Friday, August 17, 2007

Baptism and Church Membership - Would RC Sproul Be Permitted to Receive Communion at Capitol Hill Baptist Church?

If I understand this quote correctly from the recently released “Believer’s Baptism” (edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright), Mark Dever creates a category for allowing temporary full fellowship in his Baptist church with a paedobaptist brother or sister:

“Questions of visitors coming occasionally to the table may be separated from the question of Christians regularly coming as members under the care and guidance of that particular congregation. Such occasional communion may be considered as similar to occasional pulpit fellowship, or other kinds of Christian cooperation between congregations that may not agree on secondary matters but that would agree on the primary issue of the gospel. On the issue of pulpit fellowship with those who have not been baptized as believers, see Dagg, Church Order, 286—298. Dagg concluded that it was not inconsistent for a Baptist congregation to allow someone to preach to it and yet for the congregation to deny that same paedobaptist minister membership in their Baptist congregation.”

Mark Dever, “Baptism in the Context of the Local Church” from “Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ” footnote 16. p. 341.

I can see both the wisdom and the Christian charity in this and appreciate that it is one way of dealing with the question of how to treat our paedobaptist brothers and sisters when we worship God together.


  1. Everyone agrees that baptism is a pre-requisite for the Lord's Supper. The issue then becomes "is MY baptism valid New Testament baptism?" The Table is hardly the place for the debate and it is such a crucially important means of grace and we are given such stern warnings about its abuse that relate to the unity of the church, that at our church we have chosen to hedge the Table with an invitation and a warning. I read a statement that explains that the NT order of events is conversion, baptism, fellowship in a church and then the Lord's Supper. Then I say that if people are truly trusting Christ alone and believe that their baptism is the baptism taught in the Bible and they are in good fellowship in a church, they are welcome to join us at the Table. I mention that if they do not know Christ or they know that their baptism is not what the Bible teaches or they have unresolved issues with other believers, then they should not participate. Not a perfect solution but it tells people that the crucial issue is conversion while not diminishing baptism and church membership and the crucial, yet often overlooked element of the unity of believers.

  2. Kenny,

    The problem is that you would never do the same with church membership.
    You explain that the NT order of events is conversion, baptism, fellowship in a church and then the Lord's Supper. However, (judging from an earlier post)you would never say to a paedobaptist "As long as you are truly trusting Christ alone and believe that your baptism is the baptism taught in the Bible," you may join this church.
    Baptism is a prerequisite, and we don't leave it up to a person's conscience to determine what constitutes baptism. Baptism is immersion. And if baptism is a prerequisite for membership and communion, then immersion is a prerequiste for the same.

  3. David,
    You are right. I wouldn't say that. And that may be inconsistent. But I believe that the Lord's Supper is more than mere symbol and I would have a lot greater difficulty denying the Table to a convicted paedo- baptist than I would to deny him membership. Closed communion for members only is the alternative and I am not ready to go there yet. But I do appreciate your point.It is a good one. Consistency is a rare jewel and I have never been much one for wearing jewelry anyway.

  4. And yet most of us paedo baptists would allow you to both the table and membership--you are adding conditions that don't exist in the Bible. Of course I can say this from my Prebyterian presuppositions--while your Baptist presuppositions say otherwise.

  5. Kenny,

    Why is closed communion the only alternative? What is wrong with allowing all who are qualified according to the position that I have outlined above (some call it close communion, others call it strict)?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Although we need to be careful that we don't get Kerux off the hook by shifting the discussion away from open membership!!

    I believe that open communion leads inexorably to open membership (that which is given up to believe the former leaves you with nothing with which to oppose the latter). Given that open communion is prevalent in the USA and Canada, it is not surprising to me open membership is a hot issue these days.

  7. Pilgrim,

    Paedo-baptist don't wrestle with this the same way we do because they recognize the legitimacy of believers baptism. Since both baptisms are seen as legitimate the controversy is non-existent.

    I would argue that we are not adding unbiblical conditions. The question "can unbaptized believers take communion" would not make any sense to a New Testament Christian. There was no such thing. The question "can an unimmersed believer ..." wouldn't make any sense either, for the same reason. The question "can Christians from other churches receive communion" I think would get a "yes" from them because of the unity we see between Christians in the N.T.

  8. I understand your point, but the problem here is that a Christian who was baptized as an infant would be considered by many Baptists to be "unbaptized". Now here's the deal--I was baptized as a baby in the Roman Catholic Church. Upon converting as an adult I was eventually rebpatized-partly due to starting to understand Covenant Theology & having a concern that the RC baptism was baptizing me into something other than the Church.

    So by the standards above I would be a "baptized Christian, but others I know would not be considered such--although I regard them as brothers & sisters in the Lord--these you would withhold communion from. I see that as adding conditions.

    I recently came across this writing by John Owen--which I find quite helpful in these matters-

  9. Pilgrim,

    Its not a matter of "adding conditions," its a matter of consistently applying existing conditions. If baptism is a prerequisite for the Lord's Supper (and virtually everyone agrees that it is), then people who have not been baptized are not eligible. Baptists believe that people who only got wet as babies have not been baptized by any biblical definition. Therefore, they are not eligible to take the Lord's Supper.

    According to Baptists, Scripture clearly teaches that you did not get baptized when you got sprinkled as a baby in a R.C. church, nor did your friends get baptized when they got sprinkled in their Presbyterian churches. When you became a believer, you were not "re-baptized," you were baptized for the first time.

    Again, this is not adding something. It is simply being consistent with our view that baptism is the immersion of believers and anything less is invalid (in my opinion, for membership and the Lord's Supper). I don't want to speak for Kenny.

  10. And that is why in my first comment I noted that I am coming at this with paedobaptist presuppositions and other from credobaptist presuppositions.
    So we will arrive at different positions, and from where I view it the Baptist view presneted here does add conditions--I understand why you say it doesn't, but there we disagree. Fortunately this isn't a debate on essentials--but sometimes people will go to an illogical extreme and think it is an essential (I've seen this done b those on both sides of the issue at hand.)

    (As for my adult baptism--I wouldn't have done so if I felt my RC baptism was valid--but I did state why I felt it was not valid--because I wasn't baptized into the right covenant. It wasn't the true gospel behind it. Not because I was a baby and had no say in the matter.

    In that fashion I would support someone who wishes to be rebaptized, but if it was in a Presbyterian or Reformed church--even if it's one that has gone apostate--as some have--I would hold the baptism as valid--as I'm not a Donatist.)

    Still some things to think about certainly.

    I am in the process of verifying some John Bunyan quotes on this issue (as well as checking out the context.) I found what I've read quoted by Bunyan in another book quite enlightening to this issue--and it seems to be in the same vein as the Owen ones I mentioned before.

  11. Thanks for the enlightening discussion, fellas. I am just now back from a week at Carey Conference just so you know I was not hiding in the reeds!
    That said, I have one week of work to catch up on and will probably not be able to comment here for a few more days. JFYI.

  12. R.C. Sproul is such a powerful preacher, cool guy and has taught me so much that I think he should receive a special dispensation and get the privilege of membership at CHBC.

  13. Sorry if I'm getting here too late, and if this sounds naive, but why is it that you would say water baptism is a prerequisite for the Lord's Supper? I've never even heard that. It's been my understanding that the true "baptism" (or immersion, if you like) that water baptism points to, is BY the Spirit INTO Jesus. If that hasn't happened, the Lord's Supper would be pointless. But water baptism?

  14. Hey, maybe I should have read the previous post previously, eh? That would have shed some light on why. I don't think I'd agree with it, but I now know where the idea comes from.
    *Blushing a little*