50 Quotes from Bobby Jamieson’s New Book “Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership”


The following quotes caught my attention as I read Bobby Jamieson’s helpful new book, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership.

“The church throughout history has held with near-perfect unanimity that baptism is a necessary prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper and church membership. The only people who have departed from this consensus are a smallish slice of credobaptists.” (8)

“Closed membership carries an up-front social cost, but open membership comes with a price tag of its own, of the ‘bill me later’ variety.” (10)

“Baptism is the initiating oath-sign of the new covenant. God means for his new covenant people to be visible, and one enters that people through baptism. This means that when churches ask, ‘Who is a member of the new covenant?’ in order to extend membership to them, a necessary part of the answer is asking, ‘Who has sworn the covenant oath?’—that is, ‘Who has been baptized?’” (19)

“Baptism is both the passport of the kingdom and a kingdom citizen’s swearing-in ceremony. It’s how a church publicly identifies someone as a Christian and unites that person to itself. Therefore, it’s essential to—and normally confers—church membership.” (20)

“Our culture regards virtually any act of exclusion as unjust. Therefore, unless we deliberately exercise the moral muscles our culture inclines us to neglect, excluding someone from a church over something as seemingly trivial as baptism will appear not only intolerant but petty.” (23)

“Where earlier baptists viewed ecclesiastical distinctives as worth excommunicating over, contemporary credobaptists are reluctant to make them a term of membership in the first place.” (25)

“We shouldn’t be afraid to obey a biblical principle that seems to limit our churches’ size. And we shouldn’t think that discarding a biblical principle will result in the kind of growth God is looking for.” (31)

“After trusting Christ, baptism is the first thing faith does. It’s how faith shows itself before God, the church, and the world. Baptism is where faith goes public.” (38)

“In baptism we are symbolically plunged into the events which brought God’s future kingdom crashing into the present.” (49)

“The new covenant is more than an invisible, spiritual reality. It has a visible, public shape, and baptism draws the edges of that shape. . . . Since the new covenant creates a public people, entrance into the covenant requires a public promise, namely baptism.” (77)

“If someone believes but has not been baptized, he has not yet fully entered the new covenant. That entry is completed—formalized, ratified—in baptism. You might say that an as-yet unbaptized believer belongs to the new covenant privately but not yet publicly, and God intends the two to be inseparable. The new covenant . . . is more than an invisible register of the elect; it has a public shape. And the way you enter the space on earth which the new covenant occupies is baptism.” (78)

“The new covenant creates a visible people, and one becomes a visible member of that people through baptism. Thus, baptism is required for church membership. One may not belong to God’s visible people without bearing the sign which makes that people visible. One may not be counted among the people of the new covenant until one has undergone its initiating oath-sign.” (78)

“Baptism is like a soldier’s uniform, identifying him to his commander and fellow soldiers. It’s like a wedding ring, signifying that God’s people have pledged themselves wholly to Jesus. Yet baptism is also like a soldier’s oath of allegiance, or a bride and groom’s vows: baptism doesn’t just represent an oath; it is an oath. . . . It is not merely an individual ordinance but an ordinance which brings an individual into a new whole of which he is now a part. The ordinance which seals covenant entry opens the door of the church.” (79)

“When Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, he established the church as an embassy of that kingdom in order to identify its citizens before the world. And the initial and initiating means by which the church identifies individuals as kingdom citizens is baptism. The individual isn’t the only one speaking in baptism; the church speaks too.” (82)

“The institutional space the kingdom of heaven occupies on earth is the local church, and the way you enter that space is baptism.” (82)

“Baptism is the passport of the kingdom and a kingdom citizen’s swearing-in ceremony. It is how the church officially recognizes and affirms one’s citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. It is how the church speaks a word of affirmation over a Christian profession.” (83)

“In baptism the individual speaks to God and the church, and the church speaks for God to the individual. This is one sense in which baptism and a passport correspond closely. If a Christian is baptized in Chicago and then moves to Detroit, he does not need to be rebaptized in order to join a church in Detroit. He brings his baptism with him and reports it to the church like a tourist handing his passport to an embassy official.” (96)

“An embassy that mistakenly affirms a noncitizen as a citizen does not thereby cease to be an embassy. And a citizen without a passport is still a citizen, though certain privileges of citizenship might be withheld until he obtains one.” (97)

“Baptism is not merely an individual ordinance but a badge of belonging. It identifies someone as a Christian before the church and the world. Baptism is nothing less than a church’s formal, public endorsement of someone’s claim to be a Christian. . . . If baptism is a necessary criterion for recognizing and affirming someone’s profession of faith, then by definition it is necessary for church membership.” (98, 99)

