I have been asked by several people to give my thoughts regarding the direction Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma is moving in asking for a bylaw change that would, in effect, not require believer's baptism in order for a Christian to be a member of their church.
I am not ready to weigh in with my personal assessment on this issue because of several factors that I believe are very important and worthy of some serious consideration by us all.
(1). I have read a few blogs and commentators who have weighed in heavily against Henderson Hills and have not even taken the time to read what Henderson Hills has posted on their own web site. Some have even written retractions of what they previously said after reading Henderson Hills own documents. I am not unfamiliar with accusations from people who have never read what I have written, and I would highly encourage anyone and everyone to become informed by reading the source documents before weighing in.
(2). The leaders of Henderson Hills Baptist Church have studied this issue for at least two years, and in their own documents they say their desire is to be completely Biblical in all they do, something that we as a Convention should commend rather than condemn.
(3). John Bunyan, one of the leading Baptists of the 17th Century, led his church to take a similar position, so the argument from Baptist history cuts both ways.
(4). Since each Southern Baptist Church is autonomous, and since my church (and the vast majority of all Southern Baptist Churches) require believer's baptism prior to church membership, all a pastor would have to do if someone desired to transfer membership from Henderson Hills to his church is request a testimony of faith and believer's baptism, something that every person who seeks to join our church must do, regardless of the church from whence he came. If the person has not been baptized as a believer then it is the perogative of our church, and every other Southern Baptist Church, to refrain from granting membership until that happens.
(5). I have read that someone will seek for the Baptist General Convention of Okahoma and the Capital Association to try to "disfellowship" from Henderson Hills if this new bylaw passes. All I can say regarding this proposed attempt is this: Spurgeon was disfellowshipped from the Baptist Union for refusing to compromise on what he believed the Scriptures to teach. Spurgeon taught Biblical truths that were considered "heretical" by the liberals of his day. Marty Duren has well said that there is as much danger in the liberal denying the sacred text as there is in the fundamentalist ignoring the sacred text. Spurgeon said at the time "A future generation will vindicate our church." Before such drastic action is taken against Henderson Hills, we better know the BIBLICAL basis for why such a thing is required. If we as a state convention and association cannot support our position for disfellowshipping from Scripture, a future generation may look at us as we now look at the 19th Century Baptist Union of England.
(6). Why are we not as concerned with our modern mega-church Southern Baptist practice of baptizing anyone, and I mean anyone, who "walks an aisle" without taking seriously our responsibility to disciple that person? Which is worse, a Southern Baptist church with 10,000 baptized members but only 3,000 attending and participating in the ministries of the church because possibly several hundred, if not thousand, are on the rolls who have been baptized but not genuinely regenerated, or a church like Henderson Hills grappling with what the Scriptures actually teach about "church membership" and not wanting to denigrate the meaning and symbolism of baptism by confusing it with an "initiation" rite into the church?
(7). No trustee of the International Mission Board has ever advocated that a missionary be appointed who has not been baptized as a believer. My friend and fellow trustee, Rick Thompson, has written several excellent posts on this matter.
So, I guess I will simply continue to read, continue to listen, and continue to be respectful to my fellow Southern Baptists at Henderson Hills who are grappling with an issue within their local, autonomous church. It is a sad day when we start disfellowshipping from people who are evangelical, working to be Biblical in everything they do, and wish to continue to cooperate with us.
We have way too many enemies who are not of us to turn on someone who is.
In His Grace,
UPDATE: Senior Pastor Dennis Newkirk of Henderson Hills has commented about 12 comments down. His comment, again, exhibits grace, wisdom and a desire to be Biblical in all things.