Bethlehem Baptist’s (John Piper’s church) is weighing a decision to change their membership requirements from including mandates of a person’s being immersed in a believers’ baptism. There is an 84-page paper on the history and specific bylaws amendments that the church’s board will be recommending to be adopted, but probably the best part of the document is John Piper’s Twelve Theses regarding the issue of Infant and Believer Baptism, which I will reprint here:
- Faithfulness to Biblical doctrine is crucial. It helps preserve the honor of Christ, promote the good of the church, and spread the gospel.
- Not all doctrines are of equal weight in saving the soul or shaping Christlike holiness and love.
- Doctrinal unity in the teaching authority (the elders) of the local church is more crucial and more realistic than doctrinal unity among the newest members and most recent or immature converts.
- Different convictions about the proper mode of baptizing believers (sprinkling, pouring, immersing), and different backgrounds with respect to the mode of baptism a person has experienced, are not weighty or central enough matters to exclude a person from membership in the local church if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and clear conscience that his baptism is valid. Baptismal regeneration is so serious an error that it calls salvation by faith into question and is not an acceptable understanding or practice of baptism.
- The office or denominational affiliation of the Christian person who has performed someone’s baptism is not a weighty or central enough matter to exclude a person from membership in the local church if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and clear conscience that his baptism is valid.
- Infant baptism is not explicitly commanded or clearly taught in the New Testament; but believer’s baptism is uniformly practiced with nothing explicitly said concerning the baptism of infants born to believing families.
- The Biblical case for infant baptism of children belonging to believing parents has some measure of plausibility, if this baptism is treated not as an instrument or evidence of an infant’s regeneration, but as an expression of hope that in a Christian family the child will be the beneficiary of the means of saving grace by word and prayer and all forms of Christian nurture.
- However, the Biblical case for infant baptism is not the most compelling position, in view of Thesis #6 above, and in view of the apparent intention of God that the newness of the new covenant, and its hoped-for regenerate community, be signified by a new ordinance (baptism rather than circumcision) (1) that includes both men and women; (2) that occurs at a new point in life, namely, at new birth (which is evidenced by personal faith), not at natural birth (which evidences descent from covenant parents); and (3) that always in the New Testament signifies the reasonable belief that regeneration has already occurred, not the hope of a child’s future regeneration.
- Yet, since the best defense of infant baptism admits that circumcision was no sure sign of belonging to the believing remnant of true Israel, but rather was a sign of hope that a child would prove to be a “child of promise” and not just a “child of the flesh,” the alleged continuity between old covenant infant circumcision and new covenant infant baptism need not contradict the essence of the newness of the new covenant, since no claim is made that either the old sign of the covenant (circumcision) or the new sign of the covenant (baptism) secured the saving blessing. In other words the importance of voluntary membership in the regenerate people of God is not at issue between Baptists and the best defenders of the Reformed view of infant baptism. What is at issue is whether membership in the visible New Covenant Community should include infants who do not profess faith which is the outward mark of the New Covenant Community. (For a fuller treatment of this issue see John Piper’s “Infant Baptism and the New Covenant Community,” dated 2-14-93.)
- Therefore, where the belief in the Biblical validity of infant baptism does not involve baptismal regeneration or the guarantee of saving grace, this belief is not viewed by the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church as a weighty or central enough departure from Biblical teaching to exclude a person from membership, if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and a clear conscience that his baptism is valid. In such a case we would not require baptism by immersion as a believer for membership but would teach and pray toward a change of mind that would lead such members eventually to such a baptism.
- It is fitting that the teaching authority of the church (the Council of Elders) be unified in its conviction concerning the proper administration of baptism, believing in and practicing what appears most clearly to be the practice and conviction of the early church, namely, believer’s baptism by immersion.
- Bethlehem Baptist Church may support and form partnerships with Christians and Christian ministries which fall within #10 above and which are qualified morally and doctrinally in all other relevant matters.
I think that I agree with this (I’m still not persuaded that covenant theology necessarily leads to infant baptism), but I would have to do significantly more studying and thinking before I can come to a definitive answer.
Any thoughts on this from our infant baptist friends?