Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

We are living in a world that is continuously fragmenting. More and more, men and organizations want to set their own rules and go their own way. The results are evident in the lawlessness and lack of unity that is seen in virtually every area of human behavior.

Unfortunately, this spirit is making inroads in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the resulting confusion and perplexity are having serious effects upon the church and its ministry to its people and to the world. We do not believe that this is in keeping with the spirit of Christ's prayer for unity, nor in the best interests of the work of the world church.

To protect us against such disunity and fragmentation the Lord has blessed this movement with inspired counsel in both the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy. We have also been blessed with an exceptionally fine organization, which is the result of divine guidance. Another valuable and vital aid in the ministry of the church is the Church Manual, which has been produced by the world church after much study of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. The Church Manual is the guidebook for our practices and patterns in all of our church activities. The principles outlined there represent the thinking of the world church and no one should feel at liberty to disregard them.

The Ministerial Association recommends the following guidelines regarding baptism and church membership. They are designed to help bring us to a uniformity of understanding and practice in this matter and aid us in keeping the church together in these days when so much is expected and so many dangers of serious fragmentation exist. Their appeal is that all our workers bring their practices into line with the guidelines outlined below. They urge all ministers to become thoroughly acquainted with the Church Manual and suggest that conference presidents take time in workers' meetings to study and discuss the Church Manual and the working policies of the church.

Guidelines on Baptism and Church Membership

1. Ministers and Elders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are to work in harmony with the church policy enunciated in the Church Manual.

2. In the interest of the unity of the church for which Christ prayed (John 14), we should conduct our evangelism in harmony with the procedures and principles recognized and authorized by the Church Manual.

3. On the basis of the teachings of the New Testament and the Spirit of Prophecy, the church has long required that candidates for baptism and church membership be fully instructed in the truth of Jesus Christ as entrusted to the remnant church. This kind of instruction leads to full repentance and confession of sin and to saving faith in the blood of Jesus Christ together with acceptance of the commandments of God as an evidence of the genuineness of conversion and a recognition of the obligations being assumed in entering the ranks of the remnant church. It has also been a means of helping the new convert to give a reason for the hope that is in him.

In New Testament times, although the Philippian jailer and the Ethiopian eunuch seemed to have little preparation time for baptism (and examples of a sustained period of instruction before baptism are not in evidence in the New Testament), it should be recognized that the book of Acts makes no pretense of being a detailed accounting of earliest church history, and that the parallel between the New Testament world and ours in 2001 is by no means exact. The "wine of Babylon" has been drunk by the world and the church in the interim, and a host of evil practices has invaded the Christian world. Hence the greater involvement of the "everlasting gospel" in its "last day" form (Rev. 14), and the necessity for clear-cut evidence of a marked separation of the baptismal candidate from the old life.

It should be noted also that there is neither theological nor exegetical support in Matthew 28:19,20 for the idea that baptism should precede teaching. The going, the baptizing, and the teaching are all in the present continuous tense, so that al three are involved in the process of the gospel imperative, "disciple ye all the nations." How can the church "disciple" (teach, K.J.V.) Without the teaching process? The baptizing and the teaching are alike involved in the process of "discipling."

If baptism symbolizes the death and burial of the old life, and the rising to walk in a new life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:1-23), then there cannot be any insincere or incomplete laying aside of things of the world just for the time of a baptism. Death to the life of sin and worldliness must precede the burial! (See SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075).

"Only when the Church is composed of pure, unselfish members, can it fulfill God's purpose. Too much hasty work is done in adding names to the church roll. Serious defects are seen in the characters of some who join the church. Those who admit them say, We will first get them into the church, and then reform them. But this is a mistake. The very first work to be done is the work of reform. Pray with them, talk with them, but do not allow them to unite with God's people in church relationship until they give decided evidence that the Spirit of God is working on their hearts" (Review & Herald, May 21,1901.

4. A Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes that baptism represents an experience of death to the old life in the world, and that the candidates need to have opportunity to adjust their occupations, life-style, habits and practices, before being buried in the waters of baptism, so that they can be readily recognized as Seventh-day Adventists by those who know them.

5. He gains for his converts the acceptance, the loving ministry and support of the pastors, church officers and members, by integrating them in his soul-winning endeavors and by gaining the right hand of fellowship for these new converts by the church they will attend, since it is they and not the evangelist who have the right to give or to withhold membership.

"The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. Many, so many, who assume the name of Christ are unsanctified and unholy. They have been baptized, but they were buried alive. Self did not die, and therefore they did not rise to newness of life in Christ" (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1075).

