a baptist perspective


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Jason Sampler
New Orleans, Louisiana

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

And Behind Door Number Two . . .

Most of my life, I've heard the phrase "baptism is the door to the church." I took this as gospel truth for I had no reason to think otherwise. However, when the issue arose with IMB trustees redefining what acceptable baptism is, I began to rethink my views on this issue. In tandem, I've been reading significantly in the area of Baptist ordinances for my dissertation. I've not come to a final decision, but I can say my views are not what they used to be.

In one of my readings today, I ran across a 'gem' of a statement by a well-respected Baptist ecclesiologist, E. C. Dargan. He taught homiletics and ecclesiology at Southern Seminary when there was only one SBC sponsored seminary. In 1897, he published a work entitled Ecclesiology: A Study of the Churches. As best I can tell, it is the most comprehensive Baptist ecclesiology ever published. In his opening remarks on the ordinances, he writes the following about baptism:

Baptism, while it is not the "door of the church" in any proper sense, is a necessary prerequisite to admission through the door, which is the vote of the church itself.

In this manner, baptism is still considered an ordinance of the church because the church must affirm the authenticity of each person's baptism. However, at least with this quote, baptism is not identification with a church. It is an exercise of obedience that each believer participates in before s/he applies for church membership.

I've got more quotes, from more Baptists, but I want us to chew on this for awhile. In light of the IMB guideline changes, let us consider again what baptism means, and its relationship to church membership.

What are your thoughts?

posted by Jason Sampler at 6:31 PM


Blogger D.R. said...

Isn't there still only really one SBC seminary now (at least only one that was anything like the convention when it started)?

8:11 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Would that be the seminary you dropped/flunked out of (in Louisville) or the largest SBC seminary (in New Orleans)?

8:12 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger GeneMBridges said...


Will you please do me a favor and compile the best of these quotes (say half a dozen to a dozen) into a document and mail them to me? Please include the citations (footnote style). These would provide for a really good conclusion to the booklet on Landmarkism and the SBC I'm writing. I don't need them right away (unless you have them already). Say, in about a month at most, I'll need them.

Email me @ genembridges@aol.com .

8:18 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger joe kennedy said...

DR: Seriously, NOBTS or SBTS? Or are you sucking up to SWBTS?

Jason: Turabian style. Due tomorrow. Chop chop. And are we still the biggest? Half of Lipsey Hall fled to DTS, SWBTS, SEBTS, or is on a semi-permanent hiatus.

Oh, and I was just wondering... see I always heard that baptism was for identification with the Church. Big C. Not little c First Baptist. Too bad those C's aren't visible in everyday spoken word.

8:28 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Wes Kenney said...

I have been arguing (civilly, of course) quite a bit lately that baptism as identification with the church and it's teachings as well as with Christ is a defensible position to take biblically.

When 3000 were added to the church at Pentecost (First Pentecostal Church?), those baptized are described as "those who accepted his [Peter's] message." That was the teaching of that local church. I have been correctly slapped down (gently) by one who pointed out that the description of that church as "local" is a stretch, seeing as how it was also the only church at the time, but I think the point still holds water.

And they devoted themselves to, among other things, the apostles' teaching, which was the teaching of that church.

Our church requires anyone coming from a church not of "like faith and order" to be baptized for membership. This policy doesn't care how orthodox may have been the beliefs of a person at the time of their baptism in a Church of Christ.

Anyway, I'd love to be corrected here (civilly, of course)...

8:36 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Thanks for posting. I've watched from 'afar' as you and CKS has posted back and forth. I'm grateful for the dialogue. I've just not had the time to step in. I really don't have much time for this now, but let me make two points.

First, I think Baptists have identified baptism (in far greater proportion)with a church than with Christ. Does this quote (and those that will follow it) mean a full pendulum (sp?) shift to the other side, arguing that baptism is total identification with Christ and no identification with the Church? No, i don't think so.

To be honest, i'm struggling with how to understand the passage in Acts 2 that you have cited. I've been in conversation with a dear friend of mine on this very issue. I've not resolved it yet. Darn you for bringing it out into the public before I can answer you (said with tongue in cheek).

I look forward to continued discussion on this issue and, lest I forget, I am most grateful for your civility. Thank you for your kind and gracious tone that so many of our 'brothers' seem to leave at the door when they enter the blog world.

8:55 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

I forgot one thing. This is something that I've been contemplating for a while, so I've got no answers yet. "Of like faith and order", how is that biblical? What constitutes 'likeness' and 'orderliness'? The phrase is as 'baptisic' as dinner on the grounds, but I can't figure out how its biblical, especially in light of baptism as identification with Christ (even conceding your position that it is identification with the Church as well).

Just something to think about.

9:03 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Wes Kenney said...

At least you didn't darn me to heck. Imagine my relief!

