The Visible Church: Substance & Relation to Baptism. A Reformed Baptist Perspective

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Herald

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1689 LBC 26.1-2

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.

1689 LBC 29.1-2

1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

2. Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

I've seen some disparate theological arguments from some of my beloved Baptist brethren. For that reason I want to offer some thoughts for consideration and discussion so that we may glorify God by rightly understanding what is required of us in scripture.

Does a person enter into the visible church through water baptism? This is a different question than whether baptism is a sign of visible church membership. The question, and it's answer, is important to Baptists. We know what our Presbyterian brethren believe in this regard. Much to our satisfaction they readily confess that baptism does not confer saving faith. They believe it is a sign of what already is; namely that an infant born into a believing family is a member of the covenant family. Baptism is, to them, a sign of the thing signified, whether or not the infant is/will/will not display evidence of saving faith. As for Baptists, specifically confessional Reformed Baptists, what do we believe?

Invisible precedes the visible

Reformed Baptists (abbrev. "RB") believe that scripture teaches God's covenant of redemption is made with His elect, chosen by God from eternity past (Eph. 1:4). Old Testament saints were saved by faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3) in the same manner as New Testament saints (1 Cor. 10:1-4).

RB's believe that the covenant sign of circumcision was initiated with Abraham, and continued to the time of Christ, was a spiritual sign and also national identification. It was spiritual in nature because it pointed to Christ. It displayed national identification because it was administered only to males born into the nation of Israel. The male receiving the sign was not saved by circumcision itself; instead it was to serve as constant reminder of Israel's separateness unto God.

RB's believe in a discontinuity between the physical sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. While God has always had one called out people of faith, He dealt with Israel in a specific manner so that He may display His glory to all the nations. During the period of the pre-Messianic diaspora, circumcision was still a sign of the spiritual promise and of national identification. When Christ, the Messiah, was born in time, He embodied both the spiritual promise of circumcision and it's national identification. Christ was Prophet, Priest, and King. RB's believe there was an organic change in how God's called out people would be assembled and governed (Eph. 1:9, 10; 1:22, 23). Within a relatively short period of time during the time of the Apostles, circumcision would cease to be practiced among Jewish believers and be replaced with baptism. But unlike the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant which symbolized a spiritual promise and national identity, baptism would symbolize a professed reality, namely that the promised shadow of circumcision was now realized in Christ on the basis of faith. Circumcision had a faith component, but it was not perfectly clear or effectual to the Jewish male receiving it. Baptism would become the sign of those who were effectually called and converted on the basis of faith. Faith would become the determinative agent in regards to baptism. Therefore, the invisible precedes the visible. Entrance into the invisible church is on the basis of faith alone. The 1689 LBC 26.2 rightly purports that saving faith allows the individual to be considered as a visible saint, not the basis of water baptism, but through spiritual baptism, or faith alone. Prior to regeneration (saving faith) the individual is as the Apostle Paul described himself:

Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

So, what is the condition of the saint prior to his regeneration? According to Paul our pre-regenerate condition was as "children of wrath." Except for elect infants dying in infancy (a topic for another thread), all of us are born into the dominion of the "prince of the power of the air" and are "children of wrath." It is for this reason that RB's do not apply the New Covenant sign of baptism to infants.

Is Baptism a sign of entrance into the visible church?

Yes. Entrance into the visible church, preceded by entrance into the invisible church, is on the basis of faith in Christ. Baptism is "an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life." It is a sign of what has already taken place, not of what might possibly take place. It is the sign of the New Covenant and is to be conferred to "those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Why do RB's consider baptism to be a sign of visible church membership when actual visible church membership is on the basis of faith? Baptism is an ordinance of the church. It is the first act of obedience that a new believer is to display (Acts 16:33). It is a sign of union with Christ. In that sense it is a sign of visible church membership, whereas actual visible church membership is on the basis of faith. The two are sometimes confused, so it is necessary to delineate the difference.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
As a late P.S. to the OP, how does the Reformed (confessional) understanding of baptism differ from non confessional Baptists?
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
Sorry I could not get to this earlier than tonight. This is very clearly and consicely written!
Invisible precedes the visible
All the invisible will be visible on the last day.
circumcision would cease to be practiced among Jewish believers and be replaced with baptism. But unlike the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant which symbolized a spiritual promise and national identity, baptism would symbolize a professed reality, namely that the promised shadow of circumcision was now realized in Christ on the basis of faith.
not like the covenant i made with the fathers...
The 1689 LBC 26.2 rightly purports that saving faith allows the individual to be considered as a visible saint, not the basis of water baptism, but through spiritual baptism, or faith alone.

It is a sign of what has already taken place, not of what might possibly take place. It is the sign of the New Covenant and is to be conferred to "those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ..."

