Indifferentism and Rigorism in the Church: With Implications for Baptizing Small Children -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: Indifferentism and Rigorism in the Church: With Implications for Baptizing Small Children
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Indifferentism and Rigorism in the Church: With Implications for Baptizing Small Children

Vern Sheridan Poythress

One’s understanding of the church affects one’s understanding of baptism. Therefore I propose to open further discussion between paedobaptists and baptists by an indirect route, through looking at the church and its membership.

In comparison with New Testament standards, our practice concerning church membership can be either too loose (indifferentist) or too restrictive (rigorist). Errors of both kinds arise from poor understanding of the roots of communal Christian life. Hence we start by examining those roots.

I. The Heart of the Church

Genuine Christian community arises from the power of God. Through the Holy Spirit we are united to Christ and participate in “every spiritual blessing” in the heavenly realms in Christ (Eph 1:3). Our union with Christ also unites us to Christian brothers and sisters, and makes us part of one family under God (1 Cor 12). Hence, at the heart of the church stands our union with Christ.1

Jesus Christ is Lord over the church (Eph 5:24). The church is not a private club, with rules determined in whatever way the members wish, but a community ruled by Christ. Hence, membership in a visible Christian community ought to be determined not by an arbitrary set of rules and regulations, nor by the autonomous decision of Christian leaders, but by the authority of Christ. We are obliged to receive all whom Christ instructs us to receive. And conversely, we are obliged to exclude those whom Christ instructs us to exclude. We receive repentant sinners, even though they are imperfect, while we exclude upstanding, moral, self-sufficient “righteous” people who refuse to acknowledge Christ’s saving work.

Because union with Christ is at the heart of our salvation, some people have inferred that the church consists only of those who are regenerate, that

is, only those savingly united to Christ. But only God knows perfectly who these people are. “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim 2:19)—but we do not. In fact, the visible church includes wolves and hypocrites as well as the genuine sheep (that is, those who are regenerate). 1 John 2:19 indicates that some people “went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed th...

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