I look forward to your thoughts on the topic...

9:07 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Don't worry, that's not my job!!!


9:11 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Wes Kenney said...

I think like faith and order is probably a lot more exclusive (landmarkish?) than we want to sound. We can exclude the Church of Christ on the faith part and the Methodists on the order.

As to how it's biblical, well, it's as biblical as a fifth Sunday singing. You sayin' that's not biblical?

9:13 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

What can I say? I'm laughing too hard to type anything!!

9:13 PM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous Jeff said...


I am glad to see that you are rethinking your stance on baptism. I recall several conversations we have had concerning this issue. After reading your article, however, I still think you are misappropriating the purpose of baptism. In your argument, you quoted, "Baptism, while it is not the "door of the church" in any proper sense, is a necessary prerequisite to admission through the door, which is the vote of the church itself." Then you added, "However, at least with this quote, baptism is not identification with a church. It is an exercise of obedience that each believer participates in before s/he applies for church membership."

A few concerns are raised about your ecclesiological conclusions. First, I find no where in scripture where baptism is a "prerequisite to admission through the door." What about the Ethiopian Eunich? What about those saved during the ministry of John the Baptist? The church was never discussed. What about the church at Colossia? Paul parallels his personal devotion and walk with the Christians in Colossia. He even paralleled their baptism of repentence. What does the church mean to church? J-Watson asked me the same question. Search your soul and will realize your view of the church, which I have outlined for you under #3. Second, you seem to have elevated church tradition above what the Bible actually says about baptism. In the past you have pointed to the church father's understanding of the church. The more you study Baptist history the more you become indoctrinated with a skewed understanding of the "church." You are very quick to defend the Bible, God, and the church--partly I appreciate that. I think, however, that God, scripture, and even the church is safe from our discussions. In short, our words and questions will not hurt or damage the reputation of God and his Word. Asking tough questions does not make someone liberal, a heretic, or a pagan; yet, you in the past have passed down such harsh judgements. Through this post I hope you will realize that none of us can damage God, the Bible, or the church. I desire that we can dialogue about them in order to further our understanding, love, and committedness to God, the Bible, and the church.

Third, your arguments are dangerously similar to Landmarkism. Sure, you have not argued for the minute details of Landmarkism; however, your understanding of baptism as the prerequisite for church membership is a foundational element of Landmarkism. Again I ask you, where do you draw these ecclesiological and theological truths from scripture?

And before you spout out some quick answer try to think through your answers based on YOUR understanding of scripture instead of something you were taught about scripture.

You can calm down now, I put that last paragraph in to get your heartrate up. Love ya man.


10:53 AM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Jeff said...


Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Day of Pentecost took place on the southern steps of the Temple Mount. As the Jews made their way to the Temple, which was only accessible from the south for the peasantry and non-priestly Jews, Peter stood at the corner of the mikvot and preached the Gospel. As the Holy Spirit came down, Peter and the other Christians baptized the new converts in the "ritual baths" or "cleansing pools." So, when you argue the Day of Pentecost was achieved by a localized church you have misunderstood the historical, social, and typographical aspects of the verses.

11:21 AM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger D.R. said...

Joe, It's a joke between me and Sampler about SBTS and NOBTS (I am definitely not a fan of SW). And Joe is right, NOBTS is no longer the largest. Though it is SW at the moment, at the current rate, I believe by next year that distinction will belong to Southern.

12:16 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Wes Kenney said...


I think that my argument was that while it is a stretch to think of that setting as a local church, the principle I draw from it is a defensible one.

I'm not sure what the direction people walked and the provenance of the water have to do with my point, but I'll defer to your obviously greater wisdom on that point.

I didn't realize I had a bubble. I thought this was about the exchanging of ideas, not the bursting of bubbles.

God bless.

12:57 PM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Jonathan said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Dargan's quote. I too have always affirmed that the "door" to the church is baptism (while I would qualify this as I do in point 1). Unlike you, I am not ready to give this one up. Maybe it's sentiment, but I feel I have a solid biblical basis for holding it.

Here are two thoughts/problems I have about Dargan’s quote:
1. Dargan defines the door of the church as the vote of the church. According to John 10, Christ is the door. Our entrance through this door (i.e. into Christ) in the visible sense is through baptism, for we are baptized into Christ and, in this way, visibly identified with Him.
2. Dargan’s quote doesn’t seem to match scriptural teaching or church practice regarding sequence. He calls baptism a “prerequisite to admission through the door” (remember door = vote). I may be misreading him, but it seems that he advocates that churches baptize believers and then vote upon them later as members. I don’t understand why a church would not automatically assimilate someone into their fellowship when they baptize them. Failure to accept them into the body would indicate that they may not have fully endorsed the candidate in the first place. I would be interested to learn of a church that inducts members in this way. If there is such a church, I would call into question how seriously they take their authority and role in administering the ordinances and, ultimately, making disciples.

