About 300 A.D., a man named Marius Victorinus told a friend of his by the name of Simplicianus that he was now a Christian. He said he wasn’t going to church, and wasn’t going to tell anyone about it, but that he now counted himself as a Christian. Simplicianus told his friend: ‘I shall not believe it, or count (you) as a Christian until I see you in the Church of Christ.’” (Confessions, VIII, ii, 4, quoted in Brown, Augustine, p 95)
Simplicianus’ words to his friend were strong. But there is some wisdom in them. NO, Church membership does NOT save you. Let’s be clear about that. It is only faith in Jesus that saves. But church membership IS a vital element in a person’s Christian life. Yes, technically you could be a Christian and not be a member of a local church — but that’s kind of like saying you’re in the army, but you aren’t part of any particular regiment. If you’re in the army, you’ve got a specific place where you serve. And it should be the same way in the Christian army too. We need to belong to a local church, where people know us, and we know them, to whom we are accountable, and with whom we are actively serving in particular ways in God’s army for His Kingdom purposes.
So today we are beginning this series: “Discovering First Baptist Church,” which is the class that all new members will go through. Our church council suggested that we all go through this together, and I thought that was a great idea.. This will be a good review for all of us who are already members, and make sure we are all on the same page, and it will also serve as Class #1 for any of us who are interested in joining our church.
WHY a membership class?
We didn’t used to have this process; it was just walk to front, say you were saved and baptized, and join the church.
But in truth that was never a really good process. Often times, the person who joins doesn’t really don’t know the church, and the church doesn’t really know them. As a result, many people join churches haphazardly, on the spur of the moment, but then they end up just as quickly moving somewhere else — or just drop out of church altogether. We want to avoid that.
Every church is different in its makeup, beliefs, practices, and expectations. This class will give us the opportunity to tell our prospective members about us, and they can see if this is really what God is leading them to in a church.
DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS: many of our members come from a religious background different than Southern Baptists. They might have different beliefs that are not compatible with our church, or they might have expectations, based on their church background, that are different than what we practice. This class gives the opportunity for people to become familiar with Southern Baptist beliefs and practices, and see if this is what they really want in a church.
And it also gives us the opportunity to share what we expect from our members, up front. Plus it will give an opportunity for people to learn, to ASK QUESTIONS up front, instead of finding out later: “Ohhh … I didn’t know they believed THAT!” It’s better to have our expectations up front: here is who we are and what we believe, and what we expect from our members.
What Can You Expect From This Class?
This class has four sessions:
1) In this first session we talk about why we have a membership class, about the prerequisites for joining: and the meaning of salvation and baptism, which are essential. We will also briefly explore the history of the church, and look at our church mission statement. ((as well as any questions you may have.))
2) Session 2 (For next Sunday) is “Discovering What We Believe”: we’ll do a “jet tour” of our basic church beliefs, as contained in “The Baptist Faith & Message.” (And everyone will receive a copy of that statement next week)
3) Session 3 will be “Discovering Your Ministry”: we’ll talk about our ministry staff, our church ministries and mission partnerships, and specific ways that YOU can “plug in” to ministry in our church. You’ll be able to fill out an interest sheet and let us know about your gifts, talents and abilities.
4) Session 4 will be “Discovering the Nuts and Bolts” of FBC. It will include a brief review of our church Constitution and By-Laws, our church finances, and at the end, we will give each person an opportunity to make a commitment to church membership IF they desire to do so. (No one is obligated to join upon completion of the class, but finishing the class is a prerequisite for those who do wish to join.)
So let’s dive in to Session 1: “Discovering The Basics”
The Church Membership Commitment
Following is the commitment statement for FBCA. (You don’t have to understand all of this right now; we are going to cover all of that in more detail later in this class and over the next several weeks. But this is the statement you would sign indicating your desire to join the church):
“I affirm that I have received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, that I have been baptized by immersion, and that I am in agreement with FBCA’s doctrinal beliefs and moral standards, purpose, mission, and policies.
To the best of my knowledge, I am being led by the Holy Spirit to unite with the First Baptist Angleton church family, to grow and to serve.
I understand that my commitment as a member involves:
— assembling together regularly for worship (Hebrews 10:24-25)
— participating in a small group for accountability, growth, and service (Heb. 10:24-25)
— using my gifts and abilities to minister and serve (I Peter 4:10)
— supporting the church financially (III John 8)
— to the best of my ability, living a life worthy of a follower of Jesus and a member of the church (Eph. 4:1)
— and that I may be removed from membership if I am willingly inactive (not due to illness or circumstances beyond my control) in attendance and service, or if I blatantly disregard the doctrinal and moral standards of the church.”
If God is leading you to join FBCA as a member, you should be able to affirm this membership commitment wholeheartedly at the end of these sessions.
IMPT: If you do not feel ready to commit to become member after these 4 classes are finished, you do not have to do so. You may continue to attend services, small groups, and discipleship classes and all kinds of church activities without being a member. However, you need to know that some privileges in our church are reserved only for those who have committed to church membership, including:
— voting rights at church business meetings
— teaching classes, serving on administrative committees, and other leadership positions are limited to members only.
