Eric Carpenter has written an excellent blog post titled Unity and Baptism: A Possible Solution as part of a series on unity in the church dealing with breaking fellowship over issues of doctrine and practice. Eric asserts that baptism is not an issue we should divide or break fellowship over.
Eric first makes the case that baptism is not a Gospel issue, not a first order issue that would necessitate separation:
First, Christ's church should be united around the gospel. This is commanded and easy to understand in the bible. Therefore, we should only separate from those who reject first order (gospel-centered) doctrines.
Then he closes with this statement:
The point is that we don't stop fellowshipping over third order doctrinal differences. If we treat baptism in this way, we will remain united while at the same time holding some differences in interpretation over the meaning of baptism.
I would agree with Eric on this (there is a lot more than those two sentences, you should read the whole series). What makes that even easier to agree is that I don't think that baptism is something that should define a local congregation, nor do I think it is something that is even a function of the local congregation necessarily. If someone chooses to dribble water on a baby, that is their business. We can always properly baptize the child later! Having said that, I would say that sinful behavior is a Gospel issue. I will come back to that.
On the other hand, we have Greg Gilbert writing at the 9 Marks Ministries blog Church Matters. Greg wrote a blog post called Don't Comprise on This and in what appears to be a contrast with Eric, Greg says that some issues like gender roles are a hill to die on. Indeed for the health of the church, you not only can but must separate over this issue.
To put a very fine point on it, to compromise in this case is to lose your church. That's because the question of the roles of men and women in the church is fundamentally a question of Scripture's authority. And if you decide that obeying those parts of Scripture in your church's practice is not worth dividing over---or if you call a pastor who thinks that---then you've really taken out all the stops between your church and full-blown theological liberalism. You've allowed your church's practice to be determined by those who would deny Scripture's authority, and history shows us that once you deny Scripture in one area, other areas quickly follow.
I must say that I agree with Greg at least as far as the facts (I would likely disagree with Greg on his view of the church). Denominationally speaking, the ordaining of women in leadership roles in the church, specifically pastoral roles, has almost always been a precursor to general theological anarchy. Once you reject restrictions on women in ministry, it becomes pretty hard to restrict it from anyone including homosexuals (see my post on this issue here). You need to look no further than the so-called mainstream Protestant denominations. Virtually all of them have embraced women in pastoral ministry and they are all on a downward slide: the Episcopal church, the United Methodist church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church. If they have not embraced open, unrepentant homosexuals yet they are at least having conversations about it. I draw the line back to an issue of authority and once you start carving out the parts you don't like, it is hard to keep it all together. I am not suggesting that every Christian fellowship that allows women to teach or be elders is invariably going to embrace homosexuality but I do think it is hard to be consistent if you say "this" applies and "that" does not.
Here is the difference in my mind. I don't consider infant baptism to be a sin. I think it is wrongly applying baptism without command or example, but I also recognize that there is not a Biblical prohibition against infant baptism. There is an utter lack of evidence to support infant baptism but no express prohibitions against it (possibly because it wasn't practiced so there was no need to speak of it). So infant baptism in and of itself is not a sin. Believing adults who refuse to be baptized Biblically later might be but that is a different issue. On the other hand, although some disagree with me quite strongly, I believe that the Bible speaks very clearly of gender roles in the church and that rejecting those roles is an act of sinful rebellion. I could fellowship with people who baptize infants. I cannot fellowship where women are teaching and exerting authority over men.
For example. If a group of believers in the local assembly decided to drink a fifth of Jack Daniels during the fellowship time and get stone drunk, that would be an issue of discipline. But what if the ones involved were elders in the body? Should you stay in fellowship? I would assume no one would say yes. That seems an extreme example, but we must be careful not to set aside sin in order to foster unity. Ignoring sin for the sake of unity is not what Christ had in mind. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5: 11 that we should not be in fellowship with those who bear the name of brother if they exhibit sinful behavior. In cases where there is a rebellion against the teaching of Scripture I would argue that fellowship is not possible. I firmly believe that women teaching and having authority over men is a sinful practice and an usurpation of roles restricted to male believers and as such I would consider fellowshipping under a woman teaching to be participation in her sin. That is something I simply cannot do.
(As a side note, I wonder what my brothers who are paedobaptist would do with this. If you believe that the Bible commands us to baptize the infant children of believers, do you think parents who don’t are in sin? If so, should you be in fellowship with them? If not, why not?)