Baptism, Church Membership, And Landmarkism

Baptism, Church Membership, And Landmarkism

            In previous articles we have considered the significance of baptism, the baptism that is in Romans 6:1-7and Galatians 3:27, the administrator of baptism, and the authority of the churchin receiving members; so in this article we shall try to build upon these things and briefly deal with the issue of baptism and church membership.

            The pressing question of Landmarkism that was posed by James Madison Pendleton in his, “An Old Landmark Reset,” was, “Ought Baptists to invite Pedobaptists (That is, those who baptize babies.) to preach in their pulpits?” A.C. Dayton also dealt with the issue of “Pedobaptist And Campbellite Immersions,” and whether they were valid or not. Both men concluded that the questions should be answered in the negative, and we certainly agree.

            The problem with inviting men to preach who have been sprinkled instead of baptized is the issue of their not truly being subject to the authority of a local church. Where there is no true baptism, there can be no true church nor true church membership. This is a matter of great importance, if we are to respect the biblical order of binding and loosing that Christ has instituted in His church. The body of Christ is visibly manifest in the local church, and the pattern found in Scripture is for believers to be baptized and then united with the local church. Where this is absent, those who lack baptism and church membership should not be received as valid members of a church. They can neither be recommended by a church, nor received by a church in any capacity until they have submitted to true baptism. This is a matter of obedience to Christ and His commands, so we must expect those who would be regular ministers of the gospel to set the example of obedience to Christ.

            Why should we not accept the baptisms performed by those who are Campbellites (Church of Christ or Christian Church Disciples of Christ), Pedobaptists, Methodists, Anglicans,  United Pentecostals, or those of similar beliefs? The answer is that they baptize for the wrong reasons. In some fashion or another, each of these groups speak of baptism as conferring some sort of spiritual blessing, and often demand that a person be baptized in order to have the remission of sins. That is not true baptism, as we have already seen. True baptism is symbolic in nature, and confers no grace to the one being baptized; but is simply their profession of faith. 

While Pendleton’s and Dayton’s conclusions were valid, their arguments were not. The important issue is not that of church authority in baptism, but rather of the validity of sprinkling as baptism and the validity of receiving the immersions performed by those who hold to erroneous views on baptism.

            Having said these things, it is my earnest desire that my Landmark Baptist brethren understand and accept that we arrive at the same conclusions regarding the above questions. Brothers, we are on the same team. We are brothers in Christ. We are members of the church that Jesus established and promised that He would build and be present with forever. The issues that are before us should be issues that we discuss with kindness and brotherly love rather than stridently and with anger. “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) 

The Administrator Of Baptism

The Administrator Of Baptism

             The question that is before us is, “Who is to be the administrator of baptism?” Our sole authority being that of Christ inthe Scriptures, let us go “To the law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, It is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20) 

The Practice Of Baptism In The Gospels And Acts

            When we approach the Scriptures, one important principle that must be applied is that of the normative principleof interpretation. The normative principle of interpretation considers the Scriptures, looks at its examples and commandments, and asks whether these examples and commandments have been replaced by the Word of God or amplified, or if we can fulfill the spirit of the Word in any way other than that which is given. It is with this in mind that we understand that the practice of Christ and the early church, and the commandments of Christ to the local church are binding upon us today, as they have been neither changed nor nullified by God’s Word in any way.

When the practice ofChristianbaptism began, it began with John the Baptist, whom we can also call the Baptizer. John was sent from God (John 1:6) and had been commissioned to baptize those who repented (Matthew 3:1-10). There are two important things to notice: first, John was not baptized, but began the practice; and, second, John was sent from God with the authority to command all who repented to be baptized.

            Then we find that Jesus’ disciples baptized (John 4:1-3), and in this Jesus is spoken of as baptizing. Jesus is spoken of as baptizing when His disciples physically did the work because they did it under Jesus’ authority and supervision. It is with this same authority that Jesus commissioned His disciples and sent them forth to preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them (Matthew 28:18-20;Mark 16:14-18).

In the Acts we find that there are no names given to those who administered baptism on Pentecost, though there were probably many who did. We the find Philip baptizing in Samaria (Acts 8:12-13), then baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts8:36-38). From there we find Ananias baptizing Saul (Acts 9:18), Peter and other disciples baptizing at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:47-48), Paul and others baptizing at Philippi (Acts 16:15,33), Corinth (Acts 18:8 cf 1 Corinthians 1:13-18), and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5). 

