Both Dr. Mohler and Justin Taylor have posted today on the direction John Piper has led Bethlehem Baptist Church on the issue of Baptism and Church Membership. Mohler mentions that some allege that Calvinism may lead Baptists away from believer’s baptism. Baptist history can help us here.
Tom Nettles (The Baptists, 138–42) describes how the “Father of Particular Baptists” (i.e., Calvinistic Baptists), William Kiffin (c. 1616–1701), engaged in controversy with John Bunyan over the latter’s move toward open church membership. Like Piper today, Bunyan wanted to allow non-baptized persons who could give sufficient evidence of having been born again to be members of his church. Nettles notes, “Consistent apostolic practice, according to Kiffin, is the same as biblical regulation. The apostles never admitted anyone to the breaking of bread without the initiatory ordinance of Baptism” (140). Nettles explains,
Although Bunyan did not accept infant baptism and taught that none but those whose faith was clearly articulated and experientially credible should be admitted to baptism, his practice of communion tended to render baptism itself unnecessary. . . . How strange, Kiffin contended, that the supposed loving practice of a Christian minister tends to the overthrow of the throne rights of the Sovereign. Christ commands baptism, but Bunyan says that it is but a minor thing and can be dispensed with. . . . That regeneration by the Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ far exceeds baptism in importance in no sense makes dispensable the divine command or the absolutely consistent apostolic practice of baptism (141–42).
It seems that William Kiffin’s response to John Bunyan speaks to both the situation at Bethlehem Baptist Church and to those who cite it as evidence that being Baptist is incompatible with being Reformed. One of Kiffin’s arguments was that Bunyan was violating the regulative principle (something usually only held by reformed people). Interestingly, one Presbyterian has recently written to defend the regulative principle against “the charge that consistency will make us all either exclusive psalm singers or Reformed Baptists!” (from Derek Thomas’s essay in Give Praise to God, 91). Such a statement gives the lie to any claim that being Baptist cannot be consistent with being Reformed. In fact, it is the Reformed who are not Baptist who are inconsistent. The early Baptists Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, and Benjamin Cox joined together in a writing project that argued this very point, saying to the paedobaptists, “But your Infant baptisme is a religious worship, for which there is no command, nor any example, written in the Scripture of truth; Ergo, your Infant baptisme is Will-worship, and unlawfull” (Nettles, The Baptists, 159, quoted from Benjamin Cox, Hanserd Knollys, and William Kiffin, A Declaration Concerning the Publike Dispute. . .Concerning Infants-Baptisme [London: published privately, 1645], 8.).
5 responses to “Baptism, Baptist History, and Church Membership”
Good post–I am linking to this (and other pertinent blogs on this issue) at my blog.
I used to be a Reformed Baptist, but no more. We disagree, but I think my understanding of Scripture and the Covenant of Grace is more consistent now. Particularly when we take the historical context of NT into account (lots of missions work => lots of credo baptism, just like Abraham in Paul’s discussion of circumcision in Romans 4).
The talk of the ‘unbaptized’ member is misleading, to me. Bunyan and Piper are not talking about people who haven’t been baptized, period. Rather they are talking about people who haven’t been baptized according to their understanding of baptism. They are willing to say that though this issue may be clear to them, it may not be crystal to others.
Not all conservative Presbyterian Churches I know of mandate that members practice infant baptism. We recognize that not all “get it” and display charity. It’s refreshing for me to hear some Baptists do likewise. We both hold our convictions- yet the timing of one’s baptism is NOT an essential doctrine, or this would be more clear to the side that misses the target.
This was one subject that you and I didn’t get to broach in our conversations last week. I’ll bet it would have been interesting. For the moment, I tend to lean toward Dr. Piper’s position on the issue. I gather from your post that you do not. Here are a couple of questions that might be interesting for you to post on. They are the issues that Pastor John has tried to make the main ones in the discussion at Bethlehem.
The resolution to allow paedobaptists to be members is primarily about the requirements for membership in the local church, and secondarily about baptism. The central issue for Piper in this discussion is “should the door to membership in the local church be roughly the same as that of membership in the body of Christ universal?” Obviously, the rub comes with the word “roughly.” Essentially, Piper is arguing that we should not exclude from membership those whom we regard as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
A second factor driving Piper in this direction is the fact that excluding someone from participation in the local church is a big deal. Because of the multiplicity of denominations and churches in this country, if we exclude someone whom we regard as regenerate from membership, we are able to comfort our conscience because there is a PCA church down the block. But should the fact that there is a church teaching what we regard as error (paedobaptism) down the block allow us to send Christians who desire to fellowship with us to another congregation?
Just a couple of questions for you. Hope all is well in Houston.
What about those who do not practice water baptism at all?
I would say what I have said on other posts: I cannot know whether or not they are regenerate. Only God knows whether someone is born again.
But I can say that they are not Baptists!
Hope this helps,