What is Baptism & Church Membership
by Rev. Dr. V. P. Travis, Jr.
The first four centuries of the early church provides all we need to know about our Christian faith and sacraments.
BAPTISM is the way in which a person is actually united to Christ, the local body of Christian believers, (the Local Church), not a “denomination.” When a person is baptized, they are baptized into Jesus Christ…not a local church. In the early church, there were NO independent churches. There was ONE church. Since the split of 1054, there are now over 38,000 different denominations in the world.
Denominations can be very confusing these days. Yet, everything was established to operate through the local parish church. Again, no where in the bible do we find denominations (see Acts 20; 2 Cor 13:5; Matt 16:18: 1). The Rock in this passage refers to is Jesus (his work of salvation by dying on the cross for us; 2) Peter revealed the identity of Christ. Later, Peter reminds Christians that they are the church built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets and Jesus is the cornerstone, Ephesians: 2:20-21.
A person acknowledges they are a sinner, repents of their sin before God and then follows in baptism. An outward sign of an inward faith. We accept Christ to bring Him into our spirit (our spirits unite) meaning we receive the Holy Spirit at that moment! Baptism is that outward sign by water and public profession. The experience of salvation is initiated in the our profession of faith and the waters of baptism. The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 6: 1-6 that in baptism we experience Christ’s death and resurrection. In our profession and repentance our sins are truly forgiven and we are energized by our union with Christ to live a holy life. Biblical baptism is by full immersion.
Infant Baptism: Though we practice infant baptism, we reject the assumption that the purpose of such is for the forgiveness of inherited guilt. Rather, we stress that infant baptism restores a power of life to the baptized, who then commences the growth in Christ-likeness through parental teaching. We know an infant cannot profess faith, therefore under the covenant his/her Christian parents profess faith and teach the child through their confirmation in which time that child makes a profession of faith. It is not baptismal regeneration and does not immediately remove all corruption, but restores the participation in God’s grace through which progressive deliverance can come by the parental teaching of God’s Holy Word which transforms the believer. Like all grace, the grace of baptism is cooperant. As such, baptism alone is not a guarantee of salvation. This is the reason why the confirmand is required to make a public profession of faith upon his/her completing their catechism of the Christian faith. The church is where we are discipled and conduct a service of confirmation in the church by our Bishop or priest. I always ask those whom have been baptized…How they came to know Jesus Christ. 1) by Faith or understanding. Those raised under proper teaching state they received their salvation through FAITH!
Why do we require baptismal instruction for those new converts to the Christian faith? What about church membership?
Coming to Christ? Those coming to know Jesus Christ have come to know Christ because of two things. 1) They have been lead by another friend, church member through God’s word or 2) they had ears to hear the gospel preached and have become convicted of their sins in their life.
How does one come to know Christ: Simply follow these steps: Hear God’s Word: Romans 10:13-17
- Believe God’s Word: Hebs 11:6, Mark 16:16, Acts 8:37
- Repent of one’s Sins: Luke 13:3,5, Acts 2:38, Acts 17:30-31, 2 Pet. 3:9
- Confess Jesus Christ: Matthew 10:32-33, Roms 10:9-10, Acts 8:37
- Be Baptized: Acts 2:38, 1 Pet.3:21, Acts 22:16, Mk 16:16, Gals 3:27, Roms 6:3-6
We take baptism very serious in that we provide baptismal instruction prior to baptizing those who come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Baptism is a requirement before being able to participate in the Eucharist. To understand why Christ died for our sins is very important in understanding our baptism.
Emmaus Abbey Church has had many questions concerning baptism? Our mode of baptism is full immersion in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For parents who want their infant baptized, both parents must be active in their faith meaning: have membership in Emmaus Abbey Church, attending church regularly (at least 3x/month) and show maturity in the faith to raise their children in the Christian Faith. The Sacrament of Baptism is an area that has been attacked and confused by the enemy of souls, Satan. There are so many ideas about how, why, when, where, and by what name someone is to be baptized. Jesus in the verse in Mark 16:16 says a person is to believe and be baptized. This is for an adult. This would seem to eliminate infant baptism, because a child would have to be old enough to understand in order to believe. Jesus also gave a commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:19 – 20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
So there appears to be some teaching, or learning involved before someone is to be Baptized.
