A statement from CFLM eldership on the issue of baptism:
During this past year, the eldership at CFLM has been studying and debating our position on baptism to ascertain that we align correctly with the scriptures on all matters related to this topic. The reasoning for our interest in checking our theology on this issue is that we have several good and Godly regular attenders who have received sprinkling as infants and are reticent to engage in believer’s baptism as our church has prescribed. Our deep dive concluded at a retreat where the issue was to receive a final treatment and a decision was to be reached. The following is a summary of what was discussed and decided.
- Regarding divergent practices? We acknowledge that there are several modes of baptism conducted by varying denominations. We DO NOT claim that such people are outside of God’s grace and DO NOT attempt to judge their faith or relationship with the Lord. But our congregation is committed to following the Biblical prescription as closely as possible. We do not disparage choices made in this regard (whether by individuals or their parents). But we, the eldership, stand accountable before almighty God for what we teach (James 3:1); and for this reason, we MUST hold exclusively to what we see taught and modeled in the New Testament texts. God may decide and rightly divide all manner of variants, but that is a tangle for the Lord to unravel. The leadership of the church is to be concerned with prescriptive practice and to that end, we will opt to just follow the example of the early church as accurately as we can.
- Why be baptized? Jesus was baptized as an example for us (Matt 3:13-15). Jesus had his disciples baptize those who came to him (John 3:26-28). Jesus commanded us to baptize as part of the process of making disciples [learners/followers] (Matt 28:19-20). The first church began with a call to baptism and repentance (Acts 2:38). Baptism is an event that marks being “clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27-28) as well as the means through which we are unified with The Church (1 Cor 12:12-13). We will continue to emphasize the importance of baptism in the conversion and discipleship process, as evidently practiced in the New Testament.
- Who can be baptized? We affirm that the mode of baptism prescribed by a simple reading of the New Testament texts is a baptism by a believer who is cognizant of sin and capable of repentance (changing the mind), and mentally able to express faith (trust) in God (Acts 2:38&41, 8:12-17, 34-38, 9:17-18, 10:44-48, 16:14-15, 18:8, 19:1-7, 22:13-16). It’s no accident that during the reformation as believers were beginning to read the scriptures in their own language, many came to this conclusion directly from the texts (and very much contrary to their comfort and traditions). We will continue to teach and practice a believer’s baptism accompanied with repentance, as evident in the New Testament.
- How shall we be baptized? The term baptize means dipped or dunked beneath and this seems to best exemplify what we see happening in acts (people dunked underwater by their own will). We find that any attempt to interpret baptism as an act of sprinkling in the narrative of Acts seems contrived. In addition to the evident of finding water and going into water that seems to accompany New Testament baptism, we have Paul’s theology in Romans 6 that equates the proceeding to a death, a burial, and a raising-up that are obviously exemplified in water-immersion but bear no likeness to sprinkling. We will continue to teach and practice water immersion as evident in the New Testament practice.
- Baptized again? Can a person who already considers him/herself to be baptized by a mode not clearly taught in the scriptures be expected to be baptized in a more accurate way? Would this baptism be valid? We have a specific instance of this exact matter being addressed in Acts chapter 19:1-7, wherein Paul encounters disciples of Jesus (avid devoted followers) who were baptized in a sub-optimal manner. Paul gives corrective instruction, the disciples are baptized in the manner Paul prescribed, and the Holy Spirit empowers those who were baptized again (demonstrating God’s approval of their decision). This ought to be taken as precedent for correcting baptisms that fall short of the baptism modeled in the book of Acts.
- Evidence and absence? We reviewed arguments abridging or diverting from believer’s immersion baptism (typically using an extrapolation of Gal 6:11-18), arguments for a covenant to mirror circumcision (thus for infants at the discretion of parents Col 2:11-12), and arguments that household baptisms might have included children. After considering arguments from those who hold this position our elders unanimously felt that these arguments felt very much like theological commitments informing a reading of scripture, rather than a reading of scripture informing theological commitments. The fact remains that there is not a single unambiguous instance of infant baptism, conversion without baptism, or baptismal method of sprinkling in the New Testament texts. Congregation members and prospective members are invited to engage with us on any of these issues, but an extended refutation of every other position herein is not in the scope of this theological statement.
- I disagree with the elders… so what do I do? In the event that we are at an impasse regarding your commitments on the issue of baptism, we want you to know that we don’t disdain you, nor are we asking you to leave. If you determine you wish to leave to find another church that better aligns with your theological commitments, know that we love you and desire the richest of God’s blessings as you continue to serve Him in another congregation (we hope if you leave, we part as siblings in Christ mutually blessing one another). In the event you wish to remain with us, you may do so indefinitely as a regular attender, but will not be permitted to be a lead teacher, elder, or deacon.
We, the eldership of Christ’s Fellowship at Little Miami, affirm this statement.