Posted by: Andrew Webb | June 8, 2010

Can Reformed Baptists Join Old School Presbyterian Churches?

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.

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Responses

  1. Andy,

    Regarding 3 a above, what happens then, if those single folk marry, and have children?

    This is a thorny problem without an easy solution, based on the premises you give, with certain affinities to the problem of the 2nd generation of the half-way covenant.

    I am curious to hear your take on it.

  2. Hi Ken,

    In our congregation, many if not most of our “singles” are military and will generally only be around for three years or so anyway, so it has yet to be a problem. But… if they are in a Presbyterian church the chances are very good they will marry Presbyterians and choose to have their children baptized. If however they choose to marry another baptist and it is clear that when and if they have children they will not baptize them, then I will work to help them to find a baptist church to transfer their membership to.

    I think one of our biggest problems is the modern tendency to see the modern church as a “preaching and fellowship station” rather than a covenant body. We need to reinforce to our members that we really do consider the infants of members to be members of the visible church and that they have rights and privileges that we may not lawfully deny them. I have no more authority to deny the children of believing members the sign and seal of the covenant than I have the right to deny communicant members in good standing the Lord’s Supper. We really should view it as being analogous to a couple coming to us and telling us it was their bibl;ical conviction that women should not take the Lord’s Supper and that consequently all the female members of their family would not be coming to the table. We wouldn’t, God willing, simply say “well as you wish, I hope you change your mind.”

    Anywho, this wasn’t a thorny problem for early Presbyterians, and it really only became a problem in the 20th century. I should also note that, generally, this isn’t a problem in the other direction (unless you happen to be John Piper or a few other exceptions). If I am a Presbyterian baptized in infancy, I may not join a Baptist church unless I submit to rebaptism by immersion. If I do submit to this and join, I certainly cannot present my infant children for baptism. I have never heard of a Baptist church that would even consider such a thing, they are by definition NOT padobaptists. The odd thing is that we don’t see that we ARE by definition paedobaptists, and that our desire to see the infant children of professing members baptized should be at least as strong as the zeal of Baptists not to. We Presbyterians seem to have stronger feelings about taxes than baptism.

  3. Andy,

    Some of your points are stronger than others.

    First, the fact that I could not be a member of Mark Dever’s church doesn’t necessarily mean that I should exclude him from mine. I can’t take communion at a confessional Lutheran church, but they can take it at mine. Should I exclude them on the basis they exclude me?

    This won’t surprise you, but my theory and practice admit of more liberty on this issue. It’s not because I don’t see your point, but it is a matter of competing values. Baptism is important, and the baptism of infants is important. The question for me is, “Is it more important than excluding brothers and sisters of differing conviction from the local assembly?”

    The answer can’t just be to send them to a church of like conviction. First, what if there isn’t? What if there is no Baptist church proclaiming the doctrines of grace. Would I rather have them to be part of a body that has a less full and true commitment to the whole counsel of God, so that thereby they are starved of Reformed teaching?

    Phil Ryken once said the door to the church should be roughly the same size as the door to the kingdom, and serious, devout, and orthodox Reformed Christians disagree on this issue. The question is, “Should this divide us, and to what degree?”

    I also may be just a bit more pragmatic on this issue because of my own experience in established churches. I have had the experience more than once, and in more than one congregation, of having mature, pious, and doctrinally astute continuationists and credo-baptists. In certain cases, they were far more committed to and knowledgeable about the Reformed faith, and the Christian life in general, than officers who might say, “uh huh” when asked if they believe the Westminster Standards, but are hardly ardent about it.

    Just a few thoughts. My desire is for robust, healthy Calvinistic churches, and I fear, if we draw the lines of fellowship too tightly, we won’t have that.

    After all, what if we’re wrong and they’re right? :-)

  4. Hi Ken, Just three points in reply because my schedule is a rather tight today.

    Brother, I believe you are making a mistake by assuming that we are excluding the parents on the basis of their personal beliefs. Their personal beliefs are not the issue. The issue is one of the church being able to do what she has been commanded to do by God. We teach and believe that the children of believers are born members of the visible church with a right to certain ordinances, or as Warfield puts it:

    “So long as it remains true that Paul represents the Church of the Living God to be
    one, founded on one covenant (which the law could not set aside) from Abraham to
    to-day, so long it remains true that the promise is to us and our children and that the
    members of the visible Church consist of believers and their children all of whom
    have a right to all the ordinances of the visible Church, each in its appointed season.
    The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His Church in the days of
    Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He
    has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such
    entitled to its ordinances. Among these ordinances is baptism, which standing in
    similar place in the New Dispensation to circumcision in the Old, is like it to be given
    to children.”

    We have no more right to withhold the ordinance of baptism from them, than we have a right to withhold the Lord’s Supper from communicants in good standing. It would be rather like the magistrate submitting to the argument of a father that his children, born into a certain nation, should not be protected by the police because he believes citizenship is something that adults must choose to take part in, rather than accepting that it is a birthright.

