Been There, Done That?

We shouldn’t be surprised that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the issue of baptism and church membership at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Whole books of the New Testament were written to persuade people that Gentiles as well as Jews could be Christian, that keeping the Law of Moses was not essential to salvation, and that you didn’t have to be circumcised to join the church.  This conversation is no different.  In fact, take another look at this passage from Acts 15, where the church is wrestling with the question of whether Gentiles who wish to join the church must be circumcised.  Substitute “Deacons” for the apostles and elders, “Christians from other denominations” for Gentiles, and “believer’s baptism by immersion” for circumcision, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what our deacons have been dealing with for the past year or so.

The Council at Jerusalem

 1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

 5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

 6The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

 12The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
 16” ‘After this I will return
      and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
   Its ruins I will rebuild,
      and I will restore it,
 17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
      and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
   says the Lord, who does these things’
    18that have been known for ages.

 19“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (NIV).

It’s interesting to compare Paul’s version of this account in Galatians 2:1-10 with the version Luke has given us here in Acts 15.  For Paul, who had been preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, and who had seen for himself what wonderful Christians they could become (with Titus as “Exhibit A”), the idea of asking them to be circumcised in accordance with the law of Moses was hugely offensive.  In Romans 2:29 he asserts that now that Christ has come the only kind of circumcision that matters is “circumcision of the heart.” 

I wonder what Peter, Paul, and James would say to us on this issue.  Would they require Christians from other denominations to get into the baptistry?  Or would they say, as Peter did, “No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).

7 thoughts on “Been There, Done That?

  1. I wander…..For the past 35 days I have had a “new to me” job as Mason at Smithsonian Castle on the Mall in Washington D.C. I was selected from over one thousand applicants. I wander….the other craftsman in the Castle have welcomed me and been very helpful in me finding my way in a new organization. The masonry part of the job is the same as always……we still lay brick the same as the Egyptions did-one at a time:) Here is my point, by Grace we are accepted. It is time we all got along:):):):)

  2. Pondering this excellent, ongoing discussion, the only other thing I might respectfully add is that the time has probably come for First Baptist to start a congregation wide examination of what is meant by the concept of Baptist “Ordinances”, what is meant by the concept of “Sacraments” held by some other denominations and any similarities and any differences between the two. It would probably be wise to bring in some speakers who are authorities on these matters – Baptist and from other denominations – to discuss these matters. Discussion could be entered into about how to reconcile the concept of Baptist “Ordinances” with the concept of “Sacraments” practiced by other denominations as needed. To use spring time gardening, image, I feel that this has the potential of being very “gound breaking” work which could lead to a new “flowering” of the church, so to speak. Marshall prays “Our Lord and God, please bless and guide First Baptist in these discussions and use them in Your service! Through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN!”

  3. Jim,
    I want to affirm you on your stand about Baptism to join First Baptist Church. Thank you.
    Broaddus Massey

  4. Dr. Buckles:

    I cannot agree more. This life-long member of the SBC has a Baptist, Methodist & Episcopalian heritage, therefore I know the differences between Sacraments & Ordinances, but many others do not know. Because of conversion to Catholicism, I’m the only Southern Baptist left in this generation of my family. This exposure to the Catholic church has given me insight and understanding into the concept of sacramentalism.

  5. So what about all of those who have come forward in the past and been baptized? Did you verify and confirm that they actually believed before baptizing them? Maybe they were coming foward to be baptized because they were being pressured by parents. Maybe they wanted to be baptized because everyone was doing it and it seemed like the cool thing to do. Maybe they wanted to check it off their list as the right and proper thing to do. Maybe they only had head knowledge with no heart knowledge of Jesus as their Lord. Did you just take their word for it? How do you know they actually repented and believed before you baptized them? I dare say that many of these who come from other denominations who were “confirmed” are more committed to Jesus Christ than some who have passed through our own baptistry.

  6. Kind note to Mark: Thank you for your kind flattery, however, I am afraid that the only “Dr”. I have is when I drink a Diet Dr. Pepper, ha, ha! Jim is the real deal “Doctor” around here! ;> To Jim, Marshall says, chomping on a carrot like Buggs Bunny, “Eh, What’s UP, DOC!” ;> Anyway, as to what Stephanie asked above, as a layperson who, like Mark, has Baptist and other background as well, including a twin brother who is a Roman Catholic, I, too, have been aware of a wide variety of baptism preparation in various churches. I know of one church, in the Richmond region, in which if one comes up on Sunday and says “I believe”, that person is going into the baptistry like right NOW, without further discussion. They’ll work out the details later, I guess. At the other end of the “baptismal preparation spectrum”, some churches will take weeks to months of classes and activities before the baptism takes place. I’ve also known of some people who have a fervent, “spiritual fire” faith ready to join the church then go out on mission like the Apostles, and, at the other extreme, I have known of some people who just about had to be “dragged, kicking and screaming” to baptism and, afterwards, tended to be kind of surly about it. We can only assume, for the most part, that only the Lord knows for sure whether or not one has an actual faith in Him. It probably is a good idea to at least briefly sit down with baptismal candidates, to present the basics of faith to them, as well as to someone coming from another denomination for membership, just to make sure that they actually have some basic idea of what they are doing, just in the off chance they might not, and then prayerfully leave the rest to the Lord. Making available a more in depth course, for those who would prefer that, would also be an excellent idea, in my humble opinion.

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