Just wanted to make sure people knew that.
Also, any suggestions of a new poll?
-Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Sarah got to hang out with a bunch of girls at Marty's baby shower today.
She is due in a few months, and the Moore family lives close by to us.
We look forward to babysitting.
This is Will, one of the only two dudes allowed at the shower.
He and his buddy Silas kept flirting with the ladies, including my wife apparently.
an important issue for churches today.
So, firstly, I post this because the issue of baptism and church membership
is an important one for us to consider and evaluate.
But secondly, I post this to show how Godly men can disagree and discuss the issue
in loving way that is healthy for the body of Christ.
The following are 3 blog posts.
The first is from John Piper, addressing a change that Wayne Grudem made in his systematic theology book.
The second entry is Wayne responding to John's comments.
The third entry is from Mark Dever, evaluating the debate from his understanding of baptism and church membership.
So, if you are interested, go for it.
It is a lot to read.
[John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, responds to Wayne Grudems shift on baptism]
Lots of people know that Wayne Grudem and I are the deepest of friends. We love to room together at conferences. We love to do things together with our wives. We were both in seminary together for a season. We have co-edited a book together. We taught together at Bethel College. And at this very moment I love him and would fly to his side in a crisis. But, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne, why did you rewrite page 983?
Justin Taylor drew our attention to the fact that Wayne revised section F1 in his new edition of Systematic Theology (pp. 982-983). The section is titled, “Do Churches Need to Be Divided Over Baptism?”
In the first edition, Wayne answered that question no. In the new edition, he does not answer it. He concludes, “Some kind of ‘compromise' position on baptism is not very likely to be adopted by denominational groups in the future.” That's probably true.
But, with that cautious comment on what is likely to be, rather than what ought to be, the new section has lost the prophetic, biblical force of the original edition. Evidently, Wayne is not so sure any more that we should make the effort to overcome the divisions among evangelicals for the sake of welcoming true brothers and sisters as members in the local church. I think his first edition was closer to the biblical balance.
In the first edition, he advocated finding a way to have conscience-persuaded paedobaptists and credobaptists as members of the same local church. He said,
This would mean that Baptist churches would have to be willing to allow into membership those who had been baptized as infants and whose conviction of conscience, after careful consideration is that their infant baptism was valid and should not be repeated. Of course, Baptist churches could be free to preach and to attempt to persuade prospective churches members that they should be baptized as believers, but if some, after careful consideration, are simply not persuaded, it does not seem appropriate to make this a barrier to membership.
I agree with this. And the main reason I do is that excluding a true brother in Christ from membership in the local church is far more serious than most of us think it is.
When I weigh the kind of imperfection involved in tolerating an invalid baptism because some of our members are deeply persuaded that it is biblically valid, over against the kind of imperfection involved in saying to a son or daughter of the living God, “You are excluded from the local church,” my biblical sense is that the latter is more unthinkable than the former. The local church is a visible expression of the invisible, universal, body of Christ. To exclude from it is virtually the same as excommunication. And no serious church takes excommunication as an invitation to attend the church down the street.
Wayne's new considerations are less compelling than what he wrote in the first edition. In the new edition, he writes:
For someone who holds to believer's baptism, admitting to church membership someone who has not been baptized upon profession of faith, and telling the person that he or she never has to be baptized as a believer is really giving up one's view on the proper nature of baptism.
No, Wayne, this is not true. I would gladly admit Ligon Duncan or Sinclair Ferguson or R. C. Sproul or Philip Ryken to membership at Bethlehem (if I were allowed by our constitution), and in doing so I would not be giving up my view on the proper nature of baptism.
