Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Thoughtful Email from a Southern Baptist Friend

One of the reasons I think we Southern Baptists should continue to keep the parameters of cooperation on the mission field as broad as possible is because of the difficulty of getting sixteen million Southern Baptists to agree on the non-essentials of faith, including the authority of the baptizer. I recently received this very interesting and thoughtful email from a friend who asked me to consider several questions. They are worthy of your thoughtful consideration as well.

"In the New Testament, responsibility for performing the ordinances is not specifically assigned to the church. However, it is logical and natural to assume that this is the church's responsibility. The authority for baptism, by precept (Matt. 28:19) and by example (Matt. 3:13), rests with Christ himself. As Christ is viewed as the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22), the authority for the administration of the ordinances rests with the local church. Baptists generally, and Southern Baptists in particular, have consistently held that baptism and the Lord's Supper are church ordinances, that is, they are to be viewed as congregational rather than as individual acts. Both Baptism and the Lord's Supper are a part of the church's public witness and testimony.

The authority to baptize has to lie somewhere. Someone has to receive or reject the candidate. Southern Baptists believe the local church is the logical biblical authority. Administering the ordinances apart from the local church results in confusion. . . [but] the Scriptures are silent about the authority for the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Did the church at Jerusalem authorize Philip to baptize? We do not know.

Baptist churches today are faced with the problem of what to do about alien immersion -- receiving those who have been immersed in other faiths. The reason Southern Baptists have rejected baptism by sprinkling is obvious -- it is not New Testament baptism. But why do most Southern Baptist churches reject the baptism of those who practice immersion for salvation? The same principle applies. Even though a group may use the proper mode, if the meaning is sacramental rather than symbolic, it is not New Testament baptism. Neither the mode nor the meaning can be changed. Biblical baptism requires the proper meaning as well as the correct mode."

W.A Criswell, The Doctrine of the Church (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1980), 90-91.

A few questions:

1. If Dr. Criswell was so careful to note that the Scriptures are unspecific about the location of baptismal authority, why has the IMB BOT sought to be so specific?

2. If the doctrine of eternal security is such an essential component for baptismal legitimacy, then why does Dr. Criswell mention nothing of the doctrine in his discussion of the ordinances or in the entire book on the doctrine of the church?

3. When Dr. Criswell discusses "alien immersion," why does he only mention those groups that baptism by improper modes, i.e., sprinkling or infant baptism. and those who baptize by improper meaning, i.e., baptismal regeneration? Nowhere does he suggest that other Baptist groups who practice baptism by immersion and by symbol, such as Free Will Baptists, or other groups who are not Baptist but practice baptism the same way that Southern Baptist do, i.e., some of the charismatic churches, are practices "alien immersion" or that their baptism is illegitimate.

4. It may be logical and natural, as Dr. Criswell suggests, for baptismal authority to be located within the context of a local church, but is it necessarily scriptural? Must Southern Baptist churches adopt a "logical and natural" doctrine of the ordinances, or are they free to adopt another way, so long as it does not conflict with Scripture?

5. Has the IMB BOT forgotten that it is the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention that send missionaries, and not the denomination or its mission board? What will they say to a candidate who passes the scrutiny of the new policies but whose church now authorizes them to baptize converts in rivers, lakes, ponds, bathtubs, or wherever as a part of that church's fulfilling the Great Commission? Does the IMB BOT wish now to tell churches that they cannot authorize their missionaries to baptize or administer the Lord's Supper to converts on the field, or to their own family members? Would such a candidate be rejected or sent home if they did administer the ordinance in a manner consistent with the authorization of their Southern Baptist church back home? And if so, does that not imply that the IMB BOT has usurped the "logical and natural" authority for baptism?


Anonymous said...


Would you please comment on what Jerry Corbaley and some guy named Wes Kenney are saying that it was your manner in opposing the policies that rubbed people the wrong way and not your pricipled opposition? Do you personally know Jerry and Wes, and if not, do you give any creedance to what they are saying. said...


