On Sunday, September 19, the members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church voted to change their membership policy to allow committed Christians from other denominations to become full members of the church without having to be re-baptized. The meeting took place during the Sunday school hour. One amendment (requiring believer’s baptism but not immersion) was considered but not approved. 691 people voted on the main motion by secret ballot. 464 of those (67.15%) were in favor of the change, 221 (31.98%) were opposed, and 6 ballots could not be determined either way.
Senior Pastor Jim Somerville commented:
For Baptists, membership is a matter of local church autonomy. No pope, or bishop, or even the pastor gets to decide who can be a member of a local Baptist church. And although the deacons can make a recommendation, in the end it is the congregation that gets to decide.
Today the congregation of Richmond’s First Baptist Church did just that. The answer to the question of whether committed Christians from other denominations could become full members without having to be re-baptized was yes.
At the beginning of this process I expressed my hope that, no matter what the outcome, we would spend some time thinking deeply about what it means to be baptized and what it means to be a member. We have certainly done that. Now it is my hope that we will be the kind of members who can accept the outcome of this vote and go forward together. While a two-thirds majority is decisive, it is not a landslide. We were closer to the same mind on this matter than we knew. Now it is my hope that we can share the same heart, and get on with the crucial work of putting God’s love into action.
I am grateful for the spirit in which this decision was made, and for the remarkable body of believers that is Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I learned today that there are Baptists in the world who can disagree without being disagreeable—who can speak their mind, vote their conscience, and move on to more important things.
God bless them, every one.
—September 19, 2010