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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who Can Baptize?

Who Can Baptize? Anyone? Any believer? Any baptized believer? A church? Anybody a congregation chooses to authorize? Any ordained minister? The apostles?

We have discussed this on an e-mail list I'm on. Also a disagreement over a policy of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention about who is authorized to baptize has brought the question to the forefront in Baptist blogging communities. If one Convention of Baptists cooperating together and supporting the same program cannot agree on who can baptize, how much more so among all the different groups of Baptists?

Who can baptize? How can we know who can baptize? The Bible must decide the question. Surely the apostolic understanding of Jesus' command must inform us on who can baptize. When they undertook to obey the command of Jesus Christ, how did they perform it? Who baptized? Let us look at the command and the examples, and consider the precepts (teaching) in the Bible concerning baptism to see whether they shed light on the subject.

COMMAND (often referred to as the Great Commission)
Baptism is a command of God to be performed (Matt. 28:18-20) and to be submitted to (e.g. Acts 2:38; 10:48). The command to baptize is found in Matthew 28:18-20 (compare also Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; and Acts 1:8). The order of the command is make disciples, baptize, and teach. The fact that baptism is commanded to be performed suggests that those commanded, and no others, are the proper administrators of baptism.

Within the immediate context, most accept that Jesus was speaking to and commanding the apostles. For example, John Gill (commenting on Matt. 28:18) wrote, "…the following words were only spoken to the apostles." Most would probably agree that only the apostles were present when Jesus gave this commission (e.g.: v. 16 - "Then the eleven disciples went..."), though some in harmonizing the gospels may dispute this. If Jesus was speaking to the apostles, it is possible to understand the command in the following ways -- to the apostles as apostles; to the apostles as church representatives; to the apostles as preachers; to the apostles as individual believers. It is possible that He could also speak to them as members of the human race, but I suppose most would not think of that as applicable to this discussion.

EXAMPLE
If I have examined the Scriptures correctly and thoroughly, there are about ten examples of baptisms after Jesus gave the above-mentioned command to the apostles. Certainly this is not all the New Testament era baptisms, but I believe this exhausts the descriptive accounts in the book of Acts. In some cases, the account specifies the administrator. In others, the administrator is easily surmised, while in other cases, the administrator may be assumed, but cannot be definitely identified. Here are the accounts in chronological order: [1] Acts 2:41; [2] Acts 8:12; [3] Acts 8:13; [4] Acts 8:36-38; [5] Acts 9:5,9,18; (cf. Acts 22:16) [6] Acts 10:44-48; [7] Acts 16:14,15; [8] Acts 16:31-33; [9] Acts 18:8 (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16); [10] Acts 19:1-7. Baptism is also mentioned in Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24 -- all in reference to John’s baptism.

The baptisms recorded in Acts may be reasonably, though not indisputably, categorized in the following manner:

Administrator known
Samaritans -- Philip baptized believing Samaritans (Acts 8:12)
Simon the sorcerer -- Philip baptized Simon (Acts 8:13)
Eunuch of Ethiopia -- Philip baptized the eunuch (Acts 8:36-38)
Saul/Paul -- Ananias baptized Paul (Acts 9:5,9,18)
The Corinthians -- some were baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8), though most were not (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16)
Twelve Ephesians -- Paul baptized twelve men in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)

Administrator assumed
Cornelius' gathering -- Peter commanded them to be baptized and probably performed it, though the text is not specific (Acts 10:44-48)
Lydia -- heard the truth and was baptized, presumably by Paul, but Luke, Silas or Timothy probably can’t be ruled out (Acts 16:14,15)
Philippian jailer -- evidently Paul or Silas baptized the jailer and his household (Acts 16:31-33)

Administrator unknown
The day of Pentecost -- the Apostles are the generally assumed administrators, though the text does not specifically say (Acts 2:41)
The Corinthians -- Paul did not baptize all of them (I Corinthians 1:14-16); plausible candidates include Silas, Timothy, Apollos and Peter.

