From his recent Evangelical Theology, NT scholar Michael F. Bird proposes the following to help Evangelical believers navigate the troublesome waters of baptism:
“Debates about baptism are not going to go away. The outstanding issue is how we in the evangelical churches, who hold different views on this matter, intend to get along with each other. One strategy could be to simply acknowledge that baptism is a second order issue, to engage in polite banter on the subject here and there, but get on with the business of being Baptists, Anglicans , or Presbyterians, each in our own setting. We might politely demur from recognizing each other’s baptismal theology, but we should still treat one another in a gracious fashion at conferences, at seminaries, or in parachurch organizations.
Still, I have a bold proposal for you. If we base our doctrine of baptism not on the doctrine of the church (credobaptism) or on the doctrine of the covenant (paedobaptism), but on the doctrine of the gospel, then perhaps we can reach a point of “equivalent alternatives” regarding baptism. 53 On such a view, we are compelled to recognize any baptism that is tied to the message of the gospel and to a gospel-proclaiming community. Take heed as to how Paul prioritizes his gospel ministry over his baptizing activities, all in the context of addressing church divisions drawn partly over baptism! He writes: “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name …. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel— not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1: 14– 17).
If a similar priority invades our divisions over baptism, what might the outcome be? Well, perhaps we will be compelled to provide a generous recognition of the genuine “Christianness” of any baptism administered in the name of the Triune God, in obedience to Christ, and which showcases the gospel, even if we disagree as to its mode and occasion. We are not baptized into a denomination; we are baptized into Christ. Thus, we receive all other believers as fellow baptized Christians, believing that baptism is a bond that unites us together as we are all baptized into the Lord Jesus and we are all baptized by one Spirit into one church.
It’s a valiant proposal. But some Baptists will not find Bird’s proposal satisfactory, concluding that he has fallen short. Why? Because a staple of the Baptist identity is the belief that local church membership is restricted to those who have professed faith in Christ and have publicly identified themselves with Him in believer’s baptism.
Bird, Michael F. (2013-10-29). Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Kindle Locations 17590-17591). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.