Monday, October 10, 2005

Drawing the Line

For those who are following this “out loud” think through of the issue of baptism and the local church, Pilgrim raises a great point by asking, “Where do we draw the line?”  That is, what does it take for someone to join the membership of the local church.  Where we draw the line on this issue deeply effects how we relate to one another and to other churches.

There are, as I understand historical and biblical theology, two ways for someone to be excluded from local church membership.  One way is by immoral, sinful conduct from which someone is unrepentant.  Secondly, they may be disciplined for teaching doctrinal heresies.  I think that everyone is in agreement on these two standards.

So where would baptism go?  (There is overlap in each category, but an adulterer may be spot on theologically if you quizzed him and still be unrepentant!)  I would think that most would regulate an erroneous doctrine of baptism into the second category.  

Some forms of baptism are, as Brother Terry stated, heresy proper.  I would file any doctrine that teaches baptismal regeneration into that category.  Again, I believe that our Presbyterian friends would largely agree.  (I hope!)  However, Presbyterians do not teach that infant baptism is regenerative in nature, rather, it is an “open door” for covenant children to share in the promises of God. Just as circumcision did not guarantee salvation in the Old Testament, neither does infant baptism guarantee regeneration.  But it does allow the children of believers to move freely about the community and share in its basic benefits.  As a Credo-Baptist, I do not agree with that assessment.  I understand it; I like it; I just do not think that the Bible teaches it!

Now I am stuck with whether or not this is heresy proper.  Technically, I suppose any false teaching could be labeled “heresy”.  But I certainly would not draw lines of fellowship over some teaching on the millennium or end times.  (Unless they denied the second coming altogether!)  I do not believe that the Presbyterian view of baptism is heresy with a capital “H”.  However, I do believe that it is worse than a squabble over the rapture.

In the end, I believe that this issue fits better into the first category.  That is the category of unrepentant sin.  Can someone be inside the universal church and still be in unrepentant sin?  I believe so.  Paul writes, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).  In this case, the person in question was steeped in gross sexual immorality.  Yet Paul seems to believe that this discipline will not overthrow his salvation.  He believes that the man’s spirit will be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Is an error on the doctrine of baptism as serious as being involved in sexual immorality?  I believe so, and I am cutting myself as well with that statement.  If I am wrong and my Presbyterian brothers are correct about baptism, I am sinning grievously against my son by refusing his baptism.  I cannot describe to you the anguish I would feel over this issue if I were wrong.  Would neglecting infant baptism change my son’s destiny in Christ Jesus?  No, not in itself.  But neither would adultery in itself necessarily end in divorce.  Adultery would hurt my wife and damage our marriage.  Much of the intimacy we now enjoy would be ruined.  It would bring sorrow upon sorrow.  My son’s status regarding election will never be changed, but I do him much grief by not having him baptized if my Presbyterian brothers and sisters are correct.

It cuts the other way if I am correct, and I am convinced that I am.  Infant baptism can indeed lead to a false sense of security in a parent and child regarding the child’s condition.  There are other issues, but I will not belabor them here.  That is not the point of my protest.

So where do we draw the line?  We do not have to draw the line.  It was drawn a few hundred years ago by men like Cranmer and Calvin and Luther.  (Why didn’t Luther and Calvin get together, anyway?)  It is drawn at the Word of God properly taught and the ordinances.  I know that Bethlehem Baptist cares for the paedo-baptist who wants to join the fellowship.  I do too.  But I have a larger responsibility to the local church as a whole, and to the church universal.  I have to hold to what I believe the Word of God teaches, no matter how sweet a brother or sister may be.  So, I protest.  It is as simple as this:  Dear brother or sister, if you wish to join this fellowship you must come by the means which Scripture has proscribed: an obedient believer’s baptism.  If you refuse, then the door is shut and we grieve.  If you are found blameless in every area save this, it still warrants the strictest censure and our earnest admonition.  God speed the day when we may all sit at the same table where this confession will once again be true:  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.  Amen.  


brother terry said...

No one likes the word heresy do they?

I don't like to be called fat, but I am. LOL

I didn't mean that I thought infant baptism was the worst heresy, just the worst KIND of heresy.

There are many worse that we here in the rural South deal with. (Denial of the Trinity, Salvation by works etc.)

I have run into so much trouble in my wife's own family because of paedo-baptism.

Her family is largely UMC.

John Wesley is one of my great heroes of the faith, but infant baptism is still a terrible thing!

I have attended these ceremonies and really enjoy the fact that the whole congregation takes responsibility for raising the child in the Way of the Lord.

The trouble is when these kids get to be teenagers and young adults and fall away from the church, as so many do, they still think they are right with the Lord because they have been baptized.

So many people I speak to try and substitute the word "baptized" for the word "saved".

That scares me.


pilgrim said...

Well as I mentioned in another comment in our congregation we are well aware of the danger of equating "baptized" and "saved" so we do not. The youth are still ministered to, and taught, and evangelized.

