For many months now I have struggled to understand why the clear teaching of Scripture regarding baptism -- that it is the believer's outward profession of faith in Jesus Christ, identifying the participant with Jesus Christ and His followers -- seems to be ignored or minimized by some in the current baptism debate taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention.
My view of baptism, as defined above, is based upon Scripture, but it has also been defined in a similar manner by Baptist confessions over the centuries. The two quotes below are from our most recent confession and one of our earliest confessions respectively.
"Baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour . . ." (BFM 2000).
"That Baptism is an Ordinance of the new Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith . . . (that) the persons designed by Christ, to dispense this Ordinance, the Scriptures hold forth to be a preaching Disciple, it being no where tied to a particular Church, Officer, or person extraordinarily sent, the Commission enjoining the administration, being given to them under no other consideration, but as considered Disciples" (The 1644 Baptist London Confession of Faith).
No Baptist disagrees that the baptism of a believer should occur prior to church membership. In other words, that baptism is a 'prerequisite' to membership is held by all true Baptists, but it seems that there are now some Southern Baptists who consider baptism as 'an initiation rite into the local church.'
Dr. Brad Reynolds is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and seems to be a very nice man with whom I could cooperate in Southern Baptist ministry and missions without hesitation. However, Dr. Reynolds believes something I find rather unusual in terms of Scripture and Baptist history.
Dr. Reynolds believes baptism is 'an initiation rite into the local church.'
"Baptism initiates us into the local church and thereby symbolizes both our agreement to her theology and teachings as well as our accountability to her." (Dr. Brad Reynolds in a comment on his blog December 22, 2006).
There you have it.
A clear, succinct statement expressing baptism as an initiation rite into the local church. A common web definition of inititiation rite is "a formalized ceremony of passage where an individual acquires a position or a status through personal participation."
To become a member of a local Southern Baptist church, according to Dr. Reynolds, you must be baptized into that 'local' church as an act of 'initiation.'
This view of baptism as an initiation rite into the local Southern Baptist church is completely contrary to the historic Baptist understanding of baptism and the clear Biblical teaching regarding believer's baptism.
One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism, One Body (Church)
Charles Spurgeon held that there was only one church and it comprised all believers. This universal church was both visible and invisible. The invisible referred to the regenerating work of the Spirit hidden from human eyes. The visible church referred to the work of the Spirit as made visible by the profession and deportment of believers. Since the church comprised all believers, ecclesiological differences had little importance. There were many denominations, but only one church.
When a Southern Baptist church examines a believer who is petitioning for membership, the pastors and leaders of that church ought to examine the member candidate's faith and baptism. If there is present a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and if that memberhip candidate has been baptized by immersion after coming to faith in Christ, then that local Southern Baptist church has the wonderful privilege of receiving that membership candidate upon their statement of faith and baptism as a member --- without 'rebaptizing' that believer.
In other words, there is no need to rebaptize in order to 'initiate' that person into the 'local' church because he is part of the 'one' church of Jesus Christ. He is a member of Christ's body -- and the 'local' church has examined him, asked him questions, investigated his life and doctrine -- and his baptism -- and the local church believes all the above to be in order in terms of Christian experience. The church simply receives the member candidate into fellowship.
Five Questions You Should Ask
I would like to give you several reasons why practicing baptism as 'an initiation' rite into the local church is not even close to being Scriptural by asking several questions, and suggesting that you ask those who hold to 'the initiation rite' theory to answer them:
(1). Into which 'local church' was Jesus Christ baptized into?
(2). Into which 'local church' was the Ethiopian Eunich baptized into?
(3). Is the body of Christ found only in the 'local' Southern Baptist Church?
(4). Where in Scripture can you show me that baptism does not identify you with a Person (Jesus Christ), and where does Scripture say baptism identifies the believer with a system of doctrine (i.e. 'the teachings of the local church')?
