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 ..........................................