Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Baptism Part 1: Are Unregenerate People "Members" of the Church?

Over at Centuri0n's the topic of baptism is raging on again. I, for one, am exceedingly glad for this, and if you have time, I suggest that you check some of it out. As many of you know, the topic of baptism is something that I have expressed concern over before.

How we understand baptism has great effect on how we understand the church, salvation, and discipleship. Recently, at least two prominent organizations have made decisions that have caused the ordinance of baptism to be front and center in discussion. One is the decision by Bethelehem Baptist, where John Piper is the pastor, to admit people into fellowship who have never been baptized. (Actually, they are letting people join who were baptized as infants, and if they believe that baptism to have been valid, then they need not be baptized again to join. As long as the baptism is not believed to be regenerative.) The second is the recent decision by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to deny appointment to missionaries who were not baptized in a church who believes in the eternal security of the believer.

The first question that I want to deal with is the nature of the church itself. I hope that you will see that where we land on the ordinance of baptism will ultimately reflect the nature and make-up of our churches.

Baptism is the "initiation" into the fellowship of the Church. It is a sign that a person has been buried with Christ, and is now resurrected to walk as a new person. There are three criteria for New Testament baptism that we never see exception to:

1. Baptism is by immersion.
2. Baptism must be proceeded by a confession of faith.
3. Baptism is administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Any baptism that does not live up to these criteria is not a New Testament baptism.

One of the problems that enters in is when point number two is denied. This point is denied by paedo-baptists, those who baptize infants. In a Presbyterian church, you have "church members" who are not born-again, regenerate Christians. They are not 'saved'. They have no profession of faith. And yet, it is insisted that they are somehow 'church members'.

Baptists have always believed in a regenerate church membership. Let me be clear in this: If you do not believe in a regenerate church membership, you are no baptist. That has been the hallmark of baptists from the beginning. We believe in a regenerate, baptized membership. And baptism is only valid post-conversion. This is the requisite for sitting at the Lord's table and enjoying communion, contra John Bunyan who denied this but lost the argument.

This, by no means, makes the local baptist church perfect. We baptize people all the time who violate the second criteria. That is, we baptize people who confess Jesus Christ with their lips but are not truly regenerate people. However, we do not do this on purpose, and if we detect wolves among the sheep they are placed under discipline. Even in this event we do not "kick them out" of the church, they simply cannot enjoy the benefits of Communion. We are not disciplining them because we know them to be unregenerate. They are still 'members', but not members in good standing.

We have some people in our churches in good standing who are lost, and there may be disciplined members who are saved. The former is no real member; the latter is. I have no way of knowing which is which, but that doesn't change the fact that one is truly a member of the church of God and one is not.

I do not believe that a person who makes a false profession, or no profession, is any more a member of the church than an illegal alien who sneaks into our country is an American. He may enjoy the benefits of our roads, educational system, our tax dollars, etc.; he may speak English and drive an automobile and love Mickey Mouse and football and apple pie, but he is no American. He is an infiltrator, and if discovered, he should be expelled.

The Centuri0n seems to be arguing that baptized false professors and infants belonging to paedo-baptists are somehow members of the visible or local church. I deny this. I believe that our fascination with church numbers and baptist rolls has contributed to this notion, but it is a fallacy. There are no tares in the church of God. If you are a tare, you are not in the church at all. One may be on the roll, and they may participate by driving the church van, cooking a green bean casserole, eating at the Lord's Supper, and even be baptized. But they are an infiltrator, a wolf among the sheep, a blemish on our love feasts.

I currently cannot except any definition of the church that allows lost people to be members. It is absurd, and it is undiscerning.


Daniel said...

When some talk about "the church" they are referring to the people whose names can be found on worldly registers - tares and wheat both.

When some say "church" they are talking about the "true" church - that is, only the regenerate.

We all agree that in our congregational meetings there are likely some who claim to be regenerate who are deceived - that is, they are members of our local assembly, but not members of the Christ's body.

Whether it is correct to do so or not, most people use the term "church" to refer to the building - and when the do use it to refer to the people - they use it to refer to the congregation as a whole - and rarely use it to mean "only those who are actually saved"

Is it not possible that Centuri0n's position is valid if we understand him to be speaking of assemblies when he says "church?"

brother terry said...


This is exactly the position that I and my church believe to be correct.


Sojourner said...


I understand what the Centuri0n is saying. But what I am saying is that when the church gathers there are those who come who aren't the church. It is wrong to think that they are the church. They are wolves in the midst of the church. They are like that guy that shows up to the wedding feast without a garment; once exposed he must be cast out.

It is a mystery when the church is gathered as to 'who' is in the church and who isn't. Each person is exhorted in Scripture to make his calling and election sure, isn't he? If we are called to examine ourselves, is it not right to say that there are surely others in our midst who do not belong? (Though we hope that they will someday!)

As for calling the building a church, I know what people mean by that. But if people started defining the church as a building, wouldn't you be upset? That is what I mean when I say I understand what the Centuri0n means by saying tares are present when the church gathers, but if he states that tares are actually church members, I have to put on the brakes.

Daniel said...

I know what you are saying Brad - surely no tares are regenerate - though they do rub shoulders with the regenerate when gathered together in a congregational assembly. Typically however we call members of the congregational assembly "member of the local church" - however inaccurate that may be when one considers that some of these are likely not regenerate.

I don't think the label is applied to suggest that these members are a part of the genuine (universal) church, but rather are affiliated with a local assembly.

I myself am careful when I use the word "church" because I don't like oiling the emergent "whine" machine.

pilgrim said...

I'll agree on #3.

But if you'd like we can look at scripture for the other two points.
I don't see either of them exclusively or even blatantly in the Bible.

But then I am a Presbyterian by denomination and theology.

And I appreciate my Baptist brothers.

Sojourner said...

Oh yeah, that's supposed to be "preceeded" not "proceeded".

centuri0n said...

I think your criterion #1 is somewhat debatable. I am also certain that, historically, "sprinkling" has a pedigree that is as-old as dipping.

I read what I thought was an amazingly-bad argument that "dipping" (meaning: to place part-way in) is a more-common meaning for "baptizo" than "immersing". It was one of those times I was proud to be a baptist.

The flip-side of that pride is that, I think, "baptizo" means "washing" -- so you could "baptizo" your hand or a bowl (read: dunk under to clean), and you can "baptizo" your bed for ritual cleanliness. Rightly, I could say I "baptizo" my car with a hose and a rag.

The question is not what "baptizo" means -- because it means "to wash". Yhe question is "how did John and the Apostles baptize disciples?" They are the model, and I think their model -- as demonstrated by those whom they baptized in the methods they used to baptize -- is to either immerse or sprinkle. I think the Baptist demand for sprinkle-only is in the same vein as the straight-way baptist demand that you go straight-back down and then up again: it's legalistic superstition.

There: I said it. So clown me.

centuri0n said...

My pastor also invoted me to "Together for the Gospel" in Louisville in April. Any of you intrasigent baptists going to be there?

Sojourner said...

The Centuri0n came by! This is like a mediocre show having a brilliant special guest star drop by. Wow. And he's going to be at the "Together for the Gospel" convention. We could set up a bloggers alley section.