Baptism, re-baptism, and church membership

Discussion in 'Baptism' started by toddpedlar, Jun 24, 2008.

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  1. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    I'd like to know from the credo-baptists among us why the following sort of thing occurs today in the modern church. These are not hypothetical cases, but real situations I know about, and am considering responding to by contacting the pastors and/or individuals involved - but wanted to flesh out the discussion here first.

    When a family desires to join a baptist church - is inquiry always made about the baptisms of the family? I.e. were they baptized as infants, professors, whatever? I assume that if they are accepted as members either a) the church recognizes infant baptism of those so baptized as valid or b) the church accepts into membership those that it does not view as having properly been baptized. I'm particularly interested in knowing the difference between Reformed baptists and those who are involved in the SBC, or other baptist wings of the church that don't confessionally hold to the LBC.

    Supposing situation a) above... what if a person who joined the church desired later to be baptized as an act of obedience, because personally they viewed their earlier infant baptism to be invalid. How would such a person be counselled in this case?

    It seems to me that a proper view of church membership must include, in any case, the acceptance of the baptism of the proposed member - or include the baptism of that proposed member as an act of joining the church. Is that consistent with most baptist practice (esp. in "Reformed baptist" circles)? Could a member be accepted if the church viewed him as unbaptized - and... if he was viewed as baptized, would a "new" baptism ever be performed under any circumstances?

    I hope the discussion is profitable - not just because of what I've run across but for the understanding about modern baptist (and Reformed baptist) practice for those of us who are steeped in paedobaptism personally and just haven't the experience with various kinds of credobaptist practices.
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Many churches would say that a person "baptized" as an infant was not truly baptized at all because the carrying-out of the baptism was too far from the NT example and thus there would be no "RE-baptism" invovled, only a Biblical baptism. Many churches would require baptism as a pre-requisite for membership.
  3. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    Excellent observation Pergamum.

    Todd, the answer to your question is probably too varied to answer with any sense of being "absolute." For instance, many "reformed" Baptist churches recognize infant baptism for membership, but don't encourage it. However, a church that might seem sort of in-between would be Dever's church, where, if I remember right, believer's baptism is required for membership. At GCC (MacArthur) they state that someone has to be baptized as a believer, but have allowed for paedo membership when the applicants can express their position well. I've had this discussion with many who claim that "you're making it harder to join your church than it is to get saved" when you require believer's baptism. And many SBC or other mainline Baptist churches probably can't articulate their reasoning well, but do it because "that's just the way it's done." It's a complicated challenge, especially among the covenantal Baptists as they pursue doctrinal correctness and graciousness. The variance is probably most pronounced within the SBC as you have churches such as Sam Waldron's and Rick Warren's in the same denomination.

    I'll share what we do. First, I think it's inconsistent for a Baptist church to allow membership for anyone who hasn't professed Christ first. From a credo point of view, it is the first act of obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ. To fail to do so is to act out in rebellion and "prove" one's condition (unrepentant, proud and disobedient). Some disagree, and I'm not trying to persuade now so much as explain (per your request).
    To join our church one has to be baptized as a believer. As Pergy mentioned above, we would consider infant baptism as a nice dedication, but not consistent with the scriptural mandate to baptize. For those who say we make it harder to join our church than it is to get saved, I would agree. We all have criteria that limit who can join in order to avoid divisiveness and protect the flock God has entrusted to us. We have to draw lines somewhere. It's an unfortunate result of our depravity as well as our lack of understanding of God's Word (some more accurately in certain areas than others).
    For clarity, while our church firmly embraces the solas and TULIP, we are not a LBC church. We would be in substantial agreement, but not covenantal in a historical (systematic) sense.

    There is another aspect to this that I'll hit on briefly because it's seldom brought up. Baptism is an essential part of the Gospel. When we witness to someone we often leave it out, simply trying to get them to see their sin and repent. Of course, when you only have a few minutes it can be difficult to get any further than that. But when we have any extensive witnessing interaction with an individual, as a baptist, baptism should be an integral part of our witness as it portrays the death of the old man and the birth of the new; the death to self and life for Christ.

