion i.e. tradition vs. scripture.

I hope you post on it!

Ben D. said...

Brother,

Thank you for "magnifying the meaning of baptism." After going back and looking in "Brothers, We are not Professionals" I realize that the author's defense was not without some reservation. Take this quote for instance, "I think we need to teach our people the meaning of baptism...without elevating the doctrine to a primary one that would unduly cut us off from shared worship (Lord's Supper?) and ministry with others who share more important things with us."

pilgrim said...

FIrst let me be upfront and say I am a PResbyterian and hold to paedo baptism--for Biblical reasons.

The issue with Bethlehem Baptist, as I understand it from what they have said is this question-"Can a church demand a higher standard of membership than scripture?"

That is the issue.

In most Presbyterian churches they would do the same thing from their perspective. Church membership is based on a credible profession of faith. Holding to paedo-baptism is required for elders & deacons, and Bethlehem does this as well.

I applaud Bethlehem in what I see as a move of Grace.

The last time an infant was baptised in our congregation, our pastor pointed out it really is covenantal baptism.

John said...

Brad,

I came along your blog through a search for Bethlehem and baptism. I am a member of Bethlehem Baptist, and the church has not yet voted on the issue.

The elders have recommended the amendment to the church and it will be voted upon in December. A majority of members must vote for it, or two-thirds of a quorum (10% of all members).

I have a couple posts on my blog about the issue if you're interested.

I appreciated your boldness in disagreeing with Pastor Piper on this and holding firmly to scripture. I wish the church would do the same.

Blessings