Confessions of an Ecumenical, Evangelical, Baptist Christian

Confessions of an Ecumenical, Evangelical, Baptist Christian September 20, 2012

Confessions of an Ecumenical, Evangelical, Baptist Christian

The only problematic adjective in that string of labels, at least to most people, is “ecumenical.” How can a person be all four of those at once? Well, some might question whether one can be evangelical and Baptist or Baptist and Christian, but I’ll set those aside for now. I’ll take for granted that in the U.S., anyway, the problematic element in the list is ecumenical. Many evangelicals and Baptists question whether it is possible to be ecumenical and evangelical, or ecumenical and Baptist, or even ecumenical and Christian!

Lately there’s been a lot of talk among Baptist theologians about Baptist catholicity—whether and how it might be possible for Baptists to affirm their own catholicity in the sense of belonging to the church universal. By this they clearly do not mean just belonging to some invisible church of Jesus Christ composed of all true believers throughout the world and across the ages. Most Baptists believe in that (except those affected by Landmarkism). They mean belonging to the visible church of Jesus Christ together with other visible churches.

I don’t intend to wade into that debate here and now. My intention is only to explain what I mean when I identify myself as “ecumenical” together with “evangelical,” “Baptist,” and “Christian.” I’ve said enough previously here for anyone who visits my blog regularly to at least have some sense of what I mean by the latter three labels. What I haven’t discussed as much is what I mean by ecumenical—at least when I embrace that term.

Over the years I’ve participated in many interdenominational ecumenical dialogue events. And I’ve been involved in several denominations during my life. I grew up one kind of Pentecostal in a large, extended family of relatives that included passionately committed Christian Reformed, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), other kinds of Pentecostals, Two-By-Twos (a no-name house church movement), Methodists, Evangelical Free and several other denominations. I graduated from a Pentecostal college, a Baptist seminary and a secular university. I studied in the Evangelical (primarily Lutheran) Faculty of a German state university and attended weekly seminars between the Protestant and Catholic faculty and students. (The seminars were held in the Catholic Faculty of the university and co-taught by Wolfhart Pannenberg and a Catholic theologian whose name I have forgotten.)

I taught at Oral Roberts University, a truly ecumenical institution that leaned toward the United Methodist Church then. Among the theology faculty were members of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, and other communions and traditions. Then I taught at a Baptist college with faculty colleagues from numerous different denominations. Finally, I teach at a Baptist university where I rub shoulders with colleagues from many denominations. (Although all my seminary colleagues are Baptist.)

When I taught at Bethel College in Minnesota I actively participated in ecumenical dialogue events hosted by Carl Braaten’s and Robert Jenson’s Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. One of my articles on ecumenical dialogue was published by Pro Ecclesia. These dialogue events included Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Congregational, Presbyterian, Anglican and many other representatives of diverse denominational traditions. Participants and speakers included Jose Miguez Bonino (Methodist liberation theologian from Argentina), Stephen Sykes (Anglican bishop), George Lindbeck (Lutheran), Gabriel Fackre (Congregational), Timothy George (Baptist).

Over the years I have attended and participated in many other interdenominational, ecumenical dialogue events and have enjoyed all of them. I have also invited representatives of various Christian traditions into my classes including Catholic priests, Lutheran pastors, Mennonites pastors, Reformed pastors and theologians, Eastern Orthodox priests and deacons, etc.

Somewhere along the way I served a Presbyterian congregation as minister of Christian education and youth. And organized and led summer Vacation Bible Schools at our church sponsored and taught by several congregations of various denominations.

What I want to say is that I am anything BUT a dyed-in-the-wool, separatistic, sectarian Baptist.

But I am a convinced and committed Free Church, evangelical Protestant and Baptist.

Finally, however, I identify myself MOST importantly as a Christian. And I see myself as a member of the Great Tradition of catholic and orthodox Christianity. (By “catholic and orthodox” I mean affirmation of the substance, if not the language, of the ecumenical creeds of the undivided church.)

I have to illustrate my ecumenism with a story. During the last ecumenical dialogue event of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology that I attended, held at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota in (I believe it was 1995), I heard much talk about “the visible and institutional unity of the churches.” That emerged clearly as the goal of those dialogue events. Of course, nobody thought they alone were going to accomplish it, but the events were meant to serve that purpose and goal.

As I listened I detected that one thing standing in the way of such visible and institutional unity of the churches was intercommunion including pulpit exchange. There was a felt need to move to a point where denominations could celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist together and where priests and ministers could preach in each other’s pulpits. (In some churches ministers of other denominations can only speak from the lectern and not from the pulpit!)

During that period of time when I was participating in those ecumenical events hosted by Braaten and Jenson (at St. Olaf College and the University of St. Thomas) some of the participants were greatly excited and heartened by the ELCA’s and Episcopal Church’s agreement to recognize each others’ ministries fully and to have an Episcopal bishop present at every ELCA ordination. (Many ELCA folks were not so excited by the latter!)

During one particularly energetic and passionate session a leader of the dialogue expressed hope that the pope would admit he’s not infallible so Protestants and Catholics could re-unite into one visible and institutional church. It became clear to me that HAVING BISHOPS was envisioned by the majority of those present as necessary for the ecumenical goal to be reached. The leaders could not understand why some of us demurred and said we could never accept the rule of bishops over our churches.

Finally, when it came my turn to respond, representing evangelicals and Baptists, I said that Baptists and other Free Church evangelicals would never accept bishops in the sense in which they, the organizers and leaders of the events, envisioned. I told them I was grateful to be included in their dialogues, but that IF “ecumenism” meant “visible and institutional unity” centered around an episcopacy we would not be able to participate.

But I didn’t stop there. I informed them about something they did not seem to know. We (Baptists and Free Church evangelicals—with some notable exceptions, of course) already have interdenominational fellowship, ministerial exchange, shared ministry, pulpit exchange, and intercommunion. I told them that any one of them could preach Jesus Christ and him crucified from the pulpit of my church regardless of their denominational identities. And I told them they could take communion in my church so long as they confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I called that “true ecumenism of the Spirit.”

My point, which I had to abbreviate but I think they understood, was that real Christian unity was not broken by denominational labels or even traditions. It is broken by anathemas and refusal of shared communion and rejection of real Christians’ ministries just because of differences of doctrine and practice.

There is no reason in the world why I as a Baptist cannot embrace and accept as equally Christian and have full fellowship with Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. That doesn’t mean I think they’re right about everything or that our differences of doctrine and practice don’t matter. They can’t join my church without making some adjustments in belief about secondary matters of the faith. But so long as we agree about the essentials (which I have stated here several times before), we can worship together, serve together, celebrate communion together and accept each other as fully Christian in every sense.

