Did You Make an Acceptable Dedication to God?
EACH year a large number of humble persons throughout the world learn of God’s marvelous purposes and righteous requirements. They see the need to serve this great God, Jehovah, and they then dedicate their lives to him, symbolizing this dedication by being baptized, or immersed, in water. (Matt. 28:19, 20) In this way hundreds of thousands of persons from all walks of life have become dedicated servants of Jehovah God.
However, at times questions arise in the minds of some of these dedicated servants of God as to the validity of their dedication and baptism. Understanding so much more now about God’s purposes, some wonder whether the dedication they made years ago was a proper one or not. They ask: Did I make an acceptable dedication to God? How can I tell whether it was valid? How much did I need to know at the time? If I do not remember the exact occasion of my going to God in prayer and dedicating myself, should I be rebaptized? What if the questions now asked of baptism candidates were not presented at my baptism years ago? Would that mean I need to be rebaptized?
Persons who, over the years, have submitted themselves to water baptism by Jehovah’s witnesses have no reason to get to thinking that they did not understand what they were doing at the time of their water baptism, or that they were not informed of what they were about to do before actually being immersed in water.
It has always been the procedure of the Watch Tower Society at general assemblies and in the local congregations to have a talk on baptism delivered to all interested persons before the water baptism takes place. Every speaker appointed by the Watch Tower Society, or by the local congregations, would, in his sermon, give the explanation of baptism and its significance in harmony with what had been published in the books and magazines of the Watch Tower Society up to that time. Additionally, these interested persons could have read for themselves such articles prior to their baptism.
Just because an individual does not clearly and distinctly remember his precise thoughts at the time of his water baptism years ago does not mean that he did not know what baptism meant. One’s lapse of memory does not prove anything. It does not mean that he did not know what he was about to undergo in symbolizing his dedication.
What this water baptism symbolized has always been clearly understood and explained by Jehovah’s witnesses, although there has been a change in terminology. In times past what we now call “dedication” used to be called “consecration.” It was called consecration, for instance, in the book by Charles Taze Russell entitled “The New Creation,” in which book the meaning of water baptism is explained, particularly with reference to those who make up the symbolic body of Christ, those who have the hope of heavenly life. In due time, however, in The Watchtower of May 15, 1952, two articles appeared on this subject. The leading article was entitled “Dedication to God and Consecration,” and the subsidiary article was entitled “Dedication for Life in the New World.” These articles showed that what was once called “consecration” was more properly termed “dedication.” Since that time the term “dedication” has been used.
Understanding of the symbolic meaning of water baptism had been broadened out previously to 1952 to include those of the “other sheep” class, those who have hopes of living forever in a paradise earth, as well as those of the anointed body of Christ. As stated on page 677 of the book entitled “‘Babylon the Great Has Fallen!’ God’s Kingdom Rules!”: “However, from 1934 onward the anointed remnant plainly pointed out that these ‘other sheep’ must now make a full dedication of themselves to God and symbolize this dedication by water baptism and then become fellow witnesses of Jehovah with his remnant.—See The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, as of August 15, 1934, pages 249, 250, paragraphs 31-34.” Thus water baptism was extended to include the “other sheep” class. Its symbolic significance also continued to be correctly understood.
The Watch Tower Society in all its publications continued taking care not to leave interested persons in ignorance of the fact that water baptism symbolized consecration, or, as now better understood, dedication. In its brief account of the general assembly held at Washington, D.C., May 31 to June 3, 1935, the July 1, 1935, issue of the Watchtower magazine said, on page 194: “About twenty thousand interested ones attended, among whom were a large number of Jonadabs [those with earthly hopes] who symbolized their consecration by water immersion.” The following year, or 1936, the book Riches was published, and it stated on page 144 under the subheading “Baptism”: “Is it necessary for one who today professes to be a Jonadab or person of good will toward God to be baptized or immersed in water? Such is proper and a necessary act of obedience on the part of one who has consecrated himself . . . It is an outward confession that the one being baptized in water has agreed to do God’s will.”
