Jim Hamilton on Believer’s Baptism and Close Communion

Jim Hamilton has contributed an article to The Gospel Coalition website on believer’s baptism. Jim and I are elders together at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. So the position he outlines in his essay is also my position. Here’s a brief statement of the view from Jim’s essay:

Baptists believe that those who have not been immersed in water as believers to symbolize their union with Christ by faith have not been baptized. Presbyterians and other paedobaptists think they have been baptized, even if they have not been immersed in water as believers.

John Bunyan agreed that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water but felt that he did not have the right to deny church membership to someone who gave evidence of regeneration and believed he had been baptized. William Kiffin’s response was that he did not have the right to disregard, and thereby overrule, a command of Jesus.

As baptists we’re not denying that paedobaptists have a right to their own perspective, we are simply maintaining the integrity of our own convictions. Our consciences will not permit us to welcome into membership and communion those who have not obeyed Jesus at the point of baptism.

Read the rest here.

20 Responses to Jim Hamilton on Believer’s Baptism and Close Communion

  1. Matt March 5, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    I am a Baptist, but our church functions like that of Bunyan. I dont feel we have lost the integrity of our convictions at all.

    • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      What statement of faith do you use? We use The Abstract of Principles and the BF&M 2000, both of which require baptism as a prerequisite for church membership and communion. For us, it would definitely be a violation of our doctrinal standards to allow unbaptized persons to become members in good standing.

      • Matt March 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

        While we point people to the BFM for a “more full understanding” of our statement of faith we have written our own smaller statement of faith.

        We like the BFM, but that is one issue that we address differently. We even came to the conclusion in pretty much the same manner as Bunyan (although I didnt realize it at that time).

        I would send you the link to our statement, but the blogosphere isnt a safe place for such things. Some crazy person that disagrees with us would go terrorize our blog!

      • Matt March 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

        I do want to also state that we would not allow a person who doesnt hold our position to be on staff or be an elder. Membership is as far as they can go.

        To be a member they agree that we believe, teach, and practice Believer’s Baptism only. If they ever allow Baptism to become a divisive issue that would warrant church discipline.

        • Nate March 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

          Matt, I don’t want to press you into an argument, but your statement is confusing.

          “To be a member they agree that we believe, teach, and practice Believer’s Baptism only. If they ever allow Baptism to become a divisive issue that would warrant church discipline.”

          Yet, it appears you said earlier, that a person can be a member who doesn’t believe in believer’s baptism. Aren’t they immediately at odds (divisive?) with church doctrine then. Or, forgive me for saying, aren’t you being divisive by saying, “You can become a member, but you cannot become a staff member, unless you believe differently than you do now?”

          This would seem to be quite a difference from a person evidencing 1 Tim 3 traits of an elder/staff member in order to gain that office once they become a member.

          Again, not wanting to pick at your position, but it does seem that your church is setting itself up for conflict. This is different, I think, from saying that folks visiting your church could partake in communion with you if they believe in Christ, but were baptized as a child. Or, simply not taking a “baptist” position at all, but taking a “any baptism you like” position.

          • Matt March 5, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

            Nate,

            Sorry I wasnt clear.

            We also believe, teach, and practice Complementarianism. That doesnt mean we wouldnt allow an Egalitarian to be a member as long as they understood that we believe, teach, and practice complementarianism.

            A person can disagree with us without allowing the issue becoming “divisive.” That is what I meant and I hope that clears it up. “Being divisive” isnt synonymous with “not agreeing.”

            We have not seen any conflict from this issue. Many churches function this way and while I am sure some have had conflict because of it we have not.

            Finally, I do not think we are divisive by saying you can be a member, but if your paedobaptist viewpoint remains you cannot become an elder. The complementarian analogy works here as well.

          • Matt March 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

            As John Piper often argues (in speaking of doctrine)…. paraphrase- the door to being an elder should be much more narrow than the door to being a member.

            To be an elder at Bethlehem you have to be a Calvinist, but you dont have to be a Calvinist to be a member at Bethlehem. That doesnt mean either side is being divisive just because they agree upon membership standards.

