Thanks to Robin Foster and all who have participated in this debate – especially those who agreed with me! I have been disappointed only by the cruel comments that Doug Hibbard made about the New York Yankees, but I am trying to work through my feelings against him. Other than that ugly episode, it has been an encouraging inauguration of this debate series.
1) Blogging has a tendency to magnify our differences. I am convinced that we are not as far apart on this issue as our rhetoric might make it appear. I do not say that church oversight is never appropriate and those arguing for church oversight have not advocated a draconic authoritarianism. As I said to Scott Gordon in the comment stream, I think that our practice may conform more similar than our rhetoric.
2) Our disagreements seem to be based on our assumptions and conclusions on different passages. It is hard to know if our assumptions on these passages color our view of baptism, or our view of baptism colors our assumptions on these passages.
3) I practice a strong measure of influence and oversight over those I baptize. When they come to me, I question them about their understanding of salvation by grace and the meaning of baptism. The issue is, I believe, which baptisms would you reject? When would you tell someone that their baptism was not valid and demand that they be rebaptized to be a part of your fellowship?
Imagine the scenario I presented in the comment stream. A man leads his best friend to faith in Christ. He is a member of your church but is not involved in leadership (staff, deacons, etc). Moments after he led his friend to faith in Christ, they went to the local pool where he publicly testified to his faith in baptism. Now, the newly converted (and still damp) man wants to present himself for membership in your church.
Do you accept him, or do you demand he be baptized again in front of the church? Are all Christians authorized to baptize converts, or only those appointed and authorized by the church?
I remained convinced that the baptism above was a valid baptism. To me, there are three essentials for a valid baptism: time (after salvation), method (by immersion) and meaning (symbolic, not salvific). The other issues (who did the baptism and that person’s theology, for instance) are not insignificant, but they are not determinative of a valid baptism.
4) It is undeniable that interpreting Acts can be tricky. But to simply say, “Acts is transitional” and by that ignore its teachings seems to be a very convenient hermeneutic. I can negate any teachings I don’t like by dismissing them as transitional. Robin did not do this, but this reasoning did appear in the comment stream.
I would make the following observations of Robin’s original post.
1) I admit and agree that the Great Commission to make disciples is a plural command. However, I still think it is a leap hermeneutically to base local church oversight on that fact. I see the command as addressed to the universal church, not a particular local church, since Jesus addressed those who were apostles for all Christians. The command to make disciples is addressed to all believers – the entire Body of Christ. This may be one of those where our view of baptism tends to determine our interpretation of this passage. But to me, it is more faithful to the text to assign this command to the universal Body rather than a local church.
2) Robin claimed that Philip and Paul were authorized by their local churches to perform baptisms. I would say two things to this. One, I do not think that answers the issue. They still did not get individual approval or oversight for the individual baptism. But, most important, there are instances in which there is a local church and yet no oversight is mentioned. Ananias did not seek church approval before Paul’s baptism (from the evidence we have). Peter convinced the skeptical church only after baptizing Cornelius. There was a nascent local church when the Philippian jailer was baptized, but Paul did not take time to seek their approval to baptize.
3) Robin may be drawing more from 1 Timothy 3:15 than exegesis would authorize. He uses the translation which says that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” However, the ESV translates this clause as “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” I believe that the Greek would support the ESV reading, as both nouns here are anarthrous. In other words, Paul is not claiming that the church is the exclusive “pillar and ground” of all truth – that is an over-interpretation.
4) Robin says, “Finally, while each of us individually has the Spirit, the mission of Christ and the life of a believer were never meant to be expressed in independent isolation apart from the accountability and encouragement of His body.” I heartily agree with that. We may differ on exactly how that accountability and encouragement is expressed, but not on the significance of the local church.
Jeff Straub, an associate professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Seminary in suburban Minneapolis suggested I get remedial theological training. Some who have sat under my preaching through the years might make the same request. I am not qualified to debate Dr. Straub on the finer points of historical theology, but I would point out that while my view is a minority view among Baptists historically, there has never been complete unanimity among Baptists on these issues (which he admitted). Second, we are people of the Book, not of the history books. We can learn from the greats of the Baptist faith, but our truth is formed from the interpretation of scripture.
I appreciate Robin for his participation and all who have joined the debate.