We believe as we do for many reasons-especially Biblical ones.
We see a covenant in Scripture that continues forward from Adam & Eve to now and to the future.
In some ways I should say from eternity past, as the Trinity agreed to act as they do in salvation.

On Pentecost, Peter told the people listening the promise was for them and their children, just as it was in the OT (in fact he quotes lots of OT in his sermon.)

We are told households were baptized--this fits with circumcision as households were circumcized when the head of the houshold believed-starting with Abraham. The covenant continues and all believes are included in it, even if they do not hold it properly--as none of us do.

This short summary probably won't convince you, but I put it here to explain why, as a Presbyterian, I can still include Baptists in fellowship beyond a degree you have started to doubt is proper.

It's because of that covenant--the most important part of is the forgiveness of sins and being made right with God.

If we are truly God's people, then He has and will forgive all our sins-including an incorrect view of non-regenerational baptism. (and possibly an incorrect view on regenerational baptism depending on how one views Lutheran and Anglican beliefs on baptism).

So Baptists are welcome to attend and join our congregation. They could not be deacons or elders, but could tech if what they are teaching does not concern baptism.
If they are truly part of Chrust's church--how could we exclude them, and how could we withhold communion from them?

That's what I see as a reformed covenantal perspective.

ColinM said...


You make some valid points. However, we cannot be content with relegating a bad theological position to something God will just forgive, not to minimize in any way the greatness and magnificence of that forgiveness. Brad is right that there are serious consequences to error in either position. His point must be well taken, lest you not heed the warning of Scripture that sin clearly has consequences.

In fact, no sin goes unpunished. We like to think of our sin as wiped clean in a way that it just disappeared. Well, it didn't. It was paid for- on the Cross by Jesus Christ- as is all the sins of the believers. Furthermore, there are earthly consequences we must acknowledge. For this reason, we cannot ever be content on just letting it work out in the end. We must earnestly strive for the truth, ask the hard questions, and take the stance, however uncomfortable or unpopular it may be.

Daniel said...

My wife and I were discussing this just tonight. I remarked how we all, as Christians who are now indwelt with the Holy Spirit, are aware of certain things having not learned them through scripture, but through experience. For example, we want to live lives that are pleasing to God. No one who is born of God's Spirit has to be instructed in this - it is a byproduct of the indwelling Spirit.

Yet we are careful to not let our experience stand in a vacuum, and so we examine the scriptures and demonstrate from the Holy writ what our experience has already shown us to be so.

That is all fine and good when our experience is correct, and when our theology is correct.

The trouble begins when we have a truth that we know is true, and we go to scripture to prove it, and the path we take through scripture to prove it is skewed somewhat - but we accept it as pure because we know for certain that the conclusion is correct.

In such a case, we presume that every step on the ladder is as sure as the conclusion - and in the strength of that kind of reasoning, even godly men can swallow a camel.

A Covenantal approach to scripture interpretation will produce some very correct conclusions.

A non-Covenantal approach to scripture interpretation will likewise produce some very correct conclusions.

The danger, as I said is that we presume that because we are standing on the roof, that ever step in the ladder is sound.

I discuss this a bit here, where I discuss what sort of foundation our faith ought to be resting on.

Ultimately, I am inclined to reject covenant theology. I do not have a profoundly better theology. In fact, I only reject it because I do not think it wise to accept a theology on the basis that it comes up with some right sounding conclusions. I am as interested in a right journey as I am in proper destination, the covenant route, to me at least, seems to presume more than I think it wise to presume.

pilgrim said...

The more I read the Bible, the more I see the truth of covenantal theology.
And part of my point was that a covental approach shows why a church can accept as members those who believe differently oon baptism, as long as those beliefs do not deny the gospel. Leaders are held to a stricter accountability, so restricting those who hold them to a denominational distinctive is Biblical. But to deny membership on the basis of a non-essential is adding a condition that scripture itself does not. That is dangerous.

colinm said, "However, we cannot be content with relegating a bad theological position to something God will just forgive."

Read what I just wrote -I hope that clarifies my comment-my point is not to be cavalier towards sin.

Sojourner said...


I appreciate your comments very much. Thank you for staying and giving us your point of view.

In your last comment, you touched upon part of the reason that this entire debate bothers me: When, in the entire history of the church, has baptism been considered a non-essential for church membership? The Reformers certainly did not think like this! This used to be an issue that men and women stood and died for.

I agree that baptism is a non-essential in the sense that you do not have to be baptized to be saved. But a non-essential for local church membership? This is a new invention.

pilgrim said...

I never said baptism was a non-essential for church membership, only a non-essential for salvation.

In our church if somebody wanted to become a member they would need to have been baptised already or to get baptised. If they were baptized in a credo-baptism (as I was) that is acceptable-as long as that view of baptism does not deny the gospel.

So basically we should not put up barriers to Church Membership that the Bible does not-and that means we can allow for differences in credo vs paedo baptism beliefs-if those views are held with conviction based on the Bible.

This is what mosr paedo-baptist Chirches do, and this is what Bethlehem has done.

I'll pray for your trip to India--sounds interesting.