One of the most important periods of Christian development is the time spent by a new convert in preparation for baptism. Baptism is the symbol of entrance into the family of God’s church. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).
“Baptism is a most solemn renunciation of the world. Those who are baptized in the threefold name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the very entrance of their Christian life declare publicly that they have forsaken the service of Satan and have become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 6, p. 91).
Right at the beginning of their Christian experience, those preparing for entrance into the church need careful attention and support. A person who has been well instructed in the baptismal class will have been given a good start toward living a happy and victorious Christian life.
Preparing candidates for baptism
Time of instruction. Time spent in preparation for baptism ought to be a time of instruction. Jesus urged his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, 20). Preparation for baptism is a time when the candidate is taught the truths of Scripture. The great themes of the Bible need to be clearly presented. Each should be taught in a simple manner so that the person finding his or her way to Christ can grasp their importance and accept them by faith (Acts 8:30-38).
1. The Fall and the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan
2. God’s plan of salvation
3. The Incarnation
4. The sinless, serving life of Jesus
5. His all-forgiving death on Calvary
6. His resurrection and atoning ministry in heaven
7. The distinctive Bible doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Because of heavy pastoral responsibilities, the pastor is often prevented from studying the Bible with every new believer. Elders and other church leaders who have teaching abilities may assist the pastor in this work by meeting with these people and bringing them to an understanding of Bible truth and of Christ’s demands on their lives.
Time of spiritual development. Early in their spiritual experience, new converts should be led through the steps of becoming children of God (Acts 2:37-41). The baptismal class will help new converts to understand and experience:
1. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness
2. How to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives
3. How to overcome temptation
4. How to develop a strong devotional life
5. How to strengthen their faith in God to develop a strong, mature Christian lifestyle
Baptismal-class teachers often concentrate on doctrinal topics, excluding many essential truths. At the time of their baptism, most candidates have a good understanding of the distinctive doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Unfortunately, many people are baptized without a clear understanding of God’s plan of salvation and how to live as Christians in nonChristian surroundings. Therefore, many have little strength to resist temptations that come after their baptism. Those being prepared for baptism must be brought to Jesus and taught how to accept Him as the Lord of their lives. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Hearts that have been melted by the love of Jesus will happily accept all other demands on their lives. Spiritual development grows from a relationship with Jesus.
Time of preparation. During the early days of the Christian experience, those preparing for baptism should be trained and prepared for the privileges and responsibilities of being a Christian in God’s church. Topics to cover include:
1. Christian behavior
2. Church organization and procedures
3. Principles and practice of worship
6. Christian stewardship
7. Sharing their faith
Help the new converts to discover what gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, and show them how to employ these talents in helping to build up the church and its witness.
Time of social change. When people make the decision to be baptized and to join the church, they are often subject to demanding social changes. Their decision is often misunderstood by relatives and friends who may show opposition to their being baptized. Sometimes their decision to follow Jesus will cause them to be rejected by their own family members and friends. To be shut out and excluded from their families or to be rejected by friends will place these new Christians under quite a bit of stress.
When people make the decision to become Seventh-day Adventist Christians, there will often be quite a dramatic change in their lifestyles. Some will be leaving membership in another church to join with your congregation. Others will have leave one form of employment and look for another job which does not require them to work on God’s Sabbath. Some will have to turn their backs on certain social and cultural practices which are not compatible with a Christian lifestyle. As the person preparing them for baptism, you should be aware that changes such as these are not made easily.
When people change their religious beliefs and their jobs and leave behind the support and security of friends and family, their lives come under considerable strain. Many are leaving much that has been familiar and reassuring to pursue a new lifestyle that holds many uncertainties. As you lead them toward accepting new beliefs and a new lifestyle and help them to make new acquaintances within the new church community, you will need to provide them with very special support to assist them through this process of change. Encourage your church members to be very accepting of these new people. Help them to feel that they belong and are welcome in your church. Encourage people in your congregation to make a special effort to befriend these new believers. Their social integration into your church family is vital to their long-term spiritual growth and security. (Luke 11:24-26.)
Methods of instruction
In most areas of the world, people are prepared for baptism through a series of Bible studies which are usually given in the homes or in a church baptismal class. Others are instructed through Bible correspondence courses, Bible classes, or through individual study. Whichever method is used, the content of the lessons should include the major teachings and beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
However, it is important to remember that more is required for baptism than just a knowledge of church beliefs. During the course of instruction, there should be several occasions when you, as the instructor, have opportunity to get personally acquainted with each candidate. Study and pray with each candidate and assess his or her needs and spiritual condition. This individual study time will also give candidates opportunities to ask questions and share their joys or concerns with you. Make sure that the people you are instructing understand sufficiently their involvement in God’s plan of salvation and the duties and responsibilities they will assume when they become members of His church.
“There is a need for more thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism. They are in need of more faithful instruction than has previously been given them. The principles of the Christian life should be made plain to those who have newly come to the truth. . . . It is the duty of the pastor to have special meetings with them. Read to them the teaching of the Bible in regard to conversion. Show what is the fruit of conversion, the evidence that they love God” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 91, 95).
When are candidates ready?
To be ready for baptism, candidates must give evidence: 1
. That Jesus is Lord of their lives (1 John 4:15; Rom. 10:9; Matt. 10:32).
2. That repentance and conversion have taken place (Acts 2:38; 3:19).
3. That they have an active belief and trust in Jesus (Mark 16:16).
4. That they have a daily, saving relationship with Jesus.
5. That they have completed a course of instruction in the teachings of Scripture and the distinctive biblical doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Matt. 28:20).
6. That they have been prepared for responsible membership in God’s remnant church.
7. That they are involved in the worship and witness of the church.
Before baptism, there should have been visits by the elder or church pastor to confirm their readiness for baptism. And finally, they should have approval for baptism from the church board.
Baptism is an extremely important experience in the life of a new Christian. Careful preparation for baptism is vital to the future development of these new believers. Every lesson, every Bible study, and every visit the new Christian receives should be well presented so that the best possible opportunities are provided to strengthen them for their Christian walk.