The future integrity of this movement depends upon the present faithfulness of the ministry in preparing candidates for baptism and church membership. There is little question but that the early apostasy in the Christian church had its roots in neglect upon this very point. Had the apostolic ministry carefully instructed all candidates for membership in the Christian church, it is altogether improbable that members would have slipped away as readily as they did.
Bringing large groups into the church, they probably found it a bit difficult to make a careful examination in each case, and thus many unconverted members were added. This unfaithfulness produced its fruitage when the crisis was forced on the church. It was then evident that the majority of the membership was ready to swing over to the side of worldliness, and the stanch spiritual element found itself in the minority, and went through the agony of seeing the church swept from its moorings and started on the downward path to apostasy. The white horse with its faithful few moved off to the wilderness, while the red, the black, and the pale horse held the attention and approval of the world.
There is grave danger that partially instructed believers will be brought into the church at this time in such numbers as to divert the current of Adventist thought into new and strange channels of which our fathers knew nothing. It was the letting down of standards of faith and practice that proved the undoing of the churches which grew out of the Reformation. Even sixty years ago the various Protestant churches were insistent that those who applied for membership should be instructed in the principles of their faith and organization. But little by little the bars were lowered, so that today even Baptist churches will receive unbaptized members. The Lord forbid that we should ever travel this road!
The one thing that will save us from it is the use of exceptional care in preparing candidates for baptism. There are certain well-defined principles recognized by us to be the faith of this denomination. These are essential to the building up of sound Seventh-day Adventists. Ministers should take pride in producing, under God, that kind of believers.
The man who brings the people into the truth is the man to instruct them fully and see them baptized into the faith. The converts regard him as their spiritual father, and his instruction is readily accepted by them. No one else can take his place in this matter. And such instruction is rightly expected of every evangelist.
Nor is this simply a matter of intellectual assent to a body of doctrine. Every candidate for baptism should be taught to expect the gift of the Holy Spirit, as set forth in Acts 2:38, 39: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." This is the privilege of every true believer who goes forward in baptism.
Candidates for baptism should be led into an experience of genuine conversion and of full submission of the will to Christ. They should be taught to pray and to expect answers to prayer. They should be instructed in the exercise of faith in the promises of God, and in the process of growth which will make them strong spiritual Christians.
The spiritual character of the Sabbath should be fully explained, that it may be a source of joy to those who observe it. Faithfulness in rendering to God the tithe is often overlooked, but to neglect this brings spiritual leanness to the souls of the believers. The imminence of our Lord's return should be so impressed upon the mind of the believer that he will show in his life that he is a pilgrim and a stranger, and is seeking for "a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
There should be no neglect in thoroughly instructing new converts as to the value of the gift of the Spirit of prophecy—the eyes of the church. Those who accept that gift and appreciate its worth rarely backslide from the message.
Every believer should be expected to connect with the Sabbath school and with one of the missionary bands of the church. The principles of health reform should be instilled into the minds of the believers, so that they will lay aside every form of food substance that is detrimental to their well-being. The reasons for the disuse of tea and coffee should be fully explained to the believers so that they will intelligently lay aside these common but unhealthful beverages. It goes without saying that tobacco and intoxicating liquor will be dropped absolutely.
It is a serious thing to lead a person to the baptismal font only partially instructed in the principles that are to prepare a people for translation. Baptism is looked upon as the completion of training for church membership, and new members are not inclined to accept after baptism, instruction that should have been given before. Much has been written upon this subject, and yet much carelessness is still in evidence. Let us hope that our ministers, and particularly our evangelists who bring in large numbers of converts, will give these matters very careful and thoughtful attention, for someday they must give an account of their ministry to the Chief Shepherd. That will not be a happy day for those who put quantity above quality in the matter of converts.