An Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian Review Going Public

Review
11.04.2015

Editor’s note: In July, we released a book called Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership by Bobby Jamieson. We asked three pastor-theologians to review the book, each of them from different denominational traditions: Anglican, Presbyterian, and Baptist. We then asked Bobby to write a response to each review. You will find the three reviews and Bobby’s response below.

Bobby Jamieson, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership. B&H Academic, 2015. 256 pp. $24.99.

*****

Tony Payne

There are few things more invigorating than reading a book you thoroughly disagree with written by someone you thoroughly agree with. You quickly sense with joy the shared convictions, and the encouragement of interacting with a like-minded evangelical brother—but then comes the vertiginous feeling of standing before the chasm that separates you on a particular issue, and wondering how it got there.

That’s been my experience in reviewing Going Public by Bobby Jamieson. My thanks to Jonathan Leeman and the 9Marks team for sending this stimulation my way and asking me to write about it, as a non-player in the particular debate that the book is part of.

Well, I’m non-player in one sense, in that we evangelical Anglicans have plenty of other issues to exercise us at present. But in another sense, I am exactly the kind of person at issue in the debate—a Christian believer of long-standing with a ‘credible profession’ but who has not been validly baptized (by commonly accepted credobaptist standards). Should someone such as me be admitted to membership of Mr Jamieson’s church and/or welcomed at the Lord’s table? John Piper and other baptists are currently saying that perhaps I should be allowed in, all things being equal. Mr Jamieson’s book is a good humoured, well-written and forceful ‘No’ to that idea. For him, baptism is the normative and essential oath-sign of initiation into the covenant institution that is the local church. It’s like a passport that allows you proper entry. And so, with what I imagine to be a rueful expression on his face, Mr Jamieson says gently but firmly says, “Sorry—no passport, no entry.”

Given the assumptions that Mr Jamieson unfolds and proceeds to build upon, his argument has some merit. If the institution of the local church is to be as closely identified with the kingdom of God as he says it is, and thus if covenanted membership of such a local church is as vital as he says it is in declaring to the world who is and isn’t a member of that kingdom, then baptism as the public initiatory oath-sign of your entry into that membership would seem to be as important and as necessary as he says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have some difficulty with these assumptions, but here is not the time or place to go into that. Let me instead make some observations on how Mr Jamieson’s argument unfolds on its own terms.

On the question of what baptism really is, it is refreshing to find Mr Jamieson arguing that in the New Testament baptism is a “synecdoche for the whole conversion experience.” (A synecdoche is a way of referring to the whole of something by referring to one of its parts or components; like using ‘bread’ to refer to food generally). He rightly points out that in the New Testament baptism was the normal and expected way someone would enact their decision to repent and put their faith in Christ—like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 (my paraphrase: “You want to become a Christian? Great! Where’s the water?”). Thus, as the New Testament unfolds, baptism becomes a short-hand way of talking about ‘becoming a Christian,’ because that’s when baptism happened and that’s what it essentially symbolised.

If Mr Jamieson’s position at this point could be described as protometanoiobaptist, I would be happy to join him in wearing this label.[1]

However, Mr Jamieson wants to ask a further important question: for whom is this conversion sign a sign? His answer is that it is for those watching. Baptism is “where faith goes public” and makes its visible testimony before the church and the world.

This move is vital to his argument, because the point at issue in the debate is not so much what to do with the normal situation (i.e. where an adult is converted and baptized there and then), but with the variations to that norm—such as when someone is raised as a Christian and has no definitive conversion at which to be baptized, or with someone who simply wasn’t baptized at conversion (perhaps because the person evangelizing them was incompetent or had a conscientiously different view on baptism).

Now if baptism is merely the vivid symbolic way to enact a decision to become a Christian, then the absence of the symbol in these abnormal situations would not infer the absence of the reality. That, after all, is how synecdoche often works. (I can ‘break bread’ with you without actually eating any bread.) In this sense, baptism would be like the wedding ring or ‘walking down the aisle’—a normative and expected symbolic action associated with the reality of getting married, the absence of which would not diminish that reality.

