Instruction of Baptismal Candidates*
I have been asked to discuss in this presidents' council the question, "Is it safe to baptize those who have accepted the Sabbath only, with the expectation that they will later accept other points of the faith?" The assignment of such a topic leads to the conclusion that a question has been raised regarding such a course. Evidently there are those who have been baptizing people who are only partly instructed in present truth, which is merely another way of saying that some have been baptizing people not ready to be baptized. And the question is brought up for discussion here.
Such a question is timely. If such a procedure as baptizing people before they are ready for baptism—baptizing them before they are fully instructed—should be permitted to continue, the very structure of the church would be weakened. Such a practice, instead of being a help, is decidedly a hindrance to this cause. And both conference and church leaders should see to it that it is neither countenanced nor continued.
Only those who are Christians should be baptized. Only those who are intelligent Christians should go forward in this sacred ordinance. Only those who are fully instructed Seventh-day Adventist Christians should be accepted as candidates for immersion by Seventh-day Adventist ministers.
Baptism is the door of entrance into the Christian church. And no person should be received into the church until he has been fully instructed in the fundamentals of Christian truth, and is thus prepared to be an intelligent member of the body of Christ. He should be fully taught, he should fully accept, and he should fully practice, the truth for this time. Only then is he ready for baptism.
Prerequisites to Baptism
The great gospel commission specifies certain things as necessary in the experience of new converts before they are ready for baptism.
1. The first of these is set forth by Matthew: "Go ye . . . and teach" (28:19, 20). Teaching comes before baptism. No person is a fit subject for baptism, therefore, until that person has been taught the truth of the gospel.
2. The next prerequisite of baptism is found in Mark's statement of the gospel commission: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (16:16). Not only must the convert be thoroughly taught the truth of the gospel, but he should believe it, before he is baptized. That is, he should accept what he has been taught. And acceptance involves practice of the thing believed. The convert must put into practice his belief of that in which he has been instructed. It is not enough to know the truth. He must do it, live it, practice it, follow it. Only then is he ready for baptism.
3. A third requisite to baptism is set forth by Peter in this text: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you." Acts 2:38. Repentance, then, is necessary before a person is a fit candidate for baptism. Repentance is a turning away from wrong and a turning to right; a renunciation of sin and a practicing of righteousness; a putting off of the old man and a putting on of Christ.
It is obvious, therefore, that no person is ready for baptism in connection with God's message for today unless and until he is taught the full truth for today, accepts it, practices it, turns from his sin and his errors, and gives himself to Jesus Christ in full surrender to do His will completely, in the light of the truth he has been taught. Consequently, the quickest way to deal with the question under discussion, "Is it safe to baptize those who have accepted the Sabbath only?" would be to put it into one emphatic, positive, resounding negative, and say, "NO, it is not safe."
It is never safe to receive any one into the church until he is fully informed regarding every point of the faith. Those who have heard only the truth regarding the Sabbath, even though they have decided to obey it, are not ready to be baptized and brought into the Seventh-day Adventist Church until they learn all the other truths the church teaches. This is true because of some very important considerations. As has been pointed out, baptism is the door of entrance into the church. The church is an organization having a very definite body of belief and teaching, and no one should be brought into it until he is fully acquainted with all that it believes and teaches, and is in harmony therewith.
It is not fair either to the church or to the new member to open the door of the church to him until he is intelligent as to what this will mean to him in practice and conduct. It is altogether possible that an individual may recognize and acknowledge the truth regarding the Sabbath, and plan on keeping it, and yet not recognize or acknowledge some other phase of the church's teaching. He should hear all, believe all, accept all, and begin to practice all the teaching of the faith before he receives baptism. It is no advantage to the church to receive members who are lacking in the knowledge of its teachings. They bring into the church elements of weakness, not of strength. And it is strength the church needs, not merely members.
Spirit of Prophecy Instruction
We have some very pointed instruction from the gift of prophecy on this matter of thorough instruction's being given to prospective church members. I direct attention to this statement in the "Testimonies:"
"The minister's work is but just begun when he has presented the truth from the pulpit. He is then to become acquainted with his hearers. . .. They should be carefully and tenderly led and educated as pupils in school. Many have to unlearn theories which have been engrafted into their lives. As they become convinced that they have been in error concerning Bible subjects, they are thrown into perplexity and doubt. They need the tenderest sympathy and the most judicious help ; they should be carefully instructed; they should be prayed for and prayed with, watched and guarded with the kindest solicitude."—Vol. IV, p. 263.
