Mar

06

2012

David Mathis|10:40 PM CT

A Happy Baptist, Happy to Welcome Others: Strengthening Church Membership Without Watering Down Immersion

Editors' Note: How do baptism and church membership relate? What are the biblical bounds? Baptists debate, "Must one be baptized as a believer in order to join a local church?" Meanwhile, Presbyterians and other paedobaptists consider, "Should one who'd refuse to let his children be baptized be permitted to join?"

Our hope is that this three-day forum will, by God's grace, drive us all to consider Scripture's teaching anew and disagree charitably when necessary.

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Stir the waters. Apparently someone at TGC has the itch to get ye olde open-membership discussion going again.

It was almost seven years ago, in the summer of 2005, when the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota---John Piper among them and leading the way---uncorked a finely aged baptist cask for an unexpectedly captive Web audience. Believing that a convinced paedobaptist who declines to be baptized as a believer should not necessarily be prohibited from being a member of the church, the council proposed eight constitutional amendments aimed at "opening" the membership, on exception, to some non-baptists.

A tempest in an internet teapot followed that fall, confusing enough of our members, and even a handful of our elders, that prior to the December congregational vote, the council decided to withdraw the proposal. We have yet to revisit it, with more pressing things demanding the council's attention. But the majority of us, I think it safe to say, are more than open to the open-membership position, which I've been asked to represent here.

Ye Olde Open Baptists, Like Bunyan

I say "ye olde" and "finely aged" above because this is not a new discussion in baptist life, as some dear friends of mine seem inclined to overlook. The question of open and closed membership goes back, at least, to the 1660s and is almost as old as English baptists. While closed-membership congregations admit only immersed believers to membership, open-membership baptists are willing to welcome (some) credibly professing Christians who have not been immersed as believers, but have received some other form of (non-regenerative) baptism---illegitimate, misguided, and defective though we believe it to be.

The majority of the baptist tradition has been composed of closed-membership congregations, but the open-membership strand has long been an identifiable, substantive entity within baptist life and tradition both historically and globally. Perhaps most notable among the open-membership advocates is renowned baptist preacher John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress.

The Open Baptist Who Bested Spurgeon

In his biography of baptist Charles Spurgeon, W. Y. Fullerton makes mention of what he calls "Open Baptists" who not only "welcomed all believers to the communion service," but also "grant church membership apart from baptism." Fullerton recounts a humorous anecdote from Spurgeon concerning the issue.

He once told me with appreciation how he was worsted in argument by an American divine. During a drive, the visitor made a number of inquiries, and discovered the practice of the church . . . how it admitted people to the Lord's Table who were not baptized, and refused them membership unless baptized. "Which means that they are good enough for the Lord, and yet not good enough for you!" said his guest. And Spurgeon had to admit that the logic was not on his side.

It is inconsistent to open the table and close the membership. Unfortunately, some have tried to remedy this by closing communion. But the implications are serious. It is no small thing to turn away from the Lord's Table someone who is manifestly a brother in Christ. Is this not, in effect, to question in some real sense whether he is truly converted? It at least greatly misunderstands the nature of communion. It is strange that brothers claiming to be together for the gospel can't join each other at the table.

The Heart of the Issue: The Importance of Church Membership

But for those of us at Bethlehem, more important than historic precedent or logical consistency is our particular context. A number of solidly Reformed (and paedobaptist) brothers and sisters have been drawn into our regular fellowship, but at present are not able to be church members. So the heart of the issue for us is not the doctrine of baptism but the importance of local church membership.

Those of us on the council who are open to the open-membership concept find it to be significantly more grave to exclude a clear Christian brother or sister from church membership than to live with their errant view of baptism. This is based on a deep conviction that it is very serious to turn someone away from membership in the local church. And so we hope one day to be commissioned by the congregation to do our level best to have the size of the door to membership in the local church mirror as closely as possible the size of the door to entrance into the universal body of Christ. We long for any clearly converted follower of Jesus to be a realistic candidate for membership in the local church.

Again, this is not mainly about baptism, even though it definitely involves the ordinance. And this is due in no part to us wavering in the least about the beauty and biblical warrant of believer baptism in the new-covenant community. We are as deeply persuaded as ever that infant baptism is illegitimate, misguided, and defective. Let that be clear.

What Is Fitting in Our Particular Context

But then what? It becomes a wisdom issue (which is why I'm not quoting verses at you---the Bible doesn't decide this one for us). If you hold not only a high view of baptism but also a high view of church membership, the practical question becomes how any given local baptist congregation orients toward those who are plainly born-again believers, having a "credible profession of faith," but hold (we believe) an errant view of baptism. Many credo churches don't have any paedos who want to join their church. We do. And so it comes down to practical corporate wisdom and what is fitting for our local congregation given our context---and isn't that a quintessentially baptist way of handling it?

Drawing the Line Around the Eldership

But don't we have to draw the credo line somewhere? If we don't fence the membership at the point of baptism, might the elders eventually include non-baptists? Not if there are other good fences. Yes, the line should be drawn somewhere, but we're convinced that, at least in our context, it should not be around the membership, but around the eldership.

A further protection would be to include a more descript affirmation of faith (which includes believer baptism) for "voting members." Such an affirmation might be similar to what closed-member churches typically have demanded of all members, but in addition to believer baptism, it might include other more important doctrines held by the elders (like inerrancy, the sovereignty of God, justification by faith alone, and penal substitution, to name a few). Such a configuration would ensure that those members of the congregation voting at the baptist church are, in fact, believer baptists (and other more significant things too). This then would fence the leadership's baptist fidelity even more than the closed-membership model, but without excluding non-baptist believers from the important benefits, affirmation of conversion, and accountability that church membership provides.

In Sum

I'm a very happy baptist---though you don't need to capitalize the baptist for me. But especially in our increasingly post-Christian milieu, it is becoming more and more clear that there are so many other theological issues more central and important than the mode and timing of baptism. I am happy to let the vestiges of Christendom go, and see formal church membership as significant enough to put up with some mistaken views of baptism (provided that the leadership is securely believer baptist), so as not to exclude from local church membership converted brothers and sisters in Jesus who are plainly members of the universal church.

Recommended Resources

John Bunyan, "Difference in Judgment About Water Baptism, No Bar to Communion," The Works of John Bunyan [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991], 2:617.

