Monday, August 10, 2009

A call for unity and a call for disunity

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?)

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Steve Martin said...

The Bible does not tell us to baptize the infant children of believers.

It tells us to baptize ALL PEOPLE (ponta ethnae).

Jesus said, "let the children come to me and do not hinder them."

If someone wants to wait for their children to come to some sort of age of accountability (whatever that is), or until they make some sort of decision for Christ...that is their business. That is not biblical...but that is their business.

We baptize infants because we believe that it is pleasing to God and that God actually gives something in baptism (since He commanded that we do it) and since many verses of scripture say that He does.

Anonymous said...

Arthur, I am paedo who is formerly a credo. I did not read the article. Too little time today. But I do think that way too much digital ink is spilled by paedos and credos accusing the other of being unbiblical. I agree that baptismal mode and time is not something to break fellowship over. There are good biblical arguments on both sides of the debate. And the fact that after these thousands of years we are still differing over it is testament to the fact that it is not quite as clear as both sides might believe.

There is so much more we can unite over and strive together on to waste so much time arguing over baptism.

As to your last part, "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?)"

Presbyterians believe that God commands the "sign" to be placed on professors and their children. Of course we read covenant continuity into that. We should never say that the bible commands us to baptize our children, because it does not say that explicitly.

I do not think a parent's refusal to place the sign on their children is something that should lead to discipline in the formal sense of excommunication. Rather, I advocate gentle persuasion and teaching, even long term, to counsel the parents. Ultimately, though, no formal discipline. Heck, most Christian ministers cannot even agree on these things!



steve s said...

Could you give us a reference for where the Bible tells us to baptize all people please, Steve.

Glenn Leatherman said...


Is it not healthy to seperate over Second order Doctrinal diffrences (ones that effect ecclesology, Philosophy of minsitry) of which baptism is one, while maintining fellowship with those brothers we disagree with outside the local church (i.e. "Together for the Gospel)?

I believe one could biblically support this statement: "The point is that we don't stop fellowshipping over third order doctrinal differences." But since baptism is a second order doctrine, then that statement would not apply. I would love to here reasons why ones view of baptism does not affect ecclesology.

I would definitely push back agains this statement: "I don't consider infant baptism to be a sin." Is not wrong belief sin? Scripture seems to say that all false believe is sin. Charles Spurgeon expressed this very idea when he said that if "infant baptism is true then I sin everything I don't baptize an infant; and if Believers baptism is true, those that baptize infants sin each time they practice infant baptism."

Dr. albert Mohler has written a great article called A Case for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity which I think has help me develop my biblical understanding of unity while standing for what it true.

Arthur Sido said...


I am familiar with Dr. Mohler's theological triage and have referenced it in several blog posts. Eric specifically addresses the idea of second level doctrinal issues in his series.

Arthur Sido said...


That was kind of my point. I am studously avoiding calling infant baptism unbiblical. I prefer extra-Biblical because as you point out it is not mentioned in the Bible explicitly. My overarching point is that while baptism is important and deserves discussion, it is not an issue to divide over.

You should read Eric's series when you get the time.

Anonymous said...

Yes, even though I had not read it, I knew where you were going with it. I do plan to read it.

Glenn Leatherman said...

I think that assuming that second order Doctrines are not biblical is a mistake and actually hurts the promotion of unity by not giving a category to make distinctions between essentials and orthodoxy or between essentials and ecclesastical necessary doctrines.

Baptism is not a stand alone doctrine but is tied to either "Regenerate Church Membership" for Baptists or Single Covenantalistic understanding of church membership for those who baptize infants.

Arthur Sido said...


Since I don't believe in formal church membership of any sort, that isn't a problem for me!

I think we need to be very careful in what we call a sin among brothers. Wrong belief and wrong practice are one thing, but calling them a sin is something we should be careful about. If you click on the tags for baptism at the bottom of the post, you will see a whole litany of posts on baptism including some pretty heated discussions with paedobaptists. I am with you on the proper recipients of baptism, but I don't think we have a mandate from Scripture to separate over the issue (a stance I have modified fairly recently)

Did you read Eric's arguments regarding second order doctrines?

Steve Martin said...

Steve S.

Sure. Matthew 28

"Go and make disciples of all nations (ponta ethnae in the greek - all people)baptizing them and teaching them..."

How do you make disciples? Baptize and teach.

Notice the order in the command...baptizing comes before teaching.

Steve Martin said...

Steve S.,

Also in Acts 2:38,39 the text says "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children..."

Adults and children seems to cover everyone.

Thanks, Steve.

Arthur Sido said...

Steve M.

Acts 2:39 says "repent and baptized" It also says that the promise is for you, your children and those that are far off. Do people fall under the covenant based on their distance from Jerusalem? Repentance always precedes baptism.

