Why do I become a member when I get baptized?

Dear BPCWAians, Today we witnessed believer’s baptisms, infant baptisms, affirmation of faith, and transfer of memberships. As members of BPCWA, you also arise at such events to receive them into membership of BPCWA. Have you ever wondered why baptisms and affirmation of faith leads automatically to membership in a church? Why do people transfer memberships? Do infants also become members upon baptism? And why do we ask members of BPCWA to arise to receive them? It is important to understand the Biblical principles behind all these because you are yourself a member or might become a member one day.

Believer’s baptism and membership. When a believer is baptized in a church, he becomes a member of that church. Here, it is important to understand that there is a difference between the universal church and the visible church, because this is where many people are confused. True born- again believers are all part of the invisible universal church of God’s elect. This invisible church is one that in the fulness of times Christ will gather together in one (Eph 1:10). But as part of God’s redemptive plan, He calls out and establishes a visible witness on earth. So, “church” literally means “called out ones”. This visible witness in the Old Testament was the nation of Israel whom He called to Himself, and in the New Testament is the local church. We see references of this in the Bible, such as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2), “the church at Cenchrea” (Rom 16:1) and “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev 1:11). There are people who are clearly identified and who belong to these churches. How are these people identified as being part of God’s visible witness as His people? The children of Israel were God’s people by His covenant with them. The covenantal sign of this was circumcision in Gen 17:7, 9 “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee . . . And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.” God spoke of being in a covenant with His people. Covenants have signs and seals. People of other nations who come to Jehovah as their God must also be circumcised because it is the outward sign of being part of God’s people (Ex 12:48; Eze 44:9). Just like at a wedding solemnisation, there is always the ring serving as the sign and seal of each entering into the marriage covenant. The Abrahamic covenant is under the covenant of grace, which both Old Testament and New Testament believers are in. After Christ came, the Apostle Paul explained to the Jews in Col 2:11, 12 that the covenantal sign of circumcision had been replaced with water baptism. That is why there was no longer the command to be circumcised, even for proselytes, but to be water baptized instead. Just as the Old Testament circumcision was the sign of someone becoming part of Jehovah’s visible people, so in the same manner today, every believer who is baptized becomes part – a member – of the visible local church where he is baptized. This has to do with being part of God’s people. So, if any refused to be circumcised, it was a sign of refusal to be part of God’s people. Similarly in the New Testament covenantal sign of baptism, anyone who refuses baptism cannot be a member of a local church. Just like the act of circumcision didn’t save the Jews in the Old Testament, the act of believer’s baptism doesn’t save anyone today. It is something you do after declaring belief in the LORD.

Transfer of membership. So, having understood that, some may wonder – does it matter where my membership is so long as I am baptized and am member of a church? To answer this question, we must go back to the purpose of a local church as a visible witness of God’s people. For many of us, we may have been baptized in our younger days in another church. Later, God’s Providence directed us to move from our original countries or churches and brought us to BPCWA. If you have been worshipping with us for some time, I trust that this is an indication that you have found BPCWA to be a faithful witness for our Lord. In what way is a church a local witness for the Lord? A church is a local witness by the soundness of the doctrines taught and embraced, by our public worship, by the sacraments and ordinances administered, and where the saints gather and are perfected (Westminster Confession of Faith XXV:3, 4). Membership in a church makes you part of that local witness. This is because in taking the step of membership, one covenants to be part of that church, to support her and to serve with her for the Lord’s work. There is a commitment to that church family in the vows that you take, and in being part of that visible witness, there is no “sleeping member”. Hence, today, some have taken the step to transfer their memberships over from their previous church over to BPCWA. These ones have embraced our beliefs and practices, and desire to serve alongside with us and be part of God’s local witness at BPCWA. While some cannot be admitted as full communicant members because of their visa status here in Australia, they indicate by their vows that they are willing and ready to be subject to BPCWA’s oversight and work together with us.

Having understood this, we thank and praise God for Him graciously keeping and using BPCWA to be part of His Great Commission to make disciples of Christ. Matt 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Yours in our Lord’s service