Monday, August 25, 2014

Before the C&MA in Canada: A Motion on Church Membership and Baptism

The 2014 General Assembly of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada carried a motion which
"Resolved that the question of membership requirements as they pertain to baptism be referred to the Board of Directors for study and process, to be brought to General Assembly 2016 with a recommendation for appropriate action."
Since it will be very easy for this to be taken in any number of tangential directions or misinterpreted as an ill-researched recommendation, I have sent the following document to the Board of Directors and President, and want to make it available for public reference here. It is the result of months of collaborative effort as well as back and forth with multiple levels of denominational governance.

What you see is the motion that was read from the floor of Assembly and then referred to the Committee on General Legislation. That committee discussed it and, for the stated (and popular) reason that it did not want to 'disrupt the unity', came back with the rather ambiguous recommendation seen above. However, this motion and the F.A.Q. below should offer more clarity as to what we are after.

Motion on Baptism and Membership


Situation:

Someone wishes to transfer membership into an Alliance church from a tradition that practices infant baptism. Though willing to support the practice of believer’s baptism going forward, the person does not wish to imply that an infant baptism is invalid and must be redone. Do we?

Proposal:

Local church membership should not require a believer’s baptism of those who come into C&MA churches from infant-baptizing traditions, provided their baptism has followed in a public profession of faith. It should be noted that this proposal does not entail the diminishment of believer’s baptism as our normative teaching or practice.

Relevant lines in the Local Church Constitution:
  • Article V sentence 3 (Ordinances): “While other modes of believer’s baptism are recognized, baptism by immersion is taught and practiced as the scriptural mode.” 
  • Article VI.1 (Membership): “The qualifications for membership include a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; believer’s baptism; ...” 
Recommendation and Rationale:

WHEREAS it would be preferable to recognize infant baptisms when accepting new memberships along with a “credible testimony of faith”, while still maintaining believer’s baptism as our scriptural teaching and normative practice:

IT IS SO MOVED
  • that the word “believer’s” be removed from the membership requirements in Article VI.1; 
  • the word “believer’s” be relocated after the comma in sentence 3 of Article V.
SO THAT
  • Article VI.1 would then read: “The qualifications for membership include a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; baptism...” and 
  • Article V would read: “While other modes of baptism are recognized, believer’s baptism by immersion is taught and practiced as the scriptural mode.

Frequently asked Questions: 


What if someone coming into membership wants to experience a believer’s baptism? 

Our proposal does not remove the opportunity for a local church to offer this. It simply removes the requirement that they do so.

What if an incoming member was infant baptized but never confirmed in that tradition?

Our proposal does not make a requirement of local churches in this situation, but leaves it up to them to discern the best course of action. What our proposal does do is make it possible, in the providence of God, to accept a public profession or “credible testimony of faith” as confirmation that an infant baptism has become the baptism of a believer. 

What are the advantages of this proposal for persons in local churches? 

This proposal allows a person to join the C&MA membership (and to accept its stance on baptism) without necessitating a denouncement of the tradition from which they came.

What are the advantages of this proposal to local churches and the denomination?

It makes us ecumenical not only in word (Statement of Faith) but also in deed. It takes away the opportunity for other churches with whom we would like to partner to see us as “rebaptizers”. It is interesting to note that, as it stands, the C&MA would not welcome Augustine, Luther, Calvin, JI Packer, John Stott, RC Sproul and NT Wright into membership (to name a few).

Won’t these new members soon want to practice infant baptism? 

Perhaps, but they would still be knowingly joining a church that does not practice infant baptism. This proposal does not remove the obstacles to that in our church polity. Thus they would have to take that desire up with Assembly, at which point it would be a theological matter requiring careful conversation and deliberation. If this proposal makes the eventuality of that conversation more possible, it is not a conversation to be feared.

Why does this recommendation have to be brought to next Assembly?

Thinking it might not be necessary to add to an already loaded business schedule at Assembly, we spent the last year seeking permission from the President and Board of Directors simply to interpret existing legislation in a manner that allowed us to accept confirmed infant baptisms as “believer’s baptisms”. They did not feel free to do this, advising that this matter would have to be taken up with this Assembly. Unfortunately, by the time we were informed of this we had run out of time to recommend it to the current agenda with proper prior written notice.

What if I don’t think infant baptisms should be recognized? Is there a reason to say yes? 

Yes, if you feel this an area of allowable local church freedom or diversity, within our core Christian unity. The framers of this proposal also think believer’s baptism to be more faithful to Scripture, they simply want to recognize other traditions as we work together and work it out.

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