Mailbag #51: Requiring Attendance at a Second Gathering; A Member Who Refuses Baptism

Mailbag
02.10.2017

Is it okay for churches to require members to attend a second gathering? »
I discovered a long-standing member has never been baptized. What do I do? »

Dear 9Marks,

I have been blessed by your recent books on church membership. Have you addressed the idea of requiring members to attend a second evening service? I came across a quote of yours where you spoke against “extra requirements.” I personally believe in the value of an evening service, but making attendance mandatory for membership is a different ballgame. What do you think?

Just so I have some background: what is your position (or the position of Capitol Hill Baptist) on Sunday’s: Is the Fourth Commandment still binding?

—Amos

Dear Amos,

Good question. Let me start with the second question. I don’t think the Fourth Commandment—or any of the Ten Commandments—are binding in their Mosaic form. That was a covenant given to ethnic Israel. They bind us no more than the laws of China bind us as American citizens.

Now, the entire law remains relevant to us, but only through Christ, who fulfilled all the law and is our covenant maker. That means you and I go to Jesus and his Apostles and say, “Okay, tell us what to do with the law? What do we need to do?” And sure enough, we’d hear them repeat nine of the Ten Commandments in the pages of the New Testament. So, the Ten Commandments bind us, not in their Mosaic form, but through Christ.

But one commandment isn’t repeated in the New Testament. Can you guess which? The fourth. Yet it, too, remains relevant. How? Again, through Christ, who is the Lord of the Sabbath. Or rather, he is our Sabbath. So, we keep the Fourth Commandment by resting in Christ.

(All that was a very Baptist way of answering the question. Some of my Presbyterian and Anglican friends are annoyed when I talk like this.)

But I do think churches can require their members to attend weekly. By virtue of the Fourth Commandment? No, but because the author of Hebrews commands Christians not to forsake gathering together (10:25), which I understand to refer to weekly observance.

To your first question, however, no, I don’t think a church should or can require members to attend a second service. And I would oppose an elder board that tried to make it a requirement, because the New Testament doesn’t.

I’m more than happy, though, to encourage members to attend a second service, even strongly. One of my secret objectives for the Mailbag is to help pastors develop a strong sense of the distinction between law matters and wisdom matters. I bring it up almost every time. A second service falls into the wisdom bucket, and so I will use the language of benefit and health rather than necessity or requirement.

Dear 9Marks,

After serving for nearly three years in a church revitalization situation, I discovered that one of the members has never been baptized. He was admitted into membership 25 to 30 years ago by the governing board at the time, and has remained a member since then. Our current constitution is clear that all who desire membership must be baptized. Additionally, because of the member’s long standing in the church, he is involved in many areas of ministry.

We have confronted him and his response. First, he doesn’t believe the Bible requires baptism. Second, since he is already a member, we can’t remove his membership or dictate that he be baptized. Any thoughts on how to proceed in addressing the issues of baptism, then membership, and then his areas of ministry involvement/service/leadership?

—Kyle

Dear Kyle,

Ugh. Uhhh, I think you remove him from membership.

Wait, hold on. I think you keep pushing him on this issue of baptism from the Bible. Look at the command in Matthew 28:19. Then review the passages in Acts and consider the first thing everyone does upon belief:

  • “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you.”
  • “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
  • “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

And we could keep going.

Point out that, in Romans 6:3, Paul clearly assumes everyone in Rome had been baptized: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Ask him to point to one Christian in the New Testament who was not baptized.

Beyond these biblical texts, give him a copy of Bobby Jamieson’s Understanding Baptism, and ask him if you can read it together. It’s short and sweet.

The fact that all Christians must be baptized is not biblically unclear. It is not opaque. It is very simple. Baptists and paedobaptists all agree. It’s a basic act of obedience. It’s the first thing you do as a Christian. It’s the very thing we do to publicly declare ourselves Christians. It’s also really easy: get wet.

Beyond all this, consider whether his presenting issues are the real issues. Perhaps the real issue is that he’s embarrassed at this stage of life to admit he was never baptized. The fact that it sounds like he’s using power language (“I’m already a member and you can’t dictate what I do”) instead of merely appealing to Scripture tempts me to think more is going on. Inquire in this direction.

But at the end of the day, if he resists all your entreaties, and if you give several months to pursuing him, yes, I would consider pushing toward church discipline. Obviously, you can’t if your leaders aren’t on board and if the church wouldn’t agree.

I admit I feel the tension. I have a deceased family member who was a very godly man but who belonged to the Salvation Army, which does not practice baptism. It is possible to be a Christian who is never baptized. But Jesus commands us to be baptized, and at the end of the day you and I don’t have the authority to say, “It’s okay if you don’t obey Jesus on this basic Christian command.” So, as hard as it would be in the short term to remove him from his various ministries and membership in the church, even to the point of tears, I think your example of careful submission to God’s Word will act like good leaven in the church’s life in the long term. In fact—who knows!—God might even use his own prescribed process of discipline to work in wonderful ways for this man’s humility and growth.