Baptism: A Panel Discussion from Southern

We’re pleased to three angles on the same event by SBTS students. The occasion was Baptism: A Panel Discussion at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. First you will find my notes from the event. Below that you will find Andrew Lindsey’s excellent notes on the same panel discussion. These were originally posted on Strange Baptist Fire and he has graciously allowed us to carry them here too. Third, we are displaying several photos taken by Said at Southern’s own photo journalist Timmy Brister. Be sure to visit his Flickr page to see his 2,200+ photo portfolio. His photo blogs consistently excellent and this event was no different.

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Live Blogging By Tony Kummer

It is APRIL 18, 2007. Said at Southern is live in HERITAGE HALL at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today we are covering a panel discussion by Drs. Moore, Nettles, Wellum, and Wills on the topic of Baptism. The Boyce Society is sponsoring this event, audio from previous Boyce Society events is available. The J. P. Boyce society is an official student organization. Here is their description from the SBTS student handbook:

J. P. Boyce Society – Members are committed to the study of Baptist and heritage, and traditional Southern Baptist beliefs. The society is also dedicated to the propagation of the Abstract of Principles, the oldest confession of faith within the Southern Baptist Convention.

The notes below are a summary of the conversation. Very little word-for-word quoting was possible. If you were at the conference and can offer any corrections please leave them in a comment.

9:50 I’ve arrived in Heritage Hall and found a seat in the second row in the far right wing of the seats. To my left is my pastor and to my right is Timmy.

9:59 The 200 chairs set up in heritage hall are completely filled, mostly by students. Several more are filling the back of the room.

10:03 The panelists are taking their seats

10:05 A short word of introduction and a prayer is offered.

10:09 Discussion begins. Dr. Moore is asked about Wayne Grudem’s definition of baptism and the tendency of some evangelical leaders to downplay of essential nature of baptism as a major doctrine.

Dr. Moore responds: We must ask, “What is baptism?” We don’t have the freedom to redefine or baptism. Those who broaden the definition of baptism are disagreeing with many years of church history. We don’t have that freedom. Many churches have treated baptism as a peripheral issue. We don’t teach the necessity, meaning or gravity of baptism. It will take time for churches to correct this via patient teaching.

Dr. Wills is asked how soon after giving evidence of conversion should a person be baptized?

Dr. Wills responds: The scriptures give us the measure of the evidence of conversion. What constitutes credible evidence? 1) Conviction of sin. 2) The person’s testimony that God has forgiven them. The whole congregation is responsible to insist on this evidence. Membership committees and pastoral interviews can be helpful in this matter. But we must not allow any undue delay. The New Testament does not allow for delay.

What about children coming for baptism? We should not insist on any definite age lines. The same credible evidence must be present. Be aware that parents may be pressuring their children. Faithfulness in such cases will take courage. Affirm their desire to follow Christ but put them off until credible evidence. Basil Manly tells gives an illustration of an older man who said, “I can’t speak for Christ but I can die for him.” We don’t want to give children or anyone else a false confidence that they have peace with God when they don’t. In such we would put ourselves and them in great peril.

Dr. Nettles: This question process assumes this person has been under the doctrinal teaching of the church. When the Gospel was preached what did you believe? Knowing the context of the church is helpful.

Dr. Wills: In 18th century churches the whole congregation would often publicly question candidates for baptism.

Moore: There cannot be an institutionalization of this process. Rather the congregation must have an assurance that this person is converted. This may depend on context and the person’s maturity. No arbitrary rules should be set. In the book of Acts it was much easier to assume those who came for baptism were genuine convert because of the context of persecution, the fear of the Lord and the community dynamic.

10:22 Dr. Nettles is asked about 1 Peter 3:21. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Nettles responds: The salvation language of the Bible is used in three ways. 1) Some issues of salvation directly affect the moral nature of man. They are the effectual operation of salvation. 2) Another is the means that change of our perceptions of God. For example passages that say “the Word of God saves you.” Hearing of the Gospel would also fit this category. 3) A final category of language refers to things that symbolize salvation. In teaching us they are positive ceremonies, they are not effectually connected with the change that occurs in our relation ship with God. For example, In Leviticus “the priest shall make an atonement and he shall be forgiven” speaks of a reality that transcends this. This is the way we should take baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The cup is not his blood but such a powerful symbol that it Jesus can say, “this is my blood.” The issue in 1 Peter 3:21 is a pledge of a good conscience toward God. It is given by God as a powerful convincing symbol of our union with God and Christ’s victory over sin.

Dr. Moore is asked if baptism is simply symbolic or is there other benefits?

Dr. Moore responds: Nothing is merely symbolic in that it does not offer spiritual help. Its effect is in speaking truth and pressing on our conscience those things Christ has done. So Baptism operates in the same way that the Word does. It is a continual calling to mind our utter dependence on Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This is the sanctifying effect of the truth remembered.

