Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Really About Baptism

Lifeway Research is reporting that 52% of Southern Baptist churches no longer really consider obedience to Christ's command to be baptized to be that big of a deal.

That's the true, central meaning of this report. Although the subject of the report is ostensibly the Lord's Supper, the shift in Southern Baptist practice actually reveals movement in Southern Baptist thinking about the OTHER ordinance. It would be different, I suppose, if 52% of SBC pastors had responded that the Lord's Supper should be provided to whomever wishes to participate, but that's not how the survey came back. SBC churches are willing to dictate who should and who shouldn't partake; they just don't think that baptism is all that important—not significant enough to enter into such deliberations.

This is hard evidence of the movement away from being Baptist that is sweeping through SBC churches. What factors have brought us to this point? Here are my thoughts.

  1. Cowardice. Going open-communion is easy. On the other hand, anyone who leads a church to make refusal to be baptized a bar to open communion is going to have to be prepared to endure enormous pressure for doing so.

  2. Evangelicalism. It is the nature of market-driven evangelicalism to de-emphasize ecclesiology in general and the ordinances in particular. These things are but impediments to the growth of one's market.

  3. Liberalism. The flight of paedo-baptists from liberal denominations into SBC churches has filled our churches with people who do not share our core convictions.

  4. Pragmatism. Atheological pragmatism—the worship of method and numerical success—bothers not at all with whether Christ has really commanded that we baptize and be baptized or whether ongoing rebellion against Christ's command is reason for one not to partake of the supper. Rather, it simply asks what will be the cost of closed communion in attendance and dollars.

  5. Permissivism. The loss of church discipline is an important factor in this downgrade. Really, without church discipline, our Baptist understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper doesn't make any sense.

117 comments:

David Rogers said...

Or, perhaps a desire to be consistently faithful to what one understands the Scripture to teach?

http://sbcimpact.org/2010/04/19/discerning-the-body-a-biblical-defense-of-modified-open-communion/

Christiane said...

"The flight of paedo-baptists from liberal denominations into SBC churches has filled our churches with people who do not share our core convictions."

Hi BART,

I'm trying to understand why paedo-Baptists from liberal denominations would knowingly come into a new denomination that did not share their convictions . . .

most people know that Southern Baptists immerse believers during Baptism, so the only reason I can think of for those who do not share this from Baptist core beliefs would be maybe that it is more convenient to attend the local Southern Baptist Church than to attend a congregation of their own denomination.

This is a puzzle for me.

Bart Barber said...

Well, there have always been people who believed that baptism isn't that big of a deal and have sought to justify that position from scripture. My intention was to analyze factors that have led those who were Baptists to move toward this viewpoint.

Bart Barber said...

Christiane,

It may be a difficult phenomenon to understand, but it happens frequently. Some come because they like our music better. Some come because they are hungry for biblical preaching and can't find that in a liberal denomination. Some come because their liberal churches have endorsed gay clergy or abortion or some other anathema that shocks their sensibilities. For whatever reason, they find baptizing churches to be their favored alternative, even if they don't agree with believer's baptism.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dr Barber, I imagine those churches that are moving toward some type of open communion would argue more positively that they are motivated by love, by their interpretation of Scripture, and by their experiences of graceful community. I think the best response is a re-examination of what the Lord of the church has commanded and the apostles exemplified rather than an evaluation of the motives of the heart not even we are sometimes self-aware regarding ourselves. Your Humble Servant,

Bart Barber said...

David,

What I'd love to ask the 52% is this: Suppose you discover that a member of your congregation sells heroin downtown every Saturday night. Would that person be welcome to partake of the Lord's Supper on Sunday morning?

Kyle said...

Just curious, do you "fence the table" when you lead your congregation in observing the Lord's Supper? If so, what do you usually say?

David Rogers said...

As I understand it, it is not a question of de-emphasizing baptism, but rather of giving the proper emphasis to Christian unity. And, I plead innocent to "believing baptism is not that big of a deal and seeking to justify it from scripture."

Bart Barber said...

Malcolm,

I did not mean to suggest that any individual would actually OWN these factors as the reason for these changes. Rather, I was attempting my own analysis.

Each of these factors contributes. I've no doubt on that point. Now, David or someone else might argue…perhaps might even convince me some day…that these lesser factors have led Southern Baptists to what is actually the more biblical practice. It is possible to wind up at the right place for the wrong reasons. But personal experience in the pastorate leads me to believe that the factors I have enumerated are at least among the pressures at work in this massive doctrinal downgrade.

Bart Barber said...

Good question, Kyle.

I wrote a whole post about that.

David Rogers said...

What I'd love to ask the 35% is this: Suppose you discover that a member of your congregation consistently engages in gluttony. Would that person be welcome to partake of the Lord's Supper on Sunday morning?

Bart Barber said...

David,

You might argue that I am OVER-emphasizing baptism, but you cannot argue that it is not lessening the importance of baptism to conclude that something else trumps it when it comes to the Lord's Supper.

