Wednesday, July 05, 2006

BAPTISM AND CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

There is at present and continuing into the future I'm sure, a debate going on in regards to baptism and it's place in the requirements of church membership. It is primarily due to an SBC church in Edmond Oklahoma questioning the traditionally Baptist approach of believing baptism by immersion IS A REQUIREMENT BIBLICALLY for membership in a local Fellowship.

I've read ALL the documents they have posted and watched two messages by the senior pastor, as well as, having read every testimony of every elder as each personally searched the scriptures for their own understanding of this issue. I must say I'm impressed. They have done their homework in regards to every reference in scripture. They've researched Baptist history and the Baptist Fathers extensively. And they have done so with a spirit of humility while bringing their flock along to research for themselves and, ultimately, to give a final word to the whole Body by vote. You could totally disagree with their conclusions and still learn from their heart and spirit.

But what about their conclusions? None are yet finalized so I'll let them decide that for themselves without my input. I must confess I started out with a mindset that has, as a result of my own research, been challenged a bit. I spent six hours one afternoon rereading and researching anew every passage that relates to baptism and/or church life in the New Testament and I have to say, I've got some questions for myself.

In fact, three questions...

One...Can anyone show a single instance in the N.T. where a person
is examined and then joined a local church?
Two...Can anyone show in the N.T. where a particular behavior is required of any christian because he/she has joined a local church?
Three...Is it not correct that all behavior enjoined upon any believer in the N.T. is because he/she has been joined to Christ and to every other believer? [Not my original questions but three I've been forced to ask.]

My answers to those three questions ...NO...NO...YES [ IMHO]
These answers are according to scripture alone. This is not taking into account Baptist history, Baptist Fathers, Baptist Tradition or Logical Thinking.

I don't think this makes a local church wrong for examining a person for membership or for having agreed to standards for membership. Or, for that matter, respecting Baptist history, traditions, or logical thinking. Those are all pragmatic things needed because our modern culture demands we be organized and researching Baptist history and the Fathers is always helpful in doctrinal studies. If nothing else, it keeps us from the pride of our own scholarship. But the N. T. does not specifically address such local church issues definitively.

So let's organize, while not violating clear biblical principles to do so, and let's not make it an heretical thing if we disagree. Heresy is when clear biblical principles are misrepresented or when non-biblical principles are entrusted with the same authority as the text of the inspired scripture.
Since the battle for inerrancy we do see the text of scripture as sufficient for belief and practice. Let's be careful to give no other belief system that authority even if it's Baptist.

I'm convinced the modern Church organization could not possible have been conceived of by the N.T. Church, so getting back to the structure of the N.T. Church may be something of a myth anyway. Living like redeemed people are to live and evangelize in the present day is not only possible but essential no matter the shape our organization takes. Each culture and generation brings it's own needs organizationally anyway. Let's meet that challenge together.

The organism of the Church, aka the Body of Christ, The Bride of Christ, is alive and functioning in this age, albeit in need, perhaps, of a revival of Spiritual life, and that organism has gifted servant- leaders, Spirit-led servants, and empowered members of the Body each unique. The organization is but a tool that is very pragmatic and non-biblical. Thus not to be endowed with authority or to be seen as authoritative. Remember that is not to say that organization is wrong or not needed in this day...just not biblical.

My conclusion is simply this...A Charge of heresy is not valid since the scriptures are not definitive in the matter of baptism and local church membership. This not a question of maintaining or protecting a regenerate membership as baptism, as important as it may be, is not salvific in nature. It may be that the Edmond church's desire to maintain what they believe is the only reason to experience baptism in scripture, a picture of conversion when one is united with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and to not add anything further to it's significance since the scriptures don't in their studied opinion, may be what makes us real Baptists.

That does not answer the question of remaining in fellowship with Capital Baptist Association or the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The bylaws of those organizations may authorize the exclusion of any group who doesn't hold certain views of certain things. I don't know the bylaws.
If such were the case, by all means excercise or change the bylaws. But heresy? I wonder about the soundness of that. Remember the BF@m are not legally binding bylaws. So continuing to be a SBC member is NOT the issue. Surley there will be lawyers in heaven after all. Maybe then we'll understand better. In the meantime let's keep studying and loving each other. Maybe that's one of the differences being really Christian makes in us anyway.

Where do I stand on baptism and church membership? I once held that only a SBC baptism was biblical because we were "doctrinally correct".
Years ago I came to a different thought than that since I couldn't find that in the scriptures.I have for years believed that baptism is NOT the door into church membership but examination to see if one had experienced biblical baptism was the door. And now, I believe.......
..........[still looking]........[still looking].............[I know what biblical baptism is, a converted person, identifying with Christ in union with His death, burial, and resurrection, through immersion only.]......
......[still looking for this door thing]....... I guess you'd have to say I believe ..........................................
[still looking].................................

