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

A Spiritual Membership

J. R. Graves

From Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, 1880

"Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house." (I Peter 1:5)

"The Lord added to the church daily the saved." (Acts 2: 47)

The character of the material of which a public building, or a house for the protection of a family, is constructed, is manifestly of the very first importance. God never has commanded a structure to be erected for his service, that he did not specifically, indicate the material, and Christ no less specifically commanded the material that should be used in his house—the membership of his ecclesia. Let us look, then, at another mark of the "MODEL CHURCH":

The membership all professedly regenerate in heart before baptized into it.

The typical teachings of the Old Testament require this. Paul distinctly teaches (Heb. 12:18) that the kingdom of Israel was a type of the kingdom of Christ, and nominal Israel of his spiritual Israel; the literal family of Abraham, of the spiritual family of Abraham. Now it was by manual circumcision of the flesh that God called out from among the nations, and separated the family of Abraham and the Jews as a nation to himself. No one was recognized as belonging to Abraham's family unless circumcised, and no one could become a citizen of the kingdom or enjoy one privilege in it unless circumcised, for the uncircumcised were to be cut off. (Gen. 17:14)

So in the gospel dispensation, Christ calls out from the world, and marks all his people by the "circumcision made without hands,” (Col. 2:11) “of the heart in the spirit, and not the letter" (Rom. 2:29), i.e., by regeneration of heart effected by the Holy Spirit; and such persons, and such alone, are Christ's people—Christians; and of such alone he authorizes and commands his churches to be constituted, and these churches of the spiritually circumcised, "saints."

Only with the idea of a purely spiritual membership can the Scriptures that refer to the church, be read intelligibly. Persons "quickened," made alive by the Spirit, are called "living stones;" and of such is his church said to be "built up a spiritual house," and to such —"the saved"—alone are to be added. This then, being the true idea of a scriptural church, whatever theory or practice naturally tends to destroy it. Introducing the unregenerate, cannot be of God, but must be considered as directly antagonistic to the authority of Christ.

There are three theories of church constituency extant between which Christendom is divided; and if one be the true one the other two must be false, and the pretended churches built upon them counterfeit and of pernicious influence.

I. The first theory is the Catholic.

According to this the church is the instrumental source of salvation, and her ordinances are God's appointed sacraments of salvation—channels of grace; so that out of the church, without the use of these sacraments, there is no salvation. Therefore those "churches" accepting this theory, teach that it is the duty of all, however wicked, to unite with "the church," to receive the grace of salvation, and to bring their children, young or old, into it, and give them baptism, etc.

This theory, if carried out, would introduce the whole world at once into the church, and obliterate the least distinction between the world and the church. It would be all church and no "world" or, rather, all world and no church. All purely Catholic countries and those where Protestant state "churches" prevail are proofs of this. These, therefore, cannot be considered scriptural churches in any sense—Methodist and Episcopal societies accept this theory.

2. The second is the Presbyterian theory.

According to this, believers and their children—natural seed—irrespective of regeneration, are entitled to membership. But this theory, carried out according to the standard expositions of it, would introduce the whole world quite as certainly as the former, for the "seed of believers" is made to include all who have descended from believing ancestors, however remote.

"The seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the covenant and a right to the seal." Westminster Assembly's Confession

"Children may be lawfully accounted within God's covenant if any of their ancestors, in any generation, were faithful." Dr. Rathbun: quoted by Tombes, p. 32

"Infants that are born of believers belong to God before their baptism. Though they had not a father or mother that was acquainted with God, yet, perhaps, they had some ancestors who were so favored, and therefore they are members of the church." Peter Martyr: in Booth's P. Ex., vol. II, p. 201.

Well said old Thomas Boston, in opposing this theory, that it, like the Catholic, would sweep in all the world, "so long as it remains undoubted that all the world is come of Noah and of Adam." This theory is, therefore, evidently false, and, like the first, subversive of the spiritual idea of the church Christ established; and its societies are certainly no more churches than is the Catholic hierarchy. From the above consideration, the reader can appreciate the statements of the two Langes of Germany, distinguished Pedobaptist scholars:

"All attempts to make out infant baptism from the New Testament fails. IT IS UTTERLY OPPOSED TO THE SPIRIT OF THE APOSTOLIC AGE AND TO THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT."—Dr. L. Lange: Infant Baptism, p. 101

J. Lange, the renowned commentator:

"Would the Protestant church fulfill and attain to its final destiny, the baptism of newborn children must be abolished. IT CAN NOT, ON ANY POINT OF VIEW, BE JUSTIFIED BY THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.” History Baptism, pp. 34, 35

3. The third is the Baptist theory.

This is that none but Christians should be baptized, and thus added to the church. I mean a person should give satisfactory evidence that he has been regenerated in heart, made a new creature in Christ, before he is baptized. All human societies—and by this test they may infallibly be known—baptize, and add to the church in order to save. Baptists do it, because they believe the subject is saved.

This is the grand characteristic that makes Baptists a peculiar people—that separates them from all other. They invariably place Christ before the church, while all others place the church before Christ. For this reason Baptists do not give baptism to their infants, nor to unregenerate persons. I have not the space, in this little work, to make an extended argument against infant baptism; its unscripturalness, and its vast and positive evils to Christianity and the race; but I will simply indicate the four principal arguments in addition to the one given above, either one of which is sufficient to condemn it forever with every unprejudiced man or woman.

I. The Word of God contains neither precept for, nor example of, Infant Baptism, which is frankly admitted by hundreds of the most learned Pedobaptist scholars.

If infant baptism be a Christian duty, it must be a positive duty; and if positive, it must be clearly and unmistakably commanded, since all positive duties are clearly commanded.

