The SPRINKLED Baptist Convention?

November 18, 2014

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

 

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Baptist Faith and Message, Article 7, emphasis mine)

Baptists baptize. Such a self-evident statement might be considered incontestable if not for the curious trend described in this essay. If you will pardon the expression, Southern Baptists are watering down our doctrine of baptism. Today, a number of Southern Baptist Churches are accepting Christians into full membership who have never been scripturally baptized by the mode of immersion. In doing so, they are creating a class of sprinkled Southern Baptists—a development presenting us all with a host of denominationally defining implications.

Please notice I did not say that these churches are practicing baptism by the mode of sprinkling. When a person becomes a Christian at one of these churches, they are baptized by immersion into the fellowship of the church. However, if a person has experienced conversion at another church where they were sprinkled, some of our churches are now accepting these candidates into the full membership of the church by statement without requiring the only mode of baptism we have ever recognized as legitimate. It is in this manner that some people have become sprinkled Southern Baptists—never having been immersed at all. They are non-baptized Baptists.

Perhaps it will help some readers to review the three primary modes of Christian baptism practiced by various denominations. Aspersion is sprinkling. Affusion is pouring. Immersion is plunging. While some denominations permit each individual to select the mode of baptism they prefer, Baptists have historically required that the mode of immersion be utilized. Immersion accurately reflects the true meaning of the word baptism. Immersion is the only mode we find in the Bible. Immersion best symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is an act of obedience by which a new Christian identifies with Jesus and unites with the church.

At first glance, this subject may appear to be centered upon baptism. However, upon reflection, it also hinges upon one’s theology of church membership. Is it required for an individual to be baptized in order to become a church member? Traditionally, Baptists have answered yes. In fact, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines baptism as “prerequisite” to the privilege of church membership. Typically, there are three methods of joining a Southern Baptist Church. First, a person can join by baptism after a profession of faith. Second, a person can join by letter to transfer their membership from another Southern Baptist Church. Third, a person can join by statement if they have already been saved and immersed in a church “of like faith and order” even if it was not a Southern Baptist Church. In each case, the foundation for church membership is that, at a certain time and place, one professed faith in Jesus and was immersed as a believer. We have always shared a common baptism.

Until now, there has never been a “sprinkling” option for Southern Baptist Church membership. We have never before created a class of sprinkled Southern Baptists. The argument in favor of a totally immersed denomination consists of two parts. First, baptism is prerequisite for church membership. Second, there is no scriptural mode of believer’s baptism other than that of immersion.

I believe this is an important topic for Southern Baptists to address. As we discuss this matter, theologians and historians will offer various considerations based upon biblical research and time honored traditions. I will leave such worthy discourse to others. For now, my interest as a pastor is in the existence of certain practical daily implications that are raised by this new existence of sprinkled Southern Baptists.

 

  • If someone walks the aisle of our church and tells me they would like to join by transfer of letter from another Southern Baptist Church, can I still trust that this person has, in fact, been scripturally baptized? Does the existence of sprinkled Southern Baptists not render the transfer of letter option obsolete?

 

  • Is it still true that every person who joins a Baptist Church is a Baptist? What really makes one a Baptist—membership on a church roll or acceptance of the kind of baptism that Baptists find in scripture and routinely practice?

 

  • If a person who has never been baptized by immersion is not truly a Baptist, then is the church that accepts their sprinkling mode as legitimate and receives them into the membership of the Body truly a Baptist Church?

 

  • Almost everyone considers the issue of believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism to be a second tier doctrine on the theological triage model, which is to say that it is a denominationally defining doctrine. Is the same not true for the mode of baptism? Does not immersion so define us as Baptists that those who do not require immersion for membership are outside our convention?

 

  • With regard to a Southern Baptist Church’s theology of membership, where do we draw the line? Of course, we recognize each church’s autonomy in living out their beliefs and practices. But our denomination is autonomous as well, possessing the right to define certain beliefs and practices as outside the parameters for Southern Baptist Churches. The question is now, “Will we Southern Baptists permit our churches to continue in good standing in our convention if they embrace the existence of sprinkled Southern Baptists?”

 

  • How do we handle denomination-wide cooperation on matters like NAMB and IMB appointments, seminary student recommendations or the licensing and ordaining of ministers? If one is a sprinkled Southern Baptist, can one still be a candidate in these other areas of denominational life? Will this not create the possibility of non-baptized ministers, missionaries, pastors and professors? Clearly, this is more than just an issue for the local church.

 

Because there are some doubting Thomases out there who will not believe in the existence of something they cannot see and feel, I fully anticipate the question: “Which churches and ministers are accepting as members candidates who have merely been sprinkled?” After weighing this matter on the scale against an equal concern not to embarrass anyone, I have decided not to call them out by name in this essay. My aim is thereby to depersonalize the issue. After all, the names and the churches should not matter. It is the issue itself that deserves our consideration.

Having said that, some evidence of the existence of sprinkled Baptists is no doubt in order. Therefore, consider the policy statement reprinted below. It is representative of the position of a number of other Southern Baptist Churches today:

While we practice a baptism by immersion at [Church Name], we do not require the mode of immersion for membership. If a person was sprinkled or immersed (or a possible other mode) after conversion, he or she has met our requirement for membership.

