Why Don’t Baptists Commune with Presbyterians?

In a recent comment a friend of mine raised the issue of whether the requirements for membership in the local church ought to be the same as the requirements for membership in the universal church. I take this to mean: we think that someone is saved if they make a profession of faith and show evidence of regeneration. Why are these not also the requirements for church membership? Why should one have to be baptized as a believer by immersion in order to become a member of a church?

Some other friends have sought further discussion as to why a Baptist would only welcome believers who have been baptized as believers by immersion to partake of communion. So here is my attempt to explain why Baptists don’t commune with Presbyterians—in other words, here is my attempt to explain why Baptists and Presbyterians form separate churches.

Baptists are convinced that when Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . .” (Matt 28:19), he meant for people who have become disciples—people who have been born again and voluntarily associated with other believers to obey everything he commanded (28:20)—to be baptized. Historically the Baptists separated from state churches, into which all persons born in the state were baptized as infants. No infant voluntarily associated with other believers. Today, I do not believe that infants are born regenerate or born disciples, so I don’t believe infants should be baptized. Infants are not united to Christ by faith, so infants should not be baptized (see Gal 3:26–29). I do believe that I should raise my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, that I should tell them every day that they need to believe in Jesus, that I should help them memorize Bible verses, but only the Spirit can give them the new birth (John 3:3–8).

The words of Jesus are paralleled by the unbroken example of apostolic practice. Every time you see someone baptized in the New Testament, the person confesses faith in Jesus before they get baptized. Pointing to “household baptisms” does not provide evidence that there were infants in those households who got baptized. After the whole family gets baptized in Acts 16:33, the next verse, 16:34, says the whole household rejoiced having believed in God. Translations render verse 34 differently: the ESV and RSV make it sound like only the jailer believed, while the HCSB, KJV, NAS, NET, NIV, and NKJV all render the verse as though the whole household believed. Even if the ESV and RSV have it right (and I don’t think they do), the text does not explicitly say that there were infants in the household who were baptized. The household might not have included any infants.

The command of Jesus and the unbroken example of the apostles together indicate that those who believe should be baptized upon their profession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Since the infant who is sprinkled was not baptized upon profession of faith, the infant was not baptized as a believer. Since the infant was not immersed in water, which is what the word “baptize” means, the infant was not baptized. I know my paedobaptist friends won’t like this, but infant baptism is no baptism. Those “baptized” as infants have in fact not been baptized at all.

This means that any believer who has not been baptized upon profession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord is failing to obey the authoritative instruction of the Lord Christ and follow the apostolic pattern.

Many Baptist churches will welcome any believer who happens to be present when the church takes communion to partake. But if the occasional visit turns into regular attendance, and if this means that one who has not been baptized as a believer by immersion is regularly present when the church takes communion, the unbaptized should not be allowed to continue to take communion—because we love them. Baptists believe that church membership is important, and many Baptist statements of faith say that baptism is prerequisite to church membership and participation in the Lord’s supper (see the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, art. 7, for example). This means that Baptists are going to urge all regular attenders to become members, and before one can become a member, one must be baptized by immersion. If a regular attender refuses to become a member, stating that they have been baptized as an infant, because we love people and want them to obey Jesus, we will urge them to bring themselves into line with his words in Matthew 28:19.

If people refuse the loving instruction of the church and refuse to come into line with the words of Jesus and the unbroken example of the apostles, as much as we Baptists may love this person, we cannot allow them to become members of the church and take communion. They have refused to follow Christ and the apostles on this point, they have not submitted to the church’s love and instruction, and the church does not have the right to bypass the instructions of Jesus and the example of the apostles because of concern for people. We love people enough to tell them what we believe to be the truth.  

Church membership is important. We only allow people to become members of churches if they confess faith in Christ as Lord and give evidence of having been born again by repenting of all known sin. We Baptists believe that people who refuse to be baptized as believers by immersion are sinning by not being baptized in accordance with the Bible’s teaching. We are not saying they are not Christians—only God knows the heart. But we are saying that because we submit to the Bible, and because we love them and want what is best for them, we cannot allow them to become members of the church. We believe they are in disobedience on the point of baptism, and we are calling them to repent and be baptized.

