"If we unpack all of what Scripture teaches about the local church, we’ll find that church membership is in fact in every nook and cranny of the New Testament. In that light, I want to focus on just one aspect of how Scripture talks about the church—the images of the church—and consider how these metaphors support and inform our understanding church membership." - 9 Marks
Baptism really isn’t a difficult topic, but it’s become difficult by all the history, tradition and baggage associated with the different interpretations of this ordinance. It’s a beautiful ordinance, and it’s too bad there’s so much misunderstanding about it!
Here’s the bottom line; baptism doesn’t “do” anything to you or for you. It’s a picture of what the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) has already done in a believer’s life. This means it’s only for repentant, professing believers – not infants.
There are good reasons why the Baptist position on baptism is correct, but that’s not my goal, here. Instead, I just want to look at what baptism means. What significance does baptism have? What does it mean? What spiritual truth does it convey? How does it convey this truth?
One good place to go is the Book of Romans.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul gives us the classic comparison between Adam and Christ; the two great representatives for humanity (Rom 5:18). We’re born belonging in Adam’s camp; the first man who disobeyed God and brought ruin to creation and to himself. We’re all fruit from the poisonous tree that is Adam; his disobedience was the fountainhead that poisoned the well, and that’s why you and I are born as sinful people who belong to Satan, not God. As Paul wrote, Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death leads to justification and eternal life for everyone who repents and believes – which is what Paul explains next (Rom 5:19-21).
With that context in place, we now turn to our passage. Paul writes:
This article is based on a sermon I preached on 23 September 2018, on the occasion of a new Christian joining our congregation.
Church membership is important. You’ve probably heard it before. But, why is it important? To frame the issue before I answer, I’d like to use an analogy.
The war in the European theater began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The Germans quickly overran the hapless Poles, some of whose army units even launched suicidal, mounted cavalry charges against tanks. Nearly nine months of uneasy calm followed, then, the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries in May 1940. In short order, they found themselves masters of Western Europe. Only Britain stood alone, but its army was forced to abandon most of its equipment on the beaches as it frantically evacuated the continent.
The US entered the war in December 1941 and began pouring men and material into Britain. The ground effort against Nazi Germany began with Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, and then in Sicily in July 1943. However, while the ground forces attacked this “soft underbelly” of Europe, British and American flyers began a campaign to destroy German industry by means of round the clock bombings. The British flew at night, and the Americans by day.
Amidst the unfolding homosexual, sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, it’s appropriate to consider the Roman Catholic position on the nature of pastoral ministry. The fact is that Roman Catholicism teaches (1) the priesthood is a special class above that of the laity, (2) that a priest is marked by the Holy Spirit in an indelibable and permenant way, (3) that he can thus represent Christ during the Mass, and (4) he therefore has the sacerdotal authority to make Christ present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, and (5) a priest can never lose this authority and marking by the Spirit, even if (for example) the priest sexually abuses children. This is an un-Biblical and un-Christian position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church advocates this false teaching:
The divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests, and deacons. Catholic doctrine, expressed in the liturgy, the Magisterium, and the constant practice of the Church, recognizes that there are two degrees of ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ: the episcopacy and the presbyterate. The diaconate is intended to help and serve them.
On a Sunday afternoon in January, 2009, about 80 people gathered in Asheboro, NC, to officially constitute Providence Baptist Church. The culmination of more than four years of labor and prayer, the time had come, and a host of attenders and friends joined to celebrate the joyous occasion.
In a real sense, Providence Baptist began with Beacon Baptist, which itself was officially born on a similar occasion in 1973. Over the years, Beacon has grown numerically and doctrinally into the church we are today. Along the way, people began attending from locations beyond Alamance County. Drawn to the expository pulpit and reformed theology, some have driven regularly up to ninety miles one way to worship with us on the Lord’s Day.
Several folks came from Asheboro, about forty-five miles south of Burlington, becoming faithful members for several years in spite of the long commute. However, it is difficult to participate fully from such a distance, and how do you invite family and friends to join you when you travel forty-five to fifty minutes to church?
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (KJV, 1 Cor. 14:34–35)
These verses in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are seemingly crystal clear. Paul gives an unambiguous command, “let your women keep silence in the churches,” then he forcefully backs up his command with two further and equally unambiguous statements, “it is not permitted unto them to speak and it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Church membership has fallen on hard times. Some question whether formal membership is taught in the Bible. Isn’t it a man-made tradition that ought to be abandoned? Others accept it, but wonder if it has outlived its original purpose.
Increasingly, church membership is viewed as optional and is ignored, dismissed, and even actively resisted. This is not only true of individuals, but of pastors and churches as well. Are those who practice church membership beating a dead horse? It this simply a shop-worn tradition that should be discarded, or is church membership a biblical practice that ought to be restored to its original significance?
The word “member,” used to identify individual Christians in the church, is a biblical term. The most extensive passage is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, where “member” is used fourteen times in the space of ten verses, sometimes as a singular noun but more often as a plural. Although the phrase, “church members” is not used, parallel concepts such as “members of the body” and similar phrases are employed.
We are told that the church is one body consisting of many members. Together, Christians constitute the body, but individually, each Christian is a member. This is true of the Church Universal as well as churches local. The passage begins by focusing on the universal aspects of the church, but continues to talk about each believer’s membership in a local body.