            Each church has to work out where they are okay to agree to disagree and still fellowship within the same local body. In most places the standards are much more narrow when electing elders.

  2. Garrett March 5, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Denny,

    Jim said, “If someone is not repenting of all known sin, trusting Christ for salvation, and submitting to all his commands and teaching, we don’t welcome him or her into church membership. Since we view baptism as a matter of obedience, we understand unbaptized people to be disobedient on this point.”

    Assuming the correctness of your position, how can you say that Presbyterians are Christians at all if they are not repenting of all known sin, but are living in a constant state of disobedience to one of Jesus’ commands?

    Second question. What biblical basis do we have for denying communion to someone who we trust is a genuine Christian?

    Thanks for your time,

    gh

    • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Dear Garrett,

      Good questions. We would say that anyone who repents of their sin and trusts in Christ is a Christian and is a member of the universal church. Paedo-baptists have an erroneous view of baptism, but not because they knowingly interpret the scripture wrong. They are unwitting in their error, but it is error nonetheless.

      Concerning the biblical basis for denying communion: I don’t know a single Christian tradition that disagrees that baptism should be the prequisite to membership and communion. Everyone agrees on that as the biblical teaching. Only disciples are admitted to the table. Those who are out of fellowship or harboring disobedience are excluded by texts like 1 Cor. 11:27-30. The first duty of the disciple is to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20). That is why everyone (both Baptists and Paedobaptists) agrees that baptism is prequisite to local church membership and communion.

      Denny

      • Garrett March 5, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

        Denny,

        You said, “Only disciples are admitted to the table. Those who are out of fellowship or harboring disobedience are excluded by texts like 1 Cor. 11:27-30. The first duty of the disciple is to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20).”

        So you’re saying that Presbyterians can be “Christians” but they aren’t “disciples”? Also, if someone is “out of fellowship” or “harboring disobedience” and is excluded from communion on that basis, doesn’t that really call their conversion into question, and not simply their alternate conviction on a doctrinal issue?

        gh

        • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

          Someone who knowingly disobeys scripture with impunity is probably not a Christian. I think such a person is in a different category from someone who has misinterpreted the Bible on baptism.

          Garrett, do you think that unbaptized persons should be allowed to be members and to take communion?

          • Garrett March 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

            Denny,

            You didn’t answer my question about Presbyterians being “Christians” but not “disciples,” so let me press you a bit on this point. You said that “Only disciples are admitted to the table,” and that “The first duty of the disciple is to be baptized.” And it is your conviction that Presbyterians have NOT really been baptized, and therefore are not “disciples” and so are not admitted to communion. Is that correct?

            The reason why I’m pressing this point is because I think it exposes a fallacy in your position in that you end up creating false categories that the NT knows nothing about. E.g., true Christians who are not disciples, or true Christians who are (in your words) “out of fellowship” and “harboring disobedience.” Where is the NT support for such distinctions?

            As to your questions, the church that I am a part of does not practice any kind of formal membership. (How do we practice church discipline without a formal membership? Believe me, we manage!) The only “membership” that I see in the NT is being a member of Christ’s body, i.e., a Christian. So anyone who is a Christian is welcome to worship with us and partake during the communion time. Since we can’t know the hearts of men, there’s always a possibility of someone who is NOT a genuine Christian taking communion, but at the end of the day everyone shares that problem.

            So for me the question would be: Can someone who is unbaptized be a true Christian (i.e., regenerate)? The answer is obviously yes, unless you believe in baptismal regeneration. Of course, a person who IS a true Christian will want to follow Jesus’ command to be baptized, which will happen as soon as possible. And if we have someone who refuses to be baptized, it calls their profession into question.

            Now, we don’t have a baptistery in our building, so we usually baptize at another church in town, or at a local lake. However, there are times when we are not able to get into the other church (due to scheduling) or it is too cold to baptize in the lake. Therefore, we sometimes have a person who is converted, but can’t be baptized for a few weeks. During this time, however, we DO allow him/her to partake of communion, since their right to communion is based on their profession of faith (i.e., “I have repented of my sins, and am trusting Christ alone for my salvation.”), and to deny them communion would be the same as saying that we don’t think they are a genuine believer.

            I don’t know if that helps at all, but there it is!

            gh

      • Jim Elliff March 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

        Thanks for your clarity, Denny. This short article on “How inclusive should a local church be?” might be helpful to some: http://ccwtoday.org/article_view.asp?article_id=239

        • Denny Burk March 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

          Thanks for the link!

  3. Les March 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Denny,

    Garrett’s question would be mine. I have pastored both in SBC churches in the past as well as in PCA churches.

    The position you outline is certainly your prerogative, but it seems to functionally put Presbyterians outside the body of Christ the way it is stated.

    “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,”
    (1 John 2:4 ESV)

    According to Jim and you, Presbyterians would be nailed by 1 John.

  4. Caroline March 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    So baptism can only “work” by immersion? The Lord can only use a lot of water instead of a sprinkling?

    The last sentence you quoted about not obeying Christ if neglected to be baptized…is this immersion only?

  5. Henry March 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Denny,

    I also feel very strongly about the absurdity of infant baptism. But I don’t think the texts you cite establish that they should be denied communion. The sin in 1Cor11 is the particular sin of ‘not discerning the body’, not any type of error. I’d like to see a stronger defence of your position.

    It also seems that to be consistent you would have to apply such a stringent rule to all types of error – no communion for Arminians (John Wesley), Egalitarians (Roger Nicole), non-inerrantists (C.S. Lewis) etc…

    This seems to allow no place for the believer who is still in the process of coming into a greater understanding of the truth.

    Since you are taking a public stand on this issue I would challenge you to provide a clear case from scripture as to why John Bunyan and John Piper are disobeying the bible’s teaching (side note – do you think he should be denied communion too because of his “unwitting error” in this regard? What types of disobedience do not debar one from the table?)

    It seems a much better position to me to invite infant-baptists into church membership on the understanding that they will have their position subjected to the scrutiny of scripture, and must be willing to mend their ways if the scriptures should stand against them. If they are unwilling to be genuinely open to whatever correction the scriptures may bring, then you can refuse them membership.

    This approach promotes both unity and truth. I suspect a lot of the fear is that the importance of Believer’s baptism gets neglected with Piper/Bunyan’s approach, but that needn’t be the case.

  6. Henry March 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Also, regarding the comment that: “The first duty of the disciple is to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20)”.

    I am struggling to see how it follows from this that the disciple who has already:

    1) believed in Christ
    2) repented of known sin

    … must be debarred from the communion table.

  7. Jason March 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    My struggle in “requiring baptism for membership” is that it sounds a lot like “requiring circumcision for membership”. By pulling the communion table cloth out from under true repentant believers because they haven’t been baptized is essentially the same thing as retracting the blessings of sharing a meal between Jews and Gentiles. Paul confronted this error by Peter in Galatians 2. I see vast parallels here in this situation in Galatians and baptism requirements in the topic of this thread. I believe that Baptism is a part of obedience to Christ, but the discussion distracts mightily from the point of baptism, communion, and the bride of Christ which is the gospel: Christ righteousness in exchange for our wretchedness.

  8. John March 7, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    Denny, you said: “I don’t know a single Christian tradition that disagrees that baptism should be the prequisite to membership and communion,” yet this is exactly the position that denominations such as the Evangelical Free Church and many independent Bible churches espouse. I’m a Presbyterian now, but I grew up in a Bible church and an EFree church and neither of these churches required any sort of baptism to be admitted to the Lord’s table or membership. In fact one of the elders in the EFree church I attended wasn’t baptized until he was in his 70s when he finally decided that it might be a good thing to do. There are a fairly large number of evangelical Christians for whom baptism is simply not a significant issue at all. Although as a presbyterian (OPC), I totally disagree, I do find it refreshing that Baptists see the importance of baptism. I just wish you would accept the legitimacy of the baptism of infants which I believe is thoroughly biblical.

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