John Piper, "Baptism and Church Membership: The Recommendation from the Elders for Amending Bethlehem's Constitution"

John Piper, "More Clarifications on the Baptism and Membership Issue"

John Piper, "Baptism and Church Membership Questions and Answers"

John Piper, "Response to Wayne Grudem on Baptism and Church Membership"

Update on Bethlehem Baptist and Open Membership

Sam Storms, "Piper, Grudem, and Dever on Baptism, the Lord's Table, and Church Membership---Just How Together for the Gospel Are We?"

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Also in the series on baptism and church membership:

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Twin Cities, and executive editor at Desiring God. He writes regularly at www.desiringGod.org.

  • G. Kyle Essary

    Assuming Bethlehem has a membership covenant and statement of faith, why is baptism not an important enough doctrine to be included? What is the doctrinal or Scriptural basis for drawing the credo baptism line around elders and not members? Where is the Scriptural basis for drawing an extra line around "voting" members? Paedobaptists are close enough to allow into membership, but not faithful enough to allow to vote or become and elder. What does membership even mean in this situation? We know that you want to include believers who show signs of regeneration, but shouldn't elders call them to repentance for what the eldership clearly sees as doctrinally significant enough to require it of its own elder board? Isn't that one of the roles of an elder, to teach and call the church to right doctrine?

    I've attempted to read this article charitably, and I know some of these questions were partially addressed above, but they only lead to deeper questions and unfortunately not to the clarity that both Hamilton and Horton offered.

    • Jugulum

      I'm reposting this because the first time I posted, it seems to have been filtered--perhaps because I had my website in my user info.

      > "why is baptism not an important enough doctrine to be included?"

      An important distinction: It's not a question of whether "baptism" is an important enough to exclude people from membership. (In other words, David Mathis didn't say that people who entirely deny that Christians should be baptized--like Harold Camping & his followers--could be admitted as members.) It's a question of whether the difference between credobaptism and paedobaptism is important enough to exclude people from membership.

      A sincere paedobaptist has attempted to obey the Lord's commands to the best of their ability and knowledge. Yes, in us credobaptist's judgment, they have failed to do so--but only through misunderstanding.

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        true but how can a church "hand together" if there is a fundamental difference of agreement over an essential practice? I recognize that this article is seeking to be charitable but can it work in practice?

        • Jugulum

          > "how can a church "hand together" if there is a fundamental difference of agreement over an essential practice? I recognize that this article is seeking to be charitable but can it work in practice?"

          Yes. With exceptions depending on other decisions.

          The consequence is that a paedobaptist member's infants won't be baptized in our credobaptist church. I don't know if any paedobaptists have faced this problem, but they have the option of making other arrangements to have their infant baptized--perhaps at the local evangelical Anglican church with whom we have good relations.

          If paedobaptist parents consider it important for their children to be baptized specifically by the elders of the church they're members of, then no, open membership can't work out in practice. Otherwise, yes, it can.

          Do you have other specific problems in mind?

          • Ian

            I think most evangelical Anglican churches will do both paedobaptism and credobaptism. And if they can make it work in practice, then there is no reason why other churches can't. All it takes is for the leadership to accept the validity of both positions.

            • http://www.reconnectedlife.org David Ketter

              We do make it work in practice. My Anglican parish actually has an arrangement to use the baptistry at one of the local baptist churches so we can immerse.

              Another place you see this "freedom" on baptism are the Evangelical Free Churches.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

          But in a Baptist church which holds that believer's baptism is the proper way, there is a problem. The author here tries to resolve that by creating a two-tiered membership which seems to me to cause division in the local church.

          • Tom Thiessen

            I appreciate your concern about division in the local church, but it is important to keep in mind that the division already exists in the Church. Acknowledging that, and allowing it to have expression in the local church will provide an occasion and an impetus to work towards unity on the already divisive issue.

            So the way I see it, the practice outlined above recognizes the division, grieves over it, and works to resolve it in the local church, which seems like the right place to work on the resolution.

          • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

            Hi Tom,

            Bringing the division into the local church doesn't heal the division, it sets that church for conflict. Keep in mind that this isn't the position of some EFCA churches in which they allow all kinds of views of baptism practiced and leaders (as I understand it) to hold them. This is simply creating two classes of members: 1st class who can be elders and 2nd class who can't. There's no "grieving" over the division here. There's a half-baked attempt to accommodate it, apparently for no other reason than to have more members. Surely there are orthodox paedobaptist churches in the twin cities.

      • Ranger

        Jugulum,
        I understand the point. It's an interesting argument though to say that "a sincere X has attempted to obey the Lord's commands to the best of their ability and knowledge." What could we substitute for the "X?" Only those things that are essential? What are essential? Is justification essential? Is substitutionary atonement essential? Authority of Scripture? I think you could answer that a "sincere" universalist has attempted to obey the Lord's commands to the best of their ability, but I doubt either of us would let them into membership.

        If the church has Baptist convictions and holds to a confessional standard such as the 1689 LBCF, Abstract of Principles or Baptist Faith & Message, then the leaders of the church can clearly teach them what the church believes. Let me give an example from what many of us would consider a very open confession, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message:

        "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

        To be a "happy" Baptist in this regard, you must step outside of the confessional tradition of Baptist churches, even the more moderate ones today. Bethlehem has done this through commissioning their own confession for members, although they also are part of the Baptist General Conference which confesses, "We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water into the name of the triune God." The BBC congregational statement says the exact same thing, "We believe that Christian baptism is the immersion of the believer in water into the name of the triune God."

        Thus, they would be allowing into membership those who they hold have not submitted to "Christian baptism," and would require they hold to a confession that they do not believe? The position seems to difficult to maintain and creates division in the church, such as between voting members and non-voting members. It's not just that I can't see the biblical justification, it's that it just doesn't seem practical.

        I understand the difficulties of holding a hard line on this one. I pastor a church in an Asian city with only a handful of biblically based, gospel centered churches with only a handful of faithful believers. In our culture, syncretism is everywhere between denominations, so I understand the difficulties of holding a hard line because I will regularly have former Pentecostals or Methodists or "X" want to worship and join with our Baptist church, because there are so few Bible believing Christians and churches. So I get the issue, I just can't come around to the position outlined above. It would be much easier for me, but I just can't make it work out in my mind.

  • Thomas

    Well said, Kyle. While I am sure it was not the intention of this article to minimize the importance of baptism, it is hard to see how it does not do that.

