Thursday, February 25

Can any believer baptize?


One of the issues continuing to resurface again and again in our church planting is whether or not individual believers (disciples) can baptize those whom they have led to Christ. The vast majority of evangelicals in Ecuador hold to the notion that only recognized (ordained) pastors, and missionaries are authorized to perform baptisms.

Was this Jesus intent when he gave us the Great Commission?

Were his commands to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach intended for:

1) the gathered disciples and them alone,
2) the local church throughout the ages, or
3) all disciples of Christ down through the ages?

If your interpretation is #1, then sit back and relax, there is little for you to worry about. It's not your business what God chooses to do with the untold millions who are on their way to an eternity separated from Christ. As strange as it sounds, I have dialogued with many believers who don't like to admit it, but by their actions actually hold to this position. They feel their responsibility is only to those the Lord brings directly into their life. They have been pacified in their conscience that God only "calls" certain ones of us for this kind of work. They, of course, are not part of this select group.

If the second interpretation is where you find peace, then you believe that every believer is charged by Christ to:

a) go,
b) make disciples,
c) ?
d) teach these new believers.

What happened to "c"? Why is it skipped? Those holding to this position feel that baptism as an ordinance is reserved only for those proper administrators, someone who has been given a separate and special authority to baptize.

In other words, all of us can do three of the four commands of Christ. But only certain individuals can do all four. Was that Christ's intent when he charged his disciples with carrying out the Great Commission? Did He consider baptism something in a separate class to the other tasks of going, disicipling and teaching? Is it something so special that it can only be administered by a select group of authorized individuals? If so, who are those individuals? How do they get to be the lucky ones to get to obey ALL that Christ said?

My own understanding, and the way we teach, points me to the third option...

I feel the plain reading of the GC lends itself to just what it says: ALL followers of Christ who consider themselves to be His disciples. We are the ones charged with carrying out Jesus' commission.

We are all part of the Body of Christ. There are no individual followers of Christ who have "more authority" than others. Any differences amongst those making up the Body, are functional, not authoritative.

The Spirit has given gifts to each for the building up of the Body of Christ. To begin to elevate persons over others is to go down the road leading to the whole sacerdotal/priestly function like we find entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church. There a clear separation exists between the professional clergy (who have authority), and the laity (who do not.) Clergy are authorized to perform the ceremonies of the church; the laity are not. There we find classes of Christians, distinctions.

Imagine with me for a moment the following scenario...

What would happen if every Dick, Jane, Bill and Harry were to get it into their heads that, yes, THEY are responsible for the Great Commission? Not just a select chosen few, but ALL of us! Like Peter, James, and John, we too have been vested with authority by Jesus Christ himself (Matt.28:18). It is for us to fulfill--not in part--but ALL of the Great Commission! I dare say, we would be far closer to finishing the task than we are today.

What do you think?

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P.S. I appear baptizing in the photo above modeling how it is done. The sister on the right is a new believer and is participating in her first baptism. It is kind of a "passing the baton" where we do the first baptism with them assisting. After this, they will perform any future baptisms.

18 comments:

Rick said...

Guy,

I struggle with this, too. Unfortunately, it (obviously) isn't a problem just in Ecuador.

I think this is where we are hung up on a tradition of man and have let the tradition trump Scripture.

We've turned baptism into something that often only signifies church membership and/or qualification for mission service.

I think most churches are afraid the roof would fall in and the floor would open up straight to Hell if someone other than the pastor baptized someone in their dead, inward-looking church. That may seem a bit harsh, but I'm willing to bet it's more true than not. And the opposition would be based on "we've never done it that way before" (the last 7 words of the dying church)

GuyMuse said...

Rick,

I have often stated that this single issue is probably one of the biggest obstacles for our seeing a genuine CPM in our midst. If we could ever get over this hurdle, I truly believe we would see literally overnight, CPM on a major scale. Those in leadership controlling this issue are holding back a powerful move of God's people.

Stephen M. Young II said...

We're struggling with this at our church. We baptized 10 people in February and will Baptize 10 more in March. BUT, how hard a process it is. Everyone who wants to be baptized has to go through a "profession of faith."

This isn't the simple "I believe that Jesus is the son of God who came and died and rose again to save me." This is an inquisition by the church to see if you know enough doctrine and polity to be baptized and accepted as a member of the church. The church has to approve either as a whole or through those delegated with "receiving the profession of faith" whether or not a person can be baptize.