Any comment on my heroin question?

Bart Barber said...

If he's unrepentant? No.

Kyle said...

Thanks for the link, Bart. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

David Rogers said...

I suppose it comes down to the question, Is a sincerely held conviction that the Bible teaches (or even allows for) paedobaptism (or even credo-sprinkling for that matter) truly unrepentant sin?

If so, I believe we should not only exclude paedobaptists from the Lord's Supper, but from Christian fellowship in general.

Bart Barber said...

…and if it is not, we've no business excluding them from church membership.

Bart Barber said...

But it is difficult to see how selling heroin (not mentioned in the Bible) is an excludable offense, while refusal to be baptized (mentioned a lot in the Bible) is not.

Bart Barber said...

No problem, Kyle. Thanks for being a part of the discussion.

David Rogers said...

I think we already beat that horse (excluding from church membership) to death on another post a few months back.

And, I don't think most conscientious paedobaptists would plead guilty to "refusing to be baptized."

And, although theoretically banning an "unrepentant glutton" may make a good talking point, when is the last time you ever heard of church actually doing such a thing?

David Rogers said...

Do you believe the BF&M ought to reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists?

Bart Barber said...

…well, we didn't beat it to any suitable conclusion.

As to gluttony, I've singled out a person and insisted that they abstain from partaking for gluttony just as many times as I have done so on the basis of someone's refusal to be baptized.

As to what pedo-baptists believe or will admit about their refusal to be baptized. They either have or haven't been obedient to Christ's command. Their opinion about the matter is irrelevant.

Bart Barber said...

David,

I do indeed believe that the BF&M should reflect the viewpoint and practice of Southern Baptist churches.

I also believe that I should be a part of a fellowship of churches concerned about obeying Christ.

David Rogers said...

If I remember correctly (not totally sure I do), I left the last comment on that other comment stream. If you want to pick up where we left off, I am not closed to that. I think it is an important discussion. But I don't think we need to necessarily rehash everything we said there.

As to debatable matters, I think Romans 14:1-15:7 is particularly relevant.

If we are talking about a false gospel that is no gospel at all, though, we should not even recognize such people as Christians.

Also, I think it is a legitimately important prayer concern that this current discussion doesn't blow up in an unproductive way and raise stumbling blocks in the way of Great Commission ministry and the practical unity of the Body of Christ. I recognize this is especially hard when deeply held convictions are at stake.

Ben said...

David and Bart,

Should the BF&M reflect the beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptists?

Keep in mind that the beliefs of Southern Baptists change from generation to generation. On the issue of closed vs. open communion, I have hope that Southern Baptists are actually becoming more biblical in the 21st century.

By this I mean that 30 years ago you would be hard pressed to find many seminary professors or denominational employees who believed in closed communion. Today, things are much different. Paige Patterson and Al Mohler may disagree on a lot of things, but but reject open communion. A couple of months ago SBC Today actually published 3 articles that defended restricted communion. That wouldn't have happened in the 1970's! I pray that in the days ahead we may see many open communion Southern Baptist churches return to biblical closed communion.

Bart Barber said...

Ben has a good point. There's a lot of support from Southern and Southwestern for the connection between biblical church discipline and the Lord's Supper.

Matt Svoboda said...

I just want to AMEN David Rogers first post.

Number 6 on this list could read, "Biblical condition that is different from my own."

To answer your first question to David, "Absolutely not."

My church is in the 52%, based on biblical conviction... and that hasnt hindered us from practicing church discipline in any way.

David Rogers said...

Back to the point(s) of the original post, it would be very convenient for me at this stage in my life to adopt a close/closed communion view.

Steven said...

I have heard one pastor of a Baptist church (one of the largest CP contributors from the State of Alabama) state on several occasions that baptist should not be concerned about "how much water" you use in baptism. Neither does he fence the table in the least. In fact, in their "Journey Church" they allow anyone who feels like it to take communion. I think that all of Dr. Barber's enumerated causes are correct.

Steven Speagle

Bart Barber said...

David,

If I correctly identify which was the last post in which we engaged this subject, you did indeed have the final comments, although they did not ask any questions of me.

Your stated position at the end of that stream was that (1) Church discipline amounts to questioning the salvation of someone because, (2) Church discipline really should be an action of one congregation that is honored by all other congregations, and therefore (3) Church membership can and should be something other and non-co-extensive with church discipline since, (4) most of us acknowledge that there are those who are genuine believers but who are not welcome as members of our churches.

Is that where we were?

Bart Barber said...

So, Matt, can I conclude that you think it is not sinful for a Christian to refuse to be baptized?

Matt Svoboda said...

Bart,

The way you presented this is no different than if I were to say something like, "This is an area some people care more about being Baptist than biblical."

Obviously, that is not the case. People who believe the Baptist view of closed communion believe they hold the biblical position, not just a "baptist" position.

My point is, you should show the same respect to those who disagree with you. Just because someone disagrees with you on communion doesnt mean it isnt from biblical conviction, even when they are in a Baptist church.

