Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is This Where the SBC Is?

Tuesday I had the grave misfortune to get on the wrong train in Grand Central Station, New York City. The conductor, briefly after we left the station, informed me that our train was not stopping at Garrison. He put me, my bride, and our four suitcases out on the platform in Harlem, where we waited for the arrival of the proper train. It is sometimes disconcerting to discover that I am not where I think I am. Les Puryear has written a post entitled "Is This Where the SBC Is Going? In his post, Les takes umbrage at my assertion that it is a sin to sprinkle infants for Christian baptism. According to Les, if denouncing pedobaptism as a sin is where the SBC is going, then he's out. Here's my question: Does denouncing pedobaptism as a sin constitute the SBC "going" anywhere? In other words, would we be moving from where we currently are to reach the conclusion that pedobaptism is a sin? Is that not where we are already? Is that not where Baptists have been for four centuries? If that isn't where we are, then could someone tell me where we are? And where are the Baptists? If I get off here, will they be coming by soon?

39 comments:

David said...

I have witnessed to many pedobaptists friends through the years, and many of them credit their salvation to infant baptism. Because of this, and the close proximity of the gospel to baptism in the NT, another way to frame this question is this--is it sin for denominations and ministers to distort the gospel, however inadvertent?

This issue is much larger than a baptism question, as important as Great Commission baptism is. In practice, pedobaptism has distorted many of our friend's understanding of the gospel.

The hermeneutic that allows a revision of baptism will allow for revision of the gospel (with notable exceptions such a D. James Kennedy, an exception, indeed).

I hope for the sake of pedobaptists that I am wrong, and I hope my interactions with pedobaptist friends are the exception. After many years of witnessing, however, I fear the worst. Thank you for surfacing this important issue.

David Mills

Scott Gordon said...

Bart,

We are here!

Sola Gratia!
Job 42:7-9

Ron P. said...

Bart,

Um... is this not the VERY thing for which our forefathers were willing to (and several did) die?

The issue is not the narrowing of parameters of what it is to be a Baptist. Quite the opposite. The issue that we are having to battle the aggrandizement of what it means to be Baptist: ECUMENICAL

Ron P.

joerstewart said...

I sympathize on your boarding a train headed the wrong direction. Perhaps infant baptism could be construed as preboarding - getting on before you get on. It seems like many Baptists think they are on the right train. They are just running in the opposite direction which according to a famous theologian is a useless distraction. Now for your history quiz - who actually said the previous?

Sean said...

Good question. In Les' previous post, he listed you as first in a list of Status Quo guys. I thought that meant that you weren't going anywhere, so how could you be taking us somewhere different!

Anonymous said...

Bart, I must say the whole discussion has caused quite a bit of thought on my part as to ultimately how we view sin. I thank all of you for your insite. I can clearly see both sides and have yet to make up my mind definitively on the answer yet. When kept civil, I believe respectful discussion of differing ideas is the greatest benefit of blogs.

One question I have, if baptist are wrong in their traditional teachings of total abstinence on alcohol, should all who feel the moderation is permissible break fellowship with the SBC over it's stance?

Thank you all for your candid discussion.
Jason

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

Although you have mischaracterized my post, I appreciate the link.

The jist of my post is this: your contention that if a church is not Southern Baptist then they are in "unrepentant sin." This goes beyond paedobaptism.

Also, do you understand that paedobaptism is not held to be salvific by those who practice it? It is an inherent part of covenant theology. Have you studied covenant theology?

Anyway, thanks for the link.

Les

Anonymous said...

Bart,

The key to riding the subways in NYC is to remember one simple fact -- all trains eventually lead back to Times Square. Lived there for 3 wonderful years and this is the easiest way of helping someone "get unlost" when they are strugging to understand all the subway routes of the 1,2,3,6,7,9,F,G,N,R,W, etc., etc.

This same premise perhaps could be a good analogy for the confusing routes and maps that we as Baptists are facing today. If confused by issues of Landmarkism, paedobaptism, "irenic" conversation, if in doubt, if you are standing on a platform in a spiritual Harlem, then find your way back to Times Square (i.e., the Word of God) and you won't be lost anymore.

BTW, you were probably on the 6 train (East Side) if I had to guess or the 1 or 9 (West Side) depending on what side of Harlem you were on. Am I close? BTW, love that town!!!

Amy Downey

Alan Cross said...

Bart,

I think that you are doing the same thing with Les' post that happened with Paul Littleton's post. The way that you characterized it is not exactly what Les said. But, he said that already. I would really recommend that you go back and read his actual post.

Les had a problem with you saying that those who do baptism differently are in "unrepentant sin" and also with you apparent isolationism. That is the problem that many of us have had. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you just misread what he said or that you saw it differently.

