Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

“The Baptist Congregation” by Stanley Grenz


The blurb to The Baptist Congregation[1] argues that the contemporary church exists in a period of upheaval and this book seeks to provide a clear foundation for the Baptist denomination to stand upon. The blurb is certainly not incorrect. Grenz has effectively provided a theological and practical tool to aid the Baptist denomination. He states that “the book seeks to build on the foundations of those emphases which have been significant throughout Baptist history, in order to provide a source book which may assist Baptist churches in their task.”[2] This essay provides an overview of the argument and structure of the book, followed by several critical reflections.[3]

The Baptist Congregation


Grenz begins with a discussion on the church. The word “Church” originates in the Hebrew qahal, connoting assembly, translated into the Greek ekklēsia and argues the Church is “neither a building nor an organization, but people.”[4] It is the “people” and “temple” of God, and the “Body of Christ;”[5] an assembly of people called out by God to reflect his nature to the world.[6] The purpose of the Church is to glorify God, as the created order was made to glorify him,[7] accomplished through worship, edification and outreach.[8] The Baptist church has generally rejected the high ecclesiology of apostolic succession and a heavy emphasis on word and sacrament, arguing instead that “the church is marked by believers standing in covenant with God and one another,”[9] leading to a congregationalism.

In the next section, on ordinances, Grenz discusses the words “sacrament,” connoting faithful obedience, and “ordinance,” referring to that which has been ordained, or initiated, by Jesus.[10] Of these, Baptists hold to two – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Neither mere symbols, nor simply “steps of obedience,” these are significant for several reasons, including affirmation or reaffirmation of faith and acting as visual sermons.[11] These ordinances must have evidence of being initiated by Jesus, evidence of their being practiced in the early church and must symbolically reveal the Gospel.[12] Baptism is “a public confession of personal faith on the part of the baptismal candidate,”[13] signifying three emphases: 1) entry into church, 2) union with Christ, and 3) the sealing of a covenant with God.[14] It impacts upon the individual, community and general public, requiring faith from the individual,[15] and pictures Jesus’ death and resurrection.[16] Where baptism is initiatory, the Lord’s Supper is repeated. It is Gospel proclamation, and recollection of Jesus’ death, a symbol of our faith in Christ and church unity, and a reminder of Christ’s return.[17] It acts as “the reaffirmation of personal faith in and loyalty to Jesus as Lord…Through participation in the Lord’s Supper the believer is strengthened by the Spirit as personal allegiance to Chris is reaffirmed.”[18] Rather than the Catholic transubstantiation, Lutheran consubstantiation and Calvin’s spiritual presence, Baptists have held to Zwingli’s memorialism, in which “Christ’s presence was not to be found in the elements at all, but rather in the believing community.”[19]

The third section discusses polity, beginning with membership. Only becoming a formal practice after the early church as a result of historical developments,[20] it recognizes the incorporation of an individual into the whole, requiring a profession of faith and baptism. This has a human, divine and corporate aspect, and is the final initiatory stage.[21] Church organization follows one of three structures: hierarchical, representative, or congregational. Baptists have generally followed the third.[22] Favoring congregationalism, Grenz states that “each local church is to be the church of Jesus Christ in miniature and as such is self-governing,”[23] following a democratic congregationalism in which the entire body is responsible in discerning God’s will.[24] Offices in the church are designated to provide organization; bishops, from the word episkopos, connoting supervision, and deacons, from diakonos, generally referring to someone who waits on, assists or ministers to another.[25] Other positions of authority include apostle, apostolic assistants and pastor/teachers.[26] Today, pastors and elders hold positions of authority, similar to these listed, plus church boards and committees.[27] Pastors are usually ordained in the Baptist church, a “recognition and confirmation by the corporate people of God of the presence of this special call to a particular individual.”[28] Ordination councils are formed to examine the candidate in terms of calling, doctrine and personal ministry. The ordination procedure includes leaders presenting a candidate to the congregation, a statement of faith from the candidate, receiving of committee recommendations, voting upon the ordination and, if successful, an ordination ceremony where the candidate receives a charge and prayer with the laying on of hands.[29]

The fourth section consists of an outline of the history of the Baptist denomination, particularly in America, and the progression of its distinctive emphases. Springing from the Puritans, the radical congregationalism saw John Smythe lead a separatist group in Amsterdam and in 1609 baptized himself and his followers as a renewal of their covenant. This is seen as the beginning of the Baptist church.[30] Another began on Rhode Island in America by Roger Williams.[31] The two major distinctive emphases are the primacy of scripture and individual competency. Regenerate church membership, congregational autonomy, the two ordinances, believer’s baptism, and separation of church and state, result from the two main emphases.[32] Of the 47 million members, the majority of Baptists reside in America (approximately 85%), but the Baptist World Alliance exists to link international Baptists.[33] Three main Baptist conventions exist in America: American Baptist Churches in the United States, Southern Baptist Convention, and National Baptist Convention. Though there are many other small conventions.[34] The book ends with an appendix consisting of a helpful sample constitution, organizational structure and selected dates in Baptist history.[35]

Critical Reflection

Though Grenz has written a good introduction to the Baptist church, there are some criticisms to be made. Firstly, he occasionally sidesteps major arguments. For example, while he is happy to go to great detail in outlining the procedure of ordination or attaining local congregation membership, little argument is provided against infant baptism or transubstantiation, consubstantiation or Calvin’s spiritual presence in his discussion of the two ordinances. Against paedobaptism; firstly, he simply argues that infants do not have the capability of professing faith, but has unsuccessfully argued for the need for a profession of faith from the individual in baptism.[36] Published eight years before this book, Bridge and Phypers published a book outlining arguments for paedobaptism,[37] arguments which are conveniently ignored by Grenz.[38]

Secondly, Grenz simply argues that believer’s baptism “is built on various considerations, including biblical precedent and the dangers inherent in infant baptism,”[39] but does not provide scriptural support[40] or list what these dangers actually are. He correctly places Baptist emphasis in the Lord’s Supper upon Zwingli’s memorialism, but, again, provides little argument for the validity of this position and jumps to the conclusion that “it is probable that first-century Christians did view the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal,”[41] with no scriptural or historical evidence. However, this small book is simply an introduction, and greater detail can be found in his Theology for the Community of God.

One other main criticism lies in his overemphasis on detailing Baptist movements in America. If his target audience was primarily American this would be fine, but it seems from his introduction that his purpose in writing the book is that it be a tool to all Baptists, not just American Baptists. However, considering that the vast majority of Baptists reside in America, it’s a fair assumption that the majority of his audience would be American, but it could have helped to outline in greater detail the movements of Baptist groups internationally.


Having discussed the essence and the ordinances of the church, focussing on the two that the Baptist denomination adheres to, the polity of the Baptist church, and its history and movement, Grenz has successfully provided a good introduction to the denomination. It is evident that the major distinctive element lies in organization and polity, and the major emphases flow out from these: the primacy of scripture and individual competency. Despite several criticisms, Grenz’ work is a valuable sourcebook for any Baptist minister or layperson.


D Bridge, D Phypers. “The Paedobaptist Approach.” In The Water That Divides. England: IVP, 1977.

Grenz, Stanley J. The Baptist Congregation. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1985.

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5 ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

[1] Stanley J. Grenz, The Baptist Congregation (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1985).

[2] Ibid. 9.

[3] Grenz’ Theology for the Community of God (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994).) follows a similar structure in its ecclesiological discussions, and provides greater detail in arguments. Hence, this essay utilizes Grenz’ arguments in Theology for the Community of God to further understand the themes discussed and Grenz’ general evangelical position, though it was published nine years later.

[4] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 15-16.

[5] Ibid. 16. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 463-67 – “The use of the term ekklesia in the New Testament indicates that the early believers conceived of the church as a covenanting people. This conclusion is confirmed by several of the metaphors used by the New Testament writers to provide insight into the nature of their fellowship. Three are especially important, each of which is related to a member of the Trinity,” (465-66).

[6] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 18. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 489 – “The church is the primary vehicle for mirroring the divine image.”

[7] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 19-20. Grenz cites Ps. 19:1-4, and Eph. 1:5-6, 11-14; 2:6-7 to argue that creation and salvation are to glorify God; “we are redeemed in order to glorify God and to be a showcase of the grace of the one who saved us in Christ,” (p. 20). Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 488-489 – “God’s glory is indeed the final goal of all God’s actions;” “God’s soteriological purposes arise out of the glorification of his own triune nature.”

[8] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 20-21.

[9] Ibid. 22.

[10] Ibid. 29-30. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 515 – “As his obedient disciples, we naturally desire to continue those practices which Christ ordained for us to follow. We practice the ordinances, therefore, as the primary divinely ordained means for us to declare our loyalty to Jesus as Lord.”

[11] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 30-32.

[12] Ibid. 32. For these three reasons, “both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are without question ordinances of the church,” (p. 32).

[13] Ibid. 33.

[14] Ibid. 34. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 522-523 – “Baptism symbolizes our spiritual union with Christ…the confirming of a covenant with God,” and “marks our initiation into the narrative of the Christian fellowship.”

