October 17, 2017

Rebaptism: Where to from here?

Rebaptism: How Did We Get here? and Rebaptism: What is it?

This last post in the Rebaptism series deals with what can be done in the present situation. Once again, I want to address these issues related to rebaptism with my own Southern Baptist context primarily in mind. I realize the issue changes a bit in each communion that considers it.

As Southern Baptists, we have reached a low point in regard to our own practice of baptism, and we should admit this as the first step in recovery. SBC leaders routinely baptize children who are 5 or even younger, and state evangelism directors defend- even promote- the practice. Our own international mission board and many churches insist on what can only be called “Baptist” baptism, which amounts to a rejection of believer’s baptism, over secondary issues.

Of more concern, many churches have completely abandoned any serious theological or confessional consideration of the meaning of Baptism, and therefore “anything goes” as the motive and occasion for baptism. Substantial preaching on baptism is shallow or non-existent. (We need some topical preaching, even in verse by verse churches.) The confessional riches of the Baptist tradition are almost irrelevant to many church growth oriented pastors.

Because baptism has been a neglected aspect of church life, its actual purpose is fading from the church’s memory as new generations hear and experience little about Baptism that is on a solid foundation. Baptism serves as little more than a kind of public testimony in much of Baptist practice and its meaning is a kind of “wax nose,” to be shaped as any church or individual sees fit.

In the midst of this mess are people who have been rebaptized for wrong reasons, baptized for wrong reasons and who refuse to be baptized for reasons that, perhaps, ought to be considered more seriously than just being obstinate.

I once knew a couple who was denied membership in a church because they were “General” Baptists, which amounted to they had a different denominational headquarters and identical doctrine No difference. Yet our pastor refused to accept them without rebaptism. The couple continued to be part of the church, but not as members. Years later, when another pastor tried to change the church constitution so that couple- now quite elderly- could be received, an ugly scene ensued and the change was voted down by people who had NO BIBLICAL IDEA what they were doing.

As in several other areas, the “inerrancy” movement has caused many Baptist pastors to reject aspects of Baptist tradition in the cause of reclaiming what the Biblical actually teaches. This means a reconsideration of Baptism in church life is likely as younger pastors undertake a more intentional approach to church life and as new churches work through these issues in their own development.

Believer’s Baptism does well when the scriptures, not tradition, argument from silence, individualism or denominational practice, are allowed to control what is done and not done, taught and believed. I am hopeful that the more the scriptures on Baptism are expounded, the more churches will see that there is “one Baptism,” that it is of confessing believers and that it precedes the privileges of local church membership.

Further, I hope that an examination of the scriptures and the early Baptist confessions will reveal that Baptists actually can access more richer, more robust theological language about baptism. While we believe that baptism is a “pledge” and is an action of the believer, we also believe that baptism is “the gospel in water,” that it is the doorway into the assurances of being part of the local church, that it bears in its sign-nature the word of God about the Gospel as applied to the believer. The fact that Baptists insist on the baptism of believers only does not mean that the faith of the believer should be a more prominent aspect of baptism than the remembered, recalled and applied work of Christ by the Holy Spirit. Faith’s object and the promises that faith takes hold of are important in baptism.

Baptists must repent of their fear of sacradotalism, a fear that has caused them to denigrate baptism in a way that rightly puzzles and confuses other Christians. If we continue to believe that anything remotely close to the practice of other Christians somehow drags us into all their errors, we are going to be left with nothing. The Baptist movement values a simple return to scriptural priorities, but it is not obligated to buy into an irrational fear of other Christians that poisons our consideration of anything that “sounds” or “looks” like them.

Pastors must find the courage to raise issues related to baptism and to do the right thing. This may mean rebaptism in some instances. As Anglican Peter Mathews said, Baptists are showing integrity in their own principles when they define baptism in a way that excludes infant baptism. Where I might disagree slightly is on the “Piper Proposal” for accommodating those who believe that rebaptism violates their conscience and rejects a legitimate form of baptism. I see no damage to Baptist principles to allow a form of fellowship, an allowance for service and a freedom to come to the Lord’s table for those with different baptisimal convictions who are part of the larger “one church, one faith, one baptism” family.

In order to recover baptism, Baptists must stop baptizing young children who will insist on rebaptism later. (I am sure that among those who remain in church, a majority of baptized children are rebaptized one or two more times.) We must adopt an age for communion and baptism that is generous, but reasonable. If 12 signaled adulthood in Judaism, then it is certainly an appropriate age for baptism and church membership. (See Fred Malone’s, The Baptism of Disciples Alone for how this fits into a nurturing, covenantal view of the children of believers without compromising on evangelism. I deeply believe the children of Christians must be raised with the promises given to families as their constant encouragement to faith, but I also believe they must hear and believe the Gospel as individuals.)

Further, we must do the hard theological work on baptism to answer questions that lie inside and outside the normal bounds. While I was in seminary, a single mom/church member brought her teenage, mentally handicapped son to the church and asked that we baptize him. This was a very contentious issue in the context of believer’s baptism, and the eventual solution- they baptized him- required some theological nuancing and tradition-shaping that most churches wouldn’t understand. I can’t defend the decision, but I did agree with it within the way I understand the fullness of baptism to be understood in the New Testament.

Most of all, churches should make clear statements on baptism. Short confessional statements, of course, but also longer theological, practical, applicatory statements that make whatever policy on rebaptism is eventually adopted appreciated as serious.