Of course, I am just expressing my opinion here as well. But, instead of engaging in reader response, it is probably helpful to listen to the author here.

Bro. Robin said...
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Robert Hutchinson said...

brother ron p.,

they died for the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.

they died because government established churches believed they were unrepentant sinners by re-baptizing themselves.

thank God we don't have a government established baptist church with leaders who would denounce paedo-baptizing as sin and paedo-baptists as sinners and separate them from the general public till they repented.

Bro. Robin said...
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Bro. Robin said...

Bart

You're right. This is where Baptist have been and gave their lives for. Infant baptism goes against the teaching of scripture. Balthasar Hubmaier, John Smyth, Early English Baptists and others all risked everything believing that infant baptism is a sin. This is where the SBC has been. It is the ecumenist that desires to sacrifice our biblical distinctives and take the SBC train away from her biblical roots.

Of course if they can falsely label us fundamentalist, establishment, or Landmarker in the process, so be it. The utlimate goal is to make the SBC more pragmaticly friendly than biblical.

Robert Hutchinson said...

brother robin,

i address my last comment also to you.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. BB,

Have Baptists always stated it that way, that those who "baptize" infants are in "unrepentant sin"? I believe that this way of putting the issue is difficult to swallow, even for those of us who believe firmly that immersion is the only baptism.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Alan Cross said...

Robin,

You're dead wrong. Have you been following this debate? No one is trying to take the SBC away from a believer's baptism position. It is just that type of confusion that makes these conversations unfruitful and it attempts to pit brothers against one another over issues that we are not actually disagreeing over. I am a strong advocate of believer's baptism. I believe that it is the biblical way. I believe that those who do not baptize believers by immersion are wrong. I can even say that they are falling short of God's glory, which is by definition, sin.

However, this whole controversy has been over Bart and Malcolm Yarnell's previous insistence that paedobaptists are designated as "unrepentant sinners." Malcolm has now expanded that designation to all denominations/groups that differ with almost any element of Baptist theology. That is what we have a problem with. Under a narrow definition specially fitted for this discussion, you might be able to say that. But, according to Scripture (1 John 3:4-10), an unrepentant sinner is someone who does not have the Holy Spirit and is a child of the devil. That is what Scripture says. We are not to fellowship or break bread with such people. The consequences of being an "unrepentant sinner" are far more severe than Bart or Malcolm would have us believe.

Now, I believe that grace covers our sin(s). I am not advocating perfectionism in any way, shape, or form. My point is that when you call someone an "unrepentant sinner," it means something very severe. The person is usually seen as an unbeliever or, at the very least, they a candidate for church discipline who is to be thrown into the company of pagans and tax collectors.

Should we call those who do not witness or make disciples "unrepentant sinners" because they do not fulfill the Great Commission? If you say "no" because they believe that they should, but just don't ever do it, then I would answer by saying, what good is belief without right action? Again, I am not advocating this position. I am saying that this is the logical outworking of the Barber/Yarnell definition of "unrepentant sinners." In fairness, they have both backed off that term a bit, and I give them credit for that. But, that is still what we are discussing.

No one is arguing against believer's baptism by immersion, Robin. No one is attacking this Baptist distinctive. No one is assaulting the SBC over this. No one is trying to move us away from our history. This was all started by Bart and picked up by Malcolm and we are just responding to their arguments.

Les Puryear said...

Robin,

Get a grip. Really. :)

Les

Bro. Robin said...

Les

I do have a grip and it is wrapped around God's Word.

Thanks for the advice though.

Colin McGahey said...

Alan, I the passage of your argument:

6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him

Your argument is that this spells out the fate of one who is in "unrepentant sin." Yet the passage clearly is speaking of one who "makes a practice of sinning", and who is not born of God. For your argument to work, you would have to concede that you and every other regenerate believer is absent of sin, hence verse 6 above. So, are you secure enough in your theology and practice to say you are 100% correct? That is, not in sin in any way? So, then, why haven't you repented of it? Would you then, acquiescing these points, charge yourself with being unregenerate?


The definition of the term may be historical, but the negative connotation is assigned by the user here. When broken down, you affirm it (sin in not bringing glory to God, and not turning away from it). I do not think your logic from 1 John holds in this regards.

Colin McGahey said...

Les:

Two things, if I may.

Your assertion that this statement was claimed, "if a church is not Southern Baptist then they are in 'unrepentant sin,'" cannot be substantiated. Who said it?