[15] Hence, paedobaptism is to be rejected, based on “the meaning of the ordinance itself,” (Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 36).

[16] Ibid. 34-37. Due to its symbolic links with Jesus’ death and resurrection, baptism should be practiced as full immersion, rather than to sprinkle. This is further supported by the Greek baptizō (“to immerse”) as opposed to hrantizō (“to sprinkle”) and Acts 8:39 and Matt. 3:16, both implying going down into and coming up out of the water, (ibid. 37). Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 530-531 – “Sprinkling dominates among most Protestants and in the Roman Catholic Church, although immersion is often allowed. Certain Anabaptist groups use pouring. Although the Eastern Orthodox Church immerses babies, the Baptist tradition has been the strongest advocate of immersion…We may derive [immersion’s] superiority not only from New Testament evidence but also from the value of the rite as a sign of gospel truth. Immersion most clearly depicts what the ordinance of baptism is meant to signify, namely the death and resurrection of Jesus and the believer’s union with Christ.”

[17] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 39-41.

[18] Ibid. 41. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 531 – “Our participation in the second act of commitment constitutes a repeated reaffirmation of what we initially declared in baptism – namely, our new identity in Christ.”

[19] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 43. Further, Grenz states that “it is probable that first-century Christians did view the Lord’s Supper as a memorial meal, although one which is similar in intent to the Jewish Passover. As the Jewish Passover depicted the Exodus, so this ordinance depicts the great act of God in Christ. This act is symbolically reenacted so that the community may not only recall God’s action in the past but also be reminded of God’s continuing presence and God’s promises for the future,” (p. 44).

[20] Though letters of commendation, carried between groups were used, (ibid. 47).

[21] Ibid. 47-51. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 546-47 – “Uniting with a local congregation (which is the visible expression of Christ’s church) forms the final step in the process of initiation into the company of the people of God. This process begins with personal faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord, is publicly expressed in water baptism, and culminates in formal church membership…The process of initiation into the church of Christ…comes about through the triad of inward faith, its outward expression in baptism, and formal membership in a local congregation. Faith marks our acceptance of the story of Jesus for us. Baptism symbolizes our transfer of loyalties. And church membership marks the public meshing of our personal story with the story of God’s people.”

[22] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 53-54.

[23] Ibid. 55. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 550-51 – “According to the independent model…Christ’s authority functions immediately in each local fellowship (hence, the designation “congregational.”) Each church is directly accountable to its Lord and in this sense is autonomous (that is, responsible under Christ for its own affairs.)”

[24] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 57.

[25] Ibid. 61-62.

[26] Ibid. 63. According to Grenz, “In the first century apostles were responsible for the articulation, proclamation, and maintenance of foundational doctrine. Prophets and evangelists were carried on itinerant work, using churches established by apostles as a basis of ministry. Pastors and teachers, it appears, were those who worked within a specific locale for an extended period of time in order to edify the congregation by their ministry,” (p. 63).

[27] Ibid. 64-65.

[28] Ibid. 68. Cf. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. 567 – “To enter into pastoral ministry a person must meet two conditions: a personal call from the Lord of the church through his Spirit and the confirmation of that call by the faith community…It is, as Luther suggested, an ecclesiastical ceremony through which the community ratifies the call and election of the minister.”

[29] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 69-72.

[30] Ibid. 75-77.

[31] Ibid. 78. Grenz argues that Williams’ “study of the New Testament solidified his rejection of that baptism, not just because it was performed by a false church, but also because it was performed on infants, in contrast to the believer’s baptism of the early church,” (p. 78).

[32] Ibid. 82-90. Grenz notes the acrostic of the seven convictions, forming BAPTIST: Believer’s baptism, Autonomy of local congregation, Primacy of scripture, True believers only, Individual competency, Separation of church and state, Two ordinances (p. 82).

[33] Ibid. 91-94.

[34] Ibid. 98-105.

[35] Ibid. 109-120.

[36] Ibid. 35-36.

[37] D. Bridge, D. Phypers, “The Paedobaptist Approach,” in The Water That Divides (England: IVP, 1977).

[38] It would be unfair to expect Grenz to have read every publication on the issue, but it is obvious that there were many arguments at the time of the publication of this book which Grenz did not elaborate upon. Cf. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5 ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 411-423. McGrath provides brief, yet thorough, overviews of each sacramental position and arguments for each, arguments which Grenz could have profited from.

[39] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 36.

[40] There has been scriptural argument prior to this point, but most referring to either the need for baptism or the public ministry of baptism, not necessarily to the requirement of a profession of faith from the individual.

[41] Grenz, The Baptist Congregation. 44.


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