Lemke’s Remarks and My Response Regarding Bethlehem Baptist Church

Tim Brister —  October 16, 2008 — 14 Comments

In the comments of my previous post, Dr. Steve Lemke has responded to my comments regarding the factual errors in his journal article.  I was going to leave my response in the comments but at the conclusion felt that it was better to write a follow-up post here.  I will not reproduce Lemke’s comment here, although I will post some quotes from his comment.  My response is as follows:

____________________

Dr. Lemke,

I assume that, despite all the qualifications, you are offering a retraction on what you have written about Bethlehem Baptist Church.  If my assumption is right, then your bearing false witness against Piper and BBC has secondary implications–your charge of theological compromise.  The only right thing to do in a retraction is not only to correct the factual errors but also retract your falsely derived conclusion as well.

You said,

By the way, I do think you misunderstood what I was saying, although my statement could have been clearer. I was not saying that the CHURCH approved the motion, but that the ELDERS had adopted it.

Elder approval of a motion an a policy enacted by the congregation is not the same thing, at least in Baptist polity.  To say that “an amended policy was finally enacted in 2005 is simply not true, even with your argumentation (in the same paragraph you call it “the new policy“).  BBC holds to Baptist polity with congregational rule while being led by plurality of elders.  Simply because the elders approved a motion does not mean it was a policy in the church, as Piper and the documents clearly explain.  Having done a paper on the differences of Baptists and Presbyterians, you should know this.

The fact is that there were numerous ways which you could have contacted BBC, not the least of which is actually calling them (Sam Crabtree is the staff person you would want to talk to).  The information is clear as day on their church website, and any search engine would get you in the information within 30 minutes of searching.   The other site I referenced indeed was a blog–one that happens to be the most informative and reliable source of information on the internet.  Because it is a blog, it is any less credible?   “Not an internet site but a blog . . .” – what’s your point Steve?

Because the issue is not resolved does not mean that the church or elders are in active deliberation about this matter.  You argue that this paper was presented in February of 2007.  That was over a year after the motion was withdrawn and a year and a half before it was published in the journal article.  As an editor, is it not your responsibility to make sure that the information you present is up to date and accurate?

You argue,

Piper’s continued advocacy of allowing people into their church fellowship without having practiced believer’s baptism is the point, whether or not he temporarily backed away from it for pragmatic reasons.

Piper personally holds to a different position, but his advocacy of that position does not mean he allows people to be members apart from believer’s baptism.  There is a difference from a personally held belief and the policy of a church.  He said in the interview that BBC indeed does NOT allow people to join apart from believer’s baptism.  He did not back away because of “pragmatic” reasons but because of a right understanding of Baptist ecclesiology–precisely what you charge him of compromising on!  He was not going to force this issue but respectfully considered the disagreements among the plurality of elders and concerns of the congregation.

Your circumlocution does not strengthen your argument nor change the error you have made.  You have not presented the facts or accurately represented BBC and John Piper.  You owe them an apology and should not be defending your rationale with such justifications.

Finally, you are correct to say that your paper does not contain “inflammatory language,” but Dr. Lemke, you have wrongly presented a whole host of people.  I have shown that you were not fair in the journalism of Collin Hansen, you falsely labeled “streams” of Calvinism, you wrongfully explained TULIP, you misrepresented Timothy George on ROSES, you bore false witness regarding BBC and John Piper, you missed the point of theological triage by Al Mohler, and you wrongly presented by the Presbyterian beliefs of infant baptism.  So yes, no inflammatory language, but don’t you think that being wrong on all these points will not be considered a real provocation?

I, too, am willing to have good dialogue about these matters.  I never questioned your salvation, although I said your scholarship did not represent Christian virtue.  You are not telling the truth and representing the positions of those with whom you disagree accurately and fairly.  Until you are able to do so, I do not see how anyone will be able to enjoy a productive and engaging discussion with you on these matters.  Thanks for your comment, and I do hope that the future holds promise for charitable dialogue for the benefit of all people interested in the gospel, the church, and unity of faith in the fellowship of the saints.

Timmy Brister

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14 responses to Lemke’s Remarks and My Response Regarding Bethlehem Baptist Church

  1. From Lemke’s response:

    “To be a false witness requires that one knowingly tell a falsehood. ”

    No Dr. Lemke. It only requires that one does not tell the truth. Ignorance is no excuse and certainly no virtue. Sins of ignorance are punishable. The fool speaks before he has heard the fullness of the matter and all men will be held accountable for every word, that does not work. You bear false witness to the word by equivocating ignorance as innocence and only deepen the hole you’re in and prove the Proverbs correct.

  2. I’m sure I’m just dense but, while I certainly don’t care for Lemke’s approach to this, I am at a loss at to why a “Baptist” would be desirous of indicating approval of paedo-baptism in any way, let alone making it “acceptable” for membership in a Baptist church.

    My uneducated view of Baptists is that we are the ones who are so named because of an insistence on believer’s baptism by immersion. If we cast that aside, are we still “Baptists”?

  3. Ed,

    Your question was brought up in June 2006 by an article by Dr. Mohler on his “Conventional Thinking” blog. He wrote:

    That said, baptism has been understood by all major branches of Christianity, throughout the centuries of Christian experience, to be a requirement for church membership and the fellowship of the Lord’s table. Thus, for Baptists to receive into the membership of a Baptist church (or to invite to the Lord’s Supper) any believer who lacks such baptism, is to receive non-baptized persons as if they were baptized.