In the year 1939 the book Salvation was published, and on pages 270, 271 and 273 under the subheading “Baptism” it says: “Baptism or immersion in water is a symbol outwardly testifying that the person thus immersed has surrendered his selfish will to do God’s will. . . . Baptism, therefore, symbolically and outwardly testifies to an agreement to do God’s will. . . . Baptism is required because it is an act of obedience; and all who please God are required to be obedient.”
In the Watchtower account of the assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses held at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1941, page 287 of the September 15, 1941, issue says: “Never since Pentecost of A.D. 33 was there such a great number baptized at one time at one place, in symbol of their consecration to Jehovah through Christ Jesus to do the divine will. It took two hours to perform this act of faith and obedience, so great was the number of those presenting themselves.” In the baptismal talk to all these candidates the speaker for the occasion stressed that water baptism symbolized consecration, or, as we know it now to be, dedication. 3,903 were immersed.
So, then, down through the years there has continued to be a constant reemphasizing of the fact that water baptism symbolized one’s decision to devote himself henceforth and forever to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ. Hence, it can be seen that from a very early time the significance of dedication and water baptism has been clearly understood and presented for all who wanted to serve God properly. The change in terminology from “consecration” to “dedication” has not affected in any way what was meant and understood to be a vow or promise made to God to do his will.
QUESTIONS AT BAPTISM TALK
It may be that on some baptismal occasions in the past years specific questions that could be answered audibly were not asked of the baptismal candidates regarding their faith, obedience and dedication.* Yet the failure of the speaker on baptism to pronounce such questions, and hence the failure of the baptismal candidates to answer audibly and affirmatively to such questions, do not undermine the validity of the baptism performed on such occasion. The deciding element in the matter is that the speaker correctly presented the significance of water baptism to the interested persons and they understood the matter, for which reason they went to the place of immersion, changed their clothing and submitted to being dipped beneath the waters.
There is no reason for persons today to think that because they have difficulty remembering what occurred a few or many years ago they did not know what they were doing on the occasion of their baptism. All their actions argue that they did understand and they did intelligently undergo water baptism in symbol of the dedication that they decisively made to Jehovah God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the October 1, 1942, issue of The Watchtower, on pages 300 to 302, an article entitled “Baptism” was published and this article concludes with the following statements: “Before proceeding with your baptism it is proper, first, that you answer affirmatively these questions to show you are taking this step with the Scriptural understanding thereof and are fit for baptism as a devoted servant of the Lord, fully responsible to Him: (1) Do you believe in Jehovah God the Father, that ‘salvation belongeth unto Jehovah,’ and that Christ Jesus is his Son in whose blood your sins are washed away and by whom salvation comes to you from God? (2) Have you therefore confessed your sins to God and asked for cleansing by Christ Jesus, and therefore turned away from sin and the world, and consecrated yourself without reservation to God to do his will? Your answer, being Yes, is testimony that you are worthy and in line for water baptism in obedience to God’s will.”
In the next issue of the Watchtower magazine, that of October 15, 1942, in the account of the assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Cleveland, Ohio, on September 18-20, 1942, it says on page 319 regarding Sunday morning, September 20: “The day was opened with a discourse on ‘Baptism’ at 8 a.m., and 459 presented themselves for water immersion in symbol of their complete consecration to the Lord; it was a pleasure to behold so many young persons thus ‘remembering their Creator in the days of their youth.’ These, immediately after baptism, joined their other companions in the field activities.”
The questions to be asked of the baptismal candidates before admitting them to water baptism were republished in a revised form in the February 1, 1945, issue of The Watchtower after the leading article on the subject “Baptism—Why?” namely, on page 44, under the heading “Questions.” The questions there printed are substantially the same questions that are asked of baptismal candidates at the present time and to which they are expected to answer affirmatively in an audible manner before being admitted to the immersion.
