One of the most important periods of Christian development is the time new converts spend preparing 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, NIV).
“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.”1
Right at the beginning of their Christian experience, those preparing for baptism need careful attention and support. A person who has been well-instructed in the baptismal class will have received a strong foundation for a happy and victorious Christian life.
PREPARING CANDIDATES FOR BAPTISM
A 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, NIV). Preparation for baptism is a time when candidates are taught the truths of the Bible. Its great themes need to be clearly presented, and each should be taught in a simple manner so that baptismal candidates can grasp their importance and accept them by faith (Acts 8:30-38). These themes include:
• The fall from heaven and the great controversy between Christ and Satan
• God’s plan of salvation
• The Incarnation
• The sinless, serving life of Jesus
• Christ’s all-forgiving death on Calvary
• His resurrection and His atoning ministry in heaven
• The distinctive Bible doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Because of heavy pastoral responsibilities, the pastor may find it impossible to study 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 baptismal candidates and bringing them to an understanding of Bible truth and of Christ’s demands on their lives.
A 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 assist new converts in understanding and experiencing:
• Repentance, confession, and forgiveness
• How to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives
• How to overcome temptation
• How to develop a strong devotional life
• How to strengthen their faith in God and 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, however, many are baptized without understanding God’s plan of salvation or knowing how to live as Christians in non-Christian surroundings. Therefore, many have little strength to resist the temptations that come after baptism. Those being prepared for baptism must be brought to Jesus and taught how to accept Him as Lord of their lives. Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32, NIV). 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.
A 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 Christians in God’s church. Topics of discussion should include:
• Christian behavior
• Church organization and procedures
• Principles and practice of worship
• Christian stewardship
Candidates should also be helped to discover their spiritual gifts and shown how to employ these talents to build up the church and its witness.
A time of social change. When people make the decision to be baptized and join the church, they are often subject to demanding social changes. Their decision is often misunderstood by relatives and friends, who may oppose their baptism. Sometimes their decision to follow Jesus will cause them to be rejected by family and friends. To be shut out and excluded from their families or to be socially rejected by friends will place these new Christians under a great deal of stress.
When people choose to become Seventh-day Adventist Christians, they often experience a dramatic change in lifestyle. Some will leave membership in another church to join an Adventist congregation. Others will leave one job and look for another that does not require them to work on God’s Sabbath. Some will reject certain social and cultural practices that are not compatible with the Christian lifestyle. Those preparing candidates for baptism should be aware that these kinds of changes are not made easily.
When people are called upon to change their religious beliefs, quit their jobs, and abandon the support and security of friends and family, their lives come under considerable strain. Many are leaving behind so much that has been familiar and reassuring to pursue a new lifestyle that for them has many uncertainties. As you lead them toward accepting new beliefs and a new lifestyle and help them 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 church members to be very accepting of these new people. Help them 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 longterm spiritual growth and security. (See Luke 11:24-26.)
METHODS OF INSTRUCTION
In most areas of the world, people are prepared for baptism through a series of Bible studies that are usually given in the homes of the people or in a baptismal class. Others are instructed through Bible correspondence courses, Bible classes, or 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. This will give you time to study and pray with him or her and to assess each candidate’s needs and spiritual condition. It will also give candidates an opportunity to ask questions and share joys or concerns with you. You should satisfy yourself that the people you are instructing understand sufficiently their involvement in God’s plan of salvation and their duties and responsibilities as 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 regards to conversion. Show what is the fruit of conversion, the evidence that they love God.”2
WHEN ARE CANDIDATES READY?
To be ready for baptism, candidates must give evidence:
• That Jesus is Lord of their lives (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9; 1 John 4:15).
• That repentance and conversion have taken place (Acts 2:38; 3:19).
• That they have an active belief and trust in Jesus (Mark 16:16).
• That they have a daily, saving relationship with Jesus.
• 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).
• That they have been prepared for responsible membership in God’s remnant church.
• That they are involved in the worship and witness of the church.
Before baptism, candidates should be visited by the head 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 person’s future development. Every lesson, every Bible study, and every visit that a new Christian receives should be well-presented so that the best possible opportunities are provided to strengthen him or her for the Christian walk.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, 6:91.
2 Ibid., 91-95.
Douglas E. Robertson is senior lecturer in the theology department at Avondale College, Australia.