Those who have a different point of view could argue against some of these as I have assigned them. The eunuch and several named in Corinth are indisputable as to the administrators. The baptisms in Samaria by Philip should be an objective conclusion, since no one else is mentioned with him. Ananias baptizing Paul seems reasonable. Most others cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and some people hold that the 'rebaptisms' of Acts 19 are not actual baptisms at all. All references emphasize the candidate -- "be baptized", in the passive voice -- except two, which emphasizes the administrator in the active voice (Acts 8: & I Cor. 1:14, 16).

The known cases show that the command was not given to the apostles exclusively, because not all administrators were apostles. The examples that are certain or somewhat certain point to church officers, ministers or apostles as the administrators of baptism. They do not show that all believers indiscriminately were performing baptisms. Those who hold that anyone can baptize might argue that the unknown cases leave room for their position. But there is only silence and no support. The Biblical emphasis is on the candidate, not the administrator. This does not mean that the administrator does not matter.

PRECEPT
Is there anything in the teaching, nature or meaning of baptism that requires an authorized administrator? These passages in the epistles address the subject: Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 1:14-17; 10:2; 12:13; 15:29; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 6:2; and I Peter 3:21. I see no strong argument from the nature or meaning of baptism concerning the administrator. We, having put on Christ, are baptized into His death and raised to walk in newness of life. One precept that might be related is identity. Baptism identifies us with Christ in His baptism and testifies that we are following Christ. If we are identifying as followers of Christ, we would not want to be identified in baptism by someone who is not a follower of Christ. A second precept that might apply is gospel order. The gospel order is -- received the word, baptized, added to the church, continuing in doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread (Acts 2:41,42). If we consider this as a matter of continuous replication, it could be important that the administrator is within this continuum. Thirdly, we might consider the "one baptism". If there is only one baptism, should the administrator have that one baptism? Even if one admits the above conclusions (e.g., some believe the "one baptism" is spiritual rather than water baptism), at most they suggest an administrator who is a baptized believer. Many would point to Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 1 ("Christ sent me not to baptize", etc.) as portraying the administrator of baptism as insignificant. But nothing in the precepts would contradict limiting authorized administrators to persons acting in a ministerial capacity.

Can anyone baptize? NO. The command clearly WAS NOT given to unbelievers. So immediately we know the lowest common denominator for an administrator -- a believer, a follower of the way. The following we can safely assert: those who baptized in early New Testament times were believers who had been baptized and were part of Jesus' gathered church. All known cases were persons acting in a sort of ministerial capacity -- apostle, evangelist (or deacon), and one directly commissioned to baptize (Ananias, possibly an elder at Damascus). Command and example favor this as the normative practice of the church.

14 comments:

martyduren said...

RL-
Good, thorough study.

Another thing that is being overlooked in this is that if the pastor of a local church "delegates" his role of baptizer to some else, say a child's grandfather, is that still offensive to those who hold to "qualified administrator"?

If it is, then they surely can't hold to a very strong view of pastoral authority it wouldn't seem.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important and common factor is that the candidate is a believer, and baptism is not only a step of obedience, but a witness to a conversion experience. The baptizer must also be a believer and a member of the local church, preferably the pastor, in my opinion. If not a biblical command, it certainly follows logic.

Cheers,

Jim

martyduren said...

Jim,
Since it isn't clearly stated in scripture, it would help me see your point if you'd demonstrate the logic of it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Marty,
Since the pastor is the official head of the local church, or ought be, and spiritual leader, it makes sense that he should be the one baptizing.

I was baptized in a PB Gospel Hall by one of the spokesmen for that assembly. Similar idea except they have no pastor-designate. My baptism was accepted by the British Baptist Union in that it was a public confession of faith....regardless of church organization.

Cheers,

Jim

Anonymous said...

I am reluctant to accept religious principles based on logic, I am afraid. And frankly, I don't see in scripture that baptism was based on acceptance by a local church at all. What local church body granted the eunuch membership prior to his baptism? I am not saying that this is necessarily an improper practice, but do not see a scriptural basis for it. Anyone?

TS

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for the comments Marty, Jim & TS.