Yet, because such questions which were to be audibly answered may have been omitted at a baptism talk in times past, it does not mean that the information presented did not accurately inform the persons interested about what they were doing. The publications of the Watch Tower Society had long made the matter plain and the men representing the Society who would be giving the baptism talks would have thoroughly understood what was involved and would have made it clear to their listeners.
Some state that they do not remember saying a specific, private prayer at the time of their dedication and wonder if such failure renders their baptism invalid.
It must be appreciated that not all prayer offered to Jehovah God needs to be offered on bended knee in the privacy of one’s own personal room at home. Prayer can be offered up to Jehovah from the heart silently and unobserved by outsiders even while one is walking along the street or while one is standing in the presence of another person, as in the case of Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer for the king and was standing in his presence at the time he prayed. (Neh. 2:3-5) Consequently, just because one cannot recall a specific moment when he made a decision to be henceforth and forever Jehovah God’s and whether it was made in one specific, private prayer, it does not mean that he did not make a direct dedication of himself to the Most High God before he was immersed in water.
Certainly before a person would be immersed in water in symbol of dedication he would have to make a decision to undergo such immersion. The very reason for making such a decision would be an understanding of what the water immersion symbolized and the obligations under which he understood himself henceforth to be because of making such a decision to be immersed. No individual walks into a water immersion of Jehovah’s witnesses blindly just because he happens to be found in the crowd of candidates, being swept off his feet along with the crowd into the water and into the hands of the immerser.
Even while the individual is changing his clothing and is preparing himself to enter into the water to be immersed, he manifests to himself and to all observers that he has made a decision to be forever afterward dedicated to Jehovah God through Jesus Christ. Such a decision is a solemn thing and evidently it is made in a prayerful mood, with one’s thoughts on the God who can read the heart. So whether one made such a decision of dedication long before the actual baptizing in water, or it was made during or after the baptismal talk, the incontrovertible fact remains that the individual made a dedication of himself from the heart in the presence of the Most High God, and that is the thing of primary importance.
On the day of Pentecost when the apostle Peter told the Jews, who had been cut to the heart by the words that he preached to them, what to do, they followed his advice, repented, and were baptized on that day. (Acts 2:37-41) They had little time in advance of their actual water baptism to make the decision to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. This decision they did not make on bended knee in prayer in the privacy of their homes, which were located in scattered parts of the Roman Empire and even outside of it. They made their decision just prior to the water baptism that Peter encouraged them to undergo. They evidently made their decision standing up in the presence of the apostles, upon whom the holy spirit had been poured out that day.
So one’s physical attitude, or one’s location at the time of making the decision of dedication, or whether it was done in one well-remembered specific prayer, does not determine the validity of the dedication vow that is thus made. The essential thing is that the dedication must be understood to be made to the Most High God through his Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.
LIVING UP TO DEDICATION
When one dedicates himself to Jehovah God, he solemnly vows, or promises, to do the will of God forever. At baptism, therefore, he symbolizes this vow or promise to continue progressing in the Christian way. The responsibility to continue in that way of life rests upon each one who dedicates his life to God. He must live up to that dedication by doing what God has outlined in his Word. “Offer thanksgiving as your sacrifice to God, and pay to the Most High your vows.”—Ps. 50:14.
However, because a person does not live up to his dedication, it does not mean that his dedication was invalid. What it does mean is that he is simply not living up to that dedication! It represents failure to fulfill his vow, his promise, and not a failure to make a correct dedication and baptism in the first place. How serious this is can be seen from God’s Word: “Whenever you vow a vow to God, do not hesitate to pay it, for there is no delight in the stupid ones. What you vow, pay.”—Eccl. 5:4.
Thus, if one has slipped away from the faith to a degree, or may have even committed a grievous sin after he was baptized, this cannot be taken as an indication that his baptism must have been invalid and hence he must be rebaptized. In all likelihood it was not his dedication and baptism that were at fault. The trouble is his failure to live up to his promise to do God’s will.
