How prepared should a person be before being baptized? How long should this preparation take? Recently the permabloggers had a brief e-mail exchange on this topic. The participants found it interesting to submit it to our broader forum.
A number of Scriptural passages simply present baptism as a sign of repentance and acceptance of the Gospel, the gateway to salvation. People were baptized the very same day they heard the message, sometimes even in large groups, carried by a momentum of immediate conversion. Also in the earlier days of the Restored Church this procedure seem to have been applied.
Over the years we moved to a system where more preparation and commitment are required before baptism, obviously to ensure continued obedience to the covenants made, and to help people remain active in the Church. Baptism also changed from being “the” step to “the first” of other steps needed to reach the highest level.
So one question is if we could still baptize someone with little expectation for growth afterwards. Isn’t everyone commanded to be baptized, regardless of their intent to attend Church meetings, read the Scriptures daily, pay tithing or accept a calling? In the background is, moreover, the desire of missionaries to baptize quickly, even if there is uncertainty that the candidate fully understands the expectations or is really ready to comply. But if we baptize in such a way, do we not endanger the convert’s future because baptism entails sacred covenants?
Another related aspect is the time we require for someone to be ready for baptism. We still baptize rather quickly (even a few weeks can be viewed as relatively quick), but next require a high level of commitment to be in good standing (Word of Wisdom, tithing, Sabbath observance, attendance, callings…). Compare this to the Catholic Church, where a minimum of one year of serious preparation is required before an adult can be baptized, but next the expectations are rather low compared to ours and there is virtually no control. No tithing, no Word of Wisdom, no mission, no Sabbath observance the way we understand it, etc.
Through this topic we would like to better understand changing traditions related to the why and when of baptism, as they apply to changing circumstances and needs. We welcome your thoughtful and, if possible, documented comments.