Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Follow-up on Baptism, Obedience, and Separation

This post is in response to a comment on my previous post. It posed the issue this way: Based on your logic (i.e., "If Christ said 'Do X' and someone does not do X, then we must call them disobedient."), we are all disobedient!

Here's my extended response:

If we were not disobedient in at least some areas, wouldn't we be perfect?

I think we are all disobedient, at least sometimes. So at the root, a disobedient Christian is someone who does not obey God in whatever area that might be.

We then move on to levels of sin as in degrees. Wasting time reading blogs is not the same as a adultery, though both are to some degree poor stewardship of God's gift to us. That is not to excuse wasting time reading blogs (hey, what are you doing right now?). It is simply to say that not all sins are equal, but all sins are sins.

I do not see certain areas reserved for "disobedience" and others for "matters of conscience." I think a matter of conscience is something that is legitimately okay (i.e., God permits it), but the untrained conscience cannot do it in faith (cf. Rom 14). I do not think a "matter of conscience" can be invoked in an area of something God commands us to do that we do not do, or God forbids to do that we do do.

So the question is, Does God command that believers be baptized as a profession of their faith in Christ? I think he does. And if I am right, those who do not get baptized upon belief are disobedient to that command. They may not be disobedient to any other, but they are certainly disobedient to that one.

So the question arises, how do we treat them?

Well, I don't think that failing to be baptized as a believer is the same as failing to preach the exclusivity of Jesus. And in a conference on the exclusivity of Jesus, I may well be able to preach with someone who has not been scripturally baptized. But in a conference on Baptist distinctives, that would be immeasurably harder.

Obviously, the more a sin strikes at the heart of the gospel, the more central it is in terms of fellowship and separation. Having a man in my pulpit to preach who may be lazy a few mornings a month is not the same as having a man in to preach who believes that there are other ways to God apart from Jesus.

I think the more something undermines the "whole counsel of God," the more central it is. A man who is a public adulterer brings more shame on the whole counsel of God than a man who knowingly kept an extra penny he received in change from the cashier, though both have taken something they were not entitled to.

I think the more public a sin is, the more of a difference it makes, at least to some degree. That seems to be the point of 1 Tim 3:7 and "having a good report." It doesn't mean perfect, but it means that public sins are not what a man is known for in the community.

I think the relationship of obedience to core distinctives of our denominational beliefs matter. How much? I am not entirely sure. After all, we are Baptists because we think believer's baptism is an important matter of obedience. At the same time, to me at least, believer's baptism seems more important than two ordinances.

So I guess the short answer to that question is, I am not entirely sure how all this breaks down. It is something I think about because I am concerned that we do things biblically. I want to grant as much latitude as the Bible does, but no more.

In the end, we must all answer to God for our obedience and stewardship of our lives and ministries.


Andy Naselli said...

Larry, you wrote, "If we were not disobedient in at least some areas, wouldn't we be perfect?"

That's my point. It's a given that everyone is disobedient. The label "disobedient brother," however, is reserved for a particular kind of disobedience. That's where the debate is, and that's where I'm sensing a lack of clarity. Are you using the term "disobedient brother" how it has historically been used in these sorts of discussions?

Larry said...

I don't think I would use the term "disobedient brother" so narrowly, at least generically speaking. In terms of separation, we do separate from disobedient brothers, but we should do that at every level.

I do think it applies differently in corporate settings than in individual ones, which is where your concern with the label seems to apply. I would be more cautious than some perhaps, in applying the label disobedient brother.

I understand what you are saying, I think. That's why I tried to lay out some kind of framework that, at least for my way of thinking, provides some clarity as to how I would attempt to apply this.

I sense that you would prefer something a little more "either/or" while I would admit a bit more fluidity.

Historically, fundamentalism has been interdenominational, including Baptists and Presbyterians. In some contexts, I have no problem with that; in other contexts, I do.

But given my position that not all disobedience is equal, I think I can navigate that, at least to my satisfaction. But even at that, it doesn't make disobedience any less disobedient.