It is interesting to note that, in each of these instances, the emphasis is not placed upon the administrator of baptism, but upon the act of baptism and its significance. This was so important that Paul stressed that he baptized very few people at Corinth, because the gospel is more important than the man doing the baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:13-18). We should certainly find it instructive that both Paul and John the Baptist (John 1:15-28;3:22-36) sought no fame for themselves, nor did they consider themselves important or indispensable because they baptized. The significance of baptism is in what it represents ( Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the believer to sin and his being made alive to God in Christ, and the believer’s inward baptism with the Holy Spirit.) rather than in the person who administers baptism. We should also place our emphasis on the truths of the gospel, and the significance of baptism as a profession of one’s faith in the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Role Of The Local Church In Baptism

            What do the Scriptures teach us of the role of the local church in baptism? First of all, we find that the local church at Jerusalem was formed by assembling believers who had been baptized by John (Matthew 4:17-22;Acts 1:21-26). Among these were the twelve Jesus chose to be His apostles. Then we also see that there was a greater number in the early church at Jerusalem, as they numbered one hundred twenty in Acts chapters one and two. Having specified that the one chosen to replace Judas must have been baptized by John, Peter seems to have implied that there were those in the number who were baptized by Jesus and/or His disciples (See John 4:1-3).

            It is also instructive to us to consider the order of events on Pentecost: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41–42) Having heard the Word, many believed. After believing they were baptized. After baptism they were added to the local church. Who were the administrators of baptism on Pentecost? Truly we do not know. It is relatively safe to assume that the apostles took the lead, and perhaps some or all of the seventy (Luke 10:1-12); and who knows who else baptized? We must notice that very little is specifically statedregarding the persons of the administrators while acknowledging and emphasizing that we can be relatively certain that each of them would have been baptized disciples who were members of the Jerusalem church.

            As we take this farther, consider that Paul did not speak of the church baptizing, but of himself baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:13-18). Neither do we see Philip (Acts 8:12-13,36-38) or Ananias (Acts9:10-20) seeking permission from a local church to baptize. 

What can we conclude from this? We can conclude that it is important that one be baptized and a member of a local church in order to administer baptism, and that the local church seems to have accepted these baptisms by receiving those baptized into their membership (Acts 2:41-47;9:17-20). 

What Does The Scripture Show Us Regarding The Person Administering Baptism?

            To summarize what we have seen to this point, we find that the Scripture shows us the following regarding the person who administers baptism:

  1. He is a disciple (John 4:1-3).
  2. He baptizes with Divine authority (Matthew 3:1-10;John 1:6-9,15,19-28;Matthew 28:18-20).
  3. He seems to bea baptized member of the local church (Acts 1:21-26;1 Corinthians 1:13-18).

Beyond these three things we can speak with no certainty regarding the administrator of baptism. 

Some Recommendations For Church Policy Regarding The Administration Of Baptism

            The first consideration for any church is to be sure that baptism has been administered to a candidate for the proper reasons. Baptism signifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the baptism of the believer in the Holy Spirit, and the believer’s dying to sin and becoming alive to God in Christ. This makes it necessary that we seek to ascertain that the one we are considering receiving into the church has a credible profession of faith. We should also seek to determine that they were baptized for the purpose of professing their faith. No baptism that is performed with the belief that it saves the one being baptized is acceptable baptism. We must be as sure as we possibly can that we are accepting a baptism that has been performed upon a believer as their profession of faith.

            While the administrator of baptism is not integral to the validity of the act, we should seek to ascertain whether there was a valid administrator. After all, it is highly irregular, though not unheard of, for there to be an administrator of baptism who has not been baptized (John the Baptist demonstrates that there has been at least one unbaptized baptizer.), though this does not necessarily invalidate a baptism. (Note: we must recognize the difference between that which is irregular and that which is invalid.) We should in every way seek regular baptisms. That which is irregular, though valid in the sight of God, should also be a rare occurrence. When that which is irregular becomes common, it becomes accepted as regular, which is not a good practice. In the USA there are many faithful, Bible believing Baptist churches with which a person can connect and receive baptism at the hands of a baptized administrator. It seems to be a wise course for a church to consider the baptism of each person who applies to them for admission into the body and, should the applicant have irregular baptism, we should certainly seek to ascertain why. Should a person not have been baptized by a valid administrator although one was available, this writer counts it wise for that person to receive baptism at the hands of one whom the church can recognize as a biblically valid administrator; so that we can uphold that which is regular above that which is irregular. 

