Conducting the Baptismal Service

When we realize that the high purpose of the church and ministry should be to bring men and women to take the step of baptism, surely the service of celebration should be planned as nothing less than a tri­umphant event.

By JOHN M. NERNESS, Superintendent Malayan Union Mission, Singapore

When we realize that the high purpose of the church and ministry should be to bring men and women to take the step of baptism, surely the service of celebration should be planned as nothing less than a tri­umphant event. Heaven counsels us in these words: "Everything connected with this holy ordinance should reveal as perfect a prepara­tion as possible."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 98.

On this high day of the church it is desirable to plan the service to hold the interest of the entire congregation till the moment of dis­missal. What can be more disconcerting to one who is born as a babe in Christ, than to find himself on the doorstep of an empty church, except for a few weary saints? Further coun­sel reveals:

"The one who administers the ordinance of baptism should seek to make it an occasion of solemn, sacred influence upon all spectators. . . . Our churches need to be educated to greater respect and reverence for the sacred service of God. As ministers conduct the services connected with God's worship, so they are educating and training the people. Little acts that educate and train and discipline the soul for eternity are of vast consequence in the uplifting and sanctify­ing of the church."—Ibid., p. 97.

PLACE OF SERVICE.—The ideal place for the service is indicated by the Spirit of prophecy : "Whenever possible, let baptism be adminis­tered in a clear lake or running stream. And give to the occasion all the importance and so­lemnity that can be brought into it. At such a service angels of God are always present"— Ibid. There is no substitute for sufficient water to add ease to the service. However, if the cir­cumstances require that it be held inside, it is well to have it at the eleven o'clock hour in the church.'

ADVANCE INSTRUCTION.—Considerable atten­tion must be given to the many details that make up a baptismal service, lest it be marred by hastiness. Deacons and deaconesses should be informed in advance of the service, so that the robes and towels may be laid out in the dressing rooms Friday, the baptistry made ready, etc. At the last meeting of the baptismal class the candidates may be informed of what is required on their part. Give assurance that there is nothing to fear, that they do not need to help baptize themselves by flexing the knees, but that filling the lungs with air before being immersed will go far toward avoiding embarrass­ing moments in the baptistry. On one occasion I failed to give some of these instructions to an elderly lady, and in the icy river it was nec­essary to deliberate at length to persuade her that she was to let me baptize her backward while reclining on my arm, and not face for-, ward as she had observed in a picture of Christ.

Of the several grips commonly used in ad­ministering baptism, my preference has been that of holding the candidate's right wrist with my left hand as he grips my left wrist with his left hand. He may hold a large handkerchief in his right hand, which is brought up to cover his face during immersion. In this way both parties feel a security that contributes consid­erable to making the ordinance one of beauty instead of awkwardness and embarrassment.

For some years I held my hand straight up in administering the charge, but our Dyak Pastor Pohan caused me to modify this. He held his hand over the candidate's head as he baptized in a Borneo jungle stream. The charge should be addressed as personally as possible to the one involved. One of our good hymns says, "I plunge, and O, it cleanseth me!" but if the min­ister plunges the believer in, it is out of place and contrasts decidedly with laying a loved one to rest. The body should be immersed com­pletely, with a steadiness that gives assurance and ease.

When robes and towels are furnished, I sug­gest that the candidate bring only a large hand­kerchief and a bathing cap (if desired by the ladies). At the last meeting before baptism I get the name as preferred on the certificate, the address (so that the union conference paper may be provided), and the age. Any questions are answered, and then the candidates are in­formed that they are to return to the auditorium in a group, following the baptism, for the clos­ing exercises.

Examination of the Candidates

Obviously, on this occasion the minister must limit his sermon or general remarks so that the over-all time. will not exceed the usual closing time. Well-chosen words will help visitors un­derstand how Seventh-day Adventists believe that those taking this step should first be dili­gently taught to observe the Lord's commands.

