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Does Baptism Admit To Membership In A Gospel Church?
By Samuel H. Ford, 1899

     We must turn to the other general misconception of what constitutes a person a member of the church of Christ.

     The Reformers, and Protestants generally, with all their apologies for and explanations of the term invisible as meaning the unseen work or "door" into that church, fell back on the patristic doctrine that "The Sacrament of Baptism was the door into the church" with no term to distinguish it. "In baptism wherein I was made a member of the Church," read the Episcopal Catechism, "whereby they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church." But we need not quote from the confessions and disciplines of the Protestant communions to prove this. It is admitted by {them} that Baptism admits into, or is the door into the Church.

     Now, according to the teachings of the {New} Testament and the essential nature of and obligations of church membership, this (which some Baptists hold) is a misconception.

     Dr. Dagg has well said: "Baptism is not like the Lord's Supper, a sacred rite. It signifies the fellowship of individual believers with Christ, not the fellowship of believers with one another. The obligation to be baptized is independent of the obligations to form sacred relations, and is prior [to it]. Baptism is therefore a qualification for admission into a church of external organization, but it does not confer membership. (in J. L. Reynolds', Church Polity..., p.48.)

     The plain statement in regard to the church in Jerusalem should at once end all controversy about this: "They that gladly received the word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Not that all these were baptized on that same day. Many, perhaps most of them, may have been baptized previously, but they were added to the church in fellowship. Baptism, as well as conversion, or receiving the word, was an indispensable prerequisite, but neither the one nor the other added these thousands, nor Lydia, nor the Jailer, nor the Eunuch, to the church. This was a distinct thing -- the expression of fellowship and assumption of mutual covenant obligations.

     If the following condensed objection to the general record, especially of pedo-baptists, be considered, we feel assured that the dogma of baptism, as the door into the church, will be abandoned.

     1st. If baptism be the door into the Christian church, then all whom John baptized (allowing his baptism to be Gospel baptism) were, by the reception of this ordinance, made members of some church; but no such intimation is given in the Scriptures. The object of John's baptism is declared to be, "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

     2nd. If baptism be the door into the church then there is no such thing as putting a person out of the church; for in order to do this, he must be unbaptized, But his cannot be done.

     3rd. If baptism be the door into the church, can one person constitute a church? The Christian public have answered, "no." And, "no" responds {in} every passage of the divine oracles, wherever the name church is mentioned. To what church, then, did the first disciple, whom John baptized, belong? To what church, the first, in every instance, where none had been previously constituted? The answer is obvious, "to no church." If then, the first person, whom John baptized, was not, by the reception of this ordinance, constituted a member of some church; the second was not, nor the third, nor any subsequent subject.

     4th. In the account of the Eunuch's baptism, Acts 8, no mention is made of his being added to any particular church; nor have we any reason to believe, that he considered the ordinance in this light. Indeed, as he was traveling, and at considerable distance from his own country, such a relation, if we suppose it to have been consummated at that time, could be of but little avail to him. Nor, is there anything in the account of other baptisms, which make this an initiatory ordinance, or door into the church. It is said, Acts 2:41: "Then they that gladly received the word, were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." In the 47th verse: "And the Lord added to the church daily, such as should be saved." But how were they added? Here we are not informed. We are told, "they that gladly received the word were baptized," that, "they were added to the disciples" and the Lord, "added to the church;" but, it is not said, that they were added "by baptism," any more than "by gladly receiving the word." Both were prerequisites; but neither initiatory.

     If then, baptism be not the door into the visible church of Christ, it may be asked, "What is? We answer, nothing more nor less, than fellowship. By fellowship we are admitted; and by disfellowship, we are excluded. "Is then a person, who is received into fellowship as a Christian, to be considered as a church member?" We answer, no; but he must be fellowshipped, as an orthodox, baptized, and regular Christian.

     We have endeavored to state as clearly and briefly as we could the two errors -- the one of the Protestants, the other of the Romanists, in regard to what constitutes any one a member of a church. The one affirmed that it was the internal work of grace, the other that it was the sacrament -- baptism. The first, however, was so explained as to mean admission into an "invisible church," because the "door," or that which conferred membership, was invisible. This was borne out by the presence of sponsors, who answered for the infant: "I believe, I renounce the devil," etc., and then as by this profession of faith FOR the infant, who, already a member of the invisible church, was baptized as the door into the actual one.

     O, it's all wrong, unscriptural, misleading, and absurd. A church of Christ is a company of baptized believers in faith and fellowship, united to edify each other, and advance the cause and kingdom of Christ. Nothing else is a church.


[From a microfilm copy of the Christian Repository, November 1899, pp. 652-4 @ SBTS Library. {} designates additions. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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