Arthur Sido said...

And Matthews 28 says:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mat 28:19-20)

We make disciples by preaching the Gospel to them. One cannot be a disciple before conversion. They are then baptized and taught all of His commandments.

I don't see that Matthew 28 or Acts 2 calls for baptism preceding repentance.

Steve Scott said...

(Not the Steve S from above)

Arthur asks:
" you think parents who don’t are in sin?"

Well, we both know what Clark and Dever think. ;)

Les wrote:
"Of course we read covenant continuity into that. We should never say that the bible commands us to baptize our children, because it does not say that explicitly."

Thank you, Les, for pointing that out. I've heard many a paedo-baptist claim the command. Baptizing infants is based upon the idea of covenant. But so it is for credo baptism.

I like Eric's post. A reader of my blog says that his church practices both views, and another just wrote me to say he belonged to a denomination that did whichever practice the parents desired.

Steve Martin said...

Is repentence something that WE DO?

Repentance is turning from unbelief to belief.

Only God can make that happen, He tells us to believe and BE BAPTIZED.

Passive. The Lord our God does the baptizing and also leads us to repentance.

That is why 1st Peter speaks of baptism saving you, as the water of the flood saved Noah and family.

"You, you children and those who are far off" means...everyone.

Steve Martin said...

A portion of a blog post from my friend Bror Erickson (a Lutheran pastor in Toole, UT (there might be somthing here that you can identify with):

"In Acts 2:38-39 the voice of Peter utters the command of Christ, repent and be baptized. The two go hand in hand to repent is to be baptized, to be baptized is to repent. No one repentant soul that day would have refused to be baptized. It would have shown un repentance. Besides who doesn’t want the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is offered to you and your children, and those far off. But not only does Jesus tell us to be baptized, he tells us to baptize. Matthew 28:18-19. He tells us to baptize all nations, which necessarily would included infants if not otherwise excluded, as one is a citizen of a nation upon birth.
However it is maintained by many that infants, and often children in general aren’t ready for baptism. I fail to see why. Christ seems to think it is adults who are not ready for the kingdom of God. “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [15] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:14-15 (ESV) And yet we learn that one cannot see the kingdom of God, unless they are “born again,” and in order to be born again one must be born of water and of the Spirit. John 3:3-5. Here I believe Jesus is referencing Ezekiel 36: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV) And hinting to the fulfillment of this prophecy in His Baptism, where he baptizes us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The disciples performed this baptism with water. (Acts 8:38; 10:47) In this baptism He places on our head, the Father’s name, the Son’s name, and the Name of the Holy Spirit. That is we are given all three. In baptism Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, the source of our sanctification. In baptism he gives us the kingdom of God, which belongs to such as little children, whom He dearly loves."

steve s said...

Hmmmm....I'm assuming then, Steve, that you are of the opinion that the Lord's instruction was two-fold rather than three....Baptize and teach, thus 'making' them disciples as opposed to MAKE DISCIPLES, baptize and teach.
Is this baptismal regeneration?


Steve Martin said...

Steve S.,

I believe that the Lord wanted us to make disciples.


Baptizing and teaching.

He is the active participant in both those things.

He is the One who actually does the baptizing. And He is the One actually doing the teaching (the enlightening).

He told us that He would be with us unto the end of the age.

He never commanded us to do anything where he would not be there, in it, for us and with us.

This view take the onus off of us and puts it where it belongs...on Him. (I believe)

Steve Martin said...

Please listen to this and give me your critique.

Most of it pertains to infant baptism.

I don't expect you to agree with it, but there may be some points that you have not heard before.

Thanks a lot!

steve s said...

Thanks. So I guess your answer is 'yes'.
Please don't think me facetious but I've always wanted to ask. I'm sure you get asked this often. Believing, as you do, that all baptized people are saved, and that the Gospel means something, why are you not all working in delivery rooms and secretly baptizing newborns?

Steve Martin said...

Steve S.,

I never said, nor do I believe that all baptized people are saved.

God can work apart from baptism, and He can also work in baptism.

The command was baptize and teach. The order is baptism, then teaching.

He commanded that we do it (baptize).

There must have been a very good reason for Him to command us to baptize, since our Lord was not into empty religious ritual.

steve s said...

I'm sorry steve.
The website to which you referred me said that. Under We Confess. What is the Church.
I assumed it was your position too.
I apologise for the misunderstanding.

Steve Martin said...

Steve S.,

No problem at all, Steve.

The Lutheran position is that God has chosen to act for us in baptism. People can be saved apart from baptism, and people can walk away from their baptisms. How can we tell? We really don't know, other than people's confession of faith. Even then, only the Lord knows the heart.

Thanks, my friend!