Ac 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
There is held by some that all we have to do is believe, then we will be saved. I am sure it can be said that Satan believes and trembles, yet he will be lost. The believing that the Bible talks about is a way of living, it is beliefs put into practice, not just on the Sabbath while at church, but in all of the life all of the time. Now if you should see someone slip and not practice what they espouse to believe, don’t criticize but pray for and help restore them on the right path.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This verse and others, are used to say all we have to do is repent in order to be baptized. Those who use this verse to justify their position sometimes have a narrow concept of what constitutes repentance.
1 Kings 8:47 Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; We find here that along with repentance is confession, admitting what we have done and where we have sinned.
Ezekiel 14:6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
Here repentance includes a turning away from our sins.Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Again, I believe illustrated here, is repentance is accompanied by and includes a confession of sin and a turning away from sin. So this comes to the idea, “is it okay to refuse baptism to those who are involved in open or visible sin?” I believe we could use the verses above along with a couple more and say that it is proper to refuse baptism to those who are involved in open sin.
Matthew 3:7-10 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
John the Baptist thought it proper that an outward change should be manifested as evidence of an inward change of the heart before baptism should be performed. This is not a judgment as to the heart or motives of a person, it is more like saying there might not be a clear understanding of what is being professed by the one being baptized.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.Baptism is more than a mental assent that we believe in Jesus as our personal Savior. The vows which we take upon ourselves in baptism embrace much. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we are buried in the likeness of Christ’s death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection, and we are to live a new life. Our life is to be bound up with the life of Christ.
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
From now on the believer is to bear in mind that he is dedicated to God, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. No longer to live for self and selfish pursuits, the believer has vowed to live wholly for God dedicating all that he has and is to the service of our Lord.
1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Salvation is a free gift and baptism is a believers way of saying publicly I am Christ’s.
Now what about tying baptism to church membership, does that have any Biblical support? With the proliferation of Christian denominations, some have come to the realization that God has true followers in every denomination. So is it right to require a person to become a member of a particular denomination or church? Let us look at the Scripture:
1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all make to drink into one Spirit.
If we would look at the early believers, we would not find those who were baptized doing their own thing, worshiping God in their own way. What we would find is a unified body of believers, who had pastors, elders and deacons who ministered to the church of their day. There was a church in Jerusalem which included all the believers in Jerusalem. There was a church in Corinth, which included all the believers in Corinth. There was a church in Laodicea which included all the believers in Laodicea. We could mention the Church of Philippi, the Church of Sardus, the Church of Philadelphia, the Church of Rome, and many others. And when the church at Jerusalem suffered persecution and could not obtain enough provisions to survive on, the churches from the other cities sent aid and support. And when there was a question of doctrine that could not be resolved at the local church, the matter was taken to Jerusalem and the council of apostles would study the question, and send out a letter to all the churches giving the answer to the question that was causing disunity and division in the local churches. The council at Jerusalem also appointed those who were responsible for the oversight of the various churches where ever they may be found.
I believe if we would look over the rest of the scriptures we would find that there was not an option, when someone was baptized they automatically became a member of the church, and were subject to the authority of the council in Jerusalem.
Acts 2:42-47 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Not only did believers become a member of the church, but they acted and lived as a family, with all the possessions of the individuals were used for the support of all.
There was an expectation that each individual would conduct themselves according to a set of standards and breaking with the accepted standards would result in disfellowship. The ultimate in disfellowship was suffered by Ananias and Sapphira, when they lied about the amount of money a piece of property brought that was given as an offering. We find this account in Acts chapter 5. Then there is the disfellowship of one of the professed believers in Corinth. After Paul had left Corinth there were some who began to embrace once again some of the evil habits that they had done while they were in heathenism. And Paul had to tell the believers not to keep company with those who persisted in open sin. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-12) especially
1 Corinthians 5: 9-11 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
Jesus even gave counsel on how to settle disputes with those in the church;
Matthew 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
To me there is ample evidence to support the tying of baptism and church membership together. Besides a new believer will have many things they have not learned or do not understand, and the church family is there to help teach them, the pastor to help instruct them. And when strife or struggles should befall a believer there is a support system there to help them through their times of trial. In my thinking, the question should not be about why a person is required to become a member of a church, the question should be is the church I will be joining the right church? Do what they profess, reflect the teachings of Jesus and God’s revealed will as relayed to us by the Bible? We cannot look at the people, because they are all at different stages of growth and all have faults and will let us down at some point, but what are the truths the church was founded on, can they be supported by the Bible. None of these questions were needed to be asked by believers in the first century, because there was only one church and they lifted Jesus up and believed in God’s word. But now with all the denominations we need to carefully and prayerfully consider what is being taught.