Finally, the question may be asked, “Where should this issue be addressed?” Personally, I believe it is a matter for every affiliated association or convention to consider. That is, it should be considered by the executive committee of each local association, state convention or national convention to which such a church belongs. Every Southern Baptist has a stake in the preservation of a denomination that believes in immersion baptism, practices immersion baptism and tolerates nothing except immersion baptism as a requirement for church membership.

If a person who has merely been sprinkled—but never baptized scripturally—truly wishes to join a Southern Baptist Church, then they should be required to do so in the only manner recognized by our denomination. If a church refuses to require that a Baptist be baptized, then the rest of us have every right to consider such a church as residing among the countless other churches in Christendom lying outside the parameters of our denomination—and for one simple reason. Baptists baptize.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Adam Harwood

This matter deserves the attention of Southern Baptists. Thanks for raising the issue, Rick.

In Him,
Adam

William Thornton

To the question of IMB and NAMB candidates being only sprinkled Baptists, the vetting process is far more thorough than to allow that. In fact, too thorough for some. But if you find some appointed who aren’t immersed, I would like to know. The more salient question might be, “Should candidates from churches that accept sprinkling be accepted?”

The practice of accepting transfers who havent been immersed isn’t new. Moderate SBC churches have done this for many years. Associations have always been the watchdogs over this practice. I’d hate to think the SBC in session would be taking up individual churches suspected of this practice. Associations are closer and better equipped to handle it.

My old seminary prof said 40 years ago that if you were going to pastor a Baptist church then see to it that members were baptized, immersed.

volfan007

Rick,

Thanks for writing this, and making people aware of what’s going on in some churches, today, in the area of baptism. It’s really hard for me to imagine that an article like this would even have to be written concerning any church, which calls itself “Baptist.’ but, I know that what you’re saying is very true. In fact, we had a church, which tried to join our local association. This was a church plant…started by a Baptist Church in Jackson, TN. And, we didn’t allow them to join our local Association, because they allowed the very thing that you’re talking about. They allowed people to join their Church, who had just been sprinkled on top of the head. Of course, this Church has a large number of Presbyterians, who have joined it. They are strongly Calvinistic. And, they told us that they would only immerse people, who get saved; but, they would allow people to join, who had just been sprinkled. That was all the credentials committee had to hear to say, “No, thanks.” I’m glad to be a member of an Association, which would say, “NO,” to such a Church.

Thanks again for writing this.

David

    Rick Patrick

    David,

    Thanks for your comments and for sharing your example. It is true that SOME of the churches allowing this are indeed Calvinistic in their theology, which one might expect due to their theological similarities with Presbyterianism. However, I understand that there are also quite a few other Baptist churches—not Calvinistic in the least—that have lowered their standards for membership in a similar manner.

    On this particular issue, I am seeking to call attention to those on both sides of our theological aisle, whose actions may make sense to their church when viewed from the perspective of an individual congregation, but present many problems when considered from a denominational view.

Ben Simpson

Rick asked, “Does the existence of sprinkled Southern Baptists not render the transfer of letter option obsolete?” I’ve been a pastor in a Southern Baptist Church since 2002, and for me, the transfer of letter has always basically been obsolete. Sure, we’ve transferred letters, but I’ve never just trusted another church’s stamp of membership on a person. There’s just too much variation between churches even in local associations on this issue to not do my due diligence with them. So, I’ve always basically had people join by statement. In other words, I’ve sat down with them, heard their testimony, had them affirm our statement of faith and covenant, and then recommended them to our church. We would gladly accept their prior baptism if it met the following criteria: 1. It was done after they were converted, 2. It was done by immersion, and 3. It was done by the church as a symbol and not as a requirement for salvation. If they had a letter, we would, of course, send for it, but mainly as a matter of record-keeping and not as an endorsement of membership. So, in my opinion, the transfer letter option is already obsolete.

Norm

Ben:
The transfer of the letter may be obsolete in your mind and practice. But how you now approach the church membership issue is how I have known it to be practiced by pastors, including my own father, for decades. I have never known of any pastor who would simply take a letter, or a statement of faith, either, in a prima facia way. Candidates for membership, in my entire church history, always have been interviewed, and that whether they were recently converted, changed church membership by letter, or by statement. — Norm

    Ben Simpson

    Norm,

    Your comment is encouraging to me. So, what’s the purpose of the letter from your experience?

Ben Stratton

Rick,

William is right. The practice of accepting sprinkling / pouring as valid baptism has been going on among Southern Baptists since at least the 1960’s. The churches that did this were typically along the Atlantic seaboard in places such as North Carolinian and Virginia and were very moderate in their theology. Most were disfellowshipped from their local associations.

Interesting enough at this very same time in our history, Southern Baptist associations in Kentucky, Texas, California, Arkansas, Oregon, etc. were disfellowshipping churches that were receiving alien immersion. All agreed baptism was a test of associational fellowship, although different regions drew the line at different places.

