“What Prevents Me from Getting Baptized?”
1, 2. Why did Philip not prevent the newly converted Ethiopian from getting baptized?
THE great work of discipling people of all the nations and baptizing them found one of its earliest converts in the person of a cabinet minister from Ethiopia, a Jewish proselyte, who was returning to his homeland after a journey to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. He was sitting in his chariot reading the prophecy of Isaiah. Jehovah’s angel directed Philip to go and preach to him, and this Philip did. After Philip’s explanation that the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy applied to Jesus, the Ethiopian eunuch had made up his mind. This was it! This was the truth! And so, as the account at Acts 8:36-38 relates: “Now as they were traveling over the road, they came to a certain body of water, and the eunuch said: ‘Look! a body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?’ With that he commanded the chariot to halt, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.”
2 Philip did not prevent the Ethiopian eunuch from getting baptized. He knew that as a Jewish proselyte he had enough knowledge and understanding to know what he was doing. Philip knew this was no snap decision on the spur of the moment. He also knew that the Ethiopian qualified as a candidate for baptism in the matter of moral cleanness. Was he not just returning from worship at the temple and had he not gone to the extent of a strenuous journey to do so? Had not Philip been called by the holy angel to witness to this man, indicating that God had ‘estimated the heart’ of the Ethiopian and was calling him into God’s organization for service? Yes. So why would Philip prevent the baptism?
3-5. What requirements must a person meet in order to qualify for baptism?
3 No man can prevent another from being baptized if he meets God’s requirements. It is Jehovah God who decides what qualifications must be met by candidates for baptism. Persons not meeting the requirements Jehovah sets are automatically prevented by him as being ineligible. The baptizer, or an understanding baptized ordained Christian minister knowing the facts, would then explain why such one does not qualify. Those desiring to do the divine will must come to God on his terms and meet his requirements. Only those persons who acknowledge the universal sovereignty of Jehovah, who trust in the ransom and are washed clean, who submit to the kingship of Jehovah’s Son, Christ Jesus, and who follow the leading of the holy spirit qualify for baptism. In this respect it should be noted that understanding and recognition of these fundamental doctrines is even more required than is technical Scriptural knowledge concerning them. Advanced detailed knowledge of the Scriptures may, and often does, come after baptism. Paul said concerning Christians in his day: “But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”—1 Cor. 6:11.
4 Another requirement for all candidates of baptism is recorded for us at Isaiah 52:11: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch nothing unclean, get out from the midst of her, keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” Thus it is clear that all who wish to do the divine will must separate from the world and be clean. They must make whatever adjustments are necessary in their lives to conform to the moral standards laid down in God’s Word.
5 The requirements for baptism, then, can be summed up as (1) having enough knowledge and understanding to know what is being agreed to, and (2) being morally clean. In some countries the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses has had to take measures to make sure that both of these requirements are met. If someone does not yet understand the implications of baptism, then it is not the overseers in the organization who are preventing him from being baptized. Rather, baptism is temporarily postponed because of the ineligibility of the candidate. He does not understand and therefore could not be in harmony with God’s requirements. In the same way, a child under the age of reason is not eligible for baptism, because he does not understand all it means. In certain adults this lack of ability to understand the seriousness of the step they are taking is sometimes observed. In lands where this is common, the organization requires that a certain period of study be completed before a candidate is eligible. In the same manner, persons who need to make adjustments in their moral standard of living to conform to God’s righteous requirements should not be baptized until those changes have been made.
6, 7. (a) Who must answer the question as to whether there be something that prevents baptism? (b) When should dedication and baptism take place?
6 Now for all who have reached the point in life where they have accepted the truth and are prepared to come to Jehovah God as clean vessels, the time has come when they must ask themselves the same question as did the Ethiopian eunuch: “What prevents me from getting baptized?” His question was really one of self-scrutiny. Everyone must answer that question with a good conscience toward God.
