December 16, 2012 Q & A

May people join the OPC and not baptize their children?


Genesis 17:14 says, "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." Why do Reformed churches (PCA, OPC, etc.) allow people to become members who will not baptize their children? Based on this passage and similar, i.e., where Moses delays in circumcising his son, it seems like this is a very serious issue.


You are not the first person to ask your question or point out the seriousness of the matter! In fact, there was a paper presented to the OPC's General Assembly which dealt with this question: Refusing to Present Children for Baptism. I commend that study to you for the majority of the report presents strongly the case for excluding those who are unwilling to baptize their children. Yet most OP (I can't speak for the PCA) churches will have members for do not believe in infant baptism. Why is this?

While GA reports do not have binding status on the church, for we are bound by the Word of God and our confessional standards, they do reflect the careful thinking of the church. In this case, the men on the study committee were John Murray, long-time professor of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Charles Ellis and Laurence Vail, two very experienced and mature pastors. If you download the report and read it you'll see that the OPC has faced this issue head on.

Here are a few things to consider:

1) The OPC is a confessional church and its church officers must receive and adopt the Westminster Standards as their own (FG XXV.6.a.(2)). No one who rejects the view of covenant baptism explicitly stated in the WCF 28.4 can serve as an ordained officer in the OPC. Therefore, a Reformed Baptist could not serve in ordained office, but can they, in good conscience, take the membership vows? Here are the vows:

(1) Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?

(2) Do you believe in one living and true God, in whom eternally there are three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—who are the same in being and equal in power and glory, and that Jesus Christ is God the Son, come in the flesh?

(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?

(4) Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord, and do you promise that, in reliance on the grace of God, you will serve him with all that is in you, forsake the world, resist the devil, put to death your sinful deeds and desires, and lead a godly life?

(5) Do you promise to participate faithfully in this church's worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life?

In framing these questions, the OPC has deliberately kept the question of membership in the visible church where it needs to be, on one's profession of faith in Christ. The last question (5), however, gives the session of a church the right to raise the refusal to baptize one's children with those who present themselves for membership. In other words, talking about infant baptism is "fair game" both prior to an interview for church membership, or afterwards. This dovetails with the General Assembly's response to the report I've cited: "On motion the General Assembly declared that the admission to membership of those who cannot in good conscience present their children for baptism is a matter for judgment by sessions." The session can pursue this question.

2) The whole life of the church is under the guidance and direction of the session of a church (FG XIII.7). A session is charged with maintaining the doctrinal integrity of the church and that doctrine character is clearly set out in the Westminster Standards. This should mean no one is allowed to teach or propagate any doctrine which is contrary to the standards of the church, and that would certainly include teaching a view of baptism opposed to what we believe is the biblical, i.e., covenantal, view of the baptism of children. But what of someone simply being a member of the church?

3) What the GA report suggests is that an influx of people who reject a covenantal view of children can have the effect of weakening a church's testimony as being Reformed, and this is a particular concern because many Reformed Baptists, who agree with much of what the OPC stands for, are finding a home in the OPC. They believe in Presbyterianism and the doctrines of grace, yet their commitment to a non-covenantal view of baptism is there. The questions then become 1. Are they willing to be taught? 2. Do they agree not to propagate their non-confessional views? 3. Can they live in peace in a congregation that does, in fact, baptize infants? 4. Do they recognize that they cannot be considered for church office as long as they hold their non-confessional views? 5. Are they, in good conscience, able to commit to pray for the child who is baptized and his or her parents as our Directory for Public Worship describes?

(8) The Covenant Commitment of the Congregation

It is appropriate that the minister exhort the congregation, in these or like words: As [name] is baptized into Christ and becomes a member of his visible church, the whole congregation is obligated to love (him/her) and receive (him/her) as a member of the body of Christ. For "we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body," and therefore are members of one another. Christ claims this little child as his own and calls you to receive (him/her) in love and commitment. Therefore, you ought to commit yourself before God to assist [name of child] and (his/her) parents in (his/her) Christian nurture by godly example, prayer, and encouragement in our most precious faith.

The GA report discusses these things in more detail, but the wisdom of the General Assembly was rightly displayed as it left the matter to the session. The OPC (and the PCA) are churches where the maintenance of the confessional standards rests with the ordained officers. Membership in the visible church, as one pastor put, must be open as wide as the gates of heaven. The membership questions mirror that understanding, and that means that those who profess the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to His Word should be welcomed. Then the elders must do their job of knowing, truly knowing, those whom they are receiving as members and seeking to teach them.



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