    Rick Patrick

    Ben and William,

    Thanks for the reminder that this aberration has a history. Perhaps the primary difference between that period and the present is that our associational watchdogs are much less vigilant today. Some churches are not really affiliated with associations—or they choose associations that are regional and unconventional. Basically, I don’t think very much attention is being paid to the issue by many of our associations. I also think a very clear word from Nashville is in order. Perhaps if such a word had been clearly given years ago, this problem would not have grown like it has.

Les Prouty

Rick,

There was a time when I was a fully committed credo immersionist only. Later I became a fully committed the either aspersion or affusion practice only with infants and adults. Now I hold that either mode is acceptable, immersion for those asking for it and typically affusion for all others.

Recently, I also thought that Baptist churches should allow either. And you do still have the issue of autonomy. But now, I see your argument as the better one. It seems to me that there is no way around the fact that a Baptist church by definition is a church where credo immersion only is practiced. And I think, FWIW, that is the way it should remain. Autonomy of congregations is there to be sure. But with that autonomy may come consequences. If one accepts pouring or sprinkling as valid, then one should not be surprised if and when said congregation is no longer acceptable in the local association and consequently her members accepted that way will be denied a transfer to say, your church. Also FWIW, should any one of my adult children want to join a Baptist church and are told they must be immersed (none of them has been immersed) I would advise them to submit to that requirement if they really believe that church is right for them. Two adult sons currently attend Baptist churches, one a Journey church in the STL area and one a Baptist church in Auburn, the great state of Alabama!

Stick by your guns brother. While I practice other modes, and really who am I anyway, Baptists churches will cease to be Baptist if you end up watering down (I know) one of your primary distinctives

Les.

    Rick Patrick

    Les,

    Thank you for weighing in. Your well reasoned position is especially encouraging to me given our different perspectives on baptism itself. It means a lot that even one outside Baptist life can recognize that certain doctrines are indeed denominationally defining. Blessings to you!

Steven

Well Rick, It is time for me to agree with you! Your opening statement is pure gold – “Baptists baptize.” Classic.

While you were gracious enough to not identify any one particular church that adopted the baptism statement that you quoted, I was able to google the statement and located several churches that have adopted the statement. One, the Covenant Church of Spring, in Spring, Texas has adopted this statement. Ironically, the church’s web page also has the catch phrase of “Making Disciples, Reflecting the Character of Christ.” Let’s consider the first part of this catch phrase – making disciples. This is certainly a worthy goal for any church and finds its basis in the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19. However, Jesus is not ambiguous about how the church is to make disciples. The first way that a church makes disciples is by baptizing. So Covenant Church of Spring wants to make disciples but not in the way that Jesus has commanded, and yet, they also want to reflect the character of Christ. I don’t think that disobedience reflects Jesus’ character very well. In fact, I think that it reflects poorly on the church to be in open rebellion to the commands of Jesus.

On the SBTS website there is an excellent discussion by Dr. Gregory Wills (http://goo.gl/EtM3xh) where he addresses these very issues in a biblical manner. I commend this discussion to all. He makes the point that IF we believe that the form (immersion) is the thing commanded, then we have no liberty to do or accept anything but obedience. As baptists, we believe that we should not admit anyone into membership that has not been biblically baptized into membership because to do so would be admitting someone who has knowingly failed to obey Jesus command and thus is in sin. Accordingly, we refuse church membership to such unrepentant sinners. Likewise, as an association or convention, we should also remove from our fellowship any church that knowingly endorses such sin.

I know that some people find such characterization as hard, but many of our more recognized baptist brothers hold these positions as well. I am sure that many will remember when Dr. Mark Dever had the courage of his convictions to state that, while well meaning and brothers in Christ, our paedo-baptism brothers are sinning. http://goo.gl/BwUox9. Hopefully baptists will continue to be obedient in this regard.

Steven

    Rick Patrick

    Steven,
    Thank you for your kind words—and especially for sharing the link to the discussion by Dr. Wills.
    Blessings,
    Rick

    Robert Vaughn

    Steven, Rick,

    With a Google search I found four churches, two of which identify as Southern Baptist and two on whose sites I could find nothing beyond the “community church” that is in their names. (But they credit one of the SBC churches as the source of the language in their statement. This one church near Dallas, Texas seems to be the source for this particular statement.) Curiously, I found one other church who was using a baptism booklet based on the one by the Dallas area church, but had changed the language to “While we practice a baptism by immersion at Fellowship Baptist, if a person was immersed after conversion, he or she has met our requirement for membership.”

    Broadening out a little further, I found one SBC-affiliated church (at least nominally), First Baptist Church of Richmond, that will “allow committed Christians from other denominations to become full members of the church without having to be re-baptized” (i.e., the sprinkling does not even have to occur after conversion). This church is dually-affiliated with the CBF.

    All that said, it is a sad day when Baptists stop requiring either immersion or believer’s baptism. I suspect that we would find a surprising amount of this if we spent the time looking for it.

Max

“Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit … it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership …” (Baptist Faith & Message: 1925, 1963, 2000).

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available