13 Mar

(This is cross posted on KiwiFruit Blog & the April edition of the Baptist Mag.)

Doctrine (teaching) in unavoidable. There are some who want to say, “but I just want to focus on Jesus, not all that doctrine.” However, once you start describing which Jesus you’re talking about, that’s doctrine. Doctrine is unavoidable.

However, most people would agree that not all doctrines are primary. By primary, I mean necessary for salvation. For example, the deity of Christ is a primary doctrine, for if He were not fully God, His death would not have been sufficient for sin. Some doctrines are what we might call secondary. For example baptism, one does not have to be baptised or even believe the same as I do about baptism to know their sins are forgiven and they’ve been born-again into a living relationship with God through Christ. So what do we do with secondary doctrines?

Some seem to suggest that we ignore them. In other words, we so focus on primary doctrines (i.e. The Gospel) that we push subjects like baptism so far to the peripheral that in practice it is seen as non-existent.

However, the Bible won’t really let us do this. Even the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) instructs us to baptise disciples. Throughout the book of Acts (2:38; 2:41; 8:12; 8:13; 8:16; 8:36; 8:38; 9:18; 10:47; 10:48; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16) we see baptism as a recurring practice within the life of the early church. Clearly baptism cannot be ignored or seen as unimportant though one might agree it is a secondary doctrine.

What I mean by secondary is that Christians throughout the centuries have come to different conclusions on the practice of baptism. Specifically who (i.e. infants or believers) should be baptised and how (i.e. sprinkling, immersion, pouring, etc.). However, one must notice that the reason Christians have come to different conclusions on this is because they have believed it important enough to study the Scriptures desiring to know what God says and conform their practice faithfully to His Word.

In other words, we can disagree on this and still enjoy fellowship with one another because we take the Bible seriously and desire to faithfully practice what we believe the Bible teaches on baptism. So a Baptist, an Anglican, a Presbyterian, etc. can enjoy sweet Christian fellowship where we hold tightly those doctrines which are primary while disagreeing on those things which are secondary.

But what about a particular local church? Should we endeavour within a local congregation to relegate subjects like baptism to the “unimportant” category therefore having no position on this doctrine within our church family?

I don’t think so… In fact, in the end such a practice doesn’t help anyone. The Bible says something about baptism to be sure. As a church and as a church leadership we need to wrestle with the Scriptures and conclude with, “We believe the Bible says ‘X’ on baptism.” If we take the Bible seriously and desire our people to take the Bible seriously, then we must seriously wrestle with the whole counsel of God. What the Bible says about baptism does matter; otherwise God wouldn’t have said anything about it.

When I say, “I believe the Scriptures teach baptism is for believers and by immersion.” I am not saying those who disagree with me on this are not Christians. No, in fact I enjoy wonderful fellowship with many brothers and sisters-in-Christ who take a different view, but are committed to the primary doctrines of the Gospel. Yet our fellowship is deep not because we ignore these issues, but because we both take the Bible seriously enough to have studied hard on this subject.



  1. Duncan Lennox

    13/03/2013 at 2:43 pm

    A good article and very timely. What do you think a church’s position should be on a subject like baptism or a particular eschatology in regard to church membership? To quote Walter Henrichsen, a Presbyterian talking to a Baptist, “So I can be a member of Jesus’ church but not yours?”

  2. Joe Fleener

    13/03/2013 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Duncan,

    Yes, I am familiar with that line of thinking. My answer to that question would be, “yes” when it comes to Baptism.

    Secondary doctrines (i.e. Baptism & The Lord’s Table) directly affect how a particular church is structured and functions. Therefore, I believe I can disagree with a brother on these and we are still brothers, yet it would be unwise to not make agreement on these necessary for church membership.

    I am not saying there is only one way to understand the Scriptures teaching on Baptism, I am just saying as a church we have to stand somewhere.

    So, I let a paedo-Baptist join church membership… What will I do when he gets married and has children? I can baptise his children which communicates a position on the doctrine, or I can say I won’t baptise his children which communicates confusion and a double-standard of practice.

    I would hold that eschatology is a third level doctrine. In other words, it is important (all doctrine is), but it doesn’t directly affect church practice. When I am teaching and/or preaching on a relevant passage I will take a position. I am happy to have members in the church who differ from me and even to acknowledge that good, godly people in history have. Yet, since this area of doctrine does not directly interest with a polity issue, I would not have it as a requirement for church membership.


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