I would say to them: “Brothers, I think you are not baptized. But you believe on biblical grounds as you see them, with as much humility and openness to truth as God has given you, that you are baptized. Your understanding of baptism does not imply that Christ's command may be neglected or that infant sprinkling is regenerating. You give good evidence of being born again and that you embrace Christ as your Savior and Lord and Treasure, and you manifest an authentic intention, on the basis of that faith, to follow Jesus as Lord and obey his teachings. Therefore, since there is good evidence that you are members of the Body of Christ, you may be members of this local expression of that body. But understand this: I will spend the rest of my ministry trying to persuade you that you and your children should follow through on the full obedience to Jesus and be baptized. In admitting you, I do not give up on my view of baptism. That is the whole point. We are finding a way to work on this disagreement from inside the body of Christ in its local expression.”
When Wayne says that admitting to church membership a biblically conscientious paedobaptist amounts to saying that “he or she never has to be baptized as a believer,” he is being (I am sure unconsciously) slippery. “Has to” implies a result that will not be achieved if one doesn't do it. What goal does Wayne mean? “Has to in order to go to heaven?” He doesn't believe that. “Has to in order to be fully obedient to Jesus?” Both he and I would agree with that. But that is precisely what I would say to any paedobaptist who joined our Baptist church.
Then Wayne continues: “It is saying that infant baptism really is valid baptism!”
No. Admitting a conscientious paedobaptist to membership in a Baptist church would not say that the infant baptism is valid. What it does say is: “Your mistaken understanding of baptism and the invalid baptism that follows from it are not the kind of disagreement, mistake, and failure that we are going to use in defining the meaning of the local church. We view you as a brother whose resting place is Christ alone, through grace alone, by faith alone, to the glory of God alone. You are in the Body of Christ. You may be in this body of Christ.”
Finally, Wayne says,
But then how could anyone who holds to this position tell anyone who had been baptized as an infant that he or she still needed to be baptized as a believer?
By saying: “You are wrong in your understanding of baptism. And your practice is wrong. You need to be baptized to be fully obedience to Jesus.”
Turning the tables, I would say that when a person looks a true and precious brother in the eye and says, “You may not join this church,” he is doing one of two things: Seriously diminishing our spiritual union in Christ, or seriously minimizing the importance of church membership. Very few, it seems to me, have really come to terms with the seriousness of excluding believers from membership in the local church. It is preemptive excommunication.
There are dozens of questions that need to be answered. When we walked through this several years ago, I did my best to answer as many as I could. I have hope that I will have Wayne back on this side of the issue eventually.
[Wayne Grudem responds]
Thank you for the kind, gracious spirit in your response!
And thank you for your friendship, which has meant so much to me for so many years.
And thank you for helping me to think more clearly about the details of what I have written. You write so persuasively! In fact, last night I printed out what I had written and your response, and gave it to Margaret, and before we went to bed Margaret informed me with a smile, “I agree with John.” Now what can I say to that??
Nevertheless, here are some responses:
(1) I do not see denial of church membership as “virtually the same as excommunication,” nor do any of the Baptist churches known to me.
Non-members who are clearly believers in Jesus Christ are welcomed as believers into many aspects of fellowship. They share in the Lord's Supper together with members (in all but a very few of the most strict Baptist churches). They participate freely in worship and prayer and fellowship. Sometimes a Baptist church will even have a Bible-believing Presbyterian or Episcopalian or Methodist or Lutheran pastor preach as a guest from the pulpit. That is far from “excommunication”!
And in varying degrees (in different churches) non-members are encouraged to minister to others in the church — they can become active members of home fellowship groups (and in some churches, such as my own Scottsdale Bible Church, they can lead such groups). They can become (in various churches) members of the choir or worship team, youth group workers, ushers, greeters, and so forth. These all give visible signs of treating this unbaptized person as a brother or sister in Christ. (I realize that Baptist churches and denominations have varieties of allowed participation in such things, but they all allow some measure of participation and treat unbaptized Christians as Christians.)
And surely a Baptist church would not give notice to the whole church that the unbaptized non-member should be “treated as an unbeliever from now on,” which would be done in the case of church discipline and excommunication. All these examples show that Baptist churches do not consider the refusal of membership to be equivalent to, or anything even similar to, excommunication. So I am not persuaded by that part of your thoughtful response to me.