Churches must repent of the baptisimal nonsense. No children’s baptistry that looks like a train. No integrations of baptisms into backyard cook outs. No rebaptisms so all the family experiences it together. No rebaptisms by request. An end to rebaptisms done for no reason except to generate numbers.

We must combine Christian education and preparation for baptism, even as we affirm that those making a credible profession of faith should be baptized promptly, as we see in scripture.

Pastors must do baptisimal teaching with integrity, depth and care. They should see that the Christian education program is teaching a Biblical view of baptism and that those who work with every age, especially children and young people, are totally on board with a high view of baptism and church membership.

Pastors should preach about the process of sanctification and Christian growth with a special concern for helping the person who is confused and easily misled on the issue of Baptism. The views of other Christians will have to be examined in some detail, with special attention to what is meant in the various forms of infant baptism that may not be viewed as baptism in a Baptist church.

Baptism should be once, at the beginning of the Christian life, signaling the inauguration of the new creation in the life of the one baptized. It should not be repeated unless the reasons are compelling, Biblical and convincingly serious.

May Baptism once again find its way into the heart of church life. Where rebaptism is necessary, may it be done in charity and affirmation of “one lord, one faith, one baptism” and one people of God. When possible, let’s avoid it.

Comments

  1. Baptism was very confusing for me growing up in the Southern Baptist denomination. I walked down the aisle early on, at around seven years old, because I distinctly remembering that was the only way I could finally get to join in communion services. I knew I needed to “be saved,” because that was always a strong emphasis of preaching and worship, but I had little comprehension of what that meant or what was happening theologically in salvation. However, I professed my faith and was baptized at that time.

    Later, at a Church camp, where I distinctly remember the evangelist using Jonathan Edward’s images of the “slender thread” holding us over hell, I realized that I didn’t know I was a sinner when I first walked the aisle. Between the ages of 7 and 15, I had at least done enough to confirm my existence as a sinner in my mind, so I knew I needed to really get saved this time.

    So, I was baptized a second time. To make a long story short, this was all terribly confusing, and it took many, many years before I ended up with an understanding of baptism that matched the experience of God’s work and grace in my life.

    Don’t know how this all meshes with this post, but I thought it might be interesting for others to hear another person’s story of being rebaptized. I do think it’s also interesting that I remember the first baptism vividly and don’t have many memories of the second.

  2. I didn’t grow up in a denomination that promoted baptism much… I was in middle school before I ever saw anyone baptized…

    Given that, I was extremely embarrassed in front of my SBC friends that I got saved at age 4 and didn’t get baptized until I was 16…

    But reading your article makes me feel a bit better about that… Though I still firmly declare that my “salvation experience” at 4 was true – the vast majority of people “saved” at age 4 probably don’t have the same experience as me…

    (Then again – most 4 year olds don’t get saved during a regular ol’ prayer in Children’s Church and not during a point when the teacher was actually talking about “asking Jesus into your heart” – I acknowledge fully that I was a strange child to have thought about what I had heard about it before and decided then…but I point to it as a very early sign that I wasn’t going to do things “the normal way” just because that was the way it was always done)

  3. I do believe that children can be regenerated and believe at any time, but I’m persuaded that the relationship between baptism, public confession of faith and the church means that baptism is not for children. As I said, 12 was a significant age in Judaism. Of course, I’m being a Baptist at that point, and differ from those who believe in covenant baptism in the place of circumcision, baptisimal regeneration, or other views.

  4. Michael, thank you for these posts. I, for one, was not aware of the extent of this problem in SBC churches. I have seen similar less than desirable practices in non-denominational congregations, but a person might expect some theological confusion in those settings. On the other hand, I would certainly expect that a denomination named for a particular Biblical ordinance would have their act together on that practice!

  5. I’m glad you made a recomendation about baptising at age 12 and thoughts about having a class leading up to it, or at least some sort of preperation for kids in the church. I was baptised as an infant , and I agree with infant baptism (yep, Presbyterian), but I acknowledge the strong arguments for believer’s baptism, so I was trying to think of when exactly I would have been baptised had it not been when I was eight days old as it was. I could not think of a time. I have always, from my earliest memory, loved and trusted God, and have not had a conversion experience or any time that I can point to and say “that’s when I was saved.” If I had had to pick a time to be biptised, I would have been left very confused, and that was my concern for children raised in a Baptist church or similar. If they were like me, how would they know when to get baptised? But if you have a set minimum age, or a class of prepertation, or something like that, then I think that would help a lot.

  6. Thank you for this series of articles. I was baptized by sprinkling in a Lutheran church as a young adult in my 20s. This was a “believer’s baptism” in that it was my conscious decision, made in full awareness of what I was doing. All well and done until this past year when our family has begun attending a local Baptist (not SBC) church that requires baptism by immersion for membership. Now we face a decision to be re-baptized, not for salvation, but for procedural reasons of corporate unity. So I appreciate your insight and discussion of these issues.

  7. Nicholas Anton says:

    Michael;

    I concur with much that you say. Yet, I am left with a few questions.

    A)
    “…we have reached a low point in regard to our own practice of baptism, and we should admit this as the first step in recovery. SBC leaders routinely baptize children who are 5 or even younger…”

    Where do we find age to be a limiting factor in “believers baptism”? I thought saving faith did not have age qualifications. Why cannot a gifted young child who believes, with the cognitive capacities of a Mozart, be baptized?

    e.g.
    “in the fourth year of his (Mozart’s) age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. […] he could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. […] At the age of five he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.”

    B)
    “…that it is the doorway into the assurances of being part of the local church, that it bears in its sign-nature the word of God about the Gospel as applied to the believer.”