            Ultimately the local church chooses whom to accept as a member, and what baptism they will receive (Acts 2:41-47;9:17-19,26-31;Romans 14:1;15:7). The local church should not go beyond the bounds of Scripture in their requirements, nor should they accept less than Scripture requires. The local church has no authority beyond faithfully obeying the commands of Christ as given in Scripture.

The Significance Of Baptism (Full Article)

The Significance Of Baptism

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1–12) 

John’s Baptism

            As John came and preached, his preaching was that of repentance. He was making ready a people for God. His message was that men should believe on Jesus, who was coming after him (Acts 19:4). He told them that they should repent, because their King was coming. As John baptized unto repentance, we must note that baptizing unto repentance did not bring about repentance. The above text shows us that John expected repentance to have occurred before baptism. Only when one repented was he baptized. This is why it is called the baptism of repentance (Mark 1:1-5;Acts 19:1-4). 

            What was the focus of John’s baptism, if not the relationship of the people to their King, Jesus? John, when asked why he baptized, stated that it was because the King was coming (John 1:19-28). He further stated, when many disciples left him to follow Jesus, that was how it should be (John 3:23-26). John’s full focus was on Jesus. People were to repent of their sins and be baptized unto that repentance because the Christ was coming. The emphasis was not so much on the act of baptism as it was on the need to be right with Christ.

            Furthermore, God had promised that He would pour out His Spirit upon His people (Isa 32:13-18;44:1-8;Eze 36:25-26;Joel 2:28-32), and John reminded the people that this would be fulfilled in the kingdom of God by the King who was coming (Matt 3:11-12;John 1:25-28). This promised baptism of the Spirit was one of the reasons why John was baptizing: water baptism is a symbol of Baptism in the Spirit, and those being baptized in water were showing their faith in the King who would pour out His Spirit on them.

            In all of these things we can see that John was pointing people to Christ, the King, who would come and change them. John was not preaching that baptism would wash away the sins of the people.

Apostolic Baptism

            When the apostles baptized, they simply continued the practice of John, who had baptized them (Acts 1:15-22), and they did so under the direction of Jesus (John 3:26;4:1-3). Paul spoke to that effect when he baptized the believers at Ephesus in Acts chapter nineteen. He did not declare that John’s baptism was invalid: he declared that the Ephesians to whom he spoke had not received John’s baptism, although they thought that they had received it. These folks had heard something about John and his baptism and were baptized unto John’s baptism. Paul told them that John preached that Jesus was coming to pour out His Spirit, but they had heard nothing of that promise. They had not heard the message of John, who had preached that people should believe on Jesus. Having heard this, they believed on Jesus Christ and were baptized. It is interesting to note that neither John nor the apostles preached that baptism brought about salvation: they always emphasized that Jesus was the one who would give the Holy Spirit to those who believe Him. 

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)

            Acts 2:38 has often been used to declare that the apostles preached baptismal regeneration, however this is not so. Remember that the preaching of John and the apostles was built upon the promises of God in the Old Testament. God had promised that He would pour out His Spirit and make things and people new. In addition to that promise, God stated that those who received the Spirit would call themselves by the name of the God who had saved them. One thing is certain, Acts 2:38 does not contradict the plain statement “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  When Peter said that they were to be baptized in the name of Jesus,he was simply stating that men must receive Jesus as the Christ and embrace Him as the true King of Israel. Not only so, but one of the things that is characteristic of those upon whom the Spirit is come is the fact that they identify themselves with the Lord who poured out His Spirit  (See Isa 44:5).  If this is characteristic of those who have received the promise, is it any wonder that Peter would tell the Jews who rejected Christ that they must repent, accept Jesus as their Messiah, and identify their selves with Christ to be saved?  Salvation is not through the identifying, but those who deny the Lord are denied of Him (See Matt 10:32,33).  No one need think himself to be forgiven of sin if he will not confess Jesus as the Christ and as his savior. This is simply another part of Scripture being fulfilled which says “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:   And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.  One shall say, I am the LORD’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”  (Isa 44:3-5)              

Baptized In The Name…

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19)

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)

            What does it mean to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? What does it mean to be baptized in the name of Jesus? Is this a series of words that must be said over the one being baptized, or is there another significance? 

