Michael F. Bird’s Baptismal Proposal: Satisfactory?

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.

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4 Responses to Michael F. Bird’s Baptismal Proposal: Satisfactory?

  1. Simon says:

    TC, I’m not sure how his proposal would function. He says that we are not baptised into a denomination but into Christ. True. But the Church is his body. To be baptised into the Church is to be baptised into Christ. Just as the Church cannot be divided (following Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians), so Christ can’t be separated from the Church, which is his mystical body.

    In fact, most Christian churches recognise baptisms of other Communions. So I think Michael’s point is already being practised . I think it’s just the Baptists and some other fringe denominations that insist on being baptised again (hence the term “Ana Baptists”). In fact some of these denominations allow re-baptisms, which seems very strange and possibly heretical – recalling the creed says there is only one baptism for the remission of sins.

    The practical problem of having communion with one another remains. Genuine recognition is already there. But genuine communion and unity is not. NT Wright said that disunity is the biggest issue facing the modern Church in reply to Bethke’s question on youtube. He said that if the apostles were around today, they would not recognise the disunity in the Church. I think he’s right. This is the heart of the problem: communion, not only baptismal recognition.

    • TC says:

      Well, you had a Baptist like John Bunyan who didn’t make a fuss with paedobaptism and accepting such to the Lord’s Table. John Piper had moved into a similar position as well.

      Our ecclesiology is at the core of the problem. I believe this is what NT Wright is getting at. He is correct. But I don’t think we know how to fix it, especially we Baptists. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Teología Evangélica –Leyendo la Biblia por medio de la revelación del Evangelio | Luis Alberto Jovel

  3. Pingback: My Dual Baptism Proposal

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