Marty, I suppose I do not hold the same type of view of pastoral authority which I think I understand you to be saying here. Please correct me if I misunderstand. I prefer to take what some might refer to as the "cautious road". I find only examples of those baptizing in the NT who appear to be operating in some ministerial capacity. Since I find no other clear examples, I prefer to stop there and err on the side of caution if so be that I am wrong.

TS, I can't speak for Jim or Marty or anyone else, but I don't see my position as based on logic - just simply going as far as I can presently understand the Scriptures as going and no further.

As to the other, we might agree, though I think that is a slightly different issue from the authorized administrator issue. A church, IMO, does not have to vote for a minister to baptize a person who has professed Christ (though there is nothing wrong with it either). We are fellowshipped into the local church, not baptized into it. So it would still be necessary for a church to accept the baptism (and profession) of the Eunuch once he presented himself. Though not specifically a baptism issue, we see something similar when Paul tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem. They did not believe Paul was a true disciple and would not receive him until Barnabas intervened on his behalf.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. My comment on logic was in reference to the earlier responses, not to your original post. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I don't see that the scriptural baptisms were conducted with the authority of any church body, and in fact with no authority but that granted them by God to do so. The only commonality I see is that all the baptizers were themselves baptized believers. Would this mean that any baptized believer today could perform a fully scriptural baptism?

And what is the essential element of baptism? The authority of the administrator, full immersion, or the faith and commitment of the "baptizee"? Assuming we would all agree that baptism is not necessary for salvation, imagine a scenario where someone was asking for baptism in a situation where no water was available, say out in a desert where death was certain. Would baptism with sand be just as "effective" in fulfilling the command to be baptized? (This seemingly random question is based on an historic incident, in fact). What exactly is the efficacy of baptism, anyway?
TS

Anonymous said...

Baptism is first off a command of the Lord Jesus to follow Him through the waters of baptism. There is no substitute for water.

I was never tempted to sprinkle or pour water over a dying soldier on the battlefield. To utter belief on the Lord Jesus unto salvation was sufficient for me.....as the thief on the cross.

Efficacy: I think there is a spiritual blessing when one takes this step of obedience in following the Lord,,,,,period!

Literally thousands of Salvationists go through life without either baptism or sitting at the table, and they have been mightily used of the Lord in His service. This fact does not negate the importance of baptism in the life of the believer, but simply demonstrates that blessings seem to pass along despite the lack of this step so commanded by our Lord.

Cheers,

Jim

R. L. Vaughn said...

TS, I agree that all the baptizers were themselves baptized believers, and this is a definite commonality. Since I think that all of the known administrators were also engaged in preaching, I would think that is another point of commonality (although I do realize some might argue concerning Ananias). But if so, it would not necessarily follow that any baptized believer could perform a baptism. Even those who theoretically believe any baptized believer can baptize tend to put some restrictions on it.

Concerning the essential element of baptism, I think to ask "The authority of the administrator, full immersion, or the faith and commitment of the 'baptizee'?" presupposes that it must be either/or. That cannot be assumed but must rather be determined. IOW, perhaps it's all four, or three.

To me, baptizing with sand (or other substitutes) instead of water places a kind of "inordinate affection" on the ordinance of baptism that the Bible does not. What state of thinking about baptism would cause us to imagine that if the ordinance cannot be performed as commanded that we could substitute something else? I tend to think more like this -- in cases where the performance of a duty is impaired or impossible, that God probably accepts the faith as the performance. Jesus didn't halt the crucifixion to give the time for him to be baptized, or ask the disciples to sling some water up on him as a substitute. Maybe a kind of crude not well thought-out illustration, but perhaps it gets across the idea.

As far as being baptized by full immersion under sand, I hope I have a few more blogs to go before that day, Lord willing.

JJ said...

