John Piper caused quite a stir among Baptists a few years ago when he declared his intentions to make it possible for non-Baptist persons (viz. those who come from other orthodox denominations that practice infant baptism rather than believer’s baptism) to join his church without being baptized as an adult by immersion. I, at that time along with the majority of Baptists, openly ridiculed Piper for what I said was his “pansy stance on Baptism” and his apparent capitulation of doctrine for the sake of church membership. I, however (never to be one to put my foot in my mouth) since that time have reversed my former position and have found myself, for the most part, agreeing with the stance that Piper has made in his church. Though I am sure that I will receive much flak for siding with Piper on this issue, I am convinced that it is the best stance that Baptists can take for the sake of the health of the Body and for its testimony of Christ to the world.
Though I find myself agreeing with Piper on his stance on baptism and church membership, it is not because I have wavered in what I believe is biblical concerning baptism (see Why I am a Baptist). I have, however, since concluded that the issue is not one on the validity of believer’s baptism over other teachings on baptism, but it is one concerning the doctrine of the Church and how the Church is to be gathered together and comprised. The question that must be raised is not, “Is believer’s baptism biblical?” but it is, “Should fellowship be severed because of one’s stance on baptism?” Should we as Baptists deny membership to one who is clearly in Christ and desires membership in a Baptist church but disagrees on the nature of the doctrine of baptism?
The answer that I offer is a resounding “No.” We should not deny membership to those who are clearly of Christ who disagree, at the time of their request for membership, on the Baptist stance on baptism. Why? Because, first, as Piper intimated in one of his arguments on the matter, we are hypocrites if we do. We as American Baptists will admit into our churches persons who possess all sorts unorthodox beliefs insofar as they will submit to the one doctrine of believer’s baptism. With regards to other doctrines, we presume that they, as they grow in the faith and godliness, will, under the teaching of the Word, in time grow out of their heterodoxy and be conformed to the right teachings of Scripture. Why should one’s stance on the doctrine of baptism be any different? Are we so insecure as to the biblical validity of our stance of baptism that we are not willing to allow those who disagree with us at the time of their membership to come under the teaching of the Word and through teaching and time be conformed to our view on baptism? Should we refuse their fellowship now in this passing age when we will surely be in their fellowship at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?
Secondly, denying membership based upon believer’s baptism by immersion distorts the nature of the church. The church is, in its simplest form, the gathering together of genuine followers of Christ in a particular locale. We have lost this notion in the American church, where multiple churches can occupy different corners of the same intersection. Therefore, instead of finding, for example, the church at Raleigh, we find a Baptist church, a Presbyterian church, and a Methodist church all within one hundred yards of the other. Granting that all these churches submit to their Lord Jesus Christ as their Head, it is strange and troubling that we would refuse to break bread with them now. We, rather than letting our doctrinal diversity act as iron sharpening iron, break bread only with those who align themselves exactly with us on particular doctrines so as to eliminate all discord within our particular spheres. We do not practice this for the sake of biblical unity, but we practice it for the sake of our own comfort. We do not wish to be challenged when we gather together, but we rather shop around for churches until all grounds for challenge are eliminated. This creates a stagnancy within the church and then allows for other doctrinal fallacies to creep in since the church is unfamiliar with and unequipped to address doctrine.
Thirdly, Scripture never gives warrant to break fellowship with one another on the nature of baptism. We are, however, instructed by the apostle in his first letter to the Corinthians, not to associate with certain persons, and there he writes:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1Cor. 5:9-13, emphasis mine).
The apostle declares in this text that the only reason for the breaking of fellowship is regards to carnality. We should not break bread with those who call themselves our brothers when they exhibit worldliness not doctrinal differences. The reason is to keep the church pure and to promote godliness and holiness within the body. We would be much better off in our Baptist churches today if we were committed to purging the carnal from among our membership rather than turning away the paedobaptist! We, however, are much happier to break bread with licentious who are immersed than the godly who are not.
Though I do not expect that things will ever change within our Baptist churches concerning the true nature of the church as being the fellowship of the followers of Christ, I do hope that we will at least consider loving those who differ on particular secondary issues of the Faith rather than despising them and being reproached by a unbelieving world because of it. We should get used to the idea that we will break bread with those whom we refuse to break bread with now for eternity, and we would be wise to have eternity in perspective rather than this passing age. Just a thought.
Categories: Just a Thought