David Rogers said...

I should probably add that I do not believe that Bart's enumerated causes are not ever the real reasons behind their open communion beliefs and practices. For some folks, they indeed probably are.

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

My intention is to advocate for a point of view. I'm willing to be provocative to do so. I respect you enough to care about changing your mind.

Steve Martin said...

Christ commanded Baptism. We ought do it and take it seriously.

The New Testament is full of Baptism talk. Romans 6 tells us exactly what God does in Baptism.

(yes, God is the One who Baptizes)

Jesus never commanded us to do anything where He would not be present in that act, for us.

Those who refuse to be Baptized are spitting in the eye of God, and rejecting the pure gospel. Not a good thing to do.

Thanks.

Bart Barber said...

Also, Matt, there have been plenty of cases in which Baptists actually DID care more about being Baptist than about being biblical. The loving thing to have done for them is to have told them so. I'm thankful for those who were willing to do just that.

Ben said...

Also if you go to this website: http://baptisthistoryhomepage.com/western.recdr.survey.1948.html
you will see what the percentages of closed communion Southern Baptist churches looked like in 1948.

How did these numbers change? Bart has given many of the reasons. However I would add one more: The post-WWII liberalization of the SBC. Men like Dale Moody, Eric Rust, Roy Honeycutt, etc, etc. took over the Southern Baptist seminaries, colleges, newspapers and publishing houses. These men taught open communion to two generations of Southern Baptist pastors and lay leaders. The results were devastating to Southern Baptist ecclesiology.

Bart Barber said...

Good point, Ben. I concur.

David Rogers said...

I'll have to go back and review that comment stream (actually two, if I recall, since the discussion was spread out over two posts) in order to make sure there are not any other major points to be added to your summary.

In general, though, your summary appears pretty fair. The only change in wording I would make is I don't see it is so much a matter of "questioning someone's salvation" (that is up to God to do), but rather of treating someone "as a Gentile and a tax collector" (i.e. as if they were an unbeliever).

Matt Svoboda said...

Bart,

No. If a person gets saved on the 15th and we are doing baptisms on the 29th, but we have communion on the 22nd I am very happy to serve them communion as a follower of Jesus.

For another example- if a person is wanting to be sure they really understand baptism so they take some time to really study before getting baptized or delay in order that their family who doesnt live around them can come and celebrate with them I am not going to withhold communion.

I think closed communion Baptists are extremely inconsistent in this area. Do you walk through every biblical command with every Christian to make sure they aren't disobeying any command of Scripture before taking communion? Of course not. Do they do it for Baptism? Yep.

It is inconsistent.

David Rogers said...

Steve Martin,

You do realize, don't you, that Bart and the BF&M both do not recognize Lutheran paedobaptism as legitimate baptism?

Bart Barber said...

In that case, I certainly maintain my position.

Yes, although those who refuse baptism may very well be genuine believers in Christ, when we refuse church membership to them we ARE treating them as Gentiles and tax-collectors. Just as we would not allow a lost person to have membership in our church, we will not allow a stubbornly disobedient Christian to have membership in our church. We can do that—determine to treat that person in such a way—without being forced to conclude that they are not believers.

Bart Barber said...

David,

And yet, Steve and I agree completely on the importance of baptism. Also, the terms of the survey did not mention pedobaptism. Rather, it explicitly asked whether unbaptized people should be invited to participate in the Lord's Supper. 52% of SBC churches agreed that they should.

Steve's right to find that unconscionable.

Matt Svoboda said...

Bart,

I think we might be closer than I realized. There isnt any aspect of your comment at 9:15 that I would disagree with.

I bet we practice membership and church discipline very similarly.

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

I'd not be NEARLY as persnickety about the question of someone entirely willing to be baptized and sincerely planning to be baptized in the imminent future. But I don't think that's really what's at stake here.

Ben said...

Matt,

Well for one thing, Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 2:41 single out baptism. That's two pretty good reasons to focus on getting a person baptized before they come to the Lord's Supper table.

Let us follow the order the New Testament gives to the ordinances.

Steve Martin said...

David,

Yes I realize that. But as I said earlier, Jesus commanded Baptism, so He is in it. Since He is the One doing the Baptizing it does not matter the person's age.

He adopts us in Baptism, gives us His name and His promises. When faith comes (by hearing), then Baptism is complete.

It boggles my mind how so many believe and say that God is alive and lives in their hearts, but yet they deny that God could also be present in a bowl of water accompanied by His Word of promise.

If it were merely a symbol (baptism), then it would be pretty meaningless, considering just how seriously that any of us really take the Christian faith. Not too.

Thanks.

Matt Svoboda said...

Ben,

I would suggest you might need a better understanding of how the New Testament practiced the Lord's Supper if that is your rebuttal.

Bart,

I think we are on the same page. I would mark the 52% box on the survey because of how it is asked, but I also wouldnt permit letting someone taking communion if the only reason they werent willing to get baptized is out of stubborn disobedience when they know Scripture calls them to be baptized.

