Vol. 3, No. 2 Page 20 February, 2001
A dear friend and preacher of the Gospel posed this question to me recently.
Do you believe we have the right to question those desiring to be baptized about their marriage situation? One preacher says the only question we have a right to ask is that of Acts 8:37 -- if they believe Jesus to be the Christ. I would appreciate a brief answer.
First, Peter advised his audience of what they were to repent before exhorting them to repent, in that case, crucifying Christ (Acts 2). Repentance is only effective to the extent that it reflects the sins for which one intends to repent. Second, John the Baptist especially addressed biblically unlawful marriages for which those involved needed to repent. Regarding salvation, one needs to be advised of the sins for which he needs to repent. Third, teaching and preaching, the hoped for result regarding non-Christians being remission of past sins and addition to the church of our Lord, needs to include the known sins of those to whom we speak and the typical sins of the society of which they are a part. Anything less falls far short of biblical teaching characteristic of any religious age of which one can read in the Bible.
A biblical case in point occurs in Acts Chapter Fifteen. Judaizing Christians had gone from Jerusalem to Antioch of Syria and informed the Gentile church there that they had to be circumcised in compliance with Judaism before they could become Christians. Either implicitly or explicitly, these false teachers indicated that they represented the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. The apostle Paul and Barnabas resisted these false teachers, but for the confidence of the Gentile brethren, agreed to take the matter back to Jerusalem for assessment by the apostles and elders of the church there. At the conclusion of the meeting to consider the contention of the Judaizing teachers, the apostles sent their consensus (1) orally through Judas and Silas (additional to Paul and Barnabas), and (2) by written correspondence.
They overturned the false teaching of the Judaizing teachers, but they did more, too, which was neither solicited nor relative to the matter for which the apostles and elders in Jerusalem convened. The apostles of Christ and the elders of the Jerusalem church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, addressed sins that were particularly characteristic of Gentile society.
"Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well" (Acts 15:22-29).
Our society is inundated with fornication, adultery and biblically unlawful marriages. The magnitude with which the American family, for instance, is affected with this sinful malady could hardly be overstated. Therefore, it would border on spiritual dereliction of duty to refrain from, at least in passing, mentioning this aspect of morality when studying with prospective converts.
Admittedly, though we are to preach and teach "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), no one is expected to know everything before his baptism. Yet, we have an obligation to apprise prospective converts of "the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 8:12) before they receive baptism (Acts 8).
Once I received a phone call from a man who informed me that his live-in girlfriend wanted to be baptized. She was familiar with the Lord's church from her youth. I fear that some would have rushed to baptize her, knowing full well that as long as she lived in open rebellion to God that she was not saved in that condition. A deacon and I did talk with the two of them in their home. It so happened that both of them were still legally married to a spouse and that these two we visited were living in adultery.
The brother who accompanied me and I were obligated to lovingly and kindly apprise them of God's law respecting the sin in their lives of which we were aware by their admission. They accepted God's Word on the matter as it is in truth the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). However, they were not willing to repent, thanked us for coming and decided that they would not be needing our services for baptism that night. To my knowledge, they never repented.
Often, the church baptizes persons who never darken the church door again; why do they not return? Often, the church baptizes persons who make no visible effort to conform their lives to the Gospel of Christ; why do they not practice Christian living? Often, the church baptizes persons who never seem to be committed to the cross of Christ, and who must be coaxed constantly to even assemble with any regularity with the Lord's church. Frequently, we fail to adequately teach, baptize and teach (Matthew 20:18-20). Much of these sort of problems that plague many congregations could be avoided if we would more effectively and more thoroughly teach prospective converts before they are baptized and not forget to continue teaching them following baptism.