By Bobby Jamieson
Why must someone be baptized as a believer in order to join a local church? Because church membership is a public affirmation of someone’s public profession of faith in Christ, and Jesus has appointed baptism as the means by which his followers publicly profess their faith in him. A church can’t affirm the profession of someone who hasn’t yet made that profession.
Baptism is how you publicly identify yourself with Jesus and with his people (Acts 2:38–41). It is how you visibly signify that you are united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1–4). It is how you become identified before the church and the world as one who belongs to the Triune God (Matt. 28:19). It is how you publicly embrace Jesus as your Savior and submit to him as Lord (1 Pet. 3:21).
Baptism is where faith goes public. It is how you nail your colors to the mast as Jesus’ disciple. Therefore baptism is how a new Christian shows up on the whole church’s radar as a Christian. Baptism is like a jersey that shows you’re now playing for Jesus’ team. Because of this purpose Jesus has assigned to baptism, a church may publicly identify itself only with those who have publicly identified with Jesus in baptism.
Baptism is a wordless vow, a symbolic promise to follow Christ in the fellowship of his church. The Lord’s Supper is another wordless vow, in which you repeatedly own Christ as your Savior and his people as your people (1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:17–34). On one level, church membership is nothing other than ongoing admission to the Lord’s Supper. And no one can renew their vow to Christ who has not first made that vow in the form appointed by Christ. No one can be identified with the body of Christ who has not first identified with Christ and his body.
Baptism necessarily precedes the Lord’s Supper like entering the front door necessarily precedes sitting down at the family meal.
But what about infant baptism? If baptism is where faith goes public, then infant baptism simply is not baptism, and those who have been “baptized” as infants need to be baptized—for the first time—as believers. It’s not that the first baptism was somewhat lacking, so there needs to be a do-over. Instead, the first “baptism” wasn’t baptism at all, and a believer who has not yet been baptized needs to obey Christ’s first command in order to enter his church.
We who are convinced of believers’ baptism must love our paedobaptist brothers and sisters in Christ. In this case, the best way to love them is to help them see that they have not yet obeyed Jesus’ first command, and they need to.
Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks, a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and the author of Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013). This post is condensed from his forthcoming book Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership (B&H, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter. Originally posted at bhacademicblog.com.