The Administrator Of Baptism

The Administrator Of Baptism

             The question that is before us is, “Who is to be the administrator of baptism?” Our sole authority being that of Christ inthe Scriptures, let us go “To the law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, It is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20) 

The Practice Of Baptism In The Gospels And Acts

            When we approach the Scriptures, one important principle that must be applied is that of the normative principleof interpretation. The normative principle of interpretation considers the Scriptures, looks at its examples and commandments, and asks whether these examples and commandments have been replaced by the Word of God or amplified, or if we can fulfill the spirit of the Word in any way other than that which is given. It is with this in mind that we understand that the practice of Christ and the early church, and the commandments of Christ to the local church are binding upon us today, as they have been neither changed nor nullified by God’s Word in any way.

When the practice of Christian baptism began, it began with John the Baptist, whom we can also call the Baptizer. John was sent from God (John 1:6) and had been commissioned to baptize those who repented (Matthew 3:1-10). There are two important things to notice: first, John was not baptized, but began the practice; and, second, John was sent from God with the authority to command all who repented to be baptized.

            Then we find that Jesus’ disciples baptized (John 4:1-3), and in this Jesus is spoken of as baptizing. Jesus is spoken of as baptizing when His disciples physically did the work because they did it under Jesus’ authority and supervision. It is with this same authority that Jesus commissioned His disciples and sent them forth to preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them (Matthew 28:18-20;Mark 16:14-18).

In the Acts we find that there are no names given to those who administered baptism on Pentecost, though there were probably many who did. We the find Philip baptizing in Samaria (Acts 8:12-13), then baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts8:36-38). From there we find Ananias baptizing Saul (Acts 9:18), Peter and other disciples baptizing at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:47-48), Paul and others baptizing at Philippi (Acts 16:15,33), Corinth (Acts 18:8 cf 1 Corinthians 1:13-18), and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5). 

It is interesting to note that, in each of these instances, the emphasis is not placed upon the administrator of baptism, but upon the act of baptism and its significance. This was so important that Paul stressed that he baptized very few people at Corinth, because the gospel is more important than the man doing the baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:13-18). We should certainly find it instructive that both Paul and John the Baptist (John 1:15-28;3:22-36) sought no fame for themselves, nor did they consider themselves important or indispensable because they baptized. The significance of baptism is in what it represents ( Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the death of the believer to sin and his being made alive to God in Christ, and the believer’s inward baptism with the Holy Spirit.) rather than in the person who administers baptism. We should also place our emphasis on the truths of the gospel, and the significance of baptism as a profession of one’s faith in the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Role Of The Local Church In Baptism

            What do the Scriptures teach us of the role of the local church in baptism? First of all, we find that the local church at Jerusalem was formed by assembling believers who had been baptized by John (Matthew 4:17-22;Acts 1:21-26). Among these were the twelve Jesus chose to be His apostles. Then we also see that there was a greater number in the early church at Jerusalem, as they numbered one hundred twenty in Acts chapters one and two. Having specified that the one chosen to replace Judas must have been baptized by John, Peter seems to have implied that there were those in the number who were baptized by Jesus and/or His disciples (See John 4:1-3).

            It is also instructive to us to consider the order of events on Pentecost: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41–42) Having heard the Word, many believed. After believing they were baptized. After baptism they were added to the local church. Who were the administrators of baptism on Pentecost? Truly we do not know. It is relatively safe to assume that the apostles took the lead, and perhaps some or all of the seventy (Luke 10:1-12); and who knows who else baptized? We must notice that very little is specifically statedregarding the persons of the administrators while acknowledging and emphasizing that we can be relatively certain that each of them would have been baptized disciples who were members of the Jerusalem church.

            As we take this farther, consider that Paul did not speak of the church baptizing, but of himself baptizing (1 Corinthians 1:13-18). Neither do we see Philip (Acts 8:12-13,36-38) or Ananias (Acts9:10-20) seeking permission from a local church to baptize. 

What can we conclude from this? We can conclude that it is important that one be baptized and a member of a local church in order to administer baptism, and that the local church seems to have accepted these baptisms by receiving those baptized into their membership (Acts 2:41-47;9:17-20). 

