The church is led by pastors and deacons. These men have proposed changes to both core documents that go before the church February 10, 2013.
Cherrydale was founded in 1913, so this year, Lord willing, Cherrydale will be 100 years old. I have been attending since 2004 and a member since 2007, soon after I joined the staff. I resigned from the staff of the church at the end of 2010. I don't know the full history of its core documents, and I do not know of any changes to the doctrinal statement since I have been there, and I was not aware of the Constitutional change in 2005 and am not aware of what that change entailed.
Both of those core documents currently require believer baptism specifically by immersion for church membership. (Believer baptism is distinct from infant baptism where the person has not yet trusted Christ as their personal savior.) Other forms of believer baptism (sprinkling, pouring, etc.) are not recognized at Cherrydale for purposes of membership. In addition to any non-immersion form of baptism as a believer prior to attending Cherrydale, a believer must be baptized by immersion in order to join Cherrydale. Some consider this rebaptism.
Some have pointed to Acts 19 and the disciples of John who were baptized into "John's baptism" (Acts 19:3) as precedent for rebaptism "in the name of the Lord Jesus " (Acts 19:5). Were the disciples of John believers in Jesus? (They likely had gone out from John before Jesus came to John to be baptized.) Are there any other examples in Scripture of rebaptism?
Anyone who has had a non-immersion believer baptism generally considers Cherrydale's immersion baptism policy to be a requirement for rebaptism for church membership. (Re-baptism creates other theological problems for some who believe baptism is a sacrament, meaning it's not just a symbol, but that something spiritual actually happens at the baptism itself with consecrated water. My understanding is that for Catholics the sacraments are requirements for salvation.) Immersion baptisms after non-immersion baptisms are herein referred to as rebaptisms, not intending to stake a position on this, but simply for rhetorical convenience.
Many people have come through Cherrydale over the years, and their theologies and beliefs on and prior experiences with baptism have covered the full range of possibilities. Many, like myself, had prior experience in a Baptist church and were already baptized by immersion. In a new member interview with a deacon, if the immersion question is answered satisfactorily, it can easily go unnoticed to a new member candidate at Cherrydale that if they had not been baptized by immersion, there would have been steps encouraged toward rebaptism.
For other believers with a prior non-immersion baptism experience, the rebaptism requirement frequently creates roadblocks for those believers joining Cherrydale. Some apply their doctrine against rebaptism and ultimately end up leaving and going to another church. Some stay, decline membership and cannot get as involved as they could with membership.
The rest join the church submitting to rebaptism. This makes for a lot of baptisms at Cherrydale that are not actually new believers getting baptized, but people complying with a church membership policy. (Or, for immersion-only advocates, becoming technically correct or complete about their baptism according to Baptist doctrine.) Either way, the impression from these baptisms is that the Body of Christ is growing and adding to its number, when it's really just Cherrydale adding to its numbers.
All people at Cherrydale getting baptized are asked to publicly give their testimony of how they came to Christ just before being baptized. Some simply and quietly submit to rebaptism, making no public mention of any prior believer baptism. No one who didn't know already know it was a rebaptism would realize that is happening. Sometimes you can read between the lines and hear mention of a non-immersion form of baptism in their past, though it's not pointed out that the baptism at Cherrydale is a rebaptism.
And then there are the times where it's explicitly stated by the member candidate at their baptism that this is a rebaptism. When I first started working at Cherrydale, even before we began the construction project, in the old sanctuary, standing in the baptistery, one woman spent nine minutes giving her testimony and included in it how offended she was that Cherrydale was requiring her to be rebaptized to join the church. "Did they not think she was a believer when she got baptized before?" I don't think Cherrydale would question that, but whatever non-immersion baptism she chose before was not recognized then or now at Cherrydale.
When I joined Cherrydale, I asked a lot of questions during the new member class. (That's because I ask a lot of questions about anything.) One of them was, from where did baptism come? Upon reading the Bible, it can easily seem like John starts the river ministry with people out of nowhere. There wasn't an answer from Cherrydale.
The Jerusalem Connection once published an article that talked about the old testament equivalent of baptism occurring in the doorway of the temple. (It seems to me full immersion would be hard to do in a doorway. A friend of mine said it more referred to the pools outside of and near the door of the temple.)
