Thursday, August 03, 2006

Follow Up on Henderson Hills BC and Baptism

Following up on Henderson Hills BC's consideration of removing believer's baptism as a requirement for church membership (see my previous post), Pastor Dennis Newkirk announced on his blog on Monday (7/31) that he and the elders decided to "stop" consideration of the vote. In that post he mentions a meeting he and four other HHBC elders had with an unnamed, out of town theologian/author (Piper?) last week that lasted from 9am Wednesday morning till 4 am Thursday morning. Now that's a theological discussion! He then returned for seven hours of meetings over two days with the rest of his elders!
The end result: they did not put the vote forward. This was the same outcome Piper's Bethlehem BC had last December. In both cases the proposal is in limbo. It seems a problem of conscience is created where you have leaders who have gone on record as not being in agreement with their church's doctrinal stance (in this case men who do not believe believer's baptism by immersion is essential for church membership when their church's doctrinal statement teaches this very thing). By the way, despite the fact that this decision was "shared" with elders, note how Newkirk is still the lightning rod on this. It seems that replacing Solo Pastor/deacons with Pastor/elders does not necessarily change things.
One major caution evangelical churches (like HHBC) should take on this issue is that they are choosing to do the same thing that many moderate/liberal CBF affiliated churches are doing. They are eliminating believer's baptism by immersion as a test of membership and adopting "open membership" (in our community, University Baptist Church has recently adopted just such an "open memberhip" policy). The only difference is that in liberal Baptist churches their members, theologians, and sister churches are not opposing it. The problem is that once you do this you make baptism a secondary matter and essentially cease being a Baptist church (except in name) and become an Evangelical Free church or a non-denominational church or some such. I, for one, do not think denominationalism is bad. Someone is right and someone is wrong on baptism. I do not think my Presbyterian friends are not Christians, but I do think they are mistaken on baptism. There is nothing wrong with people who find agreement on the New Testament practice of baptism coming together to form a distinctively "Baptist" church.
JTR

7 comments:

soonerfan said...

I do appreciate your freedom to respond to our church's situation, but one thing I would like for people to understand about my church is that we are NOT a "liberal" church or are we a member of any other association but the SBC. We believe that the Bible is our authority...that is our #1 principle of ministry. Our mission statement is to be a thoroughly Bibilical church. I have been a SB since the age of 2 and a member at HHBC for the last 12 years.

I have been completely saddened by how our brothers in Christ have acted towards our leadership and our church in general, like giving us a label or linking us with "moderate/liberal". I am sure God could hardly be pleased by all of this.

And you are right, Dennis has become a lightening rod and I wish fellow believers would lift our church up in prayer as we sort through what the Lord Jesus Christ himself wants us to do. That is what we would ask. There has been enough labeling in this denomination.

Our elders asked for a little more time to make sure that their proposal is written so that it is very clear and reflects our beliefs doctrinally, which reflects responsibilty and having elders is a biblical way to organize a church. It was not just something pulled out of a hat.

Also, please understand baptism will never be a secondary issue. Our belief that it is biblical to follow Christ in baptism after salation has not changed and will never change.

The main thing that is being proposed is that baptism not be used to make people members. In other words, if people get baptized just to become a member of a fellowship and not because of obedience to Christ and as a witness to their salvation experience, then it has become not something of the heart, but just an act. And there is nothing in the Bible that supports being immersed a second time just because you were immersed say in a Nazerene church, as was my father, who could not join the Baptist church I grew up in even though he was immersed after salvation because he would not be baptized in a Southern Baptist Church. Isn't that a little absurd? Thank God that church is now accepting "alien" baptisms.

What makes us distinctively Baptist is that we believe in salvation by profession of faith in Christ as the one and only and the need for forgiveness, and it is an act of grace, and we cannot work ourselves to heaven, and lastly, we believe in following Christ in believer's baptism as an outward witness of an inward change....THAT is what makes us Baptist.

And being outside our church, it would be hard for you to know that even if this proposal were to be brought back before our body and adopted, those who then join our body who have not been immersed will be instructed in its biblical nature and encouraged to do so.