Thats the problem with surveys like these- they have to be worded very vaguely.

Bart Barber said...

Steve,

Of course, it's not the person's age that matters. What matters is their relationship with Christ. Those who have not been converted do not have a covenant relationship with Christ. He is therefore not present in the baptism of the unconverted.

Bart Barber said...

One difference, Matt: I don't think the person's reasoning matters one whit. It doesn't matter for any other sin. The guy who has a great reason for his polygamy? His reason doesn't matter. The gal who has a great rationalization for her porn habit? Her reason doesn't matter. The drunkard who sees no problem with his drunkenness? His opinion doesn't matter.

And so, refusal to be baptized should be treated consistently alongside other sins.

David Rogers said...

In a Southern Baptist context, I think a fairly good majority would read "unbaptized" as "un-credo-baptized."

I can't remember if I asked on the other comment stream whether you believe the provisos of a church covenant should ever be more narrow than manifesting a lifestyle that would not disqualify one as an authentic believer.

Ben said...

Matt,

Then please educate me and all the other Baptists of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

The Southern Baptists of the 19th Century would not have served the Lord's Supper to someone who had not been baptized, period.

Matt Svoboda said...

Bart,

That is MY point! You dont go through each Christians life and ask if there is any command of Christ that they are disobeying except for Baptism. Be consistent.

With your reasoning, we cant permit any consumeristic Christians to take communion because they arent obeying Scripture call to make disciples. They simply show up at church, "get fed," and go home.

With your logic only 2% of Christians should take communion as studies show only 2% share their faith.

Bart Barber said...

I believe that church covenants should endeavor, as best they can, to encompass an aspiration to the life of discipleship detailed in the commandments of the New Testament. Failure to live up to this standard is universal and is always entitled to forgiveness. Failure to affirm it and aspire to it is unacceptable and is always entitled to church discipline.

Bart Barber said...

Matt,

For baptism, for consumerism, for gluttony, for whatever, my practice is consistent. I tell people before we observe the Supper that they should not partake if there is ANY commandment of Christ to which they are showing ongoing disobedience.

Steve Martin said...

Bart,

We believe that the relationship is started by God and that He is very capable of giving some infants faith (faith is a gift, according to the Bible).

John the Baptist was doing cartwheels in the womb at the mere presence of Jesus, also in the womb. That wasn't his doing, but the Holy Spirit working in that pre-infant.

We believe that baptizing babies gets the order right. Grace before faith. And that is why we do it. And then we teach that infant as it grows, the great thing that God has done for him/her.

I was baptized as an infant. Have I ever walked away from that Baptism? All the time! But those promises that God made in my Baptism are always good and valid, even if I don't make use of them.

David Rogers said...

What about such provisos, as, for instance, a commitment to tithing, or to abstain from alcohol and tobacco?

Steve Martin said...

This isn't too long (20 minutes-ish) and the second half deals with baptizing babies and why some don't do it, and why we do:

http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/faith.mp3

Even if you don't agree with it (that's ok), you'll walk away with a much better understanding of our beliefs on the matter.

Thanks.

Bart Barber said...

Steve,

I would not confuse the recognition of the person of Jesus with faith in him. John the Baptist recognized Jesus from within Elizabeth. Legions of demons recognized Jesus from within the Gerasene man. Does this mean that the legions of demons had the gift of grace and faith from God? I think not.

In the New Testament, none were ever baptized but those who heard the word and received it in faith.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Here's what ours says…

FBC Farmersville Church Covenant

Bart Barber said...

David,

Portions relevant to your questions:

"To practice biblical stewardship of my resources, including the faithful support of this congregation. (Malachi 3:8-12; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 4:10)"

"To employ chemical substances such as alcohol and drugs only as informed by the teachings of the Bible, wise medical counsel, and the dictates of the law (Proverbs 23:29- 35; 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 5:23)."

Bart Barber said...

My curfew approaches. I'll be available for a few minutes longer. Sorry.

Steve Martin said...

Bart,

Recognition is one thing. Leaping for joy is another. The Bible clearly states that the latter is true in this instance.

David Rogers said...

First off, let me say that I am very positively impressed by your covenant statement. That is the best one I have ever seen.

At the same time, I find it interesting that on the particular two points I bring up, you have some "wiggle room."

Do you think churches who do not allow for "wiggle room" on these points are unbiblical in their approach to church covenant?

Bart Barber said...

David,

I do believe that the better approach is to take the church covenant generally as far as the explicit text of the Bible goes. Any conclusions that one can necessarily draw from the biblical text, one can draw from a covenant statement that goes as far as the biblical text goes.

It's my job to make sure that, as a congregation, we are learning together to understand the Bible rightly. Overly explicit covenantal statements, it seems to me, amount to admissions that I will not do that job rightly.

David Rogers said...

My curfew is right around the corner too.

