Its Rules of Admission
O. C. Birdwell, Jr
One would hardly become alarmed about the rules of admission into a body of no importance or consequence. The essentiality of being in the church of Jesus Christ' however, makes the subject now under consideration of interest to multitudes and vital to the salvation of all. Though one is told of the grace of God, the love and sacrifice of Christ, and His perfect moral example, if he is not properly instructed in the rules of admission into the church in order that he might enter therein, his teaching is woefully lacking. This is the state of much religious instruction in our generation.
Admission Regulated by Christ
The church was established by Jesus Christ' wears his name, and is under his authority (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 16: 16, Matt. 28:18; Heb. 2:1-2). He has the right, by God's authority and his headship, to stipulate the rules of admission into it. Not only does he have the right, he has exercised that right through the Holy Spirit and the apostles. The rules of admission set forth by the Lord are recorded in the New Testament. It is unto this inspired record we direct men; and not unto human creeds, councils, or any other rule of law or body of men.
Let us ever be cognizant of the fact that one has no more right to change the rules of admission into the church of the Lord than he has the right to change anything else that comes from God. Men have ever been forbidden to tamper with the instructions of God (Deut. 4:2; Gal 1:6-9; 2 John 9,11). Jesus said, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). Let us respect what he has to say about admission into his church.
Jesus Speaks in the Gospel Records
Before his death, on at least three occasions, Jesus spoke about the rules of admission into his kingdom, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 16: 18; Col. 1:13). Let us consider his words on the subject.
(1) To a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said: "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Detailed instruction as to how this birth was to take place is not here given by Jesus. Only the elements and participants are specified. There must be water, the Spirit, and a person. If other passages did not expand on the subject one would still be at a loss to know how to enter the kingdom.
(2) On the subject of entrance into the kingdom, Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." The King James translators used "be converted" in this statement instead of the word "turn." The meaning, however, is the same. For one to enter into the kingdom there must be a conversion, or a turning.
(3) Again, as recorded in Matthew 7:21, he said, "Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of; my Father who is in heaven." Jesus here says the same thing that he said to Nicodemus, and to the disciples in Matthew eighteen, He is not setting forth numerous ways of entering into the kingdom. The result of being "born again," or being "converted," or doing the "Father's will" is entering into the kingdom. Obviously, then, these statements are synonymous.
Born again è John 3:5 è
Converted è Matt. 18:3 è or
Do Father's will è Matt. 7:21 è
When we find out what those outside the church or kingdom were instructed to do in obedience to the Father's will that they might be added to the church, we can know what the rules of admission into the kingdom are. To determine this, we turn now to the book of Acts.
The Book of Acts on Rules of Admission
It is impossible to separate admission into the church from remission of sins and salvation. Terms that Jesus used such as "born again" and "be converted" demand a turning from sin and a new life. When we find what people outside the family of God were told to do to have remission of sins we can know what they did to become members of the church (Acts 2:47).
On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37-47) those who heard Peter's preaching and were "pricked in their heart," asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" The answer was, "Repent and be baptized every one of you . . ." The result was, ". . . they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." When these people believed, repented, and were baptized, they had remission of sins and became, through this very same act, members of the church. Luke sums it up by saying, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved"
They Were Born Again
The above account clarifies the meaning of Jesus' statement in John 3:5. The Spirit operated through Peter in planting the seed, the word of God (Lk. 8:11). This brought about the baptism of those who received the seed in good and honest hearts. They were, therefore, born of water and the Spirit. In keeping with the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, they entered the kingdom.
They Were Converted
There was also a turning. They repented of their sins, were baptized for remission of them, and began a new life, in Christ, old things having passed away (Gal. 3:27;
2 Cor. 5:17). Hence, this was a conversion (Matt. 18:3).
They Did the Fathers Will
The Pentecostians did the will of the Father. Jesus had said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). Peter, directed by the Spirit, now commands baptism. When they obeyed, they obeyed the Father, and did the will of the Father. They became members of the kingdom (Matt. 7:21).
The Plan of Salvation and Rules of Admission into the Church
To show as briefly as possible the plan of salvation as given in the book of Acts, and consequently, the rules of admission into the church of the Lord, the reader is asked to study carefully the following diagram from a tract, What Must I Do to Be Saved, by brother Cecil Willis:
THE PLAN OF SALVATION AS GIVEN IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
HEAR + BELIEF + REPENTANCE + CONFESSION + BAPTISM = SALVATION FROM PAST SINS
(Summary of New Testament Teaching on the Plan of Salvation)
Local Church Membership
A failure to understand that the word "church" in our English translations is used in two senses, universal, and local, causes an occasional problem (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4-6; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:1). One may falsely conclude that baptism is into a specific local church. All the family of God is one, however, and once a person is born into it he can never be born into it again.
When moving from one city to another, one who is a Christian will find it necessary to "join himself" (Acts 9:26) to a congregation in that city. But he is not to be baptized again. He is already a child of God. He does no more than the Apostle Paul did when he joined himself to the disciples in Jerusalem. This is the only sense in which a man can ever "join the church." After having obeyed the gospel, one may join himself to a local body of believers.
Should one move into a locality where he is unknown he may need a letter of recommendation from those who know his past actions. This recommendation may also be given orally. However, if the past faithfulness of the individual is known, the recommendation is not needed. A "letter" is not a second way of getting into the Lord's church.
Membership in any, or all, the denominational bodies and letters of recommendation from them will not suffice to get one into the church Jesus built. A "letter" is worthless unless one is in the body of Christ, and it then serves only as a statement of one's past faithfulness.
In conclusion, we make a plea to those outside of Christ to accept the rules of admission set forth by the New Testament for entrance into his church. Salvation is in Christ's body (Eph. 5:23), and every accountable person who is saved in this dispensation will be saved in that body. Do not delay your obedience to the gospel of the Son of God.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 1, pp. 19-21