The level of commitment of the future generations to the Adventist message is being decided largely by the way we prepare new converts for baptism. As many pre-natal influences leave their traces on the child after his or her birth, so the pre-baptismal preparation affects decisively the spiritual identity of the new church members and, consequently, the identity of the church itself.1

If "the accession of members who have not been renewed in heart and reformed in life is a source of weakness to the church," 2 then "the time to instruct converts thoroughly is before their baptism," when they are still "eager to learn, and the fires of their first love are burning brightly on the altar of their hearts." 3 But what is involved in a thorough preparation for baptism?

It is not always possible to generalize the actual content of the pre-baptismal Bible-study series to be given, because converts might come from different professional, social-cultural, and religious backgrounds. But, despite these variants, there are three main religious areas the new converts should become familiar with before baptism.


The first of these areas is the theoretical-experiential knowledge of the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, which leads the person to a genuine experience of personal conversion. This is a foundational aspect of all Bible study series, specially because of its priority over all the other topics. Christ himself stated that eternal life consists in personal knowledge of the Godhead (John 17:3; cf. Hos 6:3). For this reason Ellen White insists that "the very first and most important thing" of all Biblestudy series "is to melt and subdue the soul by presenting our Lord Jesus Christ as the sin-pardoning Saviour." 4

As soon as possible, the new converts should become acquainted with the true Biblical concept of salvation, because among Christian in general (and even among Evangelicals) it proliferates a false dichotomy between salvation in the New Testament (by grace) and in the Old Testament (by works). We should, therefore, explain that the sinners of both the Old and the New Testaments were always saved by grace (Eph 4:8), justified by faith (Rom. 5:1), and judged by works (Rev 20:13), for it is impossible that sometime sinners could have been saved by their own merits.

The plan of salvation should be presented in a contextualistic way, as flowing through the unfolding sanctuary motif, which (1) started with the patriarchal altars; (2) continued with the Mosaic tabernacle and the temple of Jerusalem; and (3) culminates with Christ's death on the cross, His priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and His glorious and mighty second coming for the final salvation of His children.

After understanding this broad view of the plan of salvation, the new converts should be made conscious of the fact that all this becomes effective to them personally (f. 2 Cor 5:18-20) only if they repent from their own sins (Acts 2:38) and accept Christ's vicarious death (John 3:16) and His priestly ministry (Heb 4:14-16). Those who give Bible studies might significantly help new converts in making their surrender to Christ.

But at this point the crucial question arises: Are the understanding of the plan of salvation and personal surrender to Christ the only real conditions for baptism?


Some experiences of the New Testament (see Acts 2:1-41; 8:26-38; 9:1-18; 10:1-48; 16:13-15, 19-33; 18:8; 19:1-5) seem to suggest that, apparently, the only condition for a person to be baptized is to believe in Christ. This could be the case, if we were living in the days of the apostles and our mission was to preach to the Jews of that time or to people already acquainted with the teachings of Judaism. In this case, our basic mission would be restricted to lead people to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.

We should not forget, however, that times have changed significantly, and that within the religious (and even Christian) mosaic of our days new converts have "much to learn and much to unlearn, all of which takes time." 5 If we believe that post-apostolic Christianity went through a deep process of apostasy which extends itself until our days (cf. Dan 8:9-12; 2 Thess 2:1-12), then we need also to reverse that process in order for us to return to the pure faith of early Christianity.

We should demonstrate: (1) how the power of the little horn cast down the system of truths connected to the heavenly sanctuary (Dan 8:9-12; 7:25); (2) how that system would be restored at the end of the 2300 evenings and mornings (Dan 8:13-14), through the proclamation of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12; and (3) how the Seventh-day Adventist movement came into existence at that specific time to restore the truths of Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, the perpetuity of God's Law and the seventh-day Sabbath, the personal and visible second coming of Christ, the conditional immortality of the soul, the abiding gift of prophecy, etc.6

The various doctrinal components of our message should be always presented in a Christ-centered way; because, according to Ellen White "every true doctrine makes Christ the center, every precept receives force from His words." 7 And more, "of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world." 8 We should, therefore, proclaim enthusiastically to the world our broad vision of what Christ did (at the cross), is doing (in the heavenly sanctuary), and will still do (at His Second Coming) for our salvation.


