Thursday, March 23, 2006

Piper paper at ETS (3/24/06)

I leave for Philadelphia this afternoon to attend the Eastern Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) at Westminster Theological Seminary.
I will be doing another version of the paper "Piper's Baptism and Membership Proposal: A Neo-Landmark Response" at the meeting tomorrow (March 24) at 3:40 pm.
My daughter Hannah is coming along with me for the trip. She is bringing an unabridged CD of "Little Women" for us to listen to during our travel. Oh yeh, father-daughter bonding!
Here's the outline of my paper (I might post the full text version to our website at some point):

Piper’s Baptism and Membership Proposal: A Neo-Landmark Response
Evangelical Theological Seminary Eastern Regional Meeting
Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pennsylvania
March 24, 2006

The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of and response to the Baptism and Membership Proposal that is currently under consideration at Bethlehem Baptist Church (hereafter BBC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As we shall see, the major point of contention in this proposal is that it recommends that BBC remove believer’s baptism by immersion as a necessary prerequisite for church membership. This suggestion is all the more significant, because it comes from a church and a pastor that have become known not only for the defense and renewal of foundational doctrinal truths, but also for the defense and renewal of evangelical Calvinism.

I. A history of the BBC proposal on "Baptism and Church Membership."

II. Piper’s argument against believer’s baptism by immersion as a test for local Baptist church membership.

The "crucial paragraph" in Piper’s initial "Twelve Theses" was this:

10. Therefore, where the belief in the Biblical validity of infant baptism does not involve baptismal regeneration or the guarantee of saving grace, this belief is not viewed by the elders of BBC as a weighty or central enough departure from Biblical teaching to exclude a person from membership, if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and a clear conscience that his baptism is valid. In such a case we would not require baptism by immersion as a believer for membership but would teach and pray toward a change of mind that would lead such members eventually to baptism (4).

Among the primary arguments Piper makes on the issue of baptism and church membership are the following:

1. The local church should not bar any sincere Christian from membership in the visible body of Christ on the basis of his understanding and experience of baptism (given that he does not embrace the concept of baptismal regeneration or reject baptism altogether).
2. Related to this is what Paul Dreblow calls "the saints of the past" argument.
3. It is more crucial that the teaching authority (elders) of a church be unified on doctrine than in the general membership of a church.
4. The requirement of believer’s baptism by immersion elevates a minor doctrine to the status of being a major doctrine.
5. Historical appeal to John Bunyan.

III. Concerns that this proposal raises.

A. Paul Dreblow raised six points of concern:
1. The issue had not been studied thoroughly enough by the BBC elders.
2. Baptism by immersion of born again believers in the only standard and practice of described and taught in the NT.
3. The timing of the issue related to campus ministry. Here Dreblow asks if the church is not being driven by pragmatism.
4. Challenges the "saints of the past’ argument and asks if this will lead to greater compromise down the road: "If we make exceptions to stated doctrinal agreement and practice here, then where else?" (26).
5. Whose conscience is at stake? What about the conscience of the members who believe that believer’s baptism by immersion is essential to church membership?
6. Creation of confusion and disunity in the body of Christ.

B. Further concerns:
1. I would challenge Piper’s argument that baptism is a minor doctrine. On the contrary, I would argue that it is a central and significant doctrine.
2. I would challenge Piper’s argument that barring a person from membership in a local Baptist church who is not willing to experience baptism by immersion is equivalent to barring him from participation in the visible body of Christ.
3. I would challenge Piper’s "saints of the past" argument by asking, "Is it any better to allow ‘the saints of the past’ into the church as members and then bar them from the office of Elder?"
4. This proposal creates a two-tier membership.
5. Slippery-slope argument. Compromise here leads to compromise on other issues.
6. I would challenge the historical appeal to Bunyan by noting that, after thorough discussion, Bunyan’s views were rejected by his fellow Baptists.

IV. A final reflection on what it means to be a Neo-Landmark Baptist.


blbartlett said...

I think the outline of your analysis is correct. Piper's argument "sounds" as though there are solid Presbyterian brothers who want to join and be involved in the ministry of Piper's church and this move would allow the church to accomodate them. An intern from Westminster, perhaps? Of course, I trust Piper's desire to do the right thing, but I agree that believer's baptism is a doctrine that should be maintained and upheld... not just for the sake of faithfulness in Piper's church, but also as an example to the thousands of churches that look up to BBC. Thanks for your work!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for your work on this topic. I am searching for answers to several questions I have about baptism and church membership. I would love to read your whole paper. Will you post it?

Love in Christ,


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the feedback. I think the issue of partnership and cooperation with other Christians (particulary conservative Presbyerians) is an issue influencing this baptism proposal at BBC. But can we work together without compromising our Baptistic convictions?


Thanks for your thanks. After a bit of polishing I might post the article. I might also at some point post an audio presenation at our sermon audio site. I'll try to let you know when I get to it.