Faithful work in this matter of instructing new converts for church membership is further emphasized in "Testimonies," Volume V, in this way:
"The accession of members who have not been renewed in heart and reformed in life is a source of weakness to the church. This fact is often ignored. Some ministers and churches are so desirous of securing an increase of numbers that they do not bear faithful testimony against unchristian habits and practices. Those who accept the truth are not taught that they cannot safely be worldlings in conduct while they are Christians in name. Heretofore they were Satan's subjects ; henceforth they are to be subjects of Christ. The life must testify to the change of leaders. Public opinion favors a profession of Christianity. Little self-denial or self-sacrifice is required in order to put on a form of godliness, and to have one's name enrolled upon the church book. Hence many join the church without first becoming united to Christ. In this Satan triumphs. Such converts are his most efficient agents. They serve as decoys to other souls. They are false lights, luring the unwary to perdition. It is in vain that men seek to make the Christian's path broad and pleasant for worldlings. God has not smoothed or widened the rugged, narrow way. If we would enter into life, we must follow the same path which Jesus and his disciples trod,—the path of humility, self-denial, and sacrifice."—Page 272.
Dealing with the question of thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism, the servant of the Lord has also written in "Testimonies," Volume VI:
"There is need of a more thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism. They are in need of more faithful instruction than has usually been given them. The principles of the Christian life should be made plain to those who have newly come to the truth. None can depend upon their profession of faith as proof that they have a saving connection with Christ. We are not only to say, 'I believe,' but to practice the truth. It is by conformity to the will of God in our words, our deportment, our character, that we prove our connection with Him. Whenever one renounces sin, which is the transgression of the law, his life will be brought into conformity to the law, into perfect obedience. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The light of the Word carefully studied, the voice of conscience, the strivings of the Spirit, produce in the heart genuine love for Christ, who gave Himself a whole sacrifice to redeem the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. And love is manifested in obedience. The line of demarcation will be plain and distinct between those who love God and keep His commandments, and those Who love Him not and disregard His precepts."—Pages 91, 92.
And the degree of knowledge to which the candidate is to be carried by the minister instructing him for baptism is set forth in these words:
"The test of discipleship is not brought to bear as closely as it should be upon those who present themselves for baptism. It should be understood whether they are simply taking the name of Seventh-day Adventists, or whether they are taking their stand on the Lord's side, to come out from the world and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing. Before baptism, there should be a thorough inquiry as to the experience of the candidates. Let this inquiry be made, not in a cold and distant way, but kindly, tenderly, pointing the new converts to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Bring the requirements of the gospel to bear upon the candidates for baptism. . . . The knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, expressed in character, is an exaltation above everything that is esteemed in earth or in heaven. It is the very highest education. It is the key that opens the portals of the heavenly city. This knowledge it is God's purpose that all who put on Christ by baptism shall possess. And it is the duty of God's servants to set before these souls the privilege of their high calling in Christ Jesus."—Id., pp. 95-97.
From this it is made plain that the path of safety is taken in our preparation of members for the church only when we thoroughly instruct each one in all the doctrines and teachings of the church, before opening the door for their admission as baptized members. If we would take greater care to guard the entrance of the church, we would not suffer such severe losses in members' apostatizing and leaving the church. Converts who are well grounded in the faith are not those who are leaving the faith.
* Published by request of North American Presidents' Council, Battle Creek, Mich., Oct. 18, 59, 1937.
Evangelistic Bible Hour
We usually start the Bible hour in the second week of a series, and have it thereafter in connection with each lecture. By this time the audience has been stirred by the appealing truths given, and many will gladly come to a supplemental Bible study. As many as six hundred people have come out on the first night of the Bible hour. Before opposition has had a chance to develop, people are eager to find more truth and willing to join in these Bible studies.
The time for this Bible study is from seven to seven-thirty each evening. This seems to be a good time to get people out, and it often holds some for the main lecture who otherwise might not attend, and vice versa. I conduct these studies myself. It brings extra burden upon me, but at the same time it gives opportunity to make personal contacts and better to arrange my subjects to meet the needs of those who attend the lectures. People are more interested in corning to the Bible hour if the evangelist himself conducts it. They feel that they are acquainted with him and that he is their friend.