Paul Burleson

20 comments:

Kevin Bussey said...

"Since the battle for inerrancy we do see the text of scripture as sufficient for belief and practice. Let's be careful to give no other belief system that authority even if it's Baptist."

Amen! Paul!

My struggle with legalism is because of the extra-Biblical things that have been drilled in my head since I was a child in an SBC church. I think this is dangerous because when some discover beliefs they had been taught are not Biblical they run away from the church! God forgive us!

Paul Burleson said...

Kevin, Your battle is the battle most of us have had to fight..I'm sure it feels like you're loosing ground sometimes if you're anything like i was in the battle. I felt as if I were less than spiritual and committed because I always measured spirituality by performance.

But when you really discover the meaning of Grace and a relationship based on His performance and it changes everything. I can tell you are far along on the journey and
that is thrilling to know. I wouldn't go back to the old performance way for anything. And my relationship to Him has never been more real. I've found the old way diminishes the work of the Cross and that must never happen.

Keep singing in the reign young brother.

Paul B

Paul said...

Good words. The most troubling aspect of this situation is the possibility of them being excluded from the CBA or BGCO for exercising their Baptist liberties within the bounds of a vibrant, conservative, evangelical faith. It just seems like another case of drawing the lines ever more tightly.

Maybe I just don't see the issues well enough.

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul:

"Identifying with Christ"? Is that a scriptural event? Is it mentioned somewhere I haven't read?

Jesus said "Upon this rock..". Was that rock, the baptism of Peter? The only explanation I've heard of what He was referring to was the confession of Peter, that Jesus was indeed the Christ.

Personally I think that the confession is identifying with Jesus, the person, the Man, the Emmanuel. Baptism may be a public confession of sorts, but it's only a confession before the people that were present at the time.

I don't buy the "identify with" thing at all.

Another reason for that is that most Baptists seem not to identify with Jesus verbally, to speak of. They worry and fret and study over how to testify or witness to their faith. My goodness, how surreal is THAT?

I have to think it's up to the local body to determine membership requirements. But I feel even more strongly that catering to reluctance of potential members, to be baptized, sends a terrible message. We've been reaping enough of that sort of result, already.

Or not. Just my opinion.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob, Thanks for your comments. I may be wrong here, but all that I've read about it says it is not so much a reluctance to be baptized as much as it is a different view of baptism itself. One sprinkled say, then later decides to join but believes sincerely their baptism was legitimate scripturely would either be forced to go contrary to conviction or refrain from uniting.

The church is saying, "since there is no clear connection in scripture to baptism being a door to membership we think it best to let them come to a clear understanding WHILE in fellowship
THEN immersing them as it becomes their conviction." They believe that would elevate baptism rather than diminish it.
If there were a person newly converted and struggling to understand any theology, even baptism, perhaps being in fellowship would help in that growth which is the RESPONSIBILITY of the fellowship anyway. This is what they are struggling with if I understand things correctly, but I don't want to put words in their mouth. Go to Wes Kenny's blog to read a definitive word on their position.

Always good to hear from you. Your words and spirit are a blessing to many of us.

Paul B.















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Bob Cleveland said...

Paul:

This is one case where I CAN throw the BTDT flag (Been There Done That).

I was baptized in 1941 in a United Brethren Church (by Rev. Stein). That was sprinkling.

Then, after 20+ years of invisibility in any church, we joined the Methodist Church. I'd been sprinkled, so that was fine with them.

10 Years or so later, we joined the Presbyterian Church (that was UPC, but we later joined RPCES and PCA churches too) and that was fine with all them, too.

Then we were moved to the Southern Baptist Church. After 6 different specific churches telling me I was fine now, Bro. Mike Shaw said I'd have to be immersed. I said fine .. that was what they believed, and that was fine with me.

If it'd been of any consequence to me, I wouldn't have joined. That's what they believed, and so be it.

And even when I was a Methodist (and the others) I knew that sprinkling was not scriptural baptism. When they'd try to explain it, I'd laugh at it. That did cause a stir at meetings of the Elders, but right is right.

Anyway, that's where I come from.

Clif Cummings said...

