Baptism & Church Membership
During my thirty years of ministering and pastoring in Florida, I was repeatedly encountered by people who took great exception to Southern Baptist’s insistence upon believer’s baptism for church membership. It seems like I was asked the following question a million times: “Why do I have to be re-baptized to join your church?”
With people from so many different parts of our country and world, as well as from so many different religious and denominational backgrounds, the Sunshine State is anything but the Bible Belt. Whereas most Southerners understand why Southern Baptists are so persnickety about baptism, Floridians, who for the most part are not Southerners, find it difficult to understand.
Over the years, I encountered more than a few folks in Florida who perceived Southern Baptist's insistence upon their re-baptism as spiritual uppityness. They concluded that our church was spiritually conceited. The truth, however, was that we were spiritually cautious, wanting to assure ourselves that all who came into our church family were true followers of Christ.
Why should a church take anyone’s profession of faith seriously if they refuse to do the first thing Christ commands us to do; namely, to be properly baptized. What kind of church member will someone prove to be who balks at the very first step in the Christian life? If they won’t even provide us with minimal proof of their profession—obedience to Christ’s command to be baptized—how can we not consider their profession of faith in Christ to be somewhat suspect? Truly, no one with such a suspect profession of faith should be permitted into the fellowship of a local body of baptized believers.
For a church to accept the profession of an unbaptized believer is tantamount to a court dismissing a case against a defendant simply upon the defendant’s plea of innocence. Whereas the court assumes the truthfulness of the defendant’s plea without the proof of an alibi, evidence or testimony, the church assumes the genuineness of the believer’s profession without the proof of baptism.
Baptism is not only the proof offered by candidates for church membership of their profession of faith in Christ, but it is also a part of the church’s fulfilling of Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It’s not just the first thing that a new convert should do upon coming into the church, but it’s also the first thing that the church should do for a new convert. Notice, I said “the first thing” the church should do for a new convert, not “the last thing.”
Too many churches today dunk and drop new converts. They mistakenly believe that Christ commissioned us to make decisions rather than disciples. While we’re pretty good at making decisions, we’re pretty dismal at making disciples, as the following statistics prove.
- Over 70% of those making decisions for Christ today never grow to become a faithful member of a local church.
- The majority of those making decisions for Christ today have dropped out of church within six to eight weeks.
- Over 1/3 of those making decisions for Christ today cannot be found by the church that baptized them one year later.
It sounds to me like today’s church is better at making dropouts than disciples. If we want this to change, it will necessitate a changein the church’s view of baptism. Rather than viewing baptism as the end of the church’s work with new converts, we must start seeing it as the beginning of our work with new converts. It marks the commencement of the discipleship process, not the completion of it.