Has It Been Worth The Cost?— Some Theological Reflections -- By: H. Leon McBeth
FM 5:1 (Fall 1987) p. 27
Has It Been Worth The Cost?—
Some Theological Reflections
Professor of Church History
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Roxboro Church challenges us to rethink Baptist beliefs and practices. Though the past two years have been difficult, no doubt the church has grown spiritually as the members have struggled to define and defend their faith.
The pastor has acted throughout with integrity, insight, and compassion. We commend him for seeking to educate the people to the issues involved, and for his open style of leadership. We commend the church members for their patience and their willingness to accept the discipline of study. They respect the pastor’s leadership, but their followship is not blind. At the conclusion not all members came out at the same place, but apparently basic Christian fellowship remained intact.
The situation faced by the Roxboro Church is real. Many Baptist churches have faced the question of how to relate to Christians who want to be Baptists, but who, for any of a number of reasons, shrink from immersion. To many people inside and outside our churches, the traditional Baptist insistence upon immersion seems too exclusivist. Regard for fellow believers of other traditions and, in more recent days, the ecumenical movement, motivate us to seek common ground.
This issue goes far back in Baptist life. The earliest identifiable Particular Baptist church adopted believers baptism in 1638. After further Bible study, this group adopted immersion in 1640. Their ancient church minutes state that not all the members received immersion, but only those “that ware [sic] so minded.”1 Thus an early Baptist church included both immersed and non-immersed members. Dialogue continued in the seventeenth century between William Kiffin, who held out for immersion, and John Bunyan, who preferred immersion but would accept other forms of baptism. In more recent times, a few churches among British Baptists and the American Baptist Churches have accepted alternate forms of baptism. Accepting non-immersion has been rare among Southern Baptists, however, though a number of churches, particularly in North Carolina, have done so.2
Whether one agrees with the Roxboro decision, a Baptist must agree that the decision was theirs to make. Local church autonomy is an important Baptist doctrine. No association, convention, or other hierarchical structure can determine local church issues for Baptists.
Having said this, I must register my disagreement with the decision of the Roxboro Church to accept baptisms other than by immersion. Fou...
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