Baptism and Church Membership

Henderson Hills Baptist ChurchYou can be a lot of things, but you can’t be Baptist if you allow people to join your church who have not been baptized. That is why I am happy to see that the elders of Henderson Hills Baptist church in Edmond, Oklahoma have backed away from their proposal to admit into membership believers who have not been baptized.The Baptist Press reports:

Elders of Henderson Hills Baptist Church decided against proceeding with a church-wide vote July 30 on a proposal to remove baptism as a requirement for church membership. . . Henderson Hills pastor Dennis Newkirk, in an extended entry on his weblog July 31, stated that the church’s 16 elders are ‘no longer in consensus that we are ready to move forward.’

Nevertheless, I am troubled by the news that this Southern Baptist church was even considering such a move in the first place. I think the whole episode is another indication that many Southern Baptists have lost touch with what it means to be Baptist. I am not saying this because I delight in sectarianism for sectarianism’s sake. Rather, I think that Baptists have historically understood rightly the Bible’s teaching on the nature of the new covenant and who the proper candidates are for receiving the new covenant sign of baptism.

Baptist churches have always felt outside pressure from other Christians to let go of their “backward” views on Baptism and to recognize the “baptisms” of those who were “baptized” as infants. But that pressure has never and should not now cause Baptists to abandon their convictions about what the Scriptures teach.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon knew this all too well, and that is why he wrote the following in his Autobiography:

If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up and become what I believed to be right . . . if we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we would adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us—that we are odd and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible and cannot find it, and do not believe it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.

The fact is that we Baptists need to be willing to take our lumps, even if that means refusing membership to believers who want to join our churches having only been “baptized” as infants. To do that we are going to have to learn how to live within the tension of an imperfect world where believers continue to have differences over this very important issue. What we cannot do is deny our consciences and pretend the differences don’t exist.


(Click here to read my series of posts on Bethlehem Baptist Church’s consideration of a similar proposal.)


The London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
1. Baptism is an Ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party Baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death, and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of Life.
2. Those who do actually professe repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience, to our Lord Jesus, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.
3. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
4. Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.

Abstract of Principles (1858)
“Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus, obligatory upon every believer, wherein he is immersed in water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of his fellowship with the death and resurrection of Christ, of remission of sins, and of giving himself up to God, to live and walk in newness of life. It is prerequisite to church fellowship, and to participation in the Lord’s Supper.”

Baptist Faith & Message (2000)
“Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”

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