As a Baptist pastor, Bill Kynes offers 3 reasons why he believes Baptists should not deny church membership (and require adult baptism) to adult believers baptized as infants.This is an excerpt from a blog post on the Gospel Coalition website (June 2014), “Why I am ‘Baptist’ (With a Small ‘B’)” by Bill Kynes, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia and a Council member of the Gospel Coalition.
So if I hold to this theology of believers’ baptism, then why am I not a Baptist (with a capital “B”)? Why would we as a church accept the baptism of a believer who was baptized as a infant as a valid baptism for the purpose of church membership? I offer three reasons.
I recognize that paedobaptism has been the practice of the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout most of church history. This includes the practice of the Protestant Reformers to which I owe a great theological and spiritual debt.
I humbly recognize that I could be wrong about paedobaptism (and the conclusion that the great majority of Christians through history were never really baptized), and for this reason I am hesitant to insist upon my position on baptism as a grounds of church fellowship.
Even if the baptist position is correct, I still want to receive my paedobaptist brothers and sisters as fellow believers based upon our common understanding of the gospel. Evangelical paedobaptists recognize the three aspects of the gospel I have outlined, but in their practice of baptism they separate them in time. They baptize the infant children of Christian believers—objectively declaring the gospel to them before they can understand it.
They do this with the prayer that their subjective and personal response of faith will come at some point in their life (whether it occurs at a clearly recognized moment in time or not). And then later, at some public act of confirmation, the social aspect of that personal faith is recognized as, upon their profession of faith, that person is received as a communicant member of the church.
Our unity in the gospel outweighs our differences in the practice of baptism in relation to the timing of those three aspects of the gospel. Charity in the gospel calls me not make those differences a barrier to church fellowship.
Baptism presents a visible and objective declaration of the gospel, and its validity as such is not nullified by the absence of the proper subjective response of faith. In those cases in which that subjective response is not present at the time of baptism, it remains a valid baptism, though not an effective and completed one. This is similar to the preaching of the gospel. Its validity is not nullified by a failure of the hearers to repent and believe. But when they do, that preaching achieves its appointed end.
On this ground, I can accept the paedobaptism of someone who has come to faith as a valid baptism, though only their subsequent response of faith and the recognition by the church of the reality of that faith complete that baptism and make it effective.
However, since I am convinced that baptism properly ordered according to God’s design embodies in one act the objective promise of God in the gospel, the (Spirit-inspired) subjective response of faith, and the social recognition of that faith by the church, I practice the baptism of professing believers. Furthermore, I will “re-baptize” those previously baptized as infants who so request it, though I believe this is a matter of personal conscience of the believer and is not required.
That’s how I operate as a “baptist with a small ‘b.'” I recognize that this understanding has its own problems as we seek to work it out in the life of our church, but I offer it as a way of allowing our common grasp of the gospel to overcome our historical and theological differences with regard to baptism that prevent us from welcoming one another in the fellowship of the church. I long for our “Gospel Coalition” to be realized in the context of the local church so that we might live out that statement made famous by Richard Baxter:
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,”
and that we might better embody that more recent rallying cry:
“Together for the gospel!”
Click here to read the entire blog post “Why I am ‘Baptist’ (With a Small ‘B’)” by Bill Kynes, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia and a Council member of the Gospel Coalition. On this post by Kynes there are also links to other blog posts on differing views of baptism in Evangelicalism.
Click here to read the related post by Steve Childers, “My Brother(s) in Error About Baptism”