It was early in the churches history that we can find a trend or a tendency to want to split from the main body of believers into separate groups or denominations. One of the places where we find a hint that there was an effort to make divisions or denominations in the Churches was in Corinth. Paul had to address the division that was starting to disrupt the unity of the believers.
1 Corinthians 1:12-13 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
This comes from one of my favorite authors and the book Acts of the Apostles.
“The first epistle to the Corinthian church was written by the apostle Paul during the latter part of his stay at Ephesus. For no others had he felt a deeper interest or put forth more untiring effort than for the believers in Corinth. For a year and a half he had labored among them, pointing them to a crucified and risen Saviour as the only means of salvation, and urging them to rely implicitly on the transforming power of His grace. Before accepting into church fellowship those who made a profession of Christianity, he had been careful to give them special instruction as to the privileges and duties of the Christian believer, and he had earnestly endeavored to help them to be faithful to their baptismal vows.
Paul had a keen sense of the conflict which every soul must wage with the agencies of evil that are continually seeking to deceive and ensnare, and he had worked untiringly to strengthen and confirm those who were young in the faith. He had entreated them to make an entire surrender to God; for he knew that when the soul fails to make this surrender, then sin is not forsaken, the appetites and passions still strive for the mastery, and temptations confuse the conscience. “
Paul spoke plainly of the dissensions that had arisen in the Corinthian church, and exhorted the members to cease from strife. “I beseech you, brethren,” he wrote, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 1 Corinthians 1:10. In the end there would be fragmenting of believers, one group wanting to believe and worship one way, and another group another way.
Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
The life of the believer is changed at baptism, what we once loved we now hate, what was once foreign to us we now embrace. May God, His Son and the Holy Spirit guide you through all your questions. And may our love for Christ grow as we get to know Him, the Author and Finisher of our Salvation.
Final Pastoral note: John 3:16
Over the past 29 years of being a pastor and chaplain, I have found those coming for confession, repentance and wanting a born again relationship with Jesus Christ want to know for sure what they are doing is Scriptural and meets the requirements for having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many of these men and women were infant baptized and question the legitimacy of their faith and baptism. I had to come to terms as a priest, that no matter what I said, the bottom line was their relationship with Christ that mattered, not what I thought, nor covenantal theology I could explain from Scripture. These men and women wanted to explicitly see in the Scripture where it stated their parents or someone else could vouch for their relationship with Jesus Christ. Statistics have shown that over 92% on those coming stated their parents did not raise them up in the Christian faith. In fact, over 78% of these men and women came from broken homes. In my pastoral experience over 99% wanted repentance, confession and baptism by full immersion. Even if it was in full battle rattle in combat.
Even today, I believe we have more baptized unbelievers in the church than ever before. Men and women are not being taught about a Christ driven relationship, its all mechanical and they are leaving the church by the droves. Therefore, as a born again, Christian believer and pastor, my conviction is to not propitiate any further confusion over the issue of “Infant Baptism vs. Believers Baptism. I believe that parents ought to be lead by the Holy Spirit and decide what is best for their child and family. I think God will judge me on the merits of what I can prove, rather than theologically assume or speculate what one or two passages may state in the New Testament or a seminal OT Jewish covenant may state to these people. Either way, both modes are followed by confirmation. This one thing I know, infants are loved by God and have not sinned though they are born into sin as we all are. Jesus, stated do not hinder the little children to come unto me. This means all God’s children, young and old. I prefer to take a pastoral approach to my ministry in what God reveals to me. Therefore, let us be at peace with one another in all that we do in Christ name!