Baptist History Homepage

Baptist Waymarks
By Samuel H. Ford, 1903

Is Baptism the Door Into a Gospel Church?

[p. 24]
WE must turn to the other general misconception of what constitutes a person a member of Christ's church. 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," reads 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 and obligations of church-membership, this, "which some Baptists hold," is a misconception. Doctor 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
[p. 25]
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 as to its external organization, but it does not confer membership."1 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 the 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 obligation. If the following condensed objection to the general record, especially of Pedobaptists, be considered, we feel assured that the dogma of baptism as the door into the church will be abandoned:

1. If baptism is 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
1 See J. L. Reynolds' "Church Polity," 1849, p.48.
[p. 26]
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."

2. If baptism is 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 this cannot be done.

3. If baptism is the door into the church, can one person constitute a church? The Christian public has answered, "No." And "no" responds 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. 4. 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
[p. 27]
there anything in the account of other baptisms which makes 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 forty-seventh 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 was initiatory. If, then, baptism is 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 dis-fellowship 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 fellowshiped, 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 affirms that it is the internal work of
[p. 28]
grace, the other that is the sacrament -- baptism. The first,however, is so explained as to mean admission into an "invisible church," because the "door," or that which conferred membership, is invisible. This is borne out by the presence of sponsors, who answer for the infant: "I believe, I renounce the devil," etc., and then as by this profession of faith for the infant, who is baptized as the door into the acutal one. This is 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. We have, therefore, found neither precept nor example in the Scriptures to prove that baptism was ordained specifically to initiate into a church. Several Baptist theologians of eminence have voiced our conclusion. In his commentary on I Cor. 12:13, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body," Dr. Gill observes: "All that are baptized in water are not baptized in or by the Spirit, as the case of Simon Magus, and that of others, shows; nor does water baptism incorporate persons into a gospel church; they being indeed true believers and baptized are proper persons to be received into a church, but baptism itself does not put them into or make them members of it. Persons may be baptized in water and never be joined to a church."
[p. 29]
Andrew Fuller, in a letter addressed to a friend on the terms of communion, says: "The nature and design of baptism as given us in the New Testament, shows it to have been the initiatory ordinance of Christianity. It was not, indeed, an initiation into a particular church, seeing it was instituted prior to the formation of churches, and administerd, in some cases, as that of the Ethiopian, in which there was no opportunity for joining to any one of them; but it was an initiation into the body of professing Christians."

Rev. William Crowell, in his "Church Member's Manual," expresses a like view. Of the apostolic churches he remarks: "All the members of those churches became such by their own voluntary act. In other words, each entered freely into a covenent with all the other members, and thus became a part of a church. The faith of an individual did not, of itself, constitute him a member of any particular church; nor did his baptism, which is the universal badge of the Christian profession, but his voluntary covenant, to walk with the church in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, made him a member."

If baptism is not the rite of initiation, what relation does it bear to the church? Its relation to church-memberhip we take to be two-fold. 1. It is an indispensable prerequisite or qualification for membership. This is evident from the
[p. 30]
very nature of baptism as the divinely appointed method by which the believer shall avow his faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "Go disciple the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Profession of faith necessarily precedes entrance into a body of professed Christians; and how shall that profession be made, except as God has ordained? Apostolic practice as to this head is very manifest. The three thousand at Pentecost were baptized, and then added to the church. As soon as Ananias met Paul, visiting him by divine direction, he commanded, "Arise, brother Paul, and be baptized." The Holy Spirit having fallen upon Cornelius and those gathered with him to hear Peter, the apostle inquired, "Who can forbid water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" The Ethiopian eunuch and Philippian jailer were baptized immediately upon a profession of faith in Christ. This was the uniform procedure of the apostles. The first step, after the disciple was made, was to baptize him in the name of the Lord.

2. Baptism imposes upon the baptized an obligation to unite with the church. Baptism into the name of the Trinity is a vow of subjection to the authority and of consecration to the service of God, as well as a profession of faith. It is an act
[p. 31]
especially of profound submission to Christ as Prophet and King.

"Now the will of Christ as to the union of his followers in organized churches is plain and unequivocal. The apostles (the inspired organs of Christ's will) organized churches wherever they were successful in making converts. For two infinitely important ends they were constituted. First, that all the gifts of the individual members might be made available to the edification of the whole body; and, secondly, that a disciplined and organized Christian soldiery might be thrown upon the kingdom of darkness. The vow of obedience, assumed in baptism to Christ, is a vow to unite, if there is opportunity, with his churches, in the accomplishment of their sublime mission. To refuse to do so, when the way is open in the providence of God, is rebellion against Christ and a violation of the baptismal covenant."1

The constituents of a gospel church are immersed believers, who have been called, cleansed, and sanctified by the Spirit of God; they are spiritual stones, "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, in which all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord."

This gospel truth is repeatedly emphasized, because
1 J. W. Warder, "Christian Repository," 1859.
[p. 32]
it is so generally overlooked or denied, and the gospel ecclesia -- the separate, independent, localized church -- has been made to mean a multifarious mass of heterogeneous, of "christened, indiscriminate" people, or else a conference, the "general assembly," the council: and then Christianity in the abstract, and then the consensus of religious opinion or action.

The great apostasy is mainly the perversion of the meaning and nature of a gospel church. From this nearly all the destructive errors of Romanism spring.

[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. Typed from the original document by Linda Duvall; the document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. - jrd]

Chapter 6

Return to Baptist Waymarks
Baptist History Homepage