Monday, December 05, 2005

Baptism responses

I wanted to respond here to some of the responses to the previous baptism post, because some good points were made by the two Barry’s. Barry J. raised the issue of whether baptism fit more in ecclesiology or soteriology. I think one problem is that we have made too strong of a distinction between soteriology and ecclesiology in general. Of course the two can be wrongly connected (e.g., "I'm a Christian because I go to church"), but we often also too strongly divide them ("As long as you are a Christian it does not matter if you go to church," or “Being a Christian has nothing to do with going to church”). There really is no biblical category for non-church attending believers. Though it may occur as an aberration from time to time, followers of Christ are obligated to obey the commands of Scripture and Hebrews 10:24-25 are pretty clear. We need to be clear to people that church is not optional for those who profess faith.

Now, that was not Barry J.’s question, but it raised the opportunity to speak to that issue. I am not sure where exactly the rest of your question goes, Barry J.- but you are certainly not a heretical idiot! I do think there is need for more careful thinking about the role of baptism in church life.

Then, Barry (in MO), I am fine with calling baptism a means of grace so long as we mean in the way the Reformers did and not the way Catholics do. In fact Wayne Grudem, a Baptist, in his Systematic Theology has a chapter on Means of Grace (Chapter 48) where he lists baptism, communion, and at least 9 other things. In this sense typically ‘means of grace’ refers to God-ordained means for receiving grace (to be edified). So, I agree that it would be useful to use this term once we teach it clearly to our people. God has given to the church ordained ways for us to receive grace to help in time of need.

May the conversation on baptism continue! I hope before too long to comment on Communion.


Anonymous said...

Ray, this discussion on baptism has really scratched an itch for me. Thanks, again.

Where I want to commend our Protestant paedobaptist brethren is their value of baptism in the ongoing personal progress of the gospel. Whereas baptism for most Baptists (generally) is something over and done with, for our paedobaptist brothers it is a continual witness in their lives. Whether or not one professes faith, they cannot deny that they've heard the gospel. Baptism is ever a watermark, whereby they have experiential knowledge of the gospel.

Can't (shouldn't) this be true of Baptists? Is this not what Paul demands in Romans 6--remember your baptism! That is certainly a means of grace. Might our baptism cooperate with persevering faith to give us great assurance?

Communion, then, is not a separate, distinct ordinance from baptism, but is the ongoing reminder of our Lord's death for us and our (baptismal?) union with that death.

Man, I hope I don't sound Catholic, but I hope I'm thinking catholically. With more warp than woof, I'm sorry for dominating the megabytes.

Anonymous said...

I too appreciate the opportunity do discuss baptism with you. A while back I came across a very good FAQ on the reformed baptist view of baptism, created by the man who maintains the Founders Conference web site. Of particular relevance to the discussion of baptism as a means of grace are Questions 6 and 7. Click here to view the FAQ.

To go off in a slightly different direction, the discussion William and I had when he came here concerned the practice of delaying baptism for examination of new converts. While I completely understand the rationale for the practice, I consider it a serious deviation from the Scriptural pattern and practice.

In the same issue of the SBJT that contains the Schreiner article you mentioned, Robert Stein has an interesting piece on baptism. He theorizes that we have, to our detriment, separated aspects of conversion in our doctrine and practice that were always held together in the NT. I might not agree with his exegesis in every case, but I do agree with his basic thesis.

I have another document advocating immediate baptism that I'm going to email to you, Ray. I would be interested in hearing your comments on it as well.

Ray Van Neste said...

I too am drawn to immediate baptism drawing from the connection I see in the NT between baptism and conversion stated in the previous post. John Gill argues this. I am still working through some more practical implications of this. For example, I think the examination process rises from proper concerns. But to draw from Gill, we should baptize straightway upon a credible profession of faith, then after baptism an examination could take place before acceptnace into membership. However, this does deviate from what has been common practice even in our stronger history where baptism often is seen as making you also a member. I am still sorting thorugh some of this.

Then to Barry J, I'm with you. When baptism functions as THE public profession of faith, then it can be somethign to point back to, e.g. "Remember when you declared publicly your faith in Christ." We obvioulsy feel the need for this because people today will often say, in essence, "Remember when you walked th eaisle," or "when you prayed the prayer." It could then indeed function as a grace-ful reminder that we did at one time say we believed, reminding us of the Lord's work in us.
And, I also ofen make the connection between baptism and communion as you did.

Anonymous said...

I too am enjoying the baptism conversation. This is an issue with which I have struggled very much in the past few years. I have a question. When did the idea of baptism being linked with local church membership come about? As we talk about baptism coming under soteriology and ecclesiology,at what point did the baptism automatically make you a member of a local church? I know that my landmarkist friends would say in the New Testament!

I think that I would be more for immediate baptism, if I could separate immediate baptism from immediate church membership.

Oh yeah, no one has brought up Piper's stance on baptism and church membership.

Ray Van Neste said...


There are significant passages in Acts which would seem to link baptism and church membership (e.g., Acts 2). Also this has been the main wtiness through our Baptist history (i.e. including the strong part of our tradition, not just landmarkism).
However, there have been some significant dissenting voices.
John Gill specifically argues that baptism should not be linked directly to church membership. You Can find Gill's manual of tehology on line- I am away from my office just now so I don't have the link. I am told W. B. JOhnson (leading early SBC figure) also held this position.

On Piper and Bethlehem- I am in significant disagreement wiht their proposal. I do not think it will go through though. It was scheduled for a vote this month.

All of this shows I think the need for serious conversations on this topic. Thanks for the imput all!

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify myself some. First I do not agree with Piper's (and Grudem's)view. I am sympathetic to to it and leaned heavily towards it until reading the Bethlehem's elders defense and thinking through the application of such to my views of the church. Grudem, who goes farther than Piper in this area, is the one who started my thinking. The benefit of listening to and thinking through their position is to better define biblically our doctrine of the church.

Secondly, if we hold to a universal/local church distinction why can we not see baptism as the initiatory rite to the universal church and local church separately. To illustrate, I agree that for someone to join my church they must be baptized. However, after professing faith if a person is immediately baptized, why should this immediately make him a member of that local church?
Dagg has many good things to say about baptism. He says, "This ceremony was manifestly designed to be the initiation into the prescribed service, and every disciple of Christ who wished to walk in teh ways fo the Lord, meets this duty at the entrance of his course." (Manual of Church order, 71)He also says that batism is an act of obedience that expresses our separation with the world.
While wanting to give baptism its biblical place as our public profession of faith, our first step of obedience and as a marker of our separation with the world, I also want to place a high value on church membership.Am I just creating a false dichotomy?

Anonymous said...

Let me make a few comments and maybe pose a question or two, for discussion sake. First, what Scriptural warrant is there for making a distinction between membership in the local church and in the church universal? I could argue that the NT is virtually silent on such a distinction, and that it is therefore an artificial distinction.

And I could theorize that the reason for that silence is because the NT writers assumed that regeneration by the Spirit, evidenced by repentance and baptism, de facto made you a member of the church, the body of Christ. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13)

If you were a member of the church universal by virtue of your union with Christ, you were automatically a member of the local expression of that church wherever you lived. I think that is the assumption of the NT writers. The idea that a baptized believer might NOT be a member of a local church seems foreign to the NT.

When we baptize someone, are we not recognizing, in the very act of baptism, the individual's union with Christ? That seems clear from Romans 6:3-5. And union with Christ is necessarily union with the body of Christ.

I know I'm repeating myself, and apologize, and still I don't think I've expressed myself well. I guess I just can't see any evidence that it would ever even have occurred to any of the NT writers to make the distinction we do between membership in the local church and the universal church. Where is that distinction made in Scripture?

Anonymous said...

Great points!

When Paul baptized the Philipian Jailor it is assumed that he was then a member of the church there in Philipi. However, today we have 10 churches on many streets, especially in the South, not just the church at Jackson, TN. (I am not sure that this makes a difference or not!)

On the baptisms in Act, what church was Cornelius or the Ethopian made a member of when they were baptized? Do these examples shed any light on this subject?