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Should Baptists Require Baptism for Church Membership?

An overwhelming majority of Baptists throughout Baptist history have answered Yes. With the clear command of Jesus Christ and the Apostles to be baptized, the examples of Christ, the Apostles, and the early church, and the fact that there is no Biblical teaching on infant baptism, it is not hard to see how Baptists came to require baptism for church membership. 

And yet, there remain a few Baptists who argue to the contrary. Abraham Piper is one of these.  This morning, he interacted a little with this issue at the Desiring God blog. Abraham is the son of well known pastor-theologian John Piper, who holds to the exact same position. The senior Piper's thoughts on the issue can be found here. 

Abraham's blog primarily interacts with a recent blog written by Southern Baptist pastor-theologian Mark Dever. Dever argues that baptism should be a requirement for church membership. Those, Dever states, that have not been baptized  He says 

"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)." 

Like many Baptists who have gone before him, Dever writes 

"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".

Abraham Piper disagrees. He takes issue with Dever’s distinction between intentional and unintentional sin.  Using 1 John 3:8, Piper argues that people who continue in sin, whether intentional or unintentional, are lost. So, he continues, churches should not treat people unbaptized people as unrepentant sinners, as lost people. Rather, they should simply acknowledge that they are wrong and welcome them into the church membership. He writes

"But being wrong and being an unrepentant sinner are not the same. If they were, everybody with an imperfect theology (all of us) would be lost. But instead of going to hell, a believer can come before God with humility and repentance and say, "I'm weak-minded and fallible. I'm sorry that I do not understand you like I should. Please help me to know you more." And after this, he may still believe in infant baptism. Not because he's unrepentant, but because he's fallible".

What do you guys think? I think Piper’s rejection of Dever’s distinction between intentional and unintentional sin misses the mark. In fact, the distinction that Piper makes between being unrepentant towards a command of Christ and just wrong about the command of Christ seems to be a lot harder to swallow than Dever’s distinction. Disobedience to a command, whether intentional or not, is sin. Now, as Dever mentioned, the Scriptures teach that unintentional sins do not incur as strict a judgment. Nevertheless, they incur judgment

This issue isn’t going away. Hopefully though, as the discussion continues, the church will gain a more carefully articulated understanding of church membership. Hopefully. 

On Broken Hearts and Baptist Blogs

Like many readers, I appreciate Evan sharing his (broken) heart with the rest of us yesterday. Blogging can be a sickening thing, and it often is in the SBC. In fact, as a blogger my fear is that blogging as a medium for ministry will be judged worthless by the great majority of Southern Baptists because of the recklessness of a relative few. I keep hoping that the growing number of relevent, insightful, edifying blogs among Southern Baptists will make a helpful contribution to SBC culture. I just hope that the approach of the few has not already permanently poisoned the pot for the many. But I digress.

Several months ago I posted some thoughts on blogging as part of my series Some Possible Solutions for What Ails the SBC. I thought that, in light of Evan's challenging post, I would reprint that material here. The following was originally posted in the fall of 2006. I have made some editorial revisions and a couple of expansions for this post, but the substance of the original post remains unchanged.

Time for a confession: I don’t like bloggers that much. Oh, I like people that blog, even many with whom I disagree. But the culture of blogging in the SBC bugs me. So I realize that I am about to irritate a bunch of people, but here goes anyway—I have several suggestions for bloggers, and no, I will not name names (frankly, because we all fall into this trap sometimes—I am the chief of blog sinners):

A. Bloggers need to regularly pray about their blogs. Pray that God will help you to blog with integrity. Pray that God will bring sinful motives to light. Pray that God will use your blog for his glory.

