This is the third and final part of my response to Steve Kneale’s article on baptism, sin and conscience. There are other things I could pick up on from it. For example, I think Steve has over-laboured on trying to fit people to specific labels for example. I don’t think that works. There will be people who won’t recognise themselves as coming under his specific labels of Baptist, baptistic and paedobaptist. I also think that there’s enough evidence out there to question his assumptions about what is essential to being “Baptist.” In my previous article I referred to the constitution and practice of a specific Baptist church not because it’s approach was unique but because it in fact reflected an historic position. I was surprised when looking at the constitution of another reformed Baptist church to discover it had an identical clause. You see, the constitution seems to have been drawn up and used across a number of churches planted.
However, the more pressing issue is this. Steve asserts that if I’m prepared to accept someone as baptised, no matter how messy, how irregular, how out of order, how problematic that baptism was then I should be able to conceive of situations where I would do the same. That seems to presume quite a lot. It coincides with his assumption that I would be frequently admitting people into membership who have not received believers’ baptism. I think it is clear, indeed the wording of such conscience clauses makes it clear that our expectation is that it is likely to be rare -and that has been my experience.
But the fundamental point is this. I can distinguish between making an allowance for someone else’s faulty practice and choosing to follow that faulty practice myself. I can accept that when my mum and dad first visited our house, they arrived, even though they took a route which took them far longer than was necessary, a route that I would never take to get here. In the same way, I can recognise that someone is a believer in Christ and therefore a member of His church whilst at the same time saying that they have taken an approach to baptism which I would never in a month of Sundays follow.
I would obviously prefer that we weren’t in this situation and that people hadn’t got into a muddle on baptism. However, we are where we are and that does raise questions that we have to address not just on paper but in the heat of day to day church life. The reality is sadly that your pastoral decisions when faced with a situation like this are going to end up upsetting and offending someone.
In the end it is probably best to not worry too much about who we might be offending and simply take the time to make sure we are settled in our own conscience about what God’s Word teaches on the matter.
At the same time I want to be clear about what my actions are signalling, intentionally or otherwise. I do want to signal that baptism matters. I don’t want to signal that those who disagree with me on its mode and timing are not part of Christ’s church.