    I hope that helps Todd, and that I haven't muddied the waters any. Blessings to you in your pursuit.
  4. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Todd, not trying to dodge the tough question here. RB's consider an infant baptism to be invalid. We belive in baptism upon a credible profession of faith. Therefore we would require a new member to be baptized in a valid manner. We do not consider this re-baptism but baptism being properly administered the first time. This is pretty standard practice for all Baptists, not just RB's.
  5. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I assume that in this scenario, the person knows for a fact that they were baptized as an infant? Honestly, most of the people I deal with are not even sure. This is probably due to the fact that many paedo denoms do not stress baptism as a 'sign' and 'seal' the way PB paedos do. Honestly, I have never had a person come to me and say, "I know for sure I was baptized as an infant and I have the certificate to prove it." This leaves the Baptist church in a tough spot because no one knows for sure whether this person was baptized or not. It is my counsel in those situations to go ahead and baptize.

    In addition, how do any of us know for sure that a person is correct when they say they have or have not been baptized? With everyone church hopping these days, and all of the 'bathtub baptisms', it is impossible for a pastor to know if he is indeed 'rebaptizing' someone unless its his own kids.

    Sheesh! (Sorry this turned into a rant but it is a problem that I am dealing with right now)
  6. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Agreed, Bill. Any "Reformed Baptist" type church (as described in one of the above posts) that accepts infant baptism or sprinkling is unconfessional. In most Baptist churches that aren't liberal or doctrinally indifferent, inquiry is generally made of those presenting themselves for membership. Those who were sprinkled, whether as infants or adults are baptized. There should be no difference between SBC, RB or really any other kind of Baptist. But in some aspects of Baptist life, there's been about as much of a downgrade in ecclesiology as there has been in soteriology. I have noticed a tendency among some Calvinistic Baptists, particularly younger ones, to adopt Bunyan's view that differences on baptism shouldn't be a bar to church membership or communion. In that respect some of the non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists are more confessional than some of the so called "Reformed Baptists" in their midst on this issue.

    Various independent churches and some "Bible Churches" will sometimes be indifferent on the issue from a consistent Baptist perspective. These churches are baptistic in that they typically only practice immersion of professing disciples, but some of them will accept into membership people who were sprinkled, etc. if they do not want to be immersed.
  7. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor


    One of the problems with asking a specific question about an autonomous movement is that one size does not fit all as it would in a confessional Reformed church.

    However, that being said . . .

    I served on staff in a Baptist church (150 attendance), pastored a Baptist church for a seven years (110 average attendance) and was senior pastor of another one for a decade (525 attendance) that accepted members in three ways . . .
    a. Baptism upon a credible profession of faith.
    b. Transfer of membership from another BAPTIST (any stripe) church.
    c. Christian Experience

    In the first one, one had to be baptized as a believer (therefore compelling a prospective member to repeat their infant baptism). In the last two, that was not necessary. In other words, a person who was a member of another Christian denomination (regardless of whether they were credo or paedo) could join our congregation on the basis of declaring that they had been baptized AND had been a member in good standing in a congregation of "like faith." In practice, this meant pretty much a green light for any evangelical coming from any evangelical denomination (including Presbyterian, Congregational, and Free Methodist where paedo baptism was practiced).

    Does any of this make sense? No! Either you believe there is one valid candidate for baptism or you don't. My last churches simply wanted to be sure that a person had been baptized + had a credible confession of faith. Since church membership was taken to establish the second, the "irregularity" of the first was passed over.

    Please understand, however, that outside of the SBC and many Reformed groups, denominationalism is not usually a big issue. Even in my "mainline" denomination of origin, here in So. Cal. less than 5% of the candidates for ordination were trained at a "Baptist" school. Most were either graduates of Fuller (and therefore mainly taught by Presbyterians of one stripe or another), Talbot (and thoroughly dispensational or progressive dispensational), or Bethel (SD). In my judicatory, we were more concerned with the "Evangelical" identity, not Baptist identity. If a person was an evangelical in conviction, had been baptized, and had a credible confession, they were OK regardless of their former church's practice on baptism.

    Of the many anomalies inherent in this situation, try this one. If you are screening for an evangelical, then you are generally looking for agreement on the "fundamentals." In this respect, a conservative Presbyterian has more in common with an evangelical Baptist than the Baptist would with a fundamentalist Baptist! Yet, even the fundamentalist Baptist would share an ecclesiology quite close to the evangelical Baptist and they would both be pretty far in their sacramentology from the Presbyterian.
  8. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I thought of an addendum to my last post. Since WWII, denominational identity has suffered greatly. My particular mainline group at the time (ABCUSA) scored lowest on surveys of the importance of denominational identity. Part of this was due to the Baptist practice of autonomy. However, that is not the whole story since the SBC has a VERY high sense of identity verging on a sectarian mindset.

