I lead a group at FBC Meridian called 1st Steps. This ministry is designed to introduce new members and inquirers to issues important to beginning a membership relationship with our church. We talk about basic theology, church polity, and the way God shapes each of us for service. I love meeting with 1st Steps and hope that I help in some small way.

The 1st Steps group that is meeting now has men and women from five different confessional traditions. The groups represented are: Southern Baptist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Presbyterian (PCA), United Methodist, and Church of God (Anderson). Each person has added something to the healthy discussions. One of the main things we have talked about is baptism.

After many conversations and much reflection here are some of my thoughts about the issue.

Believer's baptism marks the new life in Christ.
I believe that baptism should occur after a person's conversion because it marks the new life given to us through the grace of God. G.R Beasley-Murray wrote in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, We are one with him in his dying, in his burial, in his rising. Because of this fundamental reality baptism marks (or should do so!) the beginning of life by the grace of the Redeemer (a new life!), and the beginning of life in his way (a new kind of living!). Romans 6 is very compelling to me.

FBC Meridian has made baptism by immersion a requirement for membership.
The bylaws of our congregation read:
Article I. Membership
Section I. Reception and Dismissal of Members
A. Individuals may be received into the membership of First Baptist Church by the following means:
1. Profession of Faith and Baptism. Individuals professing faith in Christ and requesting baptism.
2. Statement. Individuals having come into a Baptist church by profession of faith and baptism, but who are unable to provide a letter of dismissal from that church.
3. Letter. Individuals providing a letter of dismissal from another Baptist church.
4. Reception from another denomination. Individuals having made a profession of faith in Christ who have been baptized by immersion in other Christian churches may be received into the fellowship. Those who have not been immersed come as candidates for baptism.
Our church is a congregational church and the congregation has embraced baptism by immersion.

Our position is in keeping with the Baptist tradition of a converted and baptized membership.
William Wilson Stevens wrote of this tradition, There is some diversity of opinion as to the method of a statement of Christian experience from applicants for membership, and of course mistakes are sometimes made; but in the main, and to the extent of human knowledge, Baptist churches earnestly adhere to this as one of their fundamental principles, viz., a converted and baptized membership.

I have a new respect and appreciation for persons from paedobaptist traditions.
I have had some beautiful discussions with fellow Christians about infant baptism in the last couple of weeks. These brothers and sisters in Christ confessed their faith in Jesus with boldness and love him with all their hearts. I am encouraged by the way they wrestle with the issuse and appreciate their deep love for God.

The issue is hotter now than ever because we live in a post-denominational world.
Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology once presented a compromise approach to baptism and church membership based on the practice of the Evangelical Free Churches. These churches accept both modes of baptism and do not require baptism for membership in one of their churches. Grudem's theology has been influential in this generation. Wayne Grudem has changed his mind. This change has been challenged sharply by his friend John Piper. Piper is a Baptist pastor that accepts the compromise position. Watching their conversation from a distance illustrates the complexity of this issue and begs for humility.

We can worship, share life, and serve together if we don't share full membership in the same congregation.
I am convinced now more than ever that Chrisitans can share life together in deep ways without absolute agreement on every issue of doctrine. Doctrine is important and we should maintain our distinctives but the unity of the Spirit is not contingent on uniformity of thought. I feel a connection of eternal value with those in our 1st Steps group that don't currently share the same view of baptism I do. I pray that we can work together for the glory of Christ. I would like them to think like I do about baptism but if they don't I look forward to the ways we can partner for the gospel. I pray that the interaction has been good for all involved.


Perry McCall said...

Great post. We must not equate institutional unity and fellowship with spiritual unity. We must also encourage all believer's to live by conviction under scripture alone. All positions, interpretations, and opinions are not equal. A sincere belief does not make it a valid belief. It must be sustained by scripture. However, the best we can do on some issues is to narrow down the options of biblically vialble options and grant charity toward each others convictions. This must go both ways.

It sounds like a fun class:)

Matt Snowden said...



What do you make of the Grudem/Piper stuff? You know more about them than I do.

Perry McCall said...

I don't have enough time to get too deep but I would make two points. the first is that Piper's position of granting a level of liberty in baptism is related to Church membership and it is limited to the "Covenantal Infant Baptism" position. This of course does not include all "infant" baptisms. By the way, the elders and Church have not embraced this position. I believe Piper's most important example for contemporary Baptist life may be the living proof that a pastor can have a strong and significant pastoral and spiritual authority in his Church and yet, still refrain from autocratic rule.

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