I know this is long, but it is easy to sit outside something and look in and make decisions regarding it or the church, but I humbly request as a sister in Christ that no more labels be applied to our church body or pastor and I kindly and respectfully ask that you remember another Baptist distinctive...the autonomy of the local body...we have before us something our elders believe is not inline Biblically and our church body ought to be allowed to vote on that without outside intrusion and our church being tried "in the court of denominational opinion".

So, please lift our pastors in prayer, please lift our elders in prayer, and please lift our body of believers in prayer. We are seeking to glorify our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is whom we serve.

Respecfully,

A co-laborer in Christ

Pastor Jeff said...

Soonerfan,

First, on the football field, sorry you guys lost your qb for next season.

Now, on to more important things. Church matters. Yes, I am not a member or your church, so my observations are those of an outsider. To be honest I had not heard of your church until reading of the baptism controversy on Baptist Press. Since then I have looked at your website and I did notice Mark Dever cites your church in his booklet "By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life" as a large SBC church (over 2,800 in attendance in a $23 million building) with elders. As I noted in my post I was impressed with the theological thought put into the documents posted on baptism by your elders. They are no more "liberal" than is John Piper, who has influenced them. I did not call them "liberal" or say they were in the CBF. My point was that it should bring them pause that the decision on "open membership" they are advocating is one that is being rapidly accepted by clearly liberal-moderate-cbf churches. I also have a personal interest in this topic, since I did a paper at ETS on Piper's baptism-membership theology.

Obviously, your elders feel the change they are advocating is not just appropriate for your church, but it is the NT approach. Granted, though it would be wrong for me, as a non-member of HHBC, to try to do something like rally your members to oppose this action, it is not wrong for me, and others, to reflect on whether or not this move is Biblical and correct not just for your church but for any (Baptist) church. Your church has the autonomy to decide what it wants. But other churches also have the freedom to weigh and decide whether we agree with what you do. Individual church autonomy is not an escape from accountability among churches. Like it or not the argument that no one outside your church can question your church's actions is parallel to ABC-USA and CBF churches that refuse to discipline and disassociate from "Welcoming and Affirming" churches because they do not want to violate their "autonomy." In fact, as a fellow SBC church, your church's decisions do affect mine. What if an infant baptized person were accepted into membership in your church and then moved to C-ville, Va and asked to transfer to our church. Would he look at us puzzled when we tell him that beliver's baptism by immersion is a prerequisite to church membership here? There is an important issue here of confessional agreement on the doctrine and practice of baptism. This is why other Baptists have taken note.

I agree with you that baptism should not be pressed merely as a hoop one should jump through to gain membership in a Baptist church. It should be a conviction that this is what Scripure teaches! Every new member candidate should be examined as to his previous Christian experience (whether he used to be a pagan, a Nazarene, or a Presbyterian).

Two other quick responses:

1. You say you "have been a SB since the age of 2." Indeed, you may have been in a SBC church since the age of 2--I have been in a SB church since 9 months before I was born and I was sitting in the pew in my mother's womb!--but, I'm sure you will agree that you did not become a SB until after some later time when you were converted, professed faith in Jesus, were baptized, and were accepted into a SB church membership.

2. On labels. You ask that we not unfairly label and say, "There has been enough labelling in this denomination." Again, I am not labeling your church or elders as liberals, simply paralleling their movement on baptism and church membership with similar decisions by liberal churches. In general, however, has the labeling in the SBC been bad? Has it not helped define our churches? Labels are not always bad. As one wag said, no one seems to mind it when we label the salt and pepper we put on the dinner table. We need to know which is which.

Friend, my comments were not intended to insult your church or leaders. I do pray for peace, wisdom, and discernment as your body sorts this out to the glory of God.

Peace, JTR

dmj said...

Thank you for your noticing of our loss of our quarterback, but I sure like the way Stoops does business! I would rather have a fb team with a coach and staff that follows the rules and loses than one that presses the rules or breaks them under the table just to have a better team! I admire Stoops...may not have happened under you know who (long-time coach)!

