Monday, September 11, 2006

Baptism Issues - Part I

There is a feature article in the latest issue of SBC LIFE entitled "Understanding Baptism." It is written by Tom Elliff. Baptism has recently emerged as a "hotbed issue" in Baptist life. It seems that this article was written in response to these discussions.

I will be pointing out some of the matters mentioned by Elliff in his article through my next few posts. Some of his analysis offered helpful clarification. Other parts of it actually left some unanswered questions. I'm wondering how other Baptists feel about these issues.

Today's Discussion: "Like Faith and Practice (Order)"
Elliff devoted a mere two paragraphs to what may be the biggest "bone of contention" regarding baptism in Southern Baptist life. Elliff states,
"Most Southern Baptist churches and each of our agencies use "like faith and practice" (or, "like faith and order") as the litmus test for fellowship, membership, and service. This means that our members (and ultimately those involved in ministry or missions through our mutually-supported entities) have been baptized in Southern Baptist churches or under the authority of churches of like faith and practice."
But what, exactly, does "like faith and practice (order)" mean? I fear that the definitions of this phrase are as numerous as our churches. Indeed, in the area where I live and minister, most of the churches interpret this phrase as meaning, specifically, "Southern Baptist" or "Baptist" churches. In my own county, this meaning includes the requirement that the word "Baptist" be in the name of the church. I pastor a Southern Baptist Church called Crossroads Fellowship. We cooperate with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Yet, we have been denied membership in the local association based upon the lack of the word "Baptist" on our sign, and we have had a local Southern Baptist church refuse to grant letters of membership to us, stating that they could only grant a letter to a "church of like faith and order."

I am quite sure that there are Southern Baptist churches nearby which would not accept as members anyone who had been baptized within our congregation because of this "like faith and order" interpretation issue. Surely, ours would be dubbed an "alien baptism" by some. This issue of accepting members by statement of immersion baptism from outside the SBC has led to the "disfellowshiping" of churches in a nearby association.

Do such definitions have implications in Church Planting? You'd better believe it! Do they have implications in Baptist life? Absolutely! Here is the simple reality. If there were members of my church called of God to serve in international missions through the IMB, they might face an approval process populated by Baptists who would not even recognize them as legitimate "Southern Baptist church members."

As Church Planters, we must sort through these issues before planting, rather than try to "figure it out as we go." What has been your church's stance / experience regarding this issue of "like faith and order" and acceptance of baptized members from outside the SBC?


Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

I was a pastor in the western part of Kentucky for eight and a half years. "Like faith and order" generally implied the following beliefs: affirm eternal security (OSAS), deny loss of salvation, affirm baptism as symbolic, deny baptism as regenerative. One or two churches in our association added to that list, but they were generally ignored.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...


I wish it were that simple. Those basics you mentioned are clearly stated in our documents, yet there remain a significant number of churches which do not consider us or any church without the word "Baptist" in the name as being of "like faith and order." I'm really curious as to whether this is a distinctly local phenomenon, or if others (expecially new churches) have encountered the same response.


5:56 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Geoff- I just heard Tom Elliff speak tonight at a missionary appointment service here in South Carolina.

I am concerned that for many in Southern Baptist life the meaning behind "like faith and practice" is a little muddy. I think for a Southern Baptist Association to deny another Southern Baptist church the right hand of fellowship, including membership is elitist and wrong. After hearing Elliff speak tonight I actually believe that he desires for all of us to be in one spirit concerning baptism, regardless if the term "baptist" is part of the name on our sign. Baptist is our denomination, not our identity. Our identity is to be found only in Christ. I think that when churches start looking at themselves not simply as "Southern Baptist" but as followers of Christ this whole baptism issue would be null and void.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

Sarah -
I agree. For me, Baptist is my denomination, not my identity. But I think my understanding is a minority one right now.

Oh, that we would focus upon reaching the lost and impacting our communities ... rather than focusing upon who we will and will not accept in Christian fellowship!

6:32 AM  

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