Wednesday, December 13, 2006

can i get an "amen"???

in this post from july of this year, i posted some figures from a study that shows that despite the southern baptists convention's claim of over 16 million members, less than 40% of those actually come to church.
this begs the question "what does it mean to be a member of a southern baptist church?"
the short version is, to become a member of a southern baptist church, you must have professed christ as your savior, and been baptized as a believer in christ.
so , every time a person is baptized in a baptist church, they are added to the membership roll. (in most cases... of *that* church)

nathan finn, faculty member and adjunct professor at southeast college, in addressing the issue of baptizing children makes a point i wish would be made to every christian parent and teacher in the world...(note that in the body of the post, he does ***not**say that a child cannot be baptized... but that we should exercise more discernment in what is such an important matter)

"avoid turning the gospel into moralism when teaching children.
David and Goliath is not about defeating the giants in your life.
Noah and the Ark is not (only) about obedience to God.
Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish is not about sharing.
Teach children that all of Scripture is ultimately a testimony
to Christ and his gospel. Teach them God is holy. Teach
them they are sinners by birth and by choice. Teach them
that God punishes sin, and that they deserve eternal punishment.
Teach them that Jesus Christ never sinned yet he paid the penalty
for sin. Teach them that he really died then he really came back to
life, all so that we can forever be in the presence of God.

And if they cannot grasp the gist of what I have just written
(which is simply Gospel 101), then DO NOT BAPTIZE THEM
no matter how much they say the love Jesus, and Mommy,
and puppies, and Rice Krispies, and Kool-Aid."

and concerning adult baptisms...

"There are so many churches that baptize lots of
people but have no or minimal growth in their
membership (and sometimes loss). Now I realize
that people die, move away, go into nursing homes, etc.
I also realize that sometimes churches split and/or plant
new congregations that result in a loss of attendance
/membership. Those situations are not what I am talking about.
I am talking about baptizing multitudes of people
we never see again. We chalk this up to poor follow-up,
and no doubt that is a problem. But I think the bigger
problem is baptizing people who are not genuine believers
but who we have coaxed into praying a prayer at some point."

and ....

"We have got to make the gospel clear when we are
evangelizing or preaching. Pastors, “decision counselors,”
youth ministers, parents, evangelists, and other Christians
have to be diligent in making sure that what people are
believing in is the finished work of Christ and not the quality
of our programs, or their hopeful escape from Hell, or relief
of their guilty conscience, or their inclusion in a safe environment,
or whatever else that may be genuinely good but
can take the place of the gospel."

amen and amen brother finn.



lauren said...

Alhough i was at one time very active in a "Southern Baptist" campus ministry and church, we became very frustrated at the lack of depth in teaching and the extreme emphasis on church "growth" in numbers within some churches in the denomination.

I find it odd that while most Southern Baptists claim Baptism is not part of salvation, many churches require re-baptism if the original baptism was not according to their exact interpretation of scripture. Transfer of membership, especially when the member's previous church was preaching salvation through Christ alone, should not be equated with Baptism. This practice of re-baptism contradicts the claim that they don't believe "proper" Baptism (adult, immersion only, etc...) is a requirement for salvation.

Some churches' membership rolls have jokingly been referred to as "the book of Life"...

stephen lee cavness said...


thanks for dropping by! i notice that you are in murfreesboro. i am from dyersburg in west tennessee, and have made many trips to murfreesboro. always good to hear from the home state.

while i often speak to problems in the s.b.c., i in no way am trying to promote the demise of it, or in simply attacking it.
so i hope my post(s) have not been received that way. it is because i am a member of an sbc church, and always have been, that i want to see it grow in truth and integrity.

as for your concern about southern baptists and baptism, i do know of many churches who do not require re-baptism, if the first baptism was done after a profession of faith. for instance, if a person was a member of a pca church, and was baptized after coming to faith in christ, then i know of churches who would not require a re-baptism.
the concern comes when a person's baptism was administered before any profession of faith, i.e. infant baptism.
although the belief that salvation comes from faith alone in christ alone by grace alone, the ordinance of baptism is only properly administered (according to baptist and others) after there has been repentance and a profession of faith.

i do not doubt your experiences though, and i share in your desire for consistency in our doctrine and our methods.

thanks again for stopping by, come back soon!


lauren said...

Hi Stephen,
I remember you from utm. (I graduated in 99) I found your blog address on deborah's caring bridge site and got curious.

I didn't mean to come across quite as much in attack mode as i probably did. My brother and sis in law are in seminary in Louisville, and my brother in law is a youth pastor at a SBC church. My hubby and I got so disenchanted with a couple of specific churches in Memphis while we were there, as well as a church in Middle TN where the pastor pointed out a black flag in the midst of national flags as being representative of "nations not touched by the SBC". Not untouched by the Gospel, but untouched by their particular denomination. It could have been any other denomination, and I would have been equally offended.

Anyway, having grown up Baptist but now fellowshiping at a PCA church, the Baptism debate is more real to me than ever. I have read and heard the Covenantal viewpoint and of course, the Baptist viewpoint and while I am not ready to have my daughter baptized, I don't believe re-Baptism should be required for church membership. I believe the Holy Spirit should be the one to guide an adult toward that decision. Equating sacraments with local membership policies doesn't set well with me, because if one truly has trusted Christ as their Savior, they are part of the Church. Is the sacrament about our choice or what God has done?

