In the last few months, the Lord has opened doors for new Bible studies and Bible Storying groups to begin here in the Nashville area. Through this, there have been persons who have come to salvation in Christ and people being baptized.
This past week, one of the leaders involved in this effort was sharing with some local pastors about this and about baptisms happening in apartment complexes here in the city. There was concern raised about the “legitimacy” of these baptisms since they were not done by “ordained” ministers.
When I heard of this and heard the remarks of two of our others stating that only “ordained” ministers could do baptisms, I became concerned. It seems that our tradition has superseded the scripture.
Here are some reasons that I believe that this is not Biblical, but rather based on tradition:
1. The Great Commission was not limited to just the 11 Apostles and Paul. The Great Commission states: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Now if we as Southern Baptist, or as Christians in general, want to say we are Great Commission Christians then we must hold to the commission GO, MAKE DISCIPLES, BAPTIZING, and TEACHING which given to all of us as believers. It’s not that we go, make disciples and the rest is up to ordained leaders. That is flawed thinking. That is like saying, go have a baby, birth that baby and then turn that baby over to an ordained person and let them raise it.
As believers and followers of Christ we are called to make disciples, baptize them (help them to testify and identify with the community of faith) and help teach them the essentials of the faith and how to follow it. The problem we have today is relying too much on letting others (professional clergy) follow the commands of Christ and not obeying them ourselves.
2. Jesus demonstrated an empowering, “permission given” model for ministry. When Jesus’ disciples came upon someone who wasn’t “endorsed” by them casting out demons using Jesus’ name (His authority), they told him to stop. Jesus was clear in his correction to them:
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)
When Jesus’ disciples began to try to limit people from following Jesus’ example, He emphatically corrected them. This temptation has hindered the church for 2,000 years whenever it rears its ugly head.
If Jesus told his disciples not to stop others outside their group from casting out demons, representing His name, why should we try to hinder people from baptizing others, using His name?
Now some would counter this point by saying, “What about the sons of Sceva who tried to use the name of Jesus and got beat up by a demon possessed guy?” (Acts 19) They’re missing the point. The sons of Sceva weren’t followers of Jesus. All disciples of Jesus are commanded to use Jesus’ name to call people to repentance, baptism, and freedom. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, yes, it’s silly to try to represent His authority. But even then, Jesus never once forbids people from trying. He says, “These signs will accompany those who believe,” not those who are ordained.
3. In the New Testament, baptism was an immediate action that accompanied repentance and faith in Jesus. The Ethiopian Eunuch is just one. “So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” (Acts 8:35-38)
If a similar story happened today many of us in the body of Christ might have responded to the Ethiopian’s question, “Why can’t I be baptized?” with, “Well, you can’t yet because you haven’t taken a baptism class and there’s not an ordained pastor present.” Thankfully, Phillip had never heard of such a policy. I’m confident Jesus would not be a huge fan of the policy, either.
There are some times to wait for baptism, like honoring the heads of a household when a minor begins following Jesus. But, if all people are commanded to preach the gospel, then all people are called to baptize others as well.
4. Even Jesus didn’t baptize – His disciples did. “Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.” (John 4:1-3)
Jesus didn’t say, “Only I have the authority to baptize, because you guys are young and inexperienced.” Jesus Himself modeled for us that He empowers others to baptize. We should do the same!
5. The Apostle Paul didn’t make a big deal about who was doing the baptizing. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul says: “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church…. I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.” (I Corinthians 1:10-17)
There were a number of issues in the Corinthian church Paul addresses in this letter, but the point is the same: Paul states it doesn’t matter who does the baptizing. He warned them about bragging about having a certain leader or another as the one who baptized you. The important thing is whether the gospel of Jesus is being preached with power to transform people’s lives. It doesn’t really matter who baptizes you if you sincerely want to follow Jesus.
6. It’s a sinful temptation to substitute our traditions for God’s clear commands. “For you ignore God’s commands and substitute your own tradition.” (Mark 7:8)
In the case of baptism, we have made the same error so many have made through history, we’ve substituted our own tradition for a command of God. This doesn’t invalidate our ministries. God is able to work powerfully through all sorts of churches and ministries who have done this. He is gracious! As followers of Jesus, we should never let policies rise above the authority of Jesus’ clear commands, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.
Now I know that some ministers would say that they hold the right to baptize to the ordained because of wanting to make sure that those being baptize know the true meaning of baptism and that they are true converts to Christ. This reasoning should be an indictment against our discipleship process. If we are not discipling believers to recognize true fruit or true conversion and how to counsel new believers then we are doing a bad job of making disciples.
The bottom line in all of this is: If we are to truly fulfill the Great Commission in this age then we must empower and equip all believers to observe and do everything that Christ has commanded us to do.