Church's baptism policy stirs controversy
March 15 2001 by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor

Church's baptism policy stirs controversy | Friday, March 16, 2001

Friday, March 16, 2001

Church's baptism policy stirs controversy

By Jimmy Allen BR Assistant Editor An Elkin church's view of baptism is generating attention from its association. Members of First Baptist Church voted last April to change membership requirements to allow Christians who have been baptized in another denomination's tradition to join their church. In essence, a person who has made a believer's profession of faith is eligible.

"We're not going to make the ritual of baptism a preliminary of being a member of the church," Pastor William Johnson said.

The change in the church's constitution resulted in the formation of a steering committee in the Elkin Association, of which First Baptist is an active member. The steering committee has met the past year to study whether churches with an open baptism policy should be excluded from the association.

During a report to the association executive committee March 13, the steering committee reported it had reached an impasse. The executive committee then made no recommendation to be presented to the associational meeting in April.

The director of missions, Johnny Enloe, also said no action was taken.

"We just discussed it," Enloe said. "I think that's all we need to say."

When asked if he expects any action to be taken in the future, he said, "Time will tell."

The issue on whether churches should admit believers from other denominations who haven't been immersed isn't new to North Carolina. During the 1970s, the Baptist State Convention studied the issue. As part of that study, essays were written and inquiries made to churches that practice open baptism. Johnson, who was not a pastor in North Carolina at the time, said the state dropped the issue, stating it was a local church decision.

Throughout the South, Johnson expects the debate on baptism to be discussed at the associational level instead of the state conventions.

A constitutional change at First Baptist had been considered for several years before action was taken, Johnson said. In fact, when he was a candidate for pastor more than five years ago, the church told him they were considering the possibility of adopting a more open policy for membership.

The church noted several reasons for making the change, including outreach, but the main reason is simple, Johnson said. "We did it because we think it's right."

The constitution states the following:

"Membership is reserved for Christians, either by profession of faith in Christ and baptism by immersion, or by transfer of membership from another Christian denomination, without regard to social, racial, cultural or other factors. Those persons who give evidence of regeneration, who have been baptized either by immersion or in the tradition of another denomination, and who subscribe to the church constitution, the church covenant, and the statement of faith shall be eligible for membership."

The constitution also states that believer's baptism by immersion is a traditional Baptist practice of testifying of the believer's profession of faith in Christ.

"However, persons who are members of a church of a different faith and order may be received by vote of the church provided they have accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. They will be encouraged to participate in baptism by immersion if it will be meaningful to them as a symbolic experience. We recognize there may be Christians who feel that God has led them to our church, that their baptism was a valid experience, and that to submit to any further ceremony in this regard would be to refute their former religious experience. Therefore, on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the validity of their baptismal experience to them, they may be accepted into membership."

First Baptist is active in the Elkin Association, the pastor said. In addition to being one of the top financial supporters, the association's Woman's Missionary Union director and the Hispanic missions director are members of the church. First Baptist participates in associational missions and members serve on various committees, he said.

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3/15/2001 11:00:00 PM by Jimmy Allen , BR Assistant Editor | with 0 comments
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