What Does The Scripture Show Us Regarding The Person Administering Baptism?

            To summarize what we have seen to this point, we find that the Scripture shows us the following regarding the person who administers baptism:

  1. He is a disciple (John 4:1-3).
  2. He baptizes with Divine authority (Matthew 3:1-10;John 1:6-9,15,19-28;Matthew 28:18-20).
  3. He seems to be a baptized member of the local church (Acts 1:21-26;1 Corinthians 1:13-18).

Beyond these three things we can speak with no certainty regarding the administrator of baptism. 

Some Recommendations For Church Policy Regarding The Administration Of Baptism

            The first consideration for any church is to be sure that baptism has been administered to a candidate for the proper reasons. Baptism signifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the baptism of the believer in the Holy Spirit, and the believer’s dying to sin and becoming alive to God in Christ. This makes it necessary that we seek to ascertain that the one we are considering receiving into the church has a credible profession of faith. We should also seek to determine that they were baptized for the purpose of professing their faith. No baptism that is performed with the belief that it saves the one being baptized is acceptable baptism. We must be as sure as we possibly can that we are accepting a baptism that has been performed upon a believer as their profession of faith.

            While the administrator of baptism is not integral to the validity of the act, we should seek to ascertain whether there was a valid administrator. After all, it is highly irregular, though not unheard of, for there to be an administrator of baptism who has not been baptized (John the Baptist demonstrates that there has been at least one unbaptized baptizer.), though this does not necessarily invalidate a baptism. (Note: we must recognize the difference between that which is irregular and that which is invalid.) We should in every way seek regular baptisms. That which is irregular, though valid in the sight of God, should also be a rare occurrence. When that which is irregular becomes common, it becomes accepted as regular, which is not a good practice. In the USA there are many faithful, Bible believing Baptist churches with which a person can connect and receive baptism at the hands of a baptized administrator. It seems to be a wise course for a church to consider the baptism of each person who applies to them for admission into the body and, should the applicant have irregular baptism, we should certainly seek to ascertain why. Should a person not have been baptized by a valid administrator although one was available, this writer counts it wise for that person to receive baptism at the hands of one whom the church can recognize as a biblically valid administrator; so that we can uphold that which is regular above that which is irregular. 

            Ultimately the local church chooses whom to accept as a member, and what baptism they will receive (Acts 2:41-47;9:17-19,26-31;Romans 14:1;15:7). The local church should not go beyond the bounds of Scripture in their requirements, nor should they accept less than Scripture requires. The local church has no authority beyond faithfully obeying the commands of Christ as given in Scripture.

The Authority Of The Local Church pt 2

Binding And Loosing In The Local Church

            Our text shows Jesus stating that there is, within the local church, the authority to bind and loose as long as it is in accord with what has been done in heaven. When we consider that the ultimate authority in the church is Jesus Christ (See Matthew 28:18-20;Ephesians 1:23;Colossians 1:18), and that God alone has the authority of forgiveness (And that forgiveness and judgment are the prerogative of Jesus. See Matthew 9:1-8;John 5:22;James 4:12), then we see that the binding and loosing must be done under the authority of Christ, or in harmony with the teaching of His Word.

            What does it mean to bind and to loose? Jesus shows us this in Matthew 18:21-35. It is here that the parable shows us how one can either be bound to, or loosed from his debt. When we see Jesus tells the church that we have the authority of forgiveness (John 20:23), we understand that He is speaking of the same thing. The binding and loosing refers to the sinning member who is put outside the fellowship of the church (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), thus being bound to his sins until he repents; and then receiving him back into fellowship through forgiveness, thus loosing him from his sin as God has done (See 2 Corinthians 2:1-11). 

            As we consider this, it shows us that the church has authority under Christ to receive and/or reject members. This is not something that is to be done carelessly, but under the authority of Christ only. We have no right to receive or to reject anyone that Christ would not treat the same as we do. Thus it is that we see very explicit directions concerning how to exercise church discipline. We also see that the New Testament pattern was to receive the baptized believer into the fellowship of the local church (Acts 1:41-47). Though we see no formal vote that took place, we do see that those who trusted Jesus were baptized and then became a part of the fellowship of the church. We also see that Saul of Tarsus was initially rejected, but then received by the church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28). Later this same apostle wrote to the Roman church, commanding them to receive their weaker brethren (Romans 14:1). Thus the church has the authority concerning whom they will receive into their fellowship.

            While we see only the broad principle regarding the receiving of members into the fellowship of the church, we must recognize that this is a very important issue. What is at stake is the holiness and purity of the church. As mentioned earlier, there are issues that will be dealt with more in depth when we address church discipline; here we will let is suffice us to say that the church should be careful that they only receive into their fellowship those who give credible evidence of saving faith in Christ, baptism, and good moral character (Acts 2:41-47;1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

Respecting The Local Church

The authority and autonomy of each local church should be respected. As members of local churches, we must ourselves be respectful of the church. We should do that by living godly lives so that we can be a blessing to the church, thus upholding the Biblical standards of holiness. We should respect the local church by showing Christian courtesy in all things, so that we minister to the harmony and edification of the body in our assemblies, and so that we represent the church and Christ well in society. Finally, we should respect the local church by submitting to her teaching and discipline, as the church follows Christ Jesus.We should also show respect to the authority of the local church by respecting the rights and privileges of other local bodies as we deal with them. Whether we are receiving or granting letters of commendation for members, conducting business in associations, seeking for or planning the ordination of ministers or deacons, or whatever business we are transacting, we must always be aware that each local church must be respected as an individual body that is responsible for carrying out her own business. That being so, we should respect the freedom and authority of each local church in carrying out the business of the church. 

The Authority Of The Local Church pt 1

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15–20)

The Authority Of The Local Church 

            In our text we see that the local church is given authority by Christ to handle difficult disciplinary matters under the authority of Christ. We typically hold it to be an important principle in Baptist belief and practice that the local church is free, and should be left free to handle her own business. Jesus certainly seems to have established this principle.

            One of the reasons that we hold to the local church is that the Scriptures never show us a regional or state church that has authority over local churches. Neither do the Scriptures present to us an association, or any other organization as being in authority over local churches. Furthermore, we see no evidence in the Scriptures that the local church has the right to concede, or delegate her authority over her own affairs to anyone else. Should someone assert otherwise, the burden of proof rests upon them to present a Biblical case for their assertions.

            It is important to note that the New Testament pattern shows that the local church is free to tend to her own business. In Acts chapter six, when there was a need for help in caring for the widows in the church, the apostles told the church what they needed to do, and guided them in doing it, but the church chose and approved the men who were to carry out the task at hand. In like manner, when the Holy Spirit moved upon the church at Antioch to set Paul and Barnabas aside to do the work that God had called them to do, the local church was free to attend to this in obedience to God. Likewise, as Paul commanded Corinth to exercise church discipline, he told them that it was their duty as the church to carry out this duty. The local church is autonomous and has the authority under Christ’s headship to carry out her own business.

Binding And Loosing In The Local Church

            Our text shows Jesus stating that there is, within the local church, the authority to bind and loose as long as it is in accord with what has been done in heaven. When we consider that the ultimate authority in the church is Jesus Christ (See Matthew 28:18-20;Ephesians 1:23;Colossians 1:18), and that God alone has the authority of forgiveness (And that forgiveness and judgment are the prerogative of Jesus. See Matthew 9:1-8;John 5:22;James 4:12), then we see that the binding and loosing must be done under the authority of Christ, or in harmony with the teaching of His Word.

            What does it mean to bind and to loose? Jesus shows us this in Matthew 18:21-35. It is here that the parable shows us how one can either be bound to, or loosed from his debt. When we see Jesus tells the church that we have the authority of forgiveness (John 20:23), we understand that He is speaking of the same thing. The binding and loosing refers to the sinning member who is put outside the fellowship of the church (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), thus being bound to his sins until he repents; and then receiving him back into fellowship through forgiveness, thus loosing him from his sin as God has done (See 2 Corinthians 2:1-11).