            The preposition ες is often translated in, into, unto, or for and is seen in both of these texts as well as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, where Israel is spoken of as being baptized unto Moses. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–4) 

(It is interesting to note that there is a parallel to be seen here: Israel was redeemed by blood and then baptized in the Red Sea, and the saints are redeemed by the blood of Jesus and then baptized in water.) Notice that Israel was baptized unto Moses. Just as we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, unto repentance, and for the remission of sins, Israel was baptized unto Moses. Were they baptized in order to receive Moses into their hearts? Were they baptized to be joined unto Moses? No, they were baptized in identification with Moses. They were identified with Him as their leader as they followed the visible presence of the LORD in the fiery and cloudy pillar.

            What, then, does it mean when we read of being baptized unto repentance, for the remission of sins, in the name of Jesus Christ, or in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It simply means that we are identifying with repentance, the remission of sins, Jesus Christ, or the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we saw earlier, baptism occurs after repentance, which brings the remission of sins (Luke 24:47;2 Corinthians 7:8-10). Baptism neither saves, nor brings the remission of sins. Neither does water baptism join us to Jesus Christ, or the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism is an outward sign that identifies us with all of these.

            Thus it is that, when we are baptized, we are saying that we have repented of our sins, received the forgiveness of our sins, are joined to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and are thus identifying ourselves as such.

Baptism A Symbol

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (1 Peter 3:18–22)

            In closing this article, we need to consider the text before us. In this text we see that baptism is spoken of as a symbol, thus the language regarding baptism saving must be symbolic also.

             Let us notice the following regarding this text:

  1. We are reconciled to God in Christ by the cross.:18 cf 2 Corinthians 5:17-21;Colossians 1:19-23;2:13-15
  2. Salvation by water in Noah’s day was actually symbolic. :19  Noah was justified by faith (Hebrews 11:7), thus it was neither the ark nor the water that saved him. He was saved by the grace of God (Genesis 6:8). The ark carrying him through the waters symbolized the salvation Noah possessed by grace through faith.
  3. Baptism is a figure. It does not cleanse the flesh. Sins are forgiven because of the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:1-7;Colossians 1:13-14;Hebrews 9:22-28;Revelation 1:5).
  4. Baptism saves in a figure by the resurrection of Christ. Baptism figures or symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as well as the inner death and resurrection to new life (Romans 6:1-7;Ephesians 2:1-6) of the child of God.

These things being said, let us remember the following: baptism demonstrates the inward reality of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, which is given to all who believe (Matthew 3:1-10;Romans 5:5;6:1-7;Ephesians 1:12-14). Baptism demonstrates our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:18-22). Baptism is an outward symbol of the inward grace of the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 3:1-6;Acts 22:16). Baptism has no spiritual power to give us any blessing, but is our profession of faith in the saving blessings given to us by Christ.

What Is Baptism?

What Is Baptism?
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, evenunto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20, KJV)

            A study of the doctrine and practice of baptism must begin with the definition of the word. The word baptize is from the Greek baptizo, which comes from the word “báptō, to dip. Immerse, submerge[1]” The Theological Dictionary Of The New Testamenttells us that the word was used to denote material dipped in order to be dyed, a ship that was submerged in a shipwreck, or even to drown. “The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words.  Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution.[2]” It is even used of a person being “over the head and ears in debt.[3]

            “Prof. Moses Stuart, a Congregationalist, while listening to a class reading and translating from the Greek testament, was surprised to hear a student translate Mark 16:16, ‘He that believeth and is sprinkled, shall be saved.’

‘Sprinkled,’ replied the Professor, ‘is notcorrect.’

‘Is it not in accordance with the practiceof the denomination?’ asked the student.

‘That is not the question,’ replied the Professor. ‘You are now translating the Greek Testament, and the word means, immerse.”[4]

            Not only must we study the meaning of the word, but we must also yield to the authority of Scripture by learning how Scriptures uses the word: it is then that we can be assured of what baptism is. 

