Thursday, August 09, 2012


Five years ago last month we joined the fellowship called Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond Oklahoma. There was a debate going on within the fellowship at that time about baptism and its place in baptist life as the door into local church membership. Mary and I read ALL the documents they posted and watched two messages by the senior pastor, Dennis Newkirk, as well as read every published testimony of every elder as each personally searched the scriptures for their own understanding of this issue. 

I must say we were impressed. They had done their homework. They researched every reference to baptism in scripture. They were doubting the legitimacy of the door to local membership position being bible based. They'd even researched Baptist history and the Baptist Fathers extensively. And they did so with a spirit of humility while attempting to bring their flock along to search for themselves and they hoped ultimately to have a final word spoken by the entire congregation. For some reason they never concluded with a final decision and, while disappointed with the end result, I certainly appreciated their heart and spirit in their attempt to face that particular issue of church life.

While no finalized conclusions came from them, I came away with my own view about that particular issue unchanged. I must confess I started out with a position that had, as a result of my own research, been settled years before and that personal position went unchallenged as I listened to their findings. 

From my research, particularly with the studies of Jon Zens and John Reisinger, I came away with some questions that had been posed for anyone who might hold the view that membership into a local church is tied to baptism. In fact, three questions that I believe would have to be answered.

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 and answer.]

My personal answers to those three questions ...NO...NO...YES 

These are my answers according to my understanding of the text of the New Testament scriptures alone. This is not taking into account Baptist history, Baptist Fathers, Baptist Tradition or Logical Thinking.

I don't think a local church is wrong or sinful for examining a person for membership or for having agreed to standards for membership, or, for that matter, choosing to respect Baptist history, traditions, or logical thinking by requiring baptism, if that's what they choose to do. Just don't call it something the bible teaches when the bible doesn't. 

Those are all pragmatic things needed, perhaps, because our modern culture demands we be organized, and researching Baptist history and the Church Fathers will always be helpful in doctrinal studies, but are never to be seen as the final word. I read someone who said, "If nothing else, reading Baptist history and the Church Fathers keeps us from the pride of our own scholarship." But the New Testament does not address such local church issues specifically nor 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.

We do, however, see the text of scripture as sufficient for belief and practice, so let's be careful to give no other belief system that kind of authority, even if it is Baptist.

I'm convinced the modern church institution and organization could not possible have been envisioned by the NewTestament Church in their wildest imagination. So any effort to get back to the structure of the N.T. Church may be something of a myth anyway. Living like redeemed people are to live today and evangelizing our present day are things that are possible and essential no matter the shape our organization might take. Each culture and generation brings it's own needs organizationally anyway. We can meet that challenge together without cries of heresy.

The organism of the Church, aka the Body of Christ, The Bride of Christ, is alive and functioning in this age. [Albeit in need of a revival of Spiritual life.]  That organism has gifted servants, Spirit-led members, all empowered to serve one another, with each one unique in their giftedness. Whatever organizational form the Organism takes locally is but a tool that is very pragmatic and non-biblical. But that form is not to be endowed with any authority or to be seen as authoritative. Remember, this is simply saying that organization is not necessarily wrong or not needed in this is just not seen in the biblical materials.

My conclusion is simply this...since the scriptures do not speak to the matter of baptism and local church membership, the only reason to experience baptism in scripture is to testify of a conversion where one has been united with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. No door mentioned at all. And, it is best to not add anything further to its significance. The scriptures don't. Thus, I have for years believed that baptism is NOT the door of membership into a local church.

But my examination has and will continue. I will keep looking as I study..........[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]......[still looking].................................

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...

If you some pragmatic, I got some right here:

IF a church is an SBC Church, and..

IF the SBC requires some semblance of adherence to the Baptist Faith & Message,,

THEN, inasmuch as the BF&M defines "a ... church" as "an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers", that does establish a sort of doorway for membership, doesn't it? If you want to conform to the BF&M definition, that is.

I asked the question as to why you had to be baptized to join an SBC church of a well-known SBC Seminary professor, at the convention, in New Orleans. He responded with a brief explanation about obedience, etc. I countered with nay, nay, and quoted the BF&M. He said that the BF&M wasn't really prescriptive as to the local church (or words to that effect), whereupon I said "Oh yeah .. try calling a woman pastor and see how that flies".

He excused himself and left.

Steve Martin said...

I think you are right.