Perhaps this picture is apropos...

http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/images/news/topstories/2011/10/06/fi-sam-ralph-warner-bros.jpg

Bart Barber said...

Steve,

Very well: the people at Christ's triumphal entry leaped for joy at his coming…just a few hours before they demanded His crucifixion.

In either case—recognition or leaping for joy—you infer something (saving faith) into the text that is not there. And this sort of inference is not necessary, since both conversion and baptism are treated directly and explicitly with noteworthy frequency in the New Testament.

It is because of the weakness of this sort of argument that, of all the denominations of Christianity that have taken a fresh look at the scriptures and begun de novo since the 17th century (Baptists, Pentecostals, Bible churches, Non-denominational evangelicals, et al), they have almost universally set aside the sprinkling of infants and affirmed believer's baptism as the New Testament practice.

Bart Barber said...

David, now that's funny right there. I don't care who you are.

Steve Martin said...

Bart,

I don't believe that John the Baptist was with the demons or lept for joy and then abandoned Him.

The Scriptures say that he was second greatest of all man, next to Jesus.

When he leaped for joy in the womb, it was because the Spirit was at work in him, lest you believe ordinary lost humans are capable of perceiving Christ while they are in the womb.

In any event, Jesus said "go and baptize (ponta ethane - all people) the whole world...no mention of any age requirement. And then he said, afterward, teach about himself.

My curfew is up, too.

Enjoyed the discussion. You folks are very gracious to me and I very much appreciate it.

G'nite.

David Rogers said...

My point in all the questions about church covenants is the following: In a local church setting, there are certain positions that, while not disqualifying for recognition as an authentic member of the Body of Christ at large, are problematic with regard to active cooperation in ministry. One example that immediately comes to mind is with regard to female pastors/elders. A local congregation must have some policy or another, either formally stated, or not, with regard to this issue. Either you agree with the position of a congregation (thus placing you on the inside, with regard to local church fellowship) or disagree with the position (thus placing you on the outside, with regard to local church fellowship). But being on the outside with regard to local church fellowship does not necessarily place one (and should not, in my opinion, place one) on the outside with regard to recognition as an authentic member of the Body of Christ. The Lord's Supper has to do, as I understand it, with recognition of the Body of Christ. Full fellowship in a local church, as expressed in local church membership (for the reasons expressed above) does not necessarily have the same connotations.

At the same time, though (and this is the clincher, in my opinion), if we exclude someone from participation in the Lord's Supper, we ought correspondingly to also exclude them from Christian fellowship in general.

Bart Barber said...

The problem with this, David, as I see it, is that it boils down to personal preference rather than any sound biblical preference. Female clergy? Not in our church, but we wouldn't break fellowship over that. Lesbian clergy? Well, that's unrepentant disobedience and requires division. And yet one is as clear in scripture as the other. It's just the weight that we choose to assign to them respectively that differs.

And so, I'd say that we should only divide at the local church level over those things that are of sufficient gravity that we would consider it a sin for any person or collection of people to practice in such a way. If an issue is not so serious as that, we should not divide at the Lord's Table, at the granting of church membership, nor at any other point.

David Rogers said...

So are you saying that conscientious paedobaptism is at the same level as female clergy or is at the same level as lesbian clergy?

Bart Barber said...

I'm saying it matters little what I say about it or what you say about it. I'm saying that I see no textual reason to differentiate the one from the other. Unlike the matters in Romans 14, baptism is a clear, repeated New Testament command. The person who believed and then was never baptized is in disobedience to that command.

What do you think the apostles would have done with someone who said, "Yes, I've been converted, but I went through some sort of ritual involving water back before I was converted. Maybe it was a Jewish ceremony. Perhaps John the Baptist did it. Having been through that, I decline to participate in baptism now that I have been converted"? What would Peter or Paul have done in such a case? We have some evidence, don't we?

David Rogers said...

So do you not think that a congregation which appoints or ordains a female pastor is collectively disobedient to Scripture? What about a group of people within a congregation that would if they could?

Bart Barber said...

In the first case, I think that they are collectively disobedient to scripture. The individual people may not be. The action may have been taken over their objections.

As to those who would have done so if they could (but they couldn't), I presume that you're speaking about people who have actively tried to do something but have failed. In that case, I'd say they were sinning. If, on the other hand, you're just talking about people who, if we hypothesized that they might be presented with such a situation, here's what we imagine they might do…I don't think we're guilty of sin on the basis of hypotheticals.

What do you think the apostles would have done with someone who, having been converted, refused baptism on the basis of a Jewish ceremony they had undergone before?

Or…perhaps even more to the theological point…who refused baptism because they had been circumcised?

David Rogers said...

Before moving on to your question about the apostles and someone who hypothetically refused baptism, let me push my example a little further.

If someone from a congregation that had appointed/ordained a female pastor, and had voted in favor, were attending services at your congregation during the celebration of the Lord's Supper, would you regard that as motive for banning them from participation? What if they wanted to join your congregation? Would they first need to give a statement of repentance from their previous stance (and action)?