  1. In Matthew chapter three, when John came baptizing, it is stated, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:5–6) Notice that those baptized were baptized in Jordan. If baptism were by sprinkling or pouring, then there would have been no need for them to have gone down into Jordan; but there was the need to go down into Jordan if they were immersed. No doubt this is also why we read, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water…” (Matthew 3:16) It is obvious that they were immersed by going down into Jordan and then came up out of the water.
  2. “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.” (John 3:23) We can once again see that the usage of the word accords with immersion, because there would be no other reason to specify that there was much water there.
  3. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Here we see that the word is used to say that baptism is a burial. How is one buried? He is thoroughly covered, just as one who is baptized is thoroughly covered in water.  Once again we find that the word is used to signify immersion. We see similarly in Colossians 2:12.

History also testifies to baptism being immersion. Eusebius, in his Ecclesastical History, stated, “But Satan, who entered and dwelt in him for a long time, became the occasion of his believing. Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it.[5]” This is spoken concerning one Novatus, who lived in the third century, and is thought to be the first who was given what is called baptism by any way other than immersion. Eusebius was not convinced that Novatus was baptized, however, as we note his saying, “if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it (i.e. baptism).” And again, “Passing by a few things, he adds the following:‘For this illustrious man forsook the Church of God, in which, when he believed, he was judged worthy of the presbyterate through the favor of the bishop who ordained him to the presbyterial office. This had been resisted by all the clergy and many of the laity; because it was unlawful that one who had been affused on his bed on account of sickness as he had been should enter into any clerical office; but the bishop requested that he might be permitted to ordain this one only.’”[6]

This testimony from history indicates that pouring for baptism was both new and not fully accepted. There is no reason that would this be so unless it was understood that baptism is immersion. 

Thus we see that the meaning and usage of the word baptizomeans to immerse, and that baptism is immersion.


[1]Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament(Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[2]Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Online Bible

[3]http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph.jsp?la=greek&l=BAPTI%2FZW#lexicon

[4]Clarence Larkin, Why I Am A Baptist pp 18-19, 1991, The Clarence Larkin Estate.

[5]Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,”in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 288–289.

[6]Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,”in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 289.

Church Discipline In The Case Of Interpersonal Disagreements

Discipline In The Case Of Interpersonal Disagreements

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15–18)

Seeking Reconciliation

            The text before us presents to us the issue of church discipline as it relates to interpersonal disagreements. The aim of the disciplinary process here is to affect reconciliation between brothers who are divided by sin. It is only if every godly effort fails that excommunication becomes necessary. The goal is for the offended brother to regain the offending brother.

            Jesus commands the brother who has been sinned against to privately approach the offending brother in an attempt to restore the relationship. Solomon warns us against talking to others in the event of such an incident. He explains that we may be found at fault and shamed if we do so. “Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; And discover not a secret to another: Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, And thine infamy turn not away.” (Proverbs 25:9–10) Let us beware of the tendency to tell another when a brother has sinned against us. That will not help us, but will only serve to aggravate the situation, thus making it worse.

            Having been sinned against, Jesus commands us to show our brother his sin. “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:1–5) We often think of rebuke as harsh words, yet rebuke can also be words that show a brother his wrong and call him to repentance. This can be done in a kind way. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: But grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) This could indeed bring our brother to repentance, and that is the goal of approaching him in this manner. It is not an easy thing to do. The apostles understood the difficulty of this and said, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) If we will trust the Lord to take care of us and guide us, we will obey the commands of Christ and go to our brother seeking reconciliation.

            Jesus tells us, “if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15) As the apostles, our faith is often weak, and we tend to think that it will be of no use to go to our brother. We must seek to have greater faith, as this is God’s plan for us to make peace with our brother.

            Even though we often think that our offending brother should come to us and apologize, it shows the spirit of Christ and the gospel for us to go to our sinning brother and seek to bring about reconciliation. That is what God has done for us. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19) Though we had sinned against God, He did not wait for us to come to Him in repentance; but He came to us in Christ, thus making reconciliation possible. We should show the same forgiving grace to our brother who sins against us.

            It is indeed possible that our brother refuses to hear us and make peace with us. It is then that we should take the next step in seeking reconciliation and take with us one or two more brothers. These brothers are there to witness our desire for things to be right between our selves and the brother who sinned against us. These brothers are to be people who love peace and truth, because it is the aim of the meeting to seek peace. They should help by hearing both sides of the issue and calling the sinning brother to repentance. If he does not hear his brothers’ call to repentance, they will have to bear witness to the church. Jesus’ words regarding the matter being established in the mouth of two or three witnesses reminds us of Deuteronomy 19:15-21, where we are warned against perjury and called upon to witness truthfully. If the sinning brother refuses to repent and make peace, it will rest upon these witnesses to faithfully testify to the church when the offended brother submits the matter to the church’s judging authority.

