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Baptist Practices

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

> Dear Gary,

In the chapter on baptism in your Scripture Workbook, in support of believers-only-baptism you state that (1) infants "are incapable of trusting Christ" and (2) infants "have no old life needing crucified."

This to me represents the inherent contradiction between Reformed theology and Baptist Theology. You cannot truly be both Baptist and Reformed. Proposition (1) misunderstands God's grace and election, shifting the focus as an Arminian would to OUR choice of God (not His of us).<

It is looking at it from a human perspective. IOW, we cannot "see" someone being regenerated within, but we can hear their confession of faith, at least in someone old enough to make such a confession. And Baptist believe it is only those who have confessed Christ who should be baptized.

Personally, I have always thought it was Reformed/ paedo-Baptists who were being inconsistent. Not all children of elect people are necessarily elect (Matt 3:9; John 1:13). So to baptize someone just because their parent(s) are Christians is being inconsistent in my mind. Of course, this all relates to the issue of "covenant theology." See the three part article by Bob Wright on this subject on my site [Historical Doubts Concerning One "Covenant of Grace"].

> Proposition (2) misunderstands total depravity and everyone's need for salvation: even babies (who are surely 'in Adam') are infected with sin and need salvation (not that baptism earns salvation!).<

You are correct in that babies need salvation. But you are also correct that baptism does not "earn" them salvation. So to me, that is the inconsistency in your position. Why baptize an infant when it does nothing for them? It cannot be a sign of their salvation as they are not being saved by the baptism.

Let me interject here that I in some ways I disagree with both Baptist and paedo-Baptist practices. IMO, people should be baptized when they believe, meaning on the same day. This is the Biblical practice. IOW, I think it is both unbiblical to baptize people years before they're saved (as paedo-baptists do) and long after they're saved as generally happens in Baptist circles.

A good discussion of this issue is seen in the book Difficult Passages in the Epistles by Robert Stein (pp. 116-126). He uses the analogy of marriage and a wedding ring. Exchanging wedding rings is not necessary for a marriage to be binding. However, in our culture, wedding rings are generally exchanged on the same day as the wedding. So to ask someone, "When did you get your wedding ring?" would get the same answer as asking "When did you get married?"

It was the same for baptism and salvation in the early Church. Although baptism is not necessary for salvation, it was always performed at the time a person was saved. So you could ask someone "When were you baptized?" and get the same answer as asking them "When were you saved?" Note, by "saved" here I am referring to when someone outwardly confesses Christ. Again, this is all we can know. The person would actually be regenerated prior to a public confession.

But today, we have separated the two. It would be like people exchanging wedding rings long before or after a marriage. The wedding ring would loose its significance, and that's what I think has happened with baptism. So to be truly Biblical, on the day someone believes they should be baptized. That would solve most of the dilemma and debates seen today.

Of course, there is still the question of how to be baptized. But that is a minor point as compared to the when. Although, I will say I do believe that non-immersions forms of baptism entered the Church when infant baptism became common as it is not particularly safe to immerse an infant.

> I suspect you are really Reformed and not Baptist :) but are not willing to take either to its logical conclusion lest it offend.<

I think, as explained above, if we were to follow the Biblical practice and baptize people when they are saved, then that would solve the problem.

> The contradiction between Reformed theology and Baptist theology is similar to the contradiction between Biblical (Calvinist) and Arminian theology. Biblical Christianity is Calvinist and therefore Arminian BELIEVERS are really Calvinists (as they are Christians!) but are uncomfortable with its logical conclusions; they therefore invent a comfortable middle ground trying to superimpose man's free-will on top of God's sovereignty (and not the other way around as it should be). They will not take either to its logical conclusion, preferring to remain blissful in their ignorance. But if their Arminianism really were correct, why would they pray for the salvation of unbelievers (as most Arminian believers do!)? I have put this proposition to believing Arminians (Pentecostals) and they cannot explain it away!

