We are living in a time when Baptist churches are extremely careless in receiving members — careless with those they receive by experience, careless with those they receive by letter, and careless with those they receive by statement. This article will deal with loose practice as it relates to those who are received on relation of experience and are requesting baptism.
Many are received having never given any profession of faith or testimony of a born again experience. The pervasive practice of asking leading questions, raising hands when every head is bowed and every eye is closed”, repeating someone else’s prayer, and signing cards has won the day among a majority. Instead of requiring an experience, John R. Rice suggests: You make the plans to take him to some good Bible-preaching church. Sit by him in the services. Walk forward with him and tell the preacher, “My friend here has trusted Christ and wants you to know it and wants you to tell the people that he has been saved.”1 Notice this third hand confession — a second party tells the pastor, and the pastor tells the church. John the Baptist would never have put up with such, and neither should we! Such practices of hyper-evangelism and easy believism have invaded the old Baptist faith. Beware!
Even churches that are not involved in these questionable evangelistic methods often only require an applicant to relate his experience to the pastor and not to the church. Equally as bad is that some Baptists have reversed their stand against infant baptism and are now receiving 3 and 4 year olds. Anyone old enough to say yes and no at the right time can join some Baptist churches — they won’t even bother to find out if they understand what they’re doing. This is a very dangerous practice. I may be closed—minded, but I’ve never seen a 4 year old who has come to an age of understanding about sin and salvation.
The practice denounced by our brethren in the 1800’s as Campbellism — to simply confess belief in Jesus as the Son of God — now prevails in most Baptist churches (if they require that much). Alexander Campbell taught “that baptism should be administered to all who say they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, without examination on any other point.”2 He ridiculed mourning over sin, repenting of sin, or having any kind of “experience” of salvation. Chapter 8 of Christian’s History of the Baptists, Vol. 2 and Chapter 9 of Origin of Campbellism by J.H. Milburn are good resources on this philosophy.
What is the reason for such things? There are several motivations. First — to increase church membership. Some preachers (and churches) have no scruples. They will do anything, receive and baptize anyone, just to enlarge their church roll, have “the largest Sunday School” or “the fastest growing church”. They seem to feel the end justifies the means. Pray that they might see “the end thereof are the ways of death.”
Still others are compromisers. They don’t want to turn anyone away lest they hurt someone’s feelings. They don’t ask for a profession of faith lest it prove embarrassing to the person asked to relate their experience. They don’t want to cause any stir in the church. They are influenced by what others think.
Some have no concern for relating an experience because they themselves have no experience of salvation which they could relate. Some are plainly deceivers of the lost. Perhaps some are just misguided, having never been taught the proper way to receive members. Whatever the reasons — they are wrong!
The biblical pattern of receiving members requires a profession of faith (relating an experience of salvation). True biblical practice requires confession with the mouth. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom. 10:10).” “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God (I John 4:15).” A born again Christian has an inward desire to confess Christ and will not be ashamed to express his hope. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Rom. 5:5).”
John the Baptist required credible evidence of salvation from all he baptized (Matt. 3:6-9). Should we require any less? I think not! His converts confessed their sins and gave evidence of repentance. He also expected to see fruit of their conversion in their lives. Too many are afraid to mention sin or preach repentance. They only mention believing and require no other belief than the devils have (Jas. 2:19). Oh that we might be fearless men for God like unto John the Baptist and stand on the same Bible ground where he stood.
Other verses that should be noted on this subject are Psalm. 66:16; Mark 8:38; Acts 2:41-47; 8:29-38; 19:18; & Rom. 10:9. The fact simply put is this — because salvation is a personal experience with God, the church will never know of our experience unless we tell her.
Notice the writing of a few Baptists not too many years ago in order to see that requiring a profession of faith was held up until recent years by most Baptists.
J. M. Pendleton in his Baptist Church Manual (1867) states, “Persons wishing to unite with a church must give an account of the dealings of God with their soul8, and state the ‘reason of the hope that is in them’.. .Great care should be exercised in receiving members. Many churches err at this point. They do not observe the requisite caution; For they receive persons who give, to say the least, very imperfect evidence of piety (p. 17-18).”
In a memorial sermon for Z. N. Morrell (1803—1883), pioneer Texas Baptist preacher, M. V. Smith said, “He (Morrell) condemned surface work in the revival meeting, deplored laxiness in receiving members, and insisted on purging our churches, as far as possible, of unregenerated material. He believed IN COMMON WITH THE GREAT BODY OF BAPTISTS (emphasis mine), that if the heart was changed, an applicant for membership could, in some way, make it known; and he was opposed to the increasing practice of asking leading questions of applicants for baptism. He said, ‘If they know anything of sin, penitence, faith in Christ, and the joys of salvation, they can tell it.’ Peter and Z. N. Morrell believed in heartfelt religion.”3
Edward T. Hiscox finished Principles & Practices for Baptist Churches in 1893. “The old Baptist way, from times immemorial,” - says Hiscox, “is, to have - persons wishing to unite with the Church to come personally before it and ‘relate their experience,’ tell what the Lord had done for them and in them. . . candidates must come personally before the Church and speak for themselves. And this custom should be heroically maintained. They need not plead timidity, and say they cannot speak in the presence of others. They deceive themselves. If they have experienced anything, they can say something about it. If their hearts have been changed, they can speak of it. If they know they love God, they can say so (p. 68,69).”
Cobb’s Baptist Church Manual (1941), under the heading “Reception of Members,” tells us, “He is usually asked to relate his experience of grace. Many churches have, through the influence of preachers who want to make a show of members, gotten away from the old and scriptural way of receiving members into their memberships. The excuse is often offered that the new convert is timid and does not know what to say, but the Spirit that regenerated a heart can loosen a tongue to make a profession of Christ. . .Even though some statements may be awkwardly expressed, Christ will be. glorified in their professions, and a church will be spiritually strengthened (p. 49-50).”
In The Church Covenant: My Sacred Vows (1957) Albert Garner advises, “A personal, public confession of faith is required of the Lord from every man before he is a fit subject for baptism (p. 8).”
The statements of these men show what has been the practice of Baptists, as well as showing that Baptists must be ever on guard against encroachments on this practice. In not requiring professions of faith from new converts, we make it easy to add unregenerate men and women to the church. We soon become so loose in our practice that our churches are not “adding daily such as should be saved” but rather filling empty pews with empty people. We also rend from the new convert the blessing of making an earnest public profession, as well as stealing from the church the possibility of being edified by that profession. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” that Christ may be glorified. Let us firmly guard the ancient and God—honouring practice of requiring new converts to make a public profession of faith.
1. p. 31 Personal Soul Winning: How to Do It, by John R. Rice, Sword Publishers, c1961
2. p. 78, A Baptist Source Book, by Robert A. Baker, Broadman, c1966
3. pgs. 423, 424, Flowers & Fruits from the Wilderness, by Z. N. Morrell, Baylor, c1872, 1976
(Originally published in The Baptist Waymark)