Some people think that’s poor ecclesiology, as if by saying this I’m demoting being Baptist to unimportance. Nobody who knows me thinks that about me! I’m passionately Baptist. But by no means does that hinder my enthusiasm for cooperation with and full acceptance of other true Christians to fellowship. (I would draw the line at Unitarians or truly liberal Protestants or Catholics.)

The true Church of Jesus Christ can be variegated without being divided. That’s what I’m saying. Differences of doctrine and practice do not have to be walls of separation.

As an evangelical Baptist Christian I regard myself as one in Spirit with all who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and affirm the orthodox faith in the deity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity (even some who seriously misunderstand and therefore reject the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity).

John Wesley said “If your heart is as mine, give me your hand.” Yes, yes, I know. The complaint is that reduces Christianity to a warm, fuzzy feeling. Anyone who knows Wesley knows that’s not what he meant. He would not have Christian fellowship with Unitarians no matter how warm they said their hearts were. He did not empty true Christianity of all cognitive content. His saying was simply a way of expressing his acceptance as equally Christian persons of different denominational identities.

There is one true church of Jesus Christ throughout the world and across the ages. And it is visible. It’s not always easy to tell exactly who belongs to it. Mormons have asked me if I think they belong to it. So far, I do not. They keep working on me. I think some may belong to it in spite of their church’s unorthodox teachings and practices. But that would not lead me to worship in one of their churches. I could attend and observe, but I could not worship there with them in Spirit and in truth. I can in many Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, Protestant churches of all denominations. And in “sectarian” churches that don’t identify as any of that for whatever their particular historical reasons may be (e.g., Friends/Quakers).

Having said all of that, I must also say there are Baptist churches where I could not worship or take communion. And I’m not just talking about certain Primitive Baptist churches that wouldn’t ALLOW me to take communion with them! There are Baptist churches that care nothing about catholic or orthodox Christianity; they have turned their backs on the Great Tradition of Christianity and gone another way—led by their own individual thoughts and desires without regard to Scripture or orthodox Christianity. I once briefly belonged to one. I had to leave it when I discerned that orthodox Christianity meant nothing to them. Their only unity was agreement that diversity is a good thing.

I fully realize that Baptists may not be regarded as catholic or orthodox by some other Christians. To some Catholics, perhaps to the present pope, our churches are nothing more than religious clubs, parachurch organizations. Well, that’s sad. But that doesn’t give me license to reject Catholic churches as false churches. I believe they are defective in certain ways, but so are most Baptist churches! We are all but unworthy servants of the one Master who alone is perfect!

I believe we, catholic and orthodox Christians, can all learn from each other. We are all on a journey toward that eschatological church when we will be visibly and institutionally one in the great Kingdom of God. We can approximate that here, but it is unlikely, probably impossible that we will ever achieve visible or institutional unity within history before our Lord returns.

But that doesn’t really matter to me. I do not tremble when I enter a Methodist church. A very dear, young friend told me that God called him from his Pentecostal background, through a Baptist church experience, to become a United Methodist elder. I know him to be a dedicated, passionate follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and have every reason to believe that God will use him to help renew and revive that church out of its mainline doldrums. That doesn’t mean I now agree with infant baptism; I don’t. But neither do I think it is evil or the mark of the Antichrist or even nothing more than “infant dedication with water.” It’s not my place to say such things. I simply think believer baptism is more appropriate to the nature of baptism as an act of commitment. I am just as opposed to “kiddy baptism” in some Baptist churches as to infant baptism and maybe more so because it is so inauthentic and unfaithful to our understanding of conversion and the ordinances.

Do I think it would be good if all Christians became Baptists? I don’t even think about it. I think more about what I, as a Baptist, can learn from other Christians—without any intention of converting to their denominations. If someone asks me why I’m a Baptist and expresses interest and openness to becoming one, I’ll do my best to convince them the rightness of Baptist distinctives.

What I do think is that it would be a good thing if all Baptists became Christians! And I mean true Christians including orthodox Christians—believers in the incarnation and Trinity beyond lip service. Most that I know are, but not all are.

I feel absolutely no interest in becoming Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Lutheran or Episcopalian or…. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think I can learn from them.

For the most part I do think the Baptist tradition is closest to authentic New Testament Christianity and that’s why I’m a Baptist. But that doesn’t mean I think Baptists have “arrived” and can now become complacent about our tradition or even chauvinistic about it. Complacency is one of the surest signs of spiritual malaise.

My ecumenism is messier than the “visible and institutional unity” of the churches sought by many in the ecumenical movement. Frankly, I don’t even care about that. I celebrate the diversity of Christians, not as something ideal but also not as something tragic—unless they divide us from each other spiritually. I even want Methodists to be GOOD Methodists. I want Presbyterians to be GOOD Presbyterians. Above all I want Baptists to be GOOD Baptists—by which I mean first and foremost true Christians and secondly strong witnesses for historic Baptist distinctive such as separation of church and state, religious freedom, believers churches and baptism, the necessity of personal repentance and faith, etc. Deep in my heart I suspect that IF Baptists become and remain GOOD Baptists, others will be attracted to us. But, if they aren’t, I won’t question their spirituality or the quality of their Christianity, so long as they are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ first and foremost and also adherents of orthodox Christianity broadly defined Christologically.

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  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson,

    You said, ” They can’t join my church without making some adjustments in belief about secondary matters of the faith….But so long as we agree about the essentials (which I have stated here several times before), we can worship together, serve together, celebrate communion together and accept each other as fully Christian in every sense.”

    The last part of your thought sounds a lot like church to me, so then your first sentence there seems to contradict it. I do think that denominations cause a disunity that God would disapprove of. How would a church like this work if one strongly believed in believer’s baptism and another in infant baptism (the Methodist and Presbyterian kind). I would have to draw the line on infant regenerational baptism which discounts free will. It would work like the way it works in Evangelical Covenant churches around the world today. My point is, is that it is possible to have a church exist where these different beliefs can co-exist in the same church.

    As a Chaplain in the Armed Services we have Protestant Services on post that are only labeled Contemporary, Liturgical, Gospel, and the other one on some posts I would call Relaxed Contemporary (short sermons, lively worship, and more interaction between minister and congregation). The communion trays include white wine in the middle and grape juice on the outside. The baptismal services are usually a separate event than Sunday so that those who want to attend do, and those who do not, don’t.

