MEMBERS OF A Church
THE primary and indispensable qualification for membership in a particular Church, consists in a connection with the general Church, or body of Christ. "Every one is so far a member of Christ?s Church as he is a member of Christ?s body."68 Each particular Church seeks to represent, in itself, the kingdom of Christ, and ought, therefore, to be composed entirely of spiritual materials. It is no part of its design to embrace unbelievers, and prepare them for the kingdom of heaven. They have no right to its privileges and blessings. They are intruders at its ordinances. No ecclesiastical recognition of them as children, can change their relation as aliens and strangers; and they who introduce them contravene the declared will of the great Head of the Church. The gates of his kingdom are open to none but converted men. It is, therefore, the imperative duty of the Churches to admit to membership none but such as give satisfactory evidence that they have been born again. This was the practice of the apostles.69
That the Churches planted by them were composed of such as they deemed real believers is evident,
1. From the addresses of the different epistles:?"Paul, to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called saints. To the Church of God at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints. To the Saints which are at Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus. To the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi. Peter, to them that have obtained like precious faith."
2. From the general tenor of the epistles. In proof of this position, it is simply necessary to refer the reader to these inspired compositions themselves. Every allusion to the origin of the Churches; every description of the character of the members; every exhortation, rebuke, and warning; all directions with respect to their government and discipline, bear ample evidence that they were contemplated by the authors of the epistles, as comprising only those who had made a credible profession of their faith in the Redeemer. Had the apostles sanctioned the admission of unconverted men into the Churches, their practice would have been at variance with the spirit of their subsequent communications to them. To address such persons as the children of light and the temples of the Holy Ghost, would have been to use language without meaning, or singularly delusive. The limits of this work forbid an extended investigation of this topic. The reader is requested to consult the following passages of Scripture, in which the character of Church members is clearly exhibited:70 Col. 3: 9; 1 Thess. 5: 5; 1 Cor. 6: 19; 5: 7; 3: 9?17; 2 Cor. 7: 8, 18; 6: 14, 18; Acts 8: 26?40; 1 Pet. 2: 5.71
3. The design of Christian Churches affords additional evidence that none but believers were contemplated in their organization. This part of the subject has been presented in so just and beautiful a view by a pious pedobaptist writer, that I cannot do better than to transcribe his words:?"The Church is a sacred enclosure taken in from the world?brought into cultivation by the Divine Husbandman, and intended to be filled exclusively with the plants of righteousness. He designed the Church to be his own peculium: it is the only fortress which he holds in a revolted world; and he intended, therefore, that no authority should be known in it, no laws acknowledged, but his own; that no parties should obtain admission, but those ?who are called, and chosen, and faithful;? so that to open its gates for the entrance of any of the revolted, however specious the pretext, is a betrayal of the most sacred trust, and treachery to the great cause of Christ." Harris, Great Teacher, p. 214.
So writes Dr. Smyth, and, indeed, every evangelical writer, when not thinking of infant baptism. "Only those who make a credible profession of their faith in Christ, can be admitted as members of the Church of Christ; because its privileges, by their very nature, are intended only for those who, in the judgment of charity, are disciples of Christ."72
If these views are just and scriptural, it is evident that no place is provided, in a Christian Church, for such as do not, or cannot profess their faith in Christ. As infants belong to this class, they are excluded by the original and divine constitution of a Christian Church. Upon the same principle they are excluded from baptism, since the ordinance is the appointed method of professing our faith in the Redeemer. The grounds upon which the right of infants to baptism is based, are various and contradictory; they are all alike unscriptural. "It is a common sentiment," observes one of its advocates, "that the baptism of children makes them members of the Church; but this is an error. Their baptism does not make them members, it only recognizes their right of membership already existing; their membership is not founded upon their baptism, but their baptism upon their membership."73 But another affirms74 that "the children of the members cannot be considered as members of the Church, being incapable of fulfilling the duties of that relation." A more recent writer teaches that baptism "brings the child into the Church of God, to which he has promised his favor and blessings?translates it from the kingdom of darkness into the visible kingdom of God?s dear Son, on earth."75 There is plainly a schism on this point among pedobaptists, according to the views of the respective denominations to which they belong. The Papal and Episcopal Churches maintain that the infant is made a member of the Church by baptism; while the Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches contend that it is entitled to the ordinance, because it is already a member.76 To the former class the Methodist Episcopal Church seems to belong. Mr. Wesley says: "By baptism we are admitted into the Church, and, consequently, made members of Christ, its Head."77 Dr. Bond has taken a different view. "Baptism is not properly the initiating ordinance, by which we become subjects of this kingdom, [Messiah?s] but the ratifying or sealing ordinance, by which we are so acknowledged by the Church and ministry of Christ. Children are initiated into the kingdom at their birth."78 This, it will be perceived, throws the door open to all children. But pedobaptists have usually restricted the ordinance to the offspring of believers. Even upon this point, however, there is another schism.79 It is refreshing to turn from the conflicting opinions of men to the simple word of God, which contains no intimation of infant membership, either before or after baptism, and recognizes only baptized believers as the constituents of a gospel Church.
