Daniel Holland considers the symbiotic link …
The next biblical step of obedience after conversion is baptism. Not complicated or extreme, but somehow it has become a hot potato. Baptism is the prophetic identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; the washing away of sins, renunciation of the devil and agreement with Christ and His new life in the convert. It is healthy in every emotional, spiritual, psychological, relational and rational sense. It is essential for a full life as Christian.
Jesus fulfilled all the law and the prophets, and distilled all the Old Testament rituals into two simple and accessible observances, the bread and wine of communion, and baptism. Let’s keep it simple and help new converts to the obedience of baptism as quickly as possible (just as in the book of Acts). My previous pastor would pull the tide timetable out of his draw with a flash as soon as anyone mentioned baptism (it was a coastal town). It was quite normal that within a week they’d been baptised in the sea!
If someone has already been christened as a child, then this will be an (adult) believer’s baptism. Some family members, Christians or friends may be upset by this stand; but surely Jesus has made it plain there are sacrifices we have to make. Our instinct is to protect people from the very battles and challenges that have made us strong in faith. God is in this process and knows what He is doing. The new convert will intuitively pick up on our faith, or lack of it!
NEW CONVERT AND BAPTISM COURSES
We recognise the value of courses which develop the convert’s understanding and give a teaching framework for faith. As a pastor I spent many hours with converts going through the scriptures, preparing them for baptism. I have always thought, however, that simple childlike obedience is just as important as detailed head-knowledge. We must not try to be wiser than God and hold out ‘hoops’ of (our own design) for the convert to jump through. If Jesus Himself, the Son of God, submitted to baptism then how much more must we? Jesus did not presume to step out into His ministry before ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ in baptism.
We all have a story about someone who was baptised, was never seen again and is now far from God. We’ve agonised about whether they were baptised too soon or weren’t really saved. We mustn’t allow a bad experience to alter our theology and practise. As we stick determinedly to the biblical instruction, we will see good fruit. We do not suggest baptising someone on a whim without any evidence of faith. Yet we note that in the first century AD the risk involved with baptism was in itself deemed testimony of real and saving belief. There is no biblical precedent of a convert needing to ‘prove’ their faith. They were told about baptism, would ask for it (often immediately) and were then baptised.
One approach that may be helpful is suggested here:
|Requester is sure of their faith and displays real signs of God’s leading ….||Baptise with minimum delay
|Requester is unsure or evidently in some confusion ….||Welcome into fellowship and encourage to join e.g. an Alpha type or baptism preparation course, after which, baptise with minimum delay|
FINDING A TIME AND PLACE
It’s lovely to make baptism a public declaration of faith for the convert. Their family and friends can be invited to share this momentous moment and to hear the gospel for themselves. If you live by the sea or a suitable lake, or an outdoor swimming pool, these can be great locations to conduct baptisms which can then include all the church family. I have baptised people outside as early as Easter, and as late as October. For that matter I have baptised someone on New Year’s Eve in an outdoor pool! You might equally hire a mobile baptismal pool or request use of the built-in pool of some friendly local church.
The real issue is to get a date in the diary and a suitable time to invite friends and family as soon as possible. It is incredibly powerful to a new believer to mark their faith publicly and with their family members (Christian or not). If it can’t be a public baptism, then still proceed with whatever options are available to you. I have heard of an elderly man being baptised in his bath; or a quiet service with only three or four people present. There can always be a bigger celebration later. It is good to give the new baptisee a few hours company before sending them home, especially if they are going back to a hostile environment.
HOLY SPIRIT GIFTS AND AFFIRMATIONS
As a convert stands up after baptism, gather around them and pray for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Scripturally this is often a time when God affirms baptism by the in-filling of His Spirit.
Baptism is an occasion to celebrate a convert’s acceptance into the Christian family. A Bible, pertinent Christian books and cards with personal blessings are a small way of encouraging someone who has taken this step of obedience. New believers are touched by these tokens; perhaps they come from dysfunctional homes and broken relationships where there was no celebration of significant milestones or important decisions. Some people treasure their baptismal cards decades later.
Baptism services are often accompanied by a real, tangible sense of the presence of God and can be a wonderful celebration. Why not conclude with a fellowship meal, a picnic by the sea or a group meal at an inexpensive local restaurant?
PROTECTING IN PRAYER AND FELLOWSHIP
Some Christians are reluctant to suggest baptism to converts. They worry about the spiritual attacks that so often follow-on from this particular and defining event. We remember, indeed, that Jesus was driven straight away into the wilderness after His baptism where He did battle with the devil. However, to deny someone baptism because of our fears is surely an agreement with the enemy instead of trust in the purposes and commandments of God! We should encourage and preach baptism, while surrounding the convert before, during and after with prayer and support.
We mustn’t try to protect someone from themselves, or from biblical faith, no matter how well intentioned we may be. Nor should we inculcate fear into a convert about what might happen after baptism. We can warn that it might be tough, but this should be balanced with lots of encouragement. We seek to build faith in the convert not only to stand after baptism but emerge as a disciple. The occasion can be followed up immediately with one-on-one discipleship. Baptism is not the end of the story, marvellous as it is. It is the commencement of the lifelong adventure of discipleship. There are exciting times ahead!
Our schematic below sets out the Christian journey at its most basic in the sense of what actually happens when someone comes to faith. On the left side there is a ‘hinterland’ of life, background and (perhaps) religious experience, but at some definite point there will be a definitive hearing of the good news, of the gospel, following which understanding and acceptance (‘belief’) occur in the individual. A ‘decision’ for Christ will be made, followed at some point by baptism. Then the journey of faith begins …..
Daniel Holland is a UK missionary with Through Faith Missions. He wrote “Through The Tunnel – Free at Last” published by PUSH Publishing, as his personal testimony. His second book “Prophetic Evangelism – Kingdom Exploits in the Risk Zone” is advertised here: https://christian-publications-int.com/PropheticEvangelism.html
Daniel is presently preparing material to help churches to disciple new converts.