John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Baptism

I wrote several months ago about John Piper’s support for a proposal to recognize some paedobaptisms as valid baptisms for members of his church (read here and here). Piper and the other elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church have recommended to the church that they allow

the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership (“What the Elders Are Proposing”).

In effect, the new policy being proposed by the elders is that under certain conditions members need not be baptized by immersion after coming to faith. Of course, the change would have to be approved by the congregation before the policy would go into effect.

I totally disagree with this proposal. Yet I understand the desire to have unity with evangelical brothers who are not Baptists. Nevertheless, this proposal seems to me to be without scriptural foundation.

My doctoral supervisor, Tom Schreiner, is the pastor at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He and the elders of his church have sent a letter to the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church urging them to withdraw this proposed change to Bethlehem Baptist Church’s membership policy. I am in agreement with what Clifton’s elders have written, and I commend the letter to you also for your careful consideration.

[Right click on the following link, and click “save target as”]

Download: “Proposal and Response to the Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church From The Elders Of Clifton Baptist Church”

24 Responses to John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Baptism

  1. pastorshaun December 12, 2005 at 3:16 pm #

    Denny,
    You know your new blog look is unreadable, right? It shows up on my screen as grey letters on dark blue.

  2. Kyle Queal December 12, 2005 at 4:44 pm #

    Dr. Luf,

    Even though I can read your weblog, brother, I don’t like what I read!

    I understand you’re seeking to be consistent with your Baptistic presuppositions. I understand that Baptists are historically by definition re-baptisers. “Baptist baptism” signifies a public sign of union with Christ for the one who has already come to embrace the Gospel.

    I understand all that. What is unfortunate is that baptism is for most other Christians – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc, etc, etc, – the one thing that is recognized mutually between them/us.

    Despite the sad state of disunity the Body of Christ finds itself in – Trinitarian, water baptism – no matter the mode, no matter the recepient – is that one thing that all but mostly Baptist Christians recognize as legit.

    C’mon bro. You’re dissing your man? Piper et al are just catching up with historic, orthodox, apostolic Christianity!! Why split fellowship with other Christ-loving believers over it?

  3. John Caneday December 13, 2005 at 8:00 am #

    I am a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Last week the elders did vote to withdraw the amendment from consideration. The elders will discuss the details of the decision at the church’s annual meeting this Sunday, so the details are sketchy right now. But evidently these kinds of letters have had some effect.

  4. WLC December 13, 2005 at 10:42 pm #

    Kyle,

    your kidding right? It’s not about spliting fellowship, it’s about following our Biblical model. So where is the model for paedobaptisms? It’s not a Baptistic presupposition that Dr.Burk is defending, it is a Biblical presupposition. Now, maybe I’m wrong. I am open to enlightenment. But lets not look at tradition, lets look at the Bible.
    A loving Baptist,
    Wade+

  5. Kyle Queal December 14, 2005 at 8:21 pm #

    Wade,

    Thanks for your email response. I totally appreciate and understand your assumption that the “baptist” model = the “biblical” model. We all want to think we’ve arrived at the biblical model. That’s cool.

    Ok, so let’s then be biblical, New Testament Christians. I’d ask you to simply step back a second from your model and answer this question:

    Where in the New Testament is one clear proof-text example where the children of Christian parents are instructed to wait to receive baptism until they reach a certain age of accountability or confession? Honestly, if you can indicate just one such example of clear “believer’s baptism” evidence from the New Testament, than I’ll become a Baptist!

    Here’s what I fear is the illogical syllogism at the heart of the Baptist position.

    1. The New Testament gives ample evidence of adult Christians receiving baptism.
    2. In the New Testament these adult Christians have come to a profession of faith prior to receiving baptism.
    _____________
    Ergo,
    3. Only adult Christians are the proper recepients of baptism.

    As you can tell, #3 in no way follows necessarily from #s 1 and 2. At best, it’s an argument from silence deduced from other theological principles drawn correctly or incorrectly from other passages about the theology of baptism. At worse, I fear the “baptist model” flat out rejects the implicit evidence in several passages of household baptisms in Acts.

    All in love from an infant-baptized and re-“baptized” (not really!) now Anglican brother in Christ,
    Kyle Queal

  6. WLC December 14, 2005 at 10:51 pm #

    Kyle,
    Thanks for responding.

    “At best, it’s an argument from silence deduced from other theological principles drawn correctly or incorrectly from other passages about the theology of baptism.”

    Your above statement is my exact response to infant baptism, very good.

    Your understanding of what I am referring to as a biblical model is wrong. The bible only presents people who have made a profession of faith as receiving the ordinance of baptism.

