Engaging culture

Book Review: Going Public

Thoughtful reflection on the connection between membership and baptism

Book cover of Going Public
What is the meaning and function of baptism? Exploring Scripture, Jamieson argues that it's the initiation oath of the new covenant that ushers us into Christ's kingdom; that it should be required for church membership; and that partaking in the Lord's Supper renews that kingdom bond and binds the church into one body.

Review by Todd Hessel

Despite the title, Bobby Jamieson argues more than that baptism is required for membership; he argues that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are oath-signs of the new covenant. This means that the new covenant creates a visible people, and one becomes a visible member of this people through baptism.

Moreover, according to Jamieson, the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18) function as a church-constituting charter that grants the local church the authority to publicly affirm those who credibly profess faith in Christ. The church’s initial and initiating exercise of the keys of the kingdom is baptism (Matthew 28:19).

Simply put: You come to faith in Christ, then (if you’re old enough) you get baptized, then you join via membership to a local church, then you participate in the Lord’s Supper during the single, all-church gathering.

Jamieson provides thoughtful reflection on understanding the connection between membership and baptism, between baptism and belonging to the church, and between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He ties baptism to the Old Testament and gives significant attention to membership.

Moreover, Jamieson raises practical questions about the Lord’s Supper. Can you serve it to shut-ins? Can you do it over multiple services? Can you have it at a small group? Can you take it if you are visiting a church? (For Jamieson: no, no, no and maybe.)

I have areas of concern with his conclusions. For example, Jamieson has a specific understanding of communion happening “at church” only, and only then by the entire church. Yet he seems to create bright lines where Scripture does not, doing some “work” to get the scriptural data to fit. Examples include Acts 8, with the non-church-baptized Ethiopian eunuch; and his comparison of Acts 2:46 to Acts 2:42, where people gather in homes and sometimes celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Much of the thrust of his argument relies on how he sees Scripture speaking of the local church in certain places and the global Church in others.

Some of Jamieson’s comments create new questions that are left unanswered. Other times his application doesn’t make sense. For example, he argues that paedobaptism is not baptism, so no membership or Lord’s Supper. But he is more than willing to help paedobaptists to start their own church and he will let them preach at his church.

This book brings up ecclesiological questions that EFCA churches can be weak in: the nature of baptism, the Lord’s Supper and membership. However, you will want to read this with your copy of Evangelical Convictions beside you.

Todd Hessel is lead pastor of Ankeny (Iowa) Free Church. As a father of three young girls who love Jesus, these issues are very real.

Review by Bruce McKanna

The sparring partners whom Jamieson most often addresses in Going Public are John Bunyan and John Piper—two well-known Baptists who wanted to admit into membership genuine believers who had been baptized as infants. But the author sees this same impulse among all kinds of churches who are marked by evangelical values such as doctrinal essentialism and denominational cooperation, and are influenced by our American culture of tolerance.

He lists six factors to explain why many evangelicals don’t require baptism, but he missed one angle that is represented in the EFCA: our historic identity as a believer’s church, which was in reaction to a state church where baptism was virtually automatic and served as assurance of salvation. We stand against any notion of salvation by sacraments, but this conviction sometimes leads to a faulty conclusion: Baptism, which is ordained by Christ, is often regarded as optional among us.

Obviously, Jamieson thinks baptism is necessary, but infant baptism will not do. For him, anything other than believer’s baptism is simply not a valid baptism, and “without baptism membership doesn’t actually exist.” These are bold assertions indeed, but I was not convinced that he made sufficient arguments from Scripture.

Jamieson spends quite a bit of time on the Lord’s Supper as well. This is necessary as he tries to explain and defend the idea that both ordinances are effective signs of our fellowship in the local church. This is the best part of the book, and I wish the work as a whole would have been focused on this integrated vision of our union with Christ and communion with fellow believers, not the question of requirements for membership.

While I was challenged by the possible pitfalls of membership without believer’s baptism, I’m not sure that a baptism requirement is the real solution. Ultimately, the best way to keep baptism from being treated as optional is to teach your people about baptism as Christ’s commanded profession of faith, and celebrate it as often as you can.

This book hasn’t convinced me of its thesis, but it has motivated me to think about how to highlight the corporate dimension of baptism and the Lord’s Supper when we have those opportunities.

While Going Public is not as good as it could have been, it still may be worth your while. Plow through the repetitious and sometimes cumbersome arguments, and you will no doubt appreciate baptism and the Lord’s Supper in new ways. Will you change your membership by-laws? Maybe not.

Bruce McKanna is senior pastor of the EFC of Mt. Morris, Illinois. He had the privilege of baptizing his oldest son in the past year.
For further discussion of this topic, listen to one of the presentations at the 2016 Theology Conference: "The Church: A Visible Community—Boundary Markers of the Community." Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, has also published an article plus a set of thoughtful discussion questions based on that presentation.

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