(2) But there is a still a clear difference between members and non-members. Unbaptized believers are not members, so they cannot be elders or church officers. They cannot speak or vote at church business meetings. In other words, they can have no formal, recognized part in determining the ongoing policies and teachings of the church. And there will be other activities that each church decides, for various reasons, to restrict to members. There is considerable freedom for churches to decide what they think is wise in this area, in my opinion. And I have seen considerable variety in the Baptist and other believer's baptism churches that I have known. But there is a clear difference, which I think is right.
(3) There was an unexpressed assumption in my discussion, an assumption which your response makes clear to me. I did not express it because it is so commonly assumed in nearly all churches. The assumption is this:
Baptism is required for church membership.
I think I assumed this because, as far as I know, it has been the practice of all major denominations throughout history. Presbyterians believe that baptism is necessary for church membership (for they consider infant baptism true baptism). Episcopalians believe that baptism is necessary for church membership. Baptists believe that baptism is necessary for church membership. Pentecostals believe that baptism is necessary for church membership. Methodists believe this. The Evangelical Free Church of America (which allows both views of baptism) believes this. Independent Bible churches believe this. Even Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches believe this. Apart from some unusual groups that don't practice baptism at all (such as the Salvation Army), I think that the whole church throughout its history has held that baptism is necessary for church membership.
In the light of that assumption, which I have now made explicit by adding the words in boldface type, I think the section that you objected to makes good sense: [In this section I am explaining the problem that will arise if a church decides to allow both views of baptism to be held and taught:]
On the other side, those who hold to believer's baptism (as I do) would have to be willing to admit into church membership people who have been baptized as infants, and who did not make a personal profession of faith at the time they were baptized. But from a believer's baptism position, genuine baptism has to follow a personal profession of faith. So how can believer's baptism advocates in good conscience say that infant baptism is also a valid form of baptism? That contradicts what they believe about the essential nature of baptism — that is an outward sign of an inward spiritual change, so that the apostle Paul could say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” Gal. 3:27.
For someone who holds to believer's baptism, and who holds that baptism is necessary for church membership [I just now added these words], admitting to church membership someone who has not been baptized upon profession of faith, and telling the person that he or she never has to be baptized as a believer, is really giving up one's view on the proper nature of baptism. It is saying that infant baptism really is valid baptism! But then how could anyone who holds to this position tell anyone who had been baptized as an infant that he or she still needed to be baptized as a believer?
(4) Now it may be that someone would want to start a new denomination in which baptism is not necessary for church membership. Or people may decide to change their church constitutions so that baptism is no longer required for membership. People are free to do that if they wish.
In that case, I suppose a (hypothetical) Baptist church could say to someone, “We require baptism for church membership, unless you disagree with our view of baptism. For those who disagree with us, we do not require baptism for church membership. Whether we require it or not depends on what you think of baptism.” I suppose a church could say that.
In such a church, they could allow an unbaptized person to be a member. If a godly, Bible-believing, born again Presbyterian (such as your examples of our friends Ligon Duncan or R. C. Sproul, or others) came and wanted to be a member, this (hypothetical) Baptist church could say to him, “We don't believe you have been baptized, but you can become a member anyway because we allow unbaptized people like you to be members.”
(5) But I don't think I could support such a practice in a church. I think the reason churches throughout history have required baptism for membership is that the New Testament so clearly makes baptism the public act that every believer undergoes at the outset of the Christian life. It is right there in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). There is no such thing in the New Testament as an unbaptized person being an active member of any local church. So how could we say today that we should start allowing unbaptized persons to be members of our churches? But that (it seems to me) is what my earlier position, and your current position, would have to say.
I do not think such a position is wise, or consistent with the New Testament, and I would not recommend any church to adopt it.
Thank you again for your thoughtful, gracious response, John.
