Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Is a Member?

How important is it to be the member of a church organization? What significance does it have to be a member? Should we even avoid it altogether? Now those who put their faith in Christ, apart from anything they can do to earn it, are saved (Ephesians 2:8,9: Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) and are part of the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-12; Acts 2:47; Romans 12:4,5), the universal church. The normal outward expression of such faith is to be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 10:43-48; 22:16). Those who make an appropriate confession of faith and are baptized are part of the visible church.

But this opens up the whole question of what constitutes baptism. I do not see any basis anywhere in Scripture for requiring a particular person to baptize in order for it to be legitimate. The command to baptize is addressed to the eleven disciples, referring to their being learners who followed Christ and not their office. But since baptism means coming into a new relationship with other believers, it makes sense it should be done by a believer, if possible (1 Corinthians 12:13; 10:1-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Nowhere does it prescribe a particular mode of baptism. I am convinced God commands what He intends to command (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Matthew 15:1-20) and if He had wanted to require a specific mode, He would have. Also, following this principle I see no basis in the New  Testament for infant baptism and do not believe such a practice should be deduced from vague references (Matthew 19:13-15; Acts 16:15,31,32). Nor can it be sustained simply by an analogy with circumcision. There is a clear analogy between the Passover and the Lord's Supper, but that does not mean we should only have communion on the fourteenth of Nisan. But there are complicated issues involved, and while baptism is commanded, I believe charity should regard those with a genuine profession of faith who were baptized as infants or who believe that the practice of baptism has passed away, as part of the visible church, though we disagree about the details.

Now the church is required to be organized (Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 14:40). But the current church is divided, and while I am convinced much of this is contrary to Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; Philippians 2:1-11; Ephesians 4:3-6), we must deal with the situation as it is. Given this, it does make sense to have some method of deciding you are part of a given congregation. We need to be involved with God's people to follow His commands (Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:12). In this, it makes sense, barring some good reason not to, to become a member of that congregation of which you are a part. God does not mean for us to be spectators, but to be involved with one another. But not so that it makes us forget our greater identity as part of the larger body of Christ.  

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