The work of preparing a candidate for baptism is fraught with grave responsibilities for every minister and Bible instructor. Faithfulness or neglect in this work may determine the destiny of a soul for eternal life or eternal death. Therefore, how carefully and prayerfully should this delicate work be accomplished. As to the significance of this ordinance of baptism, I quote from volume 6 of the Testimonies:
"Christ has made baptism the sign of entrance to His spiritual kingdom. . . .
"Baptism is a most solemn renunciation of the world. Those who are baptized in the threefold name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, at the very entrance of their Christian life declare publicly that they have forsaken the service of Satan, and have become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King."—Page 91.
Preparation for baptism should begin with the first study, and should continue throughout the series of studies. Quoting again from volume 6: "The very first experience should be right."—Page 92. And this admonition is given on page 97: "There is need of more thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism." If this warning was applicable in 1882, surely it is more timely today, as we compare the spiritual condition of the world at that time with the present condition.
As students of prophecy we know that the forces of evil are rapidly marshaling their powers in the political, physical, and social world, and it logically follows that new members will have to meet the onslaughts of the enemy in ways which have hitherto been held in check. I refer to the many winds of false doctrine, various phases of spiritualistic manifestations, discriminations in industry, and persecution by the beast power and his image. Consequently, all members brought in now should be especially grounded in the truth. We are told in the Spirit of prophecy that new converts will have to learn in a few months what it formerly took them years to learn.
Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 3:13, 14 of every man's work being tried as by fire. May we so build that our work will abide the great tests of the closing days. Our commission is: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This shows that teaching precedes baptism, and embodies the foundation principles taught by Jesus Himself.
The first step in the preparation of a candidate for baptism is thorough conversion and surrender to the will of God. Since the days of creation God's supreme test has been obedience. The candidate should understand the foundation principles of the plan of salvation, have a real conviction of sin, and experience the joy of righteousness by faith. We, as workers, should know that the candidate has a real personal experience with the Lord. I quote again from the Testimonies: "None can depend upon their profession of faith as proof that they have a saving connection with Christ."—Vol. 6, p. 92.
In this basic work the teacher should pray with and for the candidates, teaching them how to exercise faith, how to grasp the promises of God, and how to study their Bibles. Here is where many of the nominal churches fail, especially with young people. They accept the desire to live a better life and to follow the Lord, in place of a full surrender and true conversion. Then, it is immediately announced that the person is "saved." He is next urged to join a church, but this only leaves him in a confused state of mind with no real experience as an anchor. Let us not make the mistake of the popular churches.
Teaching Basic Denominational Beliefs
The second step is that of teaching doctrine. There are certain fundamental principles of Bible truths which are recognized by us to be the basic beliefs of our denomination. That the candidates should understand, accept, and become rooted in these truths is the great objective of the Bible instructor. Seventh-day Adventists should be able to give a reason for the hope that is within them, so that they know our doctrines and know -why they know them.
Methods and devices used in presenting the various subjects are the test of our teaching ability. These doctrines must be lived out in the life so as to register in a practical way in the mind of the pupil. It is not enough to believe in the Trinity, or the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead, and His part in creation; we must also know the Spirit's convicting and indwelling power. It is not enough to know that the seventh day is the Sabbath, but we must also know how to keep it so as to receive a spiritual blessing. These subjects must be emphasized and crystallized by repetition in the mind of the reader.
One of the most important studies to be understood by the candidate for baptism is the two laws—what was nailed to the cross, and why. It is on this point that opposing ministers do their utmost to confuse those who wish to know the truth. These laws should be studied separately and then reviewed until they are clearly defined. They will then become a strong bulwark against lawbreaking, as well as a wall of protection to the new believer.
Then, there is the Spirit of prophecy—the greatest of gifts bestowed upon the church. This study, properly given, identifies God's remnant church, confirms the law, and clarifies many points of truth. One who really accepts this truth seldom backslides from the message. Each added subject presented should be made plain, practical, and deeply spiritual.
I believe that it is best to deal with each candidate individually. When this is not feasible, because of a large interest, I would suggest class instruction for a group. If there is any real problem in a reader's mind, help him after class by discussing it thoroughly with him. If the minister himself takes the baptismal class, he will use his own methods, of course.
The work of preparing candidates brings grave responsibilities, yet the joy of winning a soul, who is now being fully prepared to die to the old life of sin and arise to walk in newness of life, compensates by far for all the time, toil, and anxiety involved. This is the joy of which Paul spoke when he wrote to his new converts in Thessalonica. (i Thess. 2:19, 20.) May this be the experience of each Bible instructor.