Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Red Herring in the Baptism / Membership Debate

The interesting debate concerning whether or not a Baptist church should allow into membership convinced paedobaptists is heating up again.

It began with Wayne Grudem’s new edition of his systematic theology, wherein (as nicely highlighted by JT) Grudem reverses from his previous position. Now he argues that unity in a local congregation between paedobaptists and credobaptists is not wise or really possible.

John Piper weighed in almost immediately pointing out some disagreements and Grudem replied with a defense of his reversal.

Not to be outdone, Mark Dever stirred the pot a little more with his post that supports Grudem’s side from a congregational/Baptist model. Although Mark did write while on vacation and I think he can offer more.

As for me, it seems that the Grudem/Dever side (or maybe we should just call it the “non-Piper side” since Piper seems to be standing quite alone on this matter!) always comes back to the same argument. In an over-simplified form, it states: “If we let paedobaptists become members, they will eventually take over the theology of the local congregation and pull them away from their Baptist distinctives.”

You know, this may be true.

Or it may not.

But consider this.

How many local churches remain steadfast to the Gospel for more than one or two generations? Honestly, there are very few. And that problem is created by a lack of indoctrinating and “entrusting to faithful men” more than anything else! To suggest that barring paedobaptists from membership will “preserve” the local Baptist church is a red herring and needs to be removed from the discussion.

For my part, I would much rather see our church fellowship with a godly, Calvinistic, theologically-robust, Gospel-driven, Christ-centered, sanctified Paedobaptist congregation any day... than sidle up to a worldly, atheological, man-centered Baptist “church.” And I think most of the “non-Piper side” would agree with me – hence, Together for the Gospel.

I wonder if part of what drives the non-Piper side is fear - the fear of losing people or losing an entire church in years to come? If that is the case, then we need to apply our robust theology to the matter. One: God has determined the future in its entirety and no matter what steps I take now, I will be a complete failure at managing from the grave. Two: If I am faithful, like the Apostle Paul, to train and equip the next generation of leaders (which includes a whole lot of teaching on the meaning and nature of credo- baptism...) then I have fulfilled my ministry.


  1. Kerux,

    You're right to want to remove red herrings from the argument. However, you also need to remove the false dichotomies - as in:

    I would much rather see our church fellowship with a godly, Calvinistic, theologically-robust, Gospel-driven, Christ-centered, sanctified Paedobaptist congregation any day... than sidle up to a worldly, atheological, man-centered Baptist “church.”

  2. Dave -
    I agree! Just help my puny brain figure out exactly what you mean. Do you mean this statement is unrelated to the overall argument? Because on re-reading my post I can certainly see that.
    But it is an honest question. I never took a logic class in college or seminary and depend on guys much smarter than me to show me my fallacies!

  3. Yes, I think it is unrelated to the argument (what does fellowshiping at a T4G conference have to do with local church membership), but even if it was, it is a false dichotomy. You are pretending to be forced into making a choice between two options, when there are many other options available. Like fellowshiping with a godly, Calvinistic, theologically robust, Gospel-driven, Christ centered, Baptist church.

    But you're right. The bigger problem is that what you argue here does not appear to have anything to do with the overall argument at hand. Ironically, then, it is a red herring in a post that is decrying red herrings.

    Lets get to the real issue: Could a convinced paedobaptist become a member at GFCTO?

  4. Well, now you are adding to your list of faults in my post!

    1. I still think that my red herring stands. Saying that the future is compromised by the inclusion of paedobaptists in a baptist church now misses the point. To state it the other way - barring paedobaptists from membership in a baptist church now does not preserve that Baptist church or its distinctives. Only faithful ministry of the Word in pulpit and pastorally will prepare the next generation... and even then such faithful ministry is not a "guarantee."

    2. I think the T4G statement is relevant in that all the participants are willing to have fellowship at one level. I am trying to discern what the fundamental theological / Biblical reason is for them to not fellowship at a local church level. And I think my proposed red herring detracts from getting at that.