If Baptists really believe that salvation is by grace why do they deny membership in the body of Christ to those saved by that grace? I am 20 years old, saved by grace (3 years and eight months ago), was baptized as an adult (in the Anglican Church of Australia, but more importantly I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit into the church of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!) but was not baptized by "immersion". I cannot share in the Lord's supper at a Baptist Church. That comes terribly close to a gospel plus works mentality. In fact it sounds like a different gospel than that preached by the apostles (Gal i.8-9). I find that position indefensible. It is offensive and repugnant to God's holy writ.

And then there's the standard Baptist sophistry that we're "saved by Grace" but "only church membership should be allowed when a believer is baptized by immersion." Surely at the point of salvation we become heirs of the kingdom and members of Christ's Church: why do you then seek to deny this by making "church membership" requisite on [a particular mode of] baptism? If someone has repented and has been born again he is a member of Christ's church IRRESPECTIVE OF WHETHER HE HAS BEEN 'BAPTIZED' AT ALL. Certainly I would encourage this convert to be baptized but in the meanwhile I would not deny him church membership (and the ability to share in the Lord's Supper.)

My problem with the Baptist position is not so much the idea of believers' baptism (although being a covenant theologian I believe it is acceptable to baptize infants). Given the right starting point (which for a true Baptist cannot be covenant theology) the Baptist position on paedobaptism is Scripturally justifiable. My major problem is the idea of church membership and making baptism by immersion a requisite for it. I find this to go against the grain of Biblical teachings on grace, salvation and the church and I did not see any Scriptural support for this Baptist distinctive. I would appreciate it, if you could inform me of any passages of Scripture upon which Baptists base their teachings on church membership.<

You actually raise three issues here that need to be separated:

1. Making baptism by immersion a requirement for membership in the Church.

2. Making baptism by immersion a requirement for membership in a local church.

3. Making baptism by immersion a requirement for participating in the Lord's Supper.

For convenience sake, I am using the capitalized "Church" to refer to the Church universal, and "church" with a small "c" to refer to a local congregation.

That said, I will take each of these separately. As for number 1, I don't know of any Baptist who says you have to be baptized in order to be a part of the Church universal, the body of Christ. All Christians are baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ when they are saved (1Cor 12:13, cp. 1:2). So number 1 is a non-issue.

As for number two, to become a member of any local church a person should ascribe to that assembly's confession of faith. And part of a Baptist church's confession of faith is a belief in baptism by immersion of believers only. So to require someone who has not been so baptized to be so is simply requiring the person to show they do in fact agree with the confession of faith by their actions.

Now, part of the problem might be the whole issue of church membership in the first place. Is it really Biblical to say someone has to "officially" become a member of a local church? Personally, I don't think so. But then, there's nothing to say a church can't have such a practice.

At my church, we do not have a "membership" per se. People are asked to commit themselves to be part of the "ministry team." By this is meant not the leaders of the church, but the congregation in general. It sounds a bit confusing, and like word games. But the point is to emphasis that all Christians are to be involved in "ministry" in some capacity, not just the leaders of a church.

But then, the church I'm currently associated with is not a Baptist church per se. It is a member of the Evangelical Free Church of America. And the E Free confession of faith does not have a clause about Baptism. And, as far as I know, my church does not have a requirement about baptism for joining the ":ministry team." However, the only baptism done at my church are of believers by immersion.

As for point number 3, I guess there might be some Baptist churches that have "closed communion" rules like you describe, but no Baptist church I have ever attended has. In fact, I can remember that at the first Baptist church I attended (a Conservative Baptist Association church), the pastor would specifically say during communion that it was "open" to anyone who had trusted in Christ. No mention was ever made about baptism.

So the bottom line is, points numbers 1 and 3 are non-issues as far as I'm concerned because I don't know of any Baptist churches with these beliefs. As regards point number 2, I guess I simply believe a church does have a right to make whatever "requirements" it wants for membership at the church. And to require members to agree with the church's confession of faith I don't think is asking too much.

> I wish you all the best for your ministry. Despite our differences on the meaning of baptism, there is a true unity in Christ.<

Thank you, and agreed.

> I have recently discovered your webpages on health and will read them with interest. My mother died of cancer when she was just 49 years of age (I was only seven). So the impact of diet on our well-being (especially re cancer) is of great interest to me. From the rest of your website I know you teach the Bible well and so anything you have to say about diet and the Bible will be Scripturally sound (unlike some weird teaching on the Bible and cancer).