7 If one recognizes the truth that Jehovah is and that his Son reigns, that his ransom applies to oneself and that Christ Jesus is dispensing the holy spirit in connection with God’s visible organization on the earth; if one has no problem relating to clean living that takes time to readjust; if one has been thinking seriously of giving one’s life to God’s service, what can one say in good conscience to the query: “What prevents me from getting baptized?” Nothing, except to express the same conclusion as the Ethiopian: Nothing prevents! There you have it! At the moment when one realizes that there is nothing preventing him is when he must be obedient to God and not postpone the receiving of water baptism.
8, 9. (a) Why are some dedicated ones postponing the step of baptism? (b) Will such postponing help in meeting responsibilities?
8 There are some dedicated ones, however, who for one reason or another are postponing their baptism. In some places in the earth as many as twenty-eight percent of those who publish the kingdom of God have not yet been baptized. If they are dedicated to God through Christ, what are the reasons for this? What is preventing them? A few are babes in knowledge and understanding and they should study more to have proper appreciation. Some others, new in the truth, have not had time to strip off the unclean habits of the world or straighten up their way of living with the opposite sex. These should get their lives straightened out first, become clean and stay clean. But by far the greatest number of these are persons who have enough knowledge to know the seriousness of the step of dedication. They are clean. If they have made a dedication and are still postponing baptism, they are disobeying a command. If they are not yet dedicated, then the answer is very simple: They should give themselves to God in complete dedication and stop holding back.
9 What prevents a clean person? Nothing, except a little thought in the mind of one who thinks that by postponing dedication a little longer he will be better able to meet the responsibilities. That is not so. In Asia, in Africa, in many countries where people have not had any Christian background those desiring to do the divine will have been able to come to a conclusion that they must change their lives over to Christian living in order to qualify for salvation. Oh, it takes a fierce inner struggle for a while, but as soon as the struggle is over and the realization that this is the truth dawns on him, that person quickly dedicates himself to Jehovah and submits to water immersion. But, remember, baptism is the symbol; it is not your dedication. Being dipped in water does not make the change. The heart must have changed. In many cases this change takes place in just a few months. Then there must be the holding faithful to the dedication.
10. Why should one not be fearful of dedicating himself although some have failed to be faithful?
10 How, then, can an answer be made to God in good conscience that there is some good reason to postpone dedication and baptism? No answer can. Some may be thinking that they know someone who made a dedication and failed. That may be, but what about those thousands upon thousands of dedicated ones all over the earth that are not failing, that are holding faithful to their dedication and baptism under great stress, persecutions and pressures of all kinds? There are certainly many more examples of those who dedicate and succeed than of those who dedicate and fail. It is not at all necessary to be fearful any longer. If one knows he should dedicate himself to God and be baptized and does not do so, the responsibility before Jehovah is the same as if he did. The man who makes a dedication and fails will not survive Armageddon, but neither will the man who postponed dedication and never took the steps to qualify him for life. Both will be equally dead. Why be in either class?
11. Could there be a more favorable time for dedication than the present?
11 Could the desire for a more favorable time to dedicate one’s life to God because of the reluctance to give up the pleasures of the world be preventing baptism? There could certainly never be a more favorable time than now. As for the urgency of the time now and the pleasures of this world, the apostle admonishes at 1 John 2:17: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” There is no reason to delay longer, but every reason now to make up one’s mind to do the divine will all the way. There will never be a better or more urgent time to do so than right now.
12, 13. Give modern examples of how former ties have been broken by members of various faiths and a firm stand taken for Jehovah’s clean worship.
12 The one submitting himself to baptism has broken former ties with Christendom or heathendom. This seemingly difficult step is being taken every day. In Africa the influence of witch doctors and fear of voodoo have been broken through the determination of newly dedicated and baptized Christians. In the Orient the powerful hold of ancestor worship has been repudiated even by old grandmothers who have worshiped their ancestors for many decades. This step has lost them old friends and acquaintances—something that is not easy for them, for to most Oriental people the standing among their friends and neighbors is more important than anything else in life. From all kinds of former beliefs people have come, dedicating and symbolizing that dedication by water immersion. Then they keep right on walking in their integrity. They have done what the Scriptures tell them to do, at 2 Corinthians 6:17: “‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing,’ ‘and I will take you in.’”
