Monday, February 22, 2010

A Cord of Three Strands

Last week was spent dealing with the very touchy issue of believer's baptism vs. infant baptism. Baptists practice "credo-baptism" because we believe that a church, ideally, should be composed of those who have experienced God's grace and have been born again by the Holy Spirit. We do not believe that any rite or act of man can cause this to happen but that it is a work of grace in the heart resulting in repentance and faith (Baptist Faith & Message, IV, A). But a number of problems have arisen in Baptist church life in the last 100 years. Believer's baptism serves as an entry point into a regenerate church, an initial check against unconverted members, but alone it cannot ensure a believer's church.

Baptists, historically, have held that two other lines of defense are both biblical and necessary to maintain regenerate church membership. One of these is church control of the Lord's Table. Communion is a church ordinance to be observed in accordance with the biblical pattern under the authority of the church. It is not just for anyone who wants to have it. According to the Apostle Paul the Lord's Supper not only represents our union with Christ but our union with one another in a church relationship through shared doctrine and practice, a practice that includes holy living (1 Corinthians 10). That is the second cord.

Church discipline is the third cord that is necessary to make the rope of the believer's church a living possibility. Christ himself enjoined the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18) and Paul tied it to the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 5). Without church discipline it is near to impossible to practice the identification of false believers who slip past the baptismal waters unawares and work with them redemptively to bring them to Christ, or failing that, punitively to purify the congregation. This week's blog will deal with the even more touchy issue of church discipline, its decline, and its needed restoration in our churches.