Mr Jamieson, however, sees baptism as being like the wedding vows—that baptism is the public declaration that constitutes the starting of the marriage, and that its absence means that in effect there is no marriage (where ‘marriage’ here is the church membership that declares to the world that you are a Christian).

It is therefore vital to see baptism as essentially a public testimony to one’s commitment to Christ, because only then can it serve as a proper entry-permit into the public kingdom-embassy that is the local church. Baptism is public and corporate, not individualistic and personal.

Given the importance of this point for the argument, Mr Jamieson’s biblical evidence for the public nature and purpose of baptism is surprisingly scant. As far as I can see, it consists of an examination of the (presumably public) baptism of the 3,000 new converts at Pentecost, and a consideration of what a stark and powerful sign this must have been to those watching. No doubt this is true, but it doesn’t prove (‘by good and necessary consequence’) that this was the function or purpose of the baptism at Pentecost, or of baptism more generally. Mr Jamieson seems to acknowledge this when he says (in a footnote) that Acts 2:38ff “seems to imply that public witness is an intrinsic component of baptism.”

I hope Mr Jamieson will pardon me for saying that a “seems to imply” from one text is not a sufficient Scriptural foundation for such a key plank in his argument—especially when a number of other texts in Acts would seem to imply otherwise. The baptisms of the Ethiopian eunuch and of the Philippian jailer, for example, could hardly be described as being intrinsically ‘public’ in any meaningful sense.

There is also the uncomfortable fact that of all the numerous ways in which our faith is said to ‘go public’ in the New Testament, baptism doesn’t seem to be one of them. Christians advertise their repentance-and-faith to each other and to the world by fleeing idols and serving the living and true God, by testifying that Jesus is Lord, by answering for the hope we have, by refusing to plunge into the dissipation of those around you, and so on. The public witness of our baptism is conspicuous by its absence here.

Now it is likely that those with whom Mr Jamieson is debating (essentially other credobaptists) will already share his view of the essentially public and testimonial nature of baptism, and so this lack of explicit biblical support for the idea may not weaken the force of his argument for them at this point. I confess it does so for me.

There is much more to be said about Mr Jamieson’s stimulating little book. It challenged me to wonder why (in my own circles) we don’t utilize or perform baptism more commonly as the normal way for adults to signify their conversion. And it prompted me to realize that there is more thinking to be done in my part of the world about the theological significance of church membership, given the particular shape of our ecclesiology.

Perhaps in conclusion I might offer a question to consider in return for Mr Jamieson and my good friends at 9Marks.

Ontologically speaking, what is a church? Is it essentially a polis—that is, an institutional political entity, with a God-ordained constitution and charter? Or is it essentially a fellowship of persons-in-relationship, assembled and indwelt by God’s Word and Spirit?[2] Or if it is in some proportion both, is one aspect of the being of the church more central and determinative than the other?

I suspect what differences there are between us on membership and baptism stem ultimately from different answers to this important question.

[1] As would I think DB Knox, given his argument in ‘New Testament Baptism’ in K. Birkett (ed), D. Broughton Knox: Selected Works, vol ii ‘Church and Ministry’ (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2003), pp 263-310.

[2] Robert Doyle’s article some 20 years ago in The Briefing clarifies and explores this question, particularly in relation to how our view of God’s being relates to our view of the being of the church. http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/1993/09/the-church-of-the-holy-trinity/

*****

Chad Van Dixhoorn

Bobby Jamieson would be welcome to join my local church. He’d be welcome to take membership vows not because we have friends in common (we do), nor because I like his writing style (I do), nor because we agree on dozens of points of doctrine (we do). He’s right to say we can’t pare down our convictions or make baptism optional. I agree that we should not privilege personal preference over the authority of the church, an individual conscience over purity of doctrine. And I like the fact that Jamieson is willing and able to articulate his own theology of baptism: I especially like the quotes from the paedobaptists.