    What about the household baptism? Well, Acts refers to the leaders of the household as professing faith in Jesus and then you see the household getting baptized. Living in the 21st century we loose something when it comes to households. The leader was actually the leader in the 1st century. If the leader of the house converts to Jesus then the whole house would follow, thus the whole household would need baptism.

    “Where in the New Testament is one clear proof-text example where the children of Christian parents are instructed to wait to receive baptism until they reach a certain age of accountability or confession? Honestly, if you can indicate just one such example of clear “believer’s baptism” evidence from the New Testament, than I’ll become a Baptist!”

    I must know where your “one clear proof-text example” is of an infant being administer the ordinance of baptism.

    Good points Kyle, now let’s see where this takes us.
    Still a loving Baptist,
    Wade+

  7. Kyle Queal December 15, 2005 at 9:26 am #

    Wade,

    Thanks again for your email. Quick correction on the front end: You wrongly assume from my position that I beleive there is clear, proof-text evidence from the New Testament for infant baptism. I do not in fact believe that. (Sidenote: I believe we all believe many such things…usually rendered thus non-essential issues).

    First, let me make the point that I do belive in believer’s baptism. Just not believer’s baptism only. What a glorious thing it is for an adult person to come to faith in Christ and receive formal membership into Christ’s body via baptism. (Sidenote: Even then, how is one absolutely sure of the sincerity of such an adult profession? Point simply that an adult believer’s baptism is not a sure-fire, fool-proof way of maintaining a pure/visible believer’s only church).

    Second, I also believe in infant baptism. I have certain biblical/systematic theological assumptions drawn from the Old Testament and inclusion of infant males as covenant members to the radical expansion of Israel as defined in the New Covenant of Christ (neither male/female, master/slave, Jew/Gentile, etc). Plus, despite differences culturally in how headship and leadership function from the 1st century to today, Paul’s words seem clear enough from I Cor. 7:14 that somehow the unbelieving spouse is made holy by the believing spouse. Somehow the children of such mixed marriges – even in God’s eyes – are not rendered unclean but holy.

    To be sure, in addition to my systematic and biblical assumptions re: infant baptism, my position is also encouraged by the practice of Christians throughout time (aka. Tradition). From the earliest records of post-NT church history, evidence exists showing the practice of infant baptism. (Incidentally, it’s infant baptism via immersion! The Eastern Orthodox still practice this. In the early church infants and adults were fully immersed. Only as the church spread from cosmopolitan areas and water became often more scarce was the practice of sprinkling utilized.) If referencing Tradition makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, just note that Baptists have many of their own traditions – including believer’s baptism only. Another one is worship leaders with really bad hairdos.

    Anyway, in all seriousness, to come full circle back to the debate/discussion going on at Piper’s church, the whole point for both positions – in my mind – is in fact that neither one is explicitly supportable by proof-texts from Scripture. Why can’t we just all be honest and admit that?? Yes, we all know and believe how foundational baptism is. How sad, though, for there to be division in fellowship over whether the children of Christian, Covenantal homes should receive it or not. Water / Trinitarian baptism is what’s important. Yes, coupled with saving faith in Jesus Christ of course along the pilgrimmage that is the Christian life. None of us believes in salvation by “sola baptisma”.

    I recently visited a church where during the Lord’s Supper grape joice was available on the right and wine on the left…It’s not apples to apples (or grapes to grapes) but why can’t Christians churches embrace and allow for both the baptism of infants and adults WHILE embracing those families who’d rather merely dedicate (aka. dry baptism) their children until that day when they make a personal/public profession of faith and receives baptism as a believer? Perhaps Jesus had such a day in mind while praying in John 17.

    My basic point from the beginning: How sad that we divide fellowship in the Body of Christ over what is arguably what the Reformers called “adiaphora”, non-essential issues. Maybe the real heart of the debate here is that what I consider non-essential the baptist considers essential.

    For what that’s all worth, which may not be much.

    Kyle

  8. WLC December 15, 2005 at 2:36 pm #

    Kyle,
    Thanks and your right again. You consider Baptism non-essential, I see it differently. Jesus said we should make disciples, baptize them, and teach them. The order is very interesting, but did the order really matter? You think no, I think so.

    A Christian(a Baptist one),
    Wade+

  9. kyle queal December 15, 2005 at 2:55 pm #

    Wade,

    Again, point of clarification. I actually consider baptism very essential. It’s more the “how/who” part I’m willing to consider non-essential for the greater good of peace and unity in Christ’s Church.

    I think baptism is so critical that without baptism I don’t think one is correctly called “Christian”. In fact, I think baptism is in many ways the beginning of discipleship – formally.

