Friday, June 6, 2008

Challenging Dr. Yarnell's BI Baptism viewpoint

Part 3: Conclusions

(NOTE: The biblical basis for these conclusions is found in the last two posts)
(Another NOTE: I am headed out today for a speaking engagement in Missouri. I hope someone wanders by and comments, but if you do, I will not respond unless I can find some wireless access somewhere - and who knows about Missouri, right?)

I feel a little bit like I am standing at the plate facing a Rogers Clemens fastball with a wiffle ball bat. I am about to engage the ideas of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and others in regard to baptism. I am academically unqualified to challenge any of them. And it is not my intent to cast aspersions on the character of anyone here. Dr. Yarnell himself has been adept at disagreeing respectfully. He engaged in a lengthy debate with David Rogers and both demonstrated that disagreement is not disrespect.

I am challenging Dr. Yarnell because he seems to be providing the theological foundation for the Baptist Identity movement. I will be using quotes from a lengthy blog he put on Peter Lumpkins site a couple of months ago, which summarized his view on baptism. Again, while I will be questioning the biblical basis for his viewpoint on this issue, I will not be questioning his love for Christ or the scriptures.

Before that, let me share a few points that I think are clear from the biblical evidence. My past three posts have reviewed every place in the scripture in which Christian baptism is mentioned. I mostly ignored references to John’s baptism, since it seems to me to be a different thing than Christian baptism.

1) There is not a single scripture that gives evidence of baptism being performed under the supervision of a local church. People mention the Ethiopian Eunuch, but the pattern goes beyond that. I did not find a single piece of evidence to support institutional oversight of baptism as a requirement for baptism. That is not to say that local churches were not involved. There is just no evidence of institutional oversight of baptism.

2) I did not find any evidence of doctrinal evaluation of either the baptized or the baptizer. It seems that when someone came to faith in Christ, one of the first things they did was go find a pond or river to perform the baptism. It does not seem that they did a training class or a doctrinal evaluation. When you trusted Christ, you went and publicly testified to that by being baptized.

I wonder if that is where ideas of baptismal regeneration might have begun. People got baptized so quickly that people began to confuse conversion and immersion. It would be sort of like people who talk about “walking the aisle” today. We know that walking an aisle doesn’t save, but we use the phrase as a synonym for salvation because they often happen close together. Who knows?

3) Baptism seems to be presented in scripture as a “big picture” thing. Baptism is referred to as “into Christ” repeatedly, but never into a particular local church. Baptism is about identifying with the death and resurrection of Christ and about walking a new life of obedience. But there is no place in which someone is baptized to join a local church.

I do not object to baptism as a requirement for membership. In fact, I support it on practical grounds. But I reject the notion that this is fundamental to the biblical view of baptism.

4) I see very little emphasis in scripture on who does the baptism. Paul even goes to great lengths in 1 Corinthians to downplay his involvement in baptisms. My suspicion is that in the early church, any baptized believer could baptize another believer.

Dr. Yarnell’s Position

In his post on SBC Tomorrow, Dr. Yarnell made 7 statements on what he liked about Baptist baptism. The implication is that all 7 are essential for a biblical baptism. They are copied below

The first reason that I am a traditional Baptist is because Baptists begin the Christian life in the only way that Jesus Christ gave to His followers--by hearing His Word, believing it, confessing it, and obeying it by receiving baptism.

Second, Baptists do not baptize babies, because doing so alters the command of Christ and the orderly practice of His apostles, who always placed conversion prior to baptism.

Third, Baptists do not baptize only in the name of Jesus, because doing so ignores the command of Christ, which was clear that baptism should be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, Baptists do not baptize apart from the local church, because baptism involves local church membership.

Fifth, Baptists do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, because they understand that a church requires a covenant and that can only be done where two or more people (and people have visible bodies) have gathered.

