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.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.