"Baptism is a most solemn renunciation of the world. Self is by profession dead to a life of sin. The waters cover the candidate, and in the presence of the whole heavenly universe the mutual pledge is made. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, man is laid in his watery grave, buried with Christ in baptism, and raised from the water to live the new life of loyalty to God. The three great powers in heaven are witnesses; they are invisible but present" (Ibid., p. 1074).

See 2 Cor. 6:17, 18; Col. 3:1-11.

6. He recognizes the New Testament teaching that Christ is the Head of the church, that the church is His body (1 Cor. 12:12, 27; Eph. 1:22, 23; 5:23; Col. 1;18), and that there is therefore no basis for making a distinction or separating in point of time, entrance into church membership from the event of baptism, and that he thus bring his baptismal-church membership practices into harmony with the position and practice of the world-wide church. "Very close and sacred is the relation between Christ and His church He the bridegroom, and the church the bride; He the head, and the church the body. Connection with Christ, then, involves connection with His church" (Education, p. 268). (See also Evangelism, p. 318.)

7. He clearly and boldly instructs his baptismal candidates that they are entering the fellowship of the Seventh-day Adventist church, called of God to give His final warning message to the world and to gather out a people as a living demonstration of the fulness of His grace and truth, and that there are definite standards, requirements, sacrifices involved: "The test of discipleship is not brought to bear as closely as it should be upon those who present themselves for baptism. It should be understood whether they are simply taking the name of Seventh-day Adventists, or whether they are taking their stand on the Lord's side, to come out from the world and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing. Before baptism there should be a thorough inquiry as to the experience of the candidates. Let this inquiry be made, not in a cold and distant way, but kindly, tenderly, pointing the new converts to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Bring the requirements of the gospel to bear upon the candidates for baptism.

"One of the points upon which those newly come to the faith will need instruction is the subject of dress. Let the new converts be faithfully dealt with. Are they vain in dress? Do they cherish pride of heart? The idolatry of dress is a moral disease. It must not be taken over into the new life. In most cases, submission to the gospel requirements will demand a decided change in the dress.

"There should be no carelessness in dress. For Christ's sake, whose witnesses we are, we should seek to make the best of our appearance. In the tabernacle service, God specified every detail concerning the garments of those who minister before Him. Thus we are taught that He has a preference in regard to the dress of those who serve Him. Very specific were the directions given in regard to Aaron's robes, for his dress was symbolic. In all things we are to be representatives of Him. Our appearance in every respect should be characterized by neatness, modesty, and purity. But the word of God gives no sanction to the making of changes in apparel merely for the sake of fashion, that we may appear like the world. Christians are not to decorate the person with costly array or expensive ornaments.

"The words of Scripture in regard to dress should be carefully considered. We need to understand that which the Lord of heaven appreciates. In even the dressing of the body. All who are in earnest in seeking for the grace of Christ will heed the precious words of instruction inspired by God. Even the style of the apparel will express the truth of the gospel.

"All who study the life of Christ and practice His teachings will become like Christ. Their influence will be like His. They will reveal soundness of character. As they walk in the humble path of obedience, doing the will of God, they exert an influence that tells for the advancement of the cause of God, and the healthful purity of his work In these thoroughly converted souls the world is to have a witness to the sanctifying power of truth upon the human character.

"The knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, expressed in character, is an exaltation above everything that is esteemed in earth or in heaven. It is the very highest education. It is the key that opens the portals of the heavenly city. This knowledge it is God's purpose that all who put on Christ by baptism shall possess. And it is the duty of God's servants to set before these souls the privilege of their high calling in Christ Jesus" (Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 95-97).

8. In his presentation of salvation by grace alone he is careful not to create confusion regarding the call of God for obedience to His laws, since restoration of man to full harmony with the laws of God (love in action) is the specific and primary goal of the cross and all that it stands for.

9. He recognizes the power and influence of his example, whether as a pastor, as an evangelist, as an evangelist team leader, or as a field school evangelism director. This responsibility leads him to give complete cooperation to the conference administrators in whose fields he labors, and the policies and principles enunciated in the Church Manual.

10. The Seventh-day Adventists recognizes that the Church Manual is the result of the united wisdom and experience of the world church through study of the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy counsels. He thus acts in harmony with the Manual and should he have any matters which he believes merit the attention of the Manual Committee, he makes such known through his local conference administration. Since revisions can only be approved by a General Conference session, he recognizes that revisions of the Manual are only made after due study by the church-at-large.