The central issue at stake is: How should we define the membership of the church? That is, what degree of biblical understanding and agreement should a person have in order to belong to a local church? Or to put it another way: Should the door to membership in the local church be roughly the same size as the door to the universal church? If so, what is the basic set of beliefs that a person should be willing to affirmÂor at least not denyÂin order to give good evidence that he is born again into the family of God and a follower of Christ?In particular, the problematic practical issue is this:
After more than three years of study and prayer and discussion of this issue, the Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ. That is, we have come to the conclusion that it is seriously questionable to say to a person who gives good evidence of being a true Christian and who wants to join Bethlehem: you may not join.I think it is a great question. The Rooster says this in response:
This all puts John Piper in a bit of a bind. Does he really believBaptistst theology of the sacrament? Then he cannot believe infant baptism is a valid sacrament, whether the recipient thinks it is or not. Making this move makes him untrue to the very theology he claims to hold. On the other hand, behind this move is a recognition of the inherently divisive character oBaptistst theology - a character Piper does not want to perpetuate.There is something of crystal clarity that Mattson says here that we have to look at for a moment: there is no doubt that there are no Baptists who are doctrinally consistent (and I would add, sound) who would baptize an infant. None. We believe that baptism is for the believer, which he takes on in obedience, as a sign of his identification with Christ. No person who claims to be a Baptist ought to baptize infants.
Traditionally, the LBCF does not overtly condemn rebaptism and also does not endorse it: it leaves the matter out. What it does make a very tough stand on is the matter of immersion, which is in the best case, a claim of tradition based on Scripture. I would argue, in any case, that its statement that "Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life," is enough to recommend that baptism is a one-time act by the believer because it is a sign of "ingrafting" to "walk in newness of life".
But in claiming the necessity of immersion, the LBCF frankly makes a demand that any infant baptism, and any non-dipping baptism, is to be overlooked and a proper baptism enacted. In that way, it contends with infant baptism over the meaning and use of the sign. And in that way, Mattson is a no-contest winner on the point: "infant baptism" cannot be performed in a "Baptist" church if that church is serious about being called "Baptist".
What the larger question is, however, is whether that matter of conformity is enough to exclude those with infant baptisms as a class from being members of our Baptist churches without rebaptizing them. The question is whether an infant baptism is sufficient to accept a person in church fellowship.
See: I know plenty of godly men who are Presbyterians. They are great churchmen, if you ask me. I respect them highly. That they trust me in any way on spiritual matters -- even if it is to disciple me when I need a kick in the pants -- is a great honor. But because of their infant baptisms, apparently none of them could join my local church in spite of the obvious fruit of the spirit in their lives and their active confession of faith.
I think I find that troubling -- because it is comparing apples to oranges. If we admit that baptism is necessary, and we admit that there are almost no points of contact between Presby baptism and Baptism baptism from a theological standpoint (except for the mandatory nature of the ordinance/sacrament), is it right to draw the line in term of practical fellowship over whether someone is baptized based on a confession of faith or baptized into the covenant of grace by faithful parents?
I admit I am uncertain. I would be interested in some exchange here at the blog on this topic.