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.


Anonymous 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.


A co-laborer in Christ

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


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

Anonymous 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

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


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.