Terms of Membership
The Lord built His church and paid for it with His blood. He is its head and has all authority in it. It is not my church, your church, or our church. It is not ours to plan its mission or work, nor do we enter it except by pleasing God so that, He of His own free will, adds us to it. We do not plan the terms of enhance any more than we plan the organization, work, or worship. Every one is accepted on the Lord's terms or he is excluded\from it and has no-inheritance in it (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:23-25).
God is no respecter of persons, so He does not reject one because of the color of his skin or the color of his hair. Neither the conduct of his ancestors nor his own past life makes it impossible for him to become a child of God. He can be born of water and of the Spirit and, by the grace of God, enter the kingdom. He can be adopted into this great family and join with other redeemed people in crying, "Abba, Father." God is interested in one's present humility and worthy plans for the future. A man's sins can be washed away in the blood of Christ and be remembered against him no more (Rom. 2:6, 11; John 3:5; Rev. 1:5).
He that believeth not shall be damned. It is absolutely impossible for one who does not believe to please God. There are a few things that we must believe. We must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Unbelievers are without excuse, and the lukewarm who show no zeal for the Lord's church are an abomination to Him. We are not only to accept God, but we are to accept Jesus as His Son. The well established fact of the resurrection of Christ is the sign of signs to confirm His Sonship. In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In this land of Bibles there are some who do not believe, so they do not study His word. If we look at this sad fact from another point of view, we could say that some do not study His word, so they do not believe. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. The Bible will produce precious faith in those honest and good hearts who study His word, but it will not produce faith in any one while it lies on the shelf collecting dust (Mark 16:16; Heb. 11:6; Rom. 1:20; Rev. 3:14-22; John 8:24; Col. 2:9; Rom. 10:17).
Repentance is also one of the essential terms of entrance into the church according to the Lord's own plan. God is not willing that any should perish but that, all should come to repentance. It is a matter of "repent or perish." God commands all men everywhere to repent, but He leaves man the power to refuse. It is man's choice. He can set his mind on things above and, by controlling himself, he can press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God. Peter made his Jewish audience, on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, aware of the fact that they had killed the Prince of life and that God had made Him both Lord and Christ. When the Jews were pricked in their hearts and cried for help, they were told to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Peter was opening the door for those who believed his sermon by using the keys of the kingdom. By accepting the terms given they could enter the kingdom (Luke 13:5; 2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30; 2:38).
Heaven had no objection to Peter's giving the terms of entrance to those who had demanded the death of Jesus. Christ had prayed that they might be forgiven. They could now have this and other grievous sins forgiven by the grace of God and the blood of Christ. It was the will of Christ that repentance and the remission of sins should be preached to all nations. This is indeed a great commission, and it reminds us again of the great love of God and of our dying Savior. People may reject repentance and be lost, but they are all invited to gladly receive the word and be saved (Luke 23:34; 24:47).
The goodness of God and the godly sorrow of man lead to repentance, but the godly sorrow is not repentance. The reformed life follows repentance as night follows day, but the reformed life is not repentance. The change of will brought about by the godly sorrow and leading to fruit meet for repentance is what our Lord was commanding when His qualified ambassadors bound repentance as one of the necessary conditions of pardon which makes church membership possible (Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10).
It is interesting how so-called Protestant churches can teach salvation by faith only and still recognize repentance as necessary. These two important ideas are not the same. Some can teach salvation by grace only, along with faith only, and still require repentance. The unfortunate addition is the word "only." We are saved by faith, grace, and repentance, but the word "only" does not belong even at the conclusion of this list. The Church instructed the apostles that they teach baptized believers to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them. The devil would have us stop short of accepting all the terms of admission to and service in the family of God (Matt. 20:18-20; James 2:14-26; Eph. 2:8).