As it is now, I baptize and the church pastor baptizes (missionary and pastor) no one else.

You should have seen their faces when I suggested that one family being baptized, let me baptize the dad, he his wife, and her their son. They looked like they were questioning my credentials to be baptized hahaha.

(My situation is as a missionary and church planter in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The church does it the way they do following the example given to them some generations ago by other baptist missionaries)

Stan Meador said...

Guy,

Great post and you know where I stand on it already.

The view that only the pastor (or ordained ministers and deacons) can baptize has stems from the belief that Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church and not to the individual disciples. In this view, the church has the stewardship of making sure baptism is properly done and only done to those who truly have faith. In short, it is a control issue based on an errant intepretation of Matthew 28.18-20 and a belief that the church was in existence before the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost.

I agree with you completely that the Great Commission was given to every disciple of Jesus. Jesus gave it to the 11 in command form and commanded them to teach all His commands to the disciples that they made. So, it is a circular command that applies to each new "generation" of disciples which they too must pass on to the disciples they make.

I have an article on my own blog entitled "Our Mission" which elaborates my own understanding of the Great Commission and includes Acts 1.8 and Luke 24.45ff. If you're interested you can read it on the articles page at www.rockymeadow.net

Blessings - Stan

BParsons said...

Guy,
(It was suggested that I cut and paste this article to this page. I hope that's OK.)

Though I am constantly open to re-examination on this, I tended, especially later in my mission career, to lean toward #2. I often entered a community and they had a huge backlog of believers who had waited for maybe years until an "ordained" individual showed up to administer the sacraments, er, I mean, "Ordinances."

For me, preaching to them that the church gave the authority to baptize was a step away from the clergy-only idea that had dominated these churches for several generations. I remember standing in a baptistry at FBC Esmeraldas and saying, "I baptize here, not because I am a missionary or "ordained," but because I have submitted myself to the authority of this local congregation, and do it under your directions."

I agree with your conclusions, but with one precaution. Many of the 70's "swimming pool" baptisms were ineffective in getting people into a local, visible congregation of believers. In my own community, there are some youth who were baptized by a friend on a friend's property, and never made any type of statement of loyalty to Christ, His Church, or His work, and who never entered into accountability with a body of believers. I know that the New Testament is not the explicit basis for the prevailing idea that baptism is the way to membership in a local Baptist church, but it's a "pragmatic" approach, which is not always a good apologetic.... See More

You have driven me back to the New Testament to think these things out further. Excellent article!

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

I know well the church scenario you paint in that it is similar here, and has been for many years.

My concern is that to continue to reinterpret the GC according to our fear of losing control by allowing ALL disciples to baptize, teach, etc. we are actually hindering the fulfillment of the GC. The more we think our role is to control and manipulate the process, the more damage we cause to our cause.

I feel one of the roles I have as a missionary is to confront and question many of the traditional practices assumed to be biblical, yet do not have solid ground to stand on when filtered through the Word of God.

GuyMuse said...

Stan,

Thanks for chiming in on this one. I highly recommend "Our Mission" that appears on your blog at http://rockymeadow.net.

If we would understand baptism as you write, things would not be nearly as complicated as we have made them...

Also, I baptize putting the person under the water. Why? Because the word “baptize” came from the Greek language, not from English. Centuries ago they did not translate the word, but mported it from Greek into other languages. With time the meaning of the original word was lost and the traditions of the church redefined the word. If they had translated the word from the beginning everyone today would know that the Greek word meant “to put under water” or “submerge.” Baptizing in this way is not something magical, it is simply obedience. What do disciples of Jesus do? Disciples of Jesus obey all of His commands. If we had not lost the original meaning of the word, we would have an immersion of the new disciple instead of having a baptism.

GuyMuse said...

Bruce,

So glad to have you join us in this dialog, and appreciate your honest thoughts on this matter as a Baptist pastor there in the States.

Just a couple of nights ago, we sat down with the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Ecuador to discuss this very issue (that is one of the reasons I posted this blog).

He whole-heartedly agreed with everything we said about baptism, more or less with these words, "I know this is Biblical. It is what we should be doing. If we practiced this we would see a huge harvest, BUT...

...we would have all kinds of problems with the denomination. I could lose my credentials. It would be scandalous. What we would have to do
(and he does intend on doing this) is hand out credentials to all those disciples authorizing them to baptize. We must keep this whole matter low-key and not cause too much of a stir..."

