The Proper Administrator for Baptism[1]

There is no explicit instruction or prescription as to who may administer the ordinance of baptism.[2] Some argue that it should only be the pastor. Some argue that it can be any pastor on staff. Some argue that it should be any church leader. Some would argue that it should be those who led them to Christ. Some would argue that any Christian can baptize someone. From the outset there seems to be nothing wrong with these arguments scripturally since we hold to a belief in the priesthood of all believers.[3] But one the other hand, none of these beliefs are required by the biblical testimony. Beyond that, “neither by explicit instruction nor by example[4] does the bible teach that a particular administrator is essential for a true, valid baptism.”[5] Baptist theologian John Hammett contends that “there is no theological reason why someone must be ordained[6] to administer the ordinances, but it does seem prudent and orderly. At the same time we view the ordinances as entrusted to the church, not to its leaders.”[7] It does seem prudent, for the sake of order[8], to have someone perform the baptism that well represents[9] the congregation as a whole.[10]

The Proper Setting for Baptism[11]

The administration of the ordinances belongs to the local churches. Baptism serves as the initiatory right of a new believer since it is connected “with ones initiation into the universal, invisible church as well as the local, visible church.”[12] Baptism is an act that is to be celebrated by the assembled church[13] rather than a solitary observance on the part of individuals.[14] Baptisms are normally to be conducted in the assembly which the person will be joining seeing that the congregation is responsible[15] for affirming initially that the individual to be baptized understands the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the responsibility for a new believer rests in with the congregation its seems appropriate that the baptism itself would take place in the presence of the gathered congregation for celebration and mutual encouragement.[16] For this reason Dr. Hammett writes that the ordinances are not appropriate exercises for “an individual family, a home bible study, or a youth group. They may be celebrated outside of church buildings, but their [the ordinances] meaning can be fully expressed only when there are celebrated by the body of believers in the church.”[17]

  1. [1] Note that The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 does not speak to the issue of who may properly baptize.
  2. [2] Most examples of baptism in Acts involve the initial establishment of a church (e.g. , in Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus) and therefore do not directly instruct us on every questions concerning the setting or administer in baptism.
  3. [3] In Roman Catholicism it is only proper for the priest to administer the sacraments. According to their belief system the priest act to manage the grace administered in the sacraments. Martin Luther challenged this notion in the reformation but maintained that pastors should administer the ordinances for the sake of order. See R. Stanton Norman’s book The Baptist Way on page 130.
  4. [4] We must understand that in the book of Acts we read of the birth of the church. While the Apostles and deacons were the ones doing the baptism we must remember that they were the only ones to administer that right in most of the circumstances
  5. [5] Mark Dever, Believers Baptism, Edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, 331.
  6. [6] Note that some historians argue that only allowing the ordained to baptize flows from a wrong clericalism associated with the Roman Catholic understanding of the minister and his relation to the sacraments.
  7. [7] John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 261.
  8. [8] 1 Corinthians 14.
  9. [9] See G.R. Beasley-Murray’s discussion on baptism and the church in Baptism in the New Testament, pages 279-284.
  10. [10] Mark Dever, Believers Baptism, Edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, 331.
  11. [11] The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 does speak of baptism as “a church ordinance.”
  12. [12] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 1009.
  13. [13] The case of the Ethiopian being baptized by Phillip in Acts 8 was an exceptional situation. As the gospel was moving forward there would have been no churches back in Ethiopia to baptize him or witness his baptism.
  14. [14] A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 961.
  15. [15] 1 Corinthians 15.
  16. [16] Ephesians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 12:27.
  17. [17] John Hammett, Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Edited by Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell, 72.

4 thoughts on “On the Proper Administrator and Setting for Baptism

  1. Excellent stuff Matt! At Frederick, we allow a large range of individuals to perform baptism, but each person must be cleared by church leadership. This allows freedom, which we believe is in keeping with Scripture, to not limit baptism to a specific “administrator”, but also allows for “order” by ensuring that leadership has signed off on the baptizer.

  2. I see no real Scriptural argument for either point one or point two. New believers were baptised in homes, rivers, fountains, and any significant standing water. This is clear from both the Bible, and church history. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptised in a river by Philip with no witnesses and no church.

    1. Thanks for the comment. First let me say that when I argue that people should be baptized in the context of the church community, I am not talking about the building but among the people (the church family). See the footnotes for the background to my post.

      As for the Ethiopian eunuch see footnote 2, 4, and 13.

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