    On secondary topics like the end times, free will, and other matters all the options are discussed and the minister gives his/her opinion, but the important thing is that everyone is already on board that the congregation is made up of people who interpret the Bible slightly differently and so even when the minister give their opinion no one gets too offended. You are always going to have one or two offended but overall it is healthier with this structure

    • rogereolson

      I consider a military chapel a parachurch ministry and I’m all for them. Youth for Christ was a formative influence in my young Christian development. But I’m also grateful for my church that was visibly an expression of the body of Christ constituted by Word and Sacrament (ordinances) in which people covenanted together to walk in accountability to each other in the way of Jesus Christ. The fact that we held as important some denominational distinctives by no means kept us from having full fellowship and cooperation with other evangelical churches (and some that would not call themselves evangelical) in numerous ways. I can remember, for example, a Catholic priest preaching there, even though, were he to request membership, he would have been turned down (unless he adjusted some of his secondary beliefs to ours).

      • Jeff

        Dr. Olson,

        There are many families who grew up in military chapels, so for them it is church, and it meets a need for them who have Chaplains that talk about things they can relate to – military life, deployed life, moving every 3 years. The military is unique in many ways and it is helpful to have churches like that.

        I just don’t get what you are saying. It actually is offensive. It is what Paul warned the Galatian church NOT to do! He would have none of adding to church membership anything but faith in Jesus as Lord. Church membership needs to be taken more seriously then you are saying. Why would a person not be offended if they could attend but not be a member of a church they really wnated to get involved in? Most countries do not offer people so much oppurtunities like we have in the US.

        It is insulting to ask a person to help with the equipment on the basketball team instead of being on the team itself when they are better or equal to all the other players (Gal 3:28 ring a bell?)

        You can say what you say because we live in a country where there are churches on every corner but it is a narrow road you are walking.

        • rogereolson

          I once attended a Southern Baptist Church in Europe that would not allow me to join because of my “alien immersion.” I wasn’t offended. They let me fill the pulpit and teach an adult Sunday School class. The only thing I could not do was vote in business meetings or serve as an officer (e.g., deacon or moderator). I was as involved otherwise as anyone else. Most of the people who attended the church also attended military chapel. They just wanted something more particularly Baptist, too. I’m not quite sure what your complaint is, but I apologize for offending you anyway.

          • Jeff Martin

            Dr. Olson,

            You say you were not offended with regards to the church in Europe. BUT you should have been! Plus why would you have wanted to be a member in a church where you were only going to stay temporarily? My point is, is that if they let you preach and teach – one of the key parts of what happens at church, and yet you cannot become a member, then it is simply ridiculous.

            You are allowed to do everything one would normally do in a church except vote or be in their board. That is deceptive. It is like raising an orphan without adopting them. Why? Because they prefer to eat peanut butter and fluff versus peanut butter and jelly?!

            It really is that simple. These doctrines are secondary after all, why call them secondary if they are really a line drawn in the sand?

          • rogereolson

            My wife was offended. You should have heard her giving the pastor and the deacon (who came to our home in Munich to explain why I couldn’t be a member) hell. But they let her join because she was baptized in a Baptist church. The pastor (a Southern Baptist missionary to Europe!) said “I haven’t heard of the Conservative Baptist Association, but it sounds good to me, so you can join.” She went ballistic on him about them not letting me join. We attended because it was the only English-speaking evangelical church in Munich. (The only other English language church was a high church Anglican congregation.)

  • John Mark

    I do enjoy reading you. Thanks for this post. btw; I am a lifelong Nazarene, I have a brother who ‘defected’ 🙂 to the Southern Baptists a few years ago–it had nothing to do with doctrine. Even though you are not Wesleyan, the fact that you are an Arminian makes me feel you are more of a kindred spirit than a lot of other people in the blogosphere. Didn’t (the perhaps over-quoted) C. S Lewis say something to the effect that there was/is a certain sameness in the lives of the truly deep people in spite of significant doctrinal positions?

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. I feel great kinship with Nazarenes and have worshiped with them many times. When I was a kid and young adult I regularly attended the wonderful West Des Moines Nazarene camp meetings in Iowa where I heart groups like the Speer Family (later just The Speers) sing songs like “The King Is Coming.” (I was there the very first time that song was sung publicly and its author Bill Gaither was also there. As they and we would say “The Spirit came down.”)

  • Bev Mitchell

    “There is no reason in the world why I as a Baptist cannot embrace and accept as equally Christian and have full fellowship with Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Presbyterians………so long as we agree about the essentials……., we can worship together, serve together, celebrate communion together and accept each other as fully Christian in every sense.”

    Clearly stated and I agree wholeheartedly! Do you think this definitive statement would be agreed to by the majority of Arminians and their relatives? Do you think it important to ask before taking communion with, for example, Catholics? Those I have asked certainly didn’t mind, but I’m not sure that it’s necessary to ask. That is, necessary from the point of view of Church authorities. 

    • rogereolson

      I generally know (when I visit a church) whether they welcome me to to the table of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist or not. I refrain if I think it’s unlikely. I listen intently to how they phrase the invitation. And I’m not offended if they “fence the table” to exclude me. I may think that’s unnecessary, but it’s similar to the fact that if a person with only infant baptism wants to join my church we ask him or her to undergo believer baptism by immersion (unless they’re willing to settle for “associate membership”). When I have visited Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Episcopalian and other churches not of my denominational tradition I never feel excluded. I’ll never forget one of the first times I visited an Eastern Orthodox divine liturgy and the nice ladies on both sides of me knew I was a visitor and helped me find the right places in the worship book. I was clearly welcome except to the Eucharist. But they have the “bread of fellowship” at the end that kind of makes up for that.

  • Some terrific thoughts, Prof. Olson! In a sense I have you to thank for my own evangelical ecumenism. When I was doing my undergraduate degree in Bible and Ministry at Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana) I took a theology course in which I was required to read your book “The Mosaic of Christian Belief.” It was a breath of fresh air for me and started me on a journey of learning from (and even sometimes embracing beliefs and/or practices) of those pilgrims who are all part of the Great Tradition. I have gained much over the years from some of your other writings, as well as works like Thomas Oden’s 3-volume systematic theology. I believe theology is an ongoing journey, dialogue, and dance. We would do well to listen attentatively to our other brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • rogereolson

      You have warmed my heart! Thanks.

    • Andy

      For me, too, “Mosaic” was the first book of your’s I read, and it was required. That led me to voluntariliy read many of your other books and to read this website.


      • rogereolson

        You’re welcome, and thank you!

  • I would describe myself in the same way, though I am no longer a Baptist. I am a catholic and ecumenical Christian who is rooted in the Protestant Reformation confessionally but deeply desirous of unity and diversity being honored and protected by all. I applaud you for this clear and well-written statement Roger and thanks for modeling ecumenism visibly and academically. I deeply respect your life and your labors.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, John. I didn’t know of your conversion to the RC Church. So many evangelicals go that way. I just don’t understand it, but I don’t condemn it either.

