[@] This is actually related to the last post:

This is a new letter to the editor at communiosanctorum.com:

One of the reasons I'm writing this letter to you fellows at communio is that I want to see the limits of the editorial standards you are promulgating. The other is that, as you can imagine, Dr. Owen's comments on the nature of Baptistic sacramentology and ecclesiology seem to invite some kind of comment.

My first is this: thank you for not calling Baptists heretics.

My second is this: there seems to be a rather large gulf between the fact that Baptists, by and large, do not accept infant baptism or perform infant baptism and the fact that Baptists -- especially the ones Dr. Owen listed in his essay (which I would say represent the "best of breed" for us poor anti-sacralists) -- do not qualify or disqualify anyone from being called Christian on the basis of their baptism. Sure: the unbaptized cannot be part of our local church, and the infant-baptized are usually re-baptized because that's "how we are".

But let's consider a hypothetical example that doesn't have a lot of polemical drama. There's a young man in my church (a Baptist church) who has attended the youth Bible study since he was in 8th grade, and at age 15 has a private meeting with the pastor and makes a confession of sinfulness and asks the question (as the jailer did) "What must I do to be saved?" Our pastor, being the Baptist he is, replies "believe and be baptized!"

Now this young fellow, having received Baptist training, says to the pastor, "Tell me about baptism." Surely he's seen one or two (we average about 4 a month in our church). And the pastor gives him the 10-minute version of being identified with Christ and making a public testimony. You know that most kids just say "OK" and in a few weeks they take baptism in obedience.

Well, this young fellow happens to have a Presbyterian friend and a Roman Catholic friend (I know: it's shocking, but he also has a pierced ear). His Presby friend has been telling him about the covenant sign and the promises of God; his Catholic friend says that the water baptism in the Trinitarian formula is the "only way" to be saved, and that his soul cannot be free from original sin without proper baptism.

So this young man says to his pastor, "Pastor, I'm not sure you're right. And until I'm sure why I'm going to be baptized, I want to wait it out." And he explains his concerns. The pastor -- being a little progressive for a Baptist -- tells the young man that the fact is that all of his friends -- the Presby, the RC, and himself -- have shown him that Scripture says (well, who knows with the RC) that Baptism is a mandatory thing to do if one has faith in Christ, and waiting is wrong if he is serious about his confession that he needs Christ as a savior. So the epistemological "why" may not be as important as the ontological "why" -- which is to say, the knowing why for getting baptized really is not because of some systematic theology but because God said so, God has commanded it. How you understand that command is not even relevant.

But in spite of that, the young man tells the pastor he thinks that until he understands what that baptism thing is, he's going to refrain. He continues to attend the bible study, and continues to grow in faith in that he finds himself relying more and more on Christ each day. Philippians 3 makes a great impact on him as he tries to talk to his friends about Christ they ridicule him; Acts 2 makes a great impact on him as he reflects on the obedience and humility of Christ to go to the cross for evil men (and, btw, it also makes him think more about that baptism thing); Romans 9 humbles him as he sees God's absolute sovereignty in saving any, but in saving him in particular; Titus encourages him to see that his faith is walked out not just in theoretical doctrine but in the good work the Gospel commands.

And after 10 years of studying his Bible, and talking about it with others, and seeing the fruits of God in his life, he finds himself engaged to a young woman whom he has led to Christ in good ol' Baptist fashion. But neither of them has been baptized.

At that moment, he considers all that the word of God has taught him and has worked out in his life, and he decides that it doesn't matter what systematic reason he has for doing it, the Bible says, "believe and be baptized". In that, with no systematic reason but only a willingness to do what he knows the Bible says to do, he goes to his pastor (who has not let this young man teach in the church or hold authority in the church because he is not baptized -- even though the pastor has seen him work out the fruits of the spirit) and asks him to be baptized as soon as possible.

I'm not going to insert any drama here -- no sudden deaths or stupid "puddup ya dukes" riddles even the Sphinx cannot solve. The young man is baptized, and that's the end of the story.

The question is this: for the 10 years between when this young man discovered his need for a savior and his discovery that he ought to do what every disciple has done since Christ began his earthly ministry and be baptized, what do we say about him? He was associated with the church; he was doing "church work" in telling others about Jesus even if he was not a teacher or minister. Can we say this young man was, in Dr. Owen's words, "rejecting Catholic Christianity itself"? Over baptism -- because the institutions around him cannot agree on the nature of the symbol, and in seeking to honor the nature of 3 conflicting authorities he simply refrained without rejecting?

Let me admit something: I do not know anybody like this personally. But I know these people exist -- because the Megachurch exists and because the "emergent" church exists, and neither of these church types typically make baptism a big thing because it could possibly put off the seeker. So without turning this into a discussion about these two types of churches, what about the young man who is certainly attending a church like this who is not baptized? Is it right to tell him he is rejecting Catholic Christianity itself because, frankly, we have made such a big thing out of the esoteric meanings of baptism that he doesn't know what to think, and therefore doesn't know what to do?

As I have done elsewhere, let me reiterate that I am 100% convicted and convinced that the believer ought to be baptized -- that anyone who says he is a disciple of Christ ought to be baptized because that's what we are commanded to do. The mandatory nature of baptism is not the question here: the question is the position it occupies between all of us who might otherwise find each other interesting and compelling people from whom we might learn a lot about the life in Christ. It is right to say some group is "rejecting the church" because it refuses to baptize infants? Is it right to say another group is not, by and large, admissible to our local church because they use baptism as a sign that God is faithful rather than as a testimony to the mercy and love of God?

This letter is already much longer than I intended, but listen: if anybody is really interested in "catholicity", wouldn't we be much better positioned to achieved such a thing if we took the mandatory exercises of our faith -- baptism, the lord's supper, church government -- and admitted that while we might have a nice academic apparatus (duly citing Scripture) behind these things, we do them for the most part because there is no doubt that God requires us to do them?