There is no more important event in the life of a Christian than when he is baptized into the body of Christ. And there is no set time or place for such a. service. We have conducted baptisms in rivers, lakes, the open sea, and at times, swimming pools. To meet an emergency, we have even used the bathtub in the candidate's home. The usual place for such a service, however, provided we have a church building with the right appointments, is in the church itself, either during the evangelistic meeting or as part of the worship service on Sabbath.
It is a service fraught with wonderful possibilities. When the atmosphere of true worship accompanies a baptismal scene, then there is real heart appeal to both the members and the prospective members.
If the baptism is held on Sabbath morning, the ordinance is more impressive if it comes as the climax to the preacher's brief message. We have sometimes heard an invitation given like this: "We are going to have a baptism and would like all who can to stay after the benediction." Then the meeting is dismissed, and after a brief song service, during which there is likely to be some confusion because most of the congregation goes home, the baptism takes place. Such apparent lack of planning is certainly regrettable. It gives the impression that the baptismal service is not important to the church. Is it not much more impressive to build the whole service around the baptism, stressing the joys and privileges of Christian fellowship and what it means to the church to have those newly come to the faith add their strength to the growing congregation? The candidate is thus made to feel the warmth and fellowship of the church to which he now belongs. And should not the whole congregation be enthusiastic about welcoming these new believers into their fellowship? In order to save time and make the service more convenient, some carry out the ordinance immediately before the Sabbath service begins. As the elders come onto the rostrum the curtain of the baptistry is drawn back, and there stand the candidate and the pastor already in the baptismal pool. After a few words of introduction the ordinance is administered. Then while the opening exercises of the worship service proceed, the pastor and the candidates change their attire and return to the auditorium in time for the pastor to receive the candidates into church fellowship and then preach the sermon. The strange feature about such an order is that the candidate is usually examined after he has been baptized. It hardly seems consistent to ask a convert
whether he believes in baptism by immersion when he has already been immersed. Would it not be better to have the convert declare his belief in the message prior to his baptism?
Perhaps the week previous would be an appropriate time to emphasize the great fundamentals of the message, stressing too the importance of Christian fellowship, and conclude with the public examination of the candidates. The congregation could then be informed that it is planned to have the baptism the following Sabbath and that at that time the candidates will be taken into fellowship. The principles of the truth might well be emphasized on the first Sabbath, while the next Sabbath sermon could be devoted to a study of the privileges and responsibilities of church fellowship. The older members as well as the new believers need such counsel occasionally.
Then the church service could climax very beautifully by receiving these new ones into fellowship, subject to baptism. Then follow immediately with the ordinance. We are not suggesting this as the ideal arrangement, nor are we setting a new pattern for receiving ,new members, but inasmuch as quite a few of our ministers are following some such precedent, it may not be out of place to offer a few suggestions as to how such a plan can be made impressive and helpful to the whole church. In our recent Portland campaign most of the candidates were baptized at either the Friday or the Sunday night meetings. But the ordinance was usually administered prior to the evening sermon.
During the song service one of the ministers would step forward and in a few minutes explain the beauty and significance of baptism, and at the appropriate moment the curtain would be drawn and the candidates, who had been examined by their pastors and their respective boards, would then be led through the water. While the announcements were given and the offering was received, those who had been baptized had time to change and return to the auditorium for the message of the hour.
We felt it made for a smooth service, and those immersed were well-known to the congregations with which they were uniting. Generally the pas tors of the several churches in the area were the ones who led their candidates through baptism and into full membership in their respective churches. The right hand of fellowship was usually given at the next Sabbath service.
Whatever slight variations we may be led to make, let us be sure that the baptismal service is both impressive and inspiring. The Spirit of God draws very near on such occasions, and it is our privilege to encourage a spirit of true reverence, remembering the admonition, "Let all things be done decently and in order."