    Whether you are a credobaptist or a paedobaptist it is hard for me to see how you can read the Bible and then conclude that someone with an illegitimate baptism can be a member of a Christian church.

    • Ian

      Thomas, the issue is that what you consider to be an "illegitimate" baptism depends on your personal/denominational interpretation of the Bible. Baptists and Presbyterians disagree over this, but both regard baptism as important. The beauty of Piper's proposal is that it accepts the diversity of opinion that exists within the wider church and it admits that no-one has a monopoly on the truth. I think it's an amazing act of grace and humility and am saddened that it hasn't yet been implemented.

    • Brian Park

      "Illegitimate baptism" ... what a sad phrase to hear being used among brothers and sisters who share a common love for the gospel and for the Triune God.

  • IPL

    The logic here suggests that receiving the oversight of elders and the fellowship and affirmation of other believers is what membership is finally about. I don't deny the importance of these things, but what about voting others into membership? What about voting to administer church discipline? These membership-granted responsibilities are central to what it means to belong to a local church. Instead, these 2nd-tier members have significantly less say in the pivitol task of identifying and maintaining the identity and distinctiveness of their local church.

    • J.R.

      In session-run churches, voting others into membership and administering church discipline is done by the elders, not by the entire membership of the church.

      • IPL

        Ted, yes I would. I understand that those who hold different positions on church government would vary in their view, as J.R. correctly states above. So, let me say at the outset that I am a convinced congregationalist, as Baptists have long been.

        There are places in Scripture where the burden to define the borders of membership falls on the members. This is made most clear in the practice of church discipline, which Jesus (Mt 18:17) and Paul (1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2:6-7) both assert to be the duty of the congregation. It can also be seen in places such as Gal and to a lesser extent Jude where the members themselves are held responsible for allowing false teachers to remain in their midst. Similarly, in Rev 2:15, 20, Jesus rebukes the churches for tolerating those in their midst who hold to false teaching.

        As a member in my church, I have a responsibility to humbly and faithfully look out for sin and false teaching in my brothers and sisters (Gal 6:1-2). I take this very seriuosly. A significant part of this responsibility is exercised in accepting and removing members. The purity and holiness of the church, as Christ's representative on earch before a watching world, is at stake.

        I hope that's clear and helpful! I'd love to hear your thoughts/perspective.

    • http://www.gracechurchministry.org Ted Bigelow

      IPL - would it be fair to say that for you, voting is a central privilege/responsibility of membership?

  • Jordan

    Great response articulating the position. However, in practice, it leads to some difficult questions.

    At some point, somebody will want their baby baptized... will the elders deny them that? If so, will paedobaptist members have to seek out a sprinkling from the presbyterian church down the way? That is not a little weird.

    If not denied, which lucky credo-pastor administers that first awkward infant-baptism? I have to imagine much of the congregation being on edge during that ceremony!

    These questions have probably been dealt with at some point in the history of open-membership baptist churches, but they would still be a great test to both the leadership and membership of a local congregation.

    • Ian

      Jordan, the same clergy in my church do covenant baptism of infants and believers baptism of adults or older children. We don't find it at all awkward!

      It would only be awkward in a baptist church because, to date, they've claimed their position is the truth and everyone else is wrong. So it would involve an embarassing climbdown from that. But wouldn't be a wonderful display of humility?

      Personally, I can accept the validity of both baptismal theologies and I'd be happy to sprinkle a baby or dunk an adult. I'd also be happy to preach a sermon on baptism and present both sides of the argument. But then, I'd never get accepted as a minister by either tradition!

      • Jordan

        Ian, it would indeed be weird to see a baptist pastor fumbling to sprinkle an infant, partly because we're just plain out of practice, but mostly because of the seeming cognitive dissonance required to do such a thing.

        Regarding the Baptist monopoly on the correct mode of baptism, paedobaptists have made just the same sort of truth claim, so it's par for the course ;)

        • Ian

          I think the "I'm right you're wrong" approach requires a greater amount of cognitive dissonance!

          • Stephen

            So the church that practices the non-controversial ordinance and opts not to practice the controversial ordinance is adopting an "I'm right you're wrong" approach?

  • Jared

    While I appreciate this post much more than the more dogmatic two posts that came before, I find the following statements incongruous:

    1. It becomes a wisdom issue (which is why I'm not quoting verses at you---the Bible doesn't decide this one for us).

    2. We are as deeply persuaded as ever that infant baptism is illegitimate, misguided, and defective. Let that be clear…[paedobaptists] hold (we believe) an errant view of baptism.

    If the Bible does not decide for us the issues between credo- and paedo-baptism, then how could either side say one is ‘illegitimate, misguided, and defective’ or ‘errant’?

  • http://chrisblackstone.com Chris Blackstone

    Concerning to me is the thought of non-voting membership, or a lesser degree of membership for paedo-baptists. It would seem to set a dangerous precedent to have a kind-of caste system in church membership. Also, the Bible says that aspiring to the office of elder is a good thing. Isn't it then a bad thing to have members of your church who can't aspire to that office?

    Would Bethlehem have a similarly open membership position for someone who was a self-identified Arminian?

    • Jugulum

      I'm reposting this because the first time I posted, it seems to have been filtered--perhaps because I had my website in my user info.

      > "Isn't it then a bad thing to have members of your church who can't aspire to that office?"

      Why do you say they can't aspire to be an elder? They can aspire--they simply do not yet meet the church's standards for maturity of doctrine.

      Every church has members who would not currently be considered for the office of elder. That's not the same as saying they can't aspire to that office.

      • http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com Robert Vaughn

        Wouldn't the aspiration of achieving eldership include that they "aspire" that God either change their minds or change the minds of the church, since paedobaptists are excluded from being elders?

  • Looie

    Thanks for this article, it's so refreshing to hear this from a fellow Baptist Church!

  • http://www.thoughtsontheway.org/ Garrett

    Maybe the topic that really needs to be discussed here is not baptism, but "church membership." All three articles posted this week assume the existence of a formal church membership, but what are the biblical arguments for it? Perhaps some of these debates about baptism, communion, membership, etc., would be helped by questioning the practice of a formal church membership altogether?

    By the way, I believe STRONGLY in being committed to a local church, and being under the authority of a plurality of elders. But the body that I am currently a part of has functioned as a body for over 30 years with solid Bible teaching, commitment to one another in love, and the practice of church discipline, ALL without a formal church membership. It can be done!

