An excerpt from a recent paper of mine, ” THE DEVELOPMENT OF BAPTISM BY BAPTISTS IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND.”
FOR THE CHURCH TODAY:
As evangelical Australian Baptists remarked during the tribulations of the 20th century, “while baptism is not essential to salvation from sin, it is essential to the salvation of our denomination.” The Baptist distinctives of the 17th century, believer’s baptism by immersion and a high view of the church as the community of the Kingdom are not held in the same regard today…. Kiffin’s claim that open communion would eventually lead baptism to be “dispenced with” proved prophetic. J.H. Shakespeare, president of the Baptist Union in the early 20th century dismissed the need for the continued Baptist witness when he said, “The days of denominationalism are numbered. There is nothing more pathetic or useless, in this world, than clinging to dead issues… if we are simply denominations and not a united Church, we are doomed.”
The early Baptists believed in a continually regenerated membership instead of a parish church based on family relations and geography. This idea of voluntary community was the basis for the charge that “the Baptists, like their continental counterparts, seemed to be breaking the natural ties of human communities.” The New World struggled with this idea particularly in early Puritan congregations, creating the half membership available for the children of regenerated believers who did not have their own personal experience. Churches today still struggle with this tension.
Baptist Churches today face a rising threat to their existence (not to mention convention budgets) from the rise in non-denominational churches. While not every Baptist Church needs to continue existing, Baptists have a prophetic witness still needing to be heard in the catholic church universal. The continual spirit of renewal that encourages Baptists to always look back to scripture and to reinterpret historical Christian witnesses can solve problems outside the denomination as well as inside. The current renewal of Sacramentalism speaks truth not only to the Baptist denomination but also to the lower forms of church that echoing Flannery O’Connor’s frustration, “If it’s just a symbol, then to hell with it!” concerning the struggle with meaning for the New Testament ordinances. 
At the individual level, Baptist churches today do not practice open and closed communion in the same forms Kiffin and Bunyan argued about. Many Baptist churches still require believer’s baptism for church membership but practice open communion amongst all Christians. Baptist pastors are not wrong to insist on baptism before becoming a member of a local church, but should be careful to emphasize the promise a believer is making to that faith community. The language of a pastor asking the consent of a congregation before a candidate comes for baptism should not be a routine “aye” from the Church. The community should either be able to thoughtfully answer and be willing to ask a candidate to wait if faith is not present in their lives or respond communally after the baptism with welcome and thanks.
Baptism was once more than a witness to the faith a believer held, but also a commitment to do the actions God names as Kingdom Work. In today’s highly individualistic culture, baptism is one possible vehicle for reclaiming a sense of belonging to one another the way the New Testament presents the church in Acts 4:32 and as Jesus commands in John 13:34-35.
In the 17th century, believer’s baptism was the core of Baptist belief. As separatists they believed in autonomy from the magisterial Church of England and believers baptism by method of Immersion defined who was in and who was out. The strictly closed membership General Baptists had far fewer members but nearly as much power as the Particular Baptists by the end of the century because of their commitment to the Church-Kingdom and each other made through baptism. As the closed member Baptists saw, strong community built through baptism does not have to seem hostile to those outside of its covenant. Through baptism, the relational reality of the New Testament church is exposed in the church at all times. The commitment through baptism leads the way for scripture to be true when it says that, “Concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9 – ESV)
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 543.
 Bebbington, Baptists Through The Centuries, 225.
 Kiffin, A sober discourse of right to church-communion wherein is proved by Scripture, the example of the primitive times, and the practice of all that have prosessed the Christian religion, that no unbaptized person may be regularly admitted to the Lords Supper / by W. Kiffin …, 22.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 502. J.H. Shakespeare, The Churches at the Crossroads: A Study in Church Unity, Roger Hayden, “Still at the Crossroads, Revd J.H. Shakespeare and Ecumenism,” Baptists in the Twentieth Century, K. W. Clements, ed. (London: Baptist Historical Society, 1983), 38.
 Bebbington, Baptists Through The Centuries, 48.
 “A” dated December 16, 1955, in Sally Fitzgerald (ed.), Habit of Being (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1979), 125.