For Credos: Does baptism make you a member of the visible church?

Discussion in 'Credo-Baptism Answers' started by Puritan Sailor, Mar 10, 2017.

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  1. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm trying to understand the Reformed Baptist position better in contrast to Presbyterianism.

    LBC 28.1 says that Baptism is to be continued "in the church" to the end of the world.

    But LBC 29.1 does not say baptism is a covenant sign of initiation into the visible church, but that it is a sign of fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection. In fact there is no mention at all of a relationship between baptism and visible church membership at all in that chapter. It seems baptism is merely a sign of your personal experience of faith in Christ.

    John Gill stated that baptism was not a church ordinance meaning "it is not an ordinance administered in the church, but out of it, in order to admission into it, and communion with it; it is preparatory to it, and a qualification for it, it does not make a person a member of a church, or admit him into a visible church; persons must first be baptized, and then added to the church, as the three thousand converts were; a church has nothing to do with the baptism of any, but to be satisfied they are baptized before they are admitted into communion with it." He later says a person wanting to join the church must "first apply to an administrator; and, upon giving him satisfaction, be baptized by him; and then should propose to the church for communion, when he would be able to answer all proper questions." (Gill, Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, pg. 869).

    So am I right in understanding that baptism does not initiate one into the visible church in the Reformed Baptist scheme? And if so, then what does initiate him into the visible church? Is "visible church" even a proper category for Baptists? I noticed the LBC doesn't use that term but "visible saints" and "particular congregations". And what is the status of those who are baptized but not yet members of a congregation? Do you consider them Christians yet, or do you wait until they join a church to consider them Christians?

    This seems complicated from the perspective of a Presbyterian because baptism admits you into visible church membership.

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  2. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Baptists would see the water Baptism as symbolic of the new life already in Christ, the Christian is making a public declaration of faith in Jesus, in their salvation, and also would be seen by many churches as entry into membership in their local church...

    An outward sign of an internal working already accomplished on their behalf by God saving them, by new life in Christ now...
  3. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member


    The term "visible church" has more meaning in Presbyterian circles than in Baptist circles, but the term is still useful. The Presbyterian view of children of believing parents being members of the visible church is born out of the Presbyterian view of baptism and its significance to church membership. Historically, Baptists identify church membership with conversion, however this does not mean that every professor is a possessor. The 19th century Baptist theologian, John L. Dagg, believed that repentance and faith were prerequisites for baptism, thus most children would not be potential candidates for the ordinance. All this to say that membership in Christ's church is by regeneration, not baptism. But lest baptism is relegated to a lesser command, those professed believers that refused to be baptized are denying the biblical command to believe and be baptized.
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  4. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Very good summary here on water baptism as baptists see it, as we do see it as the witness/declaration to others that we agree with what it symbolizes, in that we have died in Christ, and are now raised back up in Christ and now saved. many of our churches also use that as the rite to being shown as being now part of the local assembly, as its the Cross that saved us, not immersed in the water!
  5. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    From what I understand, Gill's views here are not representative of historic Baptist thought, especially when compared with Baptists in North America. It has been a long time since I've read early Particular Baptists on this subject, and I probably haven't read them that thoroughly. But my guess is that it would probably be a mistake to say that Gill's view is the "British view" even though more there might agree with that language than has been the case in America. (When referring to America, I'm referring to Calvinistic Baptists.)

    Most have indeed considered baptism as well as the Lord's Supper to be church ordinances and that baptism is the "door" to church membership. (If it isn't a church ordinance, then it would seem that every Tom, Dick and Harry can administer valid baptism, which I don't think is what Gill intends given his reference to an "administrator.")

    I don't know that there is really any difference in how it works in a Baptist church as opposed to a "credo" baptism of someone professing faith in a Presbyterian church. The main difference might be the congregation voting to admit the person into membership in those Baptist congregations that are more democratic. In baptistic congregations that don't vote on those kinds of things, I don't know that there is any difference.

