Bethlehem Withdraws the Motion to Accept Unbaptized Persons as Members

For those of you who read my blog, you may remember my two previous posts on the elders at John Piper’s church who were proposing that certain unbaptized persons be accepted into their fellowship as members (read them here and here). You may also remember my post in December in which I disagreed with this decision on the part of the elders (read it here). I am happy to learn that the elders have withdrawn the motion (click here to read the notice on the church’s website).

Bethlehem still needs our prayers, however, as the issue is still not resolved. This is evident in the statement posted on the church’s website:

The elders realize that the issue cannot be dropped because the majority of the elders still favor the motion, including almost all the pastoral staff, and because that conviction puts most of the elders and staff in conflict with at lease one literal reading of the Bethlehem Affirmation of Faith.

This puts the majority of the elders (including John Piper) in the position of being in disagreement with the doctrinal statement that they are duty-bound to uphold. When there is such a conflict as this one, either the doctrinal statement has to change, or the elders have to change. Otherwise, the integrity of the church’s leadership is compromised. It’s evident that the elders don’t want that to happen.

I’m sure the elders who are in disagreement with the statement are wondering how long they can remain elders in good conscience while disagreeing with the church’s doctrinal statement. They have already tried to change the statement, and that didn’t work because it split the elder board. I’m sure they are now pondering and praying about what to do next. I’m going to pray too.


  • Tertius

    I have to side with Piper on this one. I would understand not allowing him to be in leadership or eldership, but not to welcome a brother to be a member in your local body of Christ when he holds to a very valid position (even if you disagree with it) is obviously wrong. We believe you are welcome with us if you have faith in Christ PLUS. So don’t let John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and all the other paedobaptists that baptist quote in their books and sermons not be a member of their body.

  • Denny Burk

    When you make that argument, you are basically denying our right to be Baptists. It is impossible to be a Baptist and accept unbaptized members into your fellowship.

    If somebody can tell me a way around this, I’d like to hear it. Because I feel the same tension everyone else feels. I know I have brothers and sisters in Christ who cannot join my church on precisely these grounds. It’s very frustrating, but I don’t know what else to do except live with the tension until the Lord comes and straightens us all out.

  • Tertius

    The problem is no one with the Bible with undisputable evidence can prove that an infant baptised is unbaptised.

    I wonder what Augustine would have thought if he could look down the corridors of time and see that there is a Denomination built around one of the Sacraments.

    Maybe the thing to do is re-evaluate what is biblical baptism. I guess if that issue could be solved it would have been by now. :o)

    I don’t know….We do need to not split acceptance of true brothers in Christ over such a small issue.

    But then again I guess baptists don’t think it is such a small issue.

    I really think Piper who is so well studied is seeing that paedobaptism is a valid position even though he disagrees with it.

    How would he feel if he had to tell Sinclair Ferguson, Iain Murray, and RC Sproul that they are not welcome to be members of the church. What a devestating thing when they could benefit in their teaching, fellowship, and leadership.

  • freechurchman

    As an EFCA minister I’m entirely sympathetic with the majority of the Bethlehem elders. There are ways to hold to a regenerate church membership (which allows for biblical church discipline) and still recognize those who were baptized as infants as members of the church (provided a testimony). Many EFCA churches have been doing this for years.

    I am curious as to what the word “autonomous” means to the members and leaders of Bethlehem. So many church leaders and theologians, who are not found on their membership rolls, are telling them what to do; this is surely a source of frustration for anyone in the free church tradition.

  • Tertius

    I think they can still remain a Baptist church by not baptising the infants of Christian believers. I also think that those who want to be members of Bethlehem should consider submitting to the views of the church for the sake of Christian love and get “rebaptised.” I know a few baptists at our church have baptised their infants to submit to the eldership of the church. I thought that was awesome, and I did not think they compromised their position.

    And yes I want to be Scottish. I am even changing my accent after taking a few classes with Ferguson.

  • Denny Burk

    A conscientious Baptist knows that it’s not just about what we don’t believe in (infant baptism). We actually make a positive confession about what we believe the Bible teaches Baptism is. Just take a look at some of our confessions. We would have to turn back church history to adopt such a policy:

    “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 of 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 his 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” (Article 15 of “The Abstract of Principles”).

