Correct Counselling Before Baptism:


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One of the Saddest Quotes I Ever Heard: "Yes, he baptized me, but I wasn't ready and did not really understand...six years later I gave up being a Christian."

UK Apologetics Guidelines for Believer's Baptism Counselling

H ere at UK Apologetics, during the last few years, we have frequently been appalled to find that some people who have gone through 'Believer's Baptism' in various churches, but perhaps, especially baptist and charismatic ones, were simply not ready and properly-prepared for baptism. The cases which we have witnessed, and which others have brought to our attention, are many and sometimes quite distressing. Our belief is that there is often too much of a hurry to get new believers baptized, especially younger ones, without taking sufficient care to check out the person's intellectual understanding and acceptance of Christianity. Maybe ministers feel under pressure to build up membership, or to experience approval from their peers or overseers, but there is no doubt that insufficient care is often taken in the process.

Things Which New Believers Should Understand...

The Apostle's Creed

A Christian Statement Of Faith

Other very helpful articles for new believers

Where We May Agree to Differ - And Where We Should Defend the Truth

All About Faith; What IS Faith and What is NOT Faith

True Repentance

The wise Christian counsellor should, firstly, always ensure that the prospective convert correctly appreciates and understands repentance as something which they themselves have gone through, or are currently going through. True repentance is a process which can last anything from 1-4 days to a month depending upon the individual. It is a complete 'about turn' in one's life-direction, it is not a temporary emotion, or temporary feeling of guilt.

So, more precisely, what is it?

To repent means to change. Repentance is a change of thinking which results in an entire change of life.
The writer of Hebrews 6:1 speaks of repentance from dead works. This means to forsake the works of death, or works which produce death. This must be understood as referring not simply to certain sins which one may have committed and may feel guilt about, but, rather, to one's entire self-oriented former life with a desire to replace that with a new Jesus Christ-oriented life.

The Greek Meaning of 'Repentance'

The word translated 'repent' in our English New Testaments is the Greek word metanoeo. This word means to perceive, or to comprehend afterwards, hence it signifies to change one's mind or purpose, and it always involves a change for the better.

Bullinger's Dictionary says 'metanoeo' means,

"To perceive afterwards, hence, to change one's mind and purpose. This change is always for the better, and denotes a change of moral thought and reflection; not merely to repent of, nor to forsake sin, but to change one's mind and apprehensions regarding it. Metanoeo denotes to reform, to have a genuine change of heart and life from worse to better." ('Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament' by E.W. Bullinger).

So metanoeo essentially means, "to change one's mind," "to convert," "to change one's life direction." Strictly temporary depression, disappointment, disillusionment or guilt have little or no part in this process. It is as a result of 'Finneyism,' which has so marred much of American evangelism, that people have been encouraged to "make a decision for Christ" in a highly emotional setting, and in the 'heat of the moment,' but full repentance should never be seen as having been completed simply as a result of such an experience, although such experiences could be helpful in the entire process.

If we now take just a brief look at how the New Testament uses 'mentanoeo' we may note that this is a major matter, not a thing to be taken lightly:

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

MARK 1:15
15 . . . the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

MARK 6:12
12 So they went out and preached that people should repent.

LUKE 13:3
3 ". . . but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

ACTS 2:38
38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

ACTS 3:19
19 "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,"

ACTS 17:30
30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."

So we see that repentance is no light matter. It will change the entire direction of a person's life. Repentance involves a complete change of mind -- a waking up to reality, seeing things as they really are through suddenly coming to see and to understand the full spiritual dimension in human problems, and to certainly recognize the error of one's former ways; this resulting in a powerful desire to change one's actions, behaviour and, indeed, entire life. Please never think that one can undergo this process without one's friends even noticing! A person's husband, wife, family, friends are going to notice!

John the Baptist insisted on seeing, 'fruits meet for repentance,' (Matthew 3:8), in other words, he did not always baptize until seeing some fruits of a changed life. The Christian pastor should also request the same thing, especially perhaps with people who may appear to have led very worldly and successfull existences.

