Yesterday, we baptised and welcomed into membership 3 Iranian people: Hannah, Mohammad and Ahmad. We also welcomed into membership two British people: Rachel and Natalie.
We failed to turn the heating element on a day or two beforehand, so the water was a lot colder than it might have been. Because of that, we heard testimonies and asked questions re profession of faith before we got into the baptistry. You can watch the three baptisms at the end of the post.
The three who were baptised were brought into membership of Bethel Church upon their baptism. The two who were not baptised were brought into membership having already been baptised.
We read a short passage from Acts 2:41-2 outlining our position on baptism. We believe the order in these verses is very important. Those who received the Word (that is, became Christians) were baptised and this baptism added them to their number. They believe first, are baptised upon their belief and then added to the local church.
We know that they were added to the local church, rather than just generically totted up as conversion statistics, because of v42. Having been added to their number, they devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. These are the things that constitute a church. They were added to their number and began engaging in the very things that make a church, a church.
Following the same pattern, those we baptised were already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their baptism did not mark their becoming a Christian. Instead, they were baptised upon their profession of faith. They had come to faith in Christ, had already been baptised by the Holy Spirit in their hearts and had already joined the universal, invisible church as a result. Now, they were publicly witnessing to that invisible Spirit-baptism through visible water baptism. They were witnessing to their membership of the invisible, universal church by entering the visible, local church. The washing with water corresponds to the washing of regeneration that has already taken place. Just as the washing of regeneration brings them into membership of the universal, invisible church so the washing with water brings them into membership of the visible, local church.
The two who became members had already been baptised previously. We believe water baptism is a one-time rite that brings somebody into membership of the visible church. As an existing member of the visible church, it should be the case that those who have already been baptised are transferring their existing membership from one local church to another. There is no need to be re-baptised every time we join a new fellowship because we have already witnessed to our one-time spirit-baptism through the waters of baptism. We have already joined the visible church and should already belong to a visible, local church. As such, having been baptised, we are transferring our membership from one local body to another.
The ongoing sign of our standing in the local body is partaking of communion. Instead of re-baptising people each week – which acts as the door to church membership – we take the bread and wine to symbolise our ongoing fellowship in the body due to our ongoing standing in Christ. Communion acts as our statement- and the church’s affirmation in response – that we belong to this body, in Christ, and remain in good standing with these brethren.