The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

What Makes a Church

a New Testament Baptist Church?

Dean Robinson

People today have various ideas and beliefs as to what a church really is. Some think a church is merely a building, a place where people meet together for worship. Others think of a church as a denomination, merely a human, man-made organization. Most people in the religious world today think of the church as consisting of all born-again believers in the world, a universal kind of monstrosity.

We have literally hundreds of churches of different denominations and groups all proclaiming to believe in different creeds, beliefs, and doctrines and yet at the same time declare it doesn't make any difference what a person really believes. Many will argue that all religions and churches are equally good and right and that even though we may be taking different roads, we are all bound for the same place. But simple logic should tell you that churches holding to beliefs and doctrines that contradict each other cannot all be true.

Such differences and diversity has caused much chaos and confusion concerning the truth of the Word of God. Therefore we are brought face to face with the question, which church is the one that is declaring the truth? Which church is right? Which are wrong? How can I know and recognize the true church? What is it specifically that makes a church a scriptural, N. T. Baptist church?

The quickest way to receive an answer to these questions we must look to one place. Amidst all of the chaos and confusion that exists among the hundreds of conflicting religions and faiths, there exists only one source of information that is without error -- the inspired Word of God. This is all we can turn to and depend upon.

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Ephesians 4:4-6) This passage clearly points out there is only one kind of body, one kind of faith, one kind of baptism.

Here's a riddle: If a dog's tail is called a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Answer: four, since a dog's tail is not a leg, no matter what it is called. The point is, not every church, even if it calls itself a Baptist church, is one of the Lord's true churches. The Word of God has prescribed certain principles that are necessary to constitute a scriptural, N. T. Baptist church. It should be our desire to examine what the Word says on the vital subject of the church, desiring that as a result, we will be able to discern accurately between the true and the false. It is the church of the living God, according to 1 Timothy 3:15, that is to be the pillar and ground of the truth.

A N. T. church is not to be made up of just anything or anyone. God specifies in His Word the correct and proper components of a church. Acts 2:41 gives us God's order of qualifications for church membership -- "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

a) "received his word": salvation;

b) "baptized": immersion in water;

c) "added": church membership.

This defines for us in a very simple way what a N. T. Baptist church is made up of: an organized assembly of saved, born-again believers who have been scripturally baptized that are united in their faith for the purpose of carrying out the Lord's work. Let me hasten to say that Acts 2 is not the beginning of the church. It was started by Christ during His earthly ministry with the calling, choosing, and ordaining of 12 men in Matthew 10 who had been saved by the preaching of the gospel and baptized by John the Baptist.

Luke 6:13 says the Lord Jesus named them "apostles" and we know that the first ones who were made members of the Lord's church were the apostles, according to 1 Cor.12:28. The point of Acts 2:41 is that the only scriptural way in which people can become members of a N. T. Baptist church is: salvation first, then baptism.

There are two main things that are essential for a church to be a scriptural N. T. church: 1) It must preach the right kind of gospel; 2) it must practice the right kind of baptism. A church that is in error on the way of salvation and the way of baptism cannot be a true N. T. church.

The Right Gospel

In Galatians 1:6-9 we are told there is only one true gospel. In Ephesians 4:5 we are told there is only "one faith." The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one gospel, the true gospel which teaches salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). The right gospel emphasizes God's grace as opposed to man's works (2 Tim. 1:9). The right gospel is not a "do" but a "done" gospel. As Jesus Himself hung on the Cross, He cried out: "it is finished."

Any gospel that does not present Christ as the complete, all-sufficient, and only Saviour is a false gospel. Any gospel that does not preach that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate, final sacrifice for sin is a false gospel. Any gospel that teaches you can be saved by your own works, efforts, or doings is a false gospel.

Any church that does not preach and teach the true gospel eliminate themselves from being a true N. T. church of the Lord. Jesus Christ never commissioned or authorized any church to preach anything else other than the right gospel: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15) Notice it does not say "a gospel," but "the gospel."

The Right Baptism

Ephesians 4:5 makes it clear there is only one kind of baptism, a baptism that is performed and practiced after the pattern found in the N. T. The Bible teaches there are four things necessary for the scriptural administration of the ordinance of baptism:

A. Proper Subject -- a saved person. In the N. T. only believers were baptized (Acts 2:41; 8:12,37-38; 10:47-48; 16:30-33; 18:8). The N. T. churches practiced only believer's baptism. No one is baptized or becomes a member of a Baptist church until they have made a profession of faith in Christ. Every Christian should be baptized, not in order to be saved but because he is saved.

Having a proper candidate for baptism based according to Bible teaching will eliminate the erroneous practice of infant baptism and the heretical teaching of baptismal regeneration. This is an area that distinguishes Baptist churches from other denominations. True Baptist churches are the only churches that require a profession of faith in Christ before baptism and accepting into church membership. We do not teach that baptism is essential to salvation but that salvation is essential to baptism.