Bart Barber said...

Such a person would be in disagreement with our statement of faith. A commitment not to act similarly in the future (repentance) would be necessary to be a member here.

Of course, this presumes that somehow we know about their opinion and their past actions in this regard. We don't interview for such things.

Bart Barber said...

And so, I'd say that we'd handle it exactly the same way we'd handle knowing that someone had voted to call lesbian clergy to a church.

David Rogers said...

But what about participation, as a visitor, in the Lord's Supper?

Bart Barber said...

Well, David, it is not my practice to go person-by-person through the congregation and tell people who can observe and who cannot. Rather, I tell people that those who are converted and are repentant and contrite, forsaking their sin, are welcome to partake. The implication for that person, as a visitor, member, or otherwise, would be that they should not partake.

David Rogers said...

For the sake of the argument, it helps to assume we are aware of this person's previous stance and action from the other congregation. That, however, is not an entirely implausible scenario.

From what I read in your answers here, though, it seems you make some differentiation here between participation in the Lord's Supper and church membership.

Telling those present during the Lord's Supper that "those who are converted and are repentant and contrite, forsaking their sin, are welcome to partake" is precisely what I advocate. I even advocate letting them know what we, as a congregation, believe and teach regarding believer's baptism and obedience. But, in the end, I advocate leaving it between the potential participant and his/her conscience before God to decide if he/she should participate.

There are, however, other actions, which, when known, would, in my opinion, be justified reason for actively withholding the elements. Ideally, proper protocol in church discipline would have already identified these people. Though, I recognize the real world is not always (not even usually) quite so ideal.

Bart Barber said...

So, if I understand you correctly, it is your conviction that the person who has not been baptized should not partake?

What is the ideal and how to accomplish it are two different things.

David Rogers said...

It is my conviction that the person who has not been baptized should be baptized. If they, in the meantime, partake in the Lord's Supper, I do not see that as a sin, in and of itself. The sin would be, having been enlightened as to the scriptural necessity of believer's baptism, to refuse to be baptized.

The Lord's Supper is (among other things) a celebration of the unity of the Body of Christ. Within the Body, each of us must answer to our own Master for our choices and actions.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Do you believe that the Holy Spirit affirms believer's immersion and considers baptism important?

David Rogers said...

Yes

Bart Barber said...

It seems to me, if we are confident in the Holy Spirit, that one of three possibilities must be true for the unbaptized:

1. When truth about baptism is proclaimed, the hearer is not convicted because he does not have the Spirit (the case for all who are not believers).

2. When truth about baptism is proclaimed, the hearer is convicted by the Holy Spirit but hardens his heart and refuses to obey.

3. When truth about baptism is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit does not bother to work conviction in the heart of the hearer in whom He resides.

The first and second options would constitute good reason why one ought not to partake of the Lord's Supper. The third would seem to contradict the idea that the Holy Spirit believes in believer's immersion and considers it important.

David Rogers said...

Do you believe the Holy Spirit affirms male eldership (pastorate) and considers it important?

Or, what about, for instance, eternal security?

Or, what about how ever many points of Calvinism you believe are biblical?

etc., etc.

David Rogers said...

premilliennialism?

Bart Barber said...

I'm not sure that the Holy Spirit works as urgently to prevent ignorance as He does to prevent disobedience. In preaching one of the truths to which I cling is the presumption that the Holy Spirit brings conviction to the disobedient when the word is faithfully preached.

Bart Barber said...

And thus, as we have discussed before, it matters to me that baptism is a commandment, rather than just being theological information passed along in the text of the New Testament.

David Rogers said...

Is it a command to teach in accordance with the truth?

Bart Barber said...

Certainly it is, if one is a teacher.

David Rogers said...

If you believe the Holy Spirit affirms and considers, let's say, premillennialism, to be important, and someone who you know to be teaching amillenialism want to partake of the Lord's Supper in your church, do you believe it is your duty to call them to repentance and warn them against taking the Lord's Supper before first repenting?

Bart Barber said...

It could be, I suppose. I haven't really considered that question before. I know that I try to be careful, when teaching about items that are not entirely clear in scripture, to communicate clearly where scriptural certainty ends and my own opinions begin. I think it is wrongful for a teacher to fail to do this. Don't you?

Also, is there a point forthcoming soon when we can consider my question about the apostles?

David Rogers said...

I am a convinced premillennialist. I also am a convinced complementarian. I also am a convinced "antinomist" (with regard to the 5 points).

But I also recognize that other people down through church history have disagreed with me on these points, many of them people with whom my spirit and my understanding of Scripture leads to embrace as authentic brothers and sisters in Christ, and many of whose scholarship and expertise in the Scriptures surpasses my own.

I would say the same thing about believers baptism by immersion.

I will attempt and answer about the apostle question soon.

Bart Barber said...

