Acts 2:41; 19:1-10; Ephesians 2:8-22
There are only two doctrines that are essential to a New Testament Church. Other doctrines are important, precious, but only two are essential to a New Testament church. They are the WAY OF SALVATION and The WAY OF BAPTISM. Matt. 28:19-20, the Great Commission makes this clear. Therefore for one to become a member of a true New Testament Baptist church they must fulfill the necessary requirements of salvation and baptism.
It is most likely that in the apostolic age, when there was but "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism," (Eph. 4:5) and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, "baptism was the door into the church." Now, it is different; and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are, or perhaps should be, rightly wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their "experience", and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members. And while they cannot become members without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits them to its fellowship upon receiving baptism.
As the Church of Christ is a voluntary organization:
· No one can force someone to join a church,
· The church cannot compel anyone to join.
· The church, however, is not optional with a believer,
· The believer is under a moral obligation - obedience to Christ.
A church is an organization under the laws of Christ and certain conditions for membership are laid down:
1. A regenerate heart
2. A professed faith
3. A reception of baptism
4. A Christian character
A church should never admit for membership those who do not have the above qualifications. Some churches have waiting periods before baptism and membership to determine the sincerity of a person. Sometimes we wait and counsel with prospective members before baptizing them. Even then, they sometimes never return. Only the Lord knows the true condition of their heart.
Joining a church is an important occasion in your spiritual life. There is no pomp or ceremony as in joining other organizations. Many people take joining a church lightly. They join not because of seeking the truth and God's will, but because of many frivolous reasons. There is also a much overlooked item of church membership given in the last paragraph of our "Church Covenant", "We moreover engage that when we remove from this place, we will as soon as possible unite with some other church..."
There are four scriptural ways of receiving members into a church:
1. By experience and baptism. Persons wishing to unite with a church, must give an account of the dealings of God with their souls; and state the "reason of the hope that is in them." Whereupon, if in the judgment of the church, they "have passed from death unto life," they are by vote of the church recognized as candidates for baptism, with the understanding that when baptized, they will be entitled to all the rights and privileges of membership. Today we do not consider baptism as the door into the church, because Acts 2:41,47, "The Lord adds to the church." They body moves to accept God's adding to the church (the saved person becomes a member after baptism). No one should be baptized with the thought of not becoming a member of that church. Pastors should positively assure themselves that those who are received for baptism have felt themselves to be guilty, ruined, helpless sinners, justly condemned by God's holy law; and under a sense of their lost condition have received Christ for salvation.
2. By letter of recommendation and dismissal from a sister church (Article V). A letter is only a recommendation or commendation of a believer in one church to another. These letters affording satisfactory proof of their Christian character and standing, the applicants for membership are received and the hand of fellowship given, as in the former case. By sister churches we mean churches of like faith and order. Hence no Baptist church can receive and recognize, as a passport to membership, a letter from any Pedobaptist (infant baptism) organization. Infant baptism has no authority or ground in the Scripture.
Even the majority of pedobaptist scholars agree that there is no apostolic basis for infant baptism. The advocates of infant baptism say that it is a beautiful ceremony. Likewise Eve thought (Gen. 3:6) the forbidden fruit was beautiful and disobeyed God. Your neighbor's wife or automobile may be beautiful but God gives you no right to take them for your own. The ceremony of heathen worship (so-called churches even) may be beautiful but it is not what God has ordained in His word for His Church or His people.
Also sister churches do not include:
· Primitive Baptists or Hardshell Baptists. These are those who preach the gospel to the saved only and the "Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit, Predestinarian Baptist sect."
· Free-will Baptists which are totally arminian.
· General Baptists differ little from the Free-will Baptists.
· Seventh-Day Baptists. They wash feet, bless infants, baptism by trine forward immersion and observe the Jewish Sabbath.
· Those Baptist churches that receive alien immersion, or unscriptural baptism from unscriptural churches.
· Any and all non-Baptist churches.
A believer has an obligation to have his membership in the community where he lives, if he can find a church of like faith and order. if not, it is better to keep his membership in a sound church, even though in another city and attend and support as much as possible.
3. By Restoration. An excluded member may be restored to fellowship after repentance and asking forgiveness from the church. In our church, this includes anyone:
· Who by vote of the membership is excluded (Article VI).
· Who has left and joined another “church” with whom we do not grant or receive letters.
· Who has been absent without cause (AWOL) for a period of 90 days (Article VI).
An excluded member from another church must not be received unless: he returns to the church from which he has been excluded and asked forgiveness from that church and is restored to full fellowship with that church, so that they can grant a letter of recommendation. A great failure today among Baptist churches is the failure to recognize the sovereignty and authority of sister churches.
4. By Statement or Experience. It sometimes happens that persons who have been saved and scripturally baptized, find themselves unable to obtain regular letters of dismissal due to either the church going out of existence or having gone into various forms of heresy. When such persons present themselves for membership it is only necessary for the church applied to, to be satisfied of the worthiness of the applicants and they are received (Article V, Paragraph C.).
In closing we state that a Baptist congregation receives members Rom. 14:1, "Him that is weak in faith receive ye..." Only the saved should be in the church.