Thursday, September 14, 2006

Baptism Issues - Part 2

It seems to me that there is much discission, argument, and bitterness regarding last year's IMB policies regarding Baptism. The main "sticking point" is the policy's statement that true baptism is a "church ordinance," as opposed to a Christian ordinance. The root of the issue is authority.

In his recent SBC LIFE article entitled, "Understanding Baptism," Tom Elliff addressed this issue under the heading, "When is Baptism Properly Administered?" In one paragraph of this discussion of the proper "authority" for baptism, he states,
It is obvious in the Scripture that, in additon to the profession of the candidate, there is an obligation on the part of the church.

Hershael York went a bit deeper on his blog, where he stated,
...baptism is a church ordinance. To whom did Christ give the authority to baptize? Did He authorize his followers individually, a denomination collectively, or the institution of His church? Baptists have long understood baptism as a church ordinance.
This entire discussion begs the question, "What is the church?" Is it a group of believers ... people who follow the Savior, Jesus Christ? Or is it an ecclesiological structure?

What do we do with Acts 8:36-39, when Philip (alone ... no church present) pulled over on the side of the road and baptized the Ethiopian he had just led to the Lord?

This stance on the authority of the church (and, by policy, denomination?) in the baptism process presents a series of significant dilemmas for church planters and new churches in our denomination. Who might we accept as being "Scripturally baptized?" We must sort through the complexity of this issue.

What do we do with:
  • People baptized by immersion in churches of other denominations (or non-denominations) which also baptize by other modes? Does the mere availability of other modes invalidate any and all baptisms in that church in the eyes of the SBC?
  • Young men and women baptized by chaplains in our military? Perhaps they have been baptized aboard a naval vessel, or in the desert of Iraq, or on an army post in Texas. Does the denomination of the administrator come into play? What about the authority of the church? Does the group of believers gathered to witness constitute the church?
  • Young people baptized at summer camps? I, myself, once witnessed a new convert baptized by a youth leader in the river that ran alongside our camp. The teen-ager's pastor was not present, though many from his church were. Is his a valid baptism?
  • Children baptized by their parents? This is a common practice in my church. I encourage our parents to lead in the baptism of their own children after their children have made decisions to follow Christ. Would our current IMB policy recognize their baptisms? On a side note ... I know of an IMB missionary who baptized his own child in the sea on the day his child made a profession of faith in Christ. No church was present, only the missionary family and the public witnesses. Will this child be able to someday serve with the organization that has commissioned and sent out his parents? Is his a valid baptism?
  • People baptized by anyone who is not ordained? Do we really believe that there is a "power of the priesthood" which requires an ordained minister to perform the actual immersion ceremony?
So ... how will we define the "church?" Who will we accept as members when these issues of baptism arise? Are our churches filled with members who are now ineligible for service through our own mission board? Church planters will surely face such dilemmas, and many other that we have not even thought of ... yet!


Blogger Sarah said...

In my examination of scripture I do not hold to the opinion that baptism is a church ordinance only. I believe that a church has a place in baptism but as far as it being the only place a believer can be baptized, that's wrong. I believe that the paradigm is changing, just not as quickly as some of us would like. Who are we to judge the hearts of men? It was truly a sad day when some Southern Baptists decided that the only valid baptism is when it is performed by an ordained Southern Baptist minister in a Southern Baptist church. I don't think that Philip was a Southern Baptist and he certainly wasn't in a church but I can tell you this, Christ was present in his declaration and public confession of faith through baptism.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

Sarah -
Baptism is, indeed, a church ordinance. The context of the local church is, obviously, the primary context for New Testament baptism. As well it should be. I guess my point is this ... there are exceptions. I have mentioned a few. There are, undoubtedly, others. But I believe that, instead of identifying those exceptions as points of departure - cause for disqualification from fellowship or service - we should honor and recognize those exceptions as holoy and biblical.

I guess my main problem with the entire conversation up to this is this ... what do the "qualifications" of the baptizer, or even the doctrinal beliefs regarding eternal security in the baptizing church, have to do with anything? Baptism is the public "Jesus stand" of a single believer. It is a representation of the salvation that has already entered that person's life. It is a living message, a living sermon. Baptism is done out of obedience, to please and honor God. So, truly, it is entirely about God and the salvation that He provides. Everyone else who is present, even the one doing the actual "dunking," is merely a witness to what God has gloriously done. We are all simply observers. God is the audience.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Geoff- I agree. I believe that baptism is a church ordinance, just not the only way. I may have come off as not believing in it at all.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I feel as though many are discounting other methods, locations, etc. simply because it's not how baptism been done for the past 200 years! We've gotten so used to it being done only one way that we've turned it onto the only way that is godly. This is so wrong it makes my stomach hurt.

5:36 PM  
Blogger David Rogers said...

It seems to me that, if you were, in perfect Koine Greek, to ask a typical Christian pastor in NT times, if baptism were a "church ordinance" or just a "Christian ordinance," you would probably just get a blank stare, or the Greek equivalent of "Wha'd ya just say ther, bud?"

The whole question of "church ordinance," IMO, is super-imposing theological questions of another period of church history onto the NT context.

I personally have trouble envisioning a lot of nit-picky rules in the Early Church regarding baptism, as long as people were sincerely confessing there repentance and faith in Christ, in obedience to Christ's command.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

David -
Yes! Yes! Yes!

Obviously, we do most of our baptisms within the context of the church. But the focus of baptism shouldn't be upon the one baptizing, but upon the one who had turned from sin and self and turned, in faith, to Christ Jesus!

6:11 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Good to know that there are at least two men who aren't all bent out of shape because some of us do our baptizing outside of the local church!

4:00 PM  

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