Yesterday I was having a phone conversation with a friend of mine who was originally ordained as a Southern Baptist, but later, as he studied Scripture, his convictions on the issue of baptism gradually shifted toward a more covenantal position, and he is now a Presbyterian teaching elder. His current convictions, however, do not stop him from fellowshipping with brothers and sisters who embrace a believers-only baptism. What caught my attention in his story is that as he was recently attending a conference made up of mostly Reformed Baptists, he was having a discussion with one of the participants. During a conversation the topic came up as to where my friend went to attend local church in his area (not knowing he was a Presbyterian). So he said that he was he attended the local Presbyterian (PCA) church. The Baptist was a little bit aghast and asked him if there weren't any good Baptist churches in town. My friend responded by saying there was one fairly large one nearby except that the teachings in the church were blatantly Arminian/Synergistic. The Reformed Baptist responded that, given that these were the only two choices, he would much prefer to attend a local church that was Arminian than one which practices paedo-covenant baptism.
Now one of the purposes of this blog is to bring together the disparate elements in the church on, what we think are issues not worth dividing over. One of these issues is baptism. Of the contributors to this blog, three of them believe in covenant baptism and two embrace credo-baptism. What unifies us is the gospel and our further convictions in the critical importance of the doctrines of grace, the five solas, the redemptive historical approach to Scripture, and divine monergism in regeneration. It appears to me that the gentleman in the story with the believers' baptism conviction saw this as a more important distinction than where one stands on grace. That he would prefer to be involved in a church which teaches that God's love is conditioned on man's response, as opposed to an unconditional love which gets the job done and actually saves those the Father gave the Son (John 6:37, 39). I don't know what those reading this may think, but we affirm that our unity and solidarity in Reformed soteriology far outweighs, no… trumps, by order of magnitude, any differences we have over the recipients of baptism. Baptism is important and there is indeed a right belief about it, but how we understand the grace of God and the gospel draws us together in a more cohesive bond. We Reformed folk need to stick together and make a persuasive case for the truth that God alone saves according to Scripture. We are all scattered and sprinkled in various denominations due to our convictions on some secondary doctrines, but to say that you would RATHER worship in a church that teaches synergism, to me at least, makes no sense at all.
About two years ago John Piper had some kind of a conference on Christian unity and Sinclair Ferguson (a Presbyterian) was invited to the conference as one of the speakers. As I recall, Piper stood up and said something to the effect that the differences he had with Ferguson (baptism) were much less than many within his own denomination. By this I believe he was referring to his denominations' acceptance of those with open theistic beliefs. I believe Piper was right. Furthermore, Bethlehem Baptist church has decided to seriously consider allowing those who hold to covenant baptism to be members, not elders, but members. I think this is great. Likewise it may interest people to know that C.H. Spurgeon used Outlines of Theology by A.A. Hodge as the main text training his students at his Pastor's College. Of this book he said, "We commend the Outlines of Theology to all who would be well instructed in the faith. It is the standard text-book of our college. We differ from its teachings upon baptism, but in almost everything else we endorse Hodge to the letter."
In other words, Spurgeon, while differing with Hodge on baptism, still found this to be a faithful book on every other topic. This book happens to about as covenantal as a book can get. The soteriology is unabashedly Calvinistic in every way you can think of. Can you imagine Spurgeon deciding to reject the book based on the differences he had with it on baptism, and instead using a book he agreed with on baptism but which taught Arminian soteriology? Let's get our priorities together people. Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel." (1 Cor 1:17). It is high time we take this "advice" and come together to proclaim an unmixed gospel of grace. That is what we have in common here because the alternative is to preach an inconsistent, diluted, confused message, which focuses more on man than on God.
Spurgeon once said, "What the Arminian wants to do is to arouse man's activity: what we want to do is to kill it once for all---to show him that he is lost and ruined, and that his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that he must look upward. They seek to make the man stand up: we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and that his business is to submit himself to God, and cry aloud, 'Lord, save, or we perish.' We hold that man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel he can do nothing at all. When he says, 'I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other,' marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow."
- C. H. Spurgeon