But all of that is immaterial to church membership: a confessing Jamieson should be accepted as a member in a presbyterian church because it is Christ’s church. The arms of the church should seek to embrace as many brothers and sisters as Christ does himself. Anyone with a credible profession of faith and life should be allowed to join, and no one should be suspended from the Lord’s table or removed from the Lord’s church unless their words or actions fundamentally undermine their allegiance to Christ.

As I understand it, Going Public has two main premises and a conclusion. Premise 1: Baptism is required for membership. Premise 2: Infant and non-immersion baptism are not baptisms. Conclusion: Presbyterians should not be members in Baptist churches. For what it is worth, I agree with the first premise to the book, but disagree with the second, and with the conclusion. But what is more, I think Jamieson’s syllogism misses the most important premise of a good ecclesial argument: the church is Christ’s church and should be populated by all true Christians.

I begin there. To argue from this premise is not to privilege the individual. It is to privilege a more fundamental doctrine than one’s theology or practice of baptism. Jamieson’s argument is internally consistent, and it explains the tension that many evangelical Baptists feel in the larger evangelical family. But his solution is unfortunate, for it ascribes to the very important doctrine of baptism an even greater importance than it deserves.

Now Going Public was not written for me to read. Jamieson is cheerfully clear that it is a book written for credo- and not paedo-baptists (p. 9). This is why many readers of Going Public will feel like they are walking into a marital dispute where only one side is doing the talking. To get the presbyterian and historic reformed side of the conversation readers will have to look elsewhere. But even if I were a Baptist I still wouldn’t want to buy Bobby’s arguments. Let me explain why.

First, I think that many reformed Baptists are realizing that the traditional description of believer’s baptism as a personal declaration of faith causes trouble for our theological grammar. It places the emphasis on us rather than God. Jamieson, on the other hand, repeatedly tells us that baptism is faith going public. He mentions it most and lists it first (pp. 44-45) even though he teaches that baptism is fundamentally a symbol of forgiveness and union with Christ and that each sacrament has both “vertical and horizontal elements” (pp. 45-49, 145; see Jamieson’s wonderful ‘vertical’ statements and his Michael Horton quotation on p. 117).

In other words, even though it would not have helped the main argument of the book, it would have been better to consistently underscore that baptism is about grace going public, or God going public. Christians need to declare that baptism emphasizes the priority of God’s grace even over our faith. That would bring glory to God as we trumpet God’s declarations and mute ours! This is more biblical, Calvinian, and lifts up Him; the other is inadvertently Arminian and focuses on I, me, or you (e.g., p. 149). Perhaps it’s just cheeky to add that most of the baptisms Going Public adduces are not in fact public declarations (pp. 37-38; 45 n. 18).

If my first concern is that the book does too little with baptism, my second is that it might do too much. Jamieson says baptism is “part of how someone becomes a Christian” (p. 39); an “aspect of conversion” (p. 43); that “the new covenant . . . is ratified by each believer in baptism” (67). Going Public frequently refers to baptism as an “effective sign”; it “confers” or “constitutes” membership and “creates the ecclesial reality to which it points” (pp. 100, 104, 134-5, 146, etc.). It is true that baptism marks the moment of entrance into the visible church. It is true that it is so closely related to God’s saving actions that it is sometimes substituted for salvation itself. Nonetheless, if one is going to argue that baptism effects or confers something, one might want to consider some careful qualifiers, such as those offered in the Westminster Confession of Faith in distinction from similar comments among Roman Catholics and Lutherans (see WCF 27.2, 27.3). I’d hate to see baptism moving from that which is sacramental (pp. 43-44) to that which is sacerdotal. I also wonder if some Baptists might conclude that if this kind of construction is needed to keep out the presbyterians, the cost may be too high and the project ought to be cancelled.