So repentance includes forsaking old patterns, habits, priorities, and all things that have controlled the now penitent person. Frankly, it will mean no longer watching certain TV programmes which glorify lust and rebellion, and no longer watching typical Hollywood "entertainment" offerings (not that everything is bad, some wisdom and balance comes in here). It might require no longer supporting a particular political party if that party has spent the last 50 years undermining Christianity wherever it can!

Repentance means accepting Jesus Christ as Lord! Necessarily, that will ask questions in many areas of one's life. Unfortunately there are some out there who only see this as pertaining to their spiritual and emotional life, and they will want to keep their old intellectual life just as it always was. One newly baptized person I once knew claimed to be "a huge admirer of Charles Darwin." Huh?? Yes, obviously a huge problem there!! That person had isolated his Christianity purely to his emotional/religious Lord's Day life. He had taken a 'leap of faith' which had left his former intellectual life in situ and unaffected.

To repent is to forsake all other gods -- and embrace Jesus Christ as your Lord and God. (Jesus allows no other gods before Him). There is, of course, usually no need to give up much-loved hobbies or to change one's occupation, but a new balance will be needed with the Lord Jesus, prayer and Bible study now taking priority.

Frankly, no-one who does not understand the emotional, mental and intellectual all-encompassing reach of repentance should be baptized until they do and until they are properly prepared for it.

Pre-Baptismal Counselling: A Pattern for the Minister to Follow

Okay, let us proceed with this further.

Once it is certain that repentance has been correctly understood and certainly truly experienced by the prospective convert, what things should the minister/pastor ensure that the repentant person now correctly understands?

The Apostle's Creed is a good starting point, but it is only a starting point, and we do need to expand upon it to ensure that a full understanding is present.
Here are some things which the pre-baptism counsellor needs to adequately cover, in order to ensure a full understanding of true Christianity. Such a prospect needs to understand and to be convicted of the following:

1. That Jesus is genuinely the Son of God and that He was both genuinely human but also genuinely God (this immediately rules out the understanding of groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses who believe that Jesus was merely the highest angelic creation of God) (Luke 1:31-33; John 1:1-3, 10, 14).

2. That Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and was born of a virgin, so had a human mother but no human father (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:30-32).

3. That Jesus was indeed crucified and died and rose from the dead 3 days later according to the Scriptures (Acts 2:22-24, 27).

4. That the death of Jesus means that repentant sinners can have their sins forgiven – the slate wiped completely clean! - and His resurrection also pictures the future resurrection of such believers, which is sure! This is what theologians call 'substitutionary atonement' – the value of the life of Jesus and of His death is so great that it can pay for the sins of all who will come to Him in faith (Acts 2:38-39). Sadly many liberals do not accept this which raises a huge question mark over their 'Christianity.' By the way, the Bible does not say that Jesus only died for a tiny group, but rather, that the scope of His sacrificial death is available for the whole world (John 3:15-17; 1 John 2:2).

5. That Hell is a reality. Now what is Hell? It is eternal separation from God which the Bible appears to show is a punishment for those who have never wanted God in this life (Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 21:8).

6. That Satan is a literal evil spirit being (this rules out the understanding of the Christadelphians who do not believe in a literal devil), who Adam and Eve succombed to in the Garden of Eden (Mark 1:13; Luke 10:18).

7. That there is a huge angelic army in obedience to God, and a smaller army of demons (fallen angels, deceiving spirits) who follow Satan (Hebrews 12:22; 1 Timothy 4:1).

8. That those who come to Christ in faith then commence the process of sanctification – that is, being made increasingly Christlike. This is entirely due to the activity of the Holy Spirit. But we do not achieve spiritual perfection in this life (John 14:17-18,26; John 15:1-8; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Peter 3:18).

