Friday, August 17, 2007

Baptism, Church Membership and Congregationalism

by mdever @

OK, I'm on vacation with my family, but I took print-outs of the Piper/Grudem exchanges on baptism and chruch membership. 9Marks guys, can we weigh in on this? What would you add to, disagree with, nuance in this argument?

Baptism SHOULD be required for church membership:

1) Because Jesus clearly commanded baptism and to disobey this command is sin [whether intentional or not]. To continue in such an unbaptized state is unrepentant sin [whether intentional or not]. Thus, no careful paedo-baptist will follow John P's apparent "generosity" about membership. That is, they will never knowingly admit someone to the Lord's Table that they understand to be unbaptized (even if they took that evangelical Quaker or believing Salvationist to be their brother or sister in Christ). John P wants us to admit to the Lord's Table those that he and we all agree are not baptized. John has no doubt that infant baptism is not baptism. He is solid on that point. But I think that actually leaves his position unusually open to other difficulties--knowingly admitting the unbaptized to regular communion. I simply don't want to take the responsibility to so disregard Jesus' commands (not that John P intends to in anyway disregard Jesus' commands). I especially don't want to do this in what has been an area of relatively unanimous Christian agreement from Jesus til now. Baptism precedes the Lord's Table. MUCH more could be said on this, but it probably already has been.

2) Because according to the New Testament, it is not merely the elders, but the entire membership of the local church that bear responsibility for establishing and patrolling "border & boundary" issues of discipline (Mt. 18; I Cor. 5) and doctrine (Gal. 1; II Tim 4). I think John P recognizes the importance of unity among such a responsible body, but he understands [I think] the local congregation NOT to be this responsible body, but rather the active followers of the elders--but merely followers. A congregationalist on the other hand (as Baptists have traditionally been) understands that it is the congregation who must ultimately establish such issues. John P would NOT want such divisions on baptism in the body that he takes to be the final earthly adjudicatory--the elders--and neither would we Baptists. The difference is, we think that body is the congregation as a whole, led by elders, yes, but only with the necessary and Biblical consent and cooperation of the congregation. (So, in classic terms, John would be an independent, but not a congregationalist.)

Much more we could say here, but, reader, please keep in mind that this is written by one who loves John Piper, appreciates his ministry (see earlier blog post) and who is planning to have an Anglican Dean and a Presbyterian former Moderator of the General Assembly preach in his Baptist pulpit in the next few months. There is a great unity in active cooperation, honoring, encouragement and love that is not broken by our lamentable temporary separation over local church membership.

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