    I have to admit to never having read much of Gill. But some Baptists who favor open communion (and maybe open membership) like his statement that you quote. I remember it coming up in a Baptist blog controversy about 10 years ago in which one blogging pastor used it to rebut what he saw as incipient Landmarkism in the SBC. But Gill himself was more traditional in his practice than the quote would indicate. His Goat Yard Declaration of Faith explicitly states that baptism is prerequisite to communion, (which would bar those who have not been immersed following a profession of faith) something that most Baptists who like his statement about baptism not being a church ordinance would deny.

    You're not going to find the emphasis on invisible vs visible in Baptist literature to the extent that you will in Reformed paedobaptist literature. In the latter, it is integral to their case for outward and inward administrations of the covenant of grace, which Baptists basically reject since a credible profession is needed prior to baptism and church membership. More often you'll see reference to the universal church and local churches, especially in the Landmark controversy.

    Pedobaptists of various types don't agree on the meaning of baptism (i.e. what it signifies and its efficacy) and to a lesser extent Baptists have some differences within their ranks as well. Some say it is the sign of the New Covenant, others do not, and so on. But most if not all Baptist definitions may look "man-centered" to the Reformed pedobaptist.

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    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    You are correct that not all Baptists see this in the same way, as there are Baptist churches like mine who would require water Baptism as needed to have been applied before church membership, and yet we also just require the peron taking Communion be a believer in Lord Jesus, to be saved to partake, regardless of batized or not, or might be a visitor who is a Christian and not yet a Baptist even!
    We would dedicate our children unto the Lord, and ask Him to save them, and to give us the grace to raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Once redeemed, then immersed....
  7. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    So it really varies by congregation then?

    And I'm just limiting discussion to Reformed/Particular Baptists, especially those holding to the LBC (1689).

    So some would consider baptism to be part of the official reception of a person into local membership? And others would say, like Gill, that baptism is done separately upon profession faith to an "administrator", but you don't become a member until later when a congregation receives you?

    Which theologians would be representative of "most" Reformed Baptists on this issue?

    So would the rejection of "visible church" terminology also be motivated by Baptist polity, that congregations are not institutionally connected to one another as one visible church, like in a Presbyterian polity?
  8. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    You might find this website informative Patrick. Note especially the videos near the top of the website, although the other resources may help too
  9. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    I think almost all would consider it to be part of the official reception of a person into local membership. Those who don't tend to be broad evangelical "community church" types who may not see baptism as necessary for church membership and thus aren't Baptists properly speaking. Generally they are rather atheological (much less Reformed) unless they've got some affinity with Plymouth Brethren type ecclesiology, which differs from Baptists on several important points.

    Another issue may be that in Gill's day, baptistries typically wouldn't have been inside of the church and the logistics of immersion were more difficult. But his argument seems to indicate that others may have held a different view.

    I think at least part of what Gill is on about is wishing to rebut the idea that baptism makes one a Christian and that it makes one a church member, lest one trust in his baptism or church membership rather than Christ. I think the main issue with his wording is his apparent assertion that baptism is not in any sense a church ordinance.

    Even among Presbyterians, those being "credo-baptized" have to take membership vows. The baptism itself does not confer church membership as I understand it, and is part of a process that typically includes other steps, such as membership classes and meeting with the session. According to the OPC Book of Church Order, "Only those may be admitted to full communion in the church who have been baptized and have made public profession of faith in Jesus Christ." So it would appear that baptism is certainly connected with church membership, but it necessarily precedes it, even if administered on the same day that vows are taken.

    John L. Dagg was a Calvinistic Southern Baptist. His Treatise on Church Order (part of his "Manual of Theology") has been widely read and is still published today.

    in my opinion 9 Marks has the best current material, even though some of their men wouldn't be able to subscribe to the 1689. But as befits their Southern Baptist background, what they teach on baptism and church membership seems to me to be largely representative of what their Calvinistic SBC forbears taught. Most Reformed Baptists that I know would have little quarrel with it, although those who practice open communion will differ with them on that issue.