  • Tertius

    “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinancy the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.”


  • Tertius

    In other words, Baptism is a monergistic sign not a synergistic sign (as Baptists believe). Baptism is not a sign of “my faith” but a sign of the effusion of the Holy Spirit in conversion. That is why pouring or effusing is the correct mode.

  • Denny Burk

    Yeah, I know. Like I said, we can re-fight church history if you’d like. My next response is, “you have misconstrued BAPTIZO and Romans 6.” To which you respond, “You should read the NT in the light of the OT.” And on and on, covering ground that we’ve already covered before.

    The bottom line is, we are reading the same book, desiring to hold to SOLA SCRIPTURA, yet coming to completely different interpretations.

    What are we going to do about that?

  • Tertius

    Are you getting your definition of Baptizo from an entry in a lexicon or that it is a theological technical term that must be defined by Scripture? For example “baptizo” means “to dip” therefore I will read that definition into the text.

    Baptizo does not always mean “to dip.” And I wonder if we are “dipped” into the Holy Spirit. I am pretty sure the NT describes the Holy Spirit effused on us.

  • Denny Burk

    You can get that definition from a lexicon. But what’s a lexicon? It’s a summary of a term’s usage in various contexts. Ultimately, usage helps us to understand the norms of language of a word.

    What you find when you study the word in canonical and non-canonical texts is that the word means to put under or go under water in a variety of ways.

    Here’s the tension: What do we do when our theological system leads us to a conclusion that is at odds with a word’s normal range of meaning? Authors can use words in ways that are outside their normal range of meaning. On the other hand, one can engange in special pleading whenever their theological system is constantly compelling them to ignore linguistic evidence that contradicts their system.

    In this case, your theological system leads you to see that BAPTIZO means “effuse,” a meaning otherwise unknown in antiquity for this word. For me, I just think the word’s meaning is not special. It just means to immerse, and all the symbolism of the Baptism is built on the notion of immersion (burial, resurrection, etc.).

  • Denny Burk

    By the way, there’s a great 9Marks discussion about cooperation between disagreeing brothers. The panel discussion includes Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and C. J. Mahaney. It is at this link:

    Al Mohler talks about the appropriates of “cooperating” with Presbyterian brothers that he would not be able to serve in a church with. Check it out.

  • Tertius

    I agree with you on the nature of words. I am glad to see that you recognize the error of the word fallacies that are involved when the baptists come to the conclusion that baptizo means “to dip.”

    I don’t know how you can find the meaning of baptizo in bural and resurrection imagery. Baptists seem to forget that Jesus was not lowered in a grave but rolled in a tomb.

    Second, Heb 6:2 and 9:10 can shed some light on the meaning from a biblical perspective. Check it out sometime.

    Jared E.

  • Denny Burk

    “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4; cf. Col 2:12). The burial imagery inheres in baptism according to this text.

    BAPTIZO is not used in the two texts that you cite from Hebrews.

    The apostles understood Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as fulfillment of OT prophecy. Therefore, we need to paint the full canonical picture when we try to understand what the apostles believed about Jesus’ death. Over and over, the NT citations of OT prophecy about Christ’s death refer to “SHEOL” (aka, the generic place of the dead, the grave, see Acts 2:29-31). And as a matter of fact, it’s the “burial” imagery that is emphasized in Paul’s description of the heart of the Gospel (1 Cor 15:4).

  • Tertius

    So baptismos a cognate of baptizo has no relation at all?

    Christ pours His Spirit on the believer uniting him to Christ in His death and resurrection.

    How can you be convinced that Romans 6 teaches baptism by immersion?

  • Tertius

    I agree with you on the heart of the gospel for Paul, but I would say more that the death-burial- resurrection-ascension-the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is a complex of events that cannot be separated. I don’t think “burial” can be isolated.

  • Tertius

    Gal 3:27 “for as many as were baptised into Christ did put on Christ.”

    Why don’t we try to reconcile putting on a garment to the analogy of immersion also.

    Or “crucified together” – hanging on a cross, or “planted together.”

    When we take into account to all the expressions of union with Christ we cannot appeal to “buried with him” for the mode of baptism any more than “crucified with” or “putting on” like a garment.

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