Brother Uriah Trumbo, of Albion, Indiana, asks for our views in relation to the proper time to give the right hand of fellowship to candidates for church membership; whether it should be done before or after their baptism.
In reply, we can only say that we know of no rule laid down in the New Testament, either by precept or example, for the giving of the right hand of fellowship in any formal manner as essential in the reception of members. It is, however, requisite that the church and ministers of the church should gain a satisfactory evidence that the candidate is a believer in Christ, and desirous to obey his commands; for it was said to the commissioned apostles, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved.” Faith in and obedience to Christ are evidences of discipleship, and both are required as prerequisites to church membership. The church should express by unanimous vote her confidence in and fellowship for the experience of the candidate. But the hand of fellowship of the church, or the fellowship of the church, by whatever mode she may express it, is an acknowledgment that the person to whom it is given is cordially received into the communion of the church, and is now regarded as a member entitled to all the privileges of the church. This cannot be done consistently until the person is baptized. A person may give the most unquestionable evidence of being born again, and of faith in Christ, and never be baptized, and therefore not qualified to receive a welcome to the communion, and to all other privileges of the church.
As we understand and practice, a candidate is examined by the church, and if satisfaction is obtained that he is a gospel subject, that satisfaction is to be determined by vote, or by such other expressions as may signify that the person is cordially received as a candidate for baptism, and that when baptized is to be regarded as a member in full standing; and as soon as the command of Christ is obeyed by the baptism, which is an indispensable prerequisite to membership, the baptized believer is a member. The giving of the hand of fellowship, the baptized believer is a member. The giving of the hand of fellowship is nor required, as a ritual by which he is received, for it can only express the recognition of one who is already a member, and an expression of hearty welcome to the newly received member. It has been our practice for almost sixty years to give the right hand of fellowship to newly received members, to express publicly the recognition and cordial welcome with which they are received by the church, and to give such admonition and counsel as seems appropriate on such occasions.
We fail to see the force of the argument of which brother Trumbo speaks, that baptism, like the Lord’s supper, is an ordinance in the church, and that the candidate for baptism must be a member of the church; nor do we know of any scripture to sustain such an argument. If the candidates for baptism must first become members, then baptism cannot be an indispensable prerequisite to church membership, and the church must contain some unbaptized members. Such an organization could not be a Baptist church, nor a chirstian church; for a Baptist church is composed only of baptized believers, and a christian church is an organization of disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. The disciples of Christ, we are told, were first called christians at Antioch, and subsequently were so recognize by an inspired apostle, (1 Peter iv. 16). And our Lord has informed us that none can be his disciples but those who take up their cross and follow him. Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan; and he that believeth and is baptized, is a follower of Jesus, and shall be saved. And we are further informed that they who gladly received the words which were preached on the day of pentecost, were baptized and added to the church, and continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayer. Christ is himself the door of his sheepfold, or church; but the entering is that door by his redeemed members is by a recognition of Christ as the Head of the church and King of saints, by obedience to his commandments, submission to his authority, and following his example.
Thus, according to our view of the subject, the believer publicly acknowledges his allegiance to Christ, and is baptized into the one body or church of Christ, and thus puts on Christ by a public profession of discipleship; and it seems to us highly appropriate on the part of the church to give equally as public a recognition by an open expression of fellowship and welcome. This is generally done, by the churches in this section, by the pastor in behalf of the church; but the accepted believer, when baptized, is a member, whether the hand of fellowship be given in any formal manner or not.
Elder Gilbert Beebe,
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 13
July 1, 1880