      • Jordan Litchfield

        Dr. Olson, I could be wrong, but I don’t think John Armstrong is Roman Catholic (maybe he would correct me) – notice he used a lower-case ‘c’ in catholic, not ‘Catholic’. I believe he still would identify himself as Reformed – “who is rooted in the Protestant Reformation confessionally.”

        • rogereolson

          Okay. Something in his message here made me think he meant he’s now Roman Catholic. I apologize to him if I misunderstood. Maybe he’ll jump in and clarify for us. Many, many good evangelical Christians have joined the Catholic Church over the past several decades. He wouldn’t be the first. I don’t think they stop being evangelical in the ethos sense, but I don’t immediately see how that’s consistent with some Catholic doctrines and practices.

      • John Metz

        Roger, I think you may have misread the post above. John Armstrong used a small “c” catholic (which is very important to him) and has not converted to the RCC. I read both John’s blog and yours on a regular basis and find the two of you to be saying many of the same things, at least the same kind of things, from very different perspectives.

      • Roger, I guess I need to be clearer in what I write but I have not converted to the Catholic Church. I have friends who have converted but I need to make sure that you, and any of your readers, know that this is not true of me. I am a minister in the Reformed Church in America, a mainline Protestant church that is both broad and missional. I am no longer anti-Catholic, as I once was, nor am I anti-Arminian in any sense of the word. I know you will be glad to know this since you’ve known about me for many years. BTW, I am very thankful for your user-friendly writing and solid scholarship. I hope someday our paths will cross again. I write this from Beeson Divinity School where I spent my day and where we last shared a meeting together many years ago. God bless and encourage you brother.

        • rogereolson

          John, Thanks for this clarification. I remember our meeting at Beeson well and also hope our paths cross again sometime.

  • gingoro

    Well said Roger! I totally agree with the general thrust of what you are saying but of course with some slight differences in details and also some due to the fact that I hold a moderate Calvinistic position having left a (separatistic) Baptist church.
    “And I told them they could take communion in my church so long as they confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Your statement reflects what our local CRC church practices. However, I do wonder if we should welcome those who actively bar us? For example the local RCs made a big deal about a Anglican taking communion at a state funeral in the RC cathedral. The RC position was that only they have a true understanding of communion and that the rest of us are seriously defective. To my mind this gets close to the Baptist secondary separation that I found so unacceptable, not that all Baptists behave that way by any means. Of course I doubt that an RC priest would take communion at our church, but should we even offer them communion? (Of course as a person with celiac disease I often am excluded from taking communion due to lack of provision of gluten free bread.)

    • rogereolson

      I wouldn’t even ask what denomination a person is before welcoming them to the communion table. I simply assume that a person of integrity will not come to communion in my church if they would automatically bar anyone from my church from the communion table in theirs. If they come forward for communion anyway, well, that’s between them and God. In personal conversation later, I might chide them for the incongruity and ask them how they can justify it.

  • Dr Roger Olson, I want to tell you a funny story which is nothing to do with the above post (I couldn’t find your email out in the web!), but which I think was telling and that you will quite enjoy…

    So, I went to a church in Sydney, Australia, for a “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility” evening on Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism. Now, the spirit of the invitation was inviting and open, so I got there early with a friend I played a few hymns on the piano… And then, when they began to set up the bookstall, I thought to myself, “Ah, good! I wonder what will be on offer?” So I went over to see what was on the table.

    I scanned the presentation desk. Michael Horton’s “For Calvinism”. R. C. Sproul, “Chosen By God” and “What is Reformed Theology?”. John Piper’s “Finally Alive” (perhaps?)… Okay. After scanning a few more books, and realising they were all Calvinist books (along with Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God”–what was THAT doing there on this occasion?), I started to get a bit suspicious. Where are the Arminian and Open Theist materials? I looked up, I looked down, I look all around: Aha! There they were–packed tightly into boxes, under the book stand. So I opened some boxes and found such books as “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” and “Against Calvinism” by you, Roger E. Olson, “The God Who Risks” by Jonathan Sanders, and even some of those excellent ‘four-views’ books such as “Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews” and “Four Views on Divine Providence” which present a dialogue or interaction between views both Calvinistic, Arminian, and Molinism and/or Open Theism.

    Now, as I say, I was quite early, so I went to enquire of the pastor who was nearby (let’s call him Heinrich) as to whether or not he intended to put on the Arminian/Open Theist books on display. The night was, after all, about dialogue and information–as per the invitation, as I say. Here, roughly, is my memory of the dialogue:

    ++ Brendan: “Do you intend to display some of non-calvinistic books on the display? I notice you have Michael Horton’s ‘For Calvinism’–I see that Roger Olson’s ‘Against Calvinism’ would go well perfectly together with that one.”
    >> Heinrich: “Um… no. We won’t be putting those books out to sell.”
    ++ Brendan: “Why not?”
    >> Heinrich: “This church is a biblical church: we don’t want to sell or make available nonbiblical books.” [Edit: note that this man has sold Rob Bell’s books at other events before this.]
    ++ Brendan: “But isn’t that the point of the whole night? Dialogue and exchange? Horton and Olson (who are both good friends, sir) both wrote the foreword to each other’s books, and specifically designed them to be taken together: yet I see you have displayed Horton’s “For” book, but not Olson’s “Against” book!
    ++ Heinrich: “I can understand where you’re coming from. But this church does not want to display what we don’t think represents the Bible.”
    >> “But, sir, (and I don’t want to be rude), that seems terribly unfair. If you look at this man [*I raised up John D Wagner’s book “Arminius Speaks” and pointed at the front portrait of James]–this man, Jacobus Arminius, has been dead for about four hundred years now. How are you showing love to your dead brother in Christ by consciously refusing to not even represent the authors he has influenced on your book table, such that they might *possibly* be bought by interested people willingly on a dialogue evening?? It’s very insulting!”

    And with that, he really didn’t have anything to say than what he had said before, I was left gob-smacked, and amazed. Actually, I almost left the place for its intellectual duplicity and bias. But then some of my friends got there from the university and I thought I should stay. Lucky I did! Not to say I am the most knowledgeable or the most read or whatnot, but the room was filled with the Calvinists from this church, and I was the only Classical Arminian there to correct some historical errors the pastor was making abut Arminianism, and to give alternate readings or interpretations of Rom.9, Eph.1, Gen. 50:20, etc., in the open dialogue part–and the aforementioned pastor was gracious to allow that.