    • Ian

      Garrett, Baptist congregational polity basically requires membership - it's impractical otherwise. Can I ask about your situation - I reckon the elders must choose their own successors. Can you clarify how it works.

  • http://www.thoughtsontheway.org/ Garrett

    Hey Ian,

    Good question. Even though we don't have a formal membership, the elders will not make "big" decisions without consulting the body. For example, there are two men right now who are being considered for eldership. What the elders did is they went around to the people in the body and asked each person/family for feedback on these men. If anyone had serious reservations, that would be a red light in the whole process.

    Now, the next question is, "If you don't have a formal membership, how did the elders know who to go around and talk to?" I don't know how else to answer than to say that there is an obvious level of commitment shown by certain individuals and families to our particular body that drives that. In other words, there are individuals and families that the Holy Spirit has knit together with us, who are committed to this particular body, and are consistent in their attendance. For lack of a better term, they would be considered the "members" of our church, even though they have never gone through any kind of formal membership process.

    Granted, we are a smaller church (about 120 on a Sunday morning), so that obviously makes not having a formal membership a bit easier. I honestly don't know how you could do what we do in a larger church. But if God ever sends the revival we've been praying for, we'll have to think through that!

    • Ian

      Grant, thanks for the reply. Yours is a different approach so you don't need a formal membership system. I'm glad it's working well for you.

      My concern about self-perpetuating elders is that there's no real accountability. Your elders do consult, but they don't have to. If they collectively went off the rails and decided to take the church down a path that the congregation disagreed with, the only sanction the congregation has is to vote with their feet and leave. But many will have given lots of time and money to the church and it will be deeply distressing for them to leave all that behind.

      Thank God, such problems are relatively rare in conservative evangelical churches - but they can still happen.

      • http://www.gracechurchministry.org Ted Bigelow

        Ian,

        "My concern about self-perpetuating elders is that there's no real accountability. Your elders do consult, but they don't have to."

        What exactly is a "self-perpetuating elder"? Sounds awful, but I'm guessing I'm one!

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        The accountability would be from the other elders. But I don't fully believe in that either. I think elder-led with congregational accountability is the best.

  • Mike

    Upfront: I am a thoroughly convinced "happy" baptist.

    Important points: Jesus said that we're to baptize disciples in Matthew 28. He didn't give us any other practice and neither did the apostles. In the NT baptism was the occasion where one was publicly proclaimed to be a disciple of Christ (I mean to include an objective and subjective component in that sentence).

    Implication: We should obey our Lord, and admit into membership those who have obeyed our Lord, not those who sincerely believe that they have obeyed our Lord. That is to make a command of our Lord subjectively applicable to circumstance, thus putting us on a slippery slope for other matters as well.

    We convinced baptists should simply teach our brothers and sisters in Christ to obey all that the Lord Jesus has commanded. And we ought to obey, by the grace of God, all of the teaching of our Lord Jesus.

    Bethlehem's context: Surely if they have a significant number of convinced Presbyterian brethren attending their local church, then could they could reach out to other Presbyterians that they love and appreciate to start a local church in their community, and so praise God for another faithful evangelical witness? Isn't this a wonderful and satisfying option?

    • Dan Johnson

      Mike,

      Even if God has commanded us to baptize believers and only believers upon a credible profession of faith, and paedobaptists do not fulfill this command, it does not follow that they have disobeyed the command. Why? Because to disobey a command, you must either know what the command says or be culpable for your ignorance. If paedobaptists are blameless in their interpretation of Scriptural commands on baptism, then they are not being disobedient even if they have gotten it wrong.

      For example, if my boss sent me an e-mail telling me to do something, but his e-mail is unclear in some way (leading me to do something a little different), or if the e-mail doesn't get to me, he can't get mad at me for disobeying him.

      Scriptural teaching on the baptism of infants is a little like that: it is not so clear that there is no room for innocent and reasonable disagreement over the content of the divine command. Therefore, there are at least some paedobaptists who, even though they don't fulfill the command of God, are nevertheless not disobeying it, because they are non-culpably ignorant of of content of the command. This distinction -- between failing to follow a command (not necessarily sinful) and being outright disobedient (necessarily sinful) -- is the key distinction lost on Horton and Hamilton.

      We should only exclude people from fellowship if they are in the midst of unrepentant disobedience. Not all paedobaptists are, even if credobaptism is the correct view.

    • Jared

      While I profess credobaptism, baptism comes from a much older ANE practice of ritual purity. Baptism wasn’t something new. It always reflected a change in status of something, be it ritual impurity to ritual purity (for the Temple), conversion from paganism to a sect of Judaism (rabbinic tradition), or non-Christian to Christian. Ritual purity is the oldest of these three and included everyone (children as well) when entering the Temple to worship. The NT doesn’t always give us every nuance of a teaching or practice because the authors in many cases assume their original audience knew enough of the history and context. And, if there was a dispute of practice (and there were enough regarding baptism as well), the ‘judge’ or persons in the seat of authority were the final arbiters. As I said, I hold to credobaptism, but would not state that interpreting the Bible any other way is bold-faced rebellion against God.

    • J.R.

      Mike, actually that passage from Matt 28 says Make disciples and... baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit... There are a few ways that that passage is interpreted (legitimately).

    • http://www.gracechurchministry.org Ted Bigelow

      Mike, you wrote:

      "Isn't this a wonderful and satisfying option?"

      Yes, from a contemporary reality (pragmatic) viewpoint. Ahh, but we want the Scripture to lead us in practice, eh? And where in Scripture is there such a thing?

  • Brad

    I'm a paedobaptist, but I loved your article. Thanks

  • Theology Samurai

    I'm on board with this, count me in. However, I would give paedobaptists full voting privileges and avoid the 2 tier membership stuff--a disaster waiting to happen and unbiblical. I think I'm fine with the leadership requirement, but I would have to think that through some more.

    Thanks for the sanity. Good post.

  • John Conner

    This is not some pointed critique, but an observation. :)

    By your own words you said, "The majority of the baptist tradition has been composed of closed-membership congregations..."

    This guy doesn't sound like a Baptist, but something else. It is obviously fine to disagree on these issues, but to call yourself a Baptist may be misleading.