B. Proper Authority -- a N. T. church of the Lord. Much discussion, debate, and dispute has centered around the subject of who has the authority to administer scriptural baptism. Who has the right to baptize? Just anybody? When God established the ordinance and defined the subject, the act, and the design, did He also define the administrator or leave that open to anyone who wished to perform the ordinance? Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find a single place where anyone was baptized by anybody who did not have his authority from Christ Himself or from the church in which He built or from a church patterned after His.

We know from the Scriptures that John the Baptist was the first baptizer and he got his authority from God (John 1:6,33). John was sent and authorized by the sovereign God of the universe with a special purpose to baptize saved people, immersing them in water, thereby identifying them in picture form with the coming death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There was no question in the mind of Christ as to whether or not John the Baptist had the right authority to baptize for He walked nearly 60 miles (from Galilee to Judea) just to be baptized by him (Matthew 3). By His baptism, Jesus identified Himself with the ministry of John the Baptist; He authenticated John's ministry, message, and baptism.

Not only was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, baptized by John the Baptist but so were all the 12 apostles (Acts 1:21-22). The qualifications that the church of Jerusalem gave were in accordance with Scripture because the primary purpose of John's ministry was to prepare a people for the Lord (Luke 1:17). Jesus took the men that had been saved and baptized under John's ministry and began to build His church. Why did all the apostles come to John the Baptist to be baptized? Because only John was authorized to baptize and his authorization came from God Himself.

There should be no question or doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ (Founder, Builder, Head of the church) authorized and commissioned His church to administer the ordinance of baptism (Matthew 28:16-20). The word "power" (Mt.28:18) means: authority. The authority to baptize came directly from the Lord. Since the command to baptize is contained in the commission, then the authority to baptize has been given to N. T. Baptist churches, not to individuals or to any man-made religious organization.

The N. T. teaches that the local church is the only authorized body to administer baptism: "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2) This charge was addressed to the church (1:2). The word "keep" carries the idea of: keep a firm possession of; keep secure. Paul says the church is to keep the ordinances, not change them; the church is to administer the ordinances, not someone else. The church has the authority, no one else does.

The church that Jesus started and all churches patterned after it are to administer and pre serve the ordinance of baptism. Unless one's baptism has that proper authority, it is not scriptural baptism.

C. Proper Purpose -- to picture salvation, not provide it. Countless millions of our Baptist forefathers have given their lives over this very issue.

Baptism is a picture showing forth the gospel: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It signifies that the one baptized is dead to the old life of sin and risen to a new life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:4-5) The word "likeness" used in Romans 6 means: figure, representation, illustration. Baptism represents the work of Christ, exhibits how our sins were paid for and forgiven.

Baptism is not a sacrament (means of obtaining God's saving grace) but it is a "like figure" (1 Pet. 3:21). That means it is a picture, type, symbol of our salvation. Baptism proclaims our salvation in picture form of how any sinner is eternally saved -- through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of baptism can be summarized this way: to picture the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which we are saved; to proclaim our death to the old life of sin and our resurrection to a new life in Christ; to place one into the membership of a scriptural N. T. Baptist church (Acts 2:41; I Cor.12:13).

D. Proper Mode -- immersion. Scriptural baptism in the N. T. was always carried out by immersing the candidate in water. There is not slightest hint of pouring or sprinkling to be found or recorded in the Bible as the method for baptism.

Clear examples of immersion can be found in Matthew 3:6,16; Acts 8:38-39; John 3:23 -- John the Baptist needed "much water" in order to baptize. Sprinkling or pouring require very little water.

The argument used today is: "It's not the form that is important; it is the spirit of the act." This line of reasoning is invalid because the word "baptize" as used in the N. T. had only one meaning: to dip, plunge, immerse, submerge. Such a definition makes it unmistakably clear that immersion is the correct, proper, scriptural mode.

According to Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, baptism is a picture of a burial; sprinkling or pouring water on the head does not picture a burial therefore it cannot be scriptural baptism.

For baptism to be the right kind of baptism as practiced in the N. T., there must be a scriptural subject, method, purpose, and administrator. Any group, assembly, congregation not practicing and holding to scriptural baptism cannot be a true N. T. Baptist church. Any person not having received scriptural baptism is not in a true N. T. Baptist church.


What is required of a N. T. Baptist church? What constitutes a true N. T. church? There are two doctrines essential to a N. T. church: the preaching of the right kind of gospel; the practicing of the right kind of baptism. These are the fundamental identifying marks of a true church.

A scriptural N. T. church will only receive saved people as proper candidates for baptism; a scriptural N. T. church will only receive saved people with scriptural baptism as proper candidates for church membership.

If you are a member of one of the Lord's true churches, then your heart should overflow with thanksgiving and praise unto the Lord for it is only by His mercy, love, and grace that He has placed you where you are. If you are not a member of a scriptural church then you need to submit to God's perfect will for your life and become a member.

As a member of a scriptural N. T. Baptist church, you are to be faithful to support your church through your presence, prayers, and pocketbook. Keep in mind, it is through the church that Christ Jesus is glorified throughout all ages, world without end (Eph. 3:21).