My thinking on baptism frequently returns to a message by a pastor I visited one Sunday in Yakima, Washington, years ago who explained that baptism comes from an untranslated Greek word that means or was used the way we use the word washing. (The King James translators did not want to offend the king over something, so they just brought the Greek word into English. Had they not, we theoretically could be Cherrydale Washing Church today--an interesting name for a church near Washington, D.C.) As I've thought about it, using the term that way answers a lot of questions for me about baptism and divisions over baptism we see in the Church today. It is not my purpose here to expound on baptism, its origin, purpose, mode, or any of that, a worthy pursuit though that is. I simply raise these points to present my thinking on baptism.
In my discussions with others at the church who disagree with the proposed changes, I was intentional about making sure I was clear on what I think about baptism, where I leave room for differences, and where I'm simply still undecided, before reviewing the proposals. My conclusion is whether it's the Old Testament origins or the New Testament words, while I prefer immersion baptism, I am also comfortable leaving room for differences about baptism.
Therefore, based on Scripture and based on practical implications caused by our current doctrinal statement, I can understand the motivation for pursuing a change in how this Baptist church leaves room for how others have already practiced baptism elsewhere. (At the other end of the spectrum, some don't recognize believer baptism by immersion if the church didn't believe in eternal security.)
Knowing what I do of Cherrydale's history, I was not surprised this involved a change to the Constitution. I was surprised this involved a change to the Doctrinal Statement.
Proposed changes documents
The church has produced a document for the congregation that introduces the proposed changes, and then on a second page shows the current and proposed versions of those changes.
The key statements that stand out to me in that introduction are, "Our motivation for proposing the change is driven by our desire to be better aligned with the first of our seven core values, Biblical Authority. This means that we seek to accurately interpret the Bible and align our beliefs and practices with its truths." Yes, being close to and correct with God's Word are good objectives.
The only red flag I had in the introduction was in the concluding statement when they say, "In light of this, we are making the following proposed changes..." While that may be a typo, it may also reflect a bit of presumptive thinking about the result before the congregation had even seen the proposal. That kind of statement can undermine the thinking of people in the congregation who should be giving this a full evaluation, and not just approval.
The original document as prepared by the church lists the changes in this order:
- Doctrinal Statement (original)
- Constitution (original)
- Doctrinal Statement (proposed)
- Constitution (proposed)
Admittedly, using that strategy on the Doctrinal Statement change to parse out the nuances of everything that is removed and everything that is added would make it harder to read. Also, these changes have already been through several revisions among the church leadership, a process which that revision method would have complicated.
Nonetheless, I have drafted a version of this document that changes no content, but does give my best attempt at giving a more thorough look at what is changing in the doctrinal statement by specifically showing subtractions, additions, and what would stay the same in the doctrinal statement after the proposed change.
I also change the order to more provide clearer contrast of the before and after of each change, and to put the bigger change at the end. Thus, my order is:
- Constitution (original)
- Constitution (proposed)
- Doctrinal Statement (original)
- Doctrinal Statement (proposed)
This change is fairly simple. It simply drops the immersion requirement for clarifying the mode of baptism, and then adds a requirement that first-time believer baptisms that happen at Cherrydale be by immersion for membership.
The proposed changes do not completely eliminate immersion as a requirement for baptism. It is now just a requirement for new believer first-time baptisms at Cherrydale. This allows us to recognize other forms of believer baptism in a person's past for purposes of church membership, and I find that acceptable.
While the Constitutional change aims for a simple qualified dropping of the reference to immersion, the Doctrinal Statement change takes a completely different and more complicated approach. What follows here is not a comprehensive review of every change (that can be seen in the full modified version), but just some thoughts on questions these changes raise as I have them.
Proposed change: "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water" is replaced with "Jesus Christ has instituted and established two ordinances for His Church."
At the risk of oversimplifying things, ordinances are the Baptist alternative to sacraments. For Baptists, nothing special happens at baptism, and sacraments are not required for salvation; they are simply symbols and matters of obedience. Yet it may be time to give second thought to this choice of term ordinance.
Outside a theological context, an ordinance is typically something that a local county or city passesit's a law. Has Christ established two laws for His Church?
"Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). Granted, righteousness here refers to salvation and Baptists are not saying ordinances are required for salvation. Yet, to call them ordinances is still the language of the law. Christ "abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Ephesians 2:15).
Just because there are things for us to do as described in Scripture, opportunities to do things, that does not mean that every one of those constitutes a command. "Commands" is language of the law. We are "not under law but under grace " (Romans 6:14). Did Jesus call them commands? Yes, and they are a different kind of commands. They are "new commandments" (John 13:34). These are the kind that are "not burdensome " (1 John 5:3).
If we approach his new commandments as laws we must follow, then I think we will miss the point. Communion wasn't something Jesus had to do; communion, that final Passover, was something Jesus ate with them after having been craving it "with fervent desire " (Luke 22:15). Laws push from behind; desire pulls one ahead. Commands from the law bring death (Romans 7:10); grace brings life (Romans 5:17).
Proposed change: "to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem" becomes "the initiatory rite of baptism and the ongoing rite of the Lord's Supper..."
Rite? That has the same root as "ritual." To me, that is the very opposite of a relationship. A ritual is repetitive; a relationship is unpredictable. That word rite seems foreign to Baptists and the New Testament. It's not defined here either, and initial reviews of dictionary definitions tie it to sacraments.
Even within the original proposed change as drafted now, rite is now competing with ordinance for describing what we're talking about here and is used twice vs. ordinance which is used once.
Proposed change: Baptism shows "our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Savior" becomes "Baptism is an act of obedience that proclaims the believer's faith in and union with Christ..."
This is the first of three times the "union with Christ" phrase is introduced into the Doctrinal Statement with these proposed changes. (The modified version actually obscures the first instance more than the original draft.)
"Union with Christ" is an awkward and potentially confusing blend of pictures of our relationship with Christ, and of baptism. "We have been united together in the likeness of His death" and will be "in the likeness of his resurrection " (Romans 6:5). Uniting, an active and non-permanent verb, is used in this verse of two things: baptism and resurrection. (KJV says "planted together." This is the only time the Greek word sumphutos used in the New Testament.) Union, while from the same root word, implies a more permanent and fixed change, and not an event. Wouldn't "union" be appropriate for comparisons with marriage? Baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection (being united) more than it does marriage (a union).
Given that the proposed changes also use this phrase later with reference to communion, or the Lord's Supper, it begs the question, How many unions with Christ are there? I can see several times for uniting and coming together (baptism, communion, resurrection), but several unions?
Proposed addition: "Baptism also symbolizes the believer’s baptism of the Holy Spirit..."
- What is meant by "baptism of the Holy Spirit"?
- How does baptism symbolize that?
I agree with the stated purpose and intent of making changes based on both Scripture and the practical reasons described earlier. The Constitutional proposal cleanly and simply accomplishes this objective.
The Doctrinal Statement proposal is neither clean nor simple. It adds several layers of complications and is raising more questions than it is answering for me.
The unanswered questions that arise from these proposed changes, raise questions about the effect of these changes. That is, would these changes only increase who joins Cherrydale, or could they also drive current and other new members away?
At the very least, the ambiguities created by these changes could drive existing and new members to create their own private interpretations of unclear phrases so they can accept the statement. The purpose of a doctrinal statement is to centralize key points of theological agreement. These proposed changes could have the opposite effect of that.
Wouldn't a simpler way to modify the doctrinal statement be to take the same simple approach as used in the Constitutional change?
For instance, "We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Savior..." could simply become, "We believe that Christian baptism with water shows forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Savior..."
Or with the alternate formatting: "We believe that
Contrasting this alternative approach to the current proposal also highlights a subtle shift in focus from "our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Savior," to "an act of obedience that proclaims the believer's faith in and union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection..." Both mention the believer and both mention Christ, yet the grammar of one focuses on the Savior while the grammar of the other focuses on the believer. Yes, that difference is important.
As best I can tell, the plan is for a single vote on both changes at once.
I suggest this could be improved upon by (1) splitting the vote into separate votes on the Constitutional change and on the Doctrinal Statement change, and (2) simplifying the proposal for the Doctrinal Statement change to match the approach of the Constitutional change.
What do you think of any or all of this? Please feel free to chime in on questions or statements here.