Friday, August 7, 2009

Unity and Baptism: A Possible Solution

What I am proposing may seem simplistic to some readers. However, I think this may be a way for the church to be united through baptism.

I'm beginning with five assumptions/beliefs:

First, Christ's church should be united around the gospel. This is commanded and easy to understand in the bible. Therefore, we should only separate from those who reject first order (gospel-centered) doctrines.

Second, second order doctrines are not biblical. All doctrines fall into either the first order or third order categories.

Third, baptism is not an issue to divide over. It should be treated as a third order doctrine. We ought to recognize that many Christians differ in opinion over the meaning of this sacrament; this should cause humility in how we interpret the meaning of baptism.

Fourth, all Christians should engage in "theological triage." We must recognize which doctrines fall into the first and third orders.

Fifth, unity does not require uniformity of belief and practice.

Based on these assumptions, how does this actually play out in the life of the local church?

Here is an idea:

We must understand that those who hold to infant baptism believe differently about the meaning of baptism than those who hold to believer's baptism. To be very simplistic, those who practice infant baptism believe that it is a sign of God's faithfulness to His covenant (and corresponds to OT circumcision). Those who practice believer's baptism believe that it is an act that shows the believer's identification with Jesus Christ in salvation.

These are clearly different meanings for the sacrament/ordinance.

While treating baptism as a third order doctrine, those in a local body will accept that both infant baptism and believer's baptism will occur within the church body. This does not mean that everyone has to agree on the meaning, but that they will accept the fact that it will occur. As for infants, parents could baptize them as the church gathers. Those who disagree with this practice could be there, but this does not mean they agree with or support the act. They key is that unity remains.

On the flip side of the coin, some parents in the body will not baptize their infants. Instead, they will wait until their child is saved, and then discuss with them when it is appropriate for them to be baptized as a believer. Those in the body who support infant baptism, while not agreeing with the waiting to baptize infants, will nonetheless remain united.

This same thing happens in other doctrines. Eschatology is a great example. I've heard many sermons where the pastor preaches something I disagree with. I don't dis-fellowship with the church family because of this. Just because I am present does not mean that I agree with all he has said.

I've been in situations where most of the people in a church hold to an Arminian position regarding salvation. While I disagree, I don't immediately break fellowship because of this difference.

I could go on and on. The point is that we don't stop fellowshiping over third order doctrinal differences. If we treat baptism in this way, we will remain united while at the same time holding some differences in interpretation over the meaning of baptism.

I realize that this will require much discussion, much listening, and much humility. Let's do it.


Alan Knox said...


I thought you might be interested in this statement from a church in Wake County, NC.

I hope I typed that correctly. For some reason I can't copy into your comment box.


Eric said...


Thank you. I'll check it out.

Arthur Sido said...


I think that in order for that to work, wouldn't local churches have to stop basing their identity on their stance on baptism or their style of church government?

Eric said...


In a word: yes.

Their identity would come from being in Christ. They may even recognize that they differ in view on things such as baptism, the Lord's supper, speaking in tongues, church government, etc., while still determining to remain united.

Slow Learner said...


I have been a member of several PCA churches and OPC churches over several years, and it was common to have in the membership of those churches, professing Christian families that did not agree with the covenental understanding of baptism. Those families were allowed full membership, and believer baptism of their children when they were ready for that. I believe this is pretty close to what you are proposing. Infant baptism is taught and practiced in these churches, but it is not a requirement.

By the way, another commenter mentiond the problem with copying into your comments. It is a problem that makes commenting on blogs particularly dificult. The fact that folks do it anyway shows how interesting your blogs are.

Eric said...

Slow Learner,

I like the sound of the churches you are talking about. I have to admit that although I am a Southern Baptist, I am also very tired of dividing over baptism. I am ready to be united over this beautiful sacrament/ordinance.

Thanks for your kind words. As for the copying problems for comments on this blog, I wish I could fix the problem. I'm just using a normal Blogger template, so I'm not sure what the problem is.

Thanks again.

Steve Scott said...


I enjoyed reading your post. I see each view as not commanded by Scripture, but as developing as traditions, neither of which are prohibited by the Scriptures. I would welcome either or both, but not an exclusionary view of either.

Eric said...


Thanks for reading. Although I'm a Baptist, I'm also beginning to increasingly see the reasoning behind the infant-baptism view. My hope is that churches will begin to unite around the beauty of baptism instead of using it as yet another reason for division.

Bryan Riley said...

Amen! Keep calling the Body to unity. Great post. Simplicity is good.

Eric said...


Thank you. If we are to be biblical, we cannot keep dividing the body over these secondary issues.