“How can kingdom citizens tell one another apart from the world? Materially, by their professions of faith and godly lives; formally, by their baptism. And how does a church identify those for whose professions it assumes responsibility? By baptizing them. How can a church tell whether someone new to town who claims to be a kingdom citizen really is? The answer includes, though isn’t limited to, asking, ‘Do they have a passport?’” (99)

“For new converts baptism is the New Testament way to join a church.” (101)

“Just like walking through a door initiates your presence in a house, baptism initiates the relation we call ‘church membership.’ . . . Membership is the house, baptism the front door.” (102, 103)

“You don’t get the jersey without joining the team. Therefore baptism not only necessitates church membership; it confers it. . . . When you look at baptism, what you should see is someone walking through the door of church membership.” (104)

“When someone legitimately claims to have become a child of God through faith in Christ and the power of the Spirit, the church unites that person to itself, publicly endorses his confession, and hands him a passport with ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ stamped on the cover. How? By baptizing him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (105)

“Baptism both [formally] identifies someone as a member of Christ’s kingdom and inaugurates him into the public office of kingdom citizenship, that is, church membership.” (105)

“The Lord’s Supper is a badge of belonging just as much as baptism is. Baptism is the front door of the house, and the Lord’s Supper is the family meal. All who belong to the family identify themselves by ‘showing up’ in baptism, and their unity as a family is both displayed and sealed as they sit down to eat together.” (109)

“If the Lord’s Supper is the renewing oath-sign of the new covenant, then only those who have undergone the initiating oath-sign may partake. If the Lord’s Supper effects the unity of the church, then only those who have united themselves to the church in baptism should be admitted. If the Lord’s Supper is the church’s family meal, the only entrance to that meal is the front door of baptism.” (110)

“We must make a profession before we can seal that profession. We must initiate a covenant before we can renew and confirm that covenant. The Lord’s Supper publicly enacts the church’s fellowship. Therefore those only may partake who have gone public as Christians in baptism.” (125)

“Baptism and the Lord’s Supper make the church visible. They are the hinge between the ‘invisible’ universal church and the ‘visible’ local church. They draw a line around the church by drawing the church together. They gather many into one: baptism by adding one to many, the Lord’s Supper by making many one.” (142)

“The ordinances make it possible to point to something and say ‘church’ rather than only pointing to many somethings and saying ‘Christians.’ A church is born when gospel people form a gospel polity, and the ordinances are the effective signs of that polity. They give the church visible, institutional form and order. They knit many into one.” (144)

“Without membership the ordinances are in danger of becoming the spiritual accessories of autonomous consumers rather than the church’s authoritative seals of a credible profession.” (147)

“We can’t remove baptism from membership because without baptism membership doesn’t exist. Removing baptism from membership is like removing vows from marriage. . . . As a marriage does not exist without a vow, so membership does not exist without baptism.” (154)

“The entire debate boils down to this: Jesus has appointed baptism to be a person’s initial entry into the church. Baptism is the front door of the church; there’s no other way in.” (154)

“Those who want to extend membership to paedobaptists intend to widen the fence surrounding the church, but what they’re actually doing is dismantling that fence. Jesus established baptism as the line between the church and the world. A church that includes unbaptized people is not rightly enlarging the household of God but taking apart its walls.” (156)

“When a church removes baptism from the requirements for membership, it privatizes Christian profession. It undermines the authority of Christ’s commands by allowing Christians to disobey one with impunity. It allows the individual conscience to trump the authority of the local church.” (156)

“Membership is a statement by the church, not by an individual Christian. No individual Christian has the right to extend church membership to someone. . . . [Since] membership is a prerogative of the church, and the church speaks for Jesus, the church may only extend membership to those to whom Jesus has authorized to be members. Because Jesus has delegated authority to the church, the church must exercise that authority on the terms he sets. And Jesus has set baptism as the front door of the church.” (167)

“In no case is a refusal to admit [unbaptized] persons to membership equivalent to saying, ‘We think you’re not a Christian.’ Instead, it’s simply withholding a public affirmation because a criterion for that affirmation has not been met. It’s not that the embassy thinks the person isn’t a citizen; it’s just that they have no authority to issue a visa to someone without a passport.” (167)