The Judgment Of The Church

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man amongst you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, you do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.” (1 Corinthians 6:1–8)

            When all godly efforts at reconciling fail, the church is the final authority. Note that Paul, in the passage above, rebukes the Corinthians for taking their personal matters to the courts.[1]Not only were they fighting in the presence of unbelievers who did not observe and respect the law of God (1-3), but they were actually using the courts to cheat their brothers (:8)! Paul commanded them that they should be willing to take loss, if need be, and that the church was the proper place to deal with disagreements and divisions between brothers.

            What is the procedure that is to be followed when a matter between brothers has to be presented to the church? First of all, the church should appoint some brother(s) to hear the matter and to render a godly decision. The Corinthians, being lovers of worldly wisdom and despisers of godly wisdom, were instructed to choose those whom they despised (:4-5). It is my belief that this means that they were to choose men who were godly and wise instead of those worldly wise brothers whom they preferred the most. Then these godly brothers should hear the matter and render a decision on behalf of the church. The decision rendered should be one that calls for the sinning brother to repent and make peace with the one against whom he had sinned.[2]Again, should the sinning brother hear the decision of the church, peace is made between the two brothers[3].

            In the event that the sinning brother still does not repent and reconcile with the brother against whom he sinned, the church must then pronounce the sentence of excommunication. He is to be treated as if he were an unbeliever, as he is acting like an unbeliever. Excommunication is the final resort. We have no desire to ever come to this point. The discipline of the church is for the purpose of teaching and guiding one another in the way of discipleship. Each step in the process of seeking reconciliation is a teaching step that should instruct us in the ways of Christ and godly behavior. It is only when every sincere and godly effort as outlined above fails that the church should withdraw her fellowship from the sinning brother. In all of these things the goal is peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), has come to bring us peace (Romans 5:1-2;Ephesians 2:10-18), and calls us to walk in peace (Romans 12:19-21;14:19;Colossians 3:15;2 Thessalonians 3:14-16). Excommunication is only for those who sinfully reject the way of peace, and then it serves the purpose of ministering peace within the body of Christ by placing the divisive person on the outside and calling him to repentance.


[1]This obviously refers to civil matters and not criminal. Not only does criminal law make us mandatory reporters in certain issues, we must recall that criminal law is the domain of government (Romans 13:1-7).

[2]Realistically, we should recognize that both parties may have sinned against each other, and the decision of the judges and the church may be to call both parties to repent.

[3]Note that, while we speak of the church making a decision, they are doing so by means of those whom they have established as judges. It is quite possible that the whole of the issue does not need to be aired before the entire church membership in a meeting. The matter could discreetly be presented to the church, the church appoint judges, and the judges make a godly decision without every detail of the dispute being made public.

Church Discipline pt 1

Church Discipline

Matthew 28:18-20

            As we consider the subject of church discipline, we should first ask ourselves the purpose of discipline. Note that there is a close connection between discipleship and discipline. A disciple is one who submits himself to the teaching and training of a master teacher. In so doing, the disciple submits himself to the discipline of learning from the master teacher. With the Holy Spirit being our teacher, the Holy Scriptures our textbook, and God-given pastor-teachers our guides, let us then learn of the duty of the church in discipline.

The text before us tells us that the duty of the disciples is to make disciples. We are to preach the Gospel, calling men to yield to the Lordship of Christ by repenting of their sin, trusting Christ, with the understanding that we are obligated to obey Him. Even faith in Christ is called obedience (Romans 10:16-17), and the unbelieving are called the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-3). We are then to discipline the believers in following Christ. We are to teach in order that discipleship occurs. One cannot be a disciple without learning the way of Christ, who said we are to learn of Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

            This is why the Scriptures are given to us, that we might become followers of Christ. Paul told Timothy, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17) Notice how this passage corresponds with our text. Just as we are to make disciples, Scripture shows us that salvation comes through faith in Christ; and, just as we are to teach the disciples the Word, the Scriptures disciple us by teaching us, showing us our error, correcting us, and training us to be the follower of Christ that He would have us to be. Scripture is given to us that we might come under the discipline of Christ by trusting Him and following Him.