    All in all, the church event reached its goal of an open discussion and engagement. But the bizarre bookstall situation really just revealed to me the problem I see inherent in all of this: the Calvinist refuse to read the Arminians, hands down, and will pack them away from the eyes of the parishioners. This, I believe, is intellectually illegitimate. If we want to understand each other, and to really show love each other through seeking such understanding, we need to read each other fairly, represent well what we are trying to say, and, ultimately, to somehow attain to the true knowledge of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

    So I thought I might share that! Please re-blog this if you like, Dr Olson. And please continue on, good sir, in your writings, in true faith, in hope, and in love. Blessings and grace to you! ~ Brendan P. Burnett, pursuing a BA in Philosophy and Medieval History at the University of Sydney, Australia.

    • rogereolson

      That is sad and kind of funny. My first thought is–why did they even have Arminian books there if they weren’t going to sell them or even display them? That pastor should know that both times I went to public dialogue events sponsored by The White Horse Inn (Mike Horton’s radio program) and Modern Reformation magazine (which Mike edits), they (Mike and his colleagues) had tons of my books available for purchase. And Mike and I sat side-by-side at tables signing them afterwards. Some folks bought my book and asked Mike to sign it for them! And some bought his book (For Calvinism) and asked me to sign it for them. Very strange, but we both obliged. I wonder why that pastor in Australia thought Mike would not want him to display and sell my books? Some people just don’t understand what dialogue is.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Wow. Now why didn’t you put THAT in “The Spectrum of Evangelicalism” you helped with? I think that is one of the most helpful things I’ve read from you. I always felt like you’ve let YOUR beliefs be somewhat in the background while you stood up for the beliefs of others here. Sometimes it is hard to decipher where you land. Maybe that’s your intent:) I do agree with a lot of what you said here, especially the ethos. Of course, I too am a Baptist.

  • James Clare Fuller

    Dear Dr Olson,
    You have taught me a lot over the years, since your history of theology with Stanley Grenz. Thank you for your wise words on evangelical, Arminian and ecumenical. I became a Christian through the Missionary Church ( in Canada, the Evangelical Missionary Church ) and have been a member in the EMC since then, but I too have worshiped with Baptists and Anglicans, Christian Reformed and Christian Brethren, Brethren in Christ and so on, as well. Thanks for your testimony that Arminian theology is Christian. An article you wrote about a meeting involving Michael Horton helped me as I read and reviewed his recent systematic theology for the online McMaster Divinity College theological journal. Grace and peace, Clare Fuller

    • rogereolson

      Thanks. I hope you’ll watch for and perhaps purchase my forthcoming expansive revision of 20th Century Theology (the book you refer to that I wrote with Stan Grenz). I will have a different title, but both of our names will be on it even though Stan is now gone. I re-wrote every chapter and added quite a few on 19th century theology and some on postmodern theology.

      • When do you expect it to show up Rodger?

        • rogereolson

          I think you are asking about my next book which I tentatively title “The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction.” It’s in the hands of the publisher and I hope it will be published sometime in 2013. It’s a large book which always takes longer to process.

  • Jeremy

    Thanks for the post. I tend to agree with you, but I find I go back and forth what I think about Catholicism. I would consider myself to be somewhere in the Anabaptist/Baptist camp and so while I do have large differences with a Presbyterians or Lutherans, we’re far closer than we are different. While that is still true with Catholicism, I feel the gap is a lot wider. True you can’t just discount them since that would leave the majority of the world without a Christian witness for the larger part of history since the death of Christ. We also worship the same God (which is where I think the break with Mormonism really is), affirm the Trinity, and so forth, but would I really want a priest to teach at my church? If our answers are a lot different on something like, “How is a person saved?” I don’t see how there can be much real unity. I certainly disagree with the Presbyterians on baptism, but I don’t think that difference is nearly as harmful to faith in the Lord as the Marian doctrines are. I guess I feel that some differences might be in essential matters, but I also feel like some Catholic people I know are sincere Christians. How do you deal with this kind of thing? I am curious as it is something I struggle with.

    • rogereolson

      The Catholic priest who preached at my home church (when I was a late teen/young adult) was a charismatic Catholic and he preached on divine healing–something Pentecostals and Catholic charismatics agree about (the present availability of the gift of healing). I doubt the pastor would have allowed him to preach about baptism. I’m sure they agreed ahead of time about the subject of the sermon. On the other hand, I have heard a Catholic priest preach in a Baptist seminary chapel and, as part of his sermon, talk about our different views of salvation. But his emphasis was on our areas of agreement–that salvation is by grace alone and that works without faith are dead and faith without works is dead. We certainly place the emphasis on different things, but there’s really much area of agreement. Afterwards, I argued (in a very civil way) with the priest about his use of the term “merits” in relation to salvation. He absolutely insisted that he does not believe our merits are earned; they are gifts of God by grace. I told him Catholics should then drop the word “merits.” He seemed to agree, but said it’s not possible. My wife took our church’s youth group on a mission trip to an American Indian reservation. Along was a youth group from a Catholic parish church and their priest. She came home talking enthusiastically about the priest who spoke often and warmly about Jesus in the same way any good evangelical would. She was convinced, after spending a week with him, worshiping and working together, that he is truly saved and a real Christian in spite of their disagreements over some doctrinal matters. I’ve had similar experiences. One Saturday evening I was walking by a Catholic cathedral and heard loud singing and even shouting. I went in to observe and saw the congregation raising their hands in enthusiastic worship, singing the same choruses evangelicals sing, and praising God with passion. I literally felt the Holy Spirit’s presence there. What can I say? We disagree about some fairly important doctrinal and practical matters, but they are Christians, too.

      • Mike Anderson

        I, too, am skeptical of the RC church, and stand alongside Jeremy in my struggle to know how to interact with it. But when “it” becomes “them,” when I interact with particular RC believers and not simply an organization, it usually becomes clear that I can’t judge another man’s (Jesus’) servant. If I judge the RC believers I interact with, I judge myself and do not behave as Jesus would, entreating, inviting, sharing, and sacrificing himself. Why should I withhold fellowship from others who, by all outward appearances, serve the same Jesus as Lord and Savior? You (Roger) seem to have a similar response, borne from many years of interactions with RC Christians, much more experience than I have. But I can’t absolve the RC organization of blame. What I have, then, is a dichotomy between an organization and the people it organizes, and how can I separate them? Is it the principle of organization itself that is to blame, a kind of power-over structure rather than power-under (à la Greg Boyd)? And how much investment can someone have in an organization without sharing its sins?

