Worship Wars9: Baptism & the Lord’s Supper
One of the first sticky issues I had to face was the matter of “Alien Immersion”. One Sunday this group of little green men from Mars came in and asked to be…No, wait, wrong story…That story is in my Science Fiction category. Let me start over. Alien Immersion is the name for an issue that has long plagued Baptists. What does a local church do when somebody wants to join but they were baptized (immersed) by a different church other than Baptist? In the old days some Baptist churches even called in to question the validity of baptism from other Baptist churches.
The situation I was faced with twice, was whether or not to require baptism of folks seeking to join the church from a Church of Christ. The C-of-C practice immersion, but their doctrine tends to emphasize that baptism is a necessary sign of faith; that if you do not get baptized you are not really saved. The C-of-C churches pretty much keep their baptismal pool full at all times so that if anyone gets saved they can be baptized any day of the week, even in the middle of the night. The real hardliners state that you have to be baptized in order to be saved, which makes it a sacrament (but they would object to that word I believe). Thus, their doctrine and purpose and practice of baptism is very different from what Baptists believe.
We believe that baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith that merely pictures what the Holy Spirit has done for you. Yes, baptism is a command or ordinance from the Lord, so it is a step of obedience, but we stress that the act of baptism does not save you. Baptism is a step of publicly identifying with Christ and his Church, so it is a step towards church membership. But membership in the Family of God comes prior to baptism. We like to point out that the thief on the cross was not baptized, yet received a promise from Jesus for paradise.
The first incident with a Church of Christ member wanting membership came in 1993-94. This was a wonderful young Marine NCO from the base close to the church whose wife was already a Baptist, but he was not. He was clearly saved, he had a good testimony and lifestyle and could articulate his faith. He was of a more moderate wing of the Church of Christ and did not hold to a sacramental view of Baptism. I took his case before the deacons and we discussed it. In light of our constitution and bylaws, and the sense of the church body, the deacons believed it would be best to require the young man to be baptized again in order for him to join the church. In this situation, though I personally did not think he needed to be baptized again, I agreed with the deacons and spoke with the young Marine and his wife. His overwhelming desire was to be united in church membership with his wife so they could raise their son in the church where both parents were active members, so he agreed to be baptized.
We presented him to the church and baptized him without any problem. This fine young family moved on in the Marine Corps the next year but we have stayed in touch somewhat. A few years later the marine NCO was ordained a deacon in the Baptist church and has faithfully been serving the Lord with his wife all these years.
Another issue about baptism involves those who were baptized at an early age but later came to a better understanding of salvation and wish to be baptized again, or, similarly, those who have strayed and come back, professing Christ anew, saying that they must not have been saved the first time, and now wanting to be baptized again. This is actually a fairly difficult and complex situation, as well as being very common. Because this problem is quite pervasive in Baptist churches I believe it reveals a serious doctrinal and practical weakness.
One guy I knew in college at FBC, Norman, was saved and baptized 7 times by the time he was 21. Brothers, this should not be. There is a lack of sound doctrinal teaching and close discipleship and follow-up that leads to this. this is for all practical purposes, Arminianism. We claim to profess the doctrines of assurance and perseverance, but practically speaking we deny these doctrines. We claim to believe and practice believer’s baptism, but I have seen 3 yr olds baptized.
Now don’t get me wrong, early childhood professions of faith can be very genuine and real. But they can also be contrived by parents eager to get their offspring saved. I was saved and baptized at the age of 8 and have never been through a period of strong doubt nor have I ever been in extensive rebellion and dropped out of church. I believe strongly that my salvation is all of God and that he who began a good work in me will bring it to completion on that day . About 3 times as pastor I had to tell eager parents to wait before presenting their children to the church for baptism. I never baptized any child under 8 and usually held out for 9 or 10.
Now here is where my convictions and the church’s desires clashed. One of the results of my caution towards children was that in our annual Vacation Bible School I NEVER gave a strong invitation nor pushed for “Decisions”. I did always present the gospel and gave the children some opportunity to respond. Any decisions made I did try to follow up with parents and Sunday School teachers. But a few times I would speak with a parent about their child’s decision to become a Christian and the parent would tell me something like, “Well Johnny is already a Christian and got baptized a year ago at another church.” This again demonstrated that the children were not being adequately taught, followed up, or nurtured. I will discuss VBS and children’s ministry in a later post, but the idea here is, because I preferred to be slow and cautious with children, and because most of our VBS kids were not from our church, but from the neighborhood and usually attended other churches, I did not get any baptisms out of VBS in 15 years. This really frustrated my church. To this day I sometimes wonder if my approach was the right one. I would just rather see kids get a careful, consistent presentation of the gospel and of sound doctrine over the long haul in church and Sunday School and from godly parents whom I know are in the Word on a regular basis. Church Camp, VBS and Revival salvation experiences can sure ratchet up your baptisms, but I have seen way too many of these “conversions” fail through the years. I am seriously not into inoculating people with the gospel.