    Where does Scripture imply or state that baptism initiates one into the local church? If that be the case, into which local church was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized?

    C)
    “Believer’s Baptism does well when the scriptures, not tradition, argument from silence, individualism or denominational practice, are allowed to control what is done and not done, taught and believed. I am hopeful that the more the scriptures on Baptism are expounded, the more churches will see that there is “one Baptism,” that it is of confessing believers and that it precedes the privileges of local church membership.”

    I would say “Amen” to the above paragraph, with exception of a mild reservation and uncertainty about baptism and local church membership.

    Some overriding questions;

    Is baptism genuine baptism “one baptism” because-
    1) of what it is called?
    2) of what is practiced?
    3) of the doctrine, faith and life of the baptizer or denomination?
    4) of the faith and life of the one baptized?
    5) of the age of the one baptized?

  8. Scott Miller says:

    In Evangelistic circles, I think the problem is much bigger than Baptism. We have allowed church growth and rebaptizing “backslidden” believers and calling them converts to affect the historic precendence of baptism as a creedal confession of faith. Not as a personal testimony which focuses on me, me, me, look what God did for me, but on what God really did and our personal confession of belief in that teaching.

    The problem includes the manipulation of very young people to “accept Christ” and do things, like baptism, which are obviously coerced. In addition, we have less than solid teaching on what it means to be saved – that its not based on feelings or self worth. Maybe that will decrease the number of rebaptisms from a younger (not infant) age.
    In addition, deal with the rampant Arminianism where people constantly doubt their salvation. It reminds me of the movie “Elmer Gantry”, where the locals would get resaved each time the tent revival would come to town.

  9. Having been Baptized as a baby, I don’t think that the experience led me to later take the event as less serious; instead, it gave me the opportunity to look critically at the what faith is and means as my understanding of faith and the need for faith developed.

    As I was growing up, I was exposed to catechism, took various sacraments as I came of age, and my understanding of what it is to profess them, or take part in them, expanded as I got older – whether I liked them at the time or not, I knew that didn’t much matter if I was going to use them later. Consequently, I never felt much like they were milestones.

    Perhaps thats because they were explained to me to be tools and gifts for me to be a Chrstian with, instead of professions and promises by which I’d know myself a Christian as.

    I’m not trying to advocate that way of doing things as the solution to every problem ever, but a less cognitive, more cultural approach to baptism helped me see the profession of faith as something that takes your whole lifetime to make, rather than as something you can make again and again.

  10. A focus on Christ’s promises to us in Baptism could go a long way in stemming the tide of rebaptisms for those who were baptized at a young age, or were unsure or unclear concerning their faith at the time. God’s word to us is good even if we don’t entirely grasp all the implications of our new relationship with Him. His action in baptism is rock solid and undeniable regardless of how we feel. The focus would then be on Christ and His word, and not on us and our shortcomings. The Baptist confessions provide plenty of room for this kind of emphasis without having to adopt a position from other traditions.

    For those who have fallen away and then have repented and returned to the church, Luther’s analogy of marriage and baptism would be helpful.
    He said that if a spouse was unfaithful, and then was reconciled to his or her mate, you don’t have another wedding and get remarried to each other, but receive forgiveness from your spouse and continue in the covenant you already entered into on your wedding day. The same with baptism. Your falling away or backsliding does not nullify your baptism. If you repent and return, it is proof God is still working with you and there is no need to be rebaptized. You receive forgiveness and continue on in your baptism and your life under the cross.

    As to rebaptizing those who were baptized as infants, or who were baptized in other denominations not in fellowship with the denomination requiring rebaptism, that is another matter entirely. Its a pretty harsh and cocksure thing to tell someone who has been a Christian all their life (or for a long time) that their baptism is basically worthless and/or false, and that they have been living in disobedience to Christ all this time. It calls into question their whole Christian experience. It also undermines confidence in any baptism, because how can I be sure this one is a “real baptism”?

    The ancient and universal practice(at least until several hundred years ago) was that if baptism was done in the name of the Trinity by a church recognized as Christian(not a cult such as Mormonism or JW’s)you were good to go. There is much pastoral wisdom in this practice, and it upholds the sacredness and integrity of baptism.

  11. >Its a pretty harsh and cocksure thing to tell someone who has been a Christian all their life (or for a long time) that their baptism is basically worthless and/or false, and that they have been living in disobedience to Christ all this time. It calls into question their whole Christian experience. It also undermines confidence in any baptism, because how can I be sure this one is a “real baptism”?

    This is the strongest point that can be made about rebaptism. Let me make a couple of responses and prove that Lutherans and Baptists can talk to each other 🙂

    1. No matter how much more emphasis we put on baptism as credobaptists, we won’t ever approach the view of baptism in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran views.

    2. As Peter Mathews said, it’s a matter of definition for us, and views that do not include a personal profession of faith instead of a passive baptism of an infant are not baptisms in the credobaptist view.

    (BTW- David Wright shows that the early liturgies for infant baptism contained sections where the infant was supposed to “speak,” but the parent spoke instead. Pretty good evidence of what was going on when those liturgies were first used, at least from the credo view.)

    3. If a person is requesting baptism in a Baptist church and their believer’s baptism is rejected, that’s one thing. If they are requesting membership in an SBC church and still holding confessionally to the Lutheran or RC view of baptism, then there is a larger concern, in my view, of whether membership is appropriate.