What Is The Process for Joining FBCA?
— Confess Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior
— Be baptized by immersion
— Attend and complete all 4 sessions of Discovering PRBC & complete the Membership Commitment form
— Be presented to the church during a corporate worship service
Having spelled those conditions out, let’s look a little more at the two most important qualifications: trusting Jesus as your Savior, and scriptural baptism:
Discovering the Gospel
This is essential to being a church member. By definition, a church member is one who has a commitment to Jesus Christ as his or her Lord & Savior. So how is a person saved? The Gospel can be summed up in 4 points:
I. God’s Purpose
John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God …”
II. Our Need
Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
III. God’s Provision
I Peter 2:24 “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross …”
IV. Our Response
Acts 20:21 “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you have come to a time in your life like that, when you have repented of your sins and trusted Jesus as your Savior, you have fulfilled the first and most important requirement for church membership.
But if you have never responded to the gospel, or if you are not sure, you should nail that down today. If you are doing this for the first time today, be sure to tell me at the end of the service, or indicate it on your commitment card.
Once you have nailed down your commitment to Christ, This leads to the next step:
Discovering (Scriptural) Baptism
If you have made a commitment to Christ, you need to follow through with scriptural baptism. Scriptural baptism involves several things:
1) by IMMERSION in water. The Greek Bible word for “baptism” is “baptizo,” and the word means “to immerse” or dip in water. This same word was used in Bible times of a woman who “dipped a bowl in water” to wash it. The word means to be submerged in water.
We see an example of baptism being by immersion in Matthew 3:16, where it says that after being baptized, “Jesus came up immediately from the water.” Why did He come UP from the water? Because He had been down IN the water. This was no “sprinkling;” Jesus was baptized by immersion.
In Acts 8, the Ethiopian Treasurer told Philip, “Here is much water, what prevents me from being baptized?” Why did he need “much water”? Because you need “much water” to be baptized by immersion.
Every evidence of both history and the New Testament shows that scriptural baptism is by immersion, the person being covered up with water.
2) AFTER your profession of faith
Acts 2:41 “those who had received his word were baptized.” There is no instance in scripture of anyone being baptized before their profession of faith: for example as a baby. The only instances of baptism in the Bible are of people who have personally put their trust in Jesus as their Savior.
3) in the TRIUNE name.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commanded His disciples to be baptized ”in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” That’s why we repeat that formula when we baptized folks.
4) SYMBOLIC only:
I Peter 3:21 “baptism now saved you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”.
In other words, he’s saying baptism doesn’t save us; rather baptism is a symbol of what saves us: when we go down into the water, it pictures Jesus’ death, burial & resurrection. It pictures that just as water washes dirt off the body, so the blood of Jesus washes us from our sins. So our baptism should NOT be seen as somehow giving us grace or salvation.
Baptism is a symbol. And we don’t want to say it is “just” a symbol, as if it weren’t important. It is a very IMPORTANT symbol: like a wedding ring, or the American flag. These are not “just” symbols; these are very meaningful important symbols — and in the same way, baptism is a very meaningful symbol of what Jesus did for us, and of our commitment to Him. And importantly, it gives you the opportunity to publicly confess Jesus as your Lord & Savior. It doesn’t save you; but it gives you a chance to confess Christ publicly, which is very, very important.
So if you have been saved, and have baptized following your profession of faith in the kind of baptism I just described, you have fulfilled this second requirement for church membership.
If you haven’t been baptized the way I just described, then you would need to be baptized in order to qualify for church membership at First Baptist Angleton. We will be very glad to schedule you for baptism; if you think you need to do that, tell me at the end of the service today, and we will set that up for you at a service soon.
A number of people ask: “What if I was baptized as a baby?”
If you think about it through the scriptures we have just examined, you see that infant baptism is NOT scriptural baptism:
— it was probably not by immersion; it is almost always by sprinkling.
— it was not after you believed in Jesus; you were just a baby. (There is NO evidence of infant baptism in scripture)
— it may or may not have been in the Triune name
— and infant baptism is usually done as a saving act by the churches that perform it; that is why they do it — to save the baby in the parents’ name.
So for several reasons, infant baptism is not scriptural baptism. If you have come to know Jesus as your Savior since you were baptized as a baby, you need to follow that up with scriptural baptism
Now lest you think I am being hard on you, that is MY TESTIMONY: I was sprinkled in the Presbyterian Church when I was a baby, but I didn’t know anything about it! I had no repentance, no faith! All I did was get wet. (And not even very wet!) Later, when I was older, I truly followed Jesus as my Savior, and then I was baptized by immersion after my profession of faith, at the First Baptist Church in Harrah, OK. Some of you may need to do the same thing, and we will be glad to set that up for you.
Others ask: “Well, what if I was baptized by immersion before I was saved?” Your baptism needs to be AFTER your commitment to Christ. This is what we see in every occasion of baptism in scripture. If you were baptized as a child or earlier in life, then later determined that you weren’t really saved, and made your real commitment to Christ, then you should be scripturally baptized, following your genuine profession of faith.