And yet, David, having studied the history of Christianity, can you say that it is not sinful to teach contrary to the truth? Can you say that it is a sin of no consequence? Hasn't the multiplication of these doctrinal positions and the way in which people have asserted forcefully that which either is clearly in error or is unclear—hasn't this been the cause of much pain, weakness, and harm in the body of Christ?

Do we make this to be nothing because it really is nothing, or is it really no more complicated than this: There are people we like and we don't want to offend them or offend ourselves by recognizing sin for what it is?

David Rogers said...

Having studied church history, I have come to the conclusion that the failure to give the emphasis to the unity of the Body of Christ that Jesus and the Bible gives it is a greater sin than the failure to defend uncompromisingly enough these other doctrines I have specifically enumerated here. I believe more pain has been caused, both to Christians, and to Christ Himself, as a result of this sin than of the others. I admit this is somewhat subjective, but after long and belabored reflection, this is the conclusion to which I have arrived.

I can offend other people with the best of them, but I am mostly concerned with not offending my Lord. Yet, I say all this with a certain degree of tenuousness, knowing the weakness and fallibility of my own understanding and my own heart.

David Rogers said...

Now for your question on the apostles...

Bart Barber said...

When we are teaching contrary to one another, unity has been broken already. Certainly when we divide into separate churches over doctrinal differences, unity is gone.

David Rogers said...

My initial answer is this:

It would be wonderful if we still had the apostles with us to clarify matters such as this. What we do have is the written revelation they left us, the Holy Spirit within us, and fellowship of the church throughout history and around the world, to help us to better understand. This is, as I understand it, the point which makes Roman Catholicism an attractive alternative to some among us, and that has led some to "swim the Tiber."

As Baptists, it is tempting to replace the "certainty" of the Roman Magisterium with our own Baptist tradition(s) and magisteria.

I am steadfast in my conviction regarding what the apostles might say regarding believers baptism if they were with us today. My studies and reflection have also led me, however, to conclude they would likely also advocate a modified open communion view, similar to my own. At the same time, in issues in which the fundamentals of the gospel are at stake, similar to Paul in his confrontation of Peter, they would not countenance any flexibility whatsoever.

Once again, I believe Romans 14:1-15:7 sheds a lot of light on this.

If you feel I have skirted the issue, let me know, clarify your misgivings with my reply, and I will give it another stab.

David Rogers said...

RE: your comment on unity.

This may, perhaps, be one of the keys to our disagreement. I understand unity differently. I think it is important to distinguish between unity, uniformity, organic union, and cooperation in ministry projects.

Now we are getting into the meat of my upcoming dissertation.

Bart Barber said...

I think it does skirt the question a bit. My question was not about the apostolic practice of communion, since it is anachronistic to ask about such things (and that's part of the reason why I'm asking this particular question). Rather, my question had to do with how you thought the apostles might react to someone who refused baptism because they had been immersed in some Jewish ritual, or had been circumcised, or had been baptized by John the Baptists.

Bart Barber said...

So, if at the church you are presently attending, a group of people within the congregation were to declare that they can share church membership only with those who subscribe to a pretribulational rapture, they depart the church, they campaign throughout the membership for those who are likeminded to join them, and they start their own pretribulational church…

…if all this happens, you don't think Christian unity has been impacted thereby?

David Rogers said...

Okay, maybe I'm making it too complicated. I believe they likely would have corrected their error, explained why it was an error, and then urged them to be baptized appropriately.

Bart Barber said...

I agree. That was the question. I just don't exactly remember why I asked it.

David Rogers said...

You said: "When we are teaching contrary to one another, unity has been broken already. Certainly when we divide into separate churches over doctrinal differences, unity is gone."

I say: When we say we alone have the doctrinally correct church, humility is gone. When we say denominations are necessarily a breach of unity, freedom is gone. When we say doctrinal agreement must be on issues beyond gospel essentials, or it is not really biblical doctrinal agreement, our connection with reality is gone.

I am pretty sure I have linked to this before in dialogue with you, but I believe John Woodhouse's article on Chrisitan Unity and Denominations and Denominationalism does a splendid job at explaining this:

http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2002/05/christian-unity-and-denominations/

David Rogers said...

I think your question on the theoretical pre-trib rapture splinter church are answered in the Woodhouse article. It is hard for me to synthesize everything he says there in an appropriately sized comment. If you don't have time to read through it again, I understand, though.

Bart Barber said...

"When we say we alone have the doctrinally correct church, humility is gone."

Is this necessarily true? If in all the world there were only Baptists and Mormons, would we be constrained to be either prideful or heretical? For the subject matter at hand, is baptism so trivial that to make a big deal about it is to be willing to make a big deal about any old minutiae?


"When we say denominations are necessarily a breach of unity, freedom is gone."

Fine, then. That seems quite the non-sequitur, but nevertheless, I feel no urgency in my bones to protect the freedom to pretend that what is, is not.


"When we say doctrinal agreement must be on issues beyond gospel essentials, or it is not really biblical doctrinal agreement, our connection with reality is gone."