    4. It is a pastoral responsibility to make it clear to someone from an infant baptizing community that a rebaptism in that instance is not faulting that Christian for willful disobedience. Further, if they were requesting membership in an SBC church, there would be no issue that infant baptism placed all their Christian experience in doubt. Not at all. We would affirm that they may have been regenerated as an infant.

    5. All of this is why I like the Piper compromise on these matters. It allows “ordinary members” to be accepted with infant baptism, but restricts leadership and teaching to those who can affirm the entire Baptist view.

    We won’t get around the pain of this, but let’s be honest, Lutheran friends: We may say your infant baptism isn’t baptism as we understand it, but it’s no barrier to the Lord’s table for you to commune with us. But you accept our baptism, but won’t accept us at the table (at least in the LCMS.) So everyone has a similar problem.

    peace

    MSpencer

  12. >Why cannot a gifted young child who believes, with the cognitive capacities of a Mozart, be baptized?

    I did not propose that baptisms of young children be absolutely banned. I proposed that baptism normally be restricted to those old enough to be meaningful members of a local church. the corrupting influence of baptizing young children is clear in SBC life, as is its contribution to rebaptisms. A 5 year old Mozart might be an exception, but that person is an exception to everything. In SBC polity, a church can have a policy but can always vote to ignore it in a particular case, as they did in the church I mentioned that received the mentally handicapped man for baptism even though he couldn’t make a profession of faith.

    >Where does Scripture imply or state that baptism initiates one into the local church? If that be the case, into which local church was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized?

    Can you name a credible New Testament scholar who believes that those baptized from Pentecost onward were not received into a local congregation? The entire New Testament witnesses to the relationship of baptism and becoming part of the local church.

    The Ethiopian is baptized by a deacon/evangelist of the church at Jerusalem in a missions situation. Someone is always the first person to be baptized in a new country. In Baptist polity, such persons are under the care of the “mother” church until a local congregation is formed.

  13. Stephen Yates says:

    Nicholas,

    I’d like to address your first point, for it is the same argument a dear friend of mine has against policies that would limit baptism based on age.

    If we take the Baptist view that baptism is a symbol of the gospel, then the church has a responsibility to protect the sanctity of that symbol. We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) baptize someone who walks in off the street without asking a few questions, and Michael’s article gives sound reasons for not baptizing like we’re handing out dispensations of grace. Therefore, we must be careful, perhaps overly careful, to not baptize someone who lacks the cognative abilities to understand the gospel. Sure, Mozart probably had more cognative ability when he was 4 than I did at 12, but as a pastor today, do you want to be the one who makes the call as to which 4 year old is ready? I don’t.

    Quite honestly, I sometimes mourn the first baptism I performed – the youth was emotionally passionate, but fell away from his faith almost immediately after (he went to college). Is this normal for anyone else?

  14. Just a short note on a couple of points, since our view of Holy Baptism is quite different from the classical Anabaptist viewpoint. (I am Eastern Orthodox).

    1. Part of the discussion had to do with age-related issues. Those age-related reasons were what led to the separation of Confirmation from Infant Baptism in the West. There was a growing concern that a person needed to personally “confirm” the Baptismal covenant. Age 12 became traditional for the same reasons that were mentioned above. However, in this day and age there is a realization that even 12 year old children can be coerced, so that some places are moving the age up to 16 or even 18 to ensure a non-coerced confirmation of faith. This should be of concern in any discussion of adult baptism.

    2. The East never separated baptism and anointing with oil for strong theological reasons. And, yes, it can sometimes cause problems with nominalism. However, in the context of the Muslim controlled areas (where much of Orthodoxy used to be), the very choice to remain a Christian as an adult, rather than to convert, already meant that you had chosen a life of suffering rather than betray your Lord. The early Baptists also had that type of commitment (think John Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress). I would put forward that this type of commitment more than validates any Baptism you may have had, whether infant or adult. And, it is this type of commitment for which we need to aim rather than getting caught up in whether a Baptism is valid or not.

    3. GRIN, please realize that I have chosen to bite my lips over your remark on Tradition. LOL.

  15. iMonk

    Defending the Lutheran and the Catholic position on the Eucharist:

    It is not to exclude you but to protect you. It is not because we don’t consider you a Christian that the Church excludes you from the Eucharist but it is rather out of love that we do so.

    1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (NAB)

    Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
    29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    It would be irresponsible for the Church to let you do so because of what we know the consecreated elements to be.

    I do not take these to be comparable circumstances.

  16. Giovanni:

    I am aware of this argument, which is premised on rejecting me as a brother in Christ. It is the argument that is dividing my marriage and will prevent my wife and I from ever communing again. You don’t want to get me started on this issue.

    Not going down that road.

    peace

    MS

  17. Hi Michael, (after saying I would largely avoid this topic for personal reasons, here is one comment that I would like to make.)

    You wrote 5. All of this is why I like the Piper compromise on these matters. It allows “ordinary members” to be accepted with infant baptism, but restricts leadership and teaching to those who can affirm the entire Baptist view.

    While I am very much with Piper as far as having a more open membership, I feel that this compromise falls short for a couple of reasons.

    1. It creates two classes of membership.

    2. It can potentially restrict the usage of God given spiritual gifts.

    3. It restricts people based on their experience, rather than what they believe.

    For example two people in the congregation share the same beliefs about baptism. Both believe that baptism by immersion as a believer is the best form of baptism. Both believe that membership should not be restricted to only those who have been immersed as believers. Both do not believe in rebaptism. Both affirm the statement of faith in all matters.