    The ABC has always been a group more conservative in the hustings than in the hierarchy. When I did a 500+ page M.A. in Organizational Management in the 90s, my research (systematic random sample of 1,400 pastors with a 49% response rate on a 180 question inventory), showed that the vast majority of pastors held to middle of the road evangelical views on most subjects (including the hot button ones). This tended to depress attendance at the almost universally progressive (to outright heretical) seminaries sponsored by the denomination. Not having a shared theological educational experience, functioning in a post-denominational milieu, and spending a good bit of time professing "I am a Baptist, but not THEIR kind of Baptist," probably contributed to the sloppy practice with regard to membership.

    In theory, the Baptist view of the church should require transfer of membership only from credo-baptist bodies. In practice, it does not always work out that way for the reasons identified in this post and the previous one. Furthermore, the tendency for evangelical candidates for ordination to attend interdenominational schools does much to pluralize, relativize, and privatize attitudes toward the "right" kind of baptism. When your teachers and fellow students are co-religionists from a variety of traditions, insisting on your own group having the "right" way to do anything is a harder sell.

    In my opinion, these reasons all help explain why some evangelical churches are more "open"/indifferent to the charismatic movement, women in ministry, acceptable eschatological variations, and emerging/emergent church trends. When your identify is shaped in a multi-traditional educational institution and you are prone to think in terms of the five fundamentals, you will be more inclined to see variation in areas not included in the core.

    Todd, hope that helps.
  9. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks for this post, Dennis. I was just going to chalk up your practice to being on the left coast as well as being ABCUSA. :lol: You have provided us with some helpful background that explains this practice among many baptistic churches. Although I didn't post it in this thread, I have long thought that, as you noted, this practice of receiving unbaptized members is due to the churches involved having more of a generic evangelical identity than a Baptist one. Some churches of this persuasion have Baptist in the name and some don't. I would be quite surprised if there aren't some Southern Baptists churches who do this too.

    It is unfortunate that there was no "Conservative Resurgence" in the ABCUSA. Do you think the polity was somewhat to blame? Is it more "top down" than the SBC is? If I'm not mistaken, a lot of conservatives left the Northern Baptists in the 1930's during the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy as well, similar to the OPC leaving the PCUSA.

    Also, to some the SBC may seem to have a sectarian mindset. I agree that it has a high degree of identity compared to the mainlines. But there is a lot of handwringing today over the lack of denominational identity among the "Younger Southern Baptists" that we see constant reference to in the Baptist Press, the blogs and elsewhere. Some of this lack of identity IMO is not helpful as I noted earlier. One symptom of this perceived lack is a "Baptist Identity" movement that seems to be largely coming out of Southwestern Seminary.

    The perception of the SBC is largely in the eye of the beholder. Obviously it is a diverse group, including everything from Rick Warren to landmarkists. Many of the indy/fundy viewpoint still view the SBC as being only marginally better than the ABCUSA. I met a woman recently who is a member of a SBC in Mississippi. She told me the rest of her family is Missionary Baptist and views them as being "liberal" for belonging to a Southern Baptist church.
  10. Hippo

    Hippo Puritan Board Junior

    I can see why Baptist churches would not see infant baptism as baptism and would require a believers baptism for membership or communion. Such a position is logical and consistent with their teachings.

    What I have a difficulty with is requiring a baptism by immersion where the persons previous baptism was as an adult on profession of faith but by sprinkling.

    Is this inisistance (rather than a strong preference) on immersion widespread or even universal?