Let's keep in mind the scriptures here. Forget speculation and manly 'logic.' The fact is that the bible doesn't specify qualifications for being a baptizer. Mark 16:16 says "he who believes and is baptized..." It does not "he who is baptized by an ordained minister/priest/pastor. True, the baptizers were baptized believers themselves (except maybe Ananias---we don't know that for sure). It would make sense because it was the beginning of preaching the word and baptism accompanied those who received it. All the accounts we have of preaching are from Apostles. Placing restriction on who can baptize based on "leadership" is faulty as God does not place this restriction. It is merely speculation and of men to try and decide what feels right to them. Therefore, there are churches that make appointments for baptism, make baptism the focus for joining a physical church, or relegating sole baptism duties to designated leader. We know clearly that the apostles were baptized believers, but how can we be sure that all modern day clergy are truly baptized believers? Yeah, there are crooked leaders in some churches, God warned of that also. He never said that he would not recognize a baptism because of who performed it. Not once. Where does qualified administrator appear in the bible? How do we determine who is qualified? Is it by being saved? No man can surely judge the salvation of another man so that is faulty. The bible does not say that the eunuch was in a large gathering so baptism doesn't have to be done that way (as so many believe). Phillip preached to the eunuch and then baptized him. The bible prohibits no believer from baptizing anyone. It doesn't prohibit non-believers but I won't go that far right now. Acts 2:38 says repent, and be baptized. Acts 22:16 says arise, and be baptized. Jesus said , "he who is baptized.." The plethora of other verses w/ baptism never focus on the "qualified administrator", but the attitude of the candidate toward God. Find a verse of prohibition rather than speculation.

R. L. Vaughn said...

JJ, thanks for stopping by and commenting on who can baptize. I agree with some of your focus, yet find others points with which I disagree. Probably a big difference is in our approach. I would describe mine this way. I see in Matthew 28:19-20 a command to baptize (Go ye therefore...baptizing). Then I look at the New Testament record to find how the New Testament believers understood and obeyed that command. At least that is what I am attempting to do.

I think we must be careful in condemning others for using "speculation and manly logic". Shortly after writing that you begin a sentence, "It would make sense..." What is that other than looking at the issue from human logic? So perhaps we can all be guilty at different times.

I think we must also be very careful about interpreting the Bible looking for prohibitions for everything we cannot do. You wrote, "The bible prohibits no believer from baptizing anyone." You are correct, but also go on to correctly state, "It doesn't prohibit non-believers..." So should we encourage unbelievers to baptize simply because there is no command for them not to? There are many things that the Bible doesn't specifically or directly prohibit, but that doesn't mean we're free to do them. The Bible doesn't prohibit us from baptizing babies -- if we're looking for a specific command "do not baptize babies". But in commanding us to baptize believers, babies are excluded since they are incapable of belief. Ultimately, I believe numerous "probitions" are found in applying Biblical principles positively without adding to them.

It is good to hear various perspectives on the issue.

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Anonymous said...

If the 'qualification' of the person doing the baptism is at all important or necessary in determining whether God accepts the baptism as legitimate or not, then how should one pick out and verify that the baptizer is legit? I would think that the baptizer is not important. It is about what is going on between God and the baptized person. What if the 'ordained' person was not actually a born-again Christian, but merely a person who passed tests in seminary. Would that invalidate the baptism? Surely not.

Don S said...

What I see in this argument is a static isolation of baptism and who can administrate it from other aspects of the great commission. The same argument can be given about the sharing of the gospel. Only the same people were sharing the gospel leading to baptisms. If the church is willing to empower its members to share the gospel in power and lead others to salvation in Christ, it is disingenuous to deny that same evangelist the privilege of baptizing. We know Philip was an evangelist only because he evangelized. We send missionaries and ministry teams to backyard bible clubs across town and into the bush of Zimbabwe. The biblical process seems to indicate that if people are sent or commissioned by the church to preach the gospel and lead others to Christ, they also are authorizing these evangelists by default to baptize. We must be careful not to start with tradition, then seek an interpretation of scripture. We must balance the truth of scripture with that which happens beyond our immediate control.
Jesus warned his disciples in Mark 9 that one who was casting out demons in His name apart from His inner circle was still permitted to do so. It is the responsibility of ministers to send their flocks out to evangelize and baptize and to make certain those who are sent are qualified in presenting the gospel and equipped to do the work of the ministry. No, not just anyone can baptize, but nothing in scripture indicates that baptism is strictly for the clergy.