II. The Church Is Comprised of Baptized Believers
After his glorious resurrection, the Lord Jesus issued his Great Commission to his disciples with these words:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:19-20)
This text tells us that the church is supposed to do four things: (1) Go, (2) make disciples, (3) baptize those disciples, (4) teach those disciples. For our purposes in this chapter, we will focus on item (3), baptism.
We are told by the Lord Jesus that the church is to make disciples and that the church is to baptize those disciples. As most Christians know, baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It also serves as the believer’s "pledge of allegiance" to Jesus. It is the way in which a person makes his profession of faith public and formally commits himself to being a disciple of Jesus. As such, baptism is often called the Christian's "first (public) act of obedience."
Because of this, it should go without saying that membership in a local church requires baptism. Only Christians can be members of local churches. The church is a gathered community of those who have become disciples of Jesus. But, one cannot be a true disciple if one refuses to obey Christ’s commands, and one of his commands is baptism. And this is why we see in the New Testament that every time someone believes in Jesus, he is baptized before his entrance into the visible, local church.
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41)
Notice the sequence here. First, the people received the word. That is, they believed the gospel and were saved. Second, they were baptized. Then, thirdly, they were added to the church. So, the church consists of baptized believers.