There are also those who deny the social influence of religion by claiming, in a dichotomous and one-sided way, that what matters is only the inside person and not the outside. This theory, however, is clearly rejected by Christ when He stated that Christians are not only "the salt of the earth" (Matt 5:13) but also "the light of the world" (Matt 5:14-16), and that true religion is recognized by its "fruits" (Matt 7:15-23; John 15:1-5).

As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe that the human being is an indivisible whole, and that inside religion reflects itself on the outside. This means that we also have to teach the new converts the biblical principles of the Adventist lifestyle. They should understand clearly that a people who profess to be living now "in the great day of atonement," 9 preparing themselves to the soon return of Christ, need to live in accordance to the faith they profess. Such a people will never ask: "What is the least we need to do in order to be saved?", but rather: "What is the best way to serve Christ?"

The presentation of the Adventist principles of lifestyle should include devotional habits, health reform, stewardship, dressing and adornments, as well as the many aspects of the social behavior of a Christian. If "every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary,"10 then we should also teach the new converts to start witnessing of their faith prior to baptism. It is very important that we explain to them that our church is not a monastery of saints who are already perfect, but rather a "spiritual hospital," where all need to be helped (cf. Phil 3:12).

R. A. Anderson comments that "accepting the light on such points of faith as health reform or systematic giving or the divine gift of prophecy" is easy for people who are preparing themselves for baptism. But, "if these and other features of the message have to be discovered afterward, it is not to be wondered at that confidence begins to break down and the fires of that first love begin to die. All have doubtless known of some who have lost their way and given up the message simply because at the time they were brought into the church some of these things were not made clear." 11


To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ does not mean only to profess His name, but also to accept His will in our lives (see Matt 7:21), in a deep spiritual experience which reflects itself outside. All genuine acceptance of Christ as a personal Savior leads to the spontaneous question: "Lord, what do You want me to do?

If we instruct our new converts only in one of the areas mentioned above, we are not only partial with them but we are also distorting the all-embracing nature of our message. If we present them only a Christ without doctrines, we are promoting pluralism, a certain kind of internal ecumenism which destroys the identity of any denomination. If, on the other hand, our Bible studies propagate the doctrines without Christ, we are spreading legalism, which steals from the message its sanctifying power. If, lastly, we proclaim a lifestyle which does not derive from an inside true spiritual experience, we are stimulating formalism, which characterized Pharisaism of the days of Jesus (cf. Matt 23).

An adequate preparation for baptism, which (1) leads to a conversion experience, (2) provides the basic doctrinal knowledge, and (3) fosters the living of our distinctive lifestyle, does not necessarily enlarge the preparation process, but it might involve a change of methodology that restores our true prophetic-Adventist identity. If we want our Church to preserve her denominational identity, we need to invest in an adequate preparation of the new generations who are joining our congregations.

1 The influence of pre-baptismal preparation upon new church members is considered in more detail by Roy Allan Anderson in the chapter "Preparing Converts for Church Membership" of his book entitled The Shepherd-Evangelist: His Life, Ministry, and Reward (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1950), 257-274.

2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), vol. 5, p. 172.

3 Anderson, p. 257, italics in the original.

4 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, pp. 53-54.

5 Anderson, p. 258, italics supplied.

6 For a more detailed study of the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal system, see Alberto R. Timm, "The Sanctuary and the Three Angels' Messages, 1844-1863: Integrating Factors in the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines" (Ph.D. diss., Andrews University, 1995).

7 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p.54.

8 Idem, Gospel Workers, rev. and enl. ed. (Washington, DC: Review & Herald, 1948),p.l56.

9 Idem, The Great Controversy (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1950), p. 489.

10 Idem, The Desire of Ages (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1940), p. 195, italics supplied.

11 Anderson, p. 258.

Alberto Ronald Timm, Ph.D., writes from Brazil. He is the Director of the Brazilian Ellen G. White Research Center and professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Brazil College.