    Yet one is eligible for leadership and one isn’t because 25 years ago, as believers, one was sprinkled and one was dunked?

    If both agree to affirm the statement of faith in all that they teach, are their beliefs on the topic are virtually indistinguishable, why should one be restricted (in leadership or even in membership) and the other not.

    That is my situation, in our church, I am eligible for membership, and leadership. My wife is not. We both love our church. Yet it would be very hard for me to stand up in front of the church and become a member knowing that my wife cannot be by my side.

  18. I think the Piper Compromise is notable for the fact that it allows people who are in confessional disagreement with a church to be considered members. For Baptist polity, that’s a rather amazing compromise, and it’s why most Baptists oppose it. One can’t imagine Lutherans or Catholics doing anything remotely like this. To get to the communion table, my wife is on a trek rather similar to a two year degree program. It’s ridiculous. But they still have her playing the piano 🙂

  19. “But you accept our baptism, but won’t accept us at the table (at least in the LCMS.) So everyone has a similar problem.”

    Good point.

    “3. If a person is requesting baptism in a Baptist church and their believer’s baptism is rejected, that’s one thing. If they are requesting membership in an SBC church and still holding confessionally to the Lutheran or RC view of baptism, then there is a larger concern, in my view, of whether membership is appropriate”

    I suppose its true that many who were baptized as infants and seek membership and rebaptism in a Baptist or Evangelical church have by default rejected their baptism as infants anyway. ( Man, as a Lutheran that sets my teeth on edge.)
    I agree that those who would join a Baptist church but wish to hold on to their infant baptism have some serious study and thinking to do, and it is important for pastors in these situations to be very clear on the subject before receiving them into membership.

  20. That’s why I endorse the Piper COMPROMISE, but I don’t endorse a change in our confessions on baptism. I’d like to be able to offer an option, but I don’t believe the RC or Lutheran position is Baptism as Baptists understand it.

    Much like if you allowed me to come to the table to be blessed, as our Catholic brothers and sisters do. (I emotionally revolt at that practice, but I need to get over it, since I have much the same view of someone in my church who holds to a different conviction of baptism.)

    I’d just suggest the Lutheran/Catholic view on the efficacy of the sacraments and the Baptist view on the necessity of being a confessed, professed disciple of Jesus to be baptized can’t be resolved.

    And if Wright is correct, that’s exactly what one would expect.

    Credo baptism to credo and paedo to credo or paedo.

  21. Michael,

    You wrote: “I think the Piper Compromise is notable for the fact that it allows people who are in confessional disagreement with a church to be considered members.”

    I agree with this, I was just trying to point out that in Piper’s church that those with confessional agreement but experiential differences can not be leaders or teach.

    As has been noted earlier, baptismal differences does not restrict one in membership or leadership for that matter in the R.C. church. (It just takes a long time.)

    As for us it will probably be 10 years before we get the changes necessary to even allow us both to become members in our church.

  22. a question for iMonk and anybody in ministry who can answer it:

    if a person were to find themselves in disagreement with their denomination (say, Baptist) over a point of their church’s confession (say, baptism, but ‘women in ministry’ or ‘the purpose of communion’ work too), would they ever be prompted to step out and leave the church altogether because of it? Encouraged to go to a different denomination where that belief is the norm?

    Or would the church tolerate their dissent and still welcome them?

    Is that boundary, after which Baptists no longer consider one of their own a Baptist, whatever it is, more for based on the church’s identity as such, or based on their appreciation that a person can’t seriously be a confessing Christian and disagree with them?

    In my lifetime, lots of people have tried to “convert” me because they didn’t take my beliefs seriously because of my denomination. But if I were already a Baptist, would I ever be formally encouraged to shop around for a church that suited my unacceptable leanings, should I develop any?

  23. Patrick:

    In the SBC, it completely depends on where you are and what you are doing.

    My local church is completely non-confessional, as is most of Appalachia. If you have to write it down, they are agin’ it.

    But many other Baptist churches are highly confessional, using the BFM or other confession in member classes, deacon selection, etc.

    Baptist institutions (schools, mission boards, denominational agencies) tend to be strictly confessional…..when they want to be. And they usually want to be on the current controversies.

    I’ve seen some pastors present infant baptized persons for membership and just keep silent on the issue. IMO, that’s probably unethical, but it happens a lot where the pastor is sympathetic to the individual’s situation.

  24. Patrick,

    I have found many times that I have had to hold my nose while signing a statement of faith (inerrancy is usually my hangup). I always do it with the understanding that I will not teach contrary to the statement of faith, whether that me in private conversation or public meeting. That is one reason why I don’t blog about inerrancy, because my views are contrary to my church’s confession.

    The other thing I would note is that confessions do change over time. (Sometimes once a generation.) So the other question is not so much what the confession says, but how it is currently being interpreted.

    So for example, my Pastor and myself both affirm inerrancy, because it is in our statement of faith. How we understand inerrancy will be quite different to someone else in another part of the country.

  25. “if a person were to find themselves in disagreement with their denomination (say, Baptist) over a point of their church’s confession (say, baptism, but ‘women in ministry’ or ‘the purpose of communion’ work too), would they ever be prompted to step out and leave the church altogether because of it? Encouraged to go to a different denomination where that belief is the norm?

    Or would the church tolerate their dissent and still welcome them?”

    My wife and I are looking for another church after many years because we’ve come to the conclusion that while the church tolerates us we feel the pastors don’t fully accept you until you accept a long list of confessionals that are not written down for the public consumption. We’ve grown to learn that our small group wasn’t really in step with these non public confessions and so we didn’t notice them until our kids started running into these issues all over the place in little ways.