    If you are Baptist, you know it to be a matter of obedience. Baptism for a Baptist is part of a credible profession. To make concession on this is to become something else.

    I know there are plenty of Baptist Churches that do this very poorly in all kinds of forms and they too should reconsider what it means to be a Baptist.

    The context argument sounds like a pragmatist approach rather than staying consistent in your Ecclesiology.

    Kindly to you sir... stop saying you are a Baptist.

    The local church pastor does not shepherd and admit believers into the universal church, but he does steward the local church. That calls for protocol. Obey Jesus and be baptized rightly is the where Baptists have typically stood. To not take that seriously is as a Baptist is to not take seriously the sacraments.

    • G. Kyle Essary

      John,
      He actually makes it rather clear at the end that he is not too concerned about being called a Baptist in our "post-Christian" world.

    • John C.

      Thanks G. Kyle.

      I get it, he is is not concerned. :) From the title to the bottom, says here is a guy who not too concerned about baptism, membership, in the sense that Baptists' think he should be. So... My word is still along the lines of stop calling yourself a Baptist to brother Mathis. That is the rub for me, this brother does not take things seriously enough when it comes to obeying the command to be rightly Baptized and not just made wet and obeying Christ becomes weakened when this line is blurred. I know there are plenty of disagreements out there, but this comes across as sloppy Ecclesiology.

  • http://SolaGratiaBlog.com Pete Scribner

    As a paedobaptist, I would argue that Baptists should hold to an "open-baptism" position. That being said, I would disagree with the assertion that "It is inconsistent to open the table and close the membership." It might seem to be a logical inconsistency at first glance, but deeper consideration proves it not so (regardless of whether Spurgeon felt logic was against him). For example, we will gladly open the table to Christians who refuse to submit themselves to the authority of our session, but we will not open membership to someone who refuses to do so.

    All that being said, I appreciate very much the heart that stands behind this article and share your desire that we could experience more intimate fellowship with one another across the entire Body of Christ!

  • Garrett C

    The weakest thing in the argument was :The Open Baptist Who Bested Spurgeon

    I'm not trying to be unkind, but this smells of a typical "feely" approach that confuses the shepherding of the universal church with the local church. Pastors don't have omniscience to see all hearts coming into membership. Pastors have to keep the gates, exercise right authority by the rule of faith, God's Word.

    Baptist Pastors should say,
    "You want to join the church? Obey Jesus and be rightly identified. We can't see your heart, but we humbly look for you to obey."

    • Jugulum

      Garrett,

      I can't follow your reasoning at all. Particularly, why you brought in, "Pastors don't have omniscience to see all hearts coming into membership."

      Granted that Baptists say this:
      "You want to join the church? Obey Jesus and be rightly identified. We can't see your heart, but we humbly look for you to obey."

      The question that "bested Spurgeon" was, why don't Baptists also say this?
      "You want to come to the table? Obey Jesus and be rightly identified. We can't see your heart, but we humbly look for you to obey."

      • Garrett C

        Wow, someone read my comment. :)
        I apologize for any misunderstanding. I understand that applying the logic of entrance into the universal church and entrance into a limited and human local church does not work. That is my beef. When someone says "All Jesus requires is faith." My response is these are two different things. I agree, faith alone saves, but entrance into the local church for a Baptist, requires accountability and that means in obeying the command to be baptized.

        Pastors give careful oversight and should hold pursuant members to Scripture. If the brother is Baptist, he should say, “We do not think you are obeying. And we cannot knowingly let you in with this unresolved issue.” The table is tied to accountability; its tied to the members and under the oversight of elders.

        I'm trying to say pastors have to humbly steward and oversee who comes into membership. Jesus ultimately oversees entrance into the Lord's Church but He gives pastors to the task of caring and overseeing the church with the rule of faith. They do it imperfectly, but they do it really. I say, "If you want to be a member, you must obey Christ." -That is a Baptist perspective.

  • John W

    Historically this has all been even more complicated than today.

    Most 19th century Baptists, especially in the south (and I believe many of these are still around) would not accept what they called "alien immersions" which they primarily meant the immersions done in Restoration churches (Campbellite, i.e. Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ) because those churches held to what the Baptists considered a form of baptismal regeneration and this didn't believe the "right thing" about baptism, even though they had been baptized in the right way. Thus folks coming from a Church of Christ had to be rebaptised in most Southern Baptist churches.

    On the other hand the Presbyterians discussed at length whether or not Roman Catholic baptisms could be accepted by Presbyterians. Thornwell, the very influential southern Presbyterian theologian said that RC baptisms were not legitimate because the RC church was not a true church. Charles Hodge, the northern Presbyterian theologian countered that while the RC was a very sick church, it's Trinitarian baptism was still valid. Those 2 positions are still advocated in various conservative Presbyterian churches today with the PCA (heavily southern) leaning toward Thornwell and the OPC (most northern)leaning toward Hodge.

    Then there are the cases of such denominations as the Evangelical Free Church of America and many "Bible" churches which don't even require baptism for church membership at all.

    All of this is to say that this issue has been discussed before and absolutely no consensus has been reached. Does that me we should not keep trying? No, but we all need to realize that an easy solution is not likely to be found quickly.

  • Theology Samurai

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I recall JL Dagg said that one Baptist church did not have to accept a person's baptism that was rendered in another Baptist church.

    That's just way too sectarian for me.

  • Jon Price

    I know this isn't the point of these postings, but it seems to me that both sides (all three postings) have been way too focused on the efficacy of the timing and mode of baptism in deciding on membership. Are we losing sight that it is the Holy Spirit that confers grace as promised (signified in baptism) in the life of a believer? If that's true, which I would hope we would all agree with, doesn't the fruit of gospel obedience in ones life confirm the efficacy of their baptism, and thereby show their baptism to be valid? If we focus on the right mode, or timing, or anything else (outside of the command with water in the Triune God) instead of the fruit displayed in the life of a believer, than we're going farther than the Scripture goes. Yes, baptism is commanded, but both Jesus and the Apostles have a whole lot more teaching and focus on the fruit of a regenerate heart being the evidence of a true follower of Christ. Most of Paul's letters have no mention of the importance of baptism, or teaching on the subject (though he certainly believed it was important as seen in Acts), but his focus is on who Christ is and what he's done, and the gospel fruit in the life of the believer in response to Christ. Maybe in our desire to make sure we're theologically correct in our view of baptism (with regard to membership), we're actually made the focus so narrow, we're missing the forest for the trees? Are we focusing on a specific act, when we should be focusing on whether that act has been affirmed and confirmed with the fruit of the gospel, by a life lived in the gospel, with faith and repentance?

