Mailbag #26: Discipling the Arrogant; Hiring a Pastor Who Isn’t Convinced on His View of Baptism; Must Only Elders Baptize?
How should you disciple someone who seems puffed up and arrogant in their perception of the Scriptures and their interpretations? It’s important for us to speak the truth in love, but how does this look practically in the relationship when there’s the temptation to get assertive in order to “put things in place”?
Thanks so much.
You cannot teach the unteachable. Proverbs is clear about this in a hundred different ways, as when it warns, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him yourself” (26:4). So if a brother or sister proves consistently puffed up and arrogant in conversations about Scripture or doctrine, I generally will not spend much time engaging the person on these topics. My temptation, too, might be to “get assertive” (as you put it) and so become like the fool himself (as Proverbs puts it).
Besides, Paul tells Timothy that an elder is “not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3; also 2 Tim. 2:24). He also tells him to charge the flock “not to quarrel about words” (2 Tim. 2:14) and to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies” (2:23; also, Titus 3:2,9).
But wait, you ask. Doesn’t Proverbs also say, “Answer a fool in his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (26:5)? And aren’t elders and others to instruct in sound doctrine, and all of us to speak the truth in love?
Of course, yes. So I’m not going to run and hide from this individual. If he asks me a question, I will answer it. But you know what happens next. You can sometimes see it in his face. He inhales, his eyes narrow, and suddenly his casual “I’m just curious” look turns into an “Ah, the game is afoot” look. I assume that any pushing I do at this point will only provoke his ego to fight back, so I refuse to pull out my sword (at least if I am walking in the Spirit). I smile and change the subject.
Please understand: it’s not necessarily that I’m convinced that I’m right and that he is wrong, though I might be. It’s that I need to guard my own ego from becoming involved. Once egos are involved, there can be no conversation or genuine instruction in either direction.
The difference between a conversation and a quarrel is the presence of our egos. Conversations occur when we want to learn. Quarrels happen when we want to win.
In the meantime, you pray for the person, that God would help him or her to more deeply grasp the gospel. The gospel kills that desire to win, because the gospel removes the need for self-justification.
It occurs to me, there is a connection between the gospel and education, isn’t there? Knowing our justification comes from Christ makes us teachable. The gospel makes learning more likely.
Our church is currently looking for a lead pastor. We have been interviewing many folks and we found a guy whose preaching ability and character and leadership qualities match up with exactly what we’ve been looking for. That said, when we lobbed some specific doctrinal questions, he was non-committal regarding his view on baptism. He said he’d not made his mind up on the issue (he’d been trained by both paedobaptists and credobaptists) and that it wouldn’t be “a hill he’s willing to die on,” by which I think he meant he would be happy to acquiesce to our church’s current stance on the matter (credobaptism).
My question is simple: Should this be a red flag?
I have just spent a week in the Middle East and heard about various cities where believers gather but they have no pastor. If I were in that situation, and our church was desperate for someone (anyone!) to preach, I might tell the man that our church would consider him for an interim position for the sake of having someone preach, but that that interim status would remain as long as he remained undecided about whether people should obey Jesus’ command to be baptized. Maybe. Maybe I would not even concede the interim. I’m not sure.
Assuming a less extreme situation—and California may be extreme in other ways, but not in that way—I would not invite that man to be my pastor. And here I think the vast majority of paedobaptists historically would agree with me. For him to be a pastor, he needs to figure out what he believes about baptism. A pastor who is undecided on baptism is like a shepherd who is undecided on what kind of fences should surround the sheep pen, as well as who belongs in the sheep pen: just sheep or sheep and goats?
The paedobaptist believes the new covenant community is formally mixed. It should include believers and unbelievers (infants). The credobaptist believes the church, by design, should aim to be unmixed, knowingly including only believers. And our stance on baptism places us in one camp or the other. Which means, if this man is undecided or unstudied on baptism, he is undecided or unstudied on the nature of the church. So, no, I would not invite a man to pastor my church who was unclear in his mind about the very nature of the church. How can he give oversight to it if he doesn’t even know what “it” should be?
Instead, I would encourage this man to spend a little more time in study so that he might come to a stronger set of convictions on baptism and the nature of the church—not so that he might “die on some hill,” a rhetorically mischievous way of relativizing Jesus’ command to be baptized, but so that he might more faithfully shepherd the church toward the New Testament vision, whether that is a mixed or unmixed community. If mixed, you don’t want to exclude those you shouldn’t. If unmixed, you don’t want to include those you shouldn’t.
I pray this is wise counsel for you, and not misguided.
I recently had a young lady who is a new believer say she wanted to be baptized and become a member, but she wanted her female friend (who is a member) to perform the baptism since she is the one who has been discipling her. In the past we have let those who were not Elders baptize, provided they were in good standing as member of our faith family. What restrictions, if any, should be placed on who can administer the ordinance of baptism, provided the baptism is under the authority of a local church and the member of the church is in good standing with their local church?
Ever since the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, many Protestants have recognized that at least “in cases of necessity any one [sic] can baptize and give absolution, which would be impossible unless we were all priests” (from “Open Letter to the Christian Nobility”). Even the uncompromising Presbyterian James Bannerman acknowledges that, in the church on the desert island where all the pastors all die, the church members themselves “must have within themselves all power competent to carry on the necessary functions and offices of a Church” (from The Church of Christ).
I mention those two historical luminaries for the sake of any friends who might get nervous when I concede the point: formally speaking, yes, Brent, I’m happy for any church member in good-standing to administer a baptism.
Not only that, I am even slightly more willing for any member of the congregation to administer a baptism than a Presbyterian or an Anglican since I do not believe the pastors or elders hold the keys of the kingdom over and against the congregation, which include the authority to baptize.
Having said that, Scripture gives oversight to the elders, which means they should lead the church in the use of the keys. This involves making recommendations on whom the church should receive and release from membership. And ordinarily this means they baptize. And they lead in the Lord’s Supper. Leadership in the ordinances, I think, helpfully reinforces their general oversight. Plus, you want to keep the elder’s ministry of the Word tied to the ministry of the ordinances because the two belong together. So, unless the pastors are literally all dead or gone, as in Bannerman’s illustration, I believe it is far and away the wisest course of action to have an elder overseeing both the ceremonies of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That said, just as any member of our church in good standing can then pass out the elements from pew to pew, I think I am happy for any member of the church in good standing to stand in the baptismal (or the river or whatever) with the pastor and actually administer the baptism, including the friend who has discipled the woman.
I say “I think” simply because this is not my own church’s practice, and I have never practiced what I am saying. We are in the category of wisdom here, and there may be some prudential reason which I have not considered to forbid a church member from administering the baptism. Perhaps someone else could suggest a reason not to? Certainly this is the kind of matter I would discuss with all of my fellow elders.