Should Baptism Requirements be Raised?

In the March 2003 Ensign Gordon B. Hinckley is quoted as saying that the biggest problem that the church faces is rapid growth. This startled me a little bit. With all the possible things that he could have said, I would not have thought rapid growth would be the biggest problem. It seems evident to me that what the church is trying to do is accommodate that growth. Action in the other direction (limiting growth) seems almost unthinkable.

One of the things this has caused me to think about over the last couple of years is if the church should raise the requirements for baptism. There has been talk of raising the bar for missionaries, but apparently not for converts. I served for a couple of years as a ward mission leader in Michigan. From my faulty memory, this is what I remember being the requirements for baptism:

Attend church at least twice.
Have all the missionary discussions.
Pass a simple interview conducted by a missionary.

I believe that is it. If not that is close. The mission president at the time added a requirement that if there was a word of wisdom problem that the investigator had to quit the habit for one week successfully prior to baptism.

There are some members of the church who get upset by seeing people get baptized, show up for a couple of weeks, and then never be seen at church again for whatever reason. Some feel that if there were higher requirements for baptism that this lack of retention would go away. I admit that I had similar feelings during my time as ward mission leader and again as an Elders Quorum President. Part of the reason I felt that way is because I was being held partly accountable for this lack of retention. There may be some in the church that feel bad about the lack of retention because it makes the statistics look bad and makes home teaching less manageable. There are others who feel that for someone to make a covenant as serious as baptism and then not live up to that covenant is worse than not being baptized at all.

One of the problems with the above requirements is that minimum requirements have a nasty way of becoming standard procedure. Let me give one example. The Elders in our ward found an investigator on Thursday who had a smoking problem. They taught him the first discussion but also committed him to stop smoking so that he could be baptized the following Sunday. They taught him the second discussion on Saturday and committed him to be baptized the following Sunday. He came to church on Sunday and that is the first anyone in our ward had ever seen or heard of the guy, and the missionaries announced he was going to be baptized next Sunday. He got the rest of the discussions and was baptized after first being introduced to the church 10 days prior. He had no friends or relatives in the church, and never fully kicked his smoking habit. He slid into inactivity but would show up once in a while. I provided rides to church for him for a while until he started declining the ride. He was a nice man (he died of cancer a few weeks ago). Was he better off for being baptized? I think so.

Is this type of thing a problem? We baptize for anyone that we find a name for in our family history without knowing at all what their level of readiness is, and always chalk that up to a good deed. Why is it different with a live person who agrees to be baptized? Is it because of the personal commitment they are professing to make? Is the only problem the poor retention statistics and the guilt that sometimes comes with it? The Lord said to go into all the world and teach the Gospel to every creature. He also gave some requirement for baptism in scripture:

D&C 20:37 is good, but also look at D&C 20:68-69. There should be sufficient time for understanding. Also the investigator should show some level of godly walk, works and faith.

So, should the requirements for baptism be raised? Should we start having bishops (those that have discernment) do the interviews instead of missionaries? Or are things fine the way they are. I personally would like to see baptism requirement raised a bit for the sake of those making the commitment.


At 2/09/2006, Blogger Bookslinger said...

There do appear to be higher requirements in the "Preach my Gospel" book.

One of the new committments is to read the scriptures every day.

That seems to have migrated, like the WoW, from a recommendation to a requirement.

At 2/09/2006, Anonymous Naiah Earhart said...

When I was baptized 10 years ago, there's no way I could even have made the requirements that you mention, as my first discussion was on a wednesday, and I was baptized the following friday. Only one sunday in between.

In the latest church news, one of the quotations (on the page of quotes from Pres. Hinckley) is Pres. Hinckley pleading with us, as a membership, to befriend the new converts, to take them in to our hearts, and by so doing, eliminating the problem of convert retention.

That really is the key--spirit of community. If people feel that they 'belong', then there's nowhere else they'd rather be. My current ward is just amazing at that. I can't sing their praises enough. While membership in the kingdom, and relaionship with heavenly Father are personal undertakings, their community spirit, which just pulled me right in and eased all my fears along enough for me to get my faith on straight, so to speak, was not just helpful, but, I truly believe, vital to my own return to activity after a three-year hiatus.

You go back far enough, and there was a time when every member was a convert. Honestly, though, with the small numbers and the close geography, community spirit was no problem in Kirtland, or Nauvoo, etc. I think we need a way to recapture that same essence, here, in our 12 million member, world-wide days. How do we make everyone feel as if they live in a virtual Nauvoo?

Well, the answer is simple to state and immensely difficult to practice. We love them. We love each other. We take our wards as family, and participate fully. By fully, it means, not just at meetings. It means beings friends (friends deepened by our siblinghood in the gospel)--calling each other up, hanging out *outside* of meetings. Sure, any kind of prescibed friendship will, doubtless, be strained, but it can happen. It's happening here in our ward for our family.

So, I believe the answer lies in the hands and hearts of the membership. I would not change the baptism requirements, but, perhaps, a more comprehensive new-mwmber program would be useful. Right now, there's just the home teachers' new-member discussions, and, well, we all know home teachers...

At 2/09/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

bookslinger and naiah-

Thank you for your comments. If reading the scriptures every day were a requirement I might get kicked out.

Naiah, do you feel that this community feeling is more important than a spiritual conversion? I guess ideally you would have both.

Also, do you feel that this sense of belonging should come prior to baptism? Or should someone get baptised and hope that they will eventually feel this?

At 2/09/2006, Anonymous Naiah Earhart said...

I came from a base assumption that they *had* experienced spiritual conversion in their decision to be baptized.

At 2/11/2006, Anonymous Naiah Earhart said...

I'm sorry, I only answered half of your question.

I would say that, ideally, they would feel a sense of belonging to the gospel as it was being taught to them (a reflection of our eternal heritage), and then sense a type of that as they were introduced to the ward family. So, not really 'before' or 'after' they are baptized, but rather 'as they are being converted.'

The decision to be baptized must be based on the spirit, but if our wards are relating to each other as they should, that same sense os belonging in the eternities will be reflected in their interactions with other members. Make sense?

At 2/11/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Absolutely. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. In general I wonder if there is a rush to baprism pushed by missionaries that at times does a disservice to the people they teach. But admit that perhaps at times it may be best to get it done and not wait for someone to possibly change their mind.


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