In my last post I tried to state as clearly as possible my understanding of the position held by those who believe we should continue to require Christians from other denominations to be re-baptized when they join Richmond’s First Baptist Church. It wasn’t my position, but only my understanding of that other position. As Stephen Covey has suggested: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”
So now, in an effort to be understood, I’d like to state my position:
Those who say that believer’s baptism by immersion is the New Testament model are absolutely right, but the New Testament tells the story of people who were hearing about Jesus for the first time. That crowd on the Day of Pentecost, for example, had never been given an opportunity to profess their faith and be baptized. When they were, they jumped at the chance. Some 3,000 were added to the church. As the gospel swept across the ancient world it was good news in the most literal sense: it was good and it was news. So, what do you do when someone repents and believes in the gospel? You baptize them, and that’s exactly what you ought to do with converts.
But that’s not what you ought to do with Christians.
If I were trying to invent a way of welcoming converts into the church, I think I would do it in just the way we do it now, and for all the same reasons given in my last post: I would want to stand waist deep in the water with that new believer, just as John stood in the Jordan with Jesus; I would ask her to profess her faith in Christ by saying “Jesus is Lord,” and to do it in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear; I would dip her down beneath the surface in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus commanded; and I would raise her up to her new life in Christ as if she were rising from the dead, just as Paul describes. I think believer’s baptism by immersion is the perfect way to welcome converts into the church of Jesus Christ.
But if I were inventing a way of welcoming Christians into the church I might simply ask that person coming down the aisle: Are you a believer? Yes. Have you received baptism in some form? Yes. Have you made a public profession of faith in Christ? Yes. And do you earnestly seek to follow Jesus? Yes. Then welcome to First Baptist Church!
And then maybe we could toss confetti from the balcony.
I say this because I don’t believe we should treat Christians in the same way we treat converts. There is a difference–a real difference–between someone who is making a first-time profession of faith in Christ and someone who has been a faithful Christian for years. Our membership requirements should reflect that. To those who fear we would be leaving behind the clear teaching of Scripture on this matter I say no, we would not. There is no clear teaching of Scripture on what to do when a Christian from another denomination wants to join the church. There is only clear teaching on what to do when someone becomes a Christian for the first time. When it comes to that we Baptists try to be as faithful to the New Testament model as possible. We baptize believers by immersion. That’s the way we’ve been doing it for the past 230 years at Richmond’s First Baptist Church and that is the way we will continue to do it.
In other churches they make disciples in other ways. I’ve written about this in previous posts, and talked about how Presbyterians, for example, make disciples by baptizing babies, doing everything they can to bring them up in the Christian faith, and then, when they are old enough to make up their own minds about Jesus, confirming them as believers. We make disciples by dedicating babies, doing everything we can to bring them up in the Christian faith, and then, when they are old enough to make up their own minds about Jesus, baptizing them as believers. Unless we are willing to say (out loud) that that process of discipleship is not valid, and those churches are not churches, and those people are not Christians, we ought to welcome them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps we could even feel honored that of all the churches they might have chosen, they have chosen this one. What I hear from them over and over again is what a warm welcome they have received here, how much they sense the spirit of Christ among us, and how eager they are to be part of this church. You might think we would throw open the doors to people like that instead of going down a checklist of Christian credentials and furrowing our brows when we discover they weren’t baptized in the same way we were.
I told someone recently that when we stand before Jesus he won’t ask us how much water was used or when it was applied. He will only ask us what he asked Peter that day by the seashore:
“Do you love me?”