These are my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth.


4:23 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Rick Thompson said...

Great discussion Jason.

I throw 2 Cor 5:12-13 into the fray:

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you.""

Here is an example of a clear deliniation between those outside and inside and an admonition to "expel...from among you."

Clearly this implies two things:

1. Membership and
2. A method of entrance and exit.

The question is how and what? Since there is no concise teaching on the entrance into a church in scripture, we can only deduce that entrance was "accepted" by the body or by the eldership and in turn this was how memebers were expelled.

Perhaps you can find the practice of voting on membership issues from this passage in 2 Cor. 2:

"1So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
5.If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him."

Here Paul is talking to a local church about a particular member. The majority seems to have prevailed in his situation, implying a vote of some sort.

Is it not reasonable then to expect a majority to accept his entrance into the church?

6:06 PM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Jonathan said...


No problem with having a majority affirm someone. Just saying that is what happens when a candidate is baptized. If the church doesn't support the baptism, then why are they doing it in the first place?



6:18 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Thanks for your comments. Some I’ll answer, some I’ll leave for later, some I really didn’t understand (we can discuss these in person in Atlanta). Regarding baptism as a prerequisite to the door, you note the Eunuch and those of John’s baptism. I hope I can answer both of these instances by saying that they prove my point. Baptism comes first, then church membership. That is, baptism is a prerequisite to church membership. I’m not sure what you are getting at in your mention of Colossae. You’ll have to explain your point on this one (either in person next week or greater elaboration on this blog). Also, I’m not sure what you mean when you say “What does the church mean to church?” Maybe there is a typo there.

I appreciate your concern about the value of church tradition (though, in this case, I think I prefer the term ‘teaching’ to ‘tradition’). Mind you, though, that Baptist theology is my discipline. Why would I not read it often? I agree that asking questions doesn’t make one a moderate, liberal, heretic, or fundamentalist. Nor do I believe that our discussions will ‘damage God’ or Christ’s bride. I hope you don’t think that this is my position. Also, I’m not sure that I remember ‘passing judgment’ on those that disagree with me. I’m not saying I’ve not done it, but I don’t remember (and please don’t ‘air my dirty laundry’ on this blog; let’s talk about this in person )

Regarding Landmarkism, I think you have me (and it) all wrong. Because I know you, and you know me, I can with loving confidence say that I’m pulling rank on you on this. I have studied Landmarkism quite thoroughly. This is not my position at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say my position is about as far away from Landmarkism as one could get, while still being true to historic Baptist ecclesiology. I think you totally misunderstand Landmarkism. You state that ‘a foundational element of Landmarkism’ is baptism as prerequisite to church membership. That is not Landmark doctrine; that is BAPTIST DOCTRINE. Only a few, and I mean a few, Baptists have practiced open membership (i.e., no need for baptism for membership). This is by no means the rule for Baptists.

Finally, I appreciate your comment about what I believe about Scripture. However, I detect (and correct me if I’m wrong) a hint of requiring me to come to the text with no presuppositions, or to allow no outside influences to affect me. That’s just not possible. You know just as well as I that we are all influenced by our teachers. You don’t approach OT studies apart from the influence of Brueggemann, Oswalt, et. al. I don’t approach theology (or ecclesiology) apart from certain influences either. More to say here, but not the time.

Overall, I’m grateful for your comments. Let’s talk about this more.


9:07 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

All I know is that I’m going with the most recent numbers. That makes us the largest. Certainly we lost some to Katrina, as they defected to other schools. Of course, I’m not worried. 1 John 2.19 has something to say to those apostates (ha, just kidding). Not sure where it’s heading in the near future, but I still know there’s no other place I’d rather be than NOBTS. Plus, don’t discount the fact that many new students will give NOBTS a look for the first time because of the ministry opportunities in the aftermath of Katrina. It’s not the school of Calvinism or Landmarkism (I’ll let you figure out which schools command which labels), but the school of Providence and Prayer (pause, as we break out into our school song . . .)

P.S. Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks. It’s been a long time.


9:13 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Let me address your points as best I can.