Agreed. Who's saying that, again? I agree with Moslems that there is one God who created the world. That's biblical doctrinal agreement. Our connection with reality is intact. Unity, of course, is more than the presence of biblical doctrinal agreement. Rather, it is the absence of any biblical doctrinal disagreement that has risen to the level of being divisive.

David Rogers said...

Here is how I state it:

The root of authentic Christian unity is centered in the gospel. As Christians, it is the gospel itself—a shared experience of having one’s life changed by the same gospel message; a shared relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and a shared doctrinal agreement on the essentials of the gospel message—that determines our fellowship with other Christians.

This, of course, begs the question of what are the essentials, which brings us back, once again, to theological triage.

David Rogers said...

In the triage model, I believe that believers baptism is a second tier matter.

The Lord's Supper, however, is designed to celebrate our unity on a first-tier level.

David Rogers said...

Technically, I don't think I would even use the term "second-tier unity." Second-tier issues have to do more with union, uniformity, and cooperation in ministry projects.

Bart Barber said...

David, that's not really argumentation; it's just an axiomatic assertion of our difference of opinion on the matter. It doesn't carry the conversation forward just to say, "Baptism is second-tier; the Lord's Supper is first-tier." Of course you believe that. That's the subject matter of the disagreement.

David Rogers said...

Okay. I guess it's sort of a summary of my position. I think I am done with my argumentation, for now, unless you have other issues you think merit discussion.

Bart Barber said...

We've gone 112 comments. We probably ought to come up for air!

Rest well. Until next time.

David Rogers said...

For the record, I do believe baptismal regeneration is a first-tier issue.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, just want to say thanks for the original post. I believe all 5 of your points are at play not only in the SBC, but among most Baptists in the U.S. (unless they're already fully committed to open communion).

Christiane said...

Hi BART,

I apologize for placing this here, but just in case it gets deleted over at Voices, I still wanted you to see it. If you wish, after reading it, please discard it:

"“Simple rule for me: If my great-great-grandparents didn’t even know that it existed or was possible, it’s not a fundamental human right for me.”

Hi BART,
Our family is medical for generations, going back to France in the times of Louis Quatorze (the Sun King) . . . (we have record of an ancestor who was a court physician). The newest physician in our family is my nephew, a Navy doctor serving in San Diego.

Thing is, there is a gift for healing in my family, not ‘supernatural’ but present as a natural calling to medicine as profession. . . a desire to use God-given abilities in the medical field has been generational.

I know you feel as you do sincerely, and I can respect that because I think you speak from an integrity, sir;
but I know this:
my family would disagree with you from their ‘heart’:

a story:
our mother’s family is from Plymouth, N.C. and many are buried in the Episcopal Church graveyard in that lovely town. About fifteen years ago, my parents and my siblings went to stay for a weekend near Christmas time to visit family, so as to complete as my one of my mother’s bucket list wishes.

My brother, a pediatrician, was with us to watch over Mom’s health on this pilgrimage and we all went to the church-yard to view the stones recording family names . . . my brother drifted alone to a corner of the graves and stood there with tears in his eyes . . . I went and stood beside him . . .

he was looking at the stones marking the graves of babies and small children who died generations before . . . and he said, ‘what I know today likely could have saved these babies’

The desire to help sick people may be itself some kind of God-given gift which doesn’t ask:
what does this suffering person have a ‘right’ to?

In my brother, I saw evidence that day of someone whose desire to help sick children cut deeply into the core of who he was, as a part of his ‘calling’ in this world.

That’s how I know there is another side of the story of the ‘rights’ of those who suffer and of our abilities to help them. I, too, honor my brother’s integrity, as I respect your integrity in how you see things.

But know this: not all people see it as you see it.
And many of them, too, are people of faith, called to serve in their way in this world.

God bless . . . here’s hoping that there is room in this world for more than one perspective on the ‘rights’ of suffering human beings. I think there is room. I know there is."

Christiane said...

sorry again for intrusion, please discard this after reading, if you wish, and THANK YOU for your response at Voices:

Hi BART,

I am misunderstanding you. I’m trying.
All I know is that all we have to give is that which was given to us from God.

The MRI equipment was developed in ‘our’ time by those who were gifted with the capacity to do the job. I’m not sure how we draw a line properly in the Christian world about the ‘rights’ of suffering people, BART. That is where I get hung up.

I think what makes us ‘human’ is one thing;
and I know what makes us Christian is something more, not something less.

Our civilization has grown in the ability to help suffering in this world, and I think this growth of knowledge has happened by the grace of God.
If I am right: how then are we, as Christians, to act towards suffering when faced with our power to heal in one hand and our power to deny care in the other?

We stop by the side of the road today to help the fallen with vastly different powers of healing . . .
do we engage with the injured based on their ability to pay,
or on our ability to help?
Ethically, maybe we do need to catch up with the technology.

We are Christians, but we don’t have donkeys to put the injured on, and we don’t take them to a place where oil is poured on to their wounds . . .
but we are STILL Christians, Bart.

How NOW do we live?