    So we’re moving on.

  26. This is an extremely interesting topic to me, because I had no idea the practice of rebaptism was even going on, much less that it had become so widespread.

    Here’s where you can all roll your eyes at the ignorant Papist, but am I correct in summarising that there are two main reasons why rebaptism may be undertaken: (1) someone joins from another denomination and they are considered not to be ‘properly’ or ‘correctly’ baptised (e.g. your lot did it by method X and we only do it by method Y so you have to be baptised by method Y to be a member of this church; the formula was considered faulty; baptised as infant) (2) you have fallen away, backslid, or otherwise doubt your committment to Christ and need reassurance or want to recommit?

    As regards the second reason, is there any merit in something like what we do for the Easter Vigil, when the congregation renew their baptismal promises? This is not a ‘rebaptism’ but a means whereby we acknowledge what was promised on our behalf at our baptism and commit ourselves to it again:

    Renewal of Baptismal Promises

    Through the paschal mystery
    we have been buried with Christ in baptism, so that we may rise with him to a new life.
    Let us renew the promises we made in baptism when we rejected Satan and his works,
    And promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.
    And so:
    V. Do you reject Satan?
    R. I do.
    V. And all his works?
    R. I do.
    V. And all his empty promises?
    R. I do.

    V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
    R. I do.

    V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
    R. I do.

    V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
    R. I do.

    V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

    R. Amen.

    God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins.
    May he also keep us faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
    Amen.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t expect Baptists to do it exactly like that 🙂 but something along those lines might be useful to consider?

  27. Michael, I don’t want to open a can of worms here, but your use of the word “communing” reminded me of an illustration using an equilateral triangle with the points being God, husband, and wife. Using that figure, if husband and wife concentrate on communing with one another only, they may draw closer to one another but they don’t get any closer to God. If one spouse only is intent on communing (drawing closer) with God, that spouse may indeed get closer to God but has not gotten any closer to the other spouse. But if both spouses concentrate on communing (drawing closer) to God, then they cannot help but get closer to one another. This doesn’t mean they necessarily agree on every point. If they agreed on every point, they would not be spouses but clones.

    Please forgive me if I offend; that is not my intention. If the illustration is too simplistic, I ask your forgiveness again.

    And I thought geometry would be of no use in real life.

  28. Sometimes I disagree with another Christian or my former church, but I’m open to the possibility that *I* might be wrong. Take speaking in tongues for example. I do not believe it is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe in it or not believe in it. But, I’m open to the possibility that the AG is right, and I’m wrong. I also don’t believe in the inerrency of scripture. So, when it was something like that or it’s something I consider relatively minor, I never really fussed about it and they only fussed me mildly.

    But, since I’ve been out of it and studying more – reading Barclay’s Confession and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works, there’s things that are taught there that I’ve come to believe that they’re not just minor errors, they’re damnable heresy. So, I don’t go there anymore – not even to visit, and I deeply regret that my son was largely raised in that denomination. 🙁

  29. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As Southern Baptists, we have reached a low point in regard to our own practice of baptism, and we should admit this as the first step in recovery. SBC leaders routinely baptize children who are 5 or even younger, and state evangelism directors defend- even promote- the practice.

    And SB’s tear into liturgical churches (like mine) for baptizing infants…

    I wonder just how much of this is related to the Baptists stressing “Baptist Baptism” (in their One Valid Form of Immersion) as some sort of distinguishing feature? I mean, they even name their denomination/churches after the practice!

  30. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    My wife and I are looking for another church after many years because we’ve come to the conclusion that while the church tolerates us we feel the pastors don’t fully accept you until you accept a long list of confessionals that are not written down for the public consumption. — David

    i.e. the ever-lengthening amount of fine print they don’t tell you about until AFTER you’ve signed up.

    Could somebody explain to me the difference between that and “Bait and Switch”?

  31. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    In addition, deal with the rampant Arminianism where people constantly doubt their salvation. It reminds me of the movie “Elmer Gantry”, where the locals would get resaved each time the tent revival would come to town. — Scott Miller

    This is the flip side of Wretched Urgency, where Christians compete for the most notches on their Bible and brownie points for the Bema:

    If you make the mark doubt his/her salvation, then you can then be the one who resaves them and put another notch on your Bible.

    (During IMonk’s series on faulty teaching about Heaven, one of the commenters told how he was taught that in Heaven you’d have a crown with a jewel for every soul you saved — “Billy Graham’s crown would snap his neck.” Distinct impression that only He Who Saved The Most Souls Wins.)

    I ended up a notch on half a dozen Bibles that way. And somewhere during the process you start to wonder if it’s all BS from day one.

  32. Martha:

    “1” is a legitimate reason for baptism in Baptist life. (Not rebaptism from our point of view.)

    “2” is NOT a legitimate reason for rebaptism, but unfortunately a lot of people who are coming back to renew are so poorly taught in Baptist life that they think they are “really” getting saved. A “Renewal” of Baptismal Vows” would be perfect.

    peace

    MS

  33. Nicholas Anton says:

    Michael;
    re:
    “The entire New Testament witnesses to the relationship of baptism and becoming part of the local church.”

    My understanding of Scripture places baptism as the initiatory witness of faith in Jesus Christ in it’s relationship to Christ and the “universal church”, which includes all local fellowships. I am not aware of any Biblical evidence for the bureaucratizing of the church into “official”, versus non-official” status, nor the distinction between the local church versus the universal church other than in functional matters.

