Does the story of Cornelius teach that we need to become registered members of the church and be baptized in order to be saved?
The "Iglesia Ni Cristo" teaches that in order to be saved, one must be baptized and become a registered member of their church. They often point to the story of Cornelius in order to demonstrate that such requirements exist. Is this really what the story or Cornelius teaches?
When we look at what the passage actually says, we see that it teaches no such requirements. In fact, it teaches that believing in Christ is sufficient for salvation.
The passage says nothing about church membership.
The INC argues that this passage speaks of the necessity of membership to a church underneath a human organization. This passage says no such thing. The INC argument involves chaining verses to demonstrate that baptism refers to joining a church. We are indeed baptized into the one body of Christ, the church, but that does not refer to the humanly administered organization. We become members of the body of Christ when we believe.
The passage says nothing about baptism being required for salvation.
Regarding baptism, Acts 10 says,
Acts 10:47 (ESV) - "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
It says that Peter commanded Cornelius to be baptised. This is not the same thing as saying that baptism is necessary for salvation. We are commanded not to lust (Matthew 5:28), but that does not mean that perfect thoughts are a requirement for salvation. We are commanded not to be angry (Matthew 5:22), but that does not mean that perfect emotions are a requirement for salvation. In fact, we are commanded to be perfect (Matthew 5:48), but no one is perfect, and yet God still saves men. Therefore, perfection is not a requirement to receieve God's salvation.
We, like Cornelius, are commanded to be baptised. That does not mean that baptism is a requirement for salvation.
Being upright is not enough for salvation.
The INC typically quotes Acts 10 in order to demonstrate that living an upright life is not sufficient for salvation. That is correct! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The reason why Peter had to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was not so that they could learn about baptism and church membership. It was so that they would hear the good news of Jesus, by which they might be saved. This gospel did save them. In fact, they were filled with the Holy Spirit before they even received water baptism.
Acts 10:44-45 (ESV) - 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
Acts 10 directly teaches that faith alone is needed for salvation.
What was the gospel that the Gentiles heard immediately before the Holy Spirit fell upon them? What was the word that saved them? Here was the gospel they heard:
Acts 10:43 (ESV) - 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
The gospel is that all who believe in Christ receive the forgiveness of sins. It does not say, all who believe as long as they get baptised. It is simply all who believe.
The INC misuses Acts 10 to teach their false doctrine of works righteousness. We are commanded to be baptised, but the only requirement for salvation is that we put our trust in Jesus. Acts 10 clearly teaches this gospel. The INC would do well to believe it.