    • Kat

      Well said!! I'm not even convinced the water is essential. I have heard of new believers in African nomadic groups being baptised in sand because of the lack of water! I'm sure God is delighted by their public confession of faith.

  • Nate

    Brethren in the Lord,

    Baptism is membership. Read any verse in Scripture that speaks of Christian baptism. The act of water on the person symbolizes his being united to Christ as a disciple. Being united to Christ is to be a part of his Body. The body of Christ is the Church. If you are baptized, then you are a member of the Church. You cannot be a member of the "visible" Body of Christ without being "visibly" united to Christ (the Church) via baptism. The symbol is important. No, the water doesn't save, but the act of baptism "shows" the transfer of the visible status of the person to having joined the "visible" Church, just as the unseen baptism by the Spirit is the transfer of the status of the person to having joined the invisible Church.

    Why does this article pin membership vs. baptism? Where, according to Scripture, can one could be a "visible" member of the "visible" Church without the "visible" act of membership, i.e., water baptism?

    To say that you would accept one who was "baptized" as an infant into your "membership" is to accept implicitly their baptism as valid. You may disagree with it completely, but the very fact that you say, "we're not going to baptize this person because of that act in their infancy" is to accept exactly what the purpose of that act was in their infancy, namely, to visibly unite them to the visible Church.

    Examine the Scriptures. This isn't a mere "wisdom" issue. Water baptism is visible membership into the covenant community. It doesn't prove that one is saved in the ultimate sense, but it surely shows that that person is to be a disciple of Christ. We mustn't turn "profession" into the act of membership when Scripture clearly points otherwise.

    • Jon Price

      Nate, yes, we all agree that baptism is membership in the "visible" church both locally and universally. But, if only baptism is used as the sign of membership in the local church, and "profession" doesn't play a role (I'd rather use the term gospel fruit), then you're saying that anytime someone leaves one church and goes to another church (no matter what the mode was, infant or adult) they must be rebaptized. That's the only logical way to understand your argument. Because when I leave church "A", my "profession" to church "B" is the only thing they have to go by in determining my commitment to Christ, and whether I'm a true disciple. I don't think anyone is saying that baptism isn't important and necessary (at least I hope not!), but "profession" does play a huge role, and as someone moves from one church to another, does in fact become the "act" of membership into that particular community of believers. They are affirming their previous baptism by "profession." And so, their "profession" places their membership on the act of their baptism.

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    I can see that a church can take this position -- that if the Lord has accepted someone into the church universal then how can we refuse them into our local church, just because they won't be baptized. But it raises two practical questions: (1) if we don't accept their infant baptism as valid then aren't we saying that they are in sin by not being baptized and so, if we accept them as members don't we then have to begin church discipline? If we say that they are not willfully disobeying the Lord and so, we say, they are not in sin, but we just disagree over baptism, then we have to keep them out of church leadership, as the author said; traditional baptists congregationlism has to be modified (which may not be a bad thing) simply to keep the unbaptized members from having undo say in the church.

    I appreciate the impulse to want to be charitable to fellow believers, but sometimes we simply have to agree on certain practices to be in the same church and if we refuse to agree on those practices, then we have to find a new church, even if we accept one another as brothers and we believe one another have sinned by our different views.

    • J.R.

      "we believe one another have sinned by our different views"
      No, that is not true. Believing that someone who disagrees with us doesn't have a correct view does not = sinning. I think this is the main sticking point when it comes to the extreme views.
      There are matters that we can agree to disagree about without calling the other person a heretic or unrepentant sinner. The issue of baptism needs to be one of them.

  • Tom Thiessen

    Great article, thanks for presenting this position. I think this is a great way to approach the situation: grieving over both the theological difference a well as the schism it results in.

    The criticism keeps coming up on these threads that it is a problem to admit a member who is not qualified to be an elder. This is such a bizarre claim, I really can't understand why it persists. We admit all sorts of members who are not and may never be qualified to be an elder, including every woman who has ever joined.

    I pray regularly and fervently that God will give the church a unified mind on the baptism issue in my lifetime. He is surely able to answer this prayer. It is important to work these things out together, to reason through the issues from Scripture, and it is also vitally important to ask for God to grant the increase. Let's be sure we are doing that with at least as much fervency as we are entering into this debate.

  • Robert

    Baptists have historically and theologically only affirmed believer's baptism by immersion as the only legitimate form of baptism biblically.

    To deviate from this deivates from the heart of our practice and discipline of the church. It is always so odd for me when I see attempts at justifying pedo-baptism (which never have a good case Scripturally) then finally come to the sweeping conclusion that history, though important, doesn't actually matter. This is exactly why evangelicalism is destroying itself. A major church, or any church, decides they can just sweep aside centuries of history and well reasoned, biblically justified practice because their council decided otherwise.

    If you're a baptist, confessionally, theologically, or whatever, you are in line with several centuries of historical theologically practice for the local church. Denying this denies one of the essential marks of a baptist church. Thus you end up capitulating the designation of being baptist.

    There are few actual practices and beliefs in the NT so well defined, which are left for the church, that validate our belief and practice. Yet baptism is clearly one of those practices. Why not adopt it and hold to it like the Bible instructs?

    As for church membership, which is part of the issue, too many churches water it down and that shouldn't be an excuse. God doesn't call us to grow big churches, God calls us to grow faithful churches. If you can't hold to your doctrinal distinctives as you grow you need to re-evaluate your matrix for ministry. (I say this as an associate pastor of a megachurch that does hold to believers baptism by immersion as well as a covenant membership model) Giving up on an issue because you, claim, to not be able to regulate it is more of a statement about the nature of processes and management of the ministry than anything else. Theological positions transcend process problems.

    • Jugulum

      In other words, Robert, you want the article author David Mathis to affirm that "infant baptism is illegitimate, misguided, and defective"?

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      It seems to me that Mr. Mathis already believes that (but maybe wouldn't use such strong terms) but wants to admit that they are not intentionally sinning and so can become members. But practically they have to modify their polity -- essentially creating two classes of members -- to accommodate those who won't accept the church's formal position of credobaptism. My question is whether that is practical in the long run.

