Book Review: 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. 256 pp. $24.99, Paperback. ISBN 978-1-4336-8620-7.

Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership is another contribution in the ever growing field of 9Marks’ ecclesiological discussion. For Bobby Jamieson, a PhD student at Cambridge University, the main point of the book is tied in to the ecclesiological nature of baptism and church membership. “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). He does so in three major parts.

In part one, “Getting Our Bearings,” Jamieson spends the first two chapters by laying his groundwork carefully. In chapter one Jamieson argues that “according to Scripture baptism is required for church membership and for participating in the Lord’s Supper, membership’s recurring effective sign” (8). As the book is Baptist in its truest fashion, this is to exclude paedobaptists since they have not been baptized biblically and, therefore, are excluded from participation in the Lord’s Supper (8–11). This, he believes, is a debate worth having. In chapter two Jamieson highlights six reasons open membership “feels right,” but is incorrect. Of the strongest, especially within Reformed circles, is the desire for evangelical cooperation across lines between Presbyterians and Baptists.

Part two is Jamieson’s attempt to build a case for the points he has argued thus far. In chapter three he stays close to the biblical text to argue that believer’s baptism is when a Christian’s faith is made public. “If you’re looking for a visible hook to hang your hat on when you speak about conversion, baptism is the natural choice” (41). He also takes on Piper’s stance on open membership (50–52).

Chapters four through seven seek to answer the question: “How does baptism relate to the church” (55)? In other words, is baptism an individual matter or is it connected to the church and, therefore, has an ecclesial shape to it? Jameison argues yes to each of these questions. Chapter four examines baptism through the lense of the new covenant and the kingdom of God in order to describe its ecclesial shape. Baptism “is the initiating oath-sign of the new covenant, and this makes baptism necessary for church membership” (56). Thus, “baptism is a solemn, symbolic vow which ratifies a person’s entrance into the new covenant” (63), but it is not akin to circumcision in that circumcision was a conditional self-malediction covenant (73–75). Chapter five discusses baptism as a passport to the kingdom because through baptism “you swear an oath of citizenship and are thereby formally recognized as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ” (94).

Chapter six “attempts to define the sense in which the Lord’s Supper constitutes a local church” (108). Jamieson provides four foundations for the ecclesial shape of the Lord’s Supper and attempts to connect it with the constitutive rite of baptism (110–120). His five conclusions that flow from his argument attempt to present the argument that the Lord’s Supper should only be administered to those who have been properly baptized, namely by immersion (124–133). Chapter seven finds Jamieson bringing together his biblical and theological statements in order to provide a practical and pastoral statement concerning church membership. “Baptism promotes and protects the gospel by requiring those who believe the gospel to publicly confess the gospel. When a church removes baptism from the requirements for membership, it privatizes Christian profession” (156).

Part three is Jamieson’s defense of his position amidst the questions provided by paedeobaptists and those who hold to open communion and open membership. Chapter eight provides a brief review of Jamieson’s positions that has been developed. Chapter nine begins his answers to his objectors, and he lists seven significant arguments provided by his dissenters. He writes, “If baptism is a public profession of faith, then infant baptism isn’t baptism” (175). The problem, he argues, is that intention is not enough to mark a Christian distinct from the world; rather, baptism is what accomplishes this. To those who suggest inviting paedeobaptists to preach but excluding them to preach is inconsistent, Jamieson notes the New Testament does not teach church membership is a requirement to fill a pulpit. “Unity between churches is made of different stuff than unity within churches” (190). In chapter ten Jamieson engages with open membership and engages effectively against this trend. Fundamentally he argues that open membership builds on error because “it enters a faulty value into the ecclesiological equation” (194). The final chapter provides the practical application of Jamieson’s view in the life of the church. He provides a guide of transition for those who have allowed paedobaptists into membership (210–211) and how the church may have meaningful membership rather than simply the name of the member on a list (219–223).

Jamieson is unapologetically “baptistic” in his polemical language regarding baptism. This would be a concern if he did not defend his arguments as well as he did. He delivers solid arguments for his “closed membership” position and he does not lack in his historical research. His Baptist historical analysis for both closed and open membership positions only strengthens the overall argument of his thesis. Furthermore, his willingness not only to address dead but also living theologians is commendable. He is firm and steadfast concerning closed membership despite possible friends that might be ostracized from participation in the Lord’s Supper as a result.

There were times when Jamieson could have been clearer than he was, or simply teased out his argument further. For example, his discussion on p 129 regarding “visiting Communion” perhaps would be strengthened had he elaborated further or provided more than one resource in the footnotes as to prove his point. Another example is his statement that baptism is an effective sign of church membership, which is valid. However, he then remarks that one cannot make Christians into a church without baptism so that, including the components of the Gospel, churches need to agree on baptism. By this Jamieson suggests baptism by immersion, which leaves the question would he consider a paedeobaptist congregation a church? He would, but this was left open ended.

Bobby Jamieson has provided a helpful resource that promotes true biblical church membership. He is to be commended for his clear writing, careful exegetical work, and cordial tone with those in disagreement. This is a discussion worth having, and Jamieson’s work is a worthy contribution to a difficult topic.

 

Jason P. Kees
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


This review originally appeared in the Midwestern Journal of Theology (15:3): 123–125.

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