ELABORATED IN A CONVERSATION
BETWEEN A CHRISTADELPHIAN & A BELIEVING
TO BE IMMERSED INTO THE NAME OF CHRIST
Printed in the Christadelphian (Ambassador) Magazine,
June 1868 Published as a booklet, July 1869
Prefaced by a few remarks in defense of the practice of
EXAMINING CANDIDATES FOR OBEDIENCE
NO one admitting that the validity of immersion
depends upon a belief of the Gospel preached by the apostles
can consistently deny the propriety and necessity of an
endeavor on the part of those to whom the application for
immersion may be made, to ascertain whether this pre-requisite
qualification actually exists.
It is a mistake to draw a parallel between the apostolic
era and our own time, as to the particular method of arriving
at this knowledge. The circumstances are so totally different
as to preclude a comparison.
The apostles came on the ground with a fresh, and
(among those receiving it) uncontested doctrine concerning
Christ. There was a direct issue between them and all who
opposed them. The question was one upon which a wide and
palpable difference existed, and in reference to which an
individual's position could be defined in a word. The apostles
proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ on the
strength of his having risen -- of which they declared themselves
the personal witnesses. The enemy contended that Jesus of
Nazareth was an impostor, and that his alleged resurrection
was a contrivance by which his dead body had been stolen.
There was no middle ground in such a controversy.
A man was either a friend or an enemy. If he were
a friend, few words were needed to define his position.
The simple statement that he believed Jesus to be the Christ,
the Son of God, covered all the ground occupied by the Gospel
as amplified in the apostolic definition (Acts 8:12)--
"The things concerning the Kingdom of God and
the Name of Jesus Christ."
The case stands very differently now, when nominal
believers associate with their historical belief doctrines
subversive of the scheme of truth with which the name of
Christ was -- without question or the possibility of mistake
-- identified in apostolic days. It ceases to be sufficient
for a man to say he believes in Christ, unless he is able
at the same time to define what is the truth concerning
The simple confession of belief in Christ does not
bring with it the guarantee it did in apostolic times, that
the doctrines embodied in Christ are received. It had ceased
to be sufficient so early as the close of the apostolic
era, for we find John, in his old age, laying it down as
a necessity to--
"Try the spirits, whether they are of God,
because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1
--and insisting upon it as a duty to receive no
one in fellowship who did not bring with him the truth involved
in the profession of faith in Christ (2 John 10) -- a direction
which had reference to those professing a nominal belief
In our day, the necessity for acting on John's principle
is imperative. The apostacy has held sway for centuries,
and still reigns with undiminished power. And thru its influence
there exists around us a state of society in which (while
so far as words go there is universal profession of belief
in Christ) there is an absolute
and virulent rejection of the truth of which Christ is the centerpiece
We must, therefore, dispense with mere forms and
phrases, and address ourselves to the work of guaging the
actual relations of things. We must find out the truth of
a man's profession when he claims fellowship with us, and
the genuineness of his faith when he asks to be immersed.
And this nowadays cannot be done without crucial test; for
words have become so flexible, and mere phrases so current,
that a form of words may be used without any conception
of the idea which it originally and apostolically represented.
The principal pains must, therefore, be taken to ascertain
the substance of a man's belief, rather than to get him
into a set form of expressing it.
But some hold that examination is altogether unscriptural,
and that it is a practice savoring of priestly arrogance.
Those who think so look at the matter from a wrong point
of view. If the position taken up by the examining party
implied the assumption that the efficacy of the candidate's
immersion depended on the administration or sanction of
the examiner, the objection would hold good; but this would
never be the attitude of enlightened believers of the truth.
They would say to anyone asking to be baptized--
"We are under the law of Christ. That law requires
a man seeking baptism to be a believer of the Gospel; and
it requires of US not to receive into our fellowship those
who do not believe the truth, on the pain of being held
responsible for their guilt.
"You ask us to baptize you. As a matter of
allegiance to Christ, and defense of our own position, we
must ascertain whether you believe the truth. We cannot
be parties to your baptism if you do not receive the truth.
We should be misleading you, and implicating ourselves."
We cannot impart validity to immersion by compliance,
nor can we vitiate it by withholding countenance. But, as
a matter of the commonest order and self-protection, we
are bound to ascertain whether a man applying for immersion
believes the truth of the Gospel or not.