The abettors of infant baptism have, usually, rested its claims upon an alledged identity of the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace; and, assuming that baptism has taken the place of circumcision, have argued that, as children were formerly admitted to the latter ordinance, they ought now to be to the former. To examine at length all the arguments by which this subject has been mystified, does not comport with the limits of this little book. It will be sufficient, however, to expose some of the leading assumptions involved in the theory in question.
1. It involves the assumption, that the covenant of circumcision is the covenant of grace. If this were the case, all who lived before Abraham, as well as all, who, in subsequent times, are not in the line of circumcision, would be excluded from the covenant of grace. What, then, becomes of Abel and other antediluvian patriarchs? The truth is, that circumcision stands in no necessary relation to spiritual blessings. It is the distinguishing mark of a race, the members of which are determined by natural descent. The possession of spiritual blessings by the circumcised is not invariable, but accidental to the rite; and is determined upon other principles. Its design was, together with other rites and ceremonies, which were peculiar to the Jewish people, to segregate, and, consequently, preserve the nation. "These peculiarities," observes the learned historian of the Hebrew Commonwealth, "formed the foundation upon which was built the great partition wall between them and other nations."80
2. It assumes that the covenant made with Abraham, which involved spiritual blessings, and the covenant of circumcision are identical. But it is evident, from the third chapter of Galatians, that these covenants are distinct. The former was made, according to the statement of the apostle, four hundred and thirty years before the delivery of the Law. This computation makes it coeval with the calling of Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, an event which occurred twenty-four years before the covenant of circumcision.
3. It confounds the natural with the spiritual seed of Abraham; the children of the flesh with the children of the promise. These are clearly distinguished in the word of God.81 The argument on this point is simple and direct. The passages which are cited in support of infant baptism, in connection with the Abrahamic covenant, must refer either to his natural, or his spiritual seed. If to the former, Gentile infants are excluded, since they are not the lineal descendants of the patriarch; if to the latter, all infants are excluded by the very terms which designate the relation. "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham."
The above remarks are sufficient to expose the flimsy foundation upon which this theory is built; the weakness of which is so apparent, that it has been abandoned by many pedobaptists themselves.82
The recognition of unconverted persons, as members of a Christian Church, is an evil of no ordinary magnitude. It throws down the wall of partition which Christ himself has erected and obliterates the distinction between the Church and the world. A society composed of believers, and sustained and extended by spiritual instrumentalities, has the promise of the Redeemer pledged for its perpetuation. Such a community is indestructible. The body,
"Vital in every part,
Cannot, but by annihilating, die."
It becomes the disciples of the Saviour to guard well the door of admission into their fraternity. Upon their fidelity, in this respect, depend its efficiency, prosperity, and safety. An accession of nominal Christians may enlarge its numbers, but cannot augment its real strength. A Church that welcomes to the privileges of Christ?s house, the unconverted, under the specious pretext of increasing the number of his followers, in reality betrays the citadel to his foes. They may glory in the multitudes that flock to their expanded gates, and exult in their brightening prospects; but the joy and the triumph will be alike transient. They have mistaken a device of the enemy for the work of God. They hailed, as they thought, an angel of light; they have received Satan. I admire and love the many sincere and zealous Christians that are found in such Churches; but I fear that this Trojan horse will finally prove their ruin.
On the subject of infant baptism, and what seem to me to be its legitimate tendencies, I have recorded my sentiments without reserve, and, I trust, without offence. I impeach no man?s motives; nor do I question the piety and sincerity of those of my Christian brethren who believe that this practice is sanctioned by the divine command. Many pedobaptists are among the lights and ornaments of the age; their ministry has been blessed of God to the extension of the Redeemer?s kingdom, and their Churches present numerous examples of pure and unaffected piety. Such men would not, knowingly, contravene the law of Christ. They would welcome the obloquy of the world, and even the agonies of martyrdom, in obedience to the command of their Lord and King, and rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ?s sake. It is impossible not to admire and love men whose faith and practice associate them with Baxter, Leighton, Edwards, and Martyn, and who breathe their heavenly spirit. While I think I see and regret their errors, I would extend to them the same indulgence which I ask for my own.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved