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September 23, 2005

Being a Baptist

I started on this track to write about John Piper's decision to adopt a more open membership stance, especially concerning baptism. But it's grown on me. It's become a huge monster that is asking the question that is really behind much of the controcersy in the Southern Baptist Convention today.

What is a Baptist? What defines a Baptist?

When I look back in Baptist history (and don't worry -- I'm no Landmarker), I can see certain Baptist distinctives, it's true. And they can even be turned into the handy acronym BAPTIST, so that we can remember them. But there is one thing that Baptists have been historically recognized for -- believer's baptism by immersion.

I'm not going to defend BBI (we DO like acronyms, after all) in this post. Books have been written that do not do the subject justice -- nothing I can write in the space of a few hundred words is going to make any addition to the corpus, or change anyone's mind. I have many friends who are Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other denominations who I fully believe are born again children of God but with whom I heartilly disagree on this subject.

What I am going to affirm here is that BBI is an essential Baptist doctrine. In other words, if you do not believe in believer's baptism by immersion, you are not a Baptist. It is one of the two ordinances/sacraments that makes the acronym as the first T.

I think the relevant statement from the 85 page "Baptism and Church Membership At Bethlehem Baptist Church" ODF file is point #10:

Therefore, where the belief in the Biblical validity of infant baptism does not involve baptismal regeneration or the guarantee of saving grace, this belief is not viewed by the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church as a weighty or central enough departure from Biblical teaching to exclude a person from membership, if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and a clear conscience that his baptism is valid. In such a case we would not require baptism by immersion as a believer for membership but would teach and pray toward a change of mind that would lead such members eventually to such a baptism.

The question I have: Why would anyone who was not persuaded of the truth of believer's baptism by immersion join a Baptist church? There are a lot of Presbyterian churches out there that are conservative and evangelical that they could join. There are other churches that they could be a part of. Why would someone want to join a church while rejecting a foundational doctrine of that church?

This arguement has been going on in Baptist circles for hundreds of years. John Bunyan would have agreed with Bethlehem Baptist's position. I THINK Spurgeon would have agreed with it (though he did fence the communion table, and Metro Tabernacle still does from what I've heard). Many other historic Baptists would not agree.

I have relied on Piper's writings on baptism in my own life, and in discussions with others. His ministry is an incredible inspiration for me -- I've been listening to him on the radio all week this week. But I think in this, he is wrong. If you believe that the proper subjects for baptism are believers only, any baptism previous to conversion is an unScriptural one. I think the new policy at Bethlehem Baptist contradicts the historical Baptist understanding of what baptism is, and who it is for.

I think that the subject of baptism is an important one as well for Baptists deciding what exactly a Baptist is. I'll look at the rest of the acronym in later posts.

Posted by Warren Kelly at September 23, 2005 05:34 PM | TrackBack
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