General Conference Session: Delegates Debate Baptismal Vows

July 8, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

Baptism is an important “rite of passage” for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, so perhaps it is not surprising the proposal of the Church Manual Committee for an alternative set of baptismal vows engendered some hot debate.

While the 13 vows will remain as standard in the Manual, a much shorter version was also presented to the delegates.

  1. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, and do you desire to live your life in a saving relationship with Him?
  2. Do you accept the teachings of the Bible as expressed in the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and do you pledge by God’s grace to live your life in harmony with these teachings?
  3. Do you desire to be baptized as a public expression of your belief in Jesus Christ, to be accepted into the fellowship of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and to support the Church and its mission as a faithful steward by your personal influence, tithes and offering, and a life of service?

This raised concerns among a number of the delegates. J. Gallimore from the church in North America worried that the new vows were too diluted and did not express some of the churches most central beliefs, including the Sabbath. Debate circled around whether the wording gave a sufficient representation of what Adventists believe. George Baxen from the church’s Southern Africa Indian Ocean region felt it “did not allow a full expression of belief to new believers.”

Baptism in the sea
Baptism in the sea
The argument was countered by those who, like Stephen Guptill from South Asia Pacific pointed out that the operative word is “alternative.” Roscoe Howard from North America emphasized that “those who don’t like it don’t have to use it.” He said, “The onus is on those of us who are preparing candidates for baptism.”

A theological note of caution was expressed by Dr, Brian Bull, who worried that placing the wording “as expressed in the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs” led to the danger of the church turning the fundamentals into a creed.

But those working with youth supported the “alternative” vows. Darnen Croft stated that we “need to keep relevant in the wording. The youth will understand this and be supportive of the church.”

The motion was carried. The church now has a choice of two sets of vows.

The delegates then turned their attention to the tricky question of rebaptism and a heavily reworked section of the Church Manual based on the idea that rebaptism is the exception rather than the norm. The new wording for the Manual now includes the statement that “Rebaptism is specifically mentioned in only one biblical passage (Acts 19:1-7).”

Quoting the example of many members who choose to get rebaptised in the Jordan River while on Holy Land trips, Dr. Reid from the world church headquarters commended the committee for their work and hoped that this new revision would bring to an end “inappropriate rebaptism.”

He was supported by veteran Session attendee and delegate, Dr. Bert Beach. He believes in the importance of baptism but strongly stated that there is “no evidence of Christian rebaptism in the New Testament. Let’s just do it once,” he said. “It is a serious matter and this statement makes progress.”

The voted statement now stipulates that rebaptism “should occur only in special circumstances and should be relatively rare… A church member whose spiritual experience has become cold needs a spirit of repentance which leads to revival and reformation. This experience will be followed by participation in the ordinance of foot-washing, and the Lord’s Supper to signify renewed cleansing and fellowship in the body of Christ.”

Victor Hulbert/ANN