        • rogereolson

          I try to look at the Catholic Church as it is today and not as it was. And I try to differentiate between different dioceses insofar as that’s possible. I’ve lived in some dioceses of the Catholic Church (and, in a sense, a Catholic diocese is “the church” there–in Catholic theology) where it seems less like Rome than others. (By “Rome” here I mean the central magisterium with all its apparatus, authority and power that, IMHO, is often abused.) My daughter attended a Catholic High School and I/we greatly appreciated much that was expressed there as Catholic Christianity. (That high school is operated by the diocese and I think the character of the diocese is at least partly revealed in it. I also had the school’s principle, a Catholic lay theologian, speak to my class one year.)

      • Jeremy

        Yeah, I hear you. In college I spent a lot of time with FOCUS missionaries and students involved with that group and I don’t doubt that they were Christians. The Bible studies they headed up were great, and I learned a lot from them. On the negative side of things I guess I would have to say that while someone can be a Christian and Catholic, I think there are a lot of things in Catholic teaching/practice that would serve as a roadblock to saving faith. I know that probably sounds terrible, but I don’t see how something like Marian devotion can be anything but a hindrance. Not to say that I don’t think Protestants and Catholics can’t labor and worship together, I agree with you there, but I think it’s a lot trickier than inter-denominational cooperation.

        • rogereolson

          In some places where I’ve lived and worked most of the Catholics have long ago dropped Marian devotion–and most other distinctives of Roman Catholicism that Protestants complain about. The further south you go, especially into heavily Hispanic communities, the more of it remains. But I predict it is largely going to go away in everything but lip service. At the same time, some evangelical Protestants are calling for more attention to Mary! We live in strange times.

        • SG

          In regards to Marian devotion being a hindrance to salvation, I had the same objection until I really looked into what the RCC teaches about Mary and most importantly WHY they teach what they teach about Mary. I no longer see it as a hindrance but rather a doctrine that sees Mary as a spiritual mother to all Christians ALWAYS pointing us to her Son Jesus. The point of all marian doctrines to point us to Christ and have a deeper relationship with Him. A good book to read is “Mary, the Mother of All Christians” by Max Thurian. He goes into many areas that historically have been common ground in the area of marian doctrine.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Well said! Hold the few, most important things tightly, hold the lesser important things loosely.

  • Hi Roger:
    You said that your larger family of church experience includes “Two-By-Twos (a no-name house church movement).” I have had experience with them too. Was it a distant thing, or were you intimately acquainted with them? Just curious. I was a pastor in the tw0 by twos.

    • rogereolson

      Wow. I’d like to talk with you about that. You said you “were” a pastor in the group. I assume you’re not now? My uncle was a Two-By-Two missionary to Uruguay in the 1940s and into the 1950s. A church met in his home when he lived in the same city where I grew up. He was my dad’s brother and I played with his sons a lot. But they were very quiet, almost secretive, about their faith. I once asked my uncle to tell me about it and he declined. I recall that at family reunions he would step away from the table when we prayed over the meal and come back after the prayer was finished. My dad said it was because he didn’t believe in praying with us–unbelievers. I’ve read a lot about the Two-By-Twos over the years but never had a chance to talk with someone who was part of the group who would open up and share about it to me. I have no interest in exposing them or demeaning them; my interest is wholly personal–to understand my own family better. I am still occasionally in touch with my uncle’s family although he has passed away now.

      • John Metz

        I also was very interested by your experience with the “Two-by-Twos and would like to know more.

        • rogereolson

          I would have liked to have more experience with them, but they never let me “in.” My relatives were very quiet about their beliefs and practices around us. When I asked my uncle to talk with me about them (He was a Two-By-Two minister) he declined.

  • Craig Wright

    In responding to the criticism, from some (for instance, JWs,) that we Protestant Christians have so many denominations, I reply that that demonstrates our strength. We are not exhibiting cultish behavior, in allowing some diversity on secondary issues. Sometimes, people are surprised when I say that I can worship with certain different denominations because of our core beliefs. I have also had to explain to people the history of some denominations that are due to geographic or ethnic origins, or that church administration practices are causes for some differences. And then, there is the uninformed question from my southern California area, “Are you Christian or Catholic?”

  • Greg D

    I believe one can be ecumenical and still retain his/her traditional or denominational beliefs. Even though I refrain from using detailed labels as much as possible, I am still a Protestant. But, when people ask what faith I adhere to, I simply say I am a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ. I also believe those who are Catholic or Eastern Orthodox are my brothers in Christ. Does this mean I ascribe to the same beliefs as they? No. I do find some things that I simply cannot agree with them on. But, I also share many of their beliefs. Beliefs that I believe ultimately determine what a Christian is, namely a belief and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

    Sadly, the Body of Christ is fragmented, first by the early schisms of Constantine (Byzantine, east/west), then by the Protestant Reformation which initially sought reformation of the Catholic church. Now, consider the hundreds (if not thousands) of different denominations found within the Protestant tradition. I wonder if Christ will recognize His bride when He returns for it. “Divide and conquer” is the clarion call of the Enemy and at times it seems he is winning. Nevertheless, we Christians should seek unity as much as it is possible. I believe it is only secondary issues in most part that would require compromise while still retaining the fundamentals in the quest for unity. We must work together to bring peace to a violent world and be the Light to a world that is seemingly becoming darker each day.

  • John I.

    1 Cor. 10, “14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”

    1 Cor. 11, “17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.”
    It is not differing theology, differing classes, differing denominations that are the base evil of disunity, it is the failure to join in unity over the Lord’s supper. The exclusion of others from Christ’s key symbol, sacrament and command re unity of the body is a tearing of his body asunder. It is such an evil that I do not recognize any so-called “communion” that is exclusionary to others of the body. Such a communion is not a communion. As Paul wrote, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ”

    Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner is, first of all, to eat in a manner that excludes others: “there are divisions among you, . . . for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers.”

    The result of excluding others from one’s communion table is a grevious sin, not just against fellow disciples but against Christ himself: “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

    The result of engaging in such a communion? “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

    Consequently, I cannot participate in any so-called communion that excludes any of my brothers and sisters. And any communion supper that I do engage in must be open to all his disciples (as it is at my home church).

    [As a corollary, of course, it is wrong to join any church that practices such an exclusionary communion and hence wrong for any open-communion evangelical to join the RC or EO church, or even Lutheran for that matter.]

    The above does not mean that I think that such churches cannot have “real” christians in them, just that such churches (and their members) engage in a grievous sin for which they are condemned.

    John I.