The evidence of the Spirits work, or as scripture refers to the fruit of the Spirit, as the things that accompany salvation,
9But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

10For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

11And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

12That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

This Holy calling, the called out ones can not be called holy without the Spirit indwelling them. The word we use for assembly,ecclesia, denotes being called out by God, not the flesh.
Physical birth for males was all that was necessary to receive the OT.sign
Spiritual birth is now required.

-----Added 11/12/2009 at 12:18:49 EST-----

As a late P.S. to the OP, how does the Reformed (confessional) understanding of baptism differ from non confessional Baptists?

Confessional baptists believe the work of God places men in the body the church of the Living God.
Non confessional baptists think man places himself into the church :confused:by his own will.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
As a late P.S. to the OP, how does the Reformed (confessional) understanding of baptism differ from non confessional Baptists?

Iconoclast said:
Confessional baptists believe the work of God places men in the body the church of the Living God.
Non confessional baptists think man places himself into the church :confused:by his own will.

Some Baptist churches either attach too much importance to baptism or not enough. By too much I mean that baptism becomes the linchpin of their evangelism program. "Bring 'em in and get 'em baptized!" Okay, but after that, what? Other churches have a rote approach to baptism. "It's what we do because we're Baptists." Both approaches deemphasize our union and identification with Christ, and the effect baptism has on the one being baptized and those witnessing the baptism.

If the minister of the gospel is doing his job, he has explained to the one being baptized the significance of the ordinance and what it represents. As immersion into the water symbolizes Christ's death, the raising from the water represents His resurrection. The person baptized is announced as a new creature (although that actually occurred at the point of regeneration). Baptism is an emblem of Christ's victory over sin and death. That is why this passage of scripture is often referred to during Christian baptism:

Romans 6:3-11 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

When baptism is looked at in light of Romans 6, it assumes it's proper role in the life of the new believer, and to a larger extent the church. For the believer it is a sign of the new birth, the death of the old man, and the promise of the resurrection. Baptism is a public pronouncement of faith in Christ, made before the church and in the sight of God. Therefore, both the one being baptized and the church are involved. That is the corporate nature of baptism. Is not the one being baptized being baptized in to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12)? If so, then the entire body can rejoice.
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
Bill,
This is much of what takes place in our day,
Some Baptist churches either attach too much importance to baptism or not enough. By too much I mean that baptism becomes the linchpin of their evangelism program. "Bring 'em in and get 'em baptized!" Okay, but after that, what? Other churches have a rote approach to baptism. "It's what we do because we're Baptists." Both approaches deemphasize our union and identification with Christ, and the effect baptism has on the one being baptized and those witnessing the baptism.

One thing I have come to appreciate more about believing Padeo brethren is because of the root covenant theological base, when they discuss baptism they do not error about what baptism is supposed to signify in reference to union with Christ.[they just view it as potential rather than actual] I remember one time Bruce was interacting about what was contained in the promise.
Basically everything the Bible describes for the believer, he saw as being pointed to in baptism as a sign. After the interaction I reflected upon what he wrote and thought it would be nice if half the baptists would understand our position In Christ as actual as described in Romans 6.
As you say in your post, the shallow "bring them in and get them baptized" approach is very dishonoring to God. Cutting off the root covenant promises promotes ignorance in the sanctification of each individual,which in turn infects the body of Christ.
In a positive way Reformed Baptist churches are trying to bring biblical correction here.We draw from many of the same teachers and teachings they do ,yet maintain our distinctions.
In a recent thread JL Dagg was described as the antipadeobaptist Dagg.
I think of it more as procredo baptist, than anti-padeo.
I would rather be described as believing in regenerate church membership, than unregenerate church membership.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Anthony,

I'm genuinely happy that our believing paedo brethren find such comfort in their baptism, in that it points to Christ. Paedos possess a high view of baptism and how it fits into their covenantal framework. When Matthew Winzer posted that quote from Dagg, I went back and read some of Dagg's systematic theology and his work on baptism. Dagg wasn't far off the mark of a covenantal view of baptism, albeit from a Baptist perspective.

I'm not bothered much by the antipaedobaptist term. At first I took it as a pejorative comment. But all that does is focus attention off of the covenantal Baptist view of baptism and places it on paedobaptism. I don't need to define (or defend) what it means to be a Baptist.
 

Iconoclast

Puritan Board Junior
Bill,
You are correct once again. Matthews post I read while travelling, I understand what he means I think. I pulled Dagg off the bookshelf and have started to re-read the section Matthew spoke of. I forgot how much i enjoy what he writes. I want to see what Matthew was speaking about.
So far I have seen him speaking about a positive obediance to the ordinance.
We had some people stop by, but I will get back to it. Matthew does a lot of the heavy lifting here on the PB,with his responses to many posts, so I would like to respond in a way that might get him to re-examine some of these issues.
 
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