Thank you for researching our situation and you made very good points. I wish your reason for having labels were as simple as "salt and pepper" so you know what you are getting, but our church is so conservative theologically because our #1 mission statement is to be a thoroughly biblical church and our #1 principle of ministry is that the Bible is our authority, period, so every once in a while, labels cannot be so cut and dry and have, through my experience in our state, been quite damaging and have divided Christian believers when we should be uniting to be about the business of saving the lost. That is my main point about why I am so against them....And of course, having said I was a SB since I was 2, you knew that I actually did not become a full-fledged member until my baptism at age 12 (I was actually saved at age 9 and wanted to get baptized immediately, but my Dad wanted me to wait until I was 12, so I did how ironic since this is the topic for discussion!) Your points were all good and well thought out.

Please continue to pray for God's direction for this body and most of all for overall unity of the SBC, which has taken many hits over the last few years.

Actually, opening discussions like this may begin to help one another understand each other and begin a healing process that I believe needs to occur...

And maybe the actions of our church do affect the whole demonination. It is tradition the way we do baptism that has made some changes over the years, as you know from no other immersion baptism to accepting immersion baptism from other like-minded fellowships...maybe each church should also look at the issue themselves. If taking long-held traditions and taking them and trying to discern through the Holy Spirit's leadership (which we should all do even with our pastor's sermon each week)if it is inline with scripture is good, then should this not also be looked at? And if this has started that conversation among churches, then so be it.

Our church never intended for this to have the reaction it has, it was just something the elders and team that had been studying it for years now felt like God was showing them. Our church has not been politcal if you follow its history, we try to model our church biblically and according to God's Word, inline with our Mission Purpose..

I can assure you, you have no idea how surprised our leadership was at the backlash and reaction it has gotten...

But I will still beg to differ with your assertion that labeling has little impact. It has had enormous impact on the SBC and unity thereof. But I have said enough on that subject, God will have to sort that out, and I am praying for unity to be restored. We are not well thought of nationally (the SBC) and that is kind of sad.

Well, enough for one day, but I just wanted you to know...great points, I got your points, each one and I heard and understood you. And I will continue to stand as a sister in Christ...

dmj in OK

Randy Atkins, HHBC said...

It is interesting that the thief on the cross was never baptized and Christ himself stated "this day you will be with me in paradise." Hmmmm.... no baptism. He became a member of the universal church with his name recorded in the Book of Life and was never so much as sprinkled. Jesus was OK with this, so how do we think that we can come along and debate His saving grace and acceptance of a repentant soul and place conditions on a standard He personally set over 6000 years ago?

One of the great operatives of the deciever is to get our eyes off of the cross and to major on the minor. In the end, is the Lord glorified by others questioning the leading of God in their lives? I think there are a few examples where old testiment people questioned the decisions of their leaders and the outcome was disasterous. I will not stand in judgement for Pastor Newkirk's actions, the elder council's actions, nor will anyone else. I think there is wisdom in letting a sleeping dog lie. I do not know about anyone else, but I have a full day keeping Randy in line without concerning myself with other people's activities and making judgement about them that - in the eternal view - I am certainly not qualified to make.

I am certain the world gets a kick out of Chirstians doing just that.

God's Best,
Randy Atkins, HHBC Member

Pastor Jeff said...

Randy,

I feel I hit a sore spot. No doubt, this has caused division in your church and I am sorry for the pain. My prayer is for peace and unity in your church.

That said, however, I also want to offer some response to your post.

First, to suggest that believer's baptism by immersion is a prerequisite for membership in a Baptist Church is not the same thing as saying that baptism is essential for salvation (this is what Alexander Campbell preached and some modern "Churches of Christ" believe). In fact, let us agree that even church membership is not required for salvation! So the thief on the cross was not saved by baptism or church membership but the only way anyone who is saved is saved: by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not die on the same day we are saved. So, assuming we live days and even years after our conversion, we all face questions about what it means for us to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord and to Scripture.

Had the thief lived, I believe he would have wanted to be obedient to the commission of the risen Jesus (Matt 28:19-20), so he would have sought out Biblical baptism, and he would have sought out meaningful membership in a local body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12). These things would not have saved him, but they would have contributed to his sanctification.

Consider the Lord's word to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus told her to go and sin no more. The next step after meeting Jesus and receiving his forgiveness is obedience.

The question at HHBC is not whether baptism is essential for salvation, but whether believer's baptism by immersion is essential for church membership in a Baptist Church.

