"Baptized Into Christ" - "Baptized Into Church"- The Same?
Foy W. Layton
The result of an alien sinner's obedience to the gospel of Christ is that he is "in Christ" (Galatians 3:27; II Cor. 5:17). This relationship is also referred to as being "in the body (church) of Christ" (Acts 2:38,41,47; I Cor. 12:13) The final act of obedience in becoming a Christian is baptism (Acts 22:16) and therefore we usually speak in terms of a person's "baptism" when we are referring to his conversion. Since we understand that to be in Christ is to be in the church (the family of God — I Timothy 3:15), we are prone to talk and preach a great deal about the need for one to be "baptized in order to get into the church," and due to the majority of religious people's mis-use of the term, "church" (i.e. any religious organization or institution) there is a danger of conveying the wrong idea about the purpose of baptism when we thus speak. Although an individual becomes a member of the church at the point of scriptural baptism, this should not be the motive for being baptized. The purpose of baptism is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38); to "be saved" (I Peter 3:21); to "wash away sins" (Acts 22:16), etc. The reason men and women wanted to be baptized in the first century was based on a realization of sin in their lives and a desire to have the guilt of sin removed by the grace of God. As a result they were "added to the church," or, in other words, they became a part of God's family — children of God.
What is the difference in a person's desire to "have his sins remitted" and his desire to "become a member of the church"? The difference lies in his motive for wanting to be baptized! For example, when a child who has not yet reached the "age of accountability" states that he wants to be baptized, but he indicates that he doesn't believe he will "go to hell" if he is not baptized, then his motive for wanting to be baptized is "unscriptural" — he does not have the desire to have sin remitted. Perhaps he simply realizes that he is not considered a "member of the church" unless he is baptized and he wants to be a "member" — to have his name on the roll along with mother and daddy.
This same attitude is sometimes manifested by an adult when he is baptized "to become a member of the `Church of Christ — . He has been taught that the "Church of Christ" is the one true church, and that "unless you are a member of the Church of Christ you will go to hell", so he goes to a "Church of Christ" preacher and asks to be baptized so he can become a member of the religious institution that wears the name "Church of Christ". After all, if the "Church of Christ" is the only church that is going to be saved, then he certainly wants to become a member of that church so he can be saved! Such is NOT the proper motive for desiring to be baptized! This individual has placed salvation on a group basis rather than on the individual's personal repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of desiring to be saved in order to become a member of the church, he wants to become a member of the church in order to be saved. Note the difference:
BECOME A MEMBER OF CHURCH — TO BE SAVED BE SAVED--TO BECOME MEMBER OF CHURCH With the former motive, one thinks of God saving a certain group, and he wants to be one of the group which is going to be saved. With the latter motive, the individual simply realizes his personal need for salvation. The latter is the "scriptural" motive (Acts 2:37; 16:30).
A practical application of this principal is seen when someone insists that a person needs to be "re-baptized" when he leaves a denomination — such as the "Christian Church". Someone says that "Christian Church baptism is not valid!" And someone else exclaims, "Oh, we can't take him on his denominational baptism!" Perhaps, just perhaps, those who make such statements should reexamine their own motives for having been baptized. But, let us look objectively at this situation. If an individual comes to a knowledge of the truth, is convicted of sin, repents and is baptized (immersed) in water with the sincere motive of desiring the remission of sins, then he is saved by the grace of God from the guilt of sins and is "added to the church" — God's family. He is NOT a member of the "Christian Church" unless he "joins" or "identifies" with that particular group. God certainly did not put him in the Christian Church. However, God did put him in His house (church) when he became obedient to the gospel (regardless of who baptized him — l Cor. 1:12-17). Neither is he a member of any local "Church of Christ" unless he "joins" or "identities" with that particular group. God does not put anyone in a local church — the individual puts himself in the local church when he agrees to work with that assembly of God's people and they agree to accept him (Acts 9:26). When a person is scripturally baptized, his relationship to other Christians throughout the world at that moment is the same as that experienced by the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. He is a member of the universal church of God without any organic attachment to any group of people anywhere. This is true whether a person is just "passing through" our area when he learns the truth and is baptized, or if he is a local resident. He still has to make an agreement with a local group to be identified with them before he becomes accepted and recognized as a member of that particular church.
If the group (church) to which he "joins" himself is guilty of teaching and practicing error (i.e. using instrumental music, supporting missionary societies, wearing unscriptural designations, etc.) then he is guilty of participating in that which is error and sinful. But his relationship with God is not that of an alien sinner. He was saved from past sins when he was scripturally baptized. Therefore, he simply needs to repent of and cease practicing error in order to stand justified once again before God. He no more needs to be "re-baptized" than one who is baptized by a "Church of Christ" preacher in a "Church of Christ baptistry" and then joins himself to a group of people calling themselves a "Church of Christ" who are guilty of supporting an unscriptural project such as a benevolent society.
On the other hand, if an individual submitted himself to be baptized by a "Church of Christ" preacher in order to "get into the 'Church of Christ'," he has not been scripturally baptized. Likewise, if an individual submitted himself to be baptized by a "Christian Church" preacher in order to "get into the 'Christian Church'," then he has not been scripturally baptized either! Both need to be "re-baptized" (as we commonly refer to such). Through the years I have been preaching, I have baptized numbers of people — young and old — who were already "on the roll" of the local church with which I was working. They had simply come to realize that when they were "baptized" in the past, their motive was something other than a scriptural one.
Therefore, we encourage the use of proper language in order to impart a proper understanding of the purpose of baptism. We need to teach people to be baptized into Christ, for the remission of sins. Then as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, they determine whether or not the group to which they have joined themselves is teaching and/or practicing error.
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