    Can this practice be defended as anything other than sectarian?
  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    It is often regarded as sectarian by non-Baptists, but from the Baptist point of view there is no baptism unless it is by immersion.
  12. Hippo

    Hippo Puritan Board Junior

    Firstly how widespread is this position and secondly why is the mode seen as of critical importance, without the possibility of differing interpretations?
  13. Wannabee

    Wannabee Obi Wan Kenobi

    The significance of identifying with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. We are buried together with Christ and raised to walk in the newness of life. These are necessarily lost if one is not immersed (submerged, if you will).
  14. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    If Baptists are true to what they believe they will insist on baptism by immersion of professed believers. Sectarian? I have to interpret your use of that word as pejorative. I prefer to view our view of baptism as scriptural. Arguable? On the PB, certainly!
  15. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    Thanks, my baptist brothers. This is helpful. I'm going to be talking to the people I mentioned anonymously, and we'll see how the discussion goes. I fear the church involved isn't being consistent in their application ... that is it seems they do accept baptisms of individuals regardless of whether they were as infants or as professors for the purpose of membership, but will baptize a person who is currently a member of the church (based in part on that previous baptism) previously baptized as an infant if they believe they are being called to do so as an act of obedience to Christ.

    Such language makes me shudder.
  16. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    By the way, just to be clear - I have NO problem whatsoever with a baptist congregation being consistent with their principles and requiring professor-baptism of those who would be members. This is only treating baptism with the respect it deserves and being consistent with what they profess true baptism to be.

    My problem is with those who seem not to have any real doctrine of baptism and hence slosh back and forth all over the place when it comes to performing (or not performing) it.
  17. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Speaking from the Baptist Pastor's position, in the modern Amercan church, you simply have to take people at their word and do what you have to do with fear and trembling that you will be held to an account. Someone could tell me that he was baptized and be mistaken. Someone could tell me that he had not been baptized and be mistaken. There is no way to find out what the truth is. Therefore, most of us would err on the side of caution and baptize and ask the Lord to forgive any irregularities.

    As to immersion, I confess that I do not agree with those who believe that baptism upon profession by affusion needs a 'do over'.

    The LBC says, "Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance."

    I take this to mean that on my end, as a Pastor, it is required of me to immerse. A man who has been sprinkled may have an 'irregular' baptism but I don't think it makes sense to 'rebaptize' in such a case because of the importance of baptism being a 'one-time' event.

    Please correct me if I am in error!
  18. Hippo

    Hippo Puritan Board Junior

    To me your position makes sense.

    I can understand an insistance that a profession of faith is required for a baptism to be valid, I can also understand why immersion is seen to be the desirable mode but I still do not understand why what is seen as an irregular mode renders the baptism void.
  19. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    If I was a consistent credobaptist i would say I believe in membership is for indivdual believers not families. So the husband and wife are taken into membership separately and interviewed separately. Kids would have the same thing. And the baptism would have to have occured by immersion (unless a extreme circumstance prevented it like a medical reason or a extreme fear of water) after a credible profession of faith.
  20. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Ken, I loathe the word re-baptize in the context you used. You are either scripturally baptized (by mode and administration) or you are not. If you are not baptized by an ordained minister of the gospel via immersion you are not scriptural baptized. Therefore, you need to be scripturally baptized for the first time. Not only will this result in a scriptural baptism but it will also maintain the continuity of the ordinance and protect it from abuse. Compromise in one aspect of baptism will eventually lead to more compromise. This is why I am pleased the elders in John Piper's church opposed his recommendation.
  21. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    Really? I did not hear about this! Go John Piper's Church and go Piper for submitting to it!
  22. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Again, as my post points out, there is no uniformity among Baptists. Even before the advent of the 1689, Baptists were not immersionists. That came later and was referenced (codified?) in the LBCF.

    Along with Ken, during my pastoral days (also prior to my discovery of confessionalism!), I did not see the necessity of a "do over" for the one baptized upon profession of faith regardless of mode. And, since my last two churches allowed transfer without re-baptism, it was not an issue there either.
  23. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm not sure that your characterization, Todd, captures the reason for the practice. It is not that some Baptists do not have a doctrine of baptism, which they surrender willy nilly in the face of expedience. Rather, for them it tends to be MERELY an act of obedient identification, not a sacramental act.

    If one had a covenant view of baptism (either Reformed or Reformed Baptist), it would matter supremely whether the baptism was credo or paedo. Indeed, I find it more difficult to understand Piper and others who, if it were left up to them, would try to have their cake and eat it too.