I love non-Baptists. Some of my favorite theologians, past and present, are non-Baptists. I am thrilled to see the cooperation between Baptists and non-Baptists at things like “Together for the Gospel.” But I can’t join a Presbyterian church. My convictions on what the Bible says and means won’t let me. And people who have not been baptized as believers by immersion can’t join Baptist churches. This is why we have Presbyterian and Baptist Churches. We must pray and work for unity, but unity has to be unity in the truth. Unity must be found in obedience to the Scriptures.

Join the Conversation


  1. Brother Jim,

    I appreciate the good word. Paedobaptists should not take offense to Baptists not opening the table to them. I would hope that they also would restrict the table from those whom they do not believe to be baptized. We, as Baptists, do not believe that they are baptized, and so we do not open the table to them. Although we have different theologies of baptism, hopefully both Baptists and Paedobaptists can agree in principle that unbaptized persons ought not to be admitted to the table.

  2. Dr. Hamilton,
    Thank you for your honest, Biblical, hard answer. It is not easy to deal with this issue so many times, but you again have done a great job of explaining why Baptist (some anyway) do what they do. Keep up the good blogging–Dirk

  3. Jim,

    I have been having an ongoing dialogue with a much-loved Presbyterian brother this week on these very same issues. We are both in a Masters degree program together here at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA. I am going to forward him your link from this post. In God’s providence, this is a timely, balanced, Biblical, and helpful post.

    Blessings to you!

  4. Jim,

    I appreciate your post. Very succint and to the point. I was wondering if I could ask a couple of clarifying questions. First, I take this post to mean that you don’t not believe (as Piper argues) that the door to church membership should be roughly the same as that to membership in the local church? In other words, you obviously regard some paedobaptists as regenerate (i.e. they are members of the universal church) and yet you would not admit them into your local church fellowship. If I’ve summarized your view accurately, I think that this point focuses the discussion on the real issue, which isn’t baptism per se, but membership. Baptism is relevant insofar as we are seeking to ascertain its relative importance for church membership. But membership in the local church is the primary issue. That being said, how should we think about church membership? Is such a concept biblical? Is it necessary today? Does the Bible give us any indication of the requirements for church membership? Or are we able under God to construct our own set of requirements?

    In your post, you give this as one possibility:

    “We only allow people to become members of churches if they confess faith in Christ as Lord and give evidence of having been born again by repenting of all known sin.”

    You then imply that because Presbyterians do not meet this criteria, they should not be allowed to become members. However, on your definition, I think that Presbyterians would be allowed to be members, because paedobaptism is not a “known” sin. If we argue that the biblical teaching is clear on the issue and that they must be living in willful sin, then we are simply asserting our view over against theirs. If, for paedobaptists, paedobaptism is a “known” sin for which they are unrepentant, then we must conclude that Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, and John Calvin lived their entire lives in unconfessed, unrepentant, known sin. That is a very strong claim and one that I think they would dispute. At worst, it could be argued that paedobaptism isn’t a rebellion issue so much as it is a maturity issue (and even that is painful for a young student like me to write about such saints).

    A further problem with calling paedobaptism a “known sin” is that it puts us in the position of calling an unrepentant sinner a regenerate believer. In my mind, it somehow puts J.I. Packer in the same boat as an unrepentant adulterer. Both have “known” sin in their lives and they have no intention of turning from it. But, while I may question the authenticity of the adulterer’s faith, I have a very hard time questioning the authenticity of Packer’s. Once again, this focuses the issue for us. If we regard those with differing positions on baptism as regenerate and members of the church universal, is it right for us to exclude them from membership in the local church?

    There might be more that could be said, but I’ll leave it at that. I’d love to hear your thoughts. This point about membership is precisely the point that Piper and the other elders supporting the amendment at Bethlehem made in their presentation of the issue to the church. The issue is NOT primarily about baptism, but the relative importance of baptism as it relates to the primary issue of church membership. Well, what do you think?


