Most of my life, I've heard the phrase "baptism is the door to the church." I took this as gospel truth for I had no reason to think otherwise. However, when the issue arose with IMB trustees redefining what acceptable baptism is, I began to rethink my views on this issue. In tandem, I've been reading significantly in the area of Baptist ordinances for my dissertation. I've not come to a final decision, but I can say my views are not what they used to be.
In one of my readings today, I ran across a 'gem' of a statement by a well-respected Baptist ecclesiologist, E. C. Dargan. He taught homiletics and ecclesiology at Southern Seminary when there was only one SBC sponsored seminary. In 1897, he published a work entitled Ecclesiology: A Study of the Churches. As best I can tell, it is the most comprehensive Baptist ecclesiology ever published. In his opening remarks on the ordinances, he writes the following about baptism:
Baptism, while it is not the "door of the church" in any proper sense, is a necessary prerequisite to admission through the door, which is the vote of the church itself.
In this manner, baptism is still considered an ordinance of the church because the church must affirm the authenticity of each person's baptism. However, at least with this quote, baptism is not identification with a church. It is an exercise of obedience that each believer participates in before s/he applies for church membership.
I've got more quotes, from more Baptists, but I want us to chew on this for awhile. In light of the IMB guideline changes, let us consider again what baptism means, and its relationship to church membership.