13 That is just what Jehovah has done today. How marvelous it is and how awe-inspiring it has been to see the spirit of Jehovah work on the minds of those formerly bound by pagan customs to repudiate the worship of demons and become ardent worshipers of Jehovah! This means making the mind over, and sometimes even a change of circumstances, but nothing has prevented them from dedicating and then being baptized. Some of these baptized ones were formerly followers of Buddha, striving for the nothingness of nonexistence. Some were formerly Confucianists, believing the best way of life was to follow a passive course of character development. Some were fiercely nationalistic Shinto worshipers of the Japanese emperor; some were Taoists, Mohammedans, Hindus, demon worshipers and atheists. Jehovah has taken them all in. Dedication and baptism became the door through which they were taken in. Any dedicated ones today thinking of postponing baptism should look at these marvelous modern-day examples of faithfulness from every quarter of the globe. By not holding back they have overcome all obstacles that might have prevented them from getting baptized.
14. Why must dedication never be “halfhearted”?
14 Dedication can never be a “halfhearted” thing. The footnote rendering of Psalm 119:113 substitutes the expression, “the double-minded ones I have hated,” for the main rendering, “the halfhearted ones I have hated.” Those understanding the necessity of dedication and baptism, but who for some reason hold back, are really being double-minded. One mind urges them to dedicate, the other influences them to try to hold on just a little longer to the glittering pleasures of this world. The greatest of Jesus’ two commandments was to “love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul.” (Matt. 22:37) No room for halfhearted dedication there. James (4:8) admonishes the “indecisive ones” to draw close to God, and he will “draw close to you.” Those who hold back are also holding themselves just outside that close, warm relationship with our Creator that comes with full dedication.
15. How should desire for dedication and baptism be developed in the hearts of the good-will people?
15 Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them, was given to faithful Christians of the early congregation. These loyal ones taught the seriousness of baptism to the new converts. So today, it is the responsibility of the mature to teach the seriousness of baptism. It is part of the upbuilding of the weak, for which the strong are responsible to the great Shepherd. By patient, tactful teaching and example they develop in the new person the desire for baptism. This is done gradually, but from very early in the weekly home Bible study that one conducts with the good-will person. Paul says: “For ‘anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved’. However, how will they . . . hear without someone to preach?” (Rom. 10:13-15) In the same manner, how will people of good will know the way to translate their newly learned truth into New World living and dedication if the mature Christians do not develop the desire in the hearts of these good-will persons?
16, 17. (a) Could one overdo encouraging to get baptized? (b) Why should premature baptism be guarded against?
16 Encouraging baptism can be overdone to the point where the baptism is no longer the decision of the individual, and this should be avoided. All Christians take a personal interest in their future brothers and they want them to take this necessary step of obedience for life and be baptized. Yet, no Christian can urge baptism on another against his will. Baptism follows a private dedication of the heart to do the divine will of Jehovah. It must be a freewill decision, the deciding one knowing well what is involved and being willing to accept the responsibilities of service that go with it. The practice of being obedient to one’s elders that exists in many Oriental countries cannot be applied when it comes to deciding on baptism. One should never be baptized to please parents or the influential head of a family who might happen to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
17 Premature baptism should be guarded against. Baptism prematurely without the proper appreciation results in double-minded persons who look back into the world and long for the things left behind. That one’s separation from the world is required should definitely be first understood. Jesus said: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) In the year 1959 there were 86,345 persons who put their hand to the plow. May they never turn and look at the things behind!
18, 19. What responsibility rests upon overseers and other mature Christians toward the newly interested ones?