There is a connection here with positive church discipline. Baptism is a part of marking out the boundaries of the church. We are proclaiming this person has been united with Christ. Can churches err? Yes, but when the church gathers under the Word it has this authority to proclaim this union with Christ. This is a great benefit to the church, the individual and the world.

10: 34 Dr. Wellum is asked about the relationship between the Old and New covenants.

Dr. Wellum responds: Obviously this is a huge question. Baptism is a test case in how one understands how the whole bible relates together. At the heart of the pedo-baptism view is this strong Covental argument.

It is crucial that we place the covenants in their own context. We need to look at the context then relate each covenant to Christ. For example the structure of the covenant is no longer mediated, we now have a regenerate community, and baptism signifies the reality of a faith unity with Christ. The Abrahamic covenant has a national and physical component. The true seed is Christ. pedo-Baptists are not covenantal enough. They do not preserve the differences in the covenants. If you understand Old Testament it already anticipates what the New Testament presents.

Dr. Nettles: This is the way New Covenant is presented in the New Testament. Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration. Philippians 3 says we are the true circumcision and spells out all the things that accompany regeneration. This is a direct apostolic statement about how the Old Testament types are fulfillment.

10:44 Dr. Wellum: There are many functions of circumcision in the OT. Much of the significance is the way it anticipates Christ.

10:45 Q&A Time
Q: What are your convictions on women baptizing women, especially in great commission contexts such as the mission field?

Dr. Wills responds: (Nettles brushed brow in relief and all present laugh at his gesture.) The administration of ordnances relates to the teaching offices of the local church. Ordnances express in symbolic form the essential truths of the Gospel. Since the office of elders is restricted to men. It would be a grave disorder for a female non-elder to baptize someone.

Dr. Moore: I agree. Baptism is not my individual’s proclamation, but the authority of the church is expressed in this ordinance. This case is a symptom of a larger problem of not seeing baptism as an ordinance of the church.

Q: Can a person be baptized as a follower of Christ but does not want membership in the local church?

Dr. Nettles responds: This gets to the same issue, is baptism an ordinance of the church? Does it speak to the unity, witness, and interdependent nature of the church?

Q: The Abstract of Principles spells these issues out clearly. How can we move toward this theology in our practice?

Dr. Wills responds: The bigger problem is that we are inviting unsaved people to the Lord’s Table. We have a promiscuous table. We don’t warn anyone that they are not invited. I have to assume these pastors have not read the discussion on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians. We’ve got to cut that out. We need to make it very clear for whom it is prepared, who Jesus has invited, and fully warned those who are not to come.

Q: Is Baptism a prerequisite to the Lord’s Table?

Dr. Moore responds: The Lord’s Table is part of the disciple of the church. This marks out the visible community of the people of God.

Q: Should communion be open to believers of who hold other doctrines about Baptism or eternal security?

Dr. Nettles responds: Much of the church’s purity is depends on what is going on in the church from week to week. If the people don’t understand the evidence of regeneration then they are hardly ready for the positive church discipline that comes from the Lord’s Table. We should ask:
1. Is the Lord’s Supper connected specifically and only to the discipline of a local congregation? Then other Baptists should be excluded because they are not members of our fellowship.
2. Is the Lord’s Supper connected to a disciplined church? Then we can extend our table to those who are in the discipline of another church.

Dr. Moore: We don’t have many disciplined churches. We are living in a day when that has been confused.

Q: What about alien emersion, from a church that teaches the benefits of baptism can be lost?

Dr. Wills responds: The administrator does matter. That informs what that baptism means. It is more than getting wet.

Dr. Nettles: It depends on the witness of the church. For example, if a church practices both pedo and believers baptism then anyone baptized there has not been baptized in a scriptural way. Although I would like all churches to affirm the 2nd London Baptist Confession – I cannot support that all of those doctrines are required of a church.

We should ask, “What is baptism as relates to eternal security? Does this church see baptism as a repeatable act?” The most interesting issue: the whole issue is about whether baptism is a church ordinance at all. Differing views of baptism are not baptism

Dr. Moore: Some say this is Landmarkism? This is not such in a historic sense. But we say that this is what we believe Jesus commands. Quoting Dr. Wills from chapel, “The whole issue of the mode of immersion is as irrelevant as the mode of circumcision.” Any other mode is not Baptism.

Dr. Wills: These are practical maters that pastors can not defer their opinion like eschatology.

Dr. Nettles jokes: Maybe this is the Tribulation? This is the 7-year seminary experience? Is anyone on the 7-year plan?

The event is now concluded and the participants have been dismissed.

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Comments are open.

- posted by Tony Kummer, April 18, 2007

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BONUS LIVE BLOG
Below that you will find Andrew Lindsey’s excellent notes. These were originally posted on Strange Baptist Fire and he has graciously allowed us to carry them here too.