(5). What if my church does not hold to baptism as 'an initiation rite' into the local church, but rather, my church views baptism as the believer's identification with Christ -- will you fellowship and cooperate with my church and her members as Southern Baptists?
The answer to that last question has been made clear to me in the last several months. What is the answer? I think Dr. Reynold's should give it. The following comment is from his blog on December 21, 2006.
"Let’s say First Baptist and Second Baptist church of Tuckersville, were like-minded theologically and decided to work together in sending out M’s. They decided they would keep the M’s accountable to the local church through an organization made up of representatives from both churches who would oversee the M’s and the M’s would be going out representing the two local churches.
This is what we have with the SBC only on a much grander scale. The Trustees are elected by the local churches (through representatives) to oversee the IMB. They hire a president who is accountable to them and they are accountable to the local churches. The President hire’s staff to help oversee the daily operation. This daily operation should conform to the President’s wishes which should conform to the Trustees wishes which should conform to the local churches wishes. And so the accountability does ultimately reside with the local churches. It is my firm belief that the M’s should also be members of their local church and be held accountable there. But when a local church tells the M to do something contrary to the wishes of the group of local churches then the M should side with the IMB over his local church or resign for no one church has authority over the IMB. (emphasis mine).
Let me show you the logical outcome of Dr. Reynold's statement.
A person petitioned to join Emmanuel Baptist Church. He was came to Christ at the age of 20 in Niger, Africa through the influence of a "Youth For Christ" evanglist. This evangelist gathered the family and friends of the new believer on the river bank and baptized this new convert, identifying him as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Persecution began immediately. The new believer's Muslim family rejected him. His earthly father 'disowned' him. He was friends mocked him because he was now a 'Jesus' man.
The new convert to Jesus Christ eventually fled to the United States where he obtained his college degree and petitioned to join our church. We examined his faith and his baptism, listening to his outstanding, biblical and personal testimony of faith and baptism. We extended to him the warm hand of Christian fellowship --- there was no need for him to be 'initiated' into our church by baptism -- he was already a part of the 'one' true church of Jesus Christ.
Three years later desired to apply to the International Mission Board to serve as an IMB missionary. His desire was around the time that the new policy on baptism was being discussed. I was told by the person who helped write what I would now call the 'initiation' view of baptism that our member would have to be 'rebaptized.'
When I asked him 'Why?', I was given three reasons: (1). We did not know what the 'Youth For Christ' evangelist believed when he baptized the new convert, (2). the new convert had not been baptized 'into' a local church, and (3). since the baptism 'ordinance' is only a 'local church' ordinance, the YEC evangelist was not 'qualified' to baptize.
I have a very difficult time seeing how this 'initiation into the local church' view of baptism is not Landmark. There are those who believe it and say it is not, but many others seem to believe it is, including me.
If the Southern Baptist Convention allows this view of baptism to be pushed by our leadership, whoever they may be, we very well could end up becoming a Landmark convention. What's odd about this particular view is that the convention is being treated like it is one big Landmark church --- baptism is not valid unless 'the denomination' determines it is valid --- not the 'local' church. In other words, the old Landmarkers abhorred denominationalism, but it seems that the neo-Landmarkers love the denomination, almost more than the local church.
Don't misunderstand: I could be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention if we became Landmark convention, for I don't believe this 'initiation' view of baptism is something which would cause me to separate from those who believe it. It is not an essential of the faith over which we should divide.
The problem, however, is that Landmarkers will not work with those of us who disagree.
They say, 'Agree or resign. Agree or quit. Agree or leave.'
This Southern Baptist pastor is sticking around to make sure we don't end up becoming a Landmark convention. I warned about this one year ago in a Christmas Day post, and I will continue to be persistent in giving similar warnings until there is a return toward a more Biblical and historic view of baptism by our mission agency which has been sufficient for us as a convention for 161 years, and for orthodox Baptists for over 400 years.
In His Grace,