Sixth, Baptists do not sprinkle or pour, because they know that only immersion is faithful to the New Testament witness regarding the cross and the empty tomb of the gospel.

Finally, Baptists do not baptize those who lack the assurance of their eternal salvation, because the doctrine that one may lose one’s salvation indicates a lack of submission to Christ’s own doctrine.

My Response

I agree wholeheartedly with his first, second, third and sixth points. I disagree with the fourth, fifth and seventh. I do not have a problem with him believing or practicing these. But I do not think they have the biblical authority of the other four points, and I do not want them to be seen as normative for biblical baptism. I do not want to see those points encoded in IMB policies or in SBC practice. I think they go beyond the biblical evidence and I oppose them being enforced on me or on missionaries.

Dr. Yarnell said, “Fourth, Baptists do not baptize apart from the local church, because baptism involves local church membership.”

I would ask someone to show me the scriptural support for this, without appealing to Baptist tradition or history. Where does the Bible support this? I have not found it anywhere.

I have performed baptisms for 26 years and the vast majority have been under the auspices of the churches I have pastored. But I have performed baptisms on people thqat could not or did not want to be members of our church. Normally, when we baptized, the person automatically becomes a member of the church. But I have had people who wanted to be biblically baptized but not be members of my church. I baptized them. I believe the Bible supports what I did.

The missionary who baptized his child in a pool on the foreign field without the approval or authority of any church – he was acting in obedience to Christ, not contrary to it. We are baptized into Christ, not into a local church.

If you want to hold that doctrine, fine. Show me the verses!

Dr. Yarnell then made an extraordinary statement, “Fifth, Baptists do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, because they understand that a church requires a covenant and that can only be done where two or more people (and people have visible bodies) have gathered.”

He is right about one thing. We do not baptize into an illusory invisible church, but into Christ. Time and again, the scriptures I referenced in the last two posts identify baptism as into Christ. There is not one mention of baptism into a church, illusory or local. The only one that comes close is 1 Corinthians 12:12, which says that we have ALL been baptized into ONE body. Sounds a little bit like a universal church to me. Most would say that the baptism in view there is not water baptism anyway, but the baptism of the Spirit, which water baptism pictures.

But the part that I find extraordinary is his statement that a valid baptism can only take place “where two or more people” have gathered. Do the baptizer and the baptized count in this number? If they do, the statement becomes empty of meaning. All baptisms must by definition have two people present. We have a word for solo baptism – swimming!

I suspect, though, that he refers to a group of people from the local church who witness the baptism. Ethiopian Eunuch? No such witnesses. In fact, there is no point in Acts in which a baptism is delayed to gather a group of witnesses or to seek the approval of the church.

We have the authority of Christ to baptize and do not need the oversight of a local church. I prefer it that way. I practice it that way. But the Bible does not prescribe it that way.

Again, where is the biblical support for this authoritative statement.

Finally, he says, “Baptists do not baptize those who lack the assurance of their eternal salvation, because the doctrine that one may lose one’s salvation indicates a lack of submission to Christ’s own doctrine.”

I have only one requirement for a baptism. That person must clearly and forthrightly express their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I know my practice here is different from many others in my own denomination, but I do not believe I have the right to put any other stricture on baptism but that which the Bible does. If you profess faith in Christ and give clear testimony of your salvation, I baptize you.

I do not make a doctrinal test for baptism. Whatever Dr. Yarnell, Baptist history, or denominational practice says, I see only one test for baptism. Clearly professed faith in Christ. That’s it.

When someone comes to my church, I don’t care if they understood eternal security before they got baptized. I don’t care if they were Calvinist or Arminian when they got baptized. I only care if they were baptized by immersion after conversion as a public testimony of faith in Christ (not for salvation). I don’t care if it was done in a church, or in a pond, or by an ordained minister. Just three things: when, how and why? After I baptize them, it becomes my job to instruct them on sound doctrine.