  5. I think Joe Rigney makes some very valid points. It is often said in legal cases, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But, as Christians, are we “under the law” in this same manner? Presbyterians (and others) may be mistaken in their interpretation of biblical teaching regarding baptism (and I believe they are). But is this tantamount to being “disobedient” or in “known sin”? Are any of us 100% correct in our interpretation of biblical teaching? If “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, are there any of us who are not in “disobedience” in some minor area or another?

    All that said, I find more room biblically for membership closed to only baptized believers than I do for “closed communion.” The Lord’s Supper in itself is, among other things, a celebration of the essential unity of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 10.16-17). To celebrate it otherwise, to me, would be “disobedience.”

  6. Dr. Hamilton,

    The tension I feel with the position you articulated (which I agree with) is that tacitly we are also saying that baptism is not really all that important. If we can be “together for the gospel” with folks that have never received Christian baptism, well baptism must not be that big of a deal. In fact, if Duncan, Keller, and Packer are models of Christian piety- without ever having received Christian baptism – why is it important at all? How can we “make much of baptism” when most of our hereos and friends have never received it?

    It seems to me that as strict credobaptists we are stuck with either holding to a very low view of the ordinances/sacraments or holding to some form of landmarkism – neither of which interests me.

    Oh wretched credobaptist that I am! Who will deliver me from this tension of death? Any suggestions?

  7. I think Jow Rigney is right to ask something I’ve been aying for years-church membership is not even biblical. Obviosuly there’s nothing wrong with it as a matter of church polity, such things as voting (although the biblical church was not a democracy and 51% of what the congregation wants is not an infallible determinant of the will of God) but as to things like a visitor taking communion for example I think the Anglican communion has it right-this is the Lord’s supper and ALL baptised Christians are welcome to partake. It is not up to the church to examine them to see of they are fit (a mistake historical Calvinists often made) but rather the biblical injunction is to examine yourself.

  8. I think Joe Rigney is right to ask something I’ve been aying for years-church membership is not even biblical. Obviosuly there’s nothing wrong with it as a matter of church polity, such things as voting (although the biblical church was not a democracy and 51% of what the congregation wants is not an infallible determinant of the will of God) but as to things like a visitor taking communion for example I think the Anglican communion has it right-this is the Lord’s supper and ALL baptised Christians are welcome to partake. It is not up to the church to examine them to see of they are fit (a mistake historical Calvinists often made) but rather the biblical injunction is to examine yourself.

  9. Bloody heck, I double posted. Well…at least I spelled a little better in the second one.

  10. From what I got about church history, there was a Baptist and a Presbyterian that got together to form the Disciple of Christ Church. They were frustrated with their churches rules for communion and decided that the church was going to do every weekend and open for all believers.

  11. Robin,

    Evangelical presbyterians, in the PCA, for instance, definitely believe that people must be born again to be saved. But they think that infant children of believers, though not born again, should be baptized.

    To my thinking, this confuses the issue of who is a believer and who is a church member.

    Sorry for the slow response!


  12. Pingback: Baptism «
  13. You seemed to talk about the baptism issue, but what about their non-dispensational, covenant theology. Would that be another reason not to commune with Presbyterians?

  14. No. I think that the Dispensationalism-Covenant Theology dispute is a third order issue. People can disagree and worship in the same church. Many Baptists today hold to Covenant Theology.

    Besides, our Baptist ancestors were all Covenant Theologians. Check out the Baptist Confession of 1689. It’s covenant theology. Dispensationalism wasn’t invented until the early 1800’s, and it was popularized until the early 1900’s.



