That isÂ a plausibly drawnÂ conclusionÂ after the kerfuffle created by Mark Dever’s post on “Things He Can and Cannot Live With.”Â Â Like others to comment on this post, I admire Mark and count him a friend.Â During a recent conference at Southern Baptist Seminary, where Mark is chairman of the board,Â he and I enjoyed several pleasant conversations.Â He is not only the pastor of the church where Jay and Ellen Hart were married (TMI – alert), but he is a Calvinist and says a lot of sensible and valuable things about congregational life, church membership, and discipline.Â He is one of my favorite Baptists, most of whom orbit around Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.
It should also be said that Mark deserves real credit for saying what he did about paedobaptism being a sin.Â I disagree with him.Â What do you expect from a Presbyterian elder?Â But I’m not offended, much less annoyed.Â If you take the sacraments seriously, not to mention being a faithful minister of the word, you need to say that the wrong practice ofÂ baptism is sinful.Â (It should also be pointed out that Mark was not singling out paedobaptism.Â He did mention it along with racism and universalism, but his list actually ran to 15 and included drum, organs, and female elders, none of which hit the threshold of paedobaptism but this was a free-flowing column.)
What is curious about the post is what it means for the variety of evangelical parachurch agencies like the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Together for the Gospel, and Gospel Coalition, all of which find credo- and paedobaptists inhabiting membership cheek by jowel under the umbrella of a lower-common denominator evangelicalism.Â Mark actually has a very good interview with a fundamentalist pastor who questions Mark’s own participation in these alliances and coalitions on the grounds of not participating with those who observe sinful practices.Â It was a frank even ifÂ friendly exchange.Â (Why do conservative Presbyterians today keep wanting to “hang” with Baptists who think paedobaptism is a sin?)
When you read, for instance, the copy for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and then see the way that Baptists and Presbyterians on the Council differ on baptism, you wonder if the Alliance is really doing what it says it does when it states:
Since 1994, the Alliance has been an association of evangelical pastors, teachers, leaders, and Christians committed to the great evangelical consensus arising from the protestant reformation, working together for the recovery of the biblical, apostolic witness of the Church. It fosters a collaborative movement of reformed evangelical Christians, to promote robust, biblical, historic, confessional Christianity through media, events, publications, networking, and more. It has encouraged the Church to evaluate its message and methods, according to Scripture. It has warned the Church against false doctrine. It has advocated for sound doctrine, warm piety, catechetical instruction, biblical worship, faithful cultural engagement, and scriptural methods of evangelism and church growth.
It’s that “warning the church” against false doctrine that could give one pause.Â Has the Alliance actually done anything to warn Baptists or Presbyterians about baptism and its abuse?Â The issue is dicier for the Gospel Coalition where, at least the last time I checked they were recruiting not just individual pastors but also churches for the common cause of — well — either paedo- or credobaptism.
My hunch is that ACEÂ hasn’t because the sacraments do not ascend the list of criteriaÂ that demonstrateÂ a biblical and apostolic ministry.Â Or at least, baptism doesn’t.Â Talk about Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper and that could get you in trouble with Baptists and low-church Presbyterians.Â In fact, that seems to be what happened after White Horse Media and ACE went their separate ways.Â Yes, Ed Veith perseveres as the Alliance’s sole Lutheran.Â But for a consistent Alliance, we should probably consult, yet again, the Christian & Missionary version.
Maybe what we really need is a coalition of soteriological Calvinists.Â That seems to be the glue holding together these pastors and theologians who come from distinct communions to rally for the gospel.Â The problem here, is that it would leave out Veith.Â It would also likely leave out Dever.Â Mark is too a churchman to think that the gospel can be disembodied from the body of Christ.
Come to think of it, why not a fellowship or communion of confessing Protestants?Â Â Wait.Â We already have that.Â It’s called the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church — the list goes on.Â The problem here isÂ that several of these communions are not in fellowship.
So what’s an ecumenical Protestant to do?Â Admit that evangelicalism is not aÂ solution to the disunity of Protestantism, and then consult with the committee on ecumenicity of his own communion.