My reason for conducting the Bible hour is fourfold. First, it brings me into close touch with those who are deeply interested in the truths presented. People who enjoy hearing the studies given in lecture form will gladly come to the Bible study. Here they feel free to express their reactions to the claims of the message. Here they will speak their minds on points of difference or agreement. Many questions come to them which must be answered before they will accept. Care must be exercised, however, in answering questions. We must know the true attitude of the questioner, and avoid arguments. I try to clear up all delicate questions either at the home of the questioner, or in a small circle of people. The Bible hour serves as a point of contact.
Second, the Bible hour is a fruitful means of acquainting the people with the Word of God. At this time they feel free to bring their Bibles and to read from them, thereby becoming informed on points of the message. It is surprising how few people outside our church know the first principles of the Bible. When they bring their Bibles and read the texts themselves, they are much easier led into this message than they are without this experience. There is no better place for this than in the Bible hour.
Third, the Bible hour prepares interested people for testing truths. I usually study our cardinal points with the people during this hour, and by the time I present our distinctive, separating truths to the public, many of my Bible-hour attendants have started to keep the Sabbath. I also use the Bible hour to prepare new believers for baptism and church fellowship. I know of no better way to get them alone and go over all the points of truth.
Fourth, the Bible hour enables the Bible workers to get acquainted with interested people, and to learn how they can best help them in their homes. This hour furnishes contacts for them as well as for the evangelist, and they can see how to connect their outlines with the studies given during the Bible hour.
The final results of the Bible hour will not be known until the time of the harvest. However, I do know this, that in my past two efforts at Pittsburgh and Walla Walla, at least fifty per cent of those who attended the Bible studies accepted the message. The Bible hour truly helps save souls.
Hasty Baptisms Unwise
Baptism is a most sacred ordinance. It is the door into the Christian church, a memorial of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. It is an outward experience that is indicative of a fundamental change which has taken possession of the life. In short, baptism really stands for conversion and the new birth. Surely when a candidate enters into this hallowed experience, he should know what it means before he takes the step, and should not be rushed into it hastily.
In my evangelistic efforts, I usually present the Sabbath question on the fifth or sixth Sunday night in a series when meetings are held but two or three nights a week. People do not immediately begin to keep the Sabbath after its presentation. Some may come to the Sabbath services right away, but I have learned that it frequently takes an additional four or six weeks of steady preaching and visiting before they really begin to obey the fourth cornrn andment.
After about four or five months of presenting the doctrinal truths of the message under this plan, the candidates then begin to understand thoroughly with whom and with what they are uniting, and what it really means to belong to this movement and become a part of it. People do not usually accept the tithing system and start to pay their tithe until they are well established in Sabbathkeeping. The health phase is readily accepted, too, by those who have been keeping the Sabbath for a few weeks. When we tell them they should stop using tobacco, stop drinking tea and coffee, and observe the other points of the health message, they readily and gladly take heed, because a good foundation has been laid. Also they are ready to accept the Spirit of prophecy, and do what the Lord wants them to do in order to be prepared for His soon coming.
I announce the date of the baptismal service about six weeks in advance, and urge all who are interested to prepare. Then in almost every meeting that is held from that point on, I mention the date of the baptism and urge all of the candidates to pray earnestly concerning the matter and be ready on the assigned day. When the time comes for baptism, the candidates are fully prepared and ready for the sacred ordinance. About three weeks before baptism, I give each candidate a baptismal-vow certificate which fully comprehends every important phase of our message. It reads as follows:
Believing that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is teaching the truth, I desire to become a member and attend its services whenever possible, doing all in my power to maintain its integrity and discountenancing every attempt to tarnish its name,
I Covenant To keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, forsaking the world with its frivolities and amusements, taking Jesus as my divine Lord and Master, the Bible as my guide, and the Holy Spirit as my teacher and sanctifier;
To live the life of a Christian through God's enabling grace, to do all in my power to enlighten others with reference to the third angel's message, and to support this cause with my tithes and offerings;
To give heed to and reverence the instruction given through the Spirit of prophecy in the "Testimonies for the Church;"
To live to the best of my ability in accordance with the light God has given with reference to health reform and healthful dress, laying aside alcoholic liquors, tobacco, tea, coffee, and similar harmful indulgences;
To adhere to simplicity of attire, laying aside artificials and jewelry used purely for adornment.
