It is almost inevitable that Old School Presbyterian (OSP) church planters will have people from differing theological backgrounds visiting their congregations, and some of the most common visitors will be Reformed Baptists.
Obviously having Reformed Baptists (RBs) visit your congregation isn’t a problem, but problems may arise if they desire to become members of your congregation, particularly if they have young children who have not yet been baptized.
We have had several wonderful RB couples who have wanted to join our church, but who have not be able to do so because of the Baptism issue and others who have become members, and I am personally very sympathetic to the desire of Reformed Baptists to become part of an OSP church, particularly when it is the only Reformed church in their area.
What then should be the position of an OSP church regarding this matter? Well rather than making a dogmatic declaration on the subject, here are some general guidelines for church planters along with an outline of our own particular practice:
1) Regardless of the decision you make, be consistent, make sure your session is behind it, and put it down on paper so that you have a uniform and settled practice you can explain to anyone who inquires about membership.
2) Realize that you aren’t being “unfair” or “mean” if you do refuse to admit families that won’t baptize their children. Your practice is based upon what you believe scripture commands and to go against what you believe God commands in his word is neither right nor safe. In fact, your congregants should be very uncomfortable with the idea that their pastor might act against his biblical convictions in order to please men and should encourage you NOT to do so. Also, please remember, Baptists insist on immersion baptism as a believer as a necessary condition for church membership. My wife and I could not join an SBC church without consenting to be re-baptized by immersion, and our children could not be members at all. So if you refuse to admit RBs who will not baptize their children, you aren’t applying a stricter rule than the RBs would apply themselves.
3) Our general rule is this, we welcome RBs into membership if:
a) They are single
b) They are married, but their children are already grown or have already been baptized and they are beyond child-bearing years
c) They will not object to our continued practice of infant baptism.
4) We cannot invite RBs to join if:
a) They have unbaptized children and will not baptize them. This is because, as we explain, we cannot admit part of their family and exclude the children of believers, who we believe have a right to the same privilege of membership in the visible church and who are not to be excluded by men from the covenant.
We also point out that this would unfairly give them a special dispensation from church discipline that we do not offer to other church members since we confess that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” (WCF 28.5) and that our BCO instructs us that “Baptism is not to be unnecessarily delayed” (BCO 56-1).
b) They could not help but object regarding our practice. This would occur if they attempted to teach other members the credobaptist position or purposely absented themselves from infant baptisms. This has never happened to us, but another brother shared with me the difficulties that arose when a large baptist family that was part of his small congregation taught their position in a home-based bible study attended by several families in the church, and got up and left the congregation whenever they baptized children and infants.
Over the years since we first planted our own congregation we have had several RBs (and a non-Reformed Baptist or two, or at least not when they joined) become part of the congregation. We have also had a couple of wonderful RB families continue to attend without joining and while we may have regretted the fact they could not become members, we have never regretted having the policy we do.