If any today find themselves practicing what is bad, or if they practiced badness some time after their dedication, they should not automatically look to rebaptism to correct the situation. The way to set oneself straight with Jehovah is to confess the wrongdoing to Jehovah in prayer and also to the judicial committee of the congregation, who will prayerfully and Scripturally handle the matter. (1 John 1:9; Jas. 5:16) Whatever correction is administered will work toward the good of the one who has confessed his wrongdoing, as well as toward the good of the entire congregation.
However, it is a different matter when a person was committing serious wrongdoing at the time of his “dedication” and baptism and even thereafter. If one was habitually sinning, practicing a grievous wrong during this time, even though ceasing from it some time after his baptism and making advancement in the service of Jehovah, he was in an unclean state before God at the time of his baptism. Such a baptism, since it did not follow a true dedication, would be invalid. If such a person has now forsaken that practice of sin, repented and made a sincere dedication of himself to Jehovah God, he should be rebaptized.
Therefore, if any individual who wants to be a baptized Christian is living a life that, if he were already dedicated, would result in his being cut off or disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation, he is not ready for baptism. First he must clean up his life in harmony with God’s righteous requirements before presenting himself to the Most High for dedication and baptism.—1 Cor. 6:9-11.
GROWTH IN APPRECIATION TO BE EXPECTED
From all the foregoing it can be seen that the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses has been very careful to have all baptismal candidates understand that they were being immersed in water only because they had previously, whether shortly before or a long time before, decided to belong to Jehovah God and accordingly had deliberately and intelligently dedicated themselves to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
One therefore should not waver in his mind as to whether he had a correct understanding of the matter when he was immersed. In all probability, if he presented himself for baptism among the candidates he likely had sufficient knowledge to know what he was doing, which would mean that his dedication and baptism were valid.
With the passing of time Christians are expected to grow in knowledge and understanding of God’s purposes and requirements. It is therefore natural that at the time of water baptism one would not have the knowledge and understanding of matters that he would acquire after years of progressing toward Christian maturity. Even the Lord Jesus, after his baptism in the Jordan River and his receiving the holy spirit from heaven, went into the wilderness of Judea and spent forty days there to enlarge his understanding of what his dedication to God, symbolized by water baptism, really required of him. But the fact that he understood the matter of his dedication better at the close of the forty days does not mean that he did not make a valid dedication of himself to Jehovah God. When Jesus left his carpenter shop in Nazareth and went to John the Baptist at the Jordan River to symbolize his dedication, he knew the reason for this. But he also increased in knowledge and understanding with the passing of time.
We should be grateful for the increase in growth and understanding that God provides through his spirit, Word and organization. It helps us to carry out our dedication faithfully. But just because we were relatively poor in understanding and appreciating what dedication meant at the time of our baptism, we who are now possessed of a fuller, more accurate understanding of dedication and baptism should not feel it necessary to be rebaptized. We should, with mental equilibrium, remember all the information in printed and spoken form that has for many decades presented the matter clearly and should not let our faulty memories produce in us an unsettled state of mind and heart.
What we should appreciate more and more with the passing of time is the serious responsibility under which we have come by dedicating our lives to God. We should by all means sincerely and earnestly renew our determination to live up to that dedication to the Most High God Jehovah, and in this way imitate his faithful Son, Jesus Christ.—1 Pet. 2:21.
When receiving candidates for water immersion, Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (1884-1916), would put the following questions to such candidates:
“(1) Have you repented of sin with such restitution as you are able, and are you trusting in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins and the basis of your justification?
“(2) Have you made a full consecration of yourself with all the powers that you possess—talent, money, time influence—all to the Lord, to be used faithfully in His service, even unto death?”
After the candidates had answered affirmatively, he would say: “On the basis of these confessions, we acknowledge you as a member of the Household of Faith, and give to you as such the right hand of fellowship, not in the name of any sect or party or creed, but in the name of the Redeemer, our glorified Lord, and His faithful followers.”—See The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence as of May 15, 1913, page 159, column 2, under the heading “Broad Unsectarian Questions.”
Other baptismal speakers would follow this pattern with candidates for water immersion.