Foreword. —A matter of more than ordinary concern to all our ministers, and church officers as well, is the question of proper instruction for baptismal candidates. This matter has already received considerable attention through the columns of the Ministry. Because of the vital importance of the subject, its further consideration in these pages must be a matter of interest to all. There appears herewith a contribution from Elder G. A. Roberts that suggests a practical solution for the problem of examining candidates previous to baptism. This article is well worth careful reading. We commend the plan suggested to all concerned.
J. L. McElhany
Our denominational statistics reveal a disturbing ratio between losses in membership and baptisms into membership in our churches—a ratio that we should not under any circumstances allow. It is true that the gospel net gathers both good and bad into the church, and it is true that a sorting which retains the good and rejects the bad is pictured in the Good Book. But it was never intended that we should capitalize on that fact to the point of hurriedly baptizing persons, with the expectation that some are bound to fall away, and that we are to find our satisfaction in those who remain.
Mounting statistics of baptisms are not to the credit of any conference or evangelist, if, in a short time, many of those baptized fall away from the church. It is the quality of members added to the church, rather than the mere quantity, that is of permanent value to the cause of Christ. Ofttimes when such a falling away takes place after an intensive evangelistic campaign in a large city, the blame is laid wholly upon the evangelist. But perhaps if he had been accorded the cooperation and assistance that he should have had,—if the pastors of the churches in the city, together with the Bible workers and leading church officers, had properly shared responsibility with him in the preparation of candidates for baptism,—such great loss would not have been sustained.
To illustrate: An evangelist holds what we denominate a large effort, with all the attendant details to be cared for. He may have assistants to look after many of the physical arrangements, but still the responsibility of keeping intact a properly working organization rests fully upon him, in addition to the evening preaching and daily visiting which he must do. At the same time he may be carrying on a very heavy radio program, which requires him to speak once or even twice a day. He may also be acting as pastor of a large supporting church during the time of this series of meetings. Further, and in addition to all this, during the most intensive period of a series of meetings, there comes the preparation of baptismal candidates, with the attendant responsibility of decision concerning the fitness of each candidate for the sacred rite. The question naturally arises, How can one man successfully discharge all these responsibilities?
The answer is, He cannot do it, It is no wonder that sometimes, in the midst of all his other pressing duties, the evangelist gives less than the necessary attention to the preparation of the baptismal candidate, hoping that after baptism the pastor of the candidate's church and the church members, will complete his instruction in the message. But this is ofttimes not done. The candidate may sometimes even be baptized and recommended to the church before the pastor or church members have had contact with him. This makes a very awkward situation, and it is hard for pastors and leading church members to know just what instruction the candidate needs, and just where to begin with that instruction. In fact, the candidate himself may feel he is fully instructed and needs no further help.
Let us suppose that a certain candidate attended a series of meetings. It is hardly possible, if the effort has been a large one, for the evangelist to know how many meetings of the series the candidate attended, or what subjects were missed by him. In all probability, the evangelist knows little of this man's life, and whether he is sincere or not in the profession he makes, and the interest he manifests when the subject of baptism is broached.
For all this work the evangelist should have help—help that is adequate, and of the proper kind. It is well, of course, that he have a tent master, a choir leader, Bible workers, and perhaps a press agent, with his company. But these are not usually the ones who care for the candidate after he is united with the church. And since baptism is, in a way, the door into the church, it would seem consistent, if not indeed obligatory, that the decision to open the door should be shared at least by the pastor of the church and other church representatives.
So we would recommend that, in addition to the regular help required in conducting an evangelistic campaign, especially in large city efforts where so much is involved and so many candidates are under consideration, a baptismal committee be organized to be composed of, or appointed from among, the following: the pastor of the church in that city; the regularly employed Bible worker or Bible workers, who will remain after the effort closes, the elders, the deacons and deaconesses, and the clerk. This committee need not be a large one. If the effort is held in a large city in which we have several churches, the conference committee or a union council of the pastors and church officers from the various churches can appoint a committee of seven to fifteen, as may be needed.
The committee should be organized with a chairman and a secretary, and should supply itself with a record book in which minutes will be kept. The committee, or a quorum of its members, should be available at all times during the series of meetings, and its business should be to examine all candidates who desire baptism, using perhaps a list of questions agreed upon by the committee and the evangelist in charge of the effort. In case of need for further instruction, the committee should refer names of such prospective candidates to the pastor of the church in whose vicinity these persons live, or to a Bible worker or some leading member, or perhaps back to the evangelist or one of his coworkers.
In some instances, certain newly baptized persons leave immediately for another locality and become members of a church whose members have never before seen them. If such churches know that a baptismal committee has passed upon the names, they can with greater confidence receive the new members into church fellowship. Some churches have had sad experiences in accepting members who were not fully instructed before baptism. When the committee has decided that a candidate is ready for baptism, it should so vote, and should record the action in the secretary's book. Only those should be baptized who are so passed upon by this committee.
Furthermore, the fact should not be overlooked by any such committee that in our large cities, where our truth is represented by a strong membership, there are scores and perhaps hundreds of relatives, neighbors, friends, and young people growing up in Adventist environment who, are well acquainted with all phases of our message, but who have never been converted, or who have never before taken their stand. The committee's business is not to hinder or delay the baptism of these or any others, but really to hasten their baptism, guarding, of course, against their being taken into the baptismal waters before the process of regeneration has taken place.
The evangelist himself may or may not be a member of this committee, but he should not be the chairman of such a committee, nor should he dominate the committee, but should allow others a free hand to deal with candidates as seems good to them. The evangelist may, if he so chooses, elect to absent himself from any meeting of the committee, if in his judgment it would save embarrassment to himself, to the committee, or to the candidate. In the long run, if an evangelist works under this kind of arrangement, he will have more church members in the churches who will remain true than if he is compelled to carry, as some do now, full responsibility for decision in regard to the fitness of candidates for baptism.
Such an arrangement as this will relieve the evangelist from charges now placed upon some of our most successful men,—that they rush people into baptism prematurely, in order to make a big showing. If people fall away after such a committee has done its work, the responsibility rests largely upon the pastor of the city church, upon the members, and upon the committee itself.
We seldom hear complaints that our evangelists do not thoroughly and competently preach the message, but we often do hear the complaint that they prematurely baptize those who attend their meetings. A baptismal committee arrangement of this kind will, we believe, more fully stabilize the work of our evangelists. It will better and more quickly acquaint the candidates with the church and its leading members, with the Bible workers, and with the pastor of the church, before baptism, and will lay upon the hearts of all a sense of responsibility for the newly baptized members.
I am not unaware of the prerogative of an ordained minister to preach the gospel and baptize those who present themselves for the sacred rite, and it is not the intent of this article that such right or privilege should be taken away from the evangelist. But in these days when evangelism has grown to such large proportions in our, great cities, and the responsibility of sueh efforts has laid upon the evangelist so many details, he should have others to share with him not only the work, but also the responsibility.
Balboa, Canal Zone.