    • Ian

      Robert, with respect, Presbyterians would say the same things about Baptist credobaptism. They would argue that it's scripturally weak and historically ill-founded.

      The problem is that when you belong to a faith community that holds a particular doctrine as axiomatic (eg Baptists and credobaptism), you seek to normalise your position and treat those who disagree as deviant. I see this in your comment. But I've been on both sides of the fence and can assure you that it's not as black and white as those with entrenched positions like to think.

  • Mel

    I think I need the basics. Why do we require a membership list? How is this supported from scripture? I'm not trying to be rude. It's an honest question.

    • KennyKirk

      Well Mel, it is just pragmatically the most effective way to track those that we are supposed to "minister" to. It has no Biblical warrant at all, but it sure is easier than severing everyone that walks through the doors of our "church", and all those outside of them.

    • Theology Samurai

      Mel, didn't you know that they had church directories in Galatia and Ephesus? It's a recent archaelogical discovery...

      Just kidding

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        HI TS, Actually it appears that at least in some way that the church in Corinth had a membership list, as consciously knowing who exactly is in the church is the only way they could have known what number of members constituted a "majority" (2 Cor. 2:6.)

        • Theology Samurai

          John,

          Yeah, the "majority" of believers who were present when discipline was enacted.

          I doubt they actually had a formal list. That wouldn't make sense, although I'm sure the Roman or Jewish religious authorities would have appreciated it (makes the round-up a lot easier).

          You can't arrive at your conclusion from the text.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

          In 2 Cor. 2:6, Paul doesn't say "majority of those present" but when writing to the church at Corinth as a whole says "the majority" who decided to accept back a disciplined member. That is, a majority of the church. Whether they had a written list or not, they understood who belonged to the church and who didn't.

          By the way, Roman officials weren't persecuting the church at this time and when they did they usually targeted the leaders. I'm not aware of any attempts to round up whole churches even during times of persecution but it could have been done.

          • Theology Samurai

            John,

            There was no formal church membership in the NT, any more than there is today in China or Iran. The church in Corinth were those who gathered regularly for worship and who professed faith in Christ. No one is suggesting they had no idea who was in and who was out. Are you implying churches in restricted nations today cannot enact church discipline because they don't have a "formal" church membership?

            The fact is, there is no formal church membership in the NT.

            The timing of Roman persecution is inconsequential as I think you got my point. There was Jewish religioius persecution...

            • Cody

              Gentlemen, the funny thing about words is that they are often subject to at least two reasonable meanings. I say, "I'll ship out the widget on the first truck." I mean the first truck leaving tomorrow because it is late in the day. You think I mean the first truck leaving that very afternoon after the phone call. Both are reasonable interpretations.

              Here, all the text says is "majority." It could mean a majority of the people present, a majority of the people that the elders thought to be Christians in the city, a majority of the people that regularly show up at that house gathering, perhaps even a majority of elders. The word is ambiguous, so let's not get our knickers in a knock.

              Now, using a little good sense, it is doubtful that the early Christians went to a Lifeway store and purchased a membership ledger like any good Southern Baptist would. European and American culture is much more linear and process-concerned than the rest of the world. The scriptures make it sound like Christians were probably fairly faithful at getting together (depending on the location and persecution) and they probably had a fairly good idea of who were their fellow believers. It's easy to imagine that when a discipline issue came up they had a "majority" of some group of fellow believers confront the offending brother. Picturing this as a formal vote with "yeas" and "nays" running down the roster is a little silly and shows we are perhaps projecting Western culture on non-Western people.

          • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

            Hi TS,

            There was formal membership. You're just wrong. That they could know what constituted a "majority" shows that.

            • KennyKirk

              John, I really hope your joking, if not I really hope your not in leadership anywhere.

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      Hi Mel, The 9 Marks ministry has a good deal of sound material on the important of church membership: http://www.9marks.org/search/node/membership

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    I appreciate the impulse to want to be charitable to fellow believers, but it seems that this approach only kicks the can of division a little further down the road -- and brings it into the local church. The only way he can make it work is by creating a two-tier membership: first-class membership for the credo-baptists and second-class membership for the paedobaptists. The credo-baptists can vote and be in leadership; the paedobaptists either cannot vote or cannot be elders (or both). So, while this position appears accepting and inclusive, it creates a division in the local church. Hence, not only does it not solve anything but it likely sets the church up for conflict down the road.

    • Jugulum

      On voting rights, I agree.

      On being an elder, I don't. Being an elder involves qualifications that being part of the church does not.

      • J.R.

        Jugulum,
        You and I seem to be in agreement. Being an elder always requires more rigorous qualifications (like being a man) than simply being a member does.

        As far as the voting rights go, I also can see how having two tiers (voting vs. non-voting) of membership is a good thing. Seems the potential issue that comes into play with membership voting is when members are voting on things that ought to be kept to elder decisions (such as church discipline issues, keeping the membership roles, and doctrinal issues).

      • J.R.

        Correction: As far as the voting rights go, I also can see how having two tiers (voting vs. non-voting) of membership is a NOT good thing. Seems the potential issue that comes into play with membership voting is when members are voting on things that ought to be kept to elder decisions (such as church discipline issues, keeping the membership roles, and doctrinal issues).

      • J.R.

        Jugulum,
        You and I seem to be in agreement. Being an elder always requires more rigorous qualifications (like being a man) than simply being a member does.

        As far as the voting rights go, I also can see how having two tiers (voting vs. non-voting) of membership is actually a NOT good thing. Seems the potential issue that comes into play with membership voting is when members are voting on things that ought to be kept to elder decisions (such as church discipline issues, keeping the membership roles, and doctrinal issues).

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      Then if even if the church "draws the line" at the eldership, it has created a division in the church based on baptism. The credobaptists are first-class members who are eligible to be elders and the paedobaptists are second-class members who are ineligible. This doesn't seem wise or healthy. Perhaps if potential members are fully educated on this, that would mitigate the problem somewhat. But it still seems problematic.

      • Ben

        The Church I youth pastored at for 2 years didn't have any real problems with this other than not having as many male members qualified for eldership. There was no second class. Many of these people were vital leaders with songs, home groups, mercy ministries - in every way with the life of that church. The only time it was mentioned was in recommending someone for elder consideration. This church however generally respected the differing convictions of believers on baptism but never apologized for its own. Everyone becoming members knew this fully up front as well.