    But for those with a pretty dehydrated ordinancial view of the rite, greater latitude might be understandable, albeit still pretty weird. If you had gone to school with people who held every view imaginable of baptism, and if your church only focused on the five fundamentals, and if you had a theology of baptism that said it was non-efficacious in any respect and it only served as a kind of check-off on the spiritual "to do" list for the day, you might find the latitudinarian practice more understandable. Take it to the other extreme. RC folks believe it to be ESSENTIAL to salvation. You can bet they would not tolerate any significant degree of divergence. Baptists are on the other end of the polarity. Some flakiness should be expected.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2008
  24. Hippo

    Hippo Puritan Board Junior

    Now I found this interesting:

    Immersion was then still the prevailing mode in England, and continued till the reign of Elizabeth, who was herself baptized by immersion.
    Schaff, Philip ; Schaff, David Schley: History of the Christian Church. Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997

    You have got to love Logos for pulling up some odd facts during a search.
  25. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Dennis, well that's the point about confessionalism, isn't it? The LBC codified the proper administration and mode of the ordinance. I won't call for the lynching of Baptist ministers who accept prior sprinkling, but I would describe them as unconfessional.
  26. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Brother Dennis,

    Just to clarify, I mean no disrespect to you. You are an encouragement to my faith and have challenged me by your words here on the PB. I suppose the larger issue for me is Baptists that are ashamed to be Baptists. I would rather a Baptist go Presbyterian than to straddle the fence between both camps. I've seen the sparks fly when Baptists are actually called to subscribe to the confession they identify with. We're going through this right now in my church as we are vetting the ramifications of adopting the 1689 LBC as our doctrinal statement. The next few months should be interesting indeed.
  27. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Polity, sure. But, more corporate culture than polity. Because the ABC had a long tradition in the 20th century of liberal leadership, there was a pretty strong indoctrination in the ethos of "live and let live," it's the "Baptist way." Even very conservative pastors did not want to be viewed as "fundamentalists" or legalists. And, unlike the SBC, there were frankly no conservatives willing to take political power in their hands ala Pressler and Patterson. ABC conservatives gave the money and grew the churches but generally did not want to get their hands dirty with denominational "politics."

    Following the departure in the 30s of the now GARB and the exodus in '47 of the Conservative Baptists, the rules of procedure for our national meetings were skewed in tamer and tamer terms that militated against any significant political upheaval. Then, when a judicatory in WV threatened to use a referendum process to canvass the entire denomination in the early 90s, the leaders rewrote the rules again to make it virtually impossible to upset any apple carts through normal political channels.
  28. toddpedlar

    toddpedlar Iron Dramatist Staff Member

    I guess I should have been more careful in my remarks. It does
    seem that these folks I'm referring to have this mentality... but
    because of the openness to accepting baptism of any kind as valid,
    it can get worse... because then any baptism of a person who was
    previously baptized (credo or paedo) is, by necessity, a re-baptism
    (since the church affirmed the initial baptism the person had, credo or
    paedo). If the individual suddenly comes to the conviction
    that their infant baptism is invalid, they may ask for and receive
    baptism by immersion.

    If, too, it is seen by these churches as an act of obedience only,
    do you think it may be that some people will wind up 'doing it again'
    if they feel the need? After all, if it's only an act of obedience, and
    not a mark of entrance into the visible church, then... all bets seem to
    be off!
  29. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Disrespect? Disrespect? DISRESPECT!?! I felt no disrespect. Just beware you New Joisey so-and-so, Guido is coming for YOU!

    Actually, no offense taken. My point was that I ignorantly followed the procedures of my congregation, my congregation more concerned to be evangelical than Baptist, PRIOR to my becoming aware of the confessions in any meaningful way (my polity profs always said that Baptists were a non-creedal people and so we never did much reading of any confessions, including the LBCF).

    BTW, it was never a case of permitting an UNbaptized person into the congregation but of allowing an irregularly baptized person to be admit upon profession of faith and testimony of a prior baptism. Still weird, I grant you.
  30. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I agree with you, Todd. For anyone with a robust understanding of baptism, allowing a "felt need" to determine a re-do is incoherent. For a Baptist you should decide to go one way or the other. Either you are saying that infant baptism was not a valid baptism (in which case paedo baptists should not be admitted without believer's baptistm) OR the infant baptism is valid (in which case "believer's" baptism is a sinful abuse of a biblical ordinance established by Jesus to fit the sentimental whims of a 21st century person.

    My observations regarding the "isness" of today's variations were intended to be purely descriptive, not trying to offer a prescriptive word. I hope my use of "weird," "illogical," and "incoherent" signaled that fact.
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