B. Bloggers need not assume they are smarter or godlier because they are more tech-savvy or can turn a phrase. There is an arrogance that can easily accompany blogging. Because of the temptation to pride, we need to remember that we bloggers are, after all, each of us remarkably unimportant people who now have somewhat wide audiences because we have a gift for regularly putting words up on a screen. But this ingenuity should not be confused with wisdom (especially of the godly kind), at least not across the board. Sometimes opinions are just opinions, and while they matter to you and people like you (or me), they really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

C. Bloggers need to guard against negativity, and yes, I am preaching to myself. For some reason, cynical people are drawn to blogging. It is important that blogging not be used by the enemy to feed our sinful predispositions and make us uglier versions of our already sinful selves.

D. Bloggers need to admit that Bobby Welch is right, even if they do not like him, FAITH, bus tours, or his criticism of blogger culture. Bloggers need to not let their hobby take the place of things that really matter, which includes personal evangelism. I am not claiming that ANY blogger is not evangelistic enough—that’s between the blogger and God. What I am claiming is that blogging can consume one’s life and detract from the things that really matter, like family, church, job, and yes, sharing the gospel with non-Christians. So let’s just be careful and not dismiss those who do not blog when they try to keep us honest about the things that are really important in life.

E. Bloggers need to remember that sometimes the better part of wisdom is not posting about everything you know. Or think you know. Or want people to think you know.

F. Bloggers need to remember that if this little revolution ever becomes about SBC political power, they will become the very thing they gripe about the most: a power base. If any blogger is hoping that his blog will ultimately elevate him to a position of prominence, then I pray God would bless him with a burden to want to be something besides Southern Baptist—and I mean that for both dissenting bloggers and thoughtless toadies of current SBC leadership. If you think blogging is your ticket, then I hope it’s a ticket to Mars.

G. Bloggers need to remember that blogging communities are only pseudo-communities; as fun as it is to dialog in the comments, real community can only exist in real, face-to-face relationships. I met Bart Barber and Marty Duren at the SBC. I have spoken to Wade Burleson three times, once briefly in person. I have spoken to Ben Cole once. I have had a couple of conversations with Tom Ascol. I have never formally met Jeremy Green, Art Rogers, Les Puryear, Dorcas Hawker, Tim Rogers, Kevin Bussey, Timmy Brister, Wes Kenney, Peter Lumpkins, Micah Fries, or even my fellow blogmate at SBC Witness, Jedidiah Coppenger. I have no clue who SWBTS Underground is. I have never met C. B. Scott, though we have several mutual friends. Brad Reynolds is a colleague, but we have only ever talked a couple of times in person, both briefly. In fact, the only bloggers who I can claim to really know in any meaningful sense are my other buddies at Witness, Alvin Reid, a couple of professors and administrators at other schools, and a handful of SEBTS student bloggers. I say all that to say, I only have a real friendship with the folks at the end of the list. There are things I appreciate about all of the other folks—even the ones I disagree with—but they are not real friends. Maybe one day they can be, but only when we really get to know each other, which requires a context besides a weblog and an email exchange. So let’s never confuse blog relationships with real friendships. Even better, let’s pray that many of our blog relationships will one day become real friendships. [Note: I have met some of these bloggers in person since I wrote this nine months ago, and would count one or two more of the above-mentioned bloggers as friends].

H. Bloggers need to remember that change will only come to the convention as local churches change. Even the most influential blogs ultimately play a small role in convention life. Our convention is only as strong or weak as our churches, so while we should pray God uses our blogs for his purposes, let’s remember that whatever he does among us will ultimately need to take root in the hearts of the people in the pews.

I. Bloggers need to be willing to quit. I actually did it once—I blogged from December 2003 to February of this year, then pulled the plug before starting fresh in June. The break was good for both my soul and my time management skills! There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about pulling the plug, not because I don’t like to blog, but because I like it too much. It is so easy to slip into the trap of believing that my *real* ministry—the one that has the biggest following—is the weblog. God forbid. I think this is a healthy tension to live in—to blog or not to blog—and I hope the Lord will use it to help me keep this little hobby of mine in proper perspective.