Why Does ECC Require Baptism for Church Membership?
What is the relationship of baptism and church membership?
Baptism and church membership are closely related and inextricably tied together in Scripture. (Math 28:18–20).
Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but like the Communion, it is one of Jesus’ important ordinances/ commands, given to his church to be practiced till the end of the age.
Baptism is both (1) an expression of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, namely, a believer’s public statement of faith symbolizing one’s union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:1–4; Col 2:11–12); and (2) a declaration by a local church that the one being baptized is truly a disciple of Jesus, which means that baptism in essence initiates a person into membership in a local church (Acts 2:38–41; Gal 3:26–28; 1 Cor 12:13).
It is also important that we define what “church membership” is: church membership is an affirmation by a local church of someone’s profession of faith in Christ (Matt 16:18–19; 18:18–20). Church membership is also a covenant by which the believer identifies himself or herself with Christ’s people.
Jesus has ordained baptism as the way that someone publicly proclaims their faith in Christ and publicly declares their unity with Christ’s people. A local church therefore cannot meaningfully affirm someone’s faith (through membership) when that person hasn’t publicly professed his or her faith (through baptism).
Is baptism required for church membership?
ECC, in its statement of faith, indicates the importance of baptism and we recommend that ECC should require baptism for church membership for the following reasons:
Jesus has clearly commanded baptism as an ordinance of the local church, to be received by every person who professes faith in Him—in fact, baptism is the divinely ordained way that believers are supposed to identify with the Name of the Triune God (Matt 28:18–20).
Baptism is pervasive and commonplace in the New Testament as an initiation rite for believers into the Christian faith as well as the community of faith, i.e., the local church. The New Testament simply has no category for an unbaptized Christian or a church member who has not been baptized. In fact, the apostles clearly link baptism with initiation into the Body of Christ (Acts 2:38–41; Gal 3:26–28; 1 Cor 12:13). Baptism functions in a church just like wedding vows do in a marriage: the covenant relationship between a husband and wife is ratified by wedding vows. Similarly, the covenant relationship between an individual and the Body of Christ is ratified through baptism.
In 2000 years of church history, virtually all branches of Christianity—Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant—have required baptism for church membership (with the exception of some rare and aberrant groups who deny that baptism is biblically commanded altogether). It is only very recently (~last 50 years) in some evangelical circles that anyone has questioned whether baptism is a requirement for membership. This trend has occurred largely because some evangelicals view baptism as a mundane religious ritual with no real significance in salvation and Christian living. Moreover, the culture of individualism and pragmatism common in contemporary evangelical culture has influenced churches to downplay the importance of baptism.
By welcoming people who haven’t been baptized into church membership, we would essentially nullify Jesus’s own command to be baptized as the first step in Christian obedience and discipleship. We would be teaching people that they can live as church members and disciples without obedience to one of Jesus’s most basic commands.
Note: We do welcome into membership those who have been baptized as infants in Protestant, Trinitarian churches, so long as they are able to agree with and endorse our statement of faith.