Mailbag #86: Considering the Danger, Should Muslim-Background Believers Be Baptized . . . My Friends Who Want to Be Pastors Think Polity Is Boring. How Can I Help Them?
Should we encourage Muslim-background believers to be baptized, even when it endangers their lives? »
My friends want to be pastors. But they have no interest in polity. How can I help them see its importance? »
I understand the reasons why baptism should precede communion, and I agree with them. However, I’ve come across an issue when it comes to those from a Muslim background who truly have accepted Jesus and found salvation in the gospel. The issue is that undergoing baptism would endanger their lives. In these cases, should we encourage baptism anyway? And should we withhold communion from them until they have been baptized?
When we give counsel in life-or-death situations, Christian love demands that we approach them with humility and care.
We agree that Jesus has commanded those who receive him in faith to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And I think we agree that Jesus has also commanded those baptized believers to make disciples.
If we’re in agreement about those commands of Jesus, then anyone who places his faith in Jesus has two options. He can be baptized and go about the work of making disciples in obedience to Jesus, or he can essentially be a “secret believer”—one who believes in Jesus, but never receives Christian baptism and doesn’t attempt to make disciples out of fear of being discovered.
Now, when we consider the commands of Christ to be baptized and to make disciples, and the historical fact that many believers have obeyed him at the cost of their lives, can we conclude that some believers have the option not to obey him to preserve their lives? I don’t believe we can.
Consider this. When the apostle Paul’s friends tried to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem because he might be killed, he answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul knew he might be killed for his faith. But he counted the cost, and believed it was worth it.
As difficult as it will be to counsel your Muslim friends in this way, I believe faithfulness requires you to ask them to count the cost of following Jesus, to be baptized, and to begin making disciples. Only then can you admit them to the Lord’s Table to receive communion. Otherwise, what message are you sending to those at the table who are experiencing persecution because they’ve been baptized and are making disciples? Are you not telling them that there was another option, a way of following Jesus free from persecution?
Every believer is called to obedience, and Scripture is clear: we will pay a price for that obedience. Faithfulness requires us to call others to count the cost of following Jesus, and also to remind them that it’s all worth it in the end.
I recently graduated from Bible College and desire to be a pastor someday. I seem to have a recurring problem with fellow graduated friends who also desire to go into pastoral ministry. I talk to them about the significance of church polity and they reply, “I honestly have not studied it much and it’s not an area of interest.”
What are some ways I can show them the importance of polity? I’ve given them Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, but they haven’t touched it. Some of them even think the topic is boring. Do you have any advice on how to approach this situation?
How many single guys like to think about fatherhood? Not many. But once married, when his wife tells him she’s pregnant, you can be sure his interest level in fatherhood will explode.
Likewise, a man preparing for ministry may not be interested in church polity, but the first time he brings a motion to the church for a vote, tries to nominate a man to be an elder, or wonders who has the authority to negotiate a rental agreement for the gathering—at that moment you can be sure he’ll care about church government. And, if he’s godly, he’ll want to know what the Bible says about how a church should be structured.
In the meantime, what can you to do prod your friends to take an interest in church government?
First, encourage them to get involved in a local church. Really involved. Are they going to members meetings? Are they praying for their leaders? Are they serving? Are they discipling others? It’s hard to be very involved in a local church without also caring for how the church is structured. I’ve always told future pastors they should be the kind of church member now that they would one day like to pastor. I’m very thankful for church members who take an interest in the church.
Second, give them a few good books. Start with Mark Dever’s What Is a Healthy Church?, Jonathan Leeman’s Understanding the Congregation’s Authority, and Daniel E. Wray’s The Importance of the Local Church. These are simple, straightforward, and helpful introductions to church matters.
Finally, show them God’s interest in the church. When Saul persecutes the church, Jesus responds in Acts 9:4 with a question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” If our Savior identifies himself with the church, we should have a profound interest in it. You can’t love Christ without loving his body. Paul describes the church in Ephesians 2:22 as a people “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Church government is about more than governing documents, it’s about the Spirit building a people together for the glory of God. This is a topic we dare not ignore!