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LETTER TO THOMAS BINGHAM, ESQ.

SIR: – I am at a loss to know what idea to affix to the sentence, that baptism is an initiating ordinance into the church. Those who believe that the sprinkling of infant children is gospel baptism, and those who believe that none should be baptized but repenting believers, and that dipping the body all over in water is the only mode of Christian baptism, are equally in the habit of calling baptism an initiating ordinance.

If baptism is the door into a Christian church, how was it possible for a church to rise in the first place? The members must first have been baptized before they could form into a church, and must first have been a church before there could be any initiation into it. Let a preacher go into a heathen country, and be successful in winning souls; he cannot baptize them until there is a church to initiate them into, and there cannot be a church until the constituents are baptized.

If children, without their consent or knowledge, are initiated into the church by baptism, it follows, of course, that they are members of the church, and should be dealt with and disciplined like other members; nor can they ever stand propounded and be admitted afterwards; because they are already in the church.

John the Baptist was of the priestly tribe, but never sacrificed, or in any way officiated as a Jewish priest. He came as the forerunner of the Messiah, in the spirit and power of Elias, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. The scribes, priests, elders, and pharisees were the principals of the Jewish church, in his day. He was sent by God to preach repentance for sin, and faith in the Lamb of God, who stood among them; and to baptize with water those who brought forth the fruits of repentance. But is there any thing in the course of John that looks as if he was building on the Jewish church? Did he ever advise with the rulers of that church? Did they not reject the counsel of God against themselves, in rejecting his doctrine and baptism? And is it likely that John would unite his followers with those whom he calls a “generation of vipers”? Let common sense answer.

If, by the term church, we understand the whole Zion of God, which includes all who fear God and work righteousness in every nation, individuals are initiated into it, not by water-baptism, but by the choice of Christ, and the application of the unction of the Holy One. This initiation, (the Baptists believe,) precedes the right to water baptism.

But, if, by church, is understood any given number of pious saints, whose local situation, agreement of sentiment, and gracious affections, lead them to unite together as a church, it is, in the first instance, a matter of mutual agreement; and when other individuals wish to be added to them, to help and be helped, the satisfaction and reception of the church is the initiation. If water baptism is the door into the church, it must be the door out of the church, in case of criminal disorder.

Preaching and baptizing are ministerial works; initiation and exision belong to the church. The minister baptizes the penitent believers INTO CHRIST; – the church receives them into fellowship.

John baptized multitudes (into Christ) saying unto them that they should believe in him who should come after him; that is, on Christ Jesus; but he formed no churches.

Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John; but only one hundred and twenty of them were together when they elected Matthias. On the day of Pentecost, they who gladly received the word, were baptized, and three thousand were added to the one hundred and twenty; many of whom, it is most probably, had been baptized by John or Jesus before. Afterwards, multitudes, both of men and women, were added to the Lord. The result seems to be, that baptism does not initiate into the whole church, nor into any of the CHURCHES.

That the Eunuch was initiated into any church, when Philip baptized him, is hard to believe; and that there was any church in Phillippi, for Lydia and the jailer, with their households, to be initiated into, when they were baptized, drowns our senses to conceive of.

Wherever the apostles found proper subjects, they baptized them, although their local situation prevented them from church relation. To such scattered saints Paul wrote in both of his Epistles to the Corinthians. See the dedications. “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ.” “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.”

If baptism initiates into the church, and if sprinkling infant children, or dipping them is gospel baptism, it follows that the British children who were compelled, and the South Americans who were forced, without the knowledge of the subject, and against the will of the parents, were all made members of the church.

In these days there is a great variety of minor opinions among nominal Christians. All who are casting out devils, do not follow together in the same way. Uniformity of sentiment is not grounded by local situation. In the same section, pious individuals are found, who have not a sentimental agreement with their neighbors. These individuals are bound in conscience to be baptized, but cannot unit in doctrine and modes of worship with those among whom they live. Ought not such persons to be baptized? Would not a gospel preacher address them thus? “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized.” This being done, I ask, what church such persons are initiated into by it? Not the whole church of the redeemed, for they were in that before. Not the church in their vicinity, for how can two walk together, except they are agreed?

When ministers and churches are together, and act in concert, and the candidates which to unite with the church, as well as to be baptized one declaration of what the Lord has done for their souls, and of their belief in Christ, may answer both purposes for admission to baptism, and reception into the church.

Elder John Leland
First published July, 1833

The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 642 – 644