Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Do We Have to Get Re-Married?
My dear wife Susan Kathleen (Jones) and I were married July 25, 1992. She was beautiful then, both inside and out, but she is 140 times as beautiful 14 years later. For Jesus to be fairer than she is, He must be fair indeed, and worthy of much worship. God has blessed us with our precious children, sustained our marriage, and blessed us in a thousand other ways. We are very thankful.
There's one problem, though, which has just occurred to me now, on our anniversary. We were not married in a Baptist church, but at Pantego Bible Church in Arlington, Texas. To make matters worse, the wedding ceremony was conducted by Dr. Elliot Johnson, who is not a Baptist minister. In fact he is (do I dare say it?) an elder in a Bible church, and a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, which is not a Baptist seminary.
We are presently serving in a church here in the states. But what if we are ever led to apply for missionary service with the International Mission Board? Will we have to get re-married?
I ask this because last November, the IMB Board of Trustees passed a new policy indicating that if a candidate for missionary appointment had not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church, or one VERY similar, he should request “baptism” in his local Baptist church for identification with the system of beliefs held by Southern Baptists. Here is the quote:
a. Baptism is a church ordinance. Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.
In adopting this policy, the IMB BOT has created a new breed of hybrid. Their policy is two parts old Landmark ecclesiology, which states that only Baptist churches are real churches, only churches can baptize, and therefore a “baptism” ceremony performed by anyone else is not valid. Hence the need for “real” baptism before entering a Baptist church. Part a. and most of part b. of the new policy are pretty good Landmarkism. Most Southern Baptists, including this author, do not adhere to very much of the Landmark system, but at least the IMB policy is in line with someone's beliefs.
The third part, though, would be disavowed by good Landmark Baptists, and in fact by well-studied Baptists of every stripe. It conveys the idea that the missionary candidate has already been baptized for the biblical reason---to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ--- but now must be “baptized” again for another reason, to demonstrate that he believes what Southern Baptists believe. If that third part is not derived from Landmarkism, what is its origin? Sadly, it comes from the kind of careless, ignorant ecclesiology that has become all too common of late in our churches. The idea that the person who has already been baptized must be “baptized” again, or, as is commonly said, “re-baptized” to state his denominational affiliation is common among the uninitiated in our churches, but is to be found nowhere in the Bible, certainly, nor anywhere in serious theological scholarship.
(Pardon me a moment---cough, cough, cough---every time I hear the nonsense word “re-baptized” I begin to choke, cough, sneeze, wheeze, and hyperventilate all at the same time. Please give me a moment, and a paper bag. No, not a Wal-mart bag, son! Okay, thanks. Ah, that’s better.)
In all of the hubbub over abstinence from alcohol, church discipline, Calvinism, election of officers, requirements for church membership, and other matters that have consumed the Southern Baptist denomination over the past few weeks, we seem to have lost sight of what started the whole thing---it’s about Baptism!
We are Baptists! We know that baptism is one thing, and one thing only: Baptism is an act of obedience whereby the believer identifies with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Sure, more can be said about its significance, but that is the bottom line. Do not try to tell us that baptism is a ceremony that means whatever we say it means. Do not try to use baptism as a denominational loyalty pledge. God chose baptism precisely because it is a powerful picture of the heart of the Gospel. The believer is lowered into the water, as Jesus was lowered from the cross and into the tomb. The believer is then raised from the water, as Jesus was raised from the tomb to life! If the IMB BOT wants us to cheapen that God-given ordinance into something we do to identify ourselves as loyal Southern Baptists, they have another thing coming.
Susan and I do not intend to be re-married. We have already been married. We are already married.
Neither do I intend to be “re-baptized” (cough, cough, cough) for any reason, least of all to show that I am a good Southern Baptist.
The IMB BOT’s ridiculous policy must be repealed, and the trustees will see no end of opposition from well-versed Baptists until it is repealed.
Love in Christ,
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Mr. and Mrs. Sprinkled Prospect
Discussions about baptism and Baptist church membership always remind me of the time when the Prospect family visited our church. Mr. and Mrs. Prospect were in their 30s at the time, with two children, Buddy (5), and Leddy (14). The Prospects had been Presbyterians before moving to our community, but had not found a conservative Presbyterian church in our area. When Mr. Prospect’s cousin invited them, the Prospect family attended our Baptist church. They felt welcome, liked the music, appreciated the biblical preaching and Sunday School, and soon wanted to become members.
As the pastor/elder, I took their cousin Dennis Deacon along with me and visited with the family in their home. In asking a few questions, I learned the following:
-Mr. Sprinkled Prospect had been born into a family that did not attend church. As a teenager, he was invited to a Methodist church, believed the Gospel, and was sprinkled. He considered this sprinkling experience to be his baptism. After the Prospects married, he joined the Presbyterian church with his wife.
-Mrs. Christened Prospect had been born into a good Presbyterian family, and had been sprinkled as an infant. At age 10, she had understood and believed the Gospel. She considered her sprinkling as an infant to be her baptism.
-Miss Leddy Prospect had been sprinkled as an infant in the Presbyterian church. At age 6, she had attended Vacation Bible School at a Baptist church, where the pastor had told her, “If you want to have Jesus in your heart and go to heaven instead of hell, repeat this prayer after me.” After repeating the prayer, she was told, “Now you need to be baptized.” (Confused, but not wanting to hinder the child’s Christian experience, the parents had consented.) So, she had been immersed in the Baptist church. Later, as a 12-year-old girl, back in her Presbyterian church, she had understood and believed the Gospel. Although somewhat confused about salvation and baptism, Miss Leddy was pretty sure that she had been saved and baptized one way or another.
