Speaker: Vasko Belovski
The importance of baptism has been clearly set forth in the Bible, and is described as the solemn ordinance which signifies one’s desire to renounce the world and follow Christ. The word baptism comes from the Greek word baptízō, which literally means to immerse, to submerge, or cleanse by water. Baptism is a symbol of Christ’s burial and resurrection. Our entrance into the water during baptism identifies us with the death of Christ on the cross, His burial in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead and to newness of life. This newness of life signifies our adoption into the family of God and the entrance into the body of Christ His Church.
However is baptism to be administered after a simple profession of faith, or do we find certain requirements that the Bible in the Spirit of Prophecy outline with respect to church membership? I believe this is an important question and a proper understanding of it lays the foundation of order in the church.
In the Review and Herald of October 12 1905, we read: without some form of organization, there will be great confusion and the work could not be carried forward successfully, to provide for the support of the ministry, for carrying the work in new fields, for protecting the churches and the ministry from unworthy members, organization was indispensable. Review and Herald October 12, 1905, paragraph four.
We see that one of the main reasons behind the establishment of organization is the protection of the church from unworthy members. In other words, the candidates for baptism are to be thoroughly examined and prepare for church membership. Please consider the following two quotes from the testimonies. “There’s one thing that we have no right to do, and that is the judge another man’s heart or impugn his motives. But when a person presents himself as a candidate for church membership, we are to examine the fruit of his life and leave the responsibility of his motive with himself. But great care should be exercised in accepting members into the church, for Satan has special devices through which he purposes to crowd false brethren into the church through whom he can work more successfully, to weaken the cause of God.” the Review and Herald January 10, 1893. We further read: “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 takes away the sin of the world. Bring the requirements of the gospel to bear upon the candidates for baptism.” 6T 95.2.
Church membership is not open to everyone. Candidates are to be examined and prepared for the work of the gospel. It is the church’s responsibility to protect itself from unworthy members, or else confusion will take the place of unity in organization. The Bible illustrates this point clearly in Acts chapter two. There, we’re given an account of 3000 souls getting baptized. We read then they that gladly received these words were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about 3000 souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:41-42.
We see that those who receive baptism continue to work steadfastly in the apostles doctrines. Can one who does not agree or believe in the doctrines of the apostles, continue the work of the church, or even be considered for membership and baptism? If the answer to this question were in the affirmative, then the example given us here in the book of Acts would lose its significance.
But how do we prevent doctrine from becoming a creed by which church membership is established? We do so by having those involved in the spreading of the gospel, and the workings of the church spend enough time in teaching and leading the new converts into the points of truth established by the word of God. We find the following statement in relation to this in the testimonies: “The preparation for baptism is a matter that needs to be carefully considered. The new converts to the truth, should be faithfully instructed in the plain thus saith the Lord. The word of The Lord is to be read and explained to them point by point. All who enter upon the new life should understand prior to their baptism, that the Lord requires the undivided affections.” MS. 56-1900.2
Every candidate for baptism is to have a proper understanding of the main teachings related to the gospel, which in turn will bring them closer to Christ and give them the strength to renounce sin in the world. It is preparation and education that outlines the difference between setting up a creed and having people understand the teachings of the Bible, so that they can continue steadfastly in the doctrines of the church.
In the sixth volume of the testimonies to the church, we also read: “There is need of a more thorough preparation on the part of candidates for baptism, they are in need of more faithful instruction than has usually been given them. The principles of the Christian life should be made plain to those who have newly come to the truth. None can depend upon their profession of faith as proof that they have a saving connection with Christ. We’re not only to say I believe, but to practice the truth. It is by conformity to the will of God in our words, our deportment, our character, that we prove our connection with Him. Whenever one renounced sin, which is the transgression of the law, his life will be brought into conformity to the law, into perfect obedience. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the light of the word cheerfully studied, the voice of conscience, the strivings of the Spirit produce in the heart genuine love for Christ, who gave Himself a whole sacrifice to redeem the whole person, body, soul, and spirit; and love is manifested in obedience. The line of demarcation will be plain and distinct between those who love God and keep His commandments, and those who love Him not and disregard his precepts.” 6T 91.4.
The preparation for baptism plays an integral part in establishing organization in the church. In order for a body of believers to walk in unity, members are to come together in spirit and in truth. The apostles guarded the church against unworthy members, by adhering strictly to the commission of Christ, teaching those of all nations to observe all the things which Christ had commanded them. And if we want the presence of Christ to be with us today, we are to do the same. May the Lord use us to the glory of His kingdom, as we submit to the guidance of His spirit and follow the principles related to baptism that He has clearly outlined in His Word.