Pastor ................................................. Name ...................................................
After they have studied this vow and prayed over the matter, and we have gone over every point carefully with them, the candidates know what it means to be baptized and realize the responsibility resting upon them in joining the church. Thus, after a thorough preparation and the proper lapse of time, they will truly bury the old man of • sin as they enter the watery grave, and rise to walk in newness of life.
Appropriate Funeral Services
The spirit of mere form and ceremony must be eliminated altogether at the funeral service (except of course in so far as national customs limit one's freedom of procedure), if the service is to partake of that vitality and freshness so necessary at such a time to lift those who mourn out of the despondency and grief that almost overwhelm. The funeral service should be as a shaft of warm sunlight penetrating the chilly darkness, bringing cheer, comfort, and guidance to sad and breaking hearts.
To assist in creating this friendly, helpful atmosphere, it is well therefore that the minister visit the bereaved in their homes before the service, in order that he may pray with them and at the same time become acquainted with the necessary details of the life of the deceased. It is of course presupposed that as a general rule the person chosen to officiate at a funeral service is one who is reasonably well acquainted with the deceased. This will assist in giving reality to any special references to the deceased in the address to be delivered at the service.
It is manifestly impossible to give in this brief article a general outline of the funeral service which would apply in all countries, because funeral customs vary so widely. But the "Minister's Manual" as issued by the General Conference, and by many union and local conferences, contains a useful form of service and is a guide to the funeral program which may be readily adopted to meet national or local customs. Every minister should possess a copy of this manual.
In general, however, we may say that funeral services should include the reading or recitation of suitable scriptures bearing on the nature of death, the certainty of the resurrection, and the second advent. It should be emphasized that quite often the funeral service affords a valuable opportunity for influencing those who may have been prejudiced against Seventh-day Adventists. But I hasten to add that this opportunity should never be abused by introducing controversial matters or hammering home certain truths over which some may have stumbled for the moment. This temptation—if such it be to some—should be shunned and overcome by Adventist ministers. Such action can only damage and wound and may even embitter. In any case it is entirely inappropriate and has no rightful place at such a sad and trying hour.
On the other hand, a goodly portion of those who make up an audience at a funeral may have heard little of the gospel and still less of the advent message. This fact should be pondered carefully by the minister and utilized to the full—not, let me repeat, to deepen prejudices, but to eradicate them. However, a funeral service is surely an occasion when "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And a minister's attitude and words then may be the means of winning to the truth relatives and friends of the deceased who have through their unhappy prejudices been far removed from every helpful contact with us.
I remember a recent case in point. A. minister held an effort in a certain town, and among those who embraced the truth was one member of a certain family—the mother. The sons and daughters turned aside from it. Some months later the mother died. The family, out of respect to their parent's wish, invited the Seventh-day Adventist minister to conduct the funeral service. As a direct result of the comfort and help received from a service, which, to use their own expression, was "different," the whole family became deeply interested in the truth and several of the most prejudiced ones accepted it! Undoubtedly the funeral service affords unusual ways of reaching and helping human souls with Christ's saving gospel.
Sometimes one may be called to conduct what may be termed an emergency funeral service. Let me explain. I remember a minister's being called on at a moment's notice to officiate a- a funeral for a person who belonged to another denomination. He was simply hailed by a distracted man and told that his own minister had failed him and could not officiate. Would the Adventist minister step into the breach? There was a case of good-Samaritan work. The minister responded, even though it was very difficult to do so, on account of his own urgent appointments. It was well worth while, for the head of the household concerned followed up the advent faith and was baptized, because of the simple dignity and gospel fervency with which the advent minister conducted the service under the unusual circumstances.
The relation of the service proper to the funeral procession, and of the cemetery chapel service to the actual interment, need hardly be dwelt upon here, as these are regulated in some measure by local circumstances. But the question of the fitness of things should be painstakingly worked out as local needs dictate. No detail of a funeral service should ever be dealt with in a slipshod manner or left to chance. The minister can help himself and all concerned by comparing notes with the undertaker beforehand, so that no hitch can possibly occur to mar the proceedings.
After the last rites at the graveside, a warm, sympathetic handshake should be extended to the mourners, thus binding off a service which should pulsate throughout with living light and tender sympathy. The minister's personality should at all times radiate the presence and compassion of Christ.