-Buddy Prospect had been sprinkled as an infant in the Presbyterian church. He liked going to church, and knew many of the Bible stories, but had not yet made a profession of faith in Jesus.
Mr. and Mrs. Prospect wanted to become members of our Baptist church.
After the Prospects had told me their story, Dennis spoke up and said, “They can’t join by transfer of letter, can they, because they’re not Baptists?” I said, “That’s right. Transfer of letter means that the sending church writes a letter to the receiving church testifying that the people are members in good standing. Then the church votes on whether or not to accept them as members. But Baptist churches exchange letters only with other Baptist churches.”
Dennis had been a Baptist long enough to know a bit of our jargon, so he said, “But they can join by statement, right?” I asked Dennis, “What does a person have to state to join our church by statement?” Dennis thought for a minute, and answered, “Well, I guess you have to state that you are saved.” I answered, “That’s the first part, yes, but there’s more. A person must state that he has been saved by faith in Jesus Christ, then baptized (by immersion). Then the church votes on whether or not to accept him as a member. But the Prospects have not been baptized (by immersion), so they cannot state that.”
At this point Mr. Prospect said, “I don’t understand all this. What does it mean to be baptized by immersion? We’ve all been baptized. Leddy has even been baptized in a Baptist church! We don’t need to be baptized; we just want to become members of your church.”
I then had the great joy of explaining to this family that baptism can only be done by immersion (dunking all the way under) of a believer in water. “You see, the Greek word baptizo means ‘to immerse.’ The Bible’s record of baptisms mentions going to a body of water, going down in it, and coming back up out of it. And the believer’s identification with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection cannot be symbolized by sprinkling, but only by immersion. Our Baptist forefathers believed this so strongly that many of them braved severe weather conditions and suffered persecution in order to baptize by immersion in water.”
When I had finished, I said, “This does pertain to church membership, but the primary issue at hand is obedience to Christ. He has commanded that every believer be baptized. Since baptism can only be by immersion of the believer, sprinkling is no baptism at all. Even Leddy’s immersion was not baptism, because she was not yet a believer at the time. Each of you has undergone a religious ceremony that you were told was baptism. But the ministers who told you this were mistaken. They offered you baptism, but instead provided experiences that were not baptism.”
Chaos reigned for the next few minutes. Questions, accusations, angry looks, and even a few tears flowed from the family members (except Buddy---issues of baptism did not seem important to him).
Eventually Dennis restored order and said to the Prospects, “It’s simple. You just have to be re-baptized to join the Baptist church. That’s what our last pastor used to do.”
That almost made me choke on my iced tea, but I managed to swallow, and said, “Dennis, we Baptists recognize that baptism can only be by immersion. Therefore no one who has merely been sprinkled can be ‘re-baptized,’ because he wasn’t really baptized in the first place. The word ‘re-baptized’ really shouldn’t be used, at least among Baptists. ‘Re-baptism’ simply doesn’t exist.”
Turning, I said, “Mr. and Mrs. Prospect, Miss Leddy, I am thankful for your testimony of faith in Christ, and for your desire to join our church. I truly do desire for you all to become members. But my primary concern at this point is your baptism. The Bible says, and we Baptists affirm that baptism can only be done by immersion of the believer in water, and therefore cannot be done any other way. Now that you have heard the truth about this, would you like to receive true baptism?”
To make a long story short (is it too late for that?), the Prospects did not become members of our church, and I took some heat over it. (If you were wishing for a happy ending to this story, believe me, so was I!)
Having believed in infant baptism for her whole life, Mrs. Christened Prospect could not accept that there was anything wrong with it. She said that since her whole family had already been baptized, there was no reason why the opinion of one person (me) should keep them out of membership.
Mr. Sprinkled Prospect read the scriptures I provided, and agreed that immersion was the “best” way to baptize. He even allowed that there might be something lacking about infant baptism, but still held that his sprinkling was his baptism. He was willing to undergo immersion, if he had to do so to join the Baptist church, but I was not willing to do it. I told him and the church that to do this would violate Mr. Prospect’s conscience and mine, would teach the church a false view of baptism, and would admit as a member a man who was not convinced of our church’s most distinctive Baptist belief. This offended Mr. Prospect and some members of my church, especially Dennis Deacon. He blamed me for the problem and, along with several other members, eventually quit the church in protest. I don’t really know what Miss Leddy Prospect thought about the whole thing, because we didn’t get to talk about it again. Buddy is a good-natured little boy, and we miss him in our church.
The Prospects, the Deacon family, and the other members who left our church are now attending Hillside Community Church. They seem to be doing fine, and we are able to exchange polite greetings when I see them at Fifth Sunday Singin’ or at Stuff Mart from time to time.
Most of the members who remained appreciated what I did, and now understand the Baptist position on baptism. (Even though they had worshipped under the name “Baptist” for years, they hadn’t thought much about it before.) I hope that with great patience and careful instruction on my part, in a few years we will have a truly Baptist church, that will faithfully follow our Lord’s command to baptize, and will provide all sprinkled prospects the opportunity to obey the Lord’s command to be baptized.
Love in Christ,
Earnest S. Baptist, Pastor/Elder
Typical Baptist Church
Permission is given to quote from this article, or to reprint it in its entirety for the edification of the church. Please credit the author, Jeff Richard Young of Corinth Baptist Church in Ravenna, Texas.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Are We Lying in the Name of Evangelism?
In several evangelistic sermons I have heard in Baptist churches, the preacher has said something like this:
Is this a lie? Let's see from the scriptures.
(Ephesians 1:4-6) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love (5) he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- (6) to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
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