Baptism and Church Membership

Baptism and Church Membership

Introduction

 

Recently the elders of MBC have been wrestling with the issue of whether or not members of Maranatha should be baptized by immersion in order to be received as members. Prior to this, baptism has not been a requirement for church membership at Maranatha. However, as the elders wrestled with this issue, we came to the conclusion that this should be necessary for becoming a member at MBC. As we have discussed this issue, we have concluded that believer’s baptism and church membership should not be separated as if they were two unrelated events, rather, they are intimately connected with believer’s baptism serving as a necessary prerequisite for church membership. The following is a defense of this position.

Rationale

Christ was Baptized and We Are to Follow His Example

  • Although John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and thus different from believer’s baptism, Christ did set an example for us in the waters of baptism (Mark 1:9)
  • Christ had no need to be baptized as he had no sin to repent of, yet His baptism was done in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) and thereby prefigured the significance of believer’s baptism
  • Thus, we desire to follow the example set by Jesus in being baptized by immersion

Baptism is Commanded for All Believers

  • Baptism is not an optional command which was given by the Lord to His people; it is something that He expects all believers to be obedient to
  • In fact, baptism is one of the first commands given to a new believer and one of the first steps of obedience a new believer takes
  • Jesus commanded the disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
  • Acts 2:38 indicates that baptism is an ordinance commanded by the Lord in conjunction with a person’s salvation
  • Also, Acts 2:41 implies that obedience to the command to be baptized was a necessary component of being included in the Jerusalem church
  • The pattern in the book of Acts demonstrates that believers were baptized soon after conversion in obedience to the command to be baptized (see Acts 8:12; 8:36; 10:47-48; 16:14-15; 16:31-33)
  • Thus, because Christ commanded that believers be baptized, we want to uphold the importance of that command and urge believers to obey it

Baptism is a Public Profession of Salvation

  • Baptism and salvation are closely associated in the New Testament (Acts 8:12; 22:16)
  • The reason for this is because baptism demonstrates that someone is a believer – going under the water symbolizes the washing away of sin and coming up out of the water symbolizes the new life that is in Christ
  • So closely are salvation and baptism connected that all of those who believed on Pentecost were baptized (Acts 2:41)
  • Likewise, Acts 18:8 expresses the fact that believers in the early church demonstrated the reality of their salvation by being baptized
  • Therefore, we want to encourage believers to publicly profess their salvation in Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism

Baptism is a Required Component in the Discipleship Process

  • Matthew 28:19-20 indicates that baptism is part of bringing someone to Christ and discipling them so that they obey Christ’s teaching
  • Because becoming a member of a church is part of the discipleship process, we want to be faithful to Christ’s instructions to baptize those who have become a disciple of Christ
  • Thus, we desire to uphold Christ’s requirements for discipling believers of which baptism is a necessary requirement

Baptism is Consistent with Identification with Christ

  • Water baptism is intended to convey the spiritual realities that occur when someone comes to Christ
  • Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12 express the fact that when someone is saved they are instantly identified with Christ in His death and resurrection
  • They are “baptized” into Christ’s death and are raised up with Him through faith
  • This “baptism” which occurs at the moment of salvation is not water baptism, but a spiritual baptism when the believer is united with Christ’s work on the cross and in His resurrection
  • However, water baptism is intended to be a vivid portrayal of these spiritual realities
  • Thus, water baptism is an important ordinance given to the church to demonstrate the glorious realities of salvation in Christ

Believer’s Baptism is the “Door” into Local Church Membership

  • When a person is regenerated, converted, and justified, they are instantly “baptized” into the body of Christ, the universal church, as a result of their union with Christ and their identification with Him (1 Cor 12:13)
  • Thus, membership in the universal church is a genuine reality for all true believers as a result of their spiritual baptism in Christ
  • However, it is our conviction at MBC that water baptism (and a clear testimony of salvation through Christ) is the requirement for entrance into local church membership
  • For those who wish to become members of a local church, they should be willing to enter through the door of water baptism since it parallels the entrance into the universal church by spiritual baptism
  • A believer who is willing to identify with a local body of believers, the body of Christ, in membership, should also be willing to identify with Christ Himself in the waters of baptism
  • We view it as inconsistent for a believer to want to identify with the body of Christ in membership but not want to identify with the person of Christ in the waters of baptism in accordance with Christ’s command
  • Thus, we see water baptism as an important prerequisite for entrance into local church membership as it parallels spiritual baptism as a requirement for entrance into the universal church
  • It is important to note that water baptism only needs to be performed once following a believer’s conversion – in other words, a believer does not need to be baptized again each time he desires to become a member of a local church

Failing to Require Baptism for Membership Creates Problems

Such as:

  • Promoting the idea that believer’s baptism is optional
  • Creating a division within that local church between “baptized members” and “unbaptized members”
  • Complicating the situation when an unbaptized person is considered for a position of leadership in the church such as elder or deacon

Issues to Address

What About Current Members not Baptized by Immersion?

  • We understand that in making this change at MBC, there are some who have become members previously without having been baptized by immersion and, for various reasons, have not been baptized since then
  • Thus, there are some “unbaptized members” of Maranatha Bible Church
  • Because those individuals became members when this requirement was not in place, it would be wrong and unkind to now “revoke” that individual’s membership now that baptism is required for membership
  • For that reason, we will not be removing membership from individuals who fall into this category
  • However, we will encourage those individuals to consider this change carefully, to understand what the Bible teaches about believer’s baptism, and to become obedient to Christ’s instructions to be baptized

What About Those Who Were Sprinkled as Infants?

  • In some cases, there may be some believers who apply for membership at MBC who have been sprinkled as an infant or young child
  • While we understand that some denominations consider this method “baptism,” it is our conviction at MBC that infant sprinkling is inconsistent with believer’s baptism as outlined in the Bible and this paper
  • In other words, infant sprinkling is not the same as believer’s baptism and would, therefore, not fulfill the requirement of baptism for membership at MBC
  • Thus, we would encourage that person to become obedient to Christ’s command to be baptized in accordance with believer’s baptism

What About Children or Young People?

  • Young people who desire to becomes members of MBC must meet the same requirements for membership as adults (i.e. clear testimony of salvation and baptism by immersion)
  • The danger to avoid with children, however, is rushing them into baptism when their testimony may be still unclear (or at least unproven) and their understanding of baptism may still be fuzzy
  • Too often young people are rushed into baptism after any profession of faith they give which may in fact not be a genuine conversion
  • This can create confusion for the child as they grow older since they had a “conversion experience” (i.e. raising the hand, walking an aisle, signing a card, saying a prayer, etc.) and they were baptized, but may not be genuinely saved
  • Also, too often children are rushed into baptism without fully comprehending the spiritual implications of baptism
  • They might want to get baptized because their parents encourage them to or because their friends are doing it, but they may not fully understand their identification with Christ in the waters of baptism
  • For these reasons, it is important to wait for children to clearly understand the Gospel, have a clear conversion testimony, and understand what believer’s baptism really means before they are baptized
  • Thus, in order for young people to become members of MBC, they would need to work through these issues prior to membership