John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN
Pastor John Piper has just made a stunning announcement concerning who will be accepted as members at his Baptist church.
â€œThe Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ . . . The most obvious change this involves is allowing 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 membershipâ€ (â€œWhat the Elders Are Proposingâ€).
What does this mean? I am confused on why Bethlehem Baptist is changing it’s stance.
Click on the link “What the Elders Are Proposing,” and you can read some of the reasoning.
There is an 80-page paper that they have written to explain their position more fully. I am not going to offer any evaluations of the position until I’ve read that paper.
However, it is clear at this point that the church’s elders must hold to believer’s baptism. This new policy would only apply to members.
Sounds good, I don’t see a reason to say infant Baptisims are “invalid”. I’d say “Believers Baptism” is more correct. Although “most Presbyterians” do believe in baptismal regeneration like John Calvin and Martin Luther..only Zwingli totally rejected any sacremental aspect of it. It’s good to a local expression of the universal body for members reflect the larger universal church I think.
Piper’s position is surprising for a Baptist to take.
John Bunyan (who adopted a position similar to Piper’s) was severely criticized by the London Baptist leaders who represented the views that most Particular Baptists in England and America held at that time. The Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association (1816)asserted “immersion is the only mode.” John Broadus (who was one of the founding faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote: “we urge upon our fellow Christians as the plain teaching of God’s word, that there is no baptism where there is not an immersion.” A. T. Robertson (a legendary Greek professor at Southern in the early twentieth century who was also a major leader in SBC denominational life) asserted: “we assume that nobody is baptized at all who is not immersed on a profession of faith.” When B. H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was pastor at First Baptist Church of Waco, Texas, for forty years, he also made immersion a requirement for true baptism and allowed no alien immersion, accepting as members only those baptized by immersion in a Baptist church. James Leo Garrett observes: “Those churches that practice the baptism of professing believers by immersion and have no practice of confirmation have had to ask the question as to what relation such baptism ought to have to church membership. The overwhelming majority of Baptist churches have answered the question by insisting that, barring some physical impediment, such baptism should be constitutive of and necessary for membership in a Baptist church” (Systematic Theology, Volume 2, p. 534).
I’m glad to see this proposal, and I must say it fits with the overall position of the Bethlehem Baptist.
To anonymous: “Most Presbyterians” don’t believe in the baptismal regeneration. Calvin did not believe in it either and differentiated in his position from Luther. (I refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith and to the writings of Calvin himself.) Traditional Presbyterian understanding of the baptism is the sign of the covenant, with the regeneration produced by God (and not by baptism) in the individual person in the course of his/her life.
I could give a knee jerk answer, but probably not fair without reading the 80-page paper. So, given my lack of time, I’ll wait and comment after Denny eloquently reviews their stand.
Piper & other Calvinistic/Reformed baptists face a quandry… that of finding themselves more and more covenantal in their understanding of Scripture. That leads to a covenantal/kingdom-centered view of the world, which necessitates a Church citizenship model that includes families. Exclusive believer baptism is ill-equipped to handle that covenantal model, unless one takes a quasi-sacramental view of baby dedication.
Would that make Bethlehem essentially non-Baptist?