There are other matters about which I hope readers will quibble. I was puzzled by some of Jamieson’s exegetical movements: “seems,” “I think,” “probably,” and “if” on p. 70 somehow become “not explicitly” and “is” on p. 71.

I am uncomfortable with seeing baptism as our “obligation-creating act” (p. 72) or initiating oath-sign (e.g. pp. 78-80, 93-95). Perhaps I need to hear more to understand what Jamieson is doing, but this strikes me as an eclectic New Covenant misappropriation of Old Covenant ideas: if a sacrament is an oath-sign, I would have thought it was God’s to us, not ours to God, as in the case of Noah, Abraham, etc.

I found it curious that Going Public says “each male descendent of Abraham entered into the covenant by means of an oath-sign of his own” (p. 67). I don’t remember that individualistic edge in Genesis 17.

I enjoyed much of the presentation of the newness of the new covenant, while sometimes wondering if Christ was getting his due from Jamieson’s presentation of the Old. I think it would clarify his account if he’d go public on whether the Old Covenant was a “covenant of grace” too (p. 114, n. 15).

My greatest concern is that Jamieson doesn’t take seriously enough some of the counter-arguments that he lists in chapter two (including the ones offered by John Piper) or the fact that “It seems wrong at a gut level to have to exclude R. C. Sproul or Kevin DeYoung from your church simply because he hasn’t been baptized as you understand the ordinance” (p. 10). Indeed, Going Public doesn’t pitch the problem nearly high enough. Perhaps the author makes only private judgments when he quotes Horton and Hubmaier, Kline and Kiffin, Swain and Schreiner. But a Baptist church certainly makes a public statement when it invites a Ligon Duncan or a Kevin Deyoung to preach—and a confused statement when it still wants to defend a closed membership that excludes most Christians today, almost all Christians prior to the numerical rise of Baptists at the Second Great Awakening, and the vast majority of theologians in the Christian tradition. I think that Baptists who are alive to the breadth and depth of the church and its history should find this disconcerting. (Unbeknownst to Jamieson [p. 31], there is a long history of paedobaptist churches that also exclude Baptists from their membership. But they are wrong, too.)

Going Public offers almost glib solutions (and criticism) for Christians living on the outskirts of evangelicalism who can only find one faithful church within commuting distance and thus determine to prioritize effective preaching over proper sacramental practice. And I doubt the author makes enough of his own admission that “brothers and sisters can provide a sophisticated, time-honoured rationale for . . . their understanding of the biblical covenants” (p. 167)—understandings that impact baptism and membership. What he allows about biblical covenants could also be said about any number of biblical and theological issues. For example, Jamieson says that the Ethiopian’s baptism “gained its full, ecclesial meaning” at a later point, but normally baptism enjoys its full meaning right away (p. 101). Does that not raise a question? Could the opposite case become normal in another context? With a new convert, baptism will enjoy its full meaning immediately; but with his or her children, could it gain its full, ecclesial meaning at a later point?

My aim is not to use a review to persuade readers of infant baptism, but to demonstrate that it is deeply implausible to consider the water-acts of classical reformed communions as willful disobedience to the degree that it discredits a confession of faith. I think the same cannot be said of those who argue for ‘spiritual’ and thus dry ‘baptisms.’ Here Jamieson is right: a baptism without water is not a baptism at all. But a baptism with no water and a Presbyterian baptism is a difference in degree that becomes a difference in kind. ‘Spiritual’ or ‘non-baptism’ arguments are either profoundly subversive of basic principles of biblical interpretation or, in the case of some modern missiologists, simply unfaithful to Christ. Denials of the need for water-baptism should raise a whole series of red flags; for this reason I’d argue that someone who refuses any kind of water baptism should not admitted to membership.