    • T

      As a Catholic I want to just respond a bit. You may not know that for Catholics the consacrated Host is the living body, blood, soul, and divinty of the risen Lord: Jesus Christ incarnate.
      I heard a story about an Anglo-Catholis priest of the Church of England, who presided a a communion service in a low church. Anglo-Catholics agree with the Roman Church on the Eucharist. When the service was over he brought the remaining consacrated wafers into the sacristy and asked where they should go. The two ministers of the local congregation looked at each other and one took them and dumped them in a garbage to the Anglo-Catholics absolute horror. I cannot begin to imagine how an Anglo-Catholic Anglican can possibly maintain inter-communion with Evangelical Anglicans. In fact I’m unconfortable with recent Anglo-Catholics coming into full communion with Rome, because they seem to be drawn over such realitive trivialities as women priests and homosexuality rather than over the theological chasm illustrated above.
      Now as to closed communion, it’s interesting that you quote the passages you do; those are the very ones that closed communion is based on. 29 “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

      • rogereolson

        You misunderstand and misinterpret that passage. There Paul was banning from the Lord’s Supper persons who are dividing the church, the body of Christ. The context makes that clear.

        • T

          Well, I looked this passage up in the New American Bible and the footnote writers seem to agree with you. That being said there are those of us who tend to suspect the footnote writers of the NAB of being a shade Protestant themselves. And I really only guessed that the Catholic practice of the priest presenting the Host with words “The Body of Christ” and waiting for an “Amen”, with this passage; I have that on no authority. I’m still not sure why any of y’all reach back to verses 19-22, rather than the immediate 23-26, to understand the phase ” the Body of Christ” in verses 27-29.
          Anyway, that may have been off-topic then, my main point remains: is it difficult to understand that believing as we do about the Eucharist (crazy as you think it is, any having Baptist friends believe me I’ve heard all the vampire and cannibal comments) that we feel we cannot welcome to our Eucharist anyone who believes it can be as soon tossed in the garbage as consumed? Now as to the charge of dividing the body, personally a think we can have joint bible study, joint prayer, joint charitable work, guest preachers (I think that may be technically forbidden in our church, but as the Baptist said of infant baptism, “Believe in it? I’ve seen it with my own eyes”) you and the NAB translators seem to get along – but no, with apologies, not intercommunion. After your reply (if any) I probably won’t comment again, I’m sorry I hadn’t noticed this blog entry was a week old.

  • Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You have articulated my own position about better than I have over the years. The surprising thing to me is that you are an Arminian doing this! You are probably surprised that I am a Calvinist writing this! Truly, we can learn from one another because the Body of Christ is bigger than either of our traditions. Thank you. You have thrilled my heart with your vision. it is a wonderful thing to do know you are not alone.

    • rogereolson

      And yet, there are Baptist churches (“Reformed Baptist”) that would not let me join unless I affirm the Second London Confession of Faith. Their number is increasing.

  • Bob

    I myself am a Catholic, but my personal “litmus test” for who is or isn’t (at least as far as belief) a Christian is quite minimalist: can they recite the Creed and mean every word of it? If yes, then they are a Fellow Believer – if not, then they are something else, but it ain’t (intellectually) a Christian.

    • rogereolson

      What if they mean every word of it but their heart is cold toward God (i.e., they have no personal love for God or prayer life)?

  • Greetings Professor Olsen,

    You and I had a mutual friend in the late Dr. Stan Grenz (though we have never met) and I sure miss his voice in a discussion such as this. I think he was also an ecumenical Baptist, as I am myself. I resonate very much with your blog posting here and just wanted to say that even among my Catholic, Reformed and Evangelical colleagues here in British Columbia Canada (Trinity Western University), there is not so much a desire for the unity that official Ecumenism often seeks, at least in terms of the church visible. Rather we are discovering what we already hold in common and celebrate those aspects. As a Baptist theologian working in such a context I often lament the misunderstanding some of my fellow Baptists entertain in this respect. I think they operate with a paradigm that is decades old and no longer applies when we use the word ecumenical. It was refreshing to hear a Baptist such as yourself speak so forthrightly and clearly. This note is simply to say, your are not alone, as I am sure you already know. Next term I will be teaching a course in ecumenical theology with a Catholic theologian here at TWU. The course will focus on both our differences and our shared principles. My task is to present the Evangelical perspective and I would love to use this piece as one of the readings. Would you be OK with that?

    Thanks for a great posting.

    Archie J. Spencer, ThD

    • rogereolson

      Of course, yes, you have my permission and my best wishes!

  • lilly

    This is totally confusing us ! and I have seen an element of compropmising
    The catholic church is false , go on Youtube anf find a Nun who escape from the catholic is enough to know what I tell you .
    Iam a pentocastal and I was born a protestant and I think I have no problem with protestants .

    Ask the HolySpirit to reveal to you A true God worshippers or christians

  • There is much good food for thought in your post and the comment stream here. Thank you. I am about to begin work on a PhD dissertation on “Gospel-Centered Christian Unity: Implications for Southern Baptists” at SEBTS. An issue I am currently trying to work through in my own mind and heart is the compatibility or lack of compatibility of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, as traditionally understood by baptistic evangelicals, and baptismal regeneration, as understood by the RCC, many Protestant liturgical groups, and even the Church of Christ.

    Do you have any resources you could recommend particularly on this question of baptismal regeneration and evangelical ecumenism?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t. It sounds like a good dissertation topic.

  • John

    As an (eastern) orthodox Christian, I would agree in principle with everything you say. The church is not one institution. After all, the Orthodox church is not one institution. And there are some things that are essentials, and there are some things that are not. And there are local traditions that don’t affect unity. Everything you say about unity is perfectly true on that level.

    The problem I have with what you say is in the detail. I think almost everyone would agree that one thing the New Testament simply does not teach, is what things are essential and what things are not. One reason I am Orthodox is I don’t see what gives little old me the right to decide issues of that magnitude. That’s great that you nutted out what Christian unity is all by yourself, something the church struggled with over centuries, but I can’t see how you can feel so confident that you know how to apply it correctly. When somebody can quote me the chapter and verse that lists the essentials, perhaps I will change my mind.

    • rogereolson

      That isn’t always as clear as we would like it to be (in Scripture). I happen to think there we need to listen to Irenaeus and Tertullian whose “rules of faith” lay it out clearly. Especially Irenaeus was close to the apostles (one generation removed from John and knowledgeable about John’s teaching from Polycarp). I take what Irenaeus said about the essentials seriously. For example, as I read him, it seems he could acknowledge as Christian someone who disagreed with him about, say, the end times (the subject of a lengthy section of, I think, Book V). Clement of Alexandria and Origen disagreed. But he would not consider as Christian someone, like the Gnostics, who disagreed with his statement of the Rule of Faith in Book I.