Such an approach prepares the way for exam­ining the candidates.

Here is a vital spot. "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." —Ibid., p. 95. It is hardly enough to turn a page in the Manual for Ministers and read the questions formally, merely to hear a series of affirmatives. It is much more satisfying to suit the questions to the individual, so that his own heart experience will be expressed in the an­swer.

PUBLIC TESTIMONY BY CANDIDATES.—There are at least three reasons why it is well to let those testify publicly who are about to become members of the church: (I) We are presenting instructed candidates .to the church body for their acceptance. This builds confidence. (2) Public acknowledgment strengthens the candi­date's faith. (3)- Such procedure proves a great blessing to the undecided who may be present.

If one has gained a notable victory in step­ping out for the truth, the question touching that phase will mean more to him, and his an­swer more to the hearers. When but one or two are to be baptized, I have, after assuring the congregation of the candidates' thorough understanding, used the charge given in the Manual for Ministers:

"By going forward in baptism you indicate your purpose—

"To keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, forsaking the world with its frivolities and amusements, taking Jesus as your divine Lord and Master, the Bible as your guide, the Holy Spirit as your teacher and sanctifier.

"To live the life of a Christian through God's en­abling grace," etc., through the fundamentals of Christian living.

VOTE OF CHURCH FELLOWSHIP.—With this assurance the time has come for the church to vote them in, subject to baptism. The Bible accords this privilege and responsibility to the church. Of course the time to make provision for one's entry into the church is before he is "baptized into the body." Having made certain that the clerk is present, the pastor reads the names distinctly, pausing to hear the question called. Now we ask, "Who will be happy to move the acceptance of these, subject to bap­tism?" The response is always hearty.

CANDIDATES SEPARATE FOR BAPTISM .—Fol­lowing their acceptance into church member­ship, pending baptism, the candidates proceed to their dressing rooms as the congregation joins them in singing:

"Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;

I want Thee forever to live in my soul;

Break down every idol, cast out every foe;

Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

Attention should be given to keeping the in­terest level up for the audience during the short gap of time caused by the dressing of the min­ister and candidates. We customarily receive the offering at this time, and have special music provided for these few minutes of otherwise tiresome waiting. The church elder and choris­ter continue to lead out in the prearranged pro­gram, to fill the time gap, while the minister changes into a convenient robe, waders, or whatever he uses.

Some prefer instrumental music to cover up the silent spots and the dripping of water. Oth­ers use congregational singing. These proce­dures give opportunity to arrange the candi­dates with ease. The new brother or sister thus has a few moments to gain his poise before the baptismal prayer.

PREARRANGED LINE OF ORDER.—Thought- has previously been given to the order in which the participants are to enter. "Ladies first" is a good plan to follow, for they seem to require longer to dress, thus the re-entry into the audi­torium can be kept in balance. When twins, or husband and wife, or other intimate ones of a family circle are taking the step, I usually plan for them to be in the baptistry together—the one standing by as the other is baptized. A little Christian consideration is fitting when planning the order of entry to avoid wounding anyone by leaving a sensitive one, or one of an­other race, until the last.

After the last one has been baptized, while the atmosphere is charged with the spirit of consecration, it is well to extend an invitation to any in the audience who wish to give their hearts to Christ and join the baptismal class with the view of taking the step also.

"Upon coming up out of the water, Jesus bowed in prayer on the riverbank. A new and important era was opening before Him."—The Desire of Ages, p. III. From the dressing rooms the two groups assemble in the front seats of the auditorium, and we then kneel in prayer. The elders extend the right hand of fellowship. All are encouraged to greet the new members following the close of the meet­ing, and the members delight in doing so.

"Blest be the tie that binds" is our closing hymn. Thus a delightful memory is born of that happy day when some rose to "walk in newness of life" and went on their "way rejoicing."

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By JOHN M. NERNESS, Superintendent Malayan Union Mission, Singapore

February 1947

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