But I think Jamieson is wrong to think that it causes insurmountable practical problems if you admit Presbyterians or Baptists into membership while offering restrictions on how they serve. As it happens, Presbyterian elders think that Baptists often misunderstand both the meaning and the mode of baptism, and sometimes hold to worrying views about the faith of children (pp. 216-17 worry me). For such reasons, Baptists are not elders in presbyterian churches—but we still admit them to membership, because a presbyterian church is not just for Presbyterians: it is for Christians. This is explained to prospective Baptists members (and our Arminian members and our charismatic members) and it does not require us to water down the pure milk of the Word.

Christians need a definition of the church that explicitly puts Christ at its center (unlike the ones on p. 148). The church is Christ’s body, of which he is the head. All ecclesiological reasoning must be subordinate to this most basic principle. If the eldership of a church knows that a person is a Christian, there is no sufficient justification to cut him or her off from membership. Admitting paedobaptists in a Baptist church may require humility. It does not call for compromise.

*****

Stan Norman

In his “one-issue book,” Bobby Jamieson admirably addresses one of the foremost ecclesial issues facing Baptist churches today. As more and more credobaptist churches downplay the importance of baptism for church membership, Jamieson contends the Bible teaches that baptism is required for church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper. His thesis is “that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are effective signs of church membership; they create the social, ecclesial reality to which they point.” To the best of my knowledge, no other book of recent origin has sought to tackle this issue as its singular topic.

OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK

Jamieson argues that the “ecclesial shape” of baptism provides a biblical picture of the “shape of membership.” In other words, the nature, purpose, and even existence of a local church (and thus, the nature of church membership) should be clearly discerned from the meaning and practice of the ordinances. As Jamieson states, “this relationship has a discernible theological shape, and this shape makes baptism a requirement for church membership.”

Jamieson addresses foundational and preliminary matters in the first two chapters, clarifying his thesis and why, as he states, “this debate is worth having.” Various positions on this issue are examined, and key terms are likewise defined. Chapters 3 through 7 are where Jamieson constructs the position he is proposing, giving careful attention to exegetical matters and theological foundations. The overall thrust of this material focuses particularly upon the baptism of believers and the implications of its doctrinal themes for church membership (chapter 6 examines the Lord’ Supper and similar implications for membership).

In my judgment, chapter 7 is the heart of the book. This is where Jamieson brings all the biblical and theological considerations into a pastoral statement on what church membership means, why it is important, and what ramifications membership carries for the life of a disciple of Christ in a covenant community with other believers.

Chapter 8 provides a brief synopsis of the salient points developed thus far. Chapters 9 and 10 are polemical in nature, for here Jamieson answers the objections and criticisms to the position he is offering. He engages with key tenets of open membership and provides critical assessment of this ecclesial trend. The final chapter gives practical implications of his view for church life. A concluding appendix illustrates how to explain the position Jamieson is proposing “in three minutes.”

ASSESSMENT AND CRITICISM

Overall, Jamieson delivers solid, exegetical arguments for the position he espouses as “closed membership” (i.e., baptism of believers by immersion is required for church membership). He addresses most (though not all) relevant biblical passages that inform and support his position. He is cognizant to the rich traditions behind his position (and the other positions with which he interacts), and his footnotes provide resources for in-depth interaction with primary, historical materials. Jamieson’s treatise reveals that he is an adept exegete and competent theologian.

I want to propose two suggestions that I believe could have enhanced Jamieson’s thesis. First, I was somewhat surprised by what I perceived as a diminished Christological focus. Granted, most treatises on church polity are by definition heavily (and rightfully) focused upon ecclesiological development. However, I wished Jamieson had paid more attention to the notion that “to belong to Christ is to belong to His people.” In other words, does salvation unite followers of Christ in unions that have formal membership expressions? Jamieson alludes to such, but I think a more detailed treatment of the Christological (and attendant soteriological) components would have enhanced an already strong presentation.