Jesus associates baptism with belief (Mk. 16:16);
and it is our duty to him to see that this association exists,
so far as we are called upon to sanction a profession of
his name. Philip is recorded to have observed this precaution
in the case of the eunuch (Acts 8:37). Paul at Ephesus re-immersed
12 men, on putting their faith on a right footing (Acts19:3-5).
In ALL recorded cases of baptism, BELIEF PRECEDED IT, and
it is an outrage on common sense to suppose that the parties
immersing took no steps to ascertain the existence of that
belief. The dictates of common sense coincide with apostolic
example and scriptural induction.
Pentecost (when 3000 were baptized in one day) will
be instanced by the objector as a case in which the pre-immersional
examination we contend for could not have taken place. It
is true there was no examination on that occasion, but it
was not necessary. Examination is herein contended for as
a necessity, not as a ceremony. Where special circumstances
rendered it superfluous, it would not be enforced by wise
The special circumstances in the case of Pentecost
were of this character. In the first place, the 3000 were
"JEWS, devout men out of every nation under
heaven" (Acts 2:5).
--who had come to Jerusalem to worship. They were
men grounded in the elements of the Law and the Prophets,
in a state of reverent appreciation to the extent of their
understanding. They were, therefore, men in whom constitution
and culture conspired to make them the ready and fruitful
recipients of the good seed.
Secondly, the only question on which their minds
had to be changed was the identity of the Messiah. They
looked for the Messiah, and in great part believed the truth
concerning the Messiah. But they did not know the Messiah
They did not believe that the Nazarene, publicly
executed as a criminal some weeks before their arrival in
Jerusalem, was he. Hence, the point aimed at was to convince
them that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 2:36). This was successfully
accomplished by the visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
combined with the testimony of the apostles. And their confession
of faith was limited by the circumstances of the moment,
to the admission that the man whom the nation had crucified
and slain 'was' Lord and Christ'.
Thirdly, we read that Peter with 'many words' taught
and exhorted them (Acts 2:40). His words were words of authority,
and therefore the implicit reception of what he declared
stood in the room of the examination which -- in the absence
of authority -- is forced upon us in our deserted times.
These were so many circumstances which excluded
the examination contended for under present conditions.
They made such examination unnecessary and, indeed, highly
out of place. But what was unnecessary then may be necessary
now. None of the circumstances of the Pentecostal triumph
attend the proclamation of the truth today. If our case
had been the apostolic case, the apostolic practice would
not have been the Pentecostal method. They would have advertised,
and lectured, and examined. The apostles always showed a
sensible regard to exigencies (Acts 6:2 --appointment of
Good sense consists in the adaptation of means to
ends. In the hands of good sense, methods are flexible.
Pedantry adheres to forms and methods, to the sacrifice
of the practical object involved. We cannot, in matters
of pure expediency, imitate the apostles without the circumstances
and gifts of the apostles.
What was the necessity then may be impracticable
now, and vice versa. "All things common," for
instance, was a necessity among a multitude of disciples
in one city at a time of persecution; and it was practical
with inspired men at the head. But now it is neither necessary
On the other hand, critical examination was not
necessary in the days when the issues of truth were simple,
and when the voice of authority was present to decide them.
But now, with a change on both points, there is of necessity
a change of attitude on the part of those contending for
The answer given to the case of the Pentecostal
believers applies to every case that may be cited. Philip
taught the eunuch minutely (Acts 8:35), and all the eunuch
had to do was to believe what was taught him, and signify
his belief in an intelligible fashion, however short. 'Examination'
would have been out of place. But there is no Philip now
to teach with divine dogmatism, so we have to "examine".
The same with Cornelius. Peter was aware he and
his friends knew the truth (Acts 10:37). All he had to do
was to direct them how to do under an arrangement which
-- for the first time -- admitted Gentiles to a covenant
relation with God. And all Cornelius and his friends had
to do was to obey the directions given. Examination would
have been absurd. But there is no Peter now whose word will
be taken with unquestioning faith. And so we have to examine,
to see if people comprehend the written truth.
In apostolic days, there was divine authority present
in every case to direct, and perfect submission to authority
on the part of those who were obedient. This constitutes
the great difference between that time and our time. And
with a difference of circumstance, there is of necessity
a difference of method of procedure in the matter, but the
result aimed at and secured is THE SAME: the induction of
men and women into Christ by the belief and obedience of
The mode in our day found effectual for ascertaining
whether an applicant for immersion is qualified by a scriptural
apprehension of the things concerning the Kingdom of God
and the Name of Jesus Christ is exemplified by the following--
OF THE KINGDOM)