Q&A Forum: Baptism and Reception

How do you handle a case of baptism or reception of someone whose salvation you question?

Handling such a case requires discretion and sensitivity. In brief, we would advise keeping your question private even as you applaud their desire to make spiritual progress. We might also lean towards erring on the side of grace. If a person (unknowingly) is not saved, there is no better place to be than with the Lord’s people.

If we doubt their salvation, we need to consider three things. First of all, it is easy to make a wrong assessment. In John 3, the Lord draws an analogy between the Spirit’s work and the wind. Certainly when God works there will soon be unmistakable effects, but yet there are mysteries associated with it. Second, people may not express spiritual truth in the same terms that we use because of their different background. Third, we can do long-term damage if we hinder this budding work of God in their hearts.

The longer discussion involves a consideration of the kinds of situations we meet and a recognition that reception to the assembly is the greater concern. Young teens may not present large behavioural changes which attest to a work of the Holy Spirit. They have always come to the meetings and they may not even recall much of their salvation story. Based on their attitude and the recommendation of their parents, we have often baptised or received such cases, and have not been disappointed.

It was after I was baptised that I had deeper dealings with God and came to the assurance of salvation, or was actually saved. I was baptised again. The evangelist Lorne McBain doubted my original profession but in conversation he never said so. He asked questions to provoke thought and asked me to write out my testimony, hoping I would see the loose ends. In this gracious approach, he was like our Lord Jesus. Too often we are tempted to usurp the role of the Spirit.

In the case of an adult who is not well known, we have made the mistake of frankly saying No to their request and asking them to continue to attend. Do we wonder why we never saw them again? We should have applauded their interest, discussed it over supper and explained that we would revisit their request soon. Then we both might have gained greater insight as to the reality of conversion and the changes in behaviour that salvation initiates. On occasion we have said, “We are very happy to see you with this interest. Can we discuss this further after you have sat through a couple of months of the weekly gospel meetings?”

A request for baptism and fellowship may be a veiled request to probe spiritual matters. What is the intent behind the request? Discern where God has brought them, and move from that point in their life. For example, if they have been reading in Ecclesiastes, then begin there rather than in John, which may be your preference.

In summary, recognize such a request as the evidence of God at work, and approach the person graciously on their own terms, as our Saviour did when He offered living water in John chapter four.