In this brief article I will attempt to answer a question on Baptism that recently came to me by way of a pastor friend who was wrestling with how to properly deal with it in his own church. The question: “Is it proper for a church to baptize someone who has no interest in being a member of that church, or any church for that matter?”
First we need to answer the question of “Why do we baptize?” We baptize because Christ commanded us to do so; “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:” (Matt.28:19-20a).
In the command of Christ to baptize we have much that will help us to properly answer our question of the appropriateness of baptizing someone who is not interested in membership in a local congregation. It is abundantly clear from this passage that baptism is directly linked to discipleship. Jesus does not command us to go into all nations and baptize new converts only, but he also commands us to teach them to observe all things whatsoever he has commended. How are we to fulfill Christ’s command to the church to teach them if membership in the local congregation is optional?
In the same passage that Christ commands the church to baptize new believers, he also commands the church to disciple those it baptizes. For the church to baptize someone without any effort at all to see to their need for discipleship, much less to baptize someone who has made it clear that they have no interest in discipleship by the church, is a clear and direct violation of Christ’s commandment.
The unbiblical idea that new converts need not be members of a local congregation, that they are somehow capable of standing against the enemy all on their own, and that they are in no need of biblical instruction is nothing less than a stunning display of PRIDE.
Additional Biblical support for the local church to baptize only those who intend to be members of there own body, or in rare circumstances those who express their intentions to become members of another body, is the command of (Heb.10:25) for all believers to “Not forsake the assembling of yourselves together”. In light of this verse alone how can a church in good conscious baptize someone who openly expresses their intent to disobey God by disobedience of this direct command to all believers?
This issue also calls into question our understanding of Biblical church polity, discipline, and authority. Regardless if your church recognized the authority of a plurality of Elders, as the church I pastor does, or a single Elder known as the Senior Pastor, all believers are commanded in (Heb.13:17) to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
One can hardly be faithful to this commandment without being a member of a local church. To baptize someone who is in violation of this commandment by their unwillingness to obey and submit to the authority of the spiritual leadership God has appointed to watch over their souls is to be complicit in their sin of rebellion.
I am sure that I have not exhausted the biblical evidence against baptizing those who do not wish to become members of the local church, but I believe I have demonstrated from scripture the inappropriateness of any local church in doing so.