  • Jane

    Hi Roger!
    Interesting article. I really enjoyed it. I had a question or two out of curiosity. I belong to the PCA denomination. The requirements to join our church are the essentials of Christianity – giving a credible profession of faith, being already baptized (or willing to submit to baptism) and acknowledging personal sin, need for a Savior, committing to following Him, supporting the church and and submitting to its government and discipline. It is not required that its members agree with all of the PCA’s distinctives. Pastors, elders and deacons are held to the PCA’s particulars, but not members. In regards to baptism – we have many members who are former Baptists and were baptized by immersion. They do not have to be re-baptized by sprinkling in order to join the PCA. The PCA allows all confessing Christians to the communion table. We even have a family in our congregation that holds to believer’s baptism – and our church baptizes their children once they are believers themselves (instead of infant baptism). That being said, I have been confused in the past with some stances of the Baptist denomination. I attended a Baptist church throughout my college years (about 10 years ago) and sought to join it. I had been baptized as a believer in the 6th grade, but the water was poured over my head. Because of this, I could not join the church until I was baptized the way they saw fit. This seemed very legalistic to me, and broke my heart that they would require re-baptism when the mode of baptism isn’t clear in Scripture. My husband (who was Baptist) and I decided to continue attending the church, but did not join it. I was not allowed to teach Sunday school or Bible club because I was not a member. This was very confusing for me. Can you help me understand how the Baptist church is being ecumenical? Thankfully, my husband and I relocated and were able to join a denomination that recognized both modes of baptism as valid, and accepted us both as members. I am very thankful for the PCA denomination. I agree wholeheartedly with its teachings, but am thankful that it does not exclude membership to true believers because of secondary differences. I am looking forward to understanding all of this better!

    • rogereolson

      You can’t compare the PCA with “the Baptist church” because the latter does not exist (except as an individual congregation). There are Baptist churches but no one Baptist denomination. Even within Baptist denominations individual churches are autonomous and decide everything themselves. What you experienced is typical of very conservative Baptists (I have experienced something like it in one Baptist church) but not of all Baptist churches. In my post to which you responded I was speaking only for myself. No Baptist speaks for all Baptists.

      • Jane

        Thanks for your reply. You’re right, it was the Southern Baptist denomination. I apologize for lumping all Baptists together. Do you have any thoughts about that situation? Thanks.

        • rogereolson

          You mean the Southern Baptist tendency to require baptism by immersion for church membership even of person who were baptized as believers by sprinkling or pouring? I would say they need to be reminded that the first Baptist believer baptisms were by pouring (like the Mennonites). I would say it comes close to fetishizing water. (I once belonged to a Baptist church that refused to baptize a quadrapalegic woman because she could not be immersed.)

  • Gary

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?

    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the
    Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith?
    Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by
    translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three
    original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the
    Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus
    Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of
    your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord
    and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire
    world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in
    a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this,
    now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God
    for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the
    Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as
    to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism?
    And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible
    have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with
    translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain
    interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins
    in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of
    evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000
    years after Christ believed that: Water
    baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT
    forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will
    find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do
    Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith?
    THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free
    will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide
    faith and belief as a free gift,
    with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or
    after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read
    “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the
    name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of
    Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water
    baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t
    seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit
    with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism
    verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are
    literally correct?? If we believe God’s
    Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call
    AND when they are baptized? Why not
    believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes
    and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought
    out and very reasonable…but it is wrong.
    Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient
    Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist
    “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated,
    states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as
    Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly
    says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further.
    Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find
    out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth
    century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!


    • Roger Olson

      Why don’t you mention that Jesus said to the thief on the cross beside him that “today” he would be with him in paradise? I discern that you are coming from a Church of Christ perspective. Go back and read through all the posts and discussions on my blog–where many Church of Christ folks adamantly stated that they do not believe a person without water baptism is thereby automatically consigned to hell.

      • Gary

        Dear Brother, I am not a Campbellite. I am an orthodox Christian (conservative Lutheran). We orthodox have always believed: God saves by the power of his Word. God can save an adult sinner who hears the Word and believes (if he dies before being baptized he will go to heaven, his is saved) AND God can save/forgive sins in Baptism, just as the plain, simple, literally reading of his Word states.

        The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox also believe this is how God saves, in both situations, it is how Christians have believed God saves since the Apostles, and there volumes of documents from the early Christians to prove it. Unfortunately, the RCC and the EOC have added to the doctrine of salvation: God saves you, but then you must do good works to sustain/keep your salvation. This is the false doctrine that Luther condemned.

        To the issue of the thief on the cross: this situation was still under the Old Covenant, the resurrection had not yet occurred. However, if this situation had occurred in the New Covenant, it would have been completely consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine: God saves by the power of his Word. Christ spoke it…it is done. God is not limited to saving in Baptism, neither is he limited to saving only when an adult believes.

        • Roger Olson

          Then I don’t get your complaint. Baptists (when they are being true to their tradition) also believe baptism is an essential part of the Christian life–as public declaration of commitment to Christ. So we agree that baptism is not essential to salvation. Where do you think we need to go from there–to have constructive and possibly fruitful dialogue?

          • Gary

            ALL Christians return to the beliefs of the early Christians. Catholics and Orthodox need to drop their false belief that man must assist God in completing their salvation and the concept of Purgatory. The Reformed need to drop their false belief that Christ only died for the elect, not all mankind, and that God sends people to hell. Baptists and evangelicals need to stop interpreting the Bible as if every time God uses the word “baptism” he is talking about a spiritual baptism. It is real WATER, unless God specifies otherwise.
            The early Christians, who learned the faith directly from the Apostles believed:
            1. It is always the power of God’s Holy Word that saves: he can save when an adult sinner hears the Gospel, and he can save in the waters of baptism. All early Christians believed that God forgives sins in baptism, just as Peter says in Acts 2:38. You will not find ANY early Christian stating that Baptism is ONLY an act of obedience/public profession of faith.
            2. In the Lord’s Supper, we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins. Early Christians did not try and explain exactly how this happens, but they believed it LITERALLY. There is no evidence that ANY early Christian, including the Apostles, believed that the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic memorial ONLY.
            All our other differences are minor, but we Christians must come to agreement on the central core doctrines of our common faith: Justification/Baptism/The Lord’s Supper.

          • Roger Olson

            Yes–all Christians should agree with me. Then everything would be just fine. (That sounds like what you are saying.)

          • Gary

            No, all Christians should agree with Scripture as interpreted by the early Church. If we could all agree to do that we could drop our denominational differences and be one Church again.
            If the Lutheran Church holds any beliefs or practices that are contrary to the practices of the Early Church (Nicene Council back to the disciples of the Apostles), I will gladly work to change that Lutheran belief).

          • Roger Olson

            Already been there and tried that–back in the sixteenth century. The Anabaptists tried to get Luther and Zwingli to go the rest of the way in their “back to the Bible” Reformation movement and they wouldn’t. Thus the different denominations.