Liveblogging the Baptism Panel Discussion at SBTS

Today I attended a panel discussion concerning baptism here at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The panelists for the discussion were: Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology; Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology; Dr. Stephen Wellum, Professor of Christian Theology; and Dr. Greg Wills, Professor of Church History. The panelists were asked a series of questions by both the moderator and the audience. Below is my summary of the questions and the panelists’ responses. Unless something is in quotation marks, it should not be taken as a direct quote. I’ve tried to give as accurate a representation of the questions and answers as possible given my limited typing speed, but this is, at best, a ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the discussion. Rather than promoting an examination of what each panelist believes concerning the questions, this post is meant to be a discussion starter on these issues for readers of SBF.

(Question concerning Baptist churches allowing members of paedo-baptist communions w/o baptism.)

M: If baptism is immersion, then we have no right to change the Great Commission [go and make disciples, baptizing, etc.]. Baptists need more positive teaching about what baptism is and means.

(Question concerning how quickly a person should be baptized after a profession of faith.)

Wi: The Lord holds the entire congregation accountable in this area. Members must give credible evidence of faith, but baptism should also be administered without undue delay. Scripture gives no age as minimum for baptism, and we still must await credible evidence, realizing different children will have greater understanding at different ages. One thing we don’t want to do is give false peace. There can be no response if there is no understanding of the Gospel. We should not be afraid of questioning a person’s testimony.

M: We should have no artificial time delay, such as a “baptism class” automatically followed by baptism. Some people may need more counseling than such a class before they are baptized, others may give credible evidence before such a class and be ready for baptism before they understand the ordinance as well as they will.

(Question regarding the biblical salvific language associated with baptism.)

N: Baptism symbolizes salvation and is thus intricately connected with what salvation is, but such symbols can be changed, as seen in the OT sacrificial system. These symbols do not directly effectuate salvation as does God’s mercy and His work of regeneration, as we read about in Titus 3. Baptism is a “powerful, convincing symbol of our union with Christ.” Baptism is spoken of as “saving us” in an analogous way to how the animal sacrifices were spoken of as bringing forgiveness.

M: Baptism is part of the discipline of the church, marking off who belongs in the Church, although in an imperfect manner, especially if discipline is done unbiblically.

(Question: How does baptism relate to the New Covenant and the Old Covenant?)

We: Even though the covenant theme is a crucial bridge between the Old and New Testaments, classical [paedo-baptist] covenant theology tends to “flatten out” the covenants, not recognizing the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The nature of the Old Covenant community as mixed between believers and unbelievers should not be carried into the New Covenant community. “My criticism [of paedo-baptist covenant theologians] is that they’re not covenantal enough.”

N: This is the way that the New Covenant’s specifically dealt with in the New Testament. Circumcision, biblically speaking, is fulfilled in regeneration.

We: Circumcision serves multiple functions in the Old Covenant as well. Circumcision points forward specifically to New Covenant realities in such a way that it cannot simply be imported and into the New Covenant and baptism substituted for it.

(Question: What do you think of women baptizing women in regards to the Great Commission- that we should all be making disciples, baptizing, etc.- especially in mission field situations.)

Wi: Baptism is a corollary to the teaching office, symbolizing the word taught, so elders should perform baptism.

M: We should not individualize, to an unbiblical extent, the ordinance of baptism– baptism brings people into the church, so an officer of the church should perform baptisms.

(Question: Can we baptize someone without them becoming a minister of the local church?)

N: Baptism as an ordinance of Christ is meant to achieve unity for the body, not only as a personal expression of the faith.

(Question: What is the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper?)

Wi: Baptism is a prerequisite of the Lord’s Supper.

M: This is the model we find in Acts and is necessary for church discipline. This doesn’t mean that we need policemen at every pew, but the pastor or whoever administers the Lord’s Supper should make this view explicit.

(Question regarding closed vs. close communion- i.e., should only members of the local congregation be encouraged to partake in the Lord’s Supper, or should it be open to members of all congregations of ‘like faith and practice’.)

N: The Lord’s Table must be prefaced by teaching on what the Lord’s Supper means and how it should be conducted. The only question is whether this should be conducted only with members of a local congregation or with other baptized members of disciplined congregations.

M: This is especially an issue where churches accept letters of recommendation just as paperwork, and do not understand the ordinances.

(Question regarding “alien baptism”- i.e., should Baptists accept baptisms performed by other denominations.)

Wi: Historically Baptists have rejected alien baptism.

N: It depends on the witness of the church. What is the church witnessing to in baptism? If it was taken to be equivalent to circumcision it would be invalid, but if it is a testimony to the work of Christ on our behalf it would be valid.

M: It would also depend on whether a congregation believed baptism to be salvific. (Quoting Dr. Wills): The question of mode in baptism is as irrelevant as the mode of circumcision in the Old Covenant.

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6 Comments on “Liveblogging the Baptism Panel Discussion at SBTS”

  1. Tony Kummer Says:

    Great work. I was sitting by Timmy and trying to do something of the same thing. I would love to include your notes with mine and repost with Timmy’s pictures on Said At Southern? We’ll link you in the header. Just let me know.

  2. hashman Says:

    doesn’t exactly sound like a crossfire debate? Did everyone pretty much aggree on most questions? If so, that’s no fun. :

  3. i responded to Tony by email, telling him he could use what i’ve typed in any way that would help him, but i realized that if i didn’t post a comment here, all my other readers would think i’m ignoring him.

    It wasn’t a debate at all, more of a question and answer as to what the faculty of Southern Seminary would say concerning the issues raised.

  4. Gordan Says:

    That last paragraph was intriguing. Did you get the sense that the responder was saying that the mode of believer’s baptism is a non-issue? That he would accept a baptism that was not done by immersion, but rather by pouring?

  5. I’d be worried if the faculty of a BAPTIST seminary disagreed on most of the issues mentioned in the discussion! It seems to me that if we take our Baptist position seriously, we ought to say more or less what they do.

    Although it interests me that the faculty are all apparently Strict Baptists. Not that I disagree with that at all – I am one!

  6. Tony Kummer Says:

    The conversation was very helpful in some respects. Dr. Nettles always seems to be above his peers in these settings. Thanks for the live blog. You caught some things I missed.

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