1. I think you are assuming that the ‘door analogy’ means the same thing in two separate instances. When Jesus says in John 10.7 that he is the ‘door of the sheep’, he is referencing the way of salvation. His picture is that no sheep can enter the sheepfold except through him. The Dargan quote has nothing to do with salvation. The analogy for ‘door’ for Dargan is church membership. These are two separate issues.
2. I’ve not finished reading Dargan to adequately answer your question about whether you are misreading him or not. However, I think the answer is no, you are not misreading him. You’ve hit the nail on the head. The ‘formula’ would be this way: regeneration, baptism, church membership (on this we would all agree, hopefully). Dargan (and others, which I will discuss in future posts) seem to teach that baptism does not, by itself, qualify one for church membership. How so, you may ask? Anyone can make a profession of faith and be baptized. Does that qualify them for church membership? No. The qualifications for church membership (at least historically among Baptists) are regeneration and baptism. Simply being baptized is no guarantee of regeneration. Baptists have such a high regard for membership that they are willing to baptize those claiming to have undergone a personal conversion (for this is the command of Christ in Matt. 28.19) but hold off on offering church membership until such time as the applicant can demonstrate evidence of conversion. I hope this explanation has adequately addressed your question about churches baptizing but not ‘endorsing’ candidates. It’s not a matter of whether the baptism is valid; it’s about the priority of regenerate church membership. Make sure the candidate visibly demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit before he is allowed to be a church member.

If you have more questions, I’d be happy to dialogue with you. I’m sure we will have a conversation about this in Atlanta next week. Hopefully I’ll see you at Greer-Heard.


9:36 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jason Sampler said...

You've expressed my thoughts on this matter very well. The NT isn't a 'tell all' manual on ecclesiology. There are some/many things we must deduce from relevant passages. I think you are correct to point out that membership is revoked on the vote of the body; why not also the case that membership is granted by a similar vote?

Thanks for your thoughts.


P.S. Thanks for the work you do in Oklahoma. Although I've not lived there for six years, my heart still beats for that state. Keep up the good work as you minister to the west side of OKC.

9:40 PM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Ben Stratton said...


I can understand why some Baptists in years past and today consider baptism to be the door into the church:

1. Many of these Baptists view I Corinthians 12:13 as referring to water baptism. I realize very few Southern Baptists hold to this view today, but it used to be quite common. I believe the BF&M 2000 is the first major Baptist confession of faith to teach equate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with conversion. E.Y. Mullins (Hardly a Landmarker) taught I Cor. 12:13 was water baptism in an article in the old ISBE. If (and I know this is a big "if") you believe I Cor. 12:13 is water baptism, then it naturally follows baptism is the door into the church.

2. These Baptists have also noticed how in many of the examples in the New Testament baptism served as a bridge between salvation and church fellowship. In some cases such as the 3000 in Acts 2 and Saul in Acts 9 this was a very short bridge. These Baptists look at the other examples of baptism in the N.T. such as the Eunuch and the Phillipian jailor and understand baptism as still being a bridge into the church, yet they realize Phillip and Paul were acting as missionaries trying to build a church in an area where there was not already an existing church.

On final note - the idea that baptism is the door into the church is not absolutely connected with the rejection of alien baptism. Not even all Landmarkers believe baptism is the door into the church. Some would say the door is the vote of the church, others would say as you do, baptism is a prerequisite to joining.

5:07 AM, January 28, 2006  
Blogger cks said...

To all--
Let A = {B^A
X ± Y)

(where A=church members admitted after re-baptism; B=members admitted without re-baptism [assuming new IMB regulations]; X=the function of baptism in IMB-regulated churches; and Y=the function of baptism in non-IMB-regulated churches)

Clearly, if the argument I've sketched above is correct, A = (B) X ± Y/the func. of {X‡Y}.

That simply follows from the above. Since, A = (B) X ± Y/the func. of {X‡Y}, it also follows that {X‡Y}>=B considered not as a function of other variables but in and of itself as an absolute number.

But this seems to imply that whenever A»B/(X ± Y), B will always be > A.

Which also necessitates the following:

{B^A ‡ X ± Y)^((X ± Y)/{A*{B/X}, which will never be less than nor more than A. This is a steady state function theorem.

I think that should clear things up on the issue.

9:19 AM, January 28, 2006  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Thanks for your response. I have a comment and a clarification.

Comment: In your post you said, "baptize those claiming to have undergone a personal conversion (for this is the command of Christ in Matt. 28.19) but hold off on offering church membership until such time as the applicant can demonstrate evidence of conversion." Certainly we all will show further evidences of conversion following baptism, but if baptism isn't the first and primary means of our visible identification with Christ, then I have seriously misread Matthew 28. One's obedience to Christ seems to be the criterion by which we are to examine the life of all who claim to be His disciples.

In the formula you cited, it seems that you are saying that a person can come to a church, claim to be saved, and that the church will immediately baptize him without scrutiny or sufficient evidence in his life to demonstrate the veracity of his claim. My only point here is: If the church vets its candidates for baptism, then why separate identification with Christ through baptism and entrance into the visible community of Christ?
Clarification: I feel you may have misunderstood my point about Christ as the door to the church. I understand that Christ is the "door of salvation." My only point was to say that because He is the door in the invisible sense, then baptism should be the door in the visible sense, because it is our first visible identification with Him. My position is that in maintaining a high regard for the ordinance you are maintaining a high regard for membership.

Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I look forward to seeing you at Greer-Heard.

11:03 AM, January 28, 2006  

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