Update: Grudem sends this correction:
There is a factual error in my reply to John Piper that someone has pointed out. The Evangelical Free Church does not require baptism for church membership, contrary to what I said. This is stated in an article by an EFCA pastor (PDF), Bill Keynes. I suppose this is the natural corollary to their "allow both views" position, and it is an internally consistent position. If a church adopts the "both options" view, then it seems they also have to go to the "baptism not required for membership" view. But, as the article by Pastor Keynes shows, many in the EFCA denomination are concerned with the resultant downplaying of the importance of baptism. This is not surprising.
[Now, from Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church]
OK, I'm on vacation with my family, but I took print-outs of the Piper/Grudem exchanges on baptism and chruch membership. 9Marks guys, can we weigh in on this? What would you add to, disagree with, nuance in this argument?
Baptism SHOULD be required for church membership:
1) Because Jesus clearly commanded baptism and to disobey this command is sin [whether intentional or not]. To continue in such an unbaptized state is unrepentant sin [whether intentional or not]. Thus, no careful paedo-baptist will follow John P's apparent "generosity" about membership. That is, they will never knowingly admit someone to the Lord's Table that they understand to be unbaptized (even if they took that evangelical Quaker or believing Salvationist to be their brother or sister in Christ). John P wants us to admit to the Lord's Table those that he and we all agree are not baptized. John has no doubt that infant baptism is not baptism. He is solid on that point. But I think that actually leaves his position unusually open to other difficulties--knowingly admitting the unbaptized to regular communion. I simply don't want to take the responsibility to so disregard Jesus' commands (not that John P intends to in anyway disregard Jesus' commands). I especially don't want to do this in what has been an area of relatively unanimous Christian agreement from Jesus til now. Baptism precedes the Lord's Table. MUCH more could be said on this, but it probably already has been.
2) Because according to the New Testament, it is not merely the elders, but the entire membership of the local church that bear responsibility for establishing and patrolling "border & boundary" issues of discipline (Mt. 18; I Cor. 5) and doctrine (Gal. 1; II Tim 4). I think John P recognizes the importance of unity among such a responsible body, but he understands [I think] the local congregation NOT to be this responsible body, but rather the active followers of the elders--but merely followers. A congregationalist on the other hand (as Baptists have traditionally been) understands that it is the congregation who must ultimately establish such issues. John P would NOT want such divisions on baptism in the body that he takes to be the final earthly adjudicatory--the elders--and neither would we Baptists. The difference is, we think that body is the congregation as a whole, led by elders, yes, but only with the necessary and Biblical consent and cooperation of the congregation. (So, in classic terms, John would be an independent, but not a congregationalist.)
Much more we could say here, but, reader, please keep in mind that this is written by one who loves John Piper, appreciates his ministry (see earlier blog post) and who is planning to have an Anglican Dean and a Presbyterian former Moderator of the General Assembly preach in his Baptist pulpit in the next few months. There is a great unity in active cooperation, honoring, encouragement and love that is not broken by our lamentable temporary separation over local church membership.
We were able to join Berea Community Church for worship on July 22nd.
It was awesome to be able to get to know this small community of believers.
We left very encouraged.
We did some walking around in downtown New Bern in the afternoon.
I love my wife.
Sarah's cover art few her new CD.
The CD release date is quite uncertain.
New Bern is a great place because they grow peppers next to the sidewalk.
Every summer our church relocates our baptism service out to a lake.
It's a very fun time to fellowship and rejoice with those being baptized.
Leon Tucker actually baptized me back in the day.
Ricky Mill is baptizing Melissa, a faithful servant in the college ministry.
We Are Parents!!!!
The happy mother holding baby.
This is Vivian, Andy and Erica's child.
We have had two trips lately to Lake Norman.
One for the big family vacation and one to replace the wood on the dock.
The Hintons play cards a lot.
I have one heck of a poker face (or in this case, a Rook face).
We got to see sweet Hazel.
Though it may look like I am not helping, I am.
While ripping up the old wood, I happened to destroy something else...
a nest of angry wasps.
Of a couple places, one got me right next to my eye, causing some quite attractive swelling.
This was a day and a half after it happened.