To add a doctrinal stricture on baptism is clearly beyond the teaching of scripture. If you want to do things that way in your church, be my guest. Do as you please. But please do not tell me that I have to do what the Bible does NOT tell me I have to do. And please to not tell missionaries they cannot serve because even though they have done EVERYTHING the Bible tells them to do, they have not done the things you would like them to do even though the Bible does not command them.

Dr. Yarnell added this statement at the end. “These seven biblical doctrines concerning baptism speak much about Baptist identity. If we compromise these revealed teachings of Christ, we will begin to lose our Baptist identity because we will have compromised the Lordship of Christ. I am a Baptist because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. And because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, I must submit to His will. We may never compromise one aspect of Christ’s will, even in the name of supposed Christian unity.

I agree with much of this. I believe in the Lordship of Christ and must submit to His will. But I am not required to submit to Malcolm Yarnell’s will, or his interpretations of scripture. He calls these “revealed teachings of Christ.” Fine, but show me where the Bible reveals these. I did not find them in scripture.

If “Baptist Identity” involves in forcing conformity on doctrines the Bible does not teach, I want nothing to do with it. I will submit to Christ and His Word, but will not be bound by Baptist tradition, heritage or history that is not firmly rooted in scripture.

I have more to say, and may take this up again later.


As I read scripture, there are several things that are decisive in valid, biblical baptism. First, it matters when you are baptized. It must be after your conversion. Second, it matters how you are baptized. It must be by immersion to picture identification with the death and resurrection of Christ. Third, it must be seen as a picture of faith, not as a saving event itself. These are the bedrock of biblical baptism.

The other issues that have been raised are not mandated in scripture. There is no evidence of institutional oversight in baptism. Baptism can (and usually should) be under the authority of a local body, but that is not biblically mandated. There are situations in which baptism not affiliated with a local church can be completely authorized biblically. I see very little evidence that the baptizer is of much biblical significance at all. And I see no doctrinal tests that are germane to baptism. The only requirement is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Everything else is discipleship.


Strong Tower said...

"After I baptize them, it becomes my job to instruct them on sound doctrine."

Sorry, but I did not read everything you wrote but I did notice that you seeminly contradicted yourself. You said that it was not necessary that a person become a member. But if that is the case, how can you be responsible to instruct them in sound doctrine?

I think this is the giant in the SBC wadding pool. How do we say that the SBC is a Great Commission organization and not fulfill its mandates? Now, I would agree that baptism has nothing to do with membership, but discipleship does. It is: make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them... Whatever membership structural requirements a church has is a matter of governance; baptism does not make one a member of the local church. But making disciples does require that they are baptized and taught, or they are not disciples. It would then seem that baptism is requisite though not prerequisite, where teaching must be prerequisite. That is as you said, that a dependable profession must be obtained and continued instruction given.

The order then should be teaching them to keep and to do, and one of those to do's is baptism. Meaning, that baptism comes after a certain period of instruction. After which, a petitioner for membership should be both baptized if found credibly committed to further discipleship and welcomed into fellowship. If they do not want to be a member in convenatal arrangement, how then was it a credible confession seeing that they do not want to further the discipleship charge that is inherent in their conversion? It is my contention that we should not be about baptizing if they, nor we, are willing to go the long haul and complete their training. (There are exceptions).

I'm not sure this has made sense. But, it appears to me that the GC is non-functioning in the SBC which is why it loses so many of its disciples.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of baptism and its relationship to the local church. There is simply no evidence in the Bible that baptism followed a lengthy instructional phase. Now, is that a good idea? Perhaps, and many churches throughout history have practiced this for good reasons. But, to say that this is the biblical model is simply not true.
Further, linking baptism to the security of the believer is not biblical either. Furthermore, isn't it asking quite a bit for a new Christian to analyze the theology of the one baptizing them. Did the Ethiopian turn to Philip and question his understanding of salvation and eternal security? I doubt it.
Todd Pylant