    Stephen Yates
    re:
    “If we take the Baptist view that baptism is a symbol of the gospel, then the church has a responsibility to protect the sanctity of that symbol. We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) baptize someone who walks in off the street without asking a few questions, and Michael’s article gives sound reasons for not baptizing like we’re handing out dispensations of grace. Therefore, we must be careful, perhaps overly careful, to not baptize someone who lacks the cognative abilities to understand the gospel.”

    I would be more careful not to violate the will of my Master, Jesus Christ, when he said;
    “Mat 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    “- the youth was emotionally passionate, but fell away from his faith almost immediately after (he went to college).”

    Allow me to respond by illustration;

    I live in a small community, which in 1950 was comprised mostly of ethnic/cultural Ukrainian Catholics, ethnic/cultural Ukrainian Orthodox, and ethnic/cultural Mennonites, with a few straggler ethnic/cultural Anglo-Saxons.
    In the late forties and early fifties, because of the teaching and preaching of the Gospel, a genuine revival totally unrelated to revival meetings and the likes swept the community, especially among the Mennonites. Of those who believed early on in this revival, which included children from six to Grandparents in their seventies, I know of non who have apostatized. Why not have baptized the children at that time, and why not have included them at the Lord’s Table?
    I, who was nine at that time, was one of those. In the Spring of 1950, shortly after believing, the adults went to church for Communion on Good Friday. We “believing children” were excluded and instead played croquet on our neighbor’s lawn. I was puzzled and deeply hurt because my desire was to be part of the commemoration of my Lord and Savior’s Passion. Was I not one of the redeemed? Was I not part of the family of God? I will never forget this incident.

  34. Martha,

    I like your idea of renewing the baptismal vows. I would go for that.

    Don’t know if it would fly in most Baptist churches.

  35. Stephen Yates says:

    Nicholas et. all,

    I agree, and am sorry for your experience. Yet as much as I am troubled by not baptizing (and thus injuring the faith of) a child, I am also very troubled by the child, or the teenager or adult, for that matter, who is baptized (making a public statement of his identification with the life, burial, and ressurection of Jesus) and then walks out the door and publicly makes such an identification a laughing stock! We are careful to not allow someone to “take the elements unworthily” (another picture of Christ, yet baptisms are handed out without a second thought.

  36. Stephen Yates says:

    (sorry for the break)

    (another picture of Christ), yet baptisms are handed out without a second thought.
    At least with marriage (yet another picture) we usually require some form of counseling. Where do we draw the line between helping someone to be faithful to the cross and fearing we’ll allow that same cross to be spit upon?

    PS-Your faith as a 9-year old is to be commended. Most of the children I know now who “walk an aisle” or “pray a prayer” would never be hurt by such actions.

  37. 🙂 Smile Alert 🙂

    An Anglican priest and a Baptist pastor are discussing the relative merits of baptism.

    “You mean to tell me”, said the priest, “that if I go in all the way up to my knees, it doesn’t count.”

    “Yes”, replied the Baptist pastor, “that is not a valid baptism so it doesn’t count.”

    “What about if I go all the way up to my waist?” asked the priest. “Surely that would count?”

    “No”, replied the pastor, “that certainly would not count.”

    “My chest?”

    “No.”

    “My throat?”

    “No.”

    “What about my forehead?” said the priest. “Surely if I go in all the way up to my forehead, it would be a valid baptism?”

    “No”, said the Baptist pastor, “that would not be a valid baptism.”

    “Aha!” said the priest. “I was right all along”.

    “What do you mean?” asked the Pastor.

    “You practically said it yourself”, replied the Anglican priest. “Its only the top of the head that matters!!!” 🙂

  38. P.S. My baptism by immersion cousin, and his Anglican girlfriend got engaged shortly after hearing this joke. Not saying that the joke helped, but maybe made them realize that some of the differences were not as big as they imagined.

  39. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    …unfortunately a lot of people who are coming back to renew are so poorly taught in Baptist life that they think they are “really” getting saved. A “Renewal” of Baptismal Vows” would be perfect.

    “Renewal of Baptismal Vows” — you mean like we Catholics go through at every Easter Vigil Mass?

    (I’m not sure whether that’s specifically at Easter Vigil or a generic part of all Catholic baptismal liturgies; I keep remembering going through it every Easter.)

  40. i.e. the ever-lengthening amount of fine print they don’t tell you about until AFTER you’ve signed up.

    Could somebody explain to me the difference between that and “Bait and Switch”?

    Not quite how we think of it. There was no switch. Just not saying things mattered that really did. (To them.) And they don’t really tell you how much they mattered until you agree with the issue or issues. Kind of like a secret handshake that you don’t know exists until you start doing it. Then you find it opens a door you didn’t know existed.

    And if this sounds way over the top don’t read too much into my description. Nothing overt like secret rooms or such. Just that there are lots of issues woven into the teaching and small group leaders that when you ask about them are told “we’re open on that topic” but no one “open” is allowed to teach. Which means your kids get indoctrinated with absolutes that you thought were open ambiguities.

    I’ll stop now. I could go on but this discussion is about rebaptism, not the broader issue of legalism.

  41. Well, Headless Unicorn Guy, I didn’t want to suggest that maybe the Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation, which I know I should be calling it now) might help any Baptists who were worried about were they really saved if they backslid after being saved the first time, because y’know that might seem presumptuous, or triumphalist, or both 🙂

    I don’t know how good the Easter Vigil type renewal would be, if the problem is “We belonged to (or I was brought up as a member of) Church A, but when we/I later started attending Church B, they wanted us to be re-baptised”, but I think maybe something along the lines of the renewal of the baptismal promises couldn’t hurt.