Identification with Christ means identification with His people, the church. Jesus Himself makes this point in His confrontation with Saul on the road to Damascus. To identify visibly with Christ was to identify visibly with His people (Acts 9:1-6). This belief has immediate application for our understanding of church membership. A salvific engagement with the resurrected Christ begins a trajectory that results in the joining of our lives by the Spirit to other followers of Christ. The culmination of this movement, at least as I understand the New Testament, is in the visible alignment of our lives with other believers through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, tangible acts of faith that credobaptists believe formally constitute and express church membership. A bit more attention to this concept, along with a more in-depth development of the implications of Matthew 28:19 for Jesus’ teaching on the role of baptism for the life of a disciple, I believe could have made a strong thesis even stronger.

My second suggestion is more critical in nature. In the section found in chapter 9, “We’re the Only Evangelical Church in Our Area! There’s Nowhere Else For Them to Go,” Jamieson makes a concession to the paedobaptist position that, in my judgment, runs contrary to his thesis and supporting evidences. In this particular discussion, he concedes that, if in certain contexts no paedobaptist churches are accessible, and if certain paedobaptist Christians remained steadfastly convinced of their position, then the credobaptists should help the paedobaptists start their own church.[1]

If believer’s baptism means everything that Jamieson says it means (and I believe that it does), I am bewildered by this concession. I certainly appreciate the pastoral concern and tone behind this sentiment, but helping to plant a paedobaptist church seems to me counter-intuitive to everything that Jamieson has argued. I would offer that our Baptist forebears, as an expression of their distinctive Baptist convictions, would engage with the paedobaptists diligently with the teachings of Scripture to convince them of the truth of the credobaptist position. These early Baptists believed that this was a duty faithful to the teachings of the New Testament. As confessional credobaptists, should we not likewise imbibe the same passions and commitments? I believe so.[2] I don’t think that, for the sake of compassion or expediency, we as credobaptists should set aside these meaningful convictions to assist in the planting of a paedobaptist church.

CONCLUSION

Despite these reservations, I believe that Bobby Jamieson has provided a much-needed resource that will promote biblically faithful, and thus, healthy New Testament churches. Those immersed in a paedobaptist tradition will likely remain unconvinced by his arguments (then again, maybe not!). But for those who have not considered these matters carefully, Jamieson has provided theologically-sound and pastorally-sensitive instruction. Jamieson demonstrates a unique gift to take complex theological ideas and express them in memorable, succinct ways. Clergy and laity alike will find expressions such “baptism is where faith goes public” and “baptism binds one to many, the Lord’s Supper makes many one” to be useful phrases to assist in preaching and teaching. Those who believe that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are vital to church-life will be encouraged and strengthened in their positions. Those who do not believe that the ordinances have direct bearing upon matters of church membership will be challenged to re-think, and hopefully revise, their understandings of what the Bible teaches on these matters.

[1]“So if you’re the only church in your city, and you’ve got convinced paedobaptists coming to your church, and they remain so despite your best efforts to convince them otherwise, I’d suggest that your long-term goal should be to help them start a church.” Jamieson, Going Public, 187.

[2]See R. Stanton Norman. More Than Just a Name: Preserving Our Baptist Identity (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 18-19, where I contend that a polemical element is part of the distinctive identity of Baptists. Further, early Baptists believed that they were biblically required to engage with other non-Baptist Christians on the teachings of the New Testament regarding baptism and the Lord’s Supper (among other beliefs).

*****

A Reply, by Bobby Jamieson

First, warm thanks to all three reviewers for their gift of reading and responding to my book. At the risk of taking a liberty, since I’ve only spent time with one of them, I’ll generally use their first names. To avoid the risk of inflicting death by boredom, I’ll respond only to their most substantial critiques.

I’ll start with Stan Norman. His first main criticism is that my discussion of church membership is insufficiently Christological, which seems to leave the status of formal membership uncertain. Stan offers this as a friendly amendment, which is good, because I agree with his follow-up paragraph and am not sure how it differs from what I wrote.