    Any compromise of Baptist conviction concerning the requirement of believer’s baptism by immersion amounts to a redefinition of Baptist identity. More importantly, it raises the most basic questions of ecclesiology. We must give those questions intent attention in these days. Otherwise, will there be any Baptists in the next generation?

    Source: http://www.conventionalthinking.org/home.php?id=13

  4. Timmy,

    I was wondering if your many posts would elicit a personal response from Lemke. Your fame has served you well in this.

    Dinner next Tuesday with us, how about it? E-mail me!

    *Letitia*

  5. Letita,

    I will email you. I haven’t even checked the conference schedule! Thanks for checking in, and I will contact you shortly.

  6. Thanks for providing that link, brother. Even us old coots appreciate some affirmation now and then…:)

  7. Timmy,

    BULLSEYE! . . . once again! :lol:

    chadwick

  8. Timmy,

    I see both sides of this issue. I have great respect for John Piper and Dr. Mohler. I do not think John Piper’s solution is the right way to go, I don’t think? They both have forgotten more than I will ever know. John Piper to me thinks deeper than most and ask questions most will not even consider. Does Jesus reject these who have not been baptized by immersion? Will they not be allowed to partake at the marriage supper? Will He not allow them at His table? It is His not ours isn’t it? It was so much eaiser not being reformed in my theology. Now I think to much and have more questions than I can seem to find answers? I will continue to stuggle until one day I leave this world of flesh and on the other side bow before His face. Thank God for forgiveness!

  9. Timmy

    Thanks for your precision in this matter. I have found that no small number of anti-Calvinistic brothers and sisters within the SBC are not opposed to using hyperbole and outright misrepresentation in presenting the beliefs of Calvinistic Baptists. My experience in being on the receiving end of such misrepresentations tells me that they see Calvinism as such a threat that they excuse their misrepresentations as being for the greater good of saving the SBC from the blight of Calvinism.

  10. Ken,

    I, too, see both sides on the issue. Piper rightly understands the nature of the universal church and the essential nature of the gospel. However, the implications of his position is one that compromises fundamental principles of Baptist distinctives. I agree with Piper’s heart but disagree with his motion.

    Todd,

    It is quite telling that the SBC is considered a “battleground” even among conservatives. I do not know why Calvinism has been so wrongfully treated, and this has brought the “I told you so” mentality of kicked-out liberals (from the CBF) regarding the “fighting fundamentalists.” Part of me thinks that our best hope is after the elder generation of Baptists die out for their to be true cooperation and consensus, but I hope I am wrong. The Calvinists I know do not seek to divide the SBC, and it does serve as the means of a split, it will mostly have been due to years of divisive rhetoric spearheaded by the anti-Calvinists.

  11. Timmy,

    I agree I think? My question is are Baptist distinctives in oppostion to what Christ is doing? My questions: Will Jesus allow those not baptized by immersion at His table? This is where I struggle. I do not believe He will turn any away anyone because they were not baptized by immersion. Are all people not baptized by immersion lost? If He would not turn them away should we? I think this is where Piper struggles, not to speak for him. The other side is, and less say for discussion there is a regenerate person baptized as an infant, is that person more likely to be convicted of the need for baptism by imerssion as a member of Piper’s church or a Presbyterian church? I don’t know what the solution is, I just see some of Piper’s points of concern.

  12. There is confusion among those who casually observe such conversations. First, if baptism is required by Baptist churches then many wonder if Baptists believe that baptism is a requirement for salvation. For paedobaptist traditions, where two schools of thought separate covenantalism from means-of-grace theology, many of the same think that these churches also believe that baptism is required for salvation, just in a different way. So they ask questions like some I’ve heard:

    “If I was baptized as a baby, why do I have to be rebaptized if I want to be a Baptist?”
    “Why do Baptist churches wait until someone is older to let them get baptized?”
    “Why not baptize them when they are babies in case they die?”
    “What if someone baptized as a baby turns from God? Are they still saved?”

    The simple answer to this misunderstanding may also bring some clarity to this more developed question. While means-of-gracer’s indeed consider baptism to be a soteriological issue, Baptists (and possibly covanentalists – I’ll admit some ignorance here) understand it to be merely an ecclesiological activity. As such, while we Baptists understand that baptism is not required for salvation, we practice baptism in obedience to the command of Christ at the Great Commission as a means of establishing church membership. Most of us don’t deny practical fellowship to those who are not baptized according to our established practice, but it’s a matter of positive discipline for the visible unity of the Church in general as expressed by the church as a local body of believers to draw this distinction. This would seem the most reasonable rendering of scriptural revelation and admonition. So, while it is tempting to make the sign of baptism concurrent with the substance of salvation in our fellowship, the difference in purpose between them makes such a goal elusive.

  13. Timmy,
    Interesting to note the date on this post, seeing as how Dr. Lemke made this false statement once again at the John 3.16 Conference on November 7th, granted without calling out Dr. Piper by name. I guess he must have been reading straight from an un-updated 2006 manuscript.

  14. All,
    I just wanted to let you know that I woke up this morning to find that my blog had been deactivated because of copyright infringement, one would assume over the conference audio files. As you may have noticed I had already moved to take down these files and so this is a little irritating to me. I am disappointed that the powers that be behind the John 3.16 Conference would move to do such a thing without even having the integrity to contact me first. Please spread the word about this as you see fit. Thanks.

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