THIS IS MY WIFE CHERYL’S TESTIMONY: When Cheryl was 6 years old, they had a revival at her church in Oklahoma, and all the kids went down the front of the church crying, so she did too. But later she came to realize she hadn’t really known what she was doing; it was just an emotional decision made because everyone else did it. Later, as an older teen she truly gave her life to Christ. So when I was preaching on baptism at our first pastorate in Oklahoma City, she made the decision to get baptized and get her baptism on the right side of her salvation.
Some of you may be just like Cheryl was: you need to make sure your baptism is after your salvation. If you need to do that, tell me during the invitation today and we’ll help you get that settled!
So these are the first, and most important, two steps for church membership at First Baptist Angleton: 1) make sure you have committed your life to Christ; and 2) make sure you have been scripturally baptized.
If you will then complete this membership class, and feel like God is leading you to commit to church membership here, you can fill out the membership form and give it to me, and we will can present you to the church for final membership! Those are the four steps: salvation, baptism, completion of the membership class & commitment form, and being presented to the church.
Right now we are going to switch gears a bit, and let you get familiar with:
Discovering the History of First Baptist Church
Much of this comes from the 90th anniversary history of FBCA, written by Georgie Burns in 1986.
In the 1890s settlers were moving into Texas from all over the South to start new lives. At that time, Angleton had a store, a post office, a hotel, and a Methodist Church. But people were moving in by the thousands. Union Baptist Association to the north of Brazoria County said: “We owe to these people a debt that we cannot afford to overlook. We must give them the Gospel of Christ.” They sent some missionary pastors to Angleton, and one was Joseph Kailin, who is considered the first pastor of FBCA. He actually preached at Angleton, Velasco, and Columbia, taking turns, or “circuit riding” between the churches. The membership grew to 46, and First Baptist Angleton had begun!
In the early 1900s the church almost died. The pastor resigned, citing “the limited number of adherents to the faith in Angleton”!
The hurricane of 1909 almost destroyed the church, but they began to rebuild, and took the important step of starting a Sunday school in 1910, which strengthened the church. They built a new auditorium in 1911, with a baptistery so they didn’t have to use Bastrop Bayou any more!
FBC had a series of part-time pastors in the 1920s & 30s.
During World War II, pastor John Shepard came to FBCA. He served for 31 years! The church grew, and built what was at that time the “new” worship center in 1954. Gulf Coast Baptist Association, a group of local Southern Baptist churches working together, began in 1946. And during that time, FBC started SECOND Baptist Church in the south part of town. (Some years later, Second Baptist began Northway, which makes FBC a “grandparent” church!) These churches (and their pastors) are very close to this day, and we have a fraternal fellowship, not a competitive spirit between us. I have never been so close to other pastors in the same town like I have been here in Angleton!
Dr. Shepard retired in 1974, and Gene Russell came. He began a tv ministry which FBCA was known for, for many years.
Rodney Bowman became the pastor in the 1990s (1992?) and served for 25 years. The Lord gave him the vision, later called “God’s Vision In Action,” tto purchase 30+ acres here, and to move from the landlocked location downtown where we had no parking and no room to grow, and start a new church facility and begin Angleton Christian School. As you can see, that vision became a reality, as we moved into this facility just over two years ago, in November of 2020.
Cheryl & I moved here to Angleton right at 4 years ago, in 2019, and we are grateful for all that the Lord has done: bringing us through the final planning process and construction of these new facilities, and through the COVID crisis of the past couple of years.
Now there is another wave of thousands of new families poised to move into Angleton, with over 3000 new homes being built. We need to remember the lessons of this history we just heard, and redediciate OURselves to the spirit of that old Union Association, which saw so many people moving here in the 1800s and said: We owe these people moving in, the debt of sharing with them the gospel of Christ! THAT is the opportunity we have ahead of us as a church. That’s WHY we do what we do.
Our current mission statement: is “Worship God, and serve Him by reaching, teaching, and caring for people!” That is why we are here! To glorify God in our worship, and to reach people with the gospel, teach people to be Christian disciples who walk with Him every day, and to care for them in Jesus’ name.
That’s “The Basics”: of salvation, baptism, church membership, and our church’s history. Next week, we’ll look at “Discovering What We Believe” at First Baptist! For now, let’s bow our heads together.
There’s several ways we may need to respond today:
— ALL of us should ask, members or not: have I truly had a time in my life when I asked Jesus to be my Lord & Savior?
— What about your baptism? Have you been immersed in water, after you were saved, in the Triune name, as a symbol of your faith in Christ?
— Are you a member of a church? God wants you to be somewhere. If you think He may be directing you here, continue to take these next sessions, and be ready to commit to church membership at the end.
— and how does God want you to serve? If you’re a Christian, you’re in “God’s Army,” and He needs you to be serving in a particular church, in a particular way. Two weeks from today we’ll be giving out the interest surveys, where you can write down ways you can serve, so our leadership can help get you involved.