Liveblogging the Baptism Panel Discussion at SBTS

Today I attended a panel discussion concerning baptism here at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The panelists for the discussion were: Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology; Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology; Dr. Stephen Wellum, Professor of Christian Theology; and Dr. Greg Wills, Professor of Church History. The panelists were asked a series of questions by both the moderator and the audience. Below is my summary of the questions and the panelists’ responses. Unless something is in quotation marks, it should not be taken as a direct quote. I’ve tried to give as accurate a representation of the questions and answers as possible given my limited typing speed, but this is, at best, a ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the discussion. Rather than promoting an examination of what each panelist believes concerning the questions, this post is meant to be a discussion starter on these issues for readers of SBF.

(Question concerning Baptist churches allowing members of paedo-baptist communions w/o baptism.)

M: If baptism is immersion, then we have no right to change the Great Commission [go and make disciples, baptizing, etc.]. Baptists need more positive teaching about what baptism is and means.

(Question concerning how quickly a person should be baptized after a profession of faith.)

Wi: The Lord holds the entire congregation accountable in this area. Members must give credible evidence of faith, but baptism should also be administered without undue delay. Scripture gives no age as minimum for baptism, and we still must await credible evidence, realizing different children will have greater understanding at different ages. One thing we don’t want to do is give false peace. There can be no response if there is no understanding of the Gospel. We should not be afraid of questioning a person’s testimony.

M: We should have no artificial time delay, such as a “baptism class” automatically followed by baptism. Some people may need more counseling than such a class before they are baptized, others may give credible evidence before such a class and be ready for baptism before they understand the ordinance as well as they will.

(Question regarding the biblical salvific language associated with baptism.)

N: Baptism symbolizes salvation and is thus intricately connected with what salvation is, but such symbols can be changed, as seen in the OT sacrificial system. These symbols do not directly effectuate salvation as does God’s mercy and His work of regeneration, as we read about in Titus 3. Baptism is a “powerful, convincing symbol of our union with Christ.” Baptism is spoken of as “saving us” in an analogous way to how the animal sacrifices were spoken of as bringing forgiveness.

M: Baptism is part of the discipline of the church, marking off who belongs in the Church, although in an imperfect manner, especially if discipline is done unbiblically.

(Question: How does baptism relate to the New Covenant and the Old Covenant?)

We: Even though the covenant theme is a crucial bridge between the Old and New Testaments, classical [paedo-baptist] covenant theology tends to “flatten out” the covenants, not recognizing the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The nature of the Old Covenant community as mixed between believers and unbelievers should not be carried into the New Covenant community. “My criticism [of paedo-baptist covenant theologians] is that they’re not covenantal enough.”

N: This is the way that the New Covenant’s specifically dealt with in the New Testament. Circumcision, biblically speaking, is fulfilled in regeneration.

We: Circumcision serves multiple functions in the Old Covenant as well. Circumcision points forward specifically to New Covenant realities in such a way that it cannot simply be imported and into the New Covenant and baptism substituted for it.

(Question: What do you think of women baptizing women in regards to the Great Commission- that we should all be making disciples, baptizing, etc.- especially in mission field situations.)

Wi: Baptism is a corollary to the teaching office, symbolizing the word taught, so elders should perform baptism.

M: We should not individualize, to an unbiblical extent, the ordinance of baptism– baptism brings people into the church, so an officer of the church should perform baptisms.

(Question: Can we baptize someone without them becoming a minister of the local church?)

N: Baptism as an ordinance of Christ is meant to achieve unity for the body, not only as a personal expression of the faith.

(Question: What is the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper?)

Wi: Baptism is a prerequisite of the Lord’s Supper.

M: This is the model we find in Acts and is necessary for church discipline. This doesn’t mean that we need policemen at every pew, but the pastor or whoever administers the Lord’s Supper should make this view explicit.

(Question regarding closed vs. close communion- i.e., should only members of the local congregation be encouraged to partake in the Lord’s Supper, or should it be open to members of all congregations of ‘like faith and practice’.)

N: The Lord’s Table must be prefaced by teaching on what the Lord’s Supper means and how it should be conducted. The only question is whether this should be conducted only with members of a local congregation or with other baptized members of disciplined congregations.

M: This is especially an issue where churches accept letters of recommendation just as paperwork, and do not understand the ordinances.

(Question regarding “alien baptism”- i.e., should Baptists accept baptisms performed by other denominations.)

Wi: Historically Baptists have rejected alien baptism.

N: It depends on the witness of the church. What is the church witnessing to in baptism? If it was taken to be equivalent to circumcision it would be invalid, but if it is a testimony to the work of Christ on our behalf it would be valid.

M: It would also depend on whether a congregation believed baptism to be salvific. (Quoting Dr. Wills): The question of mode in baptism is as irrelevant as the mode of circumcision in the Old Covenant.

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