For me, this is a luke-warm compromise, but probably better than the status quo. Hopefully we can continue our dialog with him and get to the point where God's Word is enough authority and permission to do something, WITHOUT having to also have denominational permission. It takes a lot of courage to stand on God's Word alone.

Pray for us, this continues to be a huge issue in finishing the task here in Ecuador.

stephanie said...

Thank you SO much for saying this Guy - I agree wholeheartedly! Keep thinking, working, following Jesus, church planting and blogging!

I recently re-posted one of your posts @ http://upmytree.blogspot.com/2010/02/he-must-become-greater-i-must-become.html and it sparked some great conversations with friends. So thank you again!edici

GuyMuse said...

Stephanie,

Thanks for the kind words, and for reposting the Watson tract on your blog. I didn't know you blogged! I have added you to my blog reader to better keep up with your writing.

Stephen M. Young II said...

Let's talk about those 1970's swimming pool baptisms. That looks like a good rabbit to chase. I was born in the 70s, so no experience there. I do remember at East Texas Baptist University in 1994, there was a guy who led another student to the Lord and baptized her in the school fountain.

It seems no one liked this. We heard a lot of people commenting that Baptism has to be done in connection with a church or it doesn't count and things like that. The only problem I had with it, was that it was forbidden to get into the school fountain. Hah.

The girl was genuinely saved and genuinely confused. She was baptized again later that week at some church and became a member there.

BParsons wrote "In my own community, there are some youth who were baptized by a friend on a friend's property, and never made any type of statement of loyalty to Christ, His Church, or His work, and who never entered into accountability with a body of believers."

In this case, why wouldn't the person who baptized be responsible for discipling the new Christian and getting him or her involved in a local church? Seems like when only the ordained do the baptizing, they can only do the discipling at a distance, through sermons and media, because there is just not enough time in the life on one man to personally disciple the many.

Christiane said...

Even in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths, from time immemorial, any person may baptize in the Name of the Lord, if no clergy are present to do it.

Denying Christian people the right to baptize new believers also denies the 'priesthood of all believers', a sacred doctrine of all Christian people.

AND, no where in Scripture is it mandated that only clergy may perform baptisms.

Where do they get this restriction? Certainly not from the Bible, nor from any traditions of ancient Church. If anything, they are in violation of Scripture, by creating barriers to conversion.

Can it be that 'only certain people' are trusted? Even then, they don't baptize in their own right: they baptize in the Name of the Lord. Anyone may do that.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

I also posted this on www.simplechurch.com and received the following response that for me covers the swimming pool objection:

Do you mean that the baptism of that Ethiopian fellow by Philip was legitimate?! After just one conversation about Jesus -- and just on an Old Testament text?! Out there along some road?! You can't be serious! There's no way that he could have known everything he was getting into! We don't read there that Philip told him anything about the ministries of the church, do we? What was his skill set? His "passion"? Did he complete the spiritual gifts inventory form? Who would be his mentor over the next year? What certainty would there be that he would go on with the Lord after that? I don't read anywhere that Philip went down to Ethiopia afterwards to follow-up on him. Isn't that irresponsible? What if he just started his own group when he got home? This idea that you have sounds pretty risky!

GuyMuse said...

Cristiane,

Welcome to the M Blog, and thanks for your comment. I agree with you, no argument from me! :)

Traditions and practices have a way of elevating themselves to the level of Scripture. When one tries to point this out, you are told, "yes, but..." (Sigh)

Stephen M. Young II said...

"I don't read anywhere that Philip went down to Ethiopia afterwards to follow-up on him. Isn't that irresponsible? What if he just started his own group when he got home? This idea that you have sounds pretty risky!"

There is a joke in there somewhere about the Ethiopian not having the... the...*courage* to do that.

I always go back to that, seems to me that story is so prominent for a reason.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

I agree that Philip and the Ethiopian is definitely in the Book of Acts for more a good reason. Why we continue to pretend it isn't there (along with its implications) is beyond me.

Chris said...

Hi
Just found this post/blog whilst struggling with this issue.
I simply can't get baptised!
No pastor will touch me unless I undergo some sort of 9 month initiation and scrutiny from a 'church council'. I' dead set against this so I'm stuck.
They want to baptise me in their name it seems, not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Can I baptise myself?

J. Guy Muse said...

Chris,

Sorry to hear the difficulty in finding someone to baptize you. I would suggest finding a brother in Christ whom you know and asking them to baptize you. Let us know how things go!