Paul,
I agree with your observtion of how HHBC has handled this issue. Apparently it is with the utmost grace and humility and a sincere desire to let the sufficiency of God's Word stand.
With that said I would like to propose the same question to you that I proposed to Pastor Dennis Newkirk. I am not trying to stir up a battle - just sincerely seeking different perspectives.
"By what evidence does someone demonstrate a regneration of their spirit, a conversion of their heart or evidence of God's grace - if not by the desire to follow the Lord's example and command to be baptized?" I understand, or atleast I think I do, their not linking it to the door of church membership -- but then by what evidence do they "link" church membership to insure a regenerate membership? What is the door? A mere profession?
It seems to me that in their examination of a prospective member, that if there has been no-baptism, or a "different mode" of baptism - yet, the person simply professes Christ, they can become a member.
How does this fit with the clear teaching of James? Faith is proven by our works. Works flow from our faith.
Does Philippians 2:13 apply here? God, ONLY by His grace gives us both the WILL and the POWER to do according to His good pleasure.
Is the willingness to and power to be immersed as an initial evidence of one's conversion, a regenerated heart, such a complex doctrine that one has to be "discipled" into it?
I fellow door seeker... (or is that a door knocker?)

Clif

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul:

I stumbled into an interesting thought in Mark 9. Instructing the disciples, at the end of His statement about being salt and salty, he says "And be at peace with each other".

Wow. He had to tell them to do that. Why? Did He know that, in the course of living out our humanity, we'd have differences in this or that? And, despite that, He commands we be at peace with each other?

When I see churchfolks who aren't, whether it be over baptism or alcohol or elections or how we define inerrancy, it must be that we are deciding to be UNpeaceful. I think He knew we'd do that, so warned us not to.

That may be another key to why the world isn't much interested in us any more. Maybe God is telling us that, when we're READY to accomodate folks coming to Jesus, we'll see the harvest here, too. Like they seem to on the foreign fields, where folks don't have a lot to differ over and simply unite around Jesus.

Like the Baptist and CMA missionaries that started that church.

Hmmm......

mr. t said...

Brother Paul,

I think you hit on something ... the organization of the church is quite different from the organism. The longer our churches exist, the more institutional they become, adding extra-biblical requirements. Our hope is that those requirements will not become a barrier to the expansion of God's kingdom.

In our context, we teach that baptism is one of the earliest (if not first) steps of obedience the new believer in Christ should exercise. They cannot mature or go any further in their relationship with Jesus if they do not follow Him by identifying with Him through immersion. Of course, we are careful to teach that the water has no power, only Jesus has the power to save and transform. But that does not take away from the importance of baptism as the "rite of initiation" (not graduation) for following Christ. The pattern we see in the New Testament is immediate baptism following one's confession of faith in Christ. In our context we teach that the only requirement for baptism is believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth that Jesus Christ is their only God.

Another pattern we recognize in Scripture is that identification with the body of Christ. In the book of Acts we see groups of people (oikos) referred to as households; that believed and were baptized together; thus establishing a new household (oikos) of faith (a new church). We teach that they are not only being immersed into Christ, but also immersed into His body. Baptism is the symbol for this death of the old self life and resurrection to a new selfless life with the body of Christ. That is when we pinpoint the "planting" of a new church. When other new believers come along and have not been baptized, they should be immersed into that local body of Christ.

What do you think? Are we off base, or Biblical in this teaching and practice?

Paul Burleson said...

Hey guys, [Mr T, Clif, Bob,] Thanks for dropping by.

I got in from four days at the lake with no computer so have been unable to reply. But some great questions from you guys demand a response. Later today I will try to do that.

Paul B.

Paul Burleson said...

Clif, Good questions, I have no definitive answers. But I can give some studied opinions at least.

First, I'm not sure our job is to insure a regenerate membership. If it is, we are going to fail. At the end of the age the Angels are going to have to do some separation of wheat and tares. And when Jesus told about this He said we're to leave them alone until that day.

Second, the need for a clear and biblical presentation of the true gospel is essential. Then, as people respond to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is able to work real faith [which comes from hearing the Word] in their lives. A watered down easy believism will always create more problems than it solves. Southern Baptists may need to be careful here. You and I are going to do our correcting at this point.

Third, the evidence of real grace in a person's life takes a lot more than a few choices to do certain things, even baptism, at the moment of a profession of faith. In fact, for us to say to a person "you're saved" may not be wise. The best we can biblically do perhaps is to say,"you look pretty good so far". If someone refuses to be baptized because of fear, pride, or whatever, I would have to say then, "you don't look too good in grace so far." If they are simply not sure of the scriptural meaning and wanting more understanding, teach them. Whether as a member or not is the issue HHBC in Edmond is wrestling with at the moment.

