At one time I overheard several of our members discussing the work of a certain prominent evangelist. They were speaking of his methods of preparing his converts for baptism and of performing the ceremony. One of these persons said, "I don't feel Evangelist ___________ is careful enough in instructing his converts before baptism about our beliefs and doctrines."
"No," the other replied ; "on the day of baptism some of the men take a last puff at their cigarette, and flip it away just before entering the baptistry."
Personally I find it hard to believe this. Surely no Seventh-day Adventist minister could do thus and not feel an overwhelming condemnation resting upon his shoulders. However, if it was true of this particular evangelist,. it may be one reason why he is not preaching the message today.
There are many methods and ways of preparing candidates for baptism. We might well consider several observations.
Thoroughness of preparation.—Th is cannot be overemphasized. It may be that some of us, well acquainted with the doctrines, think we have covered the ground thoroughly enough when there are still many questions and doubts in the Convert's mind.
I have been in places and called upon new believers who through some misadventure knew little or nothing about the Spirit of prophecy, or our stand on rings, tithing, or kindred principles. Many times it brings discouragement, confusion, or embarrassment to these members.
Heart Conversion.—Thoroughness cannot be overlooked or overemphasized. Akin to thoroughness is true heart conversion. Wholehearted conversion goes a long way toward eliminating our tragic loss through apostasies.
Thoroughness in conversion must be accomplished through a complete presentation of the message from the platform, through the medium of the baptismal class, and of course by personal visitation, study, and prayer. Personal visitation and restudy of the doctrines will go a long way toward eliminating any remaining questions concerning any of the doctrines or wrong habits or former ideas pertaining to beliefs. This, to my way of thinking, is one of the most essential parts of preparing folks not only for baptism and entry into the church but also for a part in the eternal kingdom soon to come.
Another phase that should be mentioned is the precaution of inviting the local church elders to sit on the baptismal class, or meetings, where converts are studied with and prepared for baptism. In this way the elder is acquainted with the converts, and vice versa. The elder thus becomes acquainted with the various problems of the new believers. This precaution also saves any feelings local elders might harbor for not having an active part in establishing new members in his church.
Another highly important step is at the proper time to encourage prospective members to attend Sabbath school and church services. In this way, even before they are baptized they are acquainted with our message, they learn to feel that they are a part of the church, and they acquire the habit of attendance. In short, they are well established before they are ever baptized.
A method that I have found helpful is to have an early baptism in the tabernacle. If the evangelist and workers are in a new location a few weeks before the effort begins, they soon acquire names of some who may be already prepared for baptism. After checking with these people thoroughly, the evangelist will find 'some to be well acquainted with the message and ready for membership. And so I usually baptize such at one of the meetings, so that the interested folk attending the lectures may see a baptism. This makes a profound impression upon them and goes a long way toward breaking down barriers and helping them to make up their minds to take this sacred, solemn step.
A suggestion made by one of our union conference presidents is excellent—that of encouraging the "buddy-up" system among our church members, with reference to new members. That is, have older members take a definite interest in each new member, and be their "buddy," so to speak. Surely this has been a neglected work in too far many cases, but if carried on would greatly aid in eliminating the large number slipping out the back door.
Steel experts reported that when the twelve-ton bomber struck the Empire State Building in New York City, the impact was as great as if 450 seventy-five-millimeter shells had fired at the structure simultaneously at point blank range. Nevertheless the steel framework of the one-hundred-and-two-story building showed amazingly few signs of the tremendous shock, the American Institute of Steel Construction said, adding that the framing "eased itself only very slightly, as a prizefighter rolls with a blow."
One reason why this tallest building in the world could stand such a terrific shock is that its amazing substructure is well grounded. So it is with the Christian. If he has been well grounded in the doctrines of this message and has experienced true conversion, he is the more ready to withstand all the shocks and bumps and attacks of the enemy of mankind.
Surely the work of the minister, the evangelist, the Bible instructor, the layman, and the local elders and members of our church have a grave responsibility in preparing interested ones for baptism and entrance into our church and the kingdom of God.