I've written four posts now on the church, making the case that the visible church is far more important to the Christian's life, even their salvation, than most evangelicals assume. But who is in the visible church? Those who go through a membership class? Those who attend on Sunday? What serves to connect someone to the visible church?
I believe it is baptism that inducts us into membership in the church visible and thereby connects us to the visible body of Christ.
I'll make a case for this over the next few posts, but let me start here quoting several important confessions of faith on baptism, union with Christ, and membership in the church.
Westminster Confession of Faith, 28.1: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.
39 Articles, Article XXVII: Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Heidelberg Catechsim Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized? Answer: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
And from a couple theologians I appreciate:
Edmond Clowney: "Baptism is recognized as the mark of membership in Christ's church by those outside it...in baptism we are numbered amongst the children of God, receiving the name of our Father, written, as it were, on our foreheads. To be sure, the washing of God's regenerating grace is accomplished by the water of the Spirit, no that of the font, but the outward sign functions precisely because it is outward; it is the Lord's visible seal of his invisible grace."
John Frame: "It is baptism that gives us the right to be recognized as Christians, unless or until we are excommunicated. Thus, it gives us the right to be part of the great work God is doing through his church"