Last week it was mentioned the Baptist Church teaches “all earthly denominations and sects, good, bad and indifferent would be included in the visible Church” (God’s Answers to Man’s Questions, Alban Douglass, copyrighted in 1966, page 176). We briefly considered whether or not the New Testament recognizes, or even allows, denominations. This week we want to give some attention to the Baptist Church and what it teaches concerning church membership.
To supporters of the denomination idea, there is a distinction between the local church and the universal church. In the local church there are people who are saved and there are people who are lost. “It is true, for example, that there are some lost people in most local congregations and in all major denominations, of course” (Churches and the Church, John R Rice, p. 19). We mentioned, from the New Testament, that the only significant difference between the universal and local church is the difference between churches in a multitude of locations and a church in a single location. In both case, though, they are the same.
The Baptist Church teaches there are conditions for membership. They are, in order, repentance, faith, salvation (regeneration), baptism, continuance in the apostles’ doctrine (p. 177). Again, from a different source, “The ceremonial qualification for church membership: this qualification is baptism. There can, according to the Scriptures, be no visible church without baptism. An observance of this ordinance is the believer’s first public act of obedience to Christ. Regeneration, repentance, and faith are private matters between God and the soul” (Baptist Church Manual, Pendleton, p. 12).
In the teaching of the Baptist Church, the word “church” is often (but not exclusively) understood in the “visible” context (the church at Corinth, the church at Rome, etc.). In other words, one is saved and put into the universal church, but then baptized and put in the Baptist [visible] Church. “They were not added to the Church in order to be saved but added to the church because they were saved already. (A member of the invisible Church becoming a member of the earthly visible church)” (p. 177).
An interesting point relative to entrance into the church is the verse used by Douglas to initiate his remarks – Acts 2:38. The verse reads, “Peter said to them, ‘You must repent — and, as an expression of it, let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ — that you may have your sins forgiven; and then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Williams New Testament). Look at this verse closely and compare it with the man-made list by Douglas above (3rd paragraph; cf. Pendleton). In the Scripture, the first command is repent, followed immediately by baptism. But in the man-made list, baptism is not immediate, but 4th on the list!
Here are the options available to you and me: 1) follow the command (and list) of the Holy Spirit, 2) follow the teaching (and list) of man.
Moreover, note once again how the translation reads. In the translation, one is baptized that “you may have your sins forgiven.” A significant point! Look at the verse and see if that is not what it says. On the other hand, in the Baptist Church, one is regenerated (saved) before baptism and, therefore, in comparison with the verse, before their sins are forgiven!
The New Testament teaches that repentance is crucial to one’s salvation, but before repentance can occur, there must be a teaching (form of doctrine) that compels one to latch onto that which is taught (John 3:16). Latching on to this teaching, then, results in a changed way of thinking and direction. This direction change is culminated in “clothing” removal with a new garment put on (Galatians 3:26-27).
In summary, the Baptist Church teaches there is a visible local church and an invisible universal church. It is in the invisible universal church wherein there is salvation. It is in the visible local church where people gather to be taught and worship God. It is baptism that places one in the visible local church, but it is repentance, faith, and regeneration (this does not include baptism) that places one in the invisible universal church. The New Testament, on the other hand, does not make this distinction as the Baptist Church teaches.