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All in the Family – Baptism 2

The belief and practice of a credobaptist minister who leads a dual practice church. This is the second of four articles on the subject of Baptism as part of our “All in the Family” series.

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The aim of the All in the Family series is to explore the breadth of belief and practice that exists amongst FIEC churches on matters that our Doctrinal Basis doesn’t touch on and yet are important in church life.

For each subject we ask a variety of church leaders to respond to the same questions, with an emphasis on seeing how belief shapes practice in a local church.

The other articles on the subject of Baptism are from the viewpoint of…

You can download a combined PDF of the four papers under the image on the right hand side.

Introduction

Name: Greg Strain

Viewpoint: A credobaptist minister, in a dual practice church with mixed leadership and mixed membership.

The church: Spicer Street Church has a long and rich history. The church moved to its current premises in 1812, and the title deed requires that the minister hold to the (Westminster) Assembly’s Shorter Catechism. During the second half the twentieth century the church became increasingly credobaptist in conviction and practice. Since that time, the church has been committed to respectfully catering for the convictions and consciences of both credobaptists (CBs) and paedobaptists (PBs) – who coexist in the membership and on the eldership.

1) What are your views on the meaning and significance of baptism?

Given our mixed practice of baptism our views on its significance would vary. The CB majority of us would hold that baptism signifies and symbolises the cleansing from sin and our dying and being raised to new life through our faith union with Christ. It also goes hand in hand with repentance; in being baptised we declare our need for forgiveness and our turning from sin.

Those who hold to a PB position would emphasise the promises of God being made to the candidate; it is a sign and a seal of the covenant promises.

2) Who are appropriate subjects of baptism, and what mode of baptism would you practise?

We baptise those who have turned from their sin and placed their trust in Jesus. In most instances we baptise some time after conversion. This is not a theologically driven practice, as we note the way that in the New Testament those who professed faith were baptised immediately. Rather, it is pastorally driven; we like to make sure they understand the gospel and are willing to follow Christ.

Normally speaking we baptise from the age of 14 upwards.

We also baptise children of members who are convinced PBs. None of the pastors are under obligation to perform this ceremony. Currently two of our elders are of PB conviction so they will take responsibility for this short service which occurs outside of the main services.

3) Does baptism mean automatic admission to the Lord’s Supper and church membership?

We invite to the Lord’s Supper all who are trusting in the Lord Jesus and are in peaceful fellowship with other believers. We therefore welcome to the Lord’s Supper those who have been baptised irrespective of whether they are members or not.

4) Do you require baptism for admission to the Lord’s Table or church membership?

We do not insist on it. We are probably more lax and certainly less clear than we ought to be on this, and we need to review this area of church life.

5) Would you ever “rebaptise”? i.e. Are there any forms of baptism you would regard as illegitimate and invalid?

We certainly do ‘rebaptise’ - this is driven by the convictions of the CBs. As baptism involves repentance, we (CBs) believe that it is right to (re)baptise on the basis of a person’s profession of faith. A good number from various denominational backgrounds who were ‘christened’ do undergo (re)baptism.

However our policy is to respect individual consciences on this matter. If someone has been baptised as an infant and the person regards this as valid then we do respect this.

6) How do you handle those who change their views on baptism?

Spicer Street is a place where this can happen without having to give up membership. The majority of movement occurs from PB to CB, although very often they were not committed to PB in the first place. We do see some movement the other way.

7) Do you allow those with different convictions on baptism to join your church leadership?

We do. And we recognise this is where we part company with a good number of Independent churches.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, our constitution has, as a key document, the Shorter Catechism. We believe it would not be right to exclude men from leadership because of their view on baptism. Secondly, given that we think there are strong missional grounds in the UK for PBs and CBs to work together in local churches we think it is right if the mix of leadership reflects this.

Those who know how churches operate will rightly perceive that one theology is liable to dominate in teaching and in practice, and so it is with us: at this point in the church’s history, the CBs are in the majority – both in the membership and on the eldership.

The unity is maintained by having a careful respect for each other and a deep bond of affection exists amongst us in the leadership team.

As a CB I think our approach gives those who have not explored the baptism issue room to do so and to examine the scriptures on this subject in a peaceful and non-threatening environment.

With regard to children; they become eligible for membership at 16. Prior to then, pastorally, we believe that it is unhelpful to think of children as simply being either “in until they are out” or “out until they are in”. Children need to be evangelised and discipled and to be treated as individuals.

Click here to see the other articles in this series.

Footnotes

This article is not intended to represent the official FIEC belief on any matter outside of our Doctrinal Basis and accepted theological statements. Rather it has been written to draw attention to contemporary theological issues as well as stimulating theological engagement and healthy discussion.