  • Ben

    YES! I thought it was just me! I had no idea such a thing as open membership had even been bantered about! Awesome. At last it appears there are those among us with the heart of Christ more so than the heart of the pharisee.

    • anon

      open membership is a pretty non-pharisaical thing i suppose.

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  • Shayne McAllister

    I think the issue should be addressed in the context of the entire church situation, at least in America. Most areas of the country contain both peado and credo baptist churches who are faithful to the bible. A baptist church such as Mark Dever's Capitol Hill Baptist, of which I was once a member, by not allowing paedobaptists to join are not saying they shouldn't join a church, but that their conscience and the consciences of this body would be best served by joining Grace DC (PCA). If I were in an area of the country such as Wyoming, I might tend to strive to be more open.

    • Ben

      It seems that this becomes the context for any particular local church when they are faced with it, even if with only one person who is a convinced paedo desiring membership.

  • Allison Enos

    I am a full-fledged card carrying member of Bethlehem Baptist Church. I love my church! Yet, I must declare that I am in fact in the minority and side with Wayne Grudem's argument regarding baptism and membership. I do appreciate the freedom to express views and respect each other despite different opinions. Baptism, membership, the military......there will always be opposing opinions. But as 1 Peter 2:1 states 'so put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander'. I am glad we can discuss this amiably and gently and respectfully.

  • http://inehemiah.wordpress.com/ Jason

    This can be a difficult decision to make as a church. I have participated in this kind of discussion as part of planting a new church. We are reformed credo baptist, the elders are credo, our confession is credo, but we will allow a paedo who is clearly regenerate to join our congregation. They are our brethren, and we won't turn them away for having a different conviction on what makes an obedient baptism. We don't see someone with paedo views as being in sin, though we don't agree with them on the issue. Any baptism that we preside over will be credo, and that is what we will teach, and elders must be credo. Paedos are not second class, credo is just who we are as a church, and they need to accept that at the beginning. If they can do that, we will gladly fellowship with them. It is sort of like having Armenians who want to come to our church (which does happen). We will gladly let them in the door, but they have to understand that we are reformed, and will teach accordingly. If they can handle that, we will accept them with open arms.

    • Ben

      This is a good model. I've seen it work very well before in a PCA church with quite a few baptistic members. They took much the same approach.

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        It's creating a division in the local church by creating two classes of members: those who are eligible to be elders and those who are not, based on differences in baptism. It doesn't solve a division in the church universal by bringing the same division into a local church.

        • Tom Thiessen

          Hey John, I am curious, where do you think the division will be best resolved if not in the local church?

  • Ian

    Indeed, Tom. My dream is that local churches will find a way of accomodating these sort of differences by treating everyone equally. That will only happen when leaders and/or denominations are prepared to accept both positions as equally valid, but that goes against the evangelical tradition and it's very much wishful thinking on my part.

    • Tom Thiessen

      Well Ian, to do that would be to become paedobaptist by default. That may be part of your dream :)
      How about we make the dream for God to resolve the issue in the church so we all agree on the truth. Seems like something God would want to do, doesn't it? Are we asking?

  • http://secondtimothy215.blogspot.com Doug Phillips

    What is puzzling to me in the scenario David Mathis describes is the idea that there is no viable alternative when it comes to church membership in Minneapolis for the Christian who sincerely believes in infant baptism. Isn't it a false dilemma? -- 'either you get to become a member, while holding to a view of baptism that the Bethlehem church leadership considers defective, or you can't become a member of the church.' Of course you can...you can become a member of a gospel-believing paedo-baptist church.

    (And I write this as a convinced credo-baptist...I just think the 'conflict' as described is an artificial one, echoing Shayne's comment above.)

    As much as I highly value the ministry of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Dr. Piper, do we really want to convey the idea that unless you can become a member there, you're fundamentally disadvantaged when it comes to being a fruitfully participating member of a local church?

    • Andy

      Doug, I appreciate your perspective on the article. Most of the comments are decidedly credo, and raise questions of church membership/eldership models. I read this article (and commments) as a member of a PCA church who grew up in baptist churches. The reason that I have joined the PCA church is, put simply, the Gospel. The baptist churches that I grew up in are not reformed. When it was time for me to find a new church, the Gospel was the main thing. Baptism is a hard subject for me, but I have no biblical problem affirming infant baptism as it is taught and defended in the PCA. (I realize that that puts me in the minority in this conversation.) Now, back to my point... While reading the comments, it occurred to me that little is being made of the importance of would-be members being involved in a church that preaches, teaches, and discusses the Gospel. I know, from my own experience, that Gospel-faithful churches are not always readily available. I would argue that the person who feels strongly about their view of baptism should also feel strongly about the Gospel. I applaud Bethlehem for considering open-membership as a means of providing people who love/believe the Gospel (and disagree on baptism) a place to hear it preached and meet at the Lord's table. The idea that their proposed model would promote a lack of unity assumes that baptism is a much larger issue (for paedos) than the reason that they chose to attend Bethlehem in the first place, presumably the Gospel.

      • http://secondtimothy215.blogspot.com Doug Phillips

        Andy, My comment assumed there are gospel-believing paedo-baptist churches in the Twin Cities. Of course the Gospel is primary and central, not baptism (as important as it is).

        From all I know, Bethlehem Baptist is a wonderfully gospel-centered church, and Dr. Piper's ministry is a gift from Christ to the Church. The limited point I was trying to make is that I can't imagine that it is the only Gospel-centered church available to those who sincerely believe infant baptism is what the Bible teaches.

        • Andy

          Doug, I apologize for making it sound like my entire argument was directed at you. In replying to your comment I only meant to present my viewpoint as someone who doesn't have many (or any) other options for a Gospel believing church. I would agree with you that there are probably other choices for someone in the Minneapolis area, but I would applaud anyone who desires to hear the Gospel preached at Bethlehem.

          • http://secondtimothy215.blogspot Doug Phillips

            Andy, No need to apologize...I was just trying to make sure I hadn't been misunderstood in the specific point I was trying to make.

  • http://baptistsearch.blogspot.com Robert Vaughn

    David, when Bethlehem was working on the proposed amendment change, there was mention of changing to a membership affirmation of faith that all members would have to affirm. What is the reason for changing from baptism, which God does command, to a "membership affirmation" which God doesn't command and is devised by men?

    Thanks.

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