    Of course, I can perfectly see how that might be construed as creeping Papistry trying to take over by stealth, but I am curious as to whether there ever have been any moves in that direction, or what would happen if something along those lines was discussed as a possible maybe hypothetical thing to consider?

  42. Richard Hershberger says:

    I’m coming late to this party, but I want to note that iMonk’s discussion of Lutheran communion practice may be accurate with regard to the LCMS, but is not generally true. I have never seen an ELCA church which used closed communion. I won’t say none exist, but it is at most very uncommon. Much more common is to find an invitation printed in the bulletin, typically inviting all Christians who wish to join in communion, or sometimes with language such as all Christians who believe in the real presence.

    One could write endlessly on the relationship between the LCMS and ELCA. The short form is that neither’s peculiarities should be taken as normative for what constitutes “Lutheran”. Some, though not all, in the LCMS would disagree. This is not my problem.

    That being said, the analogy to baptism doctrine is a good one. I personally favor the more restrictive “real presence” language (which is not to say that anyone be quizzed at the communion rail). I would not take communion at a Baptist church because it simply isn’t the same thing. So I understand the Baptist point here. This raises other issues. Luther called baptism “the sacrament through which we became members of the Christian communion.” If a Lutheran baptism is no baptism at all, then it follows that those who have undergone only infant baptism are not in fact members of the Christian communion. I, obviously, disagree. But I concede that there is a logical basis here for rebaptism.

    As for the other sort of rebaptism, call me naive but my reaction is utter astonishment. Wow. Just wow.

  43. Michael,

    I have thought about the “Piper Compromise” over the last couple of days. I am not familiar with Piper’s theology, so I don’t know exactly how he views infant baptism. However, the compromise leads me to a couple questions. If infant Baptism is not viewed as a real baptism, at least in a Baptist context, wouldn’t it be tantamount to letting/encouraging those who were baptized as infants (to) avoid(real) baptism altogether?What are the Scriptural and pastoral implications of that?
    In Piper’s church, how does he avoid setting up two distinct classes of Christians? An “in”crowd with full privileges, and a second class group not allowed to participate in a large part of the church’s ministry. What does this say about infant baptism? I laud his attempt at bridging this chasm, and to be a peacemaker between the two theologies. I don’t know if it is workable.
    I am not trying to stir the pot or or enter into a theological wrestling match. Maybe the best answer is to let Baptists be Baptist, and Lutherans be Lutheran, and to preach our perspective doctrines on baptism with full conviction and clarity, and to make those hard pastoral decisions, letting the chips fall where they may.(While remaining amicable and non combative.) A pastor friend of mine says “Honest men disagree honestly.”

    Richard,
    Many pastors in the LCMS practice what is called ‘close’ communion. It is neither fully open nor fully closed, but an attempt at a pastorally responsible middle way. If someone who is unknown to the Pastor shows up at the communion rail, or approaches him before service desiring communion, they will be asked three questions:

    Are you baptized?

    Do you believe that Jesus died for your
    sins?

    Do you believe that this (communion) is the
    body and blood of Jesus?

    An affirmative answer to these questions will get you communed. This is controversial among our hyper confessional brethren, because there is not an exhaustive doctrinal agreement or church membership hoop to jump through. I know lots of pastors who practice close communion and I think it is a far better practice than the other two options.

  44. Patrick:

    Piper’s elders have not passed the compromise, and there is considerable opposition to it in his church and elsewhere on many of the grounds you are pointing to.

    Baptists take conscience very seriously. The compromise allows a person SOME form of membership without violating their conscience. The compromise explicitly said that elders must affirm the church’s entire confession of faith. So it does create two kinds of members.

    Piper has defended the compromise in sermons and documents at DGM. Many Baptists at the BHT oppose it for reasons similar to yours.

    Piper says he’d like John Stott to be able to be a member of his church if he was spending a year in MN. He suggests we need to find ways to correlate the requirements for entering the Kingdom and the requirements for being part of a local congregatiom.

  45. Michael,

    I can attest as a southern baptist pastor in rural georgia that this is a problem. I have three thoughts.

    1. As baptist we have to hold tight to believers baptism and stand firmly but compassionately opposed to infant baptism. People have a lot of emotion tied up in their infant baptism and they see rejecting it as rejecting their parents i.e.

    2. As baptist we have to be educated enough to know the difference in what methodist, presbys, anglicans teach regarding infant baptism versus say RC’s. It is a nuanced position but a very important one.

    3. I know that recently we were finally putting our church rules down on paper, and I suggested that no one under the age of 12 be allowed to vote on church matters and some folks went crazy. I guess they really think that a six year old even though truly converted has as much knowledge and wisdom on affairs of the church as older members. I’ve seen folks drag all their kids in to vote out pastors and some of them were as young as 8 or so. Not healthy.

    4. As a pastor I feel comfortable accepting any baptism that was done with a Trinitarian formula, by immersion, of a proffessing believer. I do know folks who will not accept General Baptist or Free will baptist baptisms a valid. That is just bizarre.

    5. I’v always felt secure in welcoming all to the Lord’s Table who are professing Christians. I’ve never quiet been a closed or close communist. I get the argument but I just don’t see how we can have a higher standard for local churhc membership than the Lord does to His table. It is a His table after all.

    Regards,
    A