Love, peace, and GRACE in Christ Jesus,

My condolences on your mother. And yes, with that kind of family history you should be extra concerned about your diet. I hope you find my pages on nutrition helpful.

>Hey, Gary,

Agreed on all points on your article on Baptists. I was just talking to the pastor of our mission church, and one of the problems we discussed was we both believe that when someone confesses Christ, they should be baptized immediately, not given a six week course.

I have attended a Baptist church that practiced closed communion. There's an independent fundamental one in my hometown I have attended a couple of times while visiting there, and they have a separate communion service every Sunday open to members only. I understand this is pretty much standard for independent Baptists, but I've never seen it in any denominational Baptist church, including the Southern Baptists, the Canadian United Baptists, or the Australian Baptist Union churches.

David seems to live in Australia [where I recently visited]. Having attended Baptist Union churches there and having partaken in communion, the only requirement given for partaking was belief in Christ. The folk in Baptist Union churches think they are the only Baptist group operating in Australia, but I am sure there are independent fundamental Baptists as well. Of course, even if it was a Baptist Union church he attended, all Baptist churches are autonomous and the one he attended may have a special rule that is not the norm I witnessed.

In any case, I stayed with friends in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia called Arana Hills. Within fifteen minutes driving there were at least four Baptist churches, all within the same Baptist Union. I'm not sure what leads David to want to worship in one, but if this point of closed communion offends him as it would me, there's a good chance there's another Baptist Union church nearby with no such requirement.

By the way, my understanding of baptism, speaking from my purely Baptist perspective, is this. It is a responsibility of the church to baptize, and a requirement of the individual to respect the church's requirement in order to gain membership (but of course not salvation).

The reason for the church to baptize is really a quality assurance measure on allowing people to be part of the church. When a person believes, and is willing to be baptized as a profession of faith, it is in a sense an initiation that allows us to know that person is serious about their faith, willing to put themselves through the humbling exercise of being dunked underwater. We would view a person unwilling to humble themselves in this way as a real risk to allow into church membership, as a person with such pride is possibly not repentant toward God.

This baptism keeps out a lot of unbelievers. It surely isn't the perfect stopgap, but frankly, as a result of following the Biblical requirement of the church, we've managed to do battle better against modernism than say, the strictly Calvinist Presbyterian Church, USA, and certainly much better than the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Baptism is a Biblically-ordained filter to keep out those who aren't really serious about Christianity and may wish to do the church damage.

Just my thoughts, man. Happy New Year, in case I've failed to wish you one before now.

Yours in Christ,

>Dear Gary

On Reformed theology and Baptism ...

Again it must be said that my thoughts are those of one without the benefit of a formal theological education. No doubt they tend to follow the paedo-baptist viewpoint. I do think, however, that what you say about believers being baptized at conversion (and not thereafter) is scripturally valid. I think it would be a good practice -- but exactly how we would implement it I'm not sure. Church structures exist and you would have to tread on a lot of toes in order to implement changes.

> >Why baptize an infant when it does nothing for them? It cannot be a sign of their >salvation as they are not being saved by the baptism.<<

Why were Israelite babies circumcised? Circumcision did not earn them salvation yet God commanded the Israelites to do it.

Why baptize adults? By your logic it "does nothing for them" because it does does not earn them salvation.

Ultimately, IMHO, it comes down to what exactly we mean by "baptism". Is baptism *primarily* an expression of faith in the believer or is it *primarily* a sign of God's promise? I believe the latter while you (presumably) believe the former.

On baptism and church membership...

Thank you once again for your explanations. They have helped to clear the air. Also thank you to Reese whose email was published on the webpage for helping to clear any misunderstandings. I presume from this that only a minority of Baptist churches are "closed" in the way I suggested (with respect to Holy Communion) and that the majority are "open" in this regard. One of my "major sticking points" with the Baptist position has now "come unstuck". Thank you for explaining this. It would be wrong to generalize that all Baptists are closed just as it would be wrong to generalize that all Anglicans ("Episcopalians" in the USA) are antichrists because bishops like John Shelby Spong are outright heretics!

