Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership

Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership. By Bobby Jamieson. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015. 243 pages. Paperback, $24.99.

going_publicBobby Jamieson’s Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership is one of 9Marks’s most recent contributions to the ecclesiological discussion. 9Marks is committed to the restoration of ecclesiology in theological discussion, especially among Baptist churches, and Jamieson’s volume presents a welcome and cogent argument. Jamieson explains his task up front: “This whole book aims toward the conclusion that churches should require prospective members to be baptized—which is to say, baptized as believers—in order to join” (1).

Jamieson’s task is “a distinctly baptistic burden,” in that while Baptists are in agreement with believers from other denominations that baptism is “a necessary prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper and church membership,” they (Baptists and those Jamieson labels “baptistic,” referring to those who regard believer’s baptism as the only true baptism, even if not Baptist denominationally) maintain that paedobaptists have not been baptized biblically (8). As such, according to Jamieson, they should be excluded from participation in church membership and the Lord’s Supper. This position has been accused of being ungracious because paedobaptists do not declare those baptized by immersion upon profession of faith to be unbaptized, nor would paedobaptists bar them from participation in the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, Jamieson acknowledges that “Baptists draw a tighter line around church fellowship than anyone else” (31). The author is aware that his volume enters into a debate that has historical roots and contemporary ramifications.

Going Public is concerned with baptism, but more importantly, with the importance of baptism’s relationship regarding church membership. Jamieson traces baptism through the book of Acts and notes that baptism is “where faith goes public,” that is, “Baptism renders faith visible; it gives the believer, the church, and the world something to look at” (36, 41). Moreover, the author argues that “baptism is the initiating oath-sign of the new covenant, and this makes baptism necessary for church membership” (56). As such, baptism exists as the oath-sign, or declaration of faith, that witnesses that the baptized person is a believer and a participant in the kingdom of God. As baptism is the initial sign of faith, the Lord’s Supper is the perpetual sign—“a corporate, covenantal oath-sign” that “constitutes many Christians as one church” (110). Thus, one must first be baptized biblically before participating in the Lord’s Supper which exists as an “effective sign of the local church’s unity” (109).

Going Public could have been stronger had Jamieson spent more time developing the Christological nature of the church. The author spends considerable time building a definition of the church upon a covenantal foundation showing how the gathered believers covenanting together transitions a cluster into a congregation, but offers little discussion of the church existing as the body of Christ. This omission does not appear to be intentional and the argument of the book does not necessarily demand that side of the discussion, but any description of the church mandates that it be defined by more than social and political observations. It is not enough to state, “A church is born when gospel people form a gospel polity” (144). More is implied in Jamieson’s volume, but it remains in need of exploration.

Jamieson’s argument is well-constructed and written in such a way as to be accessible to a general audience. The topic is critical for every Baptist church to consider and this book provides a substantial and cogent presentation of the argument for restricting church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper to those who have been baptized by immersion upon profession of faith. Ecclesiological confusion, according to Jamieson, stands as the reason so many discussions regarding church polity regress into accusations of acrimony and ungraciousness. Jamieson and 9Marks have contributed another strong volume demonstrating that ecclesiology is not a mere academic exercise, but rather, “church polity matters” (11).

Bobby Jamieson, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership.

This review appears in the Southwestern Journal of Theology 59.2 (Spring 2017): 247-48.

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