    3. No. To be a member at my favourite church in the world, you must be baptized by immersion.

    Back to you, Dave! :-)

  5. Is that one thing you would like to change about your favourite church? It seems like you are agreeing with Piper?

  6. It seems as if you are arguing that since a local church cannot control her future doctrinal fidelity (apart from faithful teaching), we should not be afraid to admit people with aberrant theological views. Am I missing something?

  7. "The one thing I would change about my favourite church?" The answer to that question is simple - ME! Would that GFC had a more godly, more disciplined, more studious, more pastoral, more patient, more wise, more deliberate pastor than they currently possess!

    “...we should not be afraid to admit people with aberrant theological views?” Well, I think your question is misleading. Of course we are not going to admit to membership, for instance, one of the Mormon young men I frequently evangelize (until the Lord saves them). What Piper et. al. are discussing is really the “tightness of the doctrinal circle” that encompasses membership in a local church. None of the players in this debate (including me!) are suggesting someone who does not profess membership in the “invisible church” should be considered for membership in the local church.

    Some have indeed argued that opening the door to paedobaptists is a slippery slope to all kinds of aberrant theological views (or atleast to having to allow persons of different theology into the membership). But I think this argument is really quite irrelevant, too. But I shall save me reasons for that for a full-blown post!

  8. Perhaps I've been confusing. Let me rephrase my question.

    Is it unreasonable to think that welcoming pedobaptists (who hold an aberrant theological view of baptism)into membership will adversely affect the doctrinal fidelity of a local congregation?

    Barring paedopbaptists from membership will surely not guarantee the future doctrinal fidelity of a local church. But this is no argument for welcoming them. Sure, God has determined the future of the church in its entirety, but this does not mean that we can be sloppy about who we admit.

  9. I see your point, but that takes me back to my inclusion of the "godly, Calvinistic, theologically-robust, Gospel-driven, Christ-centered, sanctified Paedobaptist congregation" quote.

    By comparison, I would prefer a "godly, Calvinistic, theologically-robust, Gospel-driven, Christ-centered, sanctified Paedobaptist" member over a "a worldly, atheological, man-centered Baptist" member.

    You may say you would rather not have either as members - and that is fine! And perhaps my comparison is misleading in its own right, but I tend to think of this question in pastoral terms.

    Should Christians who are "together in the Gospel" separate at the local church membership level? And if so, what are the Biblical / theological reasons for it?

  10. Sadly, they need to seperate. And the reason is simple. Baptism is a prerequisite for church membership and paedobaptists have not been baptized.

  11. Who is it that is "always coming back to the same argument"? Perhaps this is what you have seen in the meta or other blogs, but neither Grudem nor Dever used this argument, as far as I can tell. Both argue that baptism is a prerequisite for church membership and that a person "baptized" as an infant was never really baptized. Admitting such a believer must either 1) compromise the importance of baptism or 2) compromise the conviction of what constitutes genuine baptism. I don't see them arguing that paedobaptists will take over the theology of the congregation. Am I missing something?

  12. I apologize for interrupting a great discussion. I would just add two things (the first one unrelated to this post).

    1. I like the new profile picture. Wanna move to Alberta?
    2. I like your post. Wanna join the E. Free church?

  13. Dare I wade (pun intended) in on this?
    As a non-Piper (wow Paul. That label of yours reminds me of the pro-abortionists who call us anti-life. I am rather thrilled that there are some things on which I actually disagree with Piper) on this issue I freely admit that it is fear that stops me from admitting paedo-baptists into membership - fear of doing something I think God does not want me to do. I have done plenty in my time that led to losing lots of people (for some reason the women's issue comes to mind.)This non-Piper fears something much more than losing people over an issue and that is losing the smile of God upon this work. If I come to believe that God wants me to admit paedo-baptists I will do it. But right now it will take much stronger argumentation than Piper is offering.