Steve Lemke is not a fan of Together for the Gospel. The second half of his article is entitled, “Baptists and Presbyterians Not Together: Nine Marks Which Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” where Lemke lays out his argument for Baptist separation (or, as I would argue, isolation). Interestingly enough, his first two marks are “soul competency” and “age of accountability”–not exactly bedrock doctrines of the Baptist tradition. In any case, he proceeds from there to believer’s baptism (mark 3) and baptism by immersion (mark 4). In the fourth mark, we find yet another major error in Lemke’s presentation–this time it is Bethlehem Baptist Church‘s position on baptism and church membership.
In the pertinent portion of Lemke’s commentary, he writes:
“Piper’s proposed statement did not find general agreement among the church’s elders, and the issue was discussed for several years. An amended policy was finally enacted in August 2005. Although expressing preference for baptism by immersion, the amended membership statement expressed the desire ‘not to elevate beliefs and practices that are nonessential to the level of prerequisites for church membership.’ Thus, according to the new policy, ‘Christians who have not been baptized by immersion as believers, but, as they believe, by some other method or before they believed, may under some circumstances be members of this church.'”
Now, for those of you who can remember back in 2005, the debate over baptism and church membership was no private matter. Documents were made public, and the discussion was one of the most heated in the blogosphere. I recall in particular one church’s elder body, Clifton Baptist Church, writing a letter to the elders of BBC encouraging them to reconsider the proposed amendment by the elders.
When I first read this portion regarding BBC, I was sitting in the Atlanta airport in amazement at how such an important matter could be so poorly handled. Not only is Lemke bearing false witness to BBC, he is doing it in order to justify the following statement, which is his conclusion in light of BBC:
“The danger of compromising doctrinal convictions in order to be tolerant or in the interest of ecumenical unity is that the call for one compromise after another never ends. Once one starts down the path of compromising one’s own biblical convictions, it is difficult to hold to any doctrine uncompromisingly.”
Here’s the truth about BBC. The proposed amendment was “tabled”–in other words, it was withdrawn. This information has been available on the internet for years (here and here for example). On BBC’s own website, they explain that the motion was withdrawn on December 18, 2005, and that their affirmation of faith states the following:
“We believe in the local church, consisting of a company of believers in Jesus Christ, baptized on a credible profession of faith, and associated for worship, work, and fellowship.”
A year later (December 4, 2006), John Piper addressed it again in a radio interview on Desiring God Radio. Piper said:
“We withdrew it, so everybody who is listening to this should understand that it did not happen. The proposal did not happen. We are still where we were; nobody can join Bethlehem who is not baptized by immersion, and indeed, who does not affirm that is the right way to do it.”
While in the Atlanta airport, I called a good friend who is on staff at BBC to get an update on the motion. I was informed that their position on baptism and church membership has not changed, and if Presbyterian attenders are seeking membership at BBC, they are required to be baptized by immersion.
Lemke did not do his homework. He wrongly stated that “an amended policy was enacted in August 2005” when it was not. He stated that there was an “amended membership statement” when the motion was not even brought to a vote. He stated that elders’ proposal was “a new policy” when in fact there is no new policy. Lemke bears false witness in order to charge John Piper and the elders of BBC of compromising doctrinal convictions. I do not see how this kind of accusation based on misinformation can be tolerated in any credible, scholarly journal.
I have compiled the articles from Desiring God’s website for you below. There is a movement today going on in the name of “Baptist Identity” to malign any evangelical unity around doctrinal essentials as “ecumenical compromise” (as Paige Patterson has expressed). The greater problem today is not between Southern Baptists and Evangelicals but between fellow Southern Baptists. While Baptists and Presbyterians may not be together on the ordinance of baptism, at least they are together for the gospel. There are marks which separate Baptists between Presbyeterians, but as we see in Lemke’s article, there are probably just as many marks which separate Southern Baptists from one another. Therein lies the greater problem.
Bethlehem Baptist Church Articles:
* The Meaning of Membership and Church Accountability by BBC Staff (Feb. 1, 2001)
* Baptism and Church Membership: Eight Recommendations for Constitutional Revision by John Piper (Aug. 9, 2005)
* Baptism and Church Membership: The Recommendation from the Elders for Amending Bethlehem’s Constitution by John Piper (Sept. 14, 2005)
* More Clarifications on the Baptism and Membership Issue by John Piper (Oct. 12, 2005)
* Baptism and Church Membership: Questions and Answers by John Piper (Oct. 31, 2005)
* Baptism and Church Membership: Dissenting Paper from Paul Dreblow (1) (Nov. 10, 2005)
* Baptism and Church Membership: Dissenting Paper from Paul Dreblow (2) (Nov. 10, 2005)
* Can You Update Us on the Baptism and Church Membership Issue from 2005? by John Piper (Dec. 4, 2006)
* Response to Grudem on Baptism and Church Membership by John Piper (Aug. 9, 2007)