    If we are consistent with our theology, we must confess that have no more right to decline to baptize the children of members in good standing than Moses had a right to decline to circumcise his son in Exodus 4 (an action which almost cost him his life).

    Second, the above is the reason we confess that it is a “very great sin” (to quote the WCF) to neglect this ordinance. Admittedly, it is not a matter necessary to be believed in order to be saved, but then again neither is a belief in the necessity of the marriage ceremony. Would you admit a couple with children who had never been married and who had no intention of getting married but who were otherwise “strong reformed believers?” If not, why not?

    Third, we are not “starving them of Reformed preaching” by denying them membership in the church. Anyone is free to come to hear the preaching of the word and indeed to take part in all the assemblies of the church and bible studies, indeed we don’t even bar the table to members in good standing of other evangelical churches. Certain privileges (voting, baptism, etc.) are withheld but preaching, and teaching, and counsel are not among them. Their situation in regarding to their relationship to a Presbyterian congregation is not too different from my own as a resident alien in the USA.

    As for being “broad” in our membership, we are extremely broad when it comes to personal beliefs. We accept anyone who can, in good faith, take the 5 membership vows, and in the past we have admitted Dispensationalists, Charismatics, and even an Arminian or two into membership. What we cannot do, however, is admit someone who declines to allow the church to do what it is commanded to do by God.

  5. The issue is one of the church being able to do what she has been commanded to do by God

    Yes, indeed. There’s the rub.

    The only consistent position for a confessional church is “confessional membership,” that is, close communion. John Anderson offers some help on that score: 1 , 2

    Rather than general guidelines, the church is authorized by Christ to make a dogmatic declaration on the subject. Point 3.c. above doesn’t follow, since by definition any anti-pedobaptist objects to pedobaptism. Whether or not a given anti-pedobaptist seeks to influence others in favor of their unbiblical doctrine & practice, the fact remains that opposition to Scriptural teaching disqualifies even those with otherwise credible professions of faith. (2Thess.3:14-15)

  6. What a fascinating topic.

    Can I pick up on your final sentence “What we cannot do, however, is admit someone who declines to allow the church to do what it is commanded to do by God.”.

    But an RB (in fact any baptist) will take the approach that God has commanded that only believers are baptised, and that by baptising young children you are going against the commandments of God.

    You see my point? God isn’t in the business of commanding OSPs to do one thing and RBs to do the opposite!!! To borrow a phrase, it “does not compute”.

    How do you reconcile these two contradictory positions?

  7. Pastor Webb,

    I am only a deacon in a NAPARC denomination.

    If I may, may I ask this question?

    If you allow a single Reformed Baptist to become a member, don’t they then receive voting rights?

    & please may I ask this question, if they receive voting rights, aren’t they somehow involved in the direction that a church will/might take?

    Reformed B’s can benefit from everything a good Presby church can offer (which is a lot!) but voting on session members/pastors and other crucial things which effect a church’s direction maybe shouldn’t be under their parlay.

    Please forgive me if I have overstepped my bounds here, but I just had a few questions.

    Thank you Pastor!

  8. I enjoyed reading your article on membership of Reformed Baptist. Although I am a Reformed Baptist pastor and pretty much disagree with and find any form of padobaptism, and find it completely unbiblical, I think your site is pretty good and very informative so keep up the good work for the body of Christ my brother.

  9. I was having a discussion similar to this one on the PuritanBoard lately. I was arguing that the subordinate standards of the church should be adhered to by individuals in order to communicant membership in the church (the “terms of communion,” if you will); and that a Presbyterian church that admits Dispensationalists, Charismatics, Arminians, Baptists, etc. into membership is (1) contradicting its own testimony to the truth of the Reformed faith, summarized in the Westminster Standards (continuing willfully in error is unrepentant sin); and (2) turning “the church” into something other than its membership (since members do not have to adhere to the subordinate standards of “the church”).

    “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).

    I would also argue for close communion on this basis; but the question of confessional church membership is a bit more pertinent to this discussion. (I’m a member in the RPCNA, and hold to some of our older, less popular positions.)

  10. Although I am not a Presbyterian, but a ‘reformed baptist’ (although I am currently studying the scriptures to see which view is in accordance with the scriptures), I appreciate the fact that you’ll stick to what you deem is biblical even if others may desire to deter you from it. In this day and age when churches, or denominations, water down their “distinctives” it is nice to hear about those that do not.

  11. Good post.

    I wonder, though, about something in your first comment. You said:

    If however they choose to marry another baptist and it is clear that when and if they have children they will not baptize them, then I will work to help them to find a baptist church to transfer their membership to.

    And then…

    We really should view it as being analogous to a couple coming to us and telling us it was their bibl;ical conviction that women should not take the Lord’s Supper and that consequently all the female members of their family would not be coming to the table. We wouldn’t, God willing, simply say “well as you wish, I hope you change your mind.”

