Discussions about baptism seem to me to revolve essentially around the nature of baptism (what it is and does) rather than around its necessity. Both paedobaptists and credobaptists believe in the necessity of baptism. They do not agree on the nature of it.
Piper raised quite a stir a while back over his attempt to lead Bethlehem Baptist Church to accept paedobaptists into the congregation. His reasoning, summarized, was "Why should the local church be more restrictive than the universal church?" It is a noble sounding concern. But isn't that exactly what church discipline does? It most assuredly makes the local church more restrictive than the universal church. Other things do as well. So I find this concern less than compelling as a basis for the argument to begin with. Having read Piper's latest attempt, I am no more convinced than I was previously.
Several of Piper's comments grab my attention:
Evidently, Wayne is not so sure any more that we should make the effort to overcome the divisions among evangelicals for the sake of welcoming true brothers and sisters as members in the local church.Is this really accurate? It seems like this is more than what Grudem said. I imagine he would like to overcome division by having everyone come to the credobaptist view. I certainly would. I am not a fan of having unbaptized believers out there. But the solution, it seems to me, is not to admit unbaptized believers to the congregation, no matter how sincere they may be, but to call them diligently through biblical teaching to be baptized biblically.
I would say to them: “Brothers, I think you are not baptized. But you believe on biblical grounds as you see them, with as much humility and openness to truth as God has given you, that you are baptized. Your understanding of baptism does not imply that Christ’s command may be neglected or that infant sprinkling is regenerating. You give good evidence of being born again and that you embrace Christ as your Savior and Lord and Treasure, and you manifest an authentic intention, on the basis of that faith, to follow Jesus as Lord and obey his teachings. Therefore, since there is good evidence that you are members of the Body of Christ, you may be members of this local expression of that body. But understand this: I will spend the rest of my ministry trying to persuade you that you and your children should follow through on the full obedience to Jesus and be baptized. In admitting you, I do not give up on my view of baptism. That is the whole point. We are finding a way to work on this disagreement from inside the body of Christ in its local expression.”Here, Piper seems to take a rather postmodern view of truth (that isn't really all that postmodern). He essentially grants that validity of belief is judged by sincerity of belief. The fact that Sproul, Duncan, or whoever believe something with "humility and openness" is irrelevant. If you believe the wrong thing, it matters not how much humility you have.
Notice how Piper says that they believe "the truth as God has given [them]." Really? Is the truth God gave to paedobaptists different than he gave to credobaptists? I don't think so. I am not aware of some other revelation out there, and I don't think Piper or Grudem are either (in spite of their sympathies with charismata).
The fact is that truth is not personal; it is universal. And if someone believes differently than someone else, they are not both right, no matter how sincere they may be.
Turning the tables, I would say that when a person looks a true and precious brother in the eye and says, “You may not join this church,” he is doing one of two things: Seriously diminishing our spiritual union in Christ, or seriously minimizing the importance of church membership. Very few, it seems to me, have really come to terms with the seriousness of excluding believers from membership in the local church. It is preemptive excommunication.I think the opposite. To say you may not join this church is to say that we value God's view more than yours. We love you and want you to come to God's view on this matter. For some who would object to the "arrogance" of saying we hold God's view, why else would we hold it? Would you really hold something that was not God's view? If you were convinced that God viewed it another way, wouldn't you change? I would.
Furthermore, I don't think such a statement minimizes the importance of church membership. I think it highlights it. Remember, as Baptists, we hold to a regenerated church membership because that is the pattern of the NT from Acts right on through. Those who "received the word were baptized and were added to the church" (Acts 2:41). Church membership is based on a credible profession of faith. In this day and age of "walk the aisle" to get saved, we have gotten away from the NT teaching that the confession of Christ as Savior was not the pastor reading a decision card from the pulpit. It was the person submitting himself to baptism in the presence of others. In other words, baptism is the public sign of faith.
I would suggest that while one might say all the right things about salvation (and might truly be saved, such as Sproul or Duncan), they have not biblically confessed Christ until they have been immersed following their profession of faith. To draw on Piper's first comment above, the NT way to know true brothers and sisters in Christ is at least partially through their baptism.
To minimize the nature of baptism by admitting paedobaptists seems to be saying that we don't think God's way of identifying believers (baptism) is a good way. I don't think Piper would say that, but I don't know how he would avoid it.
Preemptive excommunication? Sure. Why should we admit someone who we believe to be an openly disobedient brother to the fellowship of the church? I see no reason simply because I think baptism is not an option; it is necessity. One who does not have it may be saved, but they are not obedient in that area.
Baptism and church membership are important. We must not minimize either be pretending it does not matter what we believe about it.
As a credobaptist, I can have good and sweet fellowship in the gospel with a paedobaptist (and in some ways better fellowship than with many credobaptists who sometimes forget the "credo" part in their haste to get their weekly baptism numbers off to the
I do not feel compelled to make the local church as big as the universal church. I think doctrine matters, and I think unity at a local church level requires a high level of agreement on these major doctrines. I do feel compelled to uphold the NT teaching about public confession of faith.