WE HAVE all heard many times from the lips of those who attend our meetings the words: "I know this is the right church—and I'm going to join it someday . . ." All about us God's Spirit is convicting the hearts of men and women as they listen to the message for this hour. "In every congregation there are souls who are hesitating, almost decided to be wholly for God."—Gospel Workers, p. 151. Often these souls will make their decision to take their stand on the side of right after attending only one or two services. They know that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, and that this church is preaching truth. The convicting power of the Spirit impresses them to act. The next step is their preparation for baptism. How can this best be done? Is there one way that is better than another?
We would all readily agree that an ideal situation is to have everyone who will be baptized attend every service and hear all the message. But the ideal is not often realized. Very often the bulk of decisions are realized during the last week of the meeting; often during the last few nights. Many persons who decide for truth have attended only a portion of the services and have heard only a part of truth. But even those who have attended all the meetings have but heard the message, without an opportunity to ask the questions that come to them at the time of presentation. They still have many unanswered questions. Visitation in the home is most important and will help to clear up many questions with this group.
The book Evangelism gives us much instruction regarding the thoroughness that ought to characterize our work. On pages 319 to 326 many statements appear that tell us to "bind off your work thoroughly," and "those who accept the truth are to be fully instructed." Our work is not completed after the preaching of the truth; we must be sure the people understand all the fundamental truths so that the minister who follows us will find a people who are well grounded.
It might again be said that there is no one certain way that the work must be done. For those who are looking for one way to do the work, this article may be of help.
One of the agencies that can be employed to facilitate the thoroughness desired is the baptismal class. This class is made up of those who have taken their public stand during the time of the public meeting, indicating their belief in this message as truth and desiring to be a part of its membership. On the last night of the crusade (this would refer more specifically to the short, intensive meeting) the entire group who have taken their public stand during the past few nights are called forward. A time and place are selected and announced at this time for the conducting of this class. The church membership is invited to attend, with special emphasis given to have the church board members present. It is understood that the discussion and questions will be directed to the baptismal candidates.
The class should begin immediately after the closing night of the campaign. This is a distinct and separate phase of the evangelistic campaign. At the time of the first class period a new, inexpensive Bible should be given to each of the baptismal candidates. This allows each class member to find the verses of Scripture by announcing the page number along with the text.
There are several booklets that can be used in preparing the candidates. The writer has compiled a booklet entitled A Baptismal Guide to Membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is not an exhaustive study but serves as a guide in presenting each of the doctrines in a short, concise way. All the doctrines are conveniently grouped in sections, giving the most pertinent texts with the seed thought for each text, so that the doctrine can be substantiated from the Bible and clearly seen to be a part of truth. The booklet, divided into eight sections, can easily be completed in as many nights. It later serves as a ready reference to the newly baptized member when questioned on his new-found faith.
On the opening night of the class each one is asked to write his name on the cover of his Guide. At the close of the class period, which should not last more than one and one-half hours, the booklets are collected. On the next night the booklets are redistributed. The booklets that are not handed out indicate the absent class members. After the class, these named booklets are given to the members of the evangelistic company, who visit the persons concerned the next day, bringing them up to date. Thus the whole class can move forward together.
The baptismal class is not another preaching service. It must be an informal discussion period in which the class members feel free to ask questions that may come to mind. The class begins and ends with prayer, without time taken for music, et cetera. After each section is completed, it is ascertained whether or not the subject is fully clear. Free discussion of any question is promoted. At the time of the last class period provision is made to record their decision for baptism under the section entitled "A Record of My Decision." This records the time of their public stand, the completion of the baptismal class, the date of their baptism, et cetera. This class period could conveniently come on Wednesday night. If the crusade ended on Saturday night, the first class could be on Monday night, with classes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday could be used, especially for those who work during the day, for Sabbath preparation. The next class would come on Friday night. No class on Sabbath night, but a resumption on Sunday running through Wednesday night. This gives eight nights of instruction, leaving Thursday and Friday of the second week to visit those who still may have problems. This would make it possible for the entire class to be baptized on the following Sabbath morning.
Some Questions Answered
Someone might ask: "Why not just visit the prospects in their homes?" This can be done with a great measure of success. But if you are to prepare forty people for baptism, it would mean forty visits every day as compared to one. There will be those with special problems plus those who were absent from the class who will have to be visited, but these will be in the minority. The class also provides the opportunity for class discussion where one can find help in the experience of another. A feeling of "belonging" is more readily experienced by the class members in this atmosphere.
"Why not have the class in conjunction with the public service?" This can, and is being done. But if the class is conducted in an easy, relaxed, informal style, time will not permit conducting both services on the same night. If just fifteen or twenty minutes are taken for the class, it hardly gives time for discussion of the many questions that arise. Or else the candidates feel time will not allow their questions and so do not ask any. We want to prepare and baptize the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time without anyone feeling rushed. This plan more nearly allows for that.
"Why ask the church members and the church board to attend?" For two reasons: First, it will strengthen the. church membership to hear the fundamentals of the truth discussed in all of its fullness, presented in such simplicity that even the "babes" will understand. Many who have not had full preparation will find in these classes the sure and certain reason for their belief. Second, the church board will not have any questions as to the readiness of those presenting themselves for baptism. Thus the Sabbath morning examination can be eliminated.
In conclusion it might be said that the "short campaign" need not be a "fast campaign." It need not be a slipshod program that results in a high mortality rate a few weeks after the public meetings are over. With one week allowed for church revival, two weeks (or three) for the public presentation, and two weeks for the baptismal class, full instruction can be given and the mortality rate will drop and in many instances be almost nonexistent. A foundation is laid upon which the new member can build a strong Christian character.
(Materials mentioned in this article are available from the author.)