Paed-Day Someday?

May 1, 2013

By: Ron F. Hale

Opening Explanation:  The author is seeking to use the title of a classic sermon by Dr. R. G. Lee[1] (1886-1978) entitled Pay-Day Someday, while connecting the hybrid word (above) to the potential problem of receiving as church members those coming from other faith traditions that practice Paedobaptism[2] (baptism of infants) or affusion (sprinkling or pouring) without teaching them the NT truths of believer’s baptism by immersion and membership requirements.

Southern Baptists have always believed that the baptism of infants cannot be supported historically or doctrinally in the OT or NT; nor has it been espoused by our statements of faith.  Furthermore, we have never tried to make the case that certain rituals from the OT (i.e. circumcision) should serve as a NT symbol or sacrament.

Southern Baptists have never been Paedobaptists!  We have heard all the educated elucidations of the Princeton tradition, and read the writings of Luther, Wesley, and the popes of Rome and all of them put together have never been able to shake our resolve that we have indeed gotten this one right.   We are baptizers and we immerse people after they have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. This is who we are and what we do!

Most Paedobaptists base their view of the meaning and mode of baptism on church tradition rather than the clear practice and precepts of the NT.  Southern Baptists are Credobaptists, this simply means that we baptize those who have repented and trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and are willing to confess Him publically.

We have not taught a covenantal theology that maintains that God’s covenant of grace not only belongs to believers, but to the children of believers.  Therefore we have avoided an elaborate administration of God’s grace that has evolved among Paedobaptists with infant baptism the initial rite of incorporation into the covenant family.

Baptists believe that our maturing children need to hear the Gospel (just like all children need to hear), and they need to repent of their sins and believe the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.  This “believing” is a full trust of the person of Jesus Christ; He is the object of our faith – not a creed, confession, catechism, or catalog of Christian facts.

As the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin and convincing of the truth of the Gospel, the sinner turns from their sin and turns to Jesus and is saved.  We believe that infants and younger children lack the spiritual maturity to understand their personal sinfulness and the moral accountability of sins and make a faith response to the Gospel. We have believed that each child reaches an “age of accountability” based on several factors, one being that the child has godly parents that consistently nurture their child in the faith like we see in the life of young Timothy[3] in the NT.

We have also been anti-sacramentalists, preaching against those positions that prop up the baptismal regeneration of infants.  Many early Baptists and Anabaptists were drowned, burned, and banished for their strong stands on these issues.

Having served in the Midwest and North most of my ministry, I lived with the fact that Southern Baptists were few and far between.  Christians from other faith traditions were open to discuss following the Lord in believer’s baptism as they came for membership.  I took the straightforward approach by first asking them one question:  What are your earliest memories of your baptism? A blank stare would appear on their face.  They had no memories for they were infants when they were sprinkled or poured upon. This factor caused a strong “missing ingredient” in their faith journey.

When I showed them from the NT how new believers went down in the water and came up out of the water and explained the meaning of baptism (to dip or plunge) and how it symbolized being lowered into a watery grave and raised to walk in newness of life – many were happy to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism.

The key was listening to their testimony and discerning if it was a “by grace through faith” experience and then explaining that we are NOT doubting their salvation experience but asking them to follow the NT example and the historic practice of our church.

If they did not wish to officially join, I would make sure that they understood that they were welcome to attend, worship, and experience the love of Jesus through our fellowship.

New believers coming from a Catholic tradition had the hardest time being baptized in our church because it was seen as a rejection of their immediate family, generational identity, and cultural ties.  This factor was magnified when the first baby was born to the young couple and parents and grandparents applied mountains of guilt in order to get their grandbaby baptized.   However, some of the greatest soul-winners that I’ve worked with have been born-again baptized believers from the Catholic tradition.

Recently I was reading the facebook post of a friend and comments on this subject.  Very quickly the post revealed a couple of SBC congregations that practice immersion but allow people to join that have been sprinkled.  One congregation’s online document entitled Baptism: At The Village states:

“Baptism is a requirement for membership at the Village Church.  We require anyone wishing to join the church to have displayed obedience to Christ’s command following conversion.  While we practice a baptism by immersion at the Village, 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.”[4]

This brings up several questions as members move due to jobs or choose to join other congregations in the same city.  Here are a few questions:

  1. Would you receive non-immersed members from other SBC congregations and then allow them to teach a Bible Study Class?  What will they teach about baptism?
  2. Would you allow non-immersed members coming from other SBC churches to serve as a deacon?
  3. As a Baptist church would you license and ordain a non-immersed young man to preach the Gospel who has come into your church from a SBC church that did not require him to be immersed?

It is my hope and prayer that we will not have a “Paed-Day Someday” in the SBC.  By this I mean that I hope that we remain steadfast in protecting the NT practice of believer’s baptism by immersion and preserving the long held SBC principle of “like faith and order.”

If we as “Baptists” do not lead this effort, who will?