The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming volume, Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership by Bobby Jamieson. In his Introduction Jamieson discusses the book’s distinctives and the governing thesis for the volume.
This book is not exactly what you think it is. The subtitle, Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership, is accurate, but it conceals much. It names the destination but says little about the journey.
This whole book aims toward the conclusion that churches should require prospective members to be baptized—which is to say, baptized as believers— in order to join. Among Christians who agree that only believers should be baptized, this issue is hotly disputed, and it remains an open question for many. Hence this book. But in order to answer this one question, I had to dig deeper than I anticipated at the outset. I had to burrow through sand and clay, so to speak, in order to find bedrock on which to build a convincing argument.
That’s because this book is an exercise in rebuilding among the ruins of contemporary evangelical—and even Baptist—ecclesiology. By God’s grace more and more evangelicals seem to be recovering more and more ecclesiology. But to say that our ecclesiological house is in order would be a bit too generous. Evangelical ecclesiology tends to be consumed by the question of “what works.” Pragmatism has not only moved to the center of our churchly solar system, but like an aging star it has ballooned and swallowed everything in its orbit. So we tend to neglect ecclesiology as a theological subject altogether or at best sketch a bare outline of what a church birthed by the gospel and grounded on the final authority of Scripture should look like.
Our neglect of ecclesiology walks in lockstep with the individualistic and anti-institutional biases of the late modern West. The result is that in both theology and practice we have almost completely disconnected the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper from the local church. Baptism is a personal profession of faith—so what does it have to do with the church or church membership? And the Lord’s Supper is a memorial and proclamation of the death of Christ—so shouldn’t any gathering of believers be able to celebrate it?
I’d argue that a general inability to articulate what distinguishes any gathering of believers from a local church is at the root of the confusion surrounding the relationship between baptism and church membership. We can’t very well articulate what makes a church a church, so we struggle to see why anyone who appears to be a Christian should ever be excluded from one. But as I’ll argue throughout the book, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are themselves the hinge between “Christians” and “church.” Together baptism and the Lord’s Supper mark off a church as a unified, visible, local body of believers. To put it more technically, they give a church institutional form and order.
The thesis of this book, then, is that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are effective signs of church membership: they create the social, ecclesial reality to which they point. Precisely because of their complementary church-constituting roles, baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper and the status of church membership which grants access to the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, what this book offers is not merely an answer to the question of whether baptism should be required for membership. Instead it offers an integrated account of how baptism and the Lord’s Supper transform a scattered group of Christians into a gathered local church. This book traces the trajectory of a church’s birth, how gospel people form a gospel polity. In that sense it offers much more than an answer to the question implied in the subtitle. Instead, it lays theological foundations for understanding exactly what the local church is from the ground up.
About the Author:
Bobby Jamieson is a Ph.D. student in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He previously served as assistant editor for 9Marks, and is the author of Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013).
Download the Table of Contents, Introduction, and first chapter here.
Request a faculty review copy here.
Request a media review copy here.