Baptism is not an entry into the local body, but the body of Christ and His Church.

We believe that God is the One who does the actual that one time is enough.

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.


Aussie John said...


Love your three questions, and the answers!

" the only reason to experience baptism in scripture is to testify of a conversion where one has been united with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. No door mentioned at all."


That "conversion where one has been united with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection" if it is genuine, is when the Holy Spirit baptizes one into membership of the ONE Body.

Paul Burleson said...


Your question..."Oh yeah .. try calling a woman pastor and see how that flies". ...will close the "autonomous" debate quickly every time. won't it!

Steve, Aussie J,

You guys nailed the the "one baptism" as the Spirit's work.

Some people read the scriptures with an old fashioned "water-witch." When they see the word "baptism" they think.."There's water, there's water."

Our commision to "Go and as you're going, make disciples baptizing them,,," may refer to water, of course, but that's different than our conversion or a door into the local fellowship idea completely isn't it!

Good comments all!

Rex Ray said...

Ah! Bob,
You’ve opened a can of worms with the BFM. Were you referring to the BFM 2000?

In my opinion, that’s the one that makes women second class Christians; can’t be a pastor, submit to husband, etc. Also ‘priesthood of the BELIEVER’ was changed to ‘…BELIEVERS’ which makes the individual subject to the group.

The old Conventions of Texas and Virginia rejected the BFM 2000, and still use the BFM 1963.

Rex Ray said...

Good post.

But as far as scripture telling us about the purpose of baptism how do you interpret Peter’s words in Acts 2:38?

“Peter replied, Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS. THEN YOU WILL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

We’ve discussed this before and I believe Peter changed his mind after God showed him the Gentile’s conversions and their receiving the Holy Spirit BEFORE they were baptized in Acts 10:44.

Of course this opens up a can of worms about all scripture being perfect.

Ben said...

Speaking of "one baptism," can you show a single Baptist Confession of Faith before the 200 BF&M that teaches the theory of Holy Spirit Baptism at the moment of conversion? You won't find it in the New Hampshire, Philadelphia, or London Confessions. Virtually all of the old Baptists believed 1 Cor. 12:13 was water baptism.

Paul Burleson said...


Gill said this about 1 Corinthians 12:13...

"For by one Spirit are we all baptized,.... This is to be understood not of water baptism; for the apostle says not in one, and the same water, but "by", or "in" one Spirit, are we all baptized; the baptism of water, and of the Spirit, are two different things; see Matthew 3:11. Besides, all that are baptized in water, are not baptized in or by the Spirit, as the case of Simon Magus, and that of others, show; nor does water baptism incorporate persons into the church of Christ; neither into the invisible church, which is the body of Christ, and here meant; nor into a visible Gospel church state; they being indeed true believers, and baptized, are proper persons to be received into a church; but baptism itself does not put them into it, or make them members of it: persons may be baptized in water, and yet may never be joined to a church"

I'm in agreement with Gill on this one.

Paul Burleson said...


Renowned Greek scholar A. T. Robertson states that the word "eis" signifies "aim or purpose" [in order to] as in 1 Corinthians 2:7, but it can just as well mean "on the basis or ground of" [with reference to or because of] Matthew 10:41; 12:41.

He also states, "the illustrations of both usages are numerous in the New Testament and the Koine (New Testament Greek) generally.

I think a person has to decide the use in Acts 2:38 based on whether he believes other passages do or do not teach that baptism is essential to the remission of sins, since no doctrine can be built on one verse of scripture alone.

I hold that Paul nor any one in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins, so I hold that "eis" is to be understood as "on the basis of" and not "in order to."

In simple language...A person is hanged "for" (because of) murder. You don't hang him for"(in order to" murder. He is hanged because he committed murder. We are baptized because of repentance and remission of sin.

Whether Peter said it with another intention until he got it straight we'll find out one day I guess. We'll ask him together. ;)

Rex Ray said...

Hey! Good ‘dodge’. But I believe when that “day” comes, we’ll be more interested in seeing Jesus. Glory!

Paul Burleson said...


LOL...this seldom happens with me and any comment from anyone but, I totally agree with every single thing you said in this one. LOL

Rex Ray said...

A smaller man may have let silence answer me, but yours furthered endured me to my heart.

Rex Ray said...

I thought I could write!

My comment should have said:

A smaller man may have let silence answer me, but yours furthered endured YOU to my heart.