I know Jerry only because he serves as a trustee, but I don't know him personally. I don't know Wes at all.

I have not read what either of them have said, but from your question it sounds like they object to my "style" of opposing the policies.

All I can say to that is the only person who has been with me from day one at every meeting of the IMB is Rick Thompson. I think you will he will tell I laugh easily, really care about people, and don't take myself too seriously.

Another thing I don't take too seriously, besides myself, is criticism from people who don't like me.

My wife loves me. I promise you, when she criticizes me, I listen carefully. When my close friends criticize me I listen patiently.
If Rick Thomposon were to offer me criticism regarding the way I opposed the new policies, I would listen. He has made his position known quite clearly, and publicly, of how he feels about my "behavior" as an IMB trustee and it did not include criticism.

I learned a long time ago that you can't live your life worrying about the opinion of others. Just live your life by the principles you believe in, and leave the thoughts of others in the hands of God.

Bob Cleveland said...

I am not at all sure that Jesus passed the authority to baptize, on to a specified group of people. To an organization.

One of the things I hear preached the most, is that Jesus lives in the believer. Do we really believe that? If we do, why wouldn't the believer have the scriptural authority to baptize?

I have heard it said that the big differences in denominations depends on which scriptures you interpret literally, and which figuratively. Baptists surely interpret Acts 2:38 figuratively, but who are we to say the others are wrong?

I don't much care who baptizes someone. If the believer is baptized, by immersion, out of a desire to be obedient to Jesus' commands, isn't that what counts?

Otherwise, wouldn't that mandate that the IMB personally hear the testimony of the person doing the baptism, also?

Jesus knows our hearts. As usual, we cannot tell people's hearts, and so we heap rule upon rule, in an attempt to "get it right". I think we are very much like the Pharisees in that respect.

Perhaps their motivations were as pure as ours are, today.

Anonymous said...

Excellent questions. I would like to ask W.A. Criswell these very same questions. While I strongly disagree with accepting alien immersion, I am very willing to admit Criswell does a poor job of explaining this in his book on the church. I have often wondered about this this. My only answer is that this was during the days before the conservative resurgence and Criswell did not want conservative Southern Baptists to divide over this subject.

Nevertheless, Criswell and the First Baptist Church of Dallas did reject alien immersion. I once had a conversation with a non-Baptist pastor who had been baptized by immersion by a Methodist pastor. This man told me that during the early 1980's, he tried to join FBC of Dallas on this baptism and was rejected for membership unless he submitted to "rebaptism".

Anonymous said...

I would take issue with your Question # 5 where you suggest that the churches are the actual sending agencies.... that isn't accurate! The SBC is an autonomous entity, just like the churches, and though it consists of messengers from cooperating churches, the autonomy of the SBC then would suggest that the Convention is the sending entity..... though admittedly composed of messengers from cooperating churches. I continue to approve of your spirit, and like your questions, so continue the "good work"!
I have noted that many of the other "Bloggers" are less tolerant of opposing opinions..... but, I think it's fantastic that for the first time in 30 years the evidence of open theological discussions are being conducted on a vehicle that allows many participants! Hopefully, some of this "give and take" will be evidenced on the floor of the SBC before we see the votes, and get to the bottom line concerning where people are "entrenched"! Let's hope that will be reaffirmation that people of the SBC are still people of the "THE BOOK" and I'm referring to the "Holy Bible"! :)

Anonymous said...

I find Criswell's "logical and natural" argument to be illogical. First, he asserts that "In the New Testament, responsibility for performing the ordinances is not specifically assigned to the church." Then he affirms that "The authority for baptism, by precept (Matt. 28:19) and by example (Matt. 3:13), rests with Christ himself."

So far, Criswell has made a case AGAINST limiting the authority to baptize to the local church.

Then, he makes an erroneous assumption and unfounded leap in his rationale by implying Paul's reference to the Church is limited to the local church. "As Christ is viewed as the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22), the authority for the administration of the ordinances rests with the local church."