Stan’s second critique takes issue with my recommendation for a credobaptist church to assist in the planting of a paedobaptist church where none exists yet there are Christians convinced of paedobaptism. Stan wants an either/or where I see a both/and. I think we Baptists consistently maintain our convictions by only baptizing believers and only accepting baptized believers into membership. But I think that providing various kinds of support to paedobaptist churches is a legitimate and, in some cases, even necessary expression of our unity in Christ.

While I appreciate the warmth and charity of Tony Payne’s review, I’m afraid he confuses two things I labor to distinguish. I’m sure I bear some responsibility for that! Nevertheless, I do not argue that the absence of baptism implies the absence of the reality to which baptism points. The whole burden of the book is to ask what to do precisely when we are convinced of the reality but the sign is missing.

Tony goes on to argue that, given its importance for my thesis, I would have done well to justify more thoroughly the public nature and purpose of baptism. He boils my case down to one prooftext, Acts 2:38. If we’re in a boiling-down mood, we at least need to include Matthew 28:19. In chapter 5 I argue that baptism “into the name” of the Trinity is an intrinsically, irreducibly public reality. Even if there are no witnesses at a baptism (besides the baptizer!), for one Christian to identify another Christian with the name of our Triune God is an inevitably public act. The recurring covenantal theme of God putting his name on his people throughout Scripture confirms this. As Sinclair Ferguson has put it, baptism is a Christian’s naming ceremony. And a name is for other people to know you by.

Tony seems to treat baptism as a one-off event that does not figure into how the church and the world relate to a person thereafter. But I argue that baptism is not just an event, but a status resulting from that event (“baptized”). So even if the act itself is not overtly public, the status that results is.

Finally, Tony asks if the church is “essentially” a polis or a fellowship. I, in response, refuse to choose. A more important question is, what kind of fellowship is the church? And, how do each of those metaphorical fields—the more political and the more relational—actually function in the Bible’s teaching about the church?

Turning to Chad VanDixhoorn’s review, I have to confess I’m a little puzzled by Chad’s main criticism. He writes, “I agree that we should not privilege personal preference over the authority of the church, an individual conscience over purity of doctrine.” He also writes that those who argue for “spiritual” baptism or a “non-baptism” position “are either profoundly subversive of basic principles of biblical interpretation or . . . simply unfaithful to Christ. Denials of the need for water-baptism should raise a whole series of red flags; for this reason I’d argue that someone who refuses any kind of water baptism should not admitted to membership.”

Does Chad not realize that, for those who argue that baptism is only for professing believers, paedobaptism is not any kind of water baptism? The hermeneutics certainly differ. I’d be far less worried about Chad’s reading of the Bible than about a Quaker’s. But, if I can put it like this, a Presbyterian is just as un-baptized as a Quaker.

So, Dr. VanDixhoorn, are you saying that you categorically regard Salvationists or Quakers as false professors? You say they couldn’t belong to your church; does that mean none of them belong to Christ?

Chad implies that the difference between infant baptism and believer baptism is a difference in degree, not kind, but that I make it a difference in kind. But that’s just the thing: if I didn’t believe this was a difference in kind, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Chad doesn’t seem willing, even for the sake of argument, to grant me the premise that, through the groovy Baptist glasses through which I view the world, infant baptism really isn’t baptism. But if he can’t grant the premise then he simply hasn’t yet understood the situation we Baptists find ourselves in, the situation my book takes for granted.

I suspect this contributes to why Chad thinks I treat paedobaptism “as willful disobedience to the degree that it discredits a confession of faith.” I don’t: see especially pages 170–78. It’s not that paedobaptism discredits a confession; it’s that it hinders a believer from making their confession in the form Christ appointed.

Chad scores many other points against my book that I, of course, would like to see taken off the board. But instead of trying your patience, dear readers, I’ll do my best to try Chad’s, privately, the next time we’re in the same city—which I hope will be very soon.

Again, thanks very much to all three reviewers for serving me, and I hope you all, through these substantive, lovingly tendered critiques.