18 In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, when Philip heard him reading the prophecy of Isaiah he asked him: “Do you really know what you are reading aloud?” (Acts 8:30) This was in effect an examining of the Ethiopian and then, by explaining the Scriptures to him, Philip made sure he did know. A discerning minister is able to point out the things the student needs to know in such a way that he will see the necessity of dedicating himself, and he will never have to be asked to dedicate himself to God. A skillful and discerning minister knows how to do this. At Proverbs 20:5 it is written: “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” The mature minister will not be timid to make known to the future candidate for baptism what Jehovah’s moral requirements are. The new person will then seek his counsel. Those who bear the vessels of Jehovah must be clean. Where moral standards have to be changed to conform to Bible principles, tactful early drawing up of the deep waters of counsel by the minister is needed so that the candidate can begin to rearrange his life where necessary. If a minister has been timid to bring up these matters, the candidate may have to meet the issue too suddenly and it may come as a shock of cold water.
19 Overseers and study conductors in the congregation organization also take an interest in the new persons of good will. In First Thessalonians, in the second chapter, 1Th 2 verses 3-12, the role of the mature overseer and conductor is summed up: “For the exhortation we give does not arise from error or from uncleanness . . . at no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, (just as you know) or with a false front for covetousness . . . we became gentle in the midst of you, . . . to the end that you should go on walking worthily of God who is calling you to his kingdom and glory.” The desire to give one’s life to God in dedication is developed patiently by the mature ministers, overseers and study conductors of the congregation.
20 Now, before a person decides to dedicate himself to be one of Jehovah’s obedient servants, whatever may happen to him because of that, he must have counted the cost. In the book of Ecclesiastes, or Kohéleth (Ec 5:5, 6), it says: “Better is it that you vow not than that you vow and do not pay.” There is no compulsion from God in this matter. But if one has tasted that Jehovah is good, he will unquestionably want to be on His side, as the apostles answered Jesus: “Master, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.”—John 6:68.
21. By whom should baptism be performed in order to be in accord with the divine will?
21 And by whom should he be baptized? Well, in these days of the established kingdom of God, who on earth are publishing those sayings of everlasting life? There is no question about it; it is Jehovah’s witnesses, the people upon whom he has been pleased to place his own holy name and into whose care he has committed the interests of his kingdom. Hence it is proper that immersion in symbol of dedication should be performed by one of these witnesses and by no other men. Arrangements for baptism are always made at every circuit and district assembly of the Witnesses, and may be made occasionally in local congregations when special circumstances call for that.
22-24. (a) Should candidates be asked questions before being admitted to baptism? Why? How should they be answered? (b) What is the substance of the first question? (c) Of the second one?
22 Before candidates are admitted to baptism it is proper that they answer two questions, so that all those assembled with them for the occasion may be witnesses who have heard from the candidates’ own mouths that they understand what they are doing and that they have taken the required steps. Those who can answer the questions in the affirmative should say, “Yes,” after each question, and should say it loudly and in unison, that is, all at the same time.
23 The first question is: Have you recognized yourself before Jehovah God as a sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him, the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ?
24 The second question is: On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit?
25. What should the baptized ones remember?
25 Everyone who has answered “Yes” to these two questions is eligible for baptism and should be baptized at that same circuit or district assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses. The baptized ones should remember the day; it is the day of their symbolizing their dedication because of which dedication they receive an ordination to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven. They should make a notation of it, the date and the year, lest they ever forget it. And they should remember also that that day of great and deep joy is no time to show hilarity or fanaticism; it is a serious occasion, and the ones undergoing baptism should have a prayerful attitude, just as we read about Jesus, that he prayed when he went up out of the water.—Luke 3:21.
26. What should all who learn the truth and take their stand for God now do?
26 The conclusion of the matter, then, is that it behooves all who learn the truth about Jehovah God and about his Son, the Redeemer and Savior of man, and take their stand by dedication on the side of the Creator to get baptized without fail in symbol of it, according to the divine will, and then continue in loving obedience to that will. For “he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.