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Believer's baptism only biblical approach, SBTS panelists say
May 07, 2007
By Garrett E. Wishall

Tom Nettles makes a point at a James P. Boyce Society panel discussion on the topic of baptism, April 18, at Southern Seminary. Photo by John Gill

Biblical baptism is the baptism of genuine believers by immersion in the presence of a community of believers that holds to this definition, professors argued during a panel discussion, April 18, at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Responding to some evangelicals today who suggest that such an approach to baptism should not be a requirement for church membership, Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology, said Scripture requires believer's baptism.

"When Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, the question is did Jesus mean anything specific?" said Moore, who also serves as senior vice president of academic administration. "If Jesus simply meant 'do something with water,' then we have more freedom in this area. But that is not what Jesus meant. If baptism is the immersion of the believer in water upon a profession of faith in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit then we really don't have freedom to tinker around with that definition. This is what Jesus has commanded us to do and therefore that is what we are to do.

The James P. Boyce Society sponsored the event, which addressed several contemporary issues pertaining to baptism.

Thomas J. Nettles, professor of historical theology, Stephen Wellum, professor of Christian theology and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, and Greg Wills, professor of church history and director of the Center for Study of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined Moore on the panel.

Wills argued that evidence of conversion, which contains two elements, is the only requirement for baptism and must be confirmed before this act of obedience can be carried out.

"Evidence of conversion requires first a conviction of sin the belief that I can bring nothing to the table when it comes to salvation and second a recognition of forgiveness a belief that I have been forgiven through the shed blood of Christ Jesus on the cross," he said.

Wellum authored an essay in the recently released book "Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ," in which he analyzed the relationship between the Old and New covenants in Scripture and responded to key biblical arguments for infant baptism. Summarizing his case, Wellum said padeobaptists connect the sign of circumcision in the Old Testament with baptism in the New Testament, while Scripture does not warrant such an approach.

"As you come to the nature of the New Covenant as anticipated in the Old Testament and picked up in the New, there is the anticipation that the structure of this covenant changes," Wellum said. "The presence of one Mediator brings a change in the nature of that community from a be-lieving and unbelieving community (Old Testament Israel) to a regenerate community (New Testament church). The sign of the New Testament community is for be-lievers who have faith and union with Christ."

Baptism should never be done in a vacuum, but must be practiced in the midst of a congregation of believers who hold to believer's baptism, Nettles said.

"You can have a believer's baptism by immersion in a Presbyterian church, but it is not the witness that Christ calls for," he said. "The witness is the witness of the entire congregation to the unity built upon the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and our unity as regenerate people. A congregation that does not have a clear view of baptism in that way that nevertheless will baptize occasionally by immersion, that is not a person in my opinion that has been baptized in a New Testament way."

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