To answer Reese's question, as far as I know any Church bearing the name "XXXX Baptist Church" belongs to the Baptist Union and independent Baptist churches in Australia will usually indicate it in their title -- e.g. Penrith Independent Baptist Church (as opposed to Penrith Baptist Church [of the Baptist Union]). But to be sure you'd best ask a Baptist!!!

About my local Baptist Union church I know relatively little except that they teach the Bible and preach the gospel of Christ. I do not know their position on communion. I'm glad to say that the local Anglican Church has a good relationship with our local Baptist (Baptist Union) church seeing ourselves as partners in the gospel, especially when it comes to youth evangelism. We are very blessed that in our town all the major Protestant denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Baptist and Uniting Church) are evangelical. This is a rarity in modern Australia. There are vast areas of the country that do not have a bible-believing and gospel-focused church. I and many other Australians would appreciate your prayers in this regard.

Love in Christ,

Thank you for your e-mail. I really don't have anything to add to my previous comments. May God bless you in your walk with Him.

>I was just reading some comments that you and others were making concerning baptism and membership in a local church. The one reason that our local church makes baptism a requirement for church membership is that it is a command of Jesus. Therefore you cannot allow any individual to openly disobey a direct command.

"Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." - Will Rogers

The issue is not baptism per se but the idea that one has to be baptized by that particular church to become a member of it. If one has already been baptized by even a completely different denomination, they should not need to be re-baptized to become a member of a particular church. The only exception would be if one were baptized as an infant but was now joining a church that believed in believer's baptism. Then I could see why re-baptism would be a requirement for membership.

----Original Message-----

>My thoughts exactly with one note on being re-baptized. If you were not baptized Scripturally then it is not a re-baptism but an initial baptism. We're not baptized into a denomination but are baptized as a public testimony of our faith in Christ (an outward show of an inward change); we attend a particular denomination by choice.



Question on Baptists from a Student

>I am researching the Baptist church for a school project. No where can I find any information on the structure of the hierarchy of the Baptist church. What is the name of the person who heads this church and who is below him. Are there bishops? Who is below them on the totem pole of command for this church? Any information or leads would be appreciated.

Thank you.

The reason you cannot find "information on the structure of the hierarchy of the Baptist church" is because there is no real "hierarchy" in Baptist churches.

First off, Baptists, by definition, believe in the autonomy of the local church. By this is meant, Baptist churches are congregational churches. Each individual Baptist church is considered an entity in itself. Baptist churches are self-governing. They elect their own pastors, elders, and deacons. Such church leaders are not appointed by someone higher up in a "hierarchy."

Baptist churches do differ in the particular kind of government each has. Some are congregational run, which is to say, the congregation as a whole votes on important matters, such as the selection of a new pastor. Others are elder run, which is to say the congregation elects a board of elders, and they in turn make the administrative decisions. And others are pretty much run by the pastor.

Now Baptist churches do often join "associations" in order to pool their resources for missionary work, relief programs, and the like. And there are over 20 different Baptist organizations in the USA. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest. The Conservative Baptist Association ran the seminary I attended. There are many others.

However, usually the only requirement for a Baptist church to join an association is that the church agrees with the association's confession of faith. The association might advise individual churches on various matters, such as suggesting someone when a church needs a new pastor. But the local church has the final say on whether to accept the association's suggestion. Plus, there are many Baptist churches which are not members of any kind of association. These are known as independent Baptist churches.

There are no bishops in Baptist churches or associations, neither are there priests, cardinals, and the like. The only "titles" seen are those seen in the Bible, namely pastors, elders, and deacons. And all of these are associated with the local church. Those who run the various associations are called presidents, administrators, or other non-religious titles.

So there is really no "totem pole of command" for Baptist churches. The local pastor and/ or elders might have administrative authority at the local church level, but that is about it. The association would only get involved in the workings of a local church if it began teaching things contrary to the confession of faith. Otherwise, the individual churches are self-governing.

I hope the above helps.

>Thank you for your help. I can finish my school project now.


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