Should We Break Fellowship Over The Mode Of Baptism?

Dr Pierre Coovert

This is the second article in a series of five concerning shocking things I have heard recently from Baptist pulpits. This second article deals with the mode of baptism and should we break fellowship with those who accept a mode other than immersion? To answer this question there are some other questions that must be answered first.

The first question is “What is the church?” Error on this subject is the root of all departure from historic Baptist principles. It is also the cause of most of the compromise so common among Baptists today. No one can study the New Testament and not see the emphasis on the local church. Some, because of prejudice, find a “universal church” in a few passages and make this the so-called “true” church.

I don’t have the space in this article to deal fully with this issue so I am just going to look at what Jesus said about the nature of the church. If you want to study more on the subject I recommend you read my book “Universal Church: Fact or Fiction.”

Jesus first mentions the church in Matthew 16:18 where He says “I will build my church.” Those who believe in the “universal church” teach that this is what He is talking about here. If it is, where did He mention the “universal church” again? The next time He mentions the church is in Matthew 18:15-18 where He deals with problems among Christians. The context shows that He is talking about a local church because the “universal church” cannot do what is described in this passage.

All of the rest of Jesus’ usage of the word church are in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:20 He speaks of the seven churches represented by the candlesticks. It should be obvious to all that if He is talking about seven churches, He is not talking about a “universal church”. The next two chapters contain letters written to that pastors (angels) of these seven local churches.

The church of the New Testament is local not universal. As I said before, if you want more information on this subject read my book “Universal Church: Fact or Fiction.”

The next question that must be answered is “What is the purpose of the ordinances?” There are two ordinances that are given to the local church. (I do not us the term “local church” because there is another kind, but to emphasize that this is the only kind of church there is.)

The ordinances are symbols that the Lord gave us to remind us of certain things. Baptism is given to remind us that salvation is based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It also tells the world that the one baptized now belongs to Christ. It reminds us that as the children of God we are to “walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

The Lord’s Supper is the second ordinance . Is purpose is to remind us that our salvation is based on His broken body and shed blood.

The ordinances do not confer any grace, nor do they have any saving value. They are symbols of the truths of the Gospel. Their purpose is for purity of the church. Acts 2:41 and 47 show baptism as the door to the church (local). New Christians are baptized publicly to remind the church that the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. It ensures that the Gospel is kept pure.

The Lord’s Supper has a similar purpose. It shows the broken body and shed blood of Christ until His return. It reminds the church that this, and this alone is the basis of our salvation. I would remind you that in the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is always taken when the church is come together (1 Corinthians 11:20).

The next question that must be answer if we are to understand the main question is “What kind of fellowship are we talking about?” It should be obvious that there must be some fellowship with the lost if we are to reach them for Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 teaches that we are not to keep company with fornicators. But it says something very interesting, it says “Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” Our separation from other Christians who are in sin is complete, but our separation from the lost who are in sin is “not altogether.” It is limited, but it is not complete so we can show them their sinfulness and win them to Christ.

The next level of fellowship is with all of our Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of their church affiliation. This is a family relationship because all of the saved are the children of God. However, as we have already seen, there are times when we are to break fellowship with those who live in sin. We are also to separate from them when they teach false doctrine. (Romans 16:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

The final level of fellowship is church fellowship. This is the most restrictive type of fellowship. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that pastors must give account for the church over which the Holy Spirit has made them rulers. They watch for the souls of those under their spiritual leadership. This means that they must protect them from error. If a church fellowships with another church that teaches something contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures, having church fellowship with that church approves of the false teaching.

Acts 20:28-30 tells us that the elders are to protect the flock where the Holy Ghost has made them overseers because wolves will come to destroy the flock. Some of the wolves will rise up from within the very flock itself. A good pastor will protect his flock by teaching sound doctrine and avoiding anything that will give the appearance of condoning false doctrine. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

With this background we can answer the question “Should we break fellowship over the mode of baptism?”

To start with, we must understand what baptism is. Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer as a picture of the basis of salvation and a testimony to his belief in and identification with what is pictured. It not only identifies the person with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, it also identifies the person with the authority which does the baptizing.

Since sprinkling and pouring do not picture a burial and resurrection they are not valid forms of baptism. The Scriptures give us the mode and meaning of baptism and no one has the right to change what is clearly laid out in Scripture.

There is another reason other modes of baptism are wrong. This reason is more important than the fact that the picture is wrong. Ask yourself, where did sprinkling and pouring for baptism come from? It rose out of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Once you believe that baptism is required for salvation, you must figure out how to get the most people baptized possible. Since it is not always possible to get a person to a body of water sufficient to baptize them properly, a substitute must be found if they are going to get saved.

I refer you back to Romans 16:17 which I mentioned earlier. In the history of Christianity there is no doctrine that has cause greater division than the doctrine of baptism. We are to separate from those who cause division over things that are contrary to sound doctrine. We cannot do otherwise if we are to follow the teaching of Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 tells us that we are to withdraw ourselves from every brother that does not walk according to those things they had been taught by Paul and his helpers. Since baptismal regeneration and a picture that does not picture the right thing are contrary to their teachings, this passage says we are to withdraw from those who teach these things or who approve of them.

I think we have the answer to our question. We should definitely break church fellowship with those who teach or accept a mode of baptism other than immersion. By this I mean we should not allow them in our pulpits. We should not lift them up as examples. We should not cooperate in joint church functions.

It is probably best to limit our Christian family fellowship with those who teach such things. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 tells us we are not to keep company with a brother who is in error, but we are not to treat them as an enemy either. We are to admonish (to warn and reprove) them as brothers.

I have two sisters and a brother and I love them all dearly. One of my sisters and my brother professed Christ and were baptized in a Baptist church. My other sister makes no pretense of believing the Bible. My saved sister is faithful in church while my brother has little interest in the things of God. He says he is too busy putting beans on the table.

I bring this up to make a point about family fellowship. My best fellowship is with my sister who is faithful in church and in her Christian walk. When we get together we have sweet fellowship around the things of God. Although I love my other sister and my brother just a much as I love my saved sister, the fellowship with them is limited. I don’t go where they go, nor do I do what they do.

The same is true in the family of God. We love all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we do not have the same level of fellowship with those who are in error as we do with those who hold sound doctrine.

Historically the question of fellowship with those who use another mode of baptism was not an issue because they would persecute and even kill us for our stand on the Scriptures. There is an issue today only because too many Baptist have become Protestants.

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved