EDITOR’S NOTE: Baptist Press is carrying a series of articles and columns leading up to Sept. 8, which is Baptism Day in the Southern Baptist Convention. For resources, go to namb.net/baptism-sunday.
VIENNA, Va. (BP) — Baptisms were conducted throughout the day at all campuses of McLean Bible Church in northeast Virginia, from 8 a.m. to nearly 7 p.m. with an hour or so afternoon pause.
A new believer is baptized at McLean Bible Church, a five-site congregation in northeast Virginia.
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When the 2019 Easter Sunday baptisms concluded, at least 586 newly converted believers had symbolically died to sin and risen to a new life in Christ.
“We just felt the Lord kind of leading us to not only do a call for salvation, which we do regularly here,” said McLean’s North Region pastor Nyke Gatlin, “but also give people the opportunity” to be baptized the same day.
Gatlin, main coordinator of the spontaneous baptism Sunday April 21 at McLean’s five campuses, talked with Baptist Press in advance of the Sept. 8 Baptism Day on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.
“As far as any of us current pastors knew, it literally might have been the first time in our at least recent church history that we did the immediate option,” said Gatlin, who serves at the Tysons campus in Vienna, Va., where senior pastor David Platt typically preaches. “We’re cautious to say impromptu, because … probably at least a month out, we started promoting that we would be doing baptisms on Easter this particular year.”
Before the Easter Gospel invitation was offered in more than 10 services across the various campuses, Gatlin estimated about 40 to 50 new converts had already gone through McLean’s baptism preparation process explained in an 11-page booklet at McLeanBible.org.
“We basically took the same process we use even for our baptism classes,” Gatlin said, “we basically took that same orientation and we condensed it, trained up a bunch of our lay pastors and staff pastors to receive people who not only came forward for salvation but came forward to take a step of obedience in baptism.”
McLean Bible Church in northeast Virginia told Baptist Press each new believer is counseled about their confession of faith before they are baptized.
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Gatlin explained the process to BP. Pastors, including some 40 paid staff pastors and 50 volunteer lay pastors, individually sat down with each new convert following each service and made sure the converts understood their professions of faith. Each new believer wrote a three-minute testimony to be read at the baptismal pool in advance of each baptism. New converts lined up to be baptized, with the lines clearing just in time for the call to Christian discipleship near the end of the following service.
“It took a long time,” Gatlin said. “By the time we were in the next service and making the call, we had probably just finished the service before.”
About 80 percent, he estimated, were conducted at the Tysons campus at the close of services in an outdoor baptistery and in two others inside the building; other baptisms were conducted at the remaining campuses. At Tysons alone, a special 7 a.m. sunrise service was followed by regularly scheduled services at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The church provided baptism garments including T-shirts, shorts and underwear in a variety of sizes to accommodate the spontaneous baptisms, Gatlin said. McLean always gives new converts baptism T-shirts, he said, emblazoned with the words “Death to Life.”
“We are a large church. We found that a lot of people who had been walking with the Lord for some time hadn’t taken that step [of baptism],” Gatlin told BP. “That kind of prompted it a little bit too, to give people that opportunity. But mostly it was just as we prayed and sought the Lord as we planned for Easter, we felt like the Lord was leading us to try this immediate baptism for the first time.”
New converts completed forms with contact information, allowing McLean to count 586 baptisms, Gatlin said. While a few took their completed forms home with them, he said the church estimates between 586 and 600 total baptisms.
Planning the event for the congregation that averages 11,000 to 12,000 in Sunday worship, Gatlin contacted several churches that had conducted similar events, he told BP, including The Summit Church, the senior pastorate of SBC President J.D. Greear in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. McLean Bible Church did not hold its event simply because The Summit Church had held spontaneous baptisms, Gatlin said, but he emphasized that Greear’s pastorate offered useful information.
“They were very helpful in helping us to prepare to do it ourselves,” Gatlin told BP.
“I think there’s biblical validity for both” spontaneous and scheduled baptisms, Gatlin said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily unbiblical to do it in a class form to make sure [of professions of faith], and I think it’s OK to do the immediate.
“We as a church, the reason we have done it a certain way for so long is we certainly were helping to make sure that our people knew [the truth of their decision],” Gatlin said, “but at the same time we were convicted by looking at the Scriptures, and all the examples of baptism that we see in Scripture were fairly shortly after people had given their life to Christ and in many cases the day they [professed faith].
“It’s safe to say that at McLean Bible Church,” he said, “we are now using both methods.”
At least 586 people who were baptized were contacted afterwards for discipleship, Gatlin said.
“No matter what method you’re using, whether it be the immediate approach or a baptism orientation class,” Gatlin said, “we were just as diligent. The process we use, that we always do in our class, is the exact same process [used with the Easter baptisms]. We taught them the same things, we asked all the same questions.
“We just did it one-on-one, and we did it quicker,” Gatlin told BP. “I would say to anybody, we should be diligent to ensure that the person that’s being baptized has made a credible confession of faith. They should be able to articulate the Gospel, explain what baptism is and why they want to do it.”
Sincerity of heart is not necessarily verified, Gatlin said, only sincerity of profession.
“Even in the first-century church — they were baptizing people and they were baptizing them pretty quick,” Gatlin said. “There were people that fell away. That doesn’t necessarily mean the process that they were using was wrong or even unbiblical.”