THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EXAMINING BRETHREN
(The Christadelphian: Volume 26, 1889, 444-445)
The household of faith is united by one common bond, being all members of one body, whose increase unto the edifying of itself in love is dependent upon the effectual working of the individual members of the body. The whole body is honoured and strengthened in proportion to the integrity and zeal of each member, but it is also dishonored and weakened by the inconsistency and laxness of any within it.
We are abundantly admonished to preserve the purity of the faith, to strive together for that end as much as possible, in peaceful relations with all men, but still in conformity with the divine order—first pure, then peaceable (James 3:17). Peace is obtainable only in the absence of a disturbing element; where that element exists peace is more or less impossible. From what cause do disturbances in the ecclesias generally spring, with whom do they originate? Is it not generally from the action of brethren weak in the faith, men who retain something of the old leaven which tends to leaven the whole lump, so that many are led to follow their pernicious ways? It is the heresy “privily brought in,” which affects the soundness of the faith and disturbs the effectual working of the members of the body. Experience has shown that envying, strife, railing and evil surmisings originate with such minds and are stimulated by them. Who are to blame for this state of things?
Examining brethren are largely responsible. To them is entrusted the charge of keeping pure the household of faith so far as admitting the “interested friend” to fellowship is concerned. But there have been admitted to fellowship some who were practically deficient in a knowledge of the first principles of the faith. This has been proved by many who subsequently came to see with increased knowledge that they had in the first place been immersed with a deficient knowledge of the truth, and without an adequate recognition of their responsibilities in becoming connected with Christ’s brethren. With their new light and knowledge, these good and honest hearts were anxious to be placed in a proper relationship to Christ, and hence they sought re-immersion—an acknowledgment that their first immersion was invalid. These had gone on to perfection, but how many may be like them in their first experiences, having need to be taught again what be the first principles of the oracles of God.
Admission to fellowship is obtained by baptism; but baptism ought only to be performed upon an understanding of the one faith being shown by the candidate, and a recognition on his or her part of the responsibilities of the step about to be taken. It is for the examining brethren to determine whether such an understanding and recognition exists, because it is upon these that the validity of the immersion depends. It is here that the responsibility of the brethren is greatest.
There is unfortunately in many cases a desire, laudable in one sense, to see an increase in numbers, and sufficient care is not always taken to ascertain the motive which leads to the wish to become connected with the ecclesia, and an accommodative examination is made in order that one more may be added to the roll. It is hoped that the candidate will understand the subjects better afterwards, in the meantime, with an imperfect knowledge and with little appreciation of the responsibilities of the step about to be taken, there passes in fellowship of the household one that may prove a root of bitterness and a cause of offence. Let any brother or sister of standing in the truth reflect upon their conversations with brethren and sisters elsewhere and they will be surprised at the extent of the deficiency of knowledge in things that are essential to a proper basis. Here a brother is ignorant of the nature of Christ, there a sister has doubts as to the personality of Satan in the orthodox sense, and so on. But how came they to be in fellowship holding these views? They have not developed since becoming acquainted with the truth, but they are the old leaven which was brought in with them, of the doctrines of which the truth would bid them beware. The Ecclesia of God, the pillar and ground of the truth, has a duty to itself as well as to those outside, and if into the holy city there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth or worketh abomination, it is surely necessary as far as possible to keep out similar elements of the world from the household of faith.
The examining brethren must see to this. There is no need for austere judgment or pharisaical treatment of the candidate for immersion in attempting to secure this object. In the gentlest manner, but with the firmness which the importance of the occasion requires, the examining brethren should deal with all the points of doctrine, and where there is deficiency let them show the way of God more perfectly. But if it is evident from the manner of the candidate that he or she fails to comprehend the import of the doctrine, there should be delay in admission. The mere intellectual grasp of the facts is, however, of less importance than the perception of the responsibilities of baptism. Let the death which baptism symbolizes to the individual be clearly impressed upon him/her as his/her dying to his former carnal life, and that in his/her rising into newness of life in taking Christ’s name he also takes his yoke upon him, learning to follow his footsteps, to cultivate his mind and disposition, so that they may dwell in Him as they dwelt in Jesus. Were these things gently yet gravely set before all who come before the examining brethren, there might be fewer who would accept the conditions of fellowship, but these would be less likely to cause heart-burnings and strife in the ecclesias with which they become identified.
A word as to the attitude to be assumed to those who speak of being re-immersed. If in that frame of mind they ought not to be allowed to break bread until they have openly spoken out their difficulties and the ecclesia has had a chance to judge whether such brethren are really in Christ. To be in Christ necessitates the belief of Christ’s mission and the obedience to his commandments. But if there has been disbelief or misconception of a kind that amounts to unbelief of that mission, can such a person be said to be in Christ? The subject to my mind is of great importance to the peace and welfare of the ecclesias, and these reflections are offered in a spirit of love to such as are the door-keepers of the house of God.
Error has almost always come into “the ecclesia of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) via those who have obtained roles of leadership and oversight adopting a lax approach or being persuaded of error themselves. This baptismal review booklet is therefore as much for the aid of the examiner as it is a help for the baptismal candidate. It consolidates in a logical order the Truth studied, which by this stage has formed a conviction in those things though unseen, are nonetheless the substance of all the disciples hope and desire.
We know from personal experience of teaching the Truth to a wide variety of interested friends, young and old, who have varying capacities including English not being their first language, that it is the responsibility of those teaching the Truth to not only understand the first principles fully themselves, but to be able to present it in such a manner that the baptismal candidate is able to grasp.
This booklet, for practical reasons, does not attempt to do this but rather is an endeavor to revise those areas necessary to gain an overview of what constitutes the gospel and the responsibility of becoming servants of righteousness. The instructor needs to patiently present these Truths in a manner which corresponds to the ability of the baptismal candidate. The instructor needs to ensure that the essential elements are grasped, especially those relating to the Atonement, which is often not as easily understood as the things relating to the kingdom of God. For this reason the subject of the Atonement needs to be revisited as the story of the scriptures passes under review, presenting opportunity for those principles to be restated and thoroughly explained during the course of baptismal preparation.