Baptists have found themselves in an interesting quandary. It’s the name we go by, so you’d think we were in agreement on the doctrine of baptism, considering we hold convictions that separate us from nearly every other denomination in the world. I don’t believe I speak out of turn when I say most Baptists disagree with Presbys, Anglicans, Catholics, etc. on infant baptism on the basis of one simple stipulation: It’s not in the Bible.
Now some Baptists are seeing how the shoe fits on the other foot. Baptists agree on confessor’s (professor’s) baptism, but many Reformed-ish Baptists have argued that Christian wisdom demands that church leaders discern true professions of faith before allowing candidates to take the plunge–particularly children.
Pragmatism, not Idealism.
This wait and warm crowd have serious concerns about distinctly Baptist problems. First, they recognize that many of these kids who get dunked grow up in church and fall away shortly after moving out mom and dad’s house. Secondly, it is certainly true that many Baptist churches have membership rolls a mile long. All of these people baptized and allowed into membership–but where are they now? Thirdly, Baptist congregations are a pitifully mixed multitude. When more than 50% of your typical Baptist congregation may or may not be regenerate, it’s a serious problem.
Wait and warm is a pragmatic solution to these problems. Keep the false professors out at the front end. Make kids and others wait so that you can determine whether their confession of faith is credible. It seems to be a good solution. The problem, as my friend Patrick Schreiner has pointed out, is that there is no Biblical warrant for it. Baptism is meant to be the initiating rite of passage of a believer, not something they postpone to a later date.
The Church’s Training Wheels.
Here’s the thing: wait and warm is a pragmatic solution to a problem God has already solved in Scripture. Consider this: How many Baptist churches are actually doing step 2 of the Great Commission–“teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded you”? How many Baptist churches actually practice Matthew 18 style sheep chasing and love-driven discipline? How many Baptist churches take the Lord’s Supper frequently?
These means were meant to be the training wheels for new believers–and mature believers, for that matter. When a child or any other infant Christian is baptized into the church, but they are not taught to obey the commands of Jesus in a thoughtful, intentional way, should we be surprised when they fall away? When the assembly of the saints denigrates the body and blood of Christ by relegating it to the end of a quarterly church service, is this going to make a new believer more or less likely to be drawn to the weekly gathering? When a church does not do the hard, laborious yet loving work of chasing down wandering sheep, leaving the ninety-nine to find the one, is it any wonder that newly baptized individuals quickly disappear?
What I am arguing is that rather than the wait and warm method, churches ought to use the God-ordained methods of sheep-retention. We believe in the perseverance of the saints, and the primary method of God’s sustaining grace is the work of Holy Spirit through other believers in your church. If people are falling away in your church, is it because you are Baptizing false-professors, or is it because you and the other members of your church are not doing what God commands you to do for these new sheep?
Now, I’m not advocating the baptism of clear impostors or spontaneous baptism services. Baptists have been notorious for using manipulation, unfair persuasion, and groupthink tactics to imitate the genuine work of the Spirit. Quit it. That’s all I have to say about that.
In Acts, the church grows through the plain proclamation of the Gospel. Those who repent and believe are baptized and immediately folded into the body of believers. If your church is striving to be an Acts 2:42-47 type of church, and you are treasuring the Lord’s Supper, doing true discipleship, and performing the heart-wrenching work of church discipline, we have to trust that God will use these Scriptural means to preserve those we welcome into our midst through baptism.
2 thoughts on “Baptists, Let’s Use God-Ordained Methods of Sheep-Retention”
I absolutely agree, Chad (that is, with “sheep-retention”). So in your church, do you observe any guidelines regarding age? You seem dubious regarding both age limitations and ” discerning true professions of faith.” It seems to me that, with a child, you either have to have some principles that lean one way or another to avoid veering into paedobaptism. Your thoughts?
Jeremy, I’m not sure I would be comfortable making any hard and fast rules beyond the requirements of Scripture. In Acts, it’s clear that what is required is this: “Repent and believe.” It’s interesting that the first act of obedience to Jesus is actually a passive obedience. What I mean is, the first visible act of obedience to Jesus is to let someone else baptize you. “Producing fruit” is a way that we confirm our discipleship, not a requirement for initiation as a disciple. As I said, though, I think it is important for me as a pastor to begin to coach our parents in good ways to preach the Gospel to their children so that they can identify the work of the Spirit more easily. For instance, if a parent is constantly trying to get their child to parrot back a rote “sinner’s prayer”, it is going to make this whole process a lot more difficult. If we are doing a good job of presenting the plain message of the gospel to the kids in our church and our homes, and calling them to repent and believe, when those children declare their repentance and belief, I think we should baptize them. To be honest, Jeremy, I wish our church had a problem with so many professions of faith that this was more of a practical issue for us. I pray that one day that not a week goes by that the waters of baptism are not stirred by the movement of regenerate believers–both young and old!
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