Three Truths About the New Testament Church From Acts 2:41-42
By Pastor Ben Stratton
In reading the book of Acts, it is important to distinguish between the descriptive and prescriptive.A) Descriptive = Simply describes what was happening at the time.These are things not repeated in the New Testament, nor are they regularly seen throughout Church history. Often they are cultural things relevant to 1st century Palestine.
These are things not repeated in the New Testament, nor are they regularly seen throughout Church history. Often they are cultural things relevant to 1st century Palestine. Examples: Communal living (Acts 2:44-45), holy kiss (Romans 16:16), or feet washing. (1 Timothy 5:10)
B) Prescriptive = These are things that are prescribed (i.e. commanded) to be done.
These are found repeatedly in the New Testament and in Church history.
Examples: Preaching, teaching, the ordinances, singing, prayer, giving, fellowship, etc.
Below are three truths that were virtually universal among Baptists until just a generation ago.
A) Unfortunately, we have a generation of young Baptist preachers who have never studied doctrine.
B) That’s why it is so important to regularly and plainly teach sound doctrine in our churches!
I. In the New Testament There Was No Open Membership. - “and” Vs. 41.
A. All of those who joined the Jerusalem church had been scripturally baptized.
1. They were all baptized before they joined the church.
a. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20
b. Notice the order you see in this verse:
• Salvation first = “teach all nations” – Greek: mathēteuō = make disciples of all nations.
• Baptism second = “baptizing them” = no infant baptism here, only believer’s baptism.
• Church third = “teaching them” = then comes the discipleship of the local church.
A person has got to be saved before they are eligible to be a church member.
Likewise, a person has to be scripturally baptized before they can join the church.
While everybody saved is in the family of God, a New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers.
2. In the epistles, Paul knows he is writing to people who have made a profession of faith and been scripturally baptized – “I thank God I baptized none of you, but…” 1 Corinthians 1:14
B. Today the idea of Open Membership is rapidly gaining ground among Baptists.
1. Popular preachers such as John MacArthur and John Piper teach and promote this.
2. This teaches any believer can join the church, regardless of the kind of baptism they have.
a. They can join if they have infant baptism, were sprinkled as an adult, or even no baptism.
b. A popular version of this among Kentucky Baptists is to sprinkle or pour baptism upon handicapped people or folks in nursing homes. Many pastors even put it on Facebook!
• What about people like this? For the majority of them, they can be baptized in the biblical way. But if it’s not medically possible, remember baptism is not essential for salvation! 3
. This is unbiblical! Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:4). Only total immersion is a picture of this. It is not biblical to practice open membership.
C. Note: This is no tighter than the Southern Baptist Faith and Message Article 7 – “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” – (Scriptural Baptism) “is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership”
II. In the New Testament There was a Connection Between Baptism and Church. “added” Vs. 41
A. All of the 3,000 who were baptized joined the Jerusalem church. We have no right to separate baptism from church membership.
1. This is the pattern we see throughout the New Testament.
a. Saul was saved on the Damascus Road, baptized by Ananias (likely the pastor of the Damascus Church), in Acts 9:18 and then immediately he “was with the disciples which were at Damascus.” Acts 9:19. (This pattern is repeated in Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.)
b. People are saved, they are scripturally baptized, and then they are part of a local church.
2. Honest Question: But what about Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40?
a. Philip was more than a deacon. Acts 21:8 calls him “Philip the Evangelist.”
b. An evangelist (similar to a missionary) was an office in the New Testament Church (Ephesians 4:11). Philip had authority to go out and do mission work.
c. The Jerusalem church knew about this man. Luke, the author of Acts, knew about this. Philip told people. Tradition says Matthew went down to Ethiopia to establish churches there. The eunuch’s baptism was connected to the Jerusalem church until a church could be started in his hometown. He is no excuse for separating baptism from the church.
B. Today some Baptist pastors baptize people without making them a member of their church.
1. Think of this! These pastors know every Christian should be a faithful church member (Hebrews 10:25); they knew the church is the place to worship God (Ephesians 3:21) and they know the church is a place of spiritual protection (Acts 20:28-29), but still baptize those who refuse to join!
2. As Baptists we must get back to basing our beliefs and practices upon the Bible!
C. Note: The Baptism Faith and Message says of baptism = “Being a church ordinance”
III. In the New Testament Baptism Always Precedes Communion. “breaking of bread” Vs. 42
A. The 3,000 were baptized and added to the church (Vs. 41) before they took communion in Vs. 42.
1• Remember the N.T. Pattern: Salvation - Baptism - Church Membership - Lord’s Supper.
• “Let all things be done decently and in order” 1 Corinthians 14:40
2• In the New Testament the Lord’s Supper was always done in church capacity.
a. “When ye come together in the church” 1 Corinthians 11:18
• This is why Baptists have historically not taken the Lord’s Supper in private or to hospitals.
b. Because the Lord’s Supper is taken by local churches, it is taken by people who have made a profession of faith in Christ and have followed the Lord in scriptural baptism.
• The unbaptized Christian needs to be baptized (the first step of obedience in the Christian life) and unite with a local church before they come to the Lord’s Table.
B. Today many Baptist pastors and churches are moving to open communion.
1. They will let anyone take the Lord’s Supper, regardless of their baptism or church membership.
2. These pastors know this is unbiblical (There is no example of it in the New Testament), but they think restricting communion will keep their churches from growing. (If done right, it will not!)
o Do the Lord’s Supper on Sunday nights when you have less unbelievers and visitors present.
C. Note: Baptist Faith and Message: (Scriptural Baptism) “is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”
[Taught by Pastor Ben Stratton for Farmington Baptist Church, Farmington, Kentucky on August 10, 2022. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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