    If you would labor to help a member who is persuaded that covenant children should be barred from the font find a credo-baptist church, then would you also labor to help another who believes women should be barred from the table find one that practices this? My assumption would be that you wouldn’t labor to help a member find a male-chauvanist church. So why would you help another find an adult-chauvanist church? (I can’t help but wonder if this reflects the unfortunate situation amongst paedo’s that credo-baptism has merit.) Would you help a family find a paedo-communion church?

  12. [...] Building Old School Churches Blog – Can Reformed Baptists Join Old School Presbyterian Churches? Posted on July 23, 2010 by Reformed Joe Can Reformed Baptists Join Old School Presbyterian Churches? [...]

  13. Hi Zrim,

    I’m entirely unpersuaded of the Baptist position, but I’m also unpersuaded of the Congregational position, the Episcopal position, the Charismatic position, and so on. If a visitor indicated that they couldn’t worship at a church that believed in cessation, and were leaving and I couldn’t persuade them otherwise, I’d maintain my disagreement but try to direct them to the most orthodox non-cessationist church I could.

    Also, this may scandalize some, but on one occasion when a family was moving into an area with a choice between a simply awful Presbyterian church and a solid Reformed Baptist church, I recommended the Baptist church and advised they look out for other paedobaptists interested in doing a plant. Given the choice between a PCUSA church and a solid 1689 LBC Reformed Baptist church, would you seriously recommend the PCUSA church? Frankly I’d much rather have my family sitting under the instruction of an Al Mohler, Al Martin, Geoff Thomas, or Mark Dever over a Jack Rogers any day of the week.

  14. Pastor Webb,

    Excellent answer

    I would rather have a friend sitting under those godly Baptist men instead of those who allowed this to go on at the 2010 PCUSA’s GA.

    http://www.layman.org/News.aspx?article=27381

    If you wonder why the author doesn’t leave that communion, she has been ordained by them as a TE

  15. Hi Andy,
    I never understood reason 3b)
    How does that make it better? If we believe it is a “great sin” to withhold the sign of the covenant from those who are in the covenant, how is it any better if you don’t actually have children but WOULD withhold Baptism from them IF YOU HAD ANY?

    Isn’t that a bit like saying: committing adultery is sin (and would disqualify you from membership!), but since there are no women in your neighborhood to do it with, you may gladly join our church!?

    I don’t want to be extreme, but help me understand how 3b would be fine.

  16. I appreciate your article and thinking through the issues. A few thoughts of mine follow, not only in response to the article, but also to some of the other comments. I trust my comments are said graciously…

    1) Leaving off baptism for a moment, I’m not convinced a believer in Christ MUST be reformed to still submit to the leadership of a reformed church, as long as they are peaceful members. An example might be a new believer who does not fully understand the key reformed doctrines. We see very little in the way of interviewing members in the early church, or St. Paul requiring excommunicating of members in churches until they sort out all their serious doctrinal issues (e.g. Corinth). No, the tests for baptism/joining/not being excomm. were belief in Jesus as the Son of God, repentance, and not turning back to sin. While Paul (or our Lord, or others) do not shy away from some level of minutia in doctrine, they also place more weight on certain issues versus others.

    2) To point #1, I believe our ability to have so many sub-denominations within sub-denominations, and to split relatively finer hairs (not to dismiss the issues as unimportant), is partly a function of Americanism. In our Costco shopping culture, of course you can split hairs – there’s likely another church within 20 miles that might even meet your exact specifications. But come to the Middle East for a bit. Or even go back in time to the 1st century church. You have/had ONE church within several days journey. You would, or should, quickly learn to fellowship with all kinds of believers as a matter of spiritual survival. You would and should seek unity, but your priorities would be vastly different, and your fellowship would center around the core tenets – the Trinity, the nature of salvation, the sacraments (without necessarily getting into the minutia of practice), the fellowship and edifying of the saints, etc.

    3) I suggest looking at the WCF (as we look at Scripture) in CONTEXT. Chapter 28 describes the mode/applicability of baptism in paragraphs 1 through 4. A new paragraph then starts (#5) that says “Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect his ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it…” I take 2 points away from this: (1) it is a sin to condemn or neglect… but reformed baptists don’t do either essentially speaking, and (2) even within this very paragraph, there is grace – even the divines realized that ultimately, salvation is not inseparably tied to baptism, i.e., this alone appears to leave room for admitting someone who does not have a paedo view of baptism. It’s interesting that in the chapter on “The Church” (ch. 25), the WCF anticipates more or less pure churches. So even churches that are not 100% pure are still members of the universal church – why would church members be treated differently?

    4) With all that said, certainly if a reformed baptist church is nearby for a family, I see no problem with a “paedo” church suggesting that a family consider that church – it is of course better to agree on more issues than less issues as a church body. But in unique circumstances (perhaps there is no reformed baptist church nearby), as a family grows in faith and considers a change from specific practices (and yet does not essentially neglect the ordinance per ch. 28), would you neglect the weightier matters of the law and not allow them to join the church in obedience to their Lord?


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