As for questioning church leadership: Yes, it is wrong to just gripe and complain as did the fickle Israelites contra Moses. On the other hand, godly church leaders are more than willing to have their teaching tested by the word of God.

The lingering question here is whether or not the practice of baptism in the church and its requirement for church membership in Baptist churches is a "minor" issue. Though I agree with you that it is not necessary for salvation, I would not put it in the "minor" category as far as the doctrine of the church is concerned.

I do not know about others, but please know that I am not attacking the character of your pastor and elders. From what I have seen and read, I appreciate the thoughtful way they presented these ideas. I just do no agree with them.

I believe HHBC has the liberty (autonomy) to adopt the proposal on open membership, but I ask for the same liberty to study and even, with civility, to disagree with it.

JTR

dmj said...

Hi JTR..through your posts, it seems that you are a man who desires to live a life devoted to our Father. I challenge you to continue to seek the biblical answers to this question. We should never stop learning from the Holy Spirit.

Your assertion that your argument that membership is not a "minor" issue is interesting considering in your assessment BOTH grew out of the act of faith in Christ! Now, (stay with me here...here is my fear, and remember I agree with immersion after profession of faith because it is biblical and an act of obedience), that as Baptists, we force people to be baptized to be members of our local churches; what if they are not saved and have been raised in a denomination where baptism did not follow salvation, therefore they do not understand the signficance and it becomes just an act, and they become a member by baptism but their heart is unregenerated....oops...That is where, I believe, that we have left a gaping whole as Baptists because we demand immersion baptism to become members. That was the intent after membership if they were sprinkled or something, biblical education.

Now, if you separate the two, then what becomes the focus? Salvation...regeneration, profession of faith in Christ, like the thief on the cross, which from Jesus' own mouth...I am THE way THE truth and THE life...no one comes to the Father but by me...He didn't go and oh, by the way, you have to set up a building, build a baptismal and then fill out a card and dunk your entire body and then you are one with me...profession of faith....fewer people slip through the cracks.

And I will just bet as a Pastor, you have not known of a person who has become saved, who after they knew the truth about baptism, did not follow Christ in obedient baptism.

I have said it before, I will say it again, denominations are man-made, not God-made. He wrote the bible...it is the authority. Our Mission statement is to be a thoroughly biblical church...which is why we are searching the scriptures and trying to find the answers to this.

I agree with you. Baptism is not a minor issue, it is a major issue. But not in the way, Pastor, that you asserted in your response to Randy. It is major because it is out of obedience to Christ, because it identifies us with Him, because it signifies the death, burial and ressurection of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it signifies as we come up out of that water we are raised to walk in the newness of life, a new life with Christ. The old is gone, the new has come. That is what baptism is all about!

And we have made into something to fight about? How dare we. And if my belief that I would rather allow someone who professes faith in Christ but who went through confirmation, or something like that, and was sprinkled after salvation, into our church, and then teach them about the biblical way of immersion and see them immersed at a later date, and that makes me not a "Baptist" then I guess I am not a "Baptist". But I believe in following what Jesus would do...He and His Word first and foremost are my authority.

But consider, Pastor Jeff, your own baptism experience by immersion, did you come out of the water and go "yes, now I am a member, I can vote, I am Baptist!!" I bet it did not even cross your mind...I know it didn't when I did, or when each of my children were baptized...it was irrevelvant!

You have been more than gracious in posting my posts an allowing differing views. I thank you so much for that. I am praying for blessings upon your church and upon you and your family, because no matter what, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thank you again and God bless! Please take this in the spirit of agape love in which it is written. These are my views and do not necessarily reflect the views of my church...except for the bibilical view of baptism!!!!

dmj said...

I am sorry, one more issue that I must correct...although this issue has spurred discussion and searching of scripture in our church, the unity of our church has remained intact. And even when Dennis stated that the Elders decided not to put the vote forward, it was not about their view, it was about making sure that every aspect of this bylaw change had been considered before submitting it for a vote. This issue is not splitting our church body. It has just made us a little weary but most of the poeple I am around are seeking what the Lord wants us to do. And as of now, we are waiting on the Lord, because there is no vote presently before the people, but no major disunity is threatening the internal body.

Thanks,
dmj