Further, on Paedobaptism and covenant theology, can I offer this:

Infants do not directly manifest their faith by verbal confession. But the prayers of their parents, the training of their parents, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community are evidence that they will give credible professions by the time they are a few years old. One might then argue that this evidence is in practice just as convincing as a verbal confession. There is no more danger that the children will apostasize when four years old than that an adult convert would apostasize after four years in the faith.
One might therefore argue that we should baptize infants on the grounds that their parents and the community have prayed for their salvation and have in other ways committed themselves to giving the spiritual nourishment that should accompany prayer. To the eye of faith, these prayers and the merciful character of Christ are solid evidence of what Christ will do through these children in the rest of their life. It is just as reasonable to believe that they will grow in faith as it is reasonable to believe that a newly converted adult will grow. Faith contrasts with sight, based on supposed infallible proof that someone is regenerate.


Obviously, Vern Pothyress may take issue with your view of paedobaptism.



1 Vern Sheridan Poythress, "Linking Small Children with Infants in the Theology of Baptizing,"
Westminster Theological Seminary. (1997; 2002). Westminster Theological Journal Volume 59 (59:145).

Bro. Robin said...

Alan

What I don't understand, and maybe you can supply an answer to this, is that churches that don't believe infant baptism is acceptable they do not allow that person into membership until they receive baptism by immersion. I assume you practice this also. So, why is the person not allowed membership?

Is it because the church believes infant baptism is not biblical and goes against the biblical teaching of confessional baptism? Dare I say that infant baptism teaches salvation by a means other than grace through faith? If salvation is earned by this infant baptism shouldn't that teaching be called accursed (Gal. 1:8)? Is this not sin?????

If you can explain how something can be against the Word of God, making the church practice something different, and not be a sin then I am all ears. This is what I ponder over the whole matter.

Bro. Robin said...

Alan

One more thing, are you saying that something can be contrary to what the bible teaches and is not sin? If you do not consider infant baptism a sin, then why does your church not accept those who were baptized as infants. I am still assuming that your church does not accept infant baptism. If you do not believe it is a sin, then what biblical basis do you have to reject it?

Alan Cross said...

No Colin, if I am in unrepentant sin, then I keep on sinning. If I keep on sinning, according to Scripture, I am showing that I am not a believer.

I do not believe that I do not sin. But, if I stay in a state of sin without conviction, repentance, and restoration, then I am showing that Holy Spirit is not within me because the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. A believer cannot continue on in sin, thus a believer cannot be an "unrepentant sinner." If I am unrepentant, it means that I don't repent - I continue on in sin.

That is why I think that there must be different designation for what paedobaptists are doing other than "unrepentant sinners."

Robin,

You describe baptismal regeneration. I agree that this is a foul doctrine and it adds to the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, by faith alone. To my knowledge, the Presbyterians in view do not practice baptismal regeneration, but a covenant infant baptism. They do not believe that the infant is saved, but rather he is set apart in the Covenant family to be a special recipient of the gospel message. He still has to either accept or reject the gospel on his own. When he accepts the gospel by faith at a later age, he is confirmed into the faith and his infant baptism is considered retroactive, but not salvific. That is how I have understood it. I think that they are dead wrong. But, I do not believe that they believe that the infant baptism saves the child.

Colin McGahey said...

Alan,

You are taking out the phrase "make a practice of sinning" and substituting "unrepentant sinner." This is your concoction, not Scripture's. Scripture clearly in this passage speaks of thaose who make a practice of sinning. And even in this, what does John mean? He means those who do not turn to Christ for salvation.

How do we know this? He then says, "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." So sinning and making a practice of sinning are clearly distinct. Where does unrepentant come in? When someone is sinning and does not turn from it. Being saved, you would expect one to (at least at some point in their life) to turn from known sin. What about unknown sin? Why don't you turn from it? Because you don't know you are in sin, and therefore do not *turn from it*. Now substitute *repent* in the asterisks.

Bro. Robin said...

Alan

Do you consider infant baptism wrong, but not a sin?

Alan Cross said...

Robin,

I missed your second question when I was answering you to begin with. We believe that infant baptism is an erroneous position. We believe that baptism means something and that it is important because it was instituted by God. We believe that infant baptism misses God's will and falls short of His glory. Thus, according to the Biblical definition, everything that falls short of God's glory is sin. I have stated my agreement with that position time and time again in this debate. Nothing new here.

My problem is in calling those who are missing the mark in this way, "unrepentant sinners." Baptists might likely be wrong on some point of doctrine. If so, we are missing the mark and falling short of God's glory. According to accepted definintions, we would be sinning. However, would we be categorized as "unrepentant sinners?" My whole point is that the biblical definition of an "unrepentant sinner" is far more severe than the Barber/Yarnell argument. I understand that believers can be in sin and need to repent, or turn from such activity. No problem there - that is the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life. But, do we see Biblical examples of a believer continuing on in unrepentant, unconfessed sin? 1 John 3:4-10 says that that is not the state of a believer. It is the state of someone who does not have the Holy Spirit and is a child of the devil. Again, I am not proclaiming perfectionism for the Christian. I am saying that a true Christian will be convicted and brought to repentance ultimately over his sin. Now, he may continue to struggle in some type of way and the Bible says that can happen (Romans 7). But, he will not be unrepentant over it or just act like it doesn't matter. This might be a high bar, but it is why many will say "Lord, Lord" on the day of Judgment, but they will never have actually been born again. I fear that our churches are full of such people, baptized properly or not. This is why the church discipline argument is so important, lest we give a false sense of security.

