I don't know how to put this, but it's kind of a big deal.
*Warning: The following is primarily intended for those who are convinced that a believer's baptism is the only means of "valid" baptism. I realize there will be those who disagree at this point, but the nature of the discussion centers upon how such persuaded persons should or could approach the issue of paedobaptism and church membership.*
(N.B. Wayne Grudem responded to Piper's disappointment. I've linked to it at the end.)
Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology has been revised, with the most glaring change being the change of stance on the issue of baptism and potential allowance of paedobaptism in a Baptist(ic) church.
"I did not realize this difficulty when I first published this book in 1994. I have revised this entire section for the 2007 printing."
Read the fullness of the revision. (HT Justin Taylor)
Here's a pertinent portion of the revision:
But the most serious difficulty arises when people begin to think about what such a “compromise position” implies about the views of baptism held by the people who go along with this compromise. For people who hold to infant baptism, they have to be able to say that it is acceptable for believing parents not to baptize their infant children. But according to a paedobaptist view, this seems close to saying that is acceptable for these parents to disobey a command of Scripture regarding the responsibility of parents to baptize their children. How can they really say this?
On the other side, those who hold to believer’s baptism (as I do) would have to be willing to admit into church membership people who have been baptized as infants, and who did not make a personal profession of faith at the time they were baptized. But from a believer’s baptism position, genuine baptism has to follow a personal profession of faith. So how can believer’s baptism advocates in good conscience say that infant baptism is also a valid form of baptism? That contradicts what they believe about the essential nature of baptism – that it is an outward sign of an inward spiritual change, so that the apostle Paul could say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). [Bold mine; italics original]
In response to this revision, my beloved Dr. John Piper shares his disappointment.
In the old version, Grudem wrote:
"This would mean that Baptist churches would have to be willing to allow into membership those who had been baptized as infants and whose conviction of conscience, after careful consideration is that their infant baptism was valid and should not be repeated. Of course, Baptist churches could be free to preach and to attempt to persuade prospective churches members that they should be baptized as believers, but if some, after careful consideration, are simply not persuaded, it does not seem appropriate to make this a barrier to membership."
Dr. Piper wrote:
"I agree with this. And the main reason I do is that excluding a true brother in Christ from membership in the local church is far more serious than most of us think it is.
When I weigh the kind of imperfection involved in tolerating an invalid baptism because some of our members are deeply persuaded that it is biblically valid, over against the kind of imperfection involved in saying to a son or daughter of the living God, “You are excluded from the local church,” my biblical sense is that the latter is more unthinkable than the former. The local church is a visible expression of the invisible, universal, body of Christ. To exclude from it is virtually the same as excommunication. And no serious church takes excommunication as an invitation to attend the church down the street."
Well, I understand from where the Pipe is coming, but would he not deny a person with no baptism whatsoever from membership? I think he would, but, at least as I understand it, the essence of Baptist-ness (even his) is that infant baptism is not a valid baptism and is, therefore, not a baptism.
I realize there is a spectrum here whereby some will deny membership unless one is actually baptized in that particularly congregation, but the problem is that a paedobaptist sees a believer's baptism as a legitimate baptism, but it doesn't work vice versa.
I'm no Baptist or Anabaptist apologist per se, but if it was no big deal, then why all the persecution and all to begin with. I would love to see that difference overcome in a local church, but I see it as a non-compromiseable issue.
Here's where I think the compromise is not realistic. A paedo obstinately (so it seems) refuses a believer's baptism after attempts to "persuade prospective church members that they should be baptized as believers." (Again, see Grudem's old version cited above.)
Well, I think you wind up with 2 classes of citizenship. Are there going to be certain positions in the congregation not open to him or her who was "only" paedobaptized? I think the practicality of it will be so.
Piper notes the new version from Grudem:
"For someone who holds to believer’s baptism, admitting to church membership someone who has not been baptized upon profession of faith, and telling the person that he or she never has to be baptized as a believer is really giving up one’s view on the proper nature of baptism."
Pipe disagrees, but I think Grudem is right on. If your view of the proper nature of baptism is that it is the entry rite into the new covenant community for those who have been regenerated and yet you have those who have not experienced this, how have you not given up your view of the proper nature of baptism?
I understand Piper's heart on the issue, but at the end of the day the Baptist has to cease to hold to a Baptist understanding of baptism. Is a valid baptism is necessary for church membership?
Paedobaptists would say, "Yes," and I think so would most Baptists, self included. Dr. Piper would say, "No."
I think you either say that a valid baptism is not necessary or you say that an infant baptism is valid. Dr. Piper would say no, you don't have to do either.
No. Admitting a conscientious paedobaptist to membership in a Baptist church would not say that the infant baptism is valid. What it does say is: “Your mistaken understanding of baptism and the invalid baptism that follows from it are not the kind of disagreement, mistake, and failure that we are going to use in defining the meaning of the local church. We view you as a brother whose resting place is Christ alone, through grace alone, by faith alone, to the glory of God alone. You are in the Body of Christ. You may be in this body of Christ.”One on the one hand I appreciate his heart, because many of heroes of the faith are paedobaptists and I do not see the differences over baptism as prohibitive to fellowship.
However, if one believes, as I do, that a valid baptism is necessary for church membership, then I think I'm bound to insist on it. If I thought that person's understanding of baptism was "mistaken" and that the baptism following it was "invalid," don't I have an obligation to educate and help that person to more rightly walk in obedience?
Again, this is all presuming my understanding of the believer's baptism being the only correct one. I'm sure some will want to argue that point, but that's another discussion for another time.
I'm just trying to ask and answer whether or not a Baptist church can accept those into membership they see to have only experienced an invalid baptism (as they define it). I'd love to see an approach that doesn't force one group or both to compromise their deep convictions regarding baptism, but I'm not seeing it possible where one or both groups can do anything other than say, "Baptism's not that big of a deal."
(N.B. Wayne Grudem responded to Dr. Piper and the response can be read here. He seems to go my route of not being on board with a non-baptized person being a church member, which is essentially what you'd have if you allow those whom you perceive to have an invalid baptism.)
*Caveat, although this was/is primarily a discussion for the believer's baptism minded person, I also think this is uncompromisable for a paedobaptist community when it comes to believers' children, as Grudem mentioned. To have church members in a covenantal congregation not administer the sign of the covenant to their children would be sin and prohibit them from full membership in the covenant community. Again, you'd have a significant issue to overcome with 2 classes of membership at best.*
**Caveat to the above caveat, I've been reminded that there are those churches out there who seemingly have pulled this off without seeing the opposing views as being in sin.
Doug Wilson has a mixed paedo/credo church. Their micro-denom, the CREC, can admit both paedo and credo churches. As I've heard it, not administering baptism to children because you are honestly convinced of a credo position is not sin. It's not taking full advantage of the means of grace provided to you, but it's not sin.