            The early church took the discipline of teaching seriously, it seems. When many were converted to Christ on Pentecost, the next thing we read is, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41–42) New converts were immediately brought under the doctrine/teaching of the Word of God. We also see that the apostles took the ministry of the Word very seriously, and refused to be distracted from the task, and so the office of deacon was established (Acts 6:1-7). Finally, when Paul would say his farewell to the Ephesian elders, he commended them to God and His Word, saying, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32) 

            Then we see that the church has been gifted with leaders whose job is to teach. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16) These teachers are given so that we would grow to become followers of Christ. Their teaching is to form us into the image of Christ in our sanctification. This is why pastors are required to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), to apply themselves to teaching (1 Timothy 4:16), and to preach by teaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-3).[1]

Thus we are to yield to the discipline of the Word, by both hearing and doing it (Hebrews 13:22;James 1:21-27;2:14-26). Discipleship occurs when we yield to the teaching and direction of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. This is both the beginning and the most important part of discipline within the church.


[1]The word “doctrine” in 1 Timothy 4:16 & 2 Timothy 4:1-3, means teaching.

The Authority Of The Local Church pt 2

Binding And Loosing In The Local Church

            Our text shows Jesus stating that there is, within the local church, the authority to bind and loose as long as it is in accord with what has been done in heaven. When we consider that the ultimate authority in the church is Jesus Christ (See Matthew 28:18-20;Ephesians 1:23;Colossians 1:18), and that God alone has the authority of forgiveness (And that forgiveness and judgment are the prerogative of Jesus. See Matthew 9:1-8;John 5:22;James 4:12), then we see that the binding and loosing must be done under the authority of Christ, or in harmony with the teaching of His Word.

            What does it mean to bind and to loose? Jesus shows us this in Matthew 18:21-35. It is here that the parable shows us how one can either be bound to, or loosed from his debt. When we see Jesus tells the church that we have the authority of forgiveness (John 20:23), we understand that He is speaking of the same thing. The binding and loosing refers to the sinning member who is put outside the fellowship of the church (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), thus being bound to his sins until he repents; and then receiving him back into fellowship through forgiveness, thus loosing him from his sin as God has done (See 2 Corinthians 2:1-11). 

            As we consider this, it shows us that the church has authority under Christ to receive and/or reject members. This is not something that is to be done carelessly, but under the authority of Christ only. We have no right to receive or to reject anyone that Christ would not treat the same as we do. Thus it is that we see very explicit directions concerning how to exercise church discipline. We also see that the New Testament pattern was to receive the baptized believer into the fellowship of the local church (Acts 1:41-47). Though we see no formal vote that took place, we do see that those who trusted Jesus were baptized and then became a part of the fellowship of the church. We also see that Saul of Tarsus was initially rejected, but then received by the church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28). Later this same apostle wrote to the Roman church, commanding them to receive their weaker brethren (Romans 14:1). Thus the church has the authority concerning whom they will receive into their fellowship.

            While we see only the broad principle regarding the receiving of members into the fellowship of the church, we must recognize that this is a very important issue. What is at stake is the holiness and purity of the church. As mentioned earlier, there are issues that will be dealt with more in depth when we address church discipline; here we will let is suffice us to say that the church should be careful that they only receive into their fellowship those who give credible evidence of saving faith in Christ, baptism, and good moral character (Acts 2:41-47;1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

Respecting The Local Church

The authority and autonomy of each local church should be respected. As members of local churches, we must ourselves be respectful of the church. We should do that by living godly lives so that we can be a blessing to the church, thus upholding the Biblical standards of holiness. We should respect the local church by showing Christian courtesy in all things, so that we minister to the harmony and edification of the body in our assemblies, and so that we represent the church and Christ well in society. Finally, we should respect the local church by submitting to her teaching and discipline, as the church follows Christ Jesus.We should also show respect to the authority of the local church by respecting the rights and privileges of other local bodies as we deal with them. Whether we are receiving or granting letters of commendation for members, conducting business in associations, seeking for or planning the ordination of ministers or deacons, or whatever business we are transacting, we must always be aware that each local church must be respected as an individual body that is responsible for carrying out her own business. That being so, we should respect the freedom and authority of each local church in carrying out the business of the church.