Membership and Baptism
Sermon Link (live stream version)
Each local church can be compared to an embassy or outpost of the kingdom of God. The local church is not the kingdom of God, but it is a representation of that kingdom. Therefore, when we accept people into membership of the church, we are not accepting people into the kingdom itself. Instead, we are affirming those who are already members of the greater kingdom as they become members of this local representation of that kingdom. By accepting individuals as members of Christ Church, Radford, we are saying that we as a church, on behalf of Christ and according to the criteria of His written Word, affirm this person’s profession of faith and their claim to be a Christian. In order for that affirmation to take place there are three criteria that must be met:
Regeneration always precedes and always results in true conversion (John 1:12-13). As those who are by nature destitute, depraved, and doomed to death, we drink iniquity like water (Job 15:16), possess wickedly deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), are desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9), and are dead towards God (Ephesians 2:1). Only regeneration can change the natural condition of a person and make him a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The only effectual agent or cause of regeneration is not man or the will of man (John 1:12-13), but God (Romans 9:16). When regeneration happens, a radical or root-level transformation takes place that affects the mind, affections, will, conscience, and memory.
Conversion is the necessary evidence of regeneration. It is the conscious act of a regenerate person turning from sin in repentance, and to God through faith in Christ. Without regeneration it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to believe in Christ, but when a person is regenerated it is morally and spiritually impossible for that person not to believe in Christ. Conversion includes: (1) illumination of the mind (seeing sin for what it is); (2) genuine sorrow for sin (hating sin as an offense against God): (3) humble confession of sin (to God and those affected by it); (4) hatred of sin (along with deliberate resolve to be done with it); (5) a return to God as our gracious Father (believing He can and will forgive); (6) a wholehearted joy in God through Christ (for the offer of free forgiveness); (7) and a genuine love for God and others (as well as a delight to do the will of God).
Submission is not passive capitulation, but rather a yielded humility—yielded to God and humble toward each other. This submission is primarily in three areas: (1) to the members of the church, as in a family where there is the expectation of mutual love and respect (Ephesians 5:21); (2) to the doctrine of the church, which are the guiding principles and rules for order (which in our case is the New Hampshire Confession); (3) to the leadership of the church, who are members first, but are also set apart with added responsibilities.
Those who have been drawn by the Spirit of God will also invariably make a public profession of their faith and join with other followers of Christ. Baptism is a sign of our union with Christ, just as His baptism was a sign of His union with us as His people. It is based on a profession of faith in Jesus Christ—if there is no profession of faith, there is no significance in the baptism. Baptism is a depiction of our communion with Jesus, being baptized into His death. It is also an act of consecration to Christ and commitment to His people. It is the means by which we publicly identify with Christ and with His people. Baptism portrays the remarkable truth of dying with Christ, being buried with Christ, being raised with Christ, and now walking in the newness of life found in Christ.
- Why is regeneration necessary for conversion? How does a right understanding of regeneration affect our view of conversion? What are the evidences that a person has truly been converted to Christ? What is faith? What is repentance?
- What does it mean to live in submission to the church membership, the church doctrine, and the church leadership? Why is submission to the local church a necessary component of Christian discipleship? Why does it put us in a dangerous (i.e. disobedient) position not to submit to a local church?
- What is the meaning of baptism? What is the connection between baptism and church membership? Why can’t a person be baptized without becoming a church member?