    You rightly point out from the Great Commission the importance of order in what Jesus says: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” He then unpacks what he means by the word discipleship: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” If anything, the order of Jesus’ command implies that baptism precedes teaching, thus supporting an infant baptism position. This, however, contradicts the “believer’s baptism only” position which assumes much teaching, conviction, belief and profession prior to baptism. So, how critical do you want to order of the Great Commission to be? (Sidenote: isn’t it interesting that in Jesus’ command those to receive baptism are nations/peoples/families and not individuals….)

    Personally, as male head of my household, I’m ordained under Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king of my family. Put simply, my family is my little church. My wife and I are called to train up our three baptized children in the ways of the Lord.

    Here’s the day in and day out heart of it: we seek to raise our kids as little children in Christ and not as covenant breakers under God’s holy wrath outside of Christ. At the end of the day, parenting for the paedobaptist = discipleship. Parenting for the baptist = evangelism. Ah, there’s the rub!

    Because in this case water is thicker than blood…your true brother in Christ like it or not,
    Kyle

  10. Denny Burk December 15, 2005 at 5:24 pm #

    Dear Kyle,

    Here’s the “rub”: that you consider evangelism and discipleship to be two different things! That’s not biblical at all!

    🙂

    Luf,
    Denny

  11. Scrooge (aka. Kyle Queal) December 15, 2005 at 5:46 pm #

    BAHUMBUG!!!!

  12. WLC December 15, 2005 at 10:57 pm #

    Kyle,
    I do like it that your my brother, I really do. I think you may have read me wrong on some things. I’m sure it is my fault for not being clear in my explanations.
    I dont know where to beging in a response to your last post. So as a brother in Christ I will tip my hat, say a prayer, and see you on the other side.

    May God bless you, your family, and your ministry richly,
    Wade+
    Baptist aren’t what it seem you think we are.

    BTW, good point Dr. Burk.

  13. Jack Graham (really Kyle Queal) December 16, 2005 at 10:51 am #

    Wade,

    Though we may not worship together on Sunday morning anytime soon, please know I’ll always love my Baptist brothers in Christ! I grew up at First Baptist Academy and will never forget sitting under the Easter Week preaching of W.A. Criswell!

    Anyhoo, blessings to you and yours this Christmas season!

    See you in purgatory. Just kidding.

    Kyle

  14. Tertius December 19, 2005 at 3:06 pm #

    Hey Kyle, it’s been a long time…

    I think Piper is doing the right thing. He might, in all his study, be getting a clear understanding of biblical theology and can see the validity of the paedobaptist argument. Of which I now hold to after being a Baptist at Westminster Dallas for 2 years. It took a while for all my Baptistic arguments to drop to the floor. I think it might be the individualistic and gnostic culture we live it. Nevertheless, this should not be an issue in becoming a member of the church. We accept Baptists to become members in the PCA and do not compel them to baptise their infants. We do encourage them. Everyone who has a credible profession of faith is welcome to be a member of Christ’s church.

    JARED E.

  15. Tertius December 19, 2005 at 7:33 pm #

    Denny,

    I like your quote “Here’s the “rub”: that you consider evangelism and discipleship to be two different things! That’s not biblical at all!”

    I wonder why Fred Malone wrote “Baptism of Disciples Alone” or something like that. As if your own children are not your disciples.

    Jared E.

  16. Wesley December 19, 2005 at 7:49 pm #

    A few things:

    First, I think Piper is right here. Although they received the Sacrament before belief (I’m odd btw, I believe in Sacramental believers Baptism as the norm), they did end up believing, and it would seem that the prior Baptism still counts. In that they can after belief look back to their infant Baptism.

    Second, Although not a Presbyterian, I thought they at least connected regeneration to it in some fashion that is at least how I interpret the Westminster Confession that says that one of the things signified and sealed is regeneration (28.I), although it is not so connected that one can not be saved without it or all who are baptized are saved (28.V).

    Third, I have a issue with the policy only being for those who believed the Baptism was not regenerative. This seems to be too close to the Donatist error. Assuming even that someone was Baptized as a believer by immersion in a Lutheran church, it seems only Christian and proper to not demand re-baptism because the minister giving the Sacrament and/or the person receiving it had a non-Zwinglian (Baptist) Sacramentology. How in all of Christendom does his church justify this one? It doesn’t matter what one believes Baptism does, if one is a “true” Christian (born again, saved, whatever term you want to use) then one should only need to be Baptized once. Even in a Lutheran or Anglican Theology Baptism is at least a sign of regeneration, so Baptist and their brothers and sisters in Christ who believe in Baptismal Regeneration have the same common denominator. I take serious issue with forcing a re-Baptism based on a different Sacremantology!

  17. Denny Burk December 20, 2005 at 1:13 am #

    Jared,

    You wrote: “It took a while for all my Baptistic arguments to drop to the floor. I think it might be the individualistic and gnostic culture we live it.”

    Or, it might be that you dropped your Bible along your “Baptistic arguments”!

    Sola Scriptura, baby!

    Luf,
    Denny

  18. Tertius December 20, 2005 at 12:01 pm #

    Denny,

    No, I actually started to include the first 39 books of the Bible when considering the development of a doctrine. :o)

    Jared E.

  19. kyle queal December 20, 2005 at 12:48 pm #

    Wowsy! I don’t read Denny’s blog for a couple of days and miss some good stuff.

    Jared – great to hear from you! Glad to know you’re coming around and seeing the light :-)))

    Dr. Luf, and here’s opening up a can of worms….I’m going to play devil’s advocate here: Is not sola scriptura self-referentially incoherent? In other words, does sola scripture hold up to its own standards of measurement?

    Arguably, typical proof texts for sola scriptura in the NT (i.e. II Tim. 3:16) simply can’t refer to the New Testmanent canon as we know it if taken honestly on their own terms. When such verses were penned the NT canon was still being written!!

    More likely, such references have the “Scriptures” of the Old Testament in mind. Perhaps, Paul also has in mind the growing collection of Aposotlic writings (i.e. gospels) in the early church. Even that, however, isn’t clearly the case.

    But, to claim a scriptural basis for sola scriptura is tricky ain’t it? Really? Plus, teasing sola scriptura out coherently gets even trickier. We all know the formal name for the foundational doctrine of historic Christianity is nowhere to be found in the Bible – i.e. the Trinity. Yet, we’d also all likely agree that you can’t be a Christian of any orthodox flavor and deny such doctrine in name/substance.

    Hear me now: I’m NOT saying that to question and/or deny sola scriptura in principle is thus to reject the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. I’m merely inquiring as to the explicitly biblical basis for the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    It would seem, historically, that those who sought to live out sola scriptura most consistently were the radical reformers – the true precursors of liberals and/or emergent movement – who sought to throw out any and out tradition so as to reinterpret the Bible to every generation.

    Again, the only real catch is that the Bible as we have it (all 66 books) are the product of an historical process and development that took place within the historic church in space and time. As such, isn’t the Bible – in fact – THE tradition of the church?

    Throw out tradition and you throw out the Bible. Otherwise, you end up with a position not unlike the Islamic view of the Koran: that the Scriptures fell from the sky bound in leather and with colored maps in the back…

    the loving agitator

  20. Denny Burk December 20, 2005 at 10:08 pm #

    Jared,

    Au contraire, mon ami. At the moment you have begun to pay attention to the first 39 books, you then decide to completely misconstrue them!

    🙁

    Luf,
    Denny

  21. WLC December 21, 2005 at 8:41 am #

    Amen!

    Wade+

  22. Tertius December 21, 2005 at 9:59 pm #

    Come on Denny, you know as well as I that baptists don’t even read their OT. Who wants to read about the physical children of Abraham, when you can read about the spiritual in the NT? How would a baptist even know that they misconstrue the OT Scriptures? :o)

  23. Tim Ellsworth January 17, 2006 at 1:15 pm #

    The link to the Clifton letter isn’t working.

  24. shelby January 7, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    i appreciate the conversation that went on here, YEARS ago! (probably no one will ever see this comment). i wanted to add that i WAS one of the ppl who deeply desired membership and was turned away. i moved across the country to attend TBI, and was hoping to become a member, and have Bethlehem as MY church family, to be sent out as a missionary by them. i believe in paedobaptism now, but i was personally baptized as an adult. because i wasn’t immersed, however, i could not become a member. it absolutely violated my conscience to be REbaptized. (should we not take God at His word the first time? must we demand his promise, his sign and seal again?)
    i absolutely understand that baptists are BAPTISTS (although it is sad that they take one single command and attach so much weight to it that they name themselves after it). my beef is not that you believe what you believe. my beef is that a church would DENY fellowship to another who has a differing opinion. why is one differing point of nonessential doctrine so serious that it would prohibit me from calling a church my home. talk about unbiblical…to turn ppl away (every xn should have a church that they are a MEMBER of) b/c they disagree on a non-essential issue…just wrong on so many levels. so where does Bethlehem stand on this now?

    (paul jewett, btw, does not touch on any actual points of paedobaptistm ~ check out peter leitharts “The Baptized Body”)

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