Finally, if several years down the road a professor of faith abandons his/her spouse [or any other overt sin] and refuses to repent when confronted, despising the efforts, wanting nothing to do with the people who confront them, I would say to them, "your profession of faith looks pretty empty to me at this time."

Conclusion, purity of a profession of faith is a heart issue only. Proving grace is a life long process. Repentence of wrong doing is the clearest evidence of the presence of grace. But even then we are not permitted to question their sincerity as 70 tmes 7 would indicate. Baptism is important but cannot be linked as a door to keep the membership pure in scripture, in my opinion at this time. The door is the Spirit's baptism of any true believer into the Body of Christ. How the Body then breaks down into visible groups may vary from culture to culture, But all we have is their profession of faith to act upon as we baptize them in water.

Paul B.

Paul Burleson said...

Mr.T, You have graciously invited me to comment on your comment and I will. No hard and fast truth that I'm giving, more like an opinion only.

First paragraph is right on to my understanding.

Second para. "In our context" great understanding. The context of your work does impact methods. "They cannot mature or go any further in their relationship with Jesus if they don't follow Him by identifying with Him through immersion." I would use the word "baptism" since the word is interrpreted differently by some. I personally believe it is immersion so the words "in context" make it that for me, but, it gives others "in other contexts" room to see it differently. [ The word "Baptism" means "identification" according to Donald Grey Barnhouse and others, so if pouring identifies one with Christ and His accomplished work, it's baptism.] As I said, I hold a different view than that as do you.

Also, "they cannot mature or go any further" is an absolute statement that I'd be careful of using since the scripture doesn't use that language at all. It may be good logical thinking on your part, I just wouldn't make it an absolute.

I think [no absolutes here] baptism is a "rite of initiation" an the "Lord's supper" is the "continuing journey" ordinance. Graduation is His coming for us at the end of the age, it seems to me.

As to the "oikos" paragraph, it seems to me you run into again, the door to the local group, problem. "We teach they are not only being immersed into Christ but also immersed into His body."

I believe that when it is used of the Holy Spirit's baptizing us at our conversion. Water baptism pictures that to me. But some local groups believe that if one is baptized in water at their profession of faith by a christian anywhere, as the Ethiopian, they should be received into the local group. I'm one of those. If one has not been baptized after conversion, to require it as a door into a group, goes farther than scripture. If one has not been baptized after conversion, it may be they are to received and instructed as to the meaning of baptism. Then their choice to do it would be because of a desire to obey rather a pressure to join a group of people. That's the question being considered at HHBC in Edmond Oklahoma today.

Your last sentence "is" the crux of the argument/debate at the present time. Some believe it is better to receive them since they are already baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ, instruct them, baptize them, and further disciple them is the way to go in the local chuuch context at, say, Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond Oklahoma.

I hope this helps give some understanding to what I think. I've read it over and it may take the "Interrpretation of tongues" to make any sense out of my words. :) Best wishes to ypu.

Paul B.

mr. t said...

I see what you are saying now. I can't find it in Scripture either... that baptism is the door for church membership. I just see a pattern for the new churches, they were baptized immediately.

Thanks for the dialogue.

IN HIS NAME said...

PAUL,
Great Post and Comments. A new Blogger has a great post

http://posttinebraelux.blogspot.com/

A Brother in CHRIST

Wes Kenney said...

Paul,

I appreciate your thoughtful and biblical approach to this issue. I also appreciate the approach Henderson Hills is taking, and have told Dennis Newkirk so. I believe they truly desire to be biblical about this.

You used the word "heresy" more than once in your post. As you know, there has been an avalanche of discussion about this proposal on my blog, and I have been very firm in my opposition to it. I believe that if they go forward, they will effectively remove themselves from cooperation with Southern Baptists.

But I most emphatically do not believe that they will have removed themselves from orthodox Christianity, and I hope I have not said, or failed to challenge anyone else who said, anything that advances that view.

I believe that a regenerate, scripturally baptized church membership is scriptural, because I find no other model in the New Testament. As this is perhaps chief among Baptist distinctives, forsaking it should have the consequence of no longer being called Baptist.

But as has been pointed out, there is no direct scriptural command that church members must be baptized; that belief results from a systematic approach. So I would never condone calling their move heretical in any sense.

Again, thanks for your thoughts on this issue.

Paul Burleson said...

Wes, as has been true everytime I've read something you've said your gracious spirit has come through. This time continues the standard. Thanks.

While I did not say specifically that you charged HHBC with heresy it was certainly implied by what I wrote. For that I apologize. My use of the word was because of my assumption that only something heretical or immoral would justify public censure and therefore the assumption carried my words not anything you said. But you're correct in writing and I'm in need of correcting my reason for using that word. Consider both done and again, thank you.