I have a few funny baptism stories like every preacher I guess. A couple of times I failed to tell the janitor to fill up the baptistry in time and the water was way cold. My youngest son broke out into the breast stroke after getting baptized. My waders leaked almost every time. The choir got splashed on occasion. These things happen.
But the only sad experience we had involving baptism at my church was over a baptism done in the evening service. I had a family where the dad worked on Sunday mornings, so he only came to church on Sunday nights. This was a very faithful family, but they were not liked at all by the old guard at the church. Neither the mom nor the dad had been raised in the church, both came from a wild background, but both had been gloriously saved and changed forever by God’s grace. But this family did not meet the profile of what a nice young baptist family should be like in the eyes of the older members.
When their youngest daughter got saved around 9-10 yrs of age we were going to baptize her. The parents requested an evening baptism service since the dad worked in the mornings and he really wanted to watch his daughter get baptized. I agreed and thought nothing of it. We scheduled the baptism and placed it in the bulletin for the next week, baptized her at night and I thought nothing of it.
But the deacons started getting those phone calls. It seems that the old guard was quite upset that we baptized her at night instead of in the morning service where the whole church could watch. Never mind that the whole church is always invited to the evening worship service. Never mind that the dad would be able to watch his daughter at night but not in the day. Never mind that nothing in the church constitution and by-laws nor in the Bible restricts baptism to Sunday mornings. They wanted it in the morning so that they could feel good about themselves. It was first and foremost for their benefit this girl was to be baptized. I just was not and to this day am not sure where they were coming from with this. I never had occasion to baptize in the evening again. This family was a little bit hurt and embarrassed over the stink, but it was not their fault in the least.
As best I can remember, there was only one problem over the Lord’s Supper, and this was likely all my fault. We used to have monthly men’s suppers where the guys would meet in the fellowship hall for a meal on the first Friday night of each month. (More about that later). But some of us younger men got started talking about the need for a deeper level of fellowship at these occasions and came up with a plan to have the Lord’s Supper at some of these suppers so that it would approximate Jesus and the disciples in the upper room sharing the Lord’s last Passover meal together.
When I presented this to the men as an option that we ought to consider (again, this was not presented as a decided issue that I was forcing on anyone) all was pretty quiet, no objections were given. I thought that meant it was OK. My mistake. Over the next week the men and their wives (the old guard) got in a HUGE uproar over this. The women felt left out so they were mad; others were mad because they thought the Lord’s Supper should only be given on Sunday morning (when I pointed out that the Lord’s Supper was first done at night, hence the name Supper, that was not well received). But the best argument of all was that the church overwhelmingly felt that it was sacrilegious to have the Lord’s Supper in the Fellowship Hall instead of the Sanctuary. I kid you not, that was the main objection.
The following Sunday morning in Sunday School from my class we could hear the older men’s class discussing it down the hall. I and my young deacon friend (the same man whose daughter got baptized on Sunday night a couple of years later) went to the class to see if we could speak to the men about the subject to explain where we were coming from and have a civil discussion on the matter. What was I thinking? We attempted to present our request to the men and immediately two men in the class attacked. I mean standing up, pointing their fingers in our faces, yelling at the top of their lungs, red in the face calling us names attacked. My young friend and I sat there and took it. Every time we spoke it was quietly and respectfully, and we were shouted down. They called my friend a “bum” and a couple of other things. Finally, we stood to leave, thanked the men for allowing us the time to speak to them and left. It did not go well. My friend is a big man and could have pounded either of the two men, but he sat there and took it in meekness and humility.
No apology was ever offered by these two men to either of us for the rude, belligerent name calling behavior. But the next year the man who called my friend a bum got very ill and had to have a surgery. After the surgery my friend went with me to the hospital to pray with and give comfort to the one who had angrily called us names.
When all was said and done, this one was pretty much my fault. I should have researched the doctrine of communion more carefully and discussed it with the deacons privately before ever mentioning it in the men’s supper group. It is just a shame that something that is supposed to promote worship and unity in the brethren became instead a source of painful division. I never tried to do anything else with the Lord’s Supper again, just kept it in the sanctuary, on Sunday mornings, using the same small wafers and cups of grape juice. I look forward to the day when I can sit down at the Lord’s Table which he has prepared and eat in His presence without the limitations of this sinful world inhibiting me.
Saturday, January 19, 2008– These are the stories of the misadventures I had as a bi-vocational pastor of a small, elderly, traditional Southern Baptist Church 1992-2007. I am telling these stories in an effort at working through the pain that my family and I went through with a hope that these stories may help other young, bi-vocational pastors as they go through very similar situations. I am seeking to find the things that I did wrong or that I could have done better. I do not think any of these events are more difficult than what other ministers face on a regular basis, but this is my story, and I want to tell it.
I have been dealing with issues related to worship first, because worship is pretty much the central event of our lives. We are saved to worship, created for worshiping our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The last several posts have dealt with music, but today I wanted to look at Baptism and the Lord’s Supper because we had a few interesting situations over these two ordinances.