Response to Andrew Wilson

Jamie Southcombe responds to Andrew Wilson on the intra-baptistic discussion

This morning Andrew Wilson waded into the discussion du jour. In his brief article here:

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/would_you_excommunicate_tim_keller

Andrew tries to arbitrate between Leeman and Ortlund in the intra-baptistic discussion about what to do with our paedobaptist brothers and sisters. Unlike Leeman, Wilson argues that (believer’s) baptism isn’t required for churches to admit someone to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Admission to the table is, he argues, for Christians—baptised or not. However, unlike Ortlund, Wilson argues that membership expresses something more than the Lord’s Table and, as such, someone should agree with the “visions and values” of the church and be qualified to lead the church to become a member. Thus, whilst Wilson wouldn’t excommunicate Keller, he would bar him from membership. 

I admire Wilson’s attempt at a via media and indeed it seems like he walks the tightrope of understanding the church as universal and yet local, and of being chartable and yet discerning with fencing the table.

However, at the risk of wading in where angels fear to tread I think his view falls at a number of levels:

  1. First, Wilson underplays the fact that The Lord’s Supper is primarily a local church ordinance. In 1 Corinthians Paul is speaking to a local church and it is in this context that he talks about the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17ff.). Yes, there might be a universal element to the Table, but it seems as though the main thrust in the New Testament is that it is a local church ordinance. Wilson’s view however prioritizes the universal over the local and I think the onus is therefore on him to prove that his view is scripturally sound and not just emotionally expedient.
  2. Second, (and linked to the first point) Wilson drives an artificially large wedge between membership and the Lord’s Supper. Surely the Lord’s Supper and membership overlap substantially? Is it not in the coming to the Table that we express our “one-body-ness”? However, inviting Tim (if I may call him that) to the Table but not into membership runs against the grain of something the New Testament sees working together.
  3. Third, Wilson seems to devalue baptism. For Wilson (believer’s) baptism is a requirement for the church; not it seems because this is an obedience-to-Jesus issue, but because it is part of the “vision and values” of the church. This then cheapens the place that Jesus intended baptism to have in his church.
  4. Fourth, (and I could be misreading Wilson here) but he seems to fall foul of the same reduction ad absurdum that he charges Leeman and Jamieson with. Yes, they would allow a paedobaptist to preach but not to take communion with them. But Wilson would allow a paedobaptist to the Lord’s Supper but not to membership. He seems to have the same problem but has just kicked the can down the road a little bit.

This debate will no doubt rumble on. In many ways—good! However, I’m just not sure Wilson’s attempt to have his cake (or gluten free wafer) and eat it solves the issue.

Jamie Southcombe is Pastor in Training at Grace Church Guildford – a Grace Baptist Church

Twitter @jsouthcombe1