My whole point, Robin, is not that paedobaptists are not in error, or that their actions could not be technically defined as sin. My point is that to call them "unrepentant sinners" puts them in a category amongst the damned, whether we like it or not. I do not go that far. Neither do Bart or Malcolm. Thus, that is why they have also backed away from the terminology that has caused so much confusion.

We have yet to all agree upon a Biblical alternative to the state of those who are in theological error on a point of Christian doctrine. I do think that the label is something less than an "unrepentant sinner," not to diminish the act, but to preserve the regenerated state of the person committing the error.

This might just be a semantic disagreement, but with terms like this, I believe that it is important to clear these things up lest we throw many into confusion and further divide the Body of Christ. Now, that would be sin.

Bro. Robin said...

Alan

Thanks for further clarification. Can I say that you do think that infant baptism is a sin in that it takes away from salvation by grace through faith, but that you do not want to call someone who believes in this practice an unrepentant sinner because you align that term with the unsaved?

Alan Cross said...

Robin,

Your last part would be accurate, but for Presbyterians, they do not see paedobaptism in the same way as baptismal regeneration. So, they do not say that it saves the person.

But, to make this short, you are basically correct. It is the terminology that I believe is very counterproductive. Again, Bart and Dr. Yarnell have admitted as much.

Colin,

I hope to respond to you later. I am out of time at the computer today and must run to meet my wife . . .

Bart Barber said...

Les, you said: "The jist of my post is this: your contention that if a church is not Southern Baptist then they are in 'unrepentant sin.' This goes beyond paedobaptism."

Show me, sir, where I said it. I wrote a post about pedobaptism. Period.

Bart Barber said...

Jason,

Not every difference is a difference worthy of division. Personally, I think we are under obligation to Christ to remain united in the Body of Christ unless it would be sinful to remain.

But the Southern Baptist Convention is not a church. It is just a pragmatic missions network. We should all make our decisions about it according to what is best for our churches to accomplish the Great Commission.

Bart Barber said...

Amy,

I was on the Metro North Hudson Line. I accidentally got onto an express that didn't stop at Garrison. The next train did.

Bart Barber said...

Alan,

See my response to Les. My post was about pedobaptism. Les objected to my post, which was solely and entirely about pedobaptism. I have not mischaracterized his position unless he has mischaracterized mine first.

Bart Barber said...

Robert H.,

Is anyone here denying religious liberty? I think not.

Bart Barber said...

Jeff,

Even when I have employed different terminology, I have received the same response.

Bart Barber said...

Alan,

I have changed terminology not out of any lack of confidence in the original terminology, but out of a desire to build consensus.

Robert Hutchinson said...

no denial of religious liberty.

point is that Christians who separated from "the church" over the conviction that the 1st century Christians baptized believers were branded as sinners who ought to repent. and were no longer part of the "true church."

now we have the children of the separatists telling Christians with the conviction that 1st century Christians practiced baby baptism that they are sinners in need of repentance. and are not part of a "true church."

question:

why must either baptismal practice be labeled as sin? why not just label it as a difference of interpretation and conviction?

who baptized john the baptizer?

Alan Cross said...

Yes, Bart. I understood and understand that you still think that you are correct in your initial view and you are just trying to meet your critics half way with the words you use. I never thought otherwise.

But, I do thank you for trying to build consensus at this point through a shift in terminology.

Bart Barber said...

Robert Hutchinson,

You asked, "why must either baptismal practice be labeled as sin? why not just label it as a difference of interpretation and conviction?"

I am fine with someone choosing to label it simply as a difference of interpretation and conviction, so long as one is therefore determined to join a Presbyterian or Congregationalist church. We do not (should not) be dividing up the Body of Christ over issues of "interpretation and conviction." We should only be splitting churches when the issues are so plain and biblical that it would be sinful for us to do otherwise.

That's why my next post, "A Baptist Not-So-Hypothetical", is so central to this discussion.

I note that nobody who has taken issue with my position on pedobaptism wants to touch that post with a ten-foot pole.

Bart Barber said...

That is, although Les has commented over there, he refuses to answer at all the question posed in the original post. And nobody else who differs has stuck his head into that door at all.