Obviously, Paul's letter was written to a group of believers in a specfic locality. But it is just as obvious his discourse exalted Christ as the Head of the entire Church, the body of Christ, all believers.

Yes, Christ is Head of the entire church and therefore also of its local organization. But this passage in no way implies that the local expression of His body is given a special authoritative relationship that supercedes the relationship of Christ with all members of His body.

So Criswell's "logical and natural" argument based on this passage is indeed illogical. If anything, his faulty reasoning has convinced me even more that the authority of Christ to fulfill ALL his commands is given to ALL members of His body, the Church as it is expressed in Ephesians 1:22. said...


Reread the post. The questions are not mine. They were sent to me.

Anonymous said...

The New Testament uses the phrase "in (my, his) name" as a notation of authority. Jesus gave that authority to the disciples (Mt 28), not to an organization as such. By implication, that authority passes to all disciples from the context of the Great Commission.

We follow traditional polity of church authorization mainly from linking baptism with membership in a local body of believers. It is from that standpoint that the local church is important in authorizing baptism. That does not have to do with theology. It has to do with the institution of the local church and its control over questions of membership.

Criswell seems to ignore that the church in Philip's day was not organized as an institution. It was still much more of a fluid band of believers who still saw themselves as part of Judaism.

Evangelical Orthodoxy said...

First, and I know this will get me in trouble here, I put little credence in Criswell as a scholar and a pastor. That is neither here nor there. My point is that I'm not terribly concerned with what Criswell has to say. Second, we should employ Ockam's razor. Christ gave the Apostles and their descendants the authority to baptize. As the Church, scripturally any Christ follower can baptize. We do not accept alien baptism more because of yes, its here, its Catholic, its Tradition. That is not necessarily bad, but it is what it is. Getting worked up about alien immersion and closed communion is putting human constructs ahead of the Gospel's grace.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the most valid and useful criticism any of us receive comes from those close to us whom we trust, I think there is some room for at least noticing when there is a large amount of criticism from those with opposite opinions. Otherwise we are too insulated from the “rest of the world”. I could make a political comment here (someone else already opened that can of worms) but will simply say that a lot of trouble could be avoided if we at least acknowledge that others have opinions which may have some validity, and however much we may disagree, it is of value to know where they are coming from.

Not to say you should worry about the opinions of others - just notice if there is a large number who think differently so you can understand them and yourself better. This should be especially true for those who have power to affect the lives of others. (Oops, sorry, another political comment!) And not to say that you are the only one who should hear this, just that you seem more likely to listen than many. I commend you for this.


Anonymous said...

The Bible does not seem to endorse baptism as “symbolic”. It is rather a doctrine, as I understand it, that was mainly introduced by some protestant factions in the 16th century. Please show me where I’m wrong on this?

Bob Cleveland said...

Another thought invaded my brain.

Why would Jesus give "authority" to an entity that will not be present in heaven? That does not seem logical to me.

My mentors taught me to interpret the Bible in the context which would attribute the greatest honor and sovereignty and love and power to Jesus and to God. In that light, I am forced to believe that the "church" is the Body of Christ, not a local gathering.

That also seems ocnsistent with what Paul did in appointing Elders, and what Philip did in baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch.

Anonymous said...

To blampp, I don't want to split hairs, and I do understand your point. However, in another sense, churches do send the missionaries. Without contributions from churches, could any be sent? As I understand it the IMB is simply an instrument by which churches cooperate to send missionaries. It is the servant of the churches, and should not be acting like the master, as it has with these two new policies. This is one of my major concerns with regard to both policies. A church that accepts baptism in accord with the B F & M 2000 (but without asking specifically about the position of the baptizer on eternal security) and practices spiritual gifts in accord with the B F & M (but allows a private prayer language) could find itself recommending a member as a missionary and being told that the candidate was rejected because the church's policies on these issues are wrong. That doesn't sound very baptistic to me. It has a distinctly hierarchical ring to it more in line with the practices of Roman Catholics, for whom a central authority can declare practices of particular churches or priests to be invalid.