BAPTISM is often thought of as the "sealing" of a person to the church, and the baptismal service itself is considered merely a formal act to be held in conjunction with a worship service. But in Brazil we have learned it can be so much more than that.
The baptismal services I have observed in those areas of South America where I have been in my few years of service here have been a tremendous inspiration to me. Some may feel that it could never work in our more "sophisticated" fields, but I'm not so sure. Undoubtedly, with a little adaptation it could work almost anywhere.
Rarely is a baptismal service conducted on Sabbath morning during a worship service here. It is too important to relegate to one little corner of the sermon hour. Most commonly it is featured on a Sabbath afternoon or evening.
The coming baptismal service will be announced to the church members at least one week ahead of time, and they are instructed to be sure to tell their friends of this most important event. On the morning of the big day the members will receive several copies of a printed announcement to distribute to their friends and to others interested in our message. The baptismal candidates them selves are instructed to make sure that all their friends and loved ones come to the service.
After lunch they take handbills and invite others to come and see our Adventist baptismal service. Of course, in these predominantly Catholic lands, baptism by immersion is somewhat of a novelty.
By the time of the baptismal service the church is packed and many times there is standing room only. Many of those present are merely curious people setting their feet in an Adventist church for the first time. Many others are interested people whose interest has grown out of participation in the church's branch Sabbath schools, Bible classes, and other outreach activities.
Generally the service begins without a congregational hymn, as this would seem strange to our Catholic friends. A simple welcome is given by the pastor. The baptismal candidates are seated at the front. The pastor then presents a fifteen to twenty-minute evangelistic-type sermon on the necessity of the new birth and baptism by immersion. Often this is illustrated with slides.
When the time comes for baptismal vows, the candidates take the vows and file out to prepare for baptism. The pastor usually performs the baptism in a full suit (wash and wear) rather than a robe. This makes it possible for him to go directly to the baptistry from the pulpit.
As the curtains of the baptistry open, the pastor is seen standing alone and offers a prayer of consecration for the baptismal service. As each candidate steps down into the baptistry an elder or associate pastor reads the person's name and a text of Scripture. After all have been baptized, the pastor offers a prayer of blessing for them and the curtain is closed.
While the pastor and those baptized are getting dressed, slides and special music are presented. Soon the new church members file once more into the sanctuary and the pastor takes his place on the platform.
Now comes the interesting and unusual part, the awarding of the baptismal certificates. One by one the newly baptized members are called forward and given their certificates. As this is done the pastor interviews each one concerning how he came into the church. He asks whether there is someone present in the congregation responsible for his conversion or interest in the church. The person named comes forward to congratulate his friend. The relatives of the candidate, whether or not they are Adventists, are also invited to come forward and congratulate their loved one. In typical Latin-American fashion the new members are welcomed into the church with tears and embraces. Many times an unbelieving husband will be there "congratulating" his wife, even though he didn't realize that by coming to the service he would be requested to come forward and do so. A profound impression is made on him. Hearts are melted throughout the congregation as this whole process is repeated with each new believer.
There is just one thing left—the call. After all are back to their seats the pastor takes the pulpit for a few parting words. He refers once again to the necessity of Bible baptism. The people have just seen such a service take place and have been moved by the witness of their loved ones. Now their hearts are open and ready to respond to a call, even though for many it is their first time in one of our churches.
As the pastor makes his appeal many, perhaps dozens, come for ward and crowd around the pulpit. After a consecration prayer they are asked to remain at the front. Their names are taken and they are soon involved in Bible classes or individual studies. They have not made a decision for the Sabbath or anything else, just for baptism, but of course in preparation for that they will discover the other points of our faith.
There is one thing for sure about this approach. Baptisms are held frequently, in some churches once a month, and as our members support and attend these baptisms and use them as a means of cultivating interest among their relatives and friends, a certain snowballing effect occurs. As a result the pastor and Bible worker are never without interested people. By bringing the public to the baptismal service many are won to the truth who might otherwise never have been led to make such a decision.