9. That we never earn salvation through our own 'good works' but that it is Christ who increasingly performs His good works within us as we yield to Him (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). Justification is by faith alone. If the grace of God were removed from Christians, they would instantly fall.

10. That the Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God which is sufficient in matters of faith and practise. The reception of the Holy Spirit means that a true believer will gradually grow in biblical and spiritual knowledge and understanding; but God witholds complete understanding from His children in this life (Matthew 22:29; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Deuteronomy 29:29).

11. That truly converted children of God become 'Church' – they do not “join a church” although they should meet together with other believers in order to worship God and to deepen their knowledge of Him (Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 2:47; Hebrews 12:22-24).

12. That the Second Coming (parousia) of our Lord is a promised and certain future event which the entire world will witness. At that time, the Resurrection of the Dead will occur, to be followed by the Great Judgment after which the saved will inherit Eternal Life (1 Corinthians 15:20-24, 47-52; Matthew 25:31-46).

Be assured that if the faith which saves is truly present in the new believer, he or she will readily accept these things. A very bad sign is when such a person might say, "Okay, that's your point of view, but now, here's the way I see this..."! Any person who might come out with that remark has plainly not understood and is way off being ready for baptism, if (he or she) is even on the correct path.

None of the above points should be seen as negotiable truths, or, 'partial understanding acceptable' truths - they are utterly fundamental to understanding and appreciating true Christianity and to laying the proper foundation.

Whilst understanding will grow in other areas through scriptural study and experience, these must form a foundation. And yet today some pastors, possibly under pressure to rapidly increase congregation size, are saying that it is okay if new converts don't understand or accept 'substitutionary atonement' (point 4 above, that is: that Christ died as our substitute, that our sins could be covered and forgiven), but that just ensures that non-believers are added to a congregation and ultimately usually proves to be counter-productive.

In patiently and carefully answering any questions which may arise in these areas, the wise counsellor will assist the new convert in laying the correct intellectual foundation for their Faith. All too often the intellectual understanding is neglected and this makes the new convert very 'open' and vulnerable to hearing other, faulty intellectual 'foundations' at a later date, whether emanating from Jehovah's Witnesses, New Age or anywhere else.

Some while ago I heard somebody who was only recently baptized say, "The apostle Paul? Oh, I don't always agree with him!" I immediately knew that that person had not been correctly counselled prior to baptism! A converted Christian does not have the right nor option to say: 'I disagree with the apostle Paul.' That is not a Spirit-led comment! Now one could say, I never quite understood why Paul said that. That is permissible and I guess we could all point to certain things in the Bible and say, 'I never quite understood that,' but to say that one disagrees with a chosen apostle of God can never be an option for the true believer.

The pastor should not rush this pre-baptism counselling. The wise pastor may well request some specific examples of things which the repentant man or woman intends changing in their lives. Depending on various factors this process might take no more than a month, but it could take as long as 2-3 months. The question is sometimes asked: 'But what if the person being counselled should suddenly die without being baptized?' The answer, of course, is that baptism itself saves no-one. We are saved by grace through faith. So such a person is saved if an elected Christian - baptized or not. We have to understand that some can never be baptized, whether through serious illnesses or because of being upon their death-beds. Don't forget: we are given the example of baptism, but not the commandment of baptism - there is a difference! Overall, baptism is mentioned surprisingly little in the New Testament, nevertheless, pastors should strive to be as careful as possible to follow the New Testament example and, also, to only baptize the truly and deeply repentant.

One objection to the approach which we have outlined is that several of those who were baptized in the Book of Acts seem to have been baptized very quickly. How was that possible? One can only believe that the Apostles were extremely sure about those people. But Acts also does record one man who was baptized too hastily. This was Simon Magus whose heart was, subsequently, shown to be not right with God; See Acts 8:9-13,18-21. Maybe the experience with Magus caused the apostles to be more cautious about baptizing too quickly, however, this example does at least show that baptism itself is not a promise of anything if the heart is not right.
Robin A. Brace. March, 2009.