A response to Drs. York and Caner, and a word from a Landmarker (not me, of course)
From the outset, let me say that I hold Dr. York in very high regard. Although I've never met him, we have exchanged very friendly emails on certain topics over the last few months. I find him to be a very warm-hearted pastor who loves his Savior and his congregation. I consider him to be a friend who I've never had the pleasure to meet in person. I have never had contact with Dr. Caner, but I have no reason to think anything but high thoughts of him. I am grateful for his service as a Southern Baptist and as an educator. However, I regretfully disagree with their takes on the issue of the IMB policy on baptism. If I have read their posts properly (and I graciously submit to correction from either of these men if I have misread their works), I understand them to say two things. First, most Baptists suffer from extreme ecclesiological ignorance. While this may be the case for many in our churches, those of us who have been blogging on this issue are anything but ignorant of Baptist ecclesiology. We are seminary graduates, pastors, PhD students, and even leaders of denominationally affiliated organizations. We are anything but ignorant on this issue. I do not believe their comment was meant to be demeaning, but I do think it was misguided. Second, they are arguing that primary issue is that baptism is a church ordinance. This is correct, but it misses the main objection to the new policy. No one is arguing whether baptism is or is not a church ordinance. The main discrepancy is the tying the doctrine of eternal security OF THE BAPTIZING CHURCH with the legitimacy of the baptized candidate.
The problem is that no Baptist writer, Southern or otherwise, has ever tied baptism and eternal security so closely together as to argue against the legitimacy of a person's baptism due to the theology of the baptizing church. I am not arguing, necessarily, that we must always kept to the 'traditions' or 'theology' of our forefathers, but I think it is safe to say we must look to Baptists of the past for guidance. What have others said about the legitimacy of Baptism? In recent posts, I have quoted Southern Baptist theologian E. C. Dargan here and here. I have read extensively J. L. Dagg's ecclesiology, though I have yet to post his thoughts.
In this post, I wish to cite a very controversial Southern Baptist ecclesiologist, J. M. Pendleton. Many know him as the second part of the Triumverant, the group of three that led the Landmark movement in the nineteenth century (along with J. R. Graves and A. C. Dayton). Now is not the time for a history lesson on Landmarkism (and I'm assuming most of my readers already have a base knowledge of this movement), but it should be noted that Pendleton was the least radical (or least conservative) of the three. He often disagreed on certain Landmark 'points' such as historical successionism and strict local communion. Nevertheless, Thomas White recently completed a fine Ph.D. dissertation at SEBTS titled "James Madison Pendleton and his contributions to Baptist ecclesiology". If I remember the thesis of his work, he argued that Pendleton's main contribution to Baptist ecclesiology was his doctrine of baptism.
In Pendleton's 1879 work Christian Doctrines, he lays out his theology of baptism. On pg. 342, he defines proper baptism as "the immersion in water, by a proper administrator, of a believer in Christ, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Two salient observations are blatantly absent in his definition of baptism: 1. He in no way equates the doctrine of eternal security of the baptizing church with the valid baptism of a new believer; 2. He in no way argues that baptism unites a person with a particular church; instead, baptism is identification with Christ.
Taking up the first 'absent objection', Pendleton clearly defines the object ("a believer in Christ") mode ("the immersion in water") of baptism. However, he makes no mention of the theology of the baptizing church. If he believed that the doctrine of eternal security was vital for the baptizing church, then he would have included such a provision in his definition. However, there is none. For the IMB policy to contain such a provision is clearly outside the bounds of historic Baptist theology. Second, Pendleton is very clear that baptism is identification with Christ, not with a particular church. Note his language: "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." There is no hint that baptism is "into the name" of a particular church, Baptist or otherwise. Elsewhere, Pendleton is even clearer on this issue. Elsewhere, Pendleton is even clearer on this issue. He argues that "membership [in a church] is preceded by important qualifications. These qualifications may be considered moral and ceremonial" (331). Pendleton lists the moral qualifications as "Regeneration, with its attendants, Repentance and Faith" (331). He goes on to say that "baptism is the ceremonial qualification for church membership" (331). The point I wish to stress here is that baptism precedes church membership. One is not baptized into a church, but into Christ. One may be baptized by a church, but not into it. Therefore, the new IMB policy is taking extreme liberties that neither Baptist history, confessional documents, nor the NT seem to allow. If baptism is into the name of the Trinity, then our identification is with the Father/Son/Spirit. There is no need for rebaptism on the occasion that one's baptism was not performed by a church that advocated eternal security. Rebaptism (or rightly stated, proper baptism) is needed only when mode, meaning, or object have been misunderstood.
I have great respect for the trustees of the IMB. I do not think they flippantly chose to enact new policy on a whim. I know for a fact they spent two years investigating and discussing this. In addition, I am grateful for men such as Dr. York and Dr. Caner, who have been the only people (that I know of) who have provided any sort of defense for this policy. Nevertheless, I still find the policy out of line with Baptist ecclesiology and the defense by both York and Caner to be missing the main objection I/we have on this policy.
I would love to hear from any IMB trustee who voted in favor of this policy. Please dialogue with me and give a biblical/historical reason for your policy. Dr. York or Dr. Caner, I humbly invite you to dialogue with me on this issue. I find this to be very dear to my heart, and to my mind, as I am writing my dissertation at NOBTS on the relationship in Baptist theology between the ordinances. This is a subject I have spent much time reading and dialoguing about. I would love to have educated interlocutors such as yourselves join me in this discussion.
May our God bless us as we endeavor to know Him more, as we submit to His teachings, and as we seek to treat others better than ourselves during the process.
posted by Jason Sampler at 10:10 AM