    I do know that there are some in the postwar Reformed Baptist movement that practice open membership (i.e. they allow those who haven't been immersed into membership.) I don't know that any are in print on that subject. From what I understand, it is very much a minority view and is more of a courtesy extended to Presbyterians and others who don't want to repudiate their infant baptisms than anything else.

    It's been at least five years since I've read much on this issue, maybe more. Most of my reading on it was 10 years ago or more. I do recall seeing mention of "visible churches" which obviously differs from visible church. If you're referring to the difference in the confessional language, the "visible saints" language as opposed to "visible church" may simply be an assertion of regenerate church membership and that you ought to be regenerate before you are a member of a church in any sense. According to Baptists, the church consists of "visible saints" (i.e. professors) and none other.

    In comparing the confessions also compare the 1689 with the Savoy Declaration, which includes a lot more information on church order that was omitted in the LBCF. Sometimes it is helpful to compare the LBCF with not only the WCF but with the Savoy. At times certain wording is derived from the Savoy rather than the WCF and at times the wording is original and is derived from neither. It is interesting to see where the WCF and Savoy agree vs the LBCF and where the Savoy and LBCF agree vs the WCF.

    There are certain issues that aren't addressed in the 1689, even when a certain practice or belief was so widely held as to practically be an article of faith. In some cases that was due to a lack of agreement in the London Assembly and not wanting to divide over something like the terms of communion at a very difficult time (the Restoration) or if they thought it was something that didn't belong in a confession. I'm not sure why, for example, divorce is omitted.

    If you are on Facebook and would like to get input from a larger number of Reformed Baptists, there is a group there with over 9,000 members that includes several leaders and academics of note such as Richard Barcellos and several of the Renihans. I think Samuel Waldron may be in there as well. Or you may wish to direct your question to them directly. As large as the group is, they may or may not see the question. But there are many others who can answer more intelligently than I can, especially when it comes to Reformed Baptist churches.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
  10. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes Chris, I guess I'm basing the claim of rejecting "visible church" terminology on the LBC. It's clear the LBC depended upon the WCF for most of the text, and revised what they disagreed with. I may have missed it, but I don't see that term "visible church" used at all in the LBC. Now, maybe they used equivalent terms, but if you don't believe in institutionally connected congregations, then the rejection makes sense. Again, just trying to understand the position better.
  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    The Savoy (in Ch. 26) uses the term "visible catholic church of Christ," and the congregationalists/independents weren't connectional, at least not in the sense that the Presbyterians are and were.

    The church is also not equated with the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Savoy or LBCF, at least not in the article on the church.

    Regrettably, I don't know when I'll have much time to delve further into this.
  12. zsmcd

    zsmcd Puritan Board Freshman

    This isn't necessarily true.

    Edit: A profession is always required, but not always vows to a local congregation. In fact, Samuel Rutherford spoke strongly against such vows.
  13. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    We Baptists have tended to equate water baptism as having us identify with Jesus as our Lord/Savior, and also as now being part of the local assembly of the brethren!
  14. zsmcd

    zsmcd Puritan Board Freshman

    David, would you say that it only identifies one with membership in the local assembly or also the universal/catholic Church?
  15. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    According to how a majority of Baptists would tend to see this issue, the act of water Baptism per say would be the rite instituted by God as the visible sign of being identified with Jesus as now our Lord Messiah, and also as being tied into the local assembly. Please remember that we Baptists see each local church assembly as being part of the larger Body of Christ, and each is fully autonomous .

    Think this is where there is a difference, as even reformed baptists tend to see the Baptism as being an external sign/agreeing with what the Lord has already done in saving us, while Presbyterian reformed tend to see it as having some form of spiritual presence assigned to it?
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