I'm still in search of clarity for myself in the nuances of this matter and, while you and I are far apart in our understanding of the biblical purposes of baptism [not the motive, mode, or candidate] we certainly are united around the purpose and work of Christ and His Cross which gives us reason beyond measure to celebrate together. Good to hear from a friend.

Paul B.

Kiki Cherry said...

Paul,

I really like this article. May I link to it from my blog?

Doug is from Edmond, and we have friends at HHBC. So this whole issue has really captured our attention.

I've also discussed this with two close friends who this affects. Both became Christians in Presbyterian churches, and both were sprinkled AFTER conversion and for the correct reason.

However, both feel that to be rebaptized into a Baptist church would cheapen their original baptism, and they would be doing it for the wrong reason.

So one has chosen to join a church other than Baptist, and the second attends a Baptist church but has not been afforded the rights of a member. So in a sense, she is in permanent "limbo."

The sad part is that both are strong, committed Christians. They would be such an asset to our churches. The Holy Spirit is evident in both their lives, and each of them read way more scripture than most Baptists I know. They clearly impact the lives of those around them.

But they explained to me that the baptism issue was an immediate barrier for them in even considering a Baptist church.

My concern in that is the exclusivity of it. There is a message that is sent--"Unless you come here already looking, talking, acting like us, you can't be one of us."

Do we allow enough room for people to find true fellowship with other believers, while growing together in a knowledge of Christ and His Word? Or do we throw up immediate walls that prohibit that from occuring?

Paul Burleson said...

KIKI..

Yes, you are certainly free to link to it and I would be honored for you to do so.

Interestingly, my wife is from Edmond Okla. and her name was Mary Cherry. Her father was Fred Cherry an Evangelist. Their home church was First Baptist where we were married 47 years ago, but I've preached two meetings at Henderson Hills and am friends with Dennis Newkirk, the pastor who is top notch.

You are right on in my opinion about throwing up walls. If the scriptures throw up a clear command about local church membership that's not a wall but a way. But if there is ,at best, ambiquity in scripture, which is the case IMO, let's be careful of those walls.

I read your post at your blog and see why Tim was so ready to reference it. Good stuff.

BOB..

As always, you've a good word for us again. One of these days I'm going to address that "identification" thing about baptism. You've stirred me to thinking deeper on it. Thanks.

Paul B.

Refbaptdude said...

Paul Burleson wrote:
“First, I'm not sure our job is to insure a regenerate membership. If it is, we are going to fail. At the end of the age the Angels are going to have to do some separation of wheat and tares. And when Jesus told about this He said we're to leave them alone until that day.”


Brother Paul,

The biblical illustration that you referred to is from Matthew 13. You give the impression that it is acceptable that church leadership allow or not guard against tares in the church.

First, the parable of Christ is not referring to the church but to the WORLD.

Matthew 13:38 (NKJV)
38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.

Secondly, I do not think that anyone claims to read the hearts of men infallibly but we are told we can know the true from the false by their fruit.

Matthew 7:20 (NKJV)
20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Would you not say that filling up the church with unregenerate church members would be contrary to the regenerate nature of the church?

1 Corinthians 1:2 (NKJV)
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

And that this practice would be destructive to the health and life of the church?

If it is dangerous for the life of the church are not the elders to guard the flock from such things? Is this not part of the shepherds job?

Acts 20:28-30 (NKJV)
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

Grace to you,
Refbaptdude (Steve)

Paul Burleson said...

Steve

Thank you for commenting. There are several things we can agree upon I'm sure. A regenerate membership, Elders protecting the flock from wolves, and a well fed flock are a few. The disagreement, if there is any, may be on the meaning and accomplishment of those things.

One thing is for sure. Baptism,in and of itself, does not keep the membership regenerate since there is no salvific purpose affixed to it in the scriptures. Further, in the case of the Corinthians you quoted, Paul addressed them as "saints", "belonging to God", [which is the meaning of the word "of" in the phrase "church of God"] and was about to confront them for their anger, drunkenness, and undisturbed attitude over the incest happening in the congregation itself. Yet he said he was glad he had baptized no more than the few he had. So baptism isn't the answer to protecting a regenerate membership.

It could be our responsibility in giving protection from the human side of the equation has more to do with keeping the message God-centered instead of man-centered so we don't fall into the trap of a human accomplishment emphasis rather than a Divinely accomplished relationship one. But that calls for a lengthy post rather than a comment. Again, thanks for stopping by.

Paul B.