On Monday morning of the 2015 Annual Meeting, Stephen Stookey, a fellow of B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, and Dr. Alan Lefever, director of the Texas Baptists Historical Collection, led a workshop on "Believer's Baptism and Church Membership."
Baptism has been the center of the faith since before the Christian church was formed. Presenters asserted if baptism started with John baptizing Jesus, how is that to be imitated in the Church today?
Lefever addressed two areas of conflict concerning baptism: the age of accountability and how churches handle like faith and order.
Historically, infants were baptized through the sprinkling over their head, with the idea that the earlier they were sprinkled with water, the safer they were. However, Lefever presented the role of the Church is to raise children up in the church community so when the time comes for them to give an account or testimony of their faith, they are fully aware of what they are saying.
"Baptism," said Lefever, "is an outward symbol of an inward work." It is merely an act obedience to follow Christ in His footsteps, but not the means which one attains salvation.
Stookey said there is a trend of negativity in Baptist churches concerning baptism followed by membership. This is not a new trend, but is an issue that has caused tension for a long time.
Membership boils down to three questions: Who is a member? Why are they a member? And how do you become a member?
Membership expands to all believers of all the ages. In other words, it would include the universal church, "it is not a lone-wolf situation," said Stookey, "but an intentional belonging to a community." The question of why they are a member goes back to the biblical identity we have in Christ. All believers have a responsibility to the church as the body of Christ.
Then Stookey addressed the question of how to become a member. Baptists have had a tendency towards closed membership or semi-closed.
"Church membership has always been defined as a voluntary process by the believer and then was affirmed by the church," Stookey said. Today, the culture of the church is starting to move more towards open membership because of the fear that millennials will not commit to a church or a community.
He stated millennials are "looking for meaning, authenticity, community and opportunity." It is just a matter of deeply speaking into their search for these attributes. The problem is no different now than it was thousands of years ago.Both speakers emphasized how important it is to have a community of believers of like faith and order to stimulate growth in each other, as well as growth for the generations to come. The church is a place for deep and intentional relationships so our identity is not tied to our generation, but to the body of Christ. Traditionally, this is what the church was intended to be and how it should continue.