“All the members of a church might be convinced that a certain unbaptized person is a Christian, but Jesus has bound the church’s judgment—and therefore its formal, public affirmation—to baptism. Even if all the members of a church are convinced that a person’s faith is genuine, Jesus has given the church no authority to affirm that faith until it is publicly professed in baptism. . . . Baptism draws the line between the church and the world. We are not at liberty to draw it elsewhere.” (174)

“Baptism identifies someone as a Christian much like a boarding pass identifies someone as an airline passenger. Jesus’ command requires a form of profession as well as the substance, and the form is baptism. Thinking you’ve been baptized—even on the basis of a sophisticated, widely held, time-honored interpretation of Scripture—does not mean you’ve been baptized. And a church is no more free to admit an unbaptized person to membership than a gate agent is to admit someone onto a plane without a boarding pass. . . . We believe our paedobaptist brothers paid for a plane ticket, but we can’t let them on the plane without a boarding pass. We believe they have the ‘money in the bank’ of a credible claim to follow Christ, yet we can’t extend membership without their authentication of that claim in baptism.” (175–76, 177)

“Say you went to buy groceries, swiped your debit card, and then refused to enter your PIN number when prompted. Why would the cashier halt the transaction? Not because you don’t have the money in the bank—the reality of which the debit card is a sign, so to speak. Instead, you would be unable to purchase groceries because of a failure to fulfill a necessary, formal step in the transaction: authenticating your identity as the cardholder. The baptism and membership issue is similar. It’s not that a paedobaptist’s failure to be baptized undermines the credibility of their faith in Christ. Instead, however unintentionally, a paedobaptist is refusing to authenticate his or her faith through baptism, the means Jesus appointed for that end. And without that authentication, a church is not authorized to conclude the ‘transaction’ of membership.” (176)

“It is deeply saddening to refuse membership to anyone who is evidently a Christian. Yet membership is not a matter of private opinion but public judgment, and Jesus has bound the church’s judgment to baptism.” (178)

“Proof-texting alone won’t settle the issue either way.” (185)

“Church membership isn’t the only kind of fellowship Christians can have. . . . Fellowship between Christians isn’t all-or-nothing. . . . Unity between churches is made of different stuff than unity within churches.” (189, 190)

“Apart from open-membership baptists, all Christians have held baptism to be ‘an indispensable prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper.’ . . . We baptists shouldn’t be charged with malice for treating the relationship between baptism and the Lord’s Supper precisely the way our paedobaptist brothers do.” (190, 191)

“In saying we must not theologically build on error, I’m not arguing for some sort of perfectionist ecclesiology. Yet you can’t put error regarding baptism into the structure of the church. Why? Because baptism, along with the Lord’s Supper, is what structures the church.” (195)

“A church may not allow individuals’ conviction to overrule its corporate obligation to obey Christ in the exercise of the ordinances. . . . As charitable as it may seem, for a church to defer to an individual’s conscience is actually to abdicate the responsibility Jesus has given it.” (199)

“If an individual’s conviction trumps the church’s confession, it’s not the church that has authority but the individual. On this point he individual no longer submits to the church but the church to the individual. This reverses the relation which constitutes membership—and constitutes a church—in the first place. In principle, by privileging the individual conscience over the local church, open membership actually begins to unravel the theological fabric of a local church’s existence as a church.” (199)

“Requiring baptism for membership is actually the most respectful, conscientious response to paedobaptism. If we respect the paedobaptist position, we should wish them freedom to practice according to their conscience, which is something they certainly can’t do within our churches. This is why many paedobaptists through the centuries have actually applauded the closed-membership position. They recognize we’re simply doing what they’d do in our shoes.” (203)

“Persons should enter and exit the church only but the express consent of the church. . . . The congregational vote is a little like a basketball team drafting a player, and baptism (for the new Christian) and the Lord’s Supper (for every Christian) are like the player signing the contract and showing up at game time.” (222)

“By constituting a gospel polity, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church membership make visible a gospel people. They gather up all our flickering little candles into one roaring flame of witness to Christ. Tracing out a biblical theology and practice of the ordinances isn’t a distraction from the gospel but a service to the gospel. Certainly the frame is made for the picture, not the picture for the frame. But in order for the frame to fit, it needs the right shape.” (225)

Matt Smethurst

Matt Smethurst is managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of Deacons: How They Serve and Strengthen the Church (Crossway, 2021), Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God's Word (10Publishing, 2019), and Before You Share Your Faith: Five Ways to Be Evangelism Ready (10Publishing, 2022). He is now in the process of planting River City Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. You can find him on Twitter at @MattSmethurst.

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