A. Bledsoe, LL.D., late editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review, vol. 14, pp. 234, 235, the most scholarly man the Methodists of America ever had, makes this declaration:

"It is an article of our faith that the baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the church as most agreeable to the institution of Christ. But yet, with all our searching, we have been unable to find in the New Testament a single express declaration, or word, in favor of infant baptism. This may, perhaps, be deemed by some of our readers a strange position for a Pedobaptist. It is by no means, however, a singular opinion. Hundreds of learned Pedobaptists have come to the same conclusion, especially since the New Testament has been subjected to a closer, and a more conscientious and more candid exegesis than was formerly practiced by controversialists." [Italics mine]

Dr. Bledsoe quotes Drs. Knapp, Jacobi and Neander, distinguished German Pedobaptists, in proof that infant baptism was not instituted by Christ or his apostles, or known in the first ages, and adds: "We might, if necessary, adduce the admission of many other profoundly learned Pedobaptists, that their doctrine is not found in the New Testament, either in express terms OR BY IMPLICATION FROM ANY PORTION OF ITS TEACHINGS."

II. That the practice of Infant Baptism was unknown to the churches of Christ in the first two centuries after Christ is admitted by all standard Pedobaptist scholars and historians.

Curcelleus, acknowledged to be the most learned Protestant scholar of the sixteenth century, says:

"Pedobaptism was not known in the world the two first ages after Christ; in the third and fourth it was approved by few; at length, in the fifth and following ages, it began to obtain in divers places; and, therefore, we [Pedobaptists] observe this rite, indeed as an ancient custom but not as an apostolic tradition. The custom of baptizing infants did not begin before the third age after Christ, and there appears not the least footstep of it for the first two centuries."

So Neander, Mosheim, Gieseler, Schaff, Coleman. Now, if infant baptism was not instituted by Christ nor his apostles, nor known for ages after Christ, it is evidently a "commandment of men," and Christ himself has said, "In vain do they—all those—worship me who teach fur doctrine the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:9)

Such systems, no more than the worship of such bodies of men, can be pleasing or accepted by Christ, but condemned and abhorred by him, whatever men, who would be considered "liberal," may think or say. Christ does not, and cannot, approve them, nor should we, and hope to please him.

III. All the teachings of Christ and his apostles positively forbid the practice of Infant Baptism, and the admission of the unregenerate to baptism and church membership.

1. John, Christ's first gospel minister and apostle, it is admitted by all, baptized only penitent believers, and he positively declared that children, by virtue of their connection with pious ancestors, were not entitled to baptism. Christ never authorized any man to teach differently.

2. Thus Christ, during his ministry, made disciples before he baptized them (John 4:1), and therefore he did not make disciples by baptizing them, and therefore no one is authorized to say it can be done. Christ certainly never commanded his apostles or ministers to teach or baptize otherwise than he instructed John and his apostles during his own ministry. The commission is the permanent law for Christian baptism, and in it Christ positively forbade the baptism of unbelievers and non-believers, by specifying the character to be baptized, viz., "he that believeth." Since "the specification of one thing is the prohibition of all other things;" if he prohibited the baptism of a bell, mules and apes, he did that of a baby—an unbeliever.

3. The formula Christ gave forbids the baptism of infants or unregenerate persons.

He commanded all who were to receive his baptism to be baptized into, not in, the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Whether into or in the name, equally implies by the authority—and no minister who has the fear of the Sacred Trinity before his eyes, will declare he does an act by the authority of Christ until he can find an express precept and command for it—and every intelligent minister and Christian knows such authority cannot be found in the Word. But the preposition "into," with a subject that is impenetrable and indivisible, is manifestly used figuratively, and means every-where so used—a "profession of," or " faith in," and union with, etc.

“Into” repentance, means upon their profession—state of repentance (Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:38); "eis ephesin amartioon," into remission, a profession of being in that state; "eis ti ebaptisthete" and "eis to Ioannes baptisma." (Acts 19:3) What faith did you profess by your baptism?

And they said, “We were baptized into John's baptism” - i.e., declared our belief in the faith, or doctrine we understood, that John taught. "Eis ton moousen ebaptisanto," baptized into Moses (I Cor. 10:2), was an act by which they expressed their faith in the existence of Moses, and their allegiance to him as their guide and lawgiver, and a baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, can certainly mean no less than a declaration or profession, on the part of the subject, of his belief in the tri-personality of the Godhead, and allegiance to their equal authority. Baptism was designed to be a profession of our faith, but infants are unable to exercise or profess faith, and unregenerate persons do not. Baptism is designed to be the answer of a good conscience toward God, but an infant has no conscience.

IV.  The uniform practice of the apostles demonstrated how they understood their commission. (See Acts 2)

V.  The evils of the practice are many and fearful, to the subject, to Christianity, the church, and to the world.

These are so many, and so great, that Dr. Gill declared infant baptism to be "part and pillar of popery;" and so distinguished a Pedobaptist and scholar as Dr. J. Lange, of Germany, felt forced to say: “All attempts to make out infant baptism from the New Testament fails. It is utterly opposed to the spirit of the apostolic age and to the fundamental principles of the New Testament."

It seems to me, from these considerations, that the conviction of every candid person must be that Christ designed the material of his churches to be spiritual—built of lively stones—i.e., their members to be all "circumcised in heart;" "born from above;" in a word, professedly regenerated persons, and that the primitive and apostolic churches were each and all composed of such. This, then, is the irresistible conclusion:

All those religions organisations that, by fundamental law, do admit infants and the confessedly unregenerate to baptism and membership, are not, and should not, be considered, called, or by any art recognized as churches of Christ or evangelical bodies.