Friday, September 05, 2008

Piper on Baptism and Church Membership

John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church are once again taking up the issue of believer's baptism and church membership, questioning whether the door of the local church should be more narrow than the door of the universal body of Christ.

They addressed this not too long ago but dropped the issue when they received some pushback. Now, they are bringing it up again, with no recommendation to the body and no time frame.

At the heart of the issue is Piper's belief that believer's baptism should not be made a requirement for church membership.

In the first of three messages on the topic, Piper argues that his view is based on the fact that he takes membership so seriously. Essentially he says, we take membership in the local church so seriously that we need to open the membership to people who have not been scripturally baptized because their conscience is satisfied with their pedobaptism. (I say "scripturally baptized" because I understand that Piper thinks believer's immersion is scriptural baptism; I am not using that term prejudicially here.)

While there was much in the message worthy of interaction, I will simply pose two questions that come to my mind:

1. Are we really taking membership more seriously when we lower the standards for it?

2. What other matters of conscience will people be able to disagree on and still be members? The historicity of the gospels? The resurrection of Jesus? The Exodus? I think we could make the case that the objective* case for believer's baptism is more clear than an objective case for the historicity of any of the others, and I doubt that anyone doubts the others in "bad conscience." All of those things (and many more) have explanations that do not require historicity, but it seems difficult to deny the command and pattern of baptism in the NT as being believers baptism?

Or what if they disagree "in good conscience" on the necessity of baptism at all?


*By "objective" I mean provable. The scriptural teaching on believer's baptism are clear, it seems to me. The others are presented as fact, but the use of myth in ancient literature is well-established and someone "in good conscience" (as Piper seems to use the idea) could say that these are merely myths designed to teach a bigger story.


Terry Lange said...

I do not see why they are going to rehash this again especially in light of what Acts 2 says regarding baptism.

I think Piper et al. are making a big mistake...

But there will be those who will still worship and hang on every word that Piper says, and they will leave their Bibles aside.

Jason said...

Thanks for bringing this up Larry. I have always been confused as to why baptism is viewed so universally as a requirement for church membership. I really honestly have never been able to see the case for it Scripturally/logically. I find it fascinating that a big name has actually argued for the position now.

Regarding your two points, I'll venture my thoughts:

1) I would argue that the idea of "higher" or "lower" standards is a bit of a misnomer. The key is to be biblical wherever that may put us. If we take membership seriously, we ought to require only what Scripture requires as prerequisite to it.

2) Do we currently require them to hold to our position on all of these issues? Do we check? Really the issue boils down to a particular church doctrinal statement and whether someone must agree with it in whole (does anyone *completely* agree with their own church doctrinal statement?) or do we make allowance for differences in certain areas...



Jon from Bucksport said...

I too eagerly listened to Piper's messages to try and understand why they were pushing this issue. He had excellent apologetics for membership and immersive believer's baptism. I understand the pushback because after hearing his sermons I came away with three things. 1) It is vital and biblical for every believer to be a member of a local church. 2) Immersive believer's baptism is the most scriptural and historical way for all the scriptural data to be accounted for. 3) An important part of church membership is to be in submission to the elders God has placed over him in the church. The third point is where I think it falls apart. As you said Larry, what if I come into a church and want membership but I tell them up front that I disagree with their view of Mosaic authorship and I will not change my mind. They should not give me membership. Why would baptism be any different. Piper also made a good point about not setting the bar too high or everyone would have to go to seminary before they could join a church. However, It seems that each church has to have some distinctives that folks have to sign off on in order to join. If you don't then you just muddy the waters later when these people teach and disciple. I always wondered why, if Piper wants to pursue this, that he didn't just come to the church and rename it Bethlehem Bible Church. It seems that it is impossible to for a Baptist church to accept members that have not been baptized by immersion as a believer.