Our Lord asked the men who thought they had the highest authority at the temple about the baptism of John. He asked if it was from heaven or from men. We might ask about the baptism which is in the name of, or by the authority of, Jesus. Is it from heaven or from men? How could it be of men if it is in the name of Jesus? We should have no room to quibble over its importance or necessity if it is commanded by Jesus who is head over all things to the church. In giving the Great Commission to the apostles, He asked them to teach and baptize all nations. Actually they were to baptize those who would gladly receive the word among all nations, for obedience is individual in nature. Each will give account for the deeds done in his own body at the final judgment. The gospel is to be preached to every creature in all the world, but "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Every soldier in the army of the Captain of our salvation is a volunteer. None can be scripturally baptized except by his own consent (Matt. 21:23-27; 2 Cor. 5:16; Mk. 16:16).
Peter's answer to the question of those guilty listeners on the day of Pentecost was important to them, but it has also been very important to all true seekers after the way of safety in the following centuries. If he had his opinion only, or the opinion of some other man or group of men, it would not be very important. If the Holy Spirit guided him in binding the will of the Father and of the Son on earth, it was a very important answer. Those that gladly received the word on that day of Pentecost were baptized. The same has been true of all honest and true men who have had hearts open to receive the word since that day. Everyone: was told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Those who were so guilty and were convinced of their sins were eager to have those sins washed away (Acts 2:36-41, 47).
The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved. They could eat their bread with gladness and singleness of heart after they were added to the church because only saved people were added, and the Lord was the one who did the adding. He keeps the records; no hypocrite has mocked and deceived Him and, thus, had his name added to the Lamb's book of life. Men have added the names of some hypocrites to their lists of church members, but God does not go by their lists. He knows what is in man's heart (Acts 2:47).
When Philip preached Christ to the people of the city of Samaria and confirmed his message by the signs God allowed, there was great joy in that city. When they believed Philip as he taught them concerning the kingdom and the name of Christ, they were baptized. How did they know to be baptized if this picture of the burial and resurrection was not included in preaching the truth about Christ and His kingdom (Acts 8:5-12)?
When Philip received orders which led him to the nobleman from Ethiopia, he preached Jesus to him and, from this one sermon, the sincere man learned to ask for baptism. He was not refused. Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water, Philip made his way to Caesarea and the new convert went on his way rejoicing. He had changed from the Jewish religion to the teachings of Christ. That is a turning that can be called repentance. He confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God. Those at Jerusalem on Pentecost, those who heard Philip at Samaria, and the Ethiopian treasurer were baptized as penitent believers.
Saul was a penitent believer after the Christ appeared to him; he was told by Ananias to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. The same message should be given to all who desire to be saved. The Lord adds the saved to the church. He is no respecter of persons, so the terms are the same for all (Acts 22:4-16).
The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. He left His church on earth with the task of upholding the truth that can make men free. There are, not. two sets of rules, one of which guides a man to salvation and another which guides him in becoming a member of the church. Saved people are added to the church. Each gospel preacher who preached in the days of the apostles taught faith which one was willing to confess with the mouth, repentance which would lead to a new life, and baptism which was a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes mention may not be made of faith or repentance in the brief accounts of conversions given in the book of Acts, but they are clearly implied from the things said. Baptism is the commandment most often rejected by men, and it is the term most often mentioned. Evidently God knew that men would-tend to reject it, so He was that careful students could not overlook it (Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 3:15; Rom. 10:9, 10; Rom. 6:1-18).
When God made it abundantly evident that He would accept Gentiles on the same terms that were required of the Jews, Cornelius was commanded to- be baptized. The Philippian jailer and his family were baptized after Paul and Silas preached the word of the Lord to them. They also believed and repented. The faith is mentioned, and their actions necessarily implied the repentance. Lydia and her household were baptized when their hearts were opened by God's truth. Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized. Let all of us follow the Bible pattern. Men have offered many plans, but the Bible is right. None is in the church except those who have entered through the strait gate into the narrow way that leads to life (Acts 10:47; 48; 16:30-34; 16:14, 15).
Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 14-17