  15. Dear Jim and others,
    I am a former baptist who became reformed, covenental, and presbyterian among other things. Obviously my view on baptism changed. The issue is a bit complicated to respond to by email. I actually believe the covenental position on baptism (or infant baptism, as you put it) is the more Biblical position, not immersion. But I still recognize a brother who has been immersed as his form of baptism. Baptism means more than just immersion. It means washing, or cleansing. Moses sprinkled Israel with blood. Blood, was poured out also during sacrifices. The Spirit poured down upon Jesus. The parallel of baptism is circumcision. Abraham believed God and was circumcised. Isaac was circumcised and then later believed. An unbeliever believes today and then is baptised. His childred are baptised, then later they believe. Infants are not believers yet, but are still part of the church. The children are not part of the church in baptist churches. According to this logic, an infant who dies will not go to heaven because he has not yet repented and believed in the Lord. There is no hope for him. There is no “age of accountability” in the scripture. Certain things (doctrines) must be built upon the whole of scripture, including the old testament. Reasonable inferences can and have been made in the past. Otherwise the baptist would have to deny the doctrine of the Trinity because it is not explicitly taught in the Bible. They would also have to deny the Lord’s Supper to women since there is no command or even example of that in the New Testament. And why is it that most Baptist churches only have a pastor and some deacons, but no elders (with real spiritual authority) when the model was set in the New Testament, and qualifications are given in Timothy and Titus? I think we can have different views and even practices when it comes to baptism as long as we understand what true regeneration is. Baptism is not regeneration, but it is important. But it is not essential to our salvation. Therefore we should receive one another in the Lord, in church membership and the Lord’s Supper. To reject another believer from being a part of the church because he was not immersed shows an incredible lack of love and a rejection of his faith. Can we not both accept our respective Biblical positions? Also, it is not true that all baptist churches do not allow for participation in the Lord’s Supper for non-members who have attended their churches regularly for a long period of time. My family is a case in point. I now live in a town without a reformed presbyterian church. We have attended a Baptist church with our children for a long time. And my children have not been re-baptized (by immersion), although they are true believers. It seems that that’s not important. What is important to them is how/when they are baptised. Baptists have no consistent position because they are all basically independent! We are not living in “known sin/disobedience”. The church is practicing sin (even though they don’t think so), by not accepting us.

  16. Good article. The opening contention–that there is a “universal church” separate from Christ’s model of a local church–causes much of the confusion. If there is a universal church, then believer’s baptism is somewhat pointless. Yet Scripture does not teach a universal church. The word ‘ekklesia’–always used to describe the church (particular or generic)–means “assembling together locally.” There is no separate word for “universal church”. It is a Catholic invention (universal, visible) co-opted by Protestant Reformers (universal, invisible) and closely tied to the idea of infant baptism and state religion. But of course both the Catholics and the Protestants persecuted Baptist churches for these very contentions.

  17. Dr. Hamilton,

    My trouble with your position is that I can’t find a biblical/ theological category for people who are in ongoing, unrepentant sin (i.e., refusing to be baptized), who yet remain in Christian fellowship in good standing with the wider body of Christ. If a person is an unrepentant sinner, why are we attending their conferences, endorsing their books, and borrowing their church leadership strategies? On the other hand, if we DO attend their conferences, accept their teachings, and fellowship with them as brothers in the Lord – in what sense are we really considering them unrepentant sinners?

    I haven’t yet seen a position or argument that adequately addresses that tension. In my view, the tension is screaming loud and clear in your closing paragraphs.

    I agree that Presbyterians and Baptists probably ought not conduct church life together – but it seems to me largely a practical outworking of their divergent understandings of initiation into the community of faith, rather than a fundamental theological conviction whereby each group is believed by the other to be in unrepentant sin. If the division is MORE than merely practical, how can this tension be satisfactorily resolved?


    Kyle Carlson

      1. you deny fellowship based on a conviction that presbyterians have come to *in good faith*, that we believe has been led by the Holy Spirit through much study. do you think God teaches us all exactly the same? in the same way, the same time, the same manner, each and everyone of us, identical believers, with identical theology? has that ever happened in the history of the church? are we now catholic and should have some unifying pope to declare exactly what we all should believe and in such we should unite behind him? what is wrong with you?

  18. I think we do well to remember that it is not a Baptist or Presbyterian table, it’s the Lord”s table. We are told to examine OURSELVES in order to discern the Lord’s body, not examine the other guys’ theology. The Lord is able to make those who are His, to stand before Him.

  19. so basically you’re saying if someone professes faith, shows evidence of regeneration, and like the Puritans, willing to die for his faith, if he isn’t a baptist, isn’t a Christian. get saved dude

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