Said Paul, "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." What a sense of satisfaction it must have been to the great apostle to realize that while bidding farewell to those for whom he had labored, he could do so with a clear conscience! No fundamentals of faith had been left untouched; no testing truths were left for others to present.
That kind of evangelism that appears afraid to declare the whole counsel of God, or that of necessity has to hurry off to another field before the people have been thoroughly instructed, leaves behind it a trail of grief. The time to instruct converts thoroughly is before their baptism. At that time they are eager to learn, and in the fire of their first love are already making all kinds of spiritual and social adjustments. Yes, that is the time, of all times.
Accepting the light on health reform, or systematic giving, or recognizing the divine gift of prophecy to this people, is easy then; whereas, if these and other features of the message have to be discovered afterward, as is far too frequently the case, then it is not to be wondered at that confidence begins to break down, and the fire of first love begins to die. We have doubtless all known of some who have given up the truth and lost their way, simply because at the time they were brought in some things were not made clear.
The tendency to hurry people into decisions always makes for weak work. Building up a baptismal report is not a worker's only responsibility. He must build up the church of God; and he can do that only as he builds into its members confidence in the truth, in the organization and leadership of the movement, in the church's worldwide program of evangelism, and in the principles of sanctification and holy living.
It takes time to make an Adventist. There is not only much' to learn but also much to unlearn. And that takes time. Nor can it all be successfully accomplished in classes, for there are always individual problems that need careful counsel and prayer: We enter the kingdom of God through the new birth, and that must be an individual experience. The great weakness of certain types of "high pressure evangelism" is that in far too many cases folk are hurried into church membership. We might call them spiritually premature births. In the effort to get a report in at a certain time, the needs of the individual are often overlooked or ignored. Better far to give people opportunity to grow in grace and knowledge, even if it means delaying their baptism a while.
To change one's nationality requires time. Great care is exercised by the responsible authorities to discover both the knowledge and the attitude of the party presenting himself for citizenship in a new country. Can it be that in this as in other things "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light"? If we were more thorough, we would have far fewer losses. However, it must not be imagined that lack of instruction on the part of the evangelist is the greatest cause of apostasy from our ranks. Far from it! There are other causes which we should face candidly—causes which can and must be removed. But a more thorough work must be done in our preparation of candidates.
The following plan has been found helpful. Having covered rather fully each feature of the message in the preparatory classes, at least two weeks before the baptismal service the evangelist should place a baptismal certificate in the hand of each candidate, asking him to renew the fundamentals of our faith as outlined on the inside pages. (This certificate was prepared by a committee appointed at the 1941 General Conference session and adopted at the following Autumn Council.) Then a day or two before the baptismal service visit all the candidates either separately or in families. Give them opportunity to ask questions, but be sure that- their confidence is established in the majesty of truth and the message they are embracing. At the same time help them to discern the deeply spiritual implications of the ordinance itself. This latter feature is most important, for baptism is more than an ordinance. It can be, and should be, a mighty experience. This final, brief visit means much to the candidate. Not only does it give opportunity to make clear any minor point of doctrine, but it helps him to prepare himself to claim the power of the Holy Spirit as he rises to walk in newness of life.
We have been both surprised and gratified at times to discover that the baptismal certificate had been accepted as a kind of catechism, and that the candidate has memorized the whole summary of belief including all the Scripture references, and sometimes even the entire wording of the texts. Especially is this the case if he comes to us from one of the older, established churches. Folks who come into church fellowship out of that kind of background usually come to stay. Of course, there will always be a Demas or a Judas somewhere, but these will be few and far between if we are more careful and prayerful in our preparation of those to whom we extend the right hand of fellowship.
In one city in an overseas division, where for a few months we had been conducting an evangelistic effort, baptizing almost two hundred, it was necessary because of other responsibilities for us to leave our, work while the interest was at its height. This was far from ideal, but there was no other way out. So laying before this large group the responsibilities of faithfulness, and laying on the hearts of the four or five churches in that city the challenge of the care of these babes in the truth, we committed them to the Lord and took our departure.
That was years ago, and we have never seen those dear folk since, but we were gratified to learn from an unsolicited report sent us three years later by one of the leaders there, that after a thorough investigation, in company with the local workers, they had discovered that out of the 193 baptized, 186 were still rejoicing in the truth, faithfully supporting the cause of God by their tithes and offerings, and joyfully giving of their service. In fact, i8o of them had that very year raised their Ingathering goal through public solicitation. This leader, in sending the report, said that he felt "it would cheer our hearts." It did. It always cheers the heart of the worker to learn that those he led into the waters of baptism are continuing to walk in newness of life and going on to perfection.
"Ye are our epistle," wrote the missionary-evangelist to the Corinthian church. And to them as verily as to the elders of Ephesus, he could say, "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God." Acts 20:27. It is not the number appearing on the conference report, but the number that stand with us at last on the sea of glass that will be the true measure of our success.
There is a certain type of conference administration which virtually demands so many converts for so much financial investment, or even worse, requires that the evangelistic effort be consummated within a specified time, and that results be commensurate with those of some other field or some other evangelist. But this is bound to react unfavorably in the end. Such administration encourages the workers to be superficial in their endeavors. The tendency is to force feed these new converts in order to make a favorable showing. But brethren, that kind of work makes us guilty of the charge of trafficking in souls.
As conference leaders, evangelists, Bible instructors, and church elders, we must all face facts together. Too often a spirit of competition or rivalry is engendered. That is a weak position on which to build a successful work. We are not competing with each other, but we are all competing together with the enemy of our souls. And as an army we must move forward together, determined by God's grace to capture as many prisoners for the Lord as we can. If some other soldier of Christ gets more than we do, then think God. That is a time when we should "rejoice with them that do rejoice." No, we are not competitors. We are a fellowship. Competition breaks the spirit of fellowship. Without fellowship the very existence of the church is imperiled. We are laborers together, building together, fighting together. Our work is one. Paul may plant, Apollos may water, but only God can give the increase. And unless God does give the increase, our fruit will not remain or redound to His glory.
A powerful preacher and a persuasive soul winner in the city of London was riding in a streetcar some years ago when a poor, unfortunate fellow, much the worse for drink, recognized him and came over to occupy the seat next to him. He was talkative, and sbon all the other passengers were listening to his loud and somewhat disjointed conversation. It was embarrassing, for the preacher was well known to the public. Noticing his reticence to reply, the inebriate said, "Don't you know me? I'm one of your converts." That was more embarrassing still. But the preacher, with a heavy heart replied, "I think you must be one of ray converts. Alas, there are all too many ! Would God you were a real convert to the Lord Jesus, and you would not be in this state." Then he began to labor with the poor fellow, endeavoring to bring him into captivity to Christ.
If we would have our converts stand at last in the presence of God, we must prepare them now. If they would, with the church, stand through the last great conflict, they must not only know their Bibles but also know their Lord. They must let His grace mold their lives. Preparing converts for church membership is a work both joyous and solemn. This God-given task demands a thorough consecration of ministers and lay leaders alike.
The church has a right to expect much from its leaders. Our lives must become saturated with the Word of God and permeated with prayer. Well may we cry out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But, with the apostle we can answer, "Our sufficiency is of God," in whose name we must declare His whole counsel to the whole church.
R. A. A.