Birthright church membership cuts across two vital aspects of doctrine – salvation and the Church. The definitions and criteria for ‘birthright’ change according to the local church, so we will give a very general introduction in this paper.
Basically, the concept is that babies and children can become members of a local church because their parents are saved. Several additional ideas sometimes link to this basic belief, such as baptism of infants because parents are saved (or, claim to be); the babies or children are then accepted as members.
Church membership is hotly disputed by some. For myself, I see no need for humanly-devised memberships, because persons who are saved are automatically ‘members’ of the Church of Jesus Christ. There should be no other demands, because none exist in scripture.
This is why birthright membership has a big problem – young children are not capable of repenting and being saved as per scripture. Nor are they capable of being taught necessary doctrine. It is also why so many supposedly ‘saved’ children suddenly appear to enter the world when they become teenagers. They do so not because they are backsliding, but because they were never saved at all.
The implication, that baptism is involved, is spurious. Baptism is a requirement of the Lord, as an outward sign of salvation. It is not per se a sign that the person is a ‘member’ of this or that local church. Baptism should be commanded of converts, though even this is down to their consciences and spiritual understanding, both of which are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, not us. All we can do is urge someone to be baptized because scripture says so.
Therefore, a saved person who is not yet baptised is, as I have said, automatically a member of the universal and eternal Church headed by Christ. It is his salvation, not baptism, that gives him the ‘membership’. Of course, this membership is instant – it comes when the person repents and is saved. None of this can apply to babies or young children, whether a church thinks otherwise or not.
Only those who have heard the Gospel, whether by sight or by ear, by any means, can possibly be regenerated. Only after regeneration (being ‘born again’) can someone come to the point of repentance, after considering the Gospel and its implications (which, like regeneration, is God’s activity). No child is capable of this kind of intensity and intellectual understanding. Simply asking “Do you love Jesus?” and a cute reply of “Yes”, does not count!
This is nothing to do with ‘membership’ as practised in so many churches. It is just about who is believed to be saved. If a child, usually older, claims to be saved, we must gently question the claim. (This ought to be done with all people who make such a claim). If it seems reasonable that the child is, after all, saved, then adults must carefully monitor and observe, to see if the claim stands firm over time. Obviously, a child must be taught in the ways of the Lord. But, if his claim is true, his young life will begin to show fruit in many ways, and his knowledge will grow. This has no bearing at all on ‘membership’, which is a false imposition by churches on any person, let alone a youngster.
To hold to a belief that a youngster can be a member of a church because his or her parents are saved, makes a mockery of God’s provisions, found in scripture. None of us is saved by our parents’ salvation, no matter how godly they may be. Each of us is saved individually. And allied to that salvation is a period of conviction. This conviction always follows after regeneration, and never precedes it, because we have no interest in Christ until we are born again. The period after regeneration can be almost instant, short, or long – it is determined by God. In my own life, it was about six months, and consisted of fear of death plus a growing discomfort with my unsaved life, and a listening to what God said. It culminated in salvation. A small child cannot go through this process; which is why salvation is usually found amongst adults or older youth.
Because babies and young children are incapable of understanding the teachings and requirements of salvation, they cannot be saved. Indeed, no teaching will bring a youngster to the point of salvation – it is entirely up to the Holy Spirit. At best, we can teach children to live lives consistent with godly values, but it cannot go farther than that: godly values are not equal to salvation!
Churches that hold to birthright as a qualification for church membership likely have a poor or bad understanding of the Church and salvation itself, and may even teach against these facets of doctrine. They may be quite incapable of recognising sin in the children they have baptised, because they expect to see works and signs of salvation, all of which can easily be manufactured, even by children.
Many Christians have delusions about their children, believing the ‘simple’ confessions their children make are proofs of salvation. The reason the confessions are ‘simple’ is that they do not understand what they are saying! But, shored-up by parental approval, they continue for a while as mini-pseudo-Christians, until the sin in their minds and hearts erupts, removing themselves from Christian influence. After that they might live by Christian morals and values, but this in no way means they are saved. Remember: membership is automatic when anyone is saved.
© March 2011
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
Please 'Make a Donation' to support the work of Bible Theology Ministries