How did a believer become a convert in the early church?

Believers who choose and profess to be followers of Jesus Christ have always been baptized. However, in the Early Church, there were some requirements by individual churches before baptism took place. In most churches, before baptism occurred, the believer would first be instructed in the beliefs and practices of Christianity. These students were called “catechumens,” which is a Greek word meaning “oral handing down.”

Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) wrote this about the procedure of becoming a Christian:

“As many are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. They they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the in same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the
washing with water.”

People didn’t just raise their hands quietly in a pew, with everyone’s head bowed, nor did they dramatically go to the altar with popular music stirring their souls. How did they become a Christian?

THEY PRAYED AND THEY FASTED!

They prayed and they fasted, because it was a serious and life-changing step that they were committing to, and the decision was not taken lightly.

As the years of Christianity expanded, the catechisms of the early churches increased. About AD 215, a Roman writer named Hippolytus wrote about an elaborate process required by an early church to become a Christian. The Christian was first examined for suitability in a detailed process that looked at their background. If they were a slave, their Masters were interviewed. The jobs they held were examined, and many had to give up their jobs or take vows specifically designed to prevent their work from touching their Christianity. For instance, a soldier would have to take an oath that he would not execute anyone, or a sculptor or painter would have to vow never to make a false image.

After the lifestyle was thoroughly investigated, they would spend three years being taught the the things of Jesus Christ. Some churches had formal classes, others informal, but most all of them required study of the Word of God before acceptance into the faith. After deep study of the Word of God, and thoroughly learned their religion, they would receive baptism and full membership in the Christian Community.

Normally, Baptisms would be saved up and done twice a year, on Pentecost or Easter. Baptisms were often delayed or denied. It was a serious business, and early church leaders did not take baptism lightly. They held a very dim view of those who sinned after baptism, and were allowed sometimes only one major lapse, before they were removed from the congregation.

Because of the seriousness of Baptism, many withheld going to the waters, and chose instead to keep sinning until it was all out of them. It was not unusual to wait until just before death before taking baptism.

IT SURE IS DIFFERENT TODAY!

Sadly, I have seen so many lightly enter into baptism and beginning the walk with Jesus Christ, then giving it up for worldly affairs. It seems like baptism and salvation and redemption are just little activities that are necessary to belong to the newest fads, and once the newness wears off, it matters no more.

No one should become a Christian, if the Word of God is not known! No one should become a Christian lightly! No one should become a Christian if rejection of sin and the ways of the world is not upon their lips! No one should become a Christian for any reason other than they choose to follow their Lord Jesus Christ!

Christian leaders have a responsibility to teach the Word of God to those who seek to know Him, and to restrict baptism to those who truly seek Him. How can Christian leaders know for sure of the truth behind the request of a seeking person? We can’t! But what we can do is establish a program that requires learning the Word of God, that requires walking the ways of Christ, that takes the time to explain what being a Christian is all about. Then, if the person rejects the things of Christ after receiving them, it is completely their fault, and the leader is blameless!

2 Peter 2:21-22

“21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:21-22 KJV)

Citation: Hill, Jonathan. “Handbook to the History of Christianity.” Zondervan. Oxford 2006.