You can tell I'm wrestling with this issue myself; I don't think it's as black and white as we who were raised Baptist like to think. It goes more into the whole dispensationalist vs. covenental theology debate.

But I am concerned with the overbranding of the SBC in general. In many ways, the nominal southern subculture reminds me a lot of the catholic subculture I observed as a believer growing up in the north.

stephen lee cavness said...

hi lauren,
did you go to fbc martin, if so, you may be the lauren i am thinking of.

i think i understand where you are coming from, but it would help if youcould give me your view of what i posted before, about if a baptism was administered *before* they were converted.
i think that issue may be a good starting point.

a book i have found helpful is "baptism of believers alone", or its condensed version booklet " a string of pearls unstrung", both by fred malone.
he was raised baptist, changed to presbyterian, and after being a presbyterian pastor, changed back to baptist.
he has a very unique perspective, and is very humble in his presentation.

this is not to but up a dichotomy between baptist and pca at all, i have many pca friends that i have a lot in common with and love deeply. i often find that i have more in common with my pca friends that many of my baptist friends.


lauren said...

My maiden name is Valle, if that helps ring a bell. Yes, I went to FBC. If every pastor we sat under since then taught like Brother Sing, I probably wouldn't have turned into a skeptic of the whole denomination. I really am praying about my attitude. ;-)

Anyway, I'm still working through this issue, which is why I haven't felt comfortable having our daughter Baptized yet. I've hit sort of a crisis of belief of sorts, in which I'm personally trying to decide how significant this issue is to me and my family. I could do it just because everyone else around (at our church) is doing it, but that would be SO wrong. Our church doesn't require for you to believe in covenant/infant baptism to be a member, although elders and deacons (I believe) should. If an infant has been baptized according to the covenant of grace (the extension of the OT covenant to NT believers... Gen 17:7, 10; Acts 2:38,39; 1 Cor 7:14), with believing parents who recognize that the child must still come to faith in Christ, then I am not convinced that "rebaptism" is necessary. It's about the work the Lord has always planned to do in that child's life because the covenant he made with Abraham that has been extended to Gentile believers. There were circumcised children who did not truly follow God. Believer's baptism following conversion is a symbol of the work that He has done in drawing the individual from an unbelieving, unprofessing family to him.

If we claim Baptism must follow conversion, are we not depending on it to somehow complete our salvation, thus changing the gospel to "faith + repentance+ the work of baptism=salvation"? Finn talks about excercising discernment when Baptizing children. Many of us
(myself included) were Baptized following a profession of faith in Christ and repentance at a young age. Yet in many churches, more emphasis is placed on "being sure of your salvation", "rededication", "making a decision to get right with God" than cultivation of a real relationship with the Savior through His word after the profession of faith. Many times, these kids are encouraged to get "rebaptized" just in case the first wasn't done before they were truly saved. Does this mean their salvation experience as a child was any less valid, especially if the work of the Holy Spirit is evident in their life?

At what point do we hold to the promise of the gospel in John 3:16 and Acts 16:31, stop depending on our own actions and simply trust in the promises that God has given through His Son? Requiring rebaptism seems to make the sacrament about us instead of about His work. I have come to believe that a profession of faith should be enough for church "membership". Otherwise, it seems we are saying our salvation is not secure without baptism to complete it. So I would disagree that believers from a background that practiced covenant baptism (not regenerational baptism that teaches baptism saves) of infants or children should always be re-baptised for the sake of membership. If the Holy Spirit guides them in that direction, fine. But rebaptism for the sake of joining a local fellowship or for the church to boost statistics is silly.

One document I am currently mulling over is "A Contemporary Reforomed View of Infant Baptism"...

Check it out...and I'm open to reading any other sources you have on this matter, especially online. since you are in seminary, you probably have access to a lot more info related to this.

Thanks for letting me vent a little and sort through some of this stuff on your blog. :-)

lauren said...

Another side note... growing up Baptist, I always wrongly assumed infant Baptism meant the parents were counting Baptism as part of salvation. If God truly predestines and foreknows those who will repent and come to faith in Him, does the question of pre-conversion or post-conversion Baptism really matter? It's my understanding that Covenental theology would say no, while most Baptist theology would say yes. I'm still deciding which doctrine I'll personally affirm, and I'm grateful that my relationship with Christ is not dependent on it. And my precious daughter has woken up from her nap, so that's all for now... (congrats to you and your wife, by the way.)

stephen lee cavness said...


just to let you know, i havent bailed out on this topic, im just consumed with other things and writing assignments write now. i hope to revisit this soon.


lauren said...

i understand and appreciate you taking your time to answer...
while your initial post caused me to think and vent about what troubles me about baptism in some sbc churches, this discussion has challenged me to dig into the Word on this subject again.

in addition, this discussion led me to talk about it with my sister-in-law, and during our conversation i learned that my 5 year old niece recently asked Jesus into her heart! they are approaching Baptism slowly with her, as they want her to really understand it.
(just a few months ago, she adamantly stated that pastor wouldn't dunk her under water, "no way!" this was prior to her confession of faith.)