This is a series I have started to help initiate discussions about the Bible with our children. Sometimes it seems we have a continuous Bible study going with our children and really enjoy all of the dialog creates. I am certain that my children are not the only ones with questions. That is where this series was born. Children have questions and it is important that we have answers; the right answers.
The Question: Can I baptize somebody?
The other day we had a discussion in my Sunday school class about baptizing people. It was centered around who is qualified to baptize someone. My opinion of the situation was different from the others in my class, so I set off to find the truth. Whenever I am seeking the truth; I first go to my Bible. All I could think of is that I told Hannah (my 7 year old daughter) that she can baptize whoever she wants to as long as she does it according to scripture. I want my children to always feel they have power in Jesus name, because they do! If I cannot find a clear answer from reading the Bible; I go to my pastor or another member of our ministerial staff. Well, I felt like I found my answer: there was no clear answer. The Bible doesn’t forbid anyone from baptizing another person in Jesus’ name, but every time we see a baptism in the New Testament; it is being performed by an Apostle. So, why did people believe you needed to be pre-qualified somehow to baptize another person? Are we not disciples of Jesus? My guess was that it was because the church told them they did. I love looking for answers in the Bible because it, inevitably, leads to more questions and answers and a deeper understanding of God.
A minister’s perspective ~ Jonathan R. Walton
From a minister’s perspective I can see how this is a tough issue. My stance is clear but from New Testament practice, not New Testament theology. There is no Scripture in the New Testament where God said, “Thou mustest be a ministerest to performest a baptism” (My best attempt at King James Language). However, most denominations create doctrinal issues by “modeling” what the early church did.
It is true that a “disciple” performed every New Testament baptism, and we are all disciples of Jesus. However, it is also true that every one of the men baptizing people in the New Testament were also more than followers of Christ. They were appointed by God to be the leaders of the new Christian movement that was destined to sweep the world. They were not lay members of the church. They were apostles, evangelists, and preachers, and missionaries. Discipleship is an awesome point, for no matter what position one holds in the church, he or she must continue to be a follower of Christ and disciplined to His cause.
These men were that, but they were so much more. They were church planters, traveling the world to preach the new message of Christ’s gospel. They were not disciples only. Again, I emphasize, this is my stance only because it was the order established in the New Testament. To my knowledge, every baptism that occurred after the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2) was by an Apostle (evangelist, preacher, missionary, or pastor).
Before that, John the Baptist was the example. He was the forerunner of Christ and had many followers. His “disciples” brought people to him to be baptized. There is no record that they baptized others themselves. Jesus even went to John to be baptized… Many denominations teach this to be, not because the Bible establishes a law verbatim, but because it was the model used by the early church. John was given authority to baptize by God while still in his mother’s womb. Mary, shortly after being told by the angel that she had been chosen for the virgin birth, visited her cousin Elisabeth (under the angel’s direction). As soon as Mary approached Elisabeth, the baby (John) leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Ghost. John was anointed as the forerunner of Christ, the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John was set apart for a special ministry and became a very polarizing figure in Israel. John was called by God and visited by Mary, both before he was even born. Years later, Jesus approached John and asked to be baptized. John acknowledged Jesus’ Lordship and stated that he was not worthy to baptize Jesus. Jesus replied that He needed to be baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness. John baptized Jesus according to His wish. As was stated earlier, Jesus gave John permission, but John had been called by God and verified by a visit from Mary long before.
In the question of emergency baptisms, there is a general rule to follow. Jesus and the early apostles all established the necessity of baptism. The theoretical question is always asked, “if a non-believer is involved in a life threatening accident would any believer be able to perform a baptism if the person asked for one, or would the believer have to go and find a minister, hoping the non-believer lived long enough to be baptized?” In that case, the most important issue at hand is to make sure the non-believer is allowed the chance to follow the more important mandate of Scripture not the man -made idea of who should perform it. A command (law) always takes precedence over a doctrine born from “imitation.”
However, Paul told the church at Thessalonica to hold firm the traditions of the church that had been handed down. Some issues were directly written and considered laws. However, other issues were church traditions. Who can perform a baptism seems to be more of a traditional issue born from the fact that a church minister performed every baptism in the early church.
Paul encouraged them to hold fast to the “traditions” because not doing so could cause confusion and disorder, something he was constantly warning the church against. For example, if most people feel that ministers must perform baptisms but someone decides to start doing so on his/her own, most people will automatically assume that the person baptizing must be a minister. This would make it far to easy for people to be taken advantage of and for false doctrine to be spread among the lost. Paul was desperately trying to prevent such issues. Not because it is sin not too. but because it is wise to keep them and protects the church as a whole from being taken advantage of, or from someone within the church from taking advantage of others.
The Bible does not specifically state who can perform baptisms and who cannot. All it gave us was the model that the early church used. Would it be wrong for someone that is not a minister to baptize another? Honestly, I would say no, it would not be wrong per se. However, there is only one who can judge, and that is God. In questions like these, I do not ask if it is a sin for someone who is not a minister to perform baptisms. I ask what is most wise. To me, the wisest choice is to keep things simple. As Paul said, keep the traditions of the church as long as they don’t disagree with God’s Word. That keeps everyone safe and keeps unity within the body. Jonathan R. Walton
Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8
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