I recently heard of a conservative Anabaptist father who asked if he could be involved in the baptism of his son. Even without knowing the details, anyone of a conservative Anabaptist background knows that he was, of course, turned away. He was told that in our tradition, only the ministry can do the baptizing.
This is the tradition of our people, and in most of our congregations, we limit it even further to saying that it should be only the bishop who can do the actual baptizing. It brought some questions to my mind. What is our tradition based on? Is there Scriptural reasoning behind it? What does Scripture say about those that baptize? Are there Biblical qualifications that must be met before one can be involved in a baptism?
What does the Bible say?
Jesus never baptized anyone, but He Himself was baptized and He spoke of baptizing. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and by that account we can draw two conclusions. First, the One being baptized approached the other and asked to be baptized by him. Second, the one doing the baptizing did not need to be greater than the one he was baptizing– although John initially protested about that.
The book of Acts gives the most accounts of people getting baptized, but who is doing the baptizing is not usually emphasized as much as the name of the One they are being baptized in.
– Acts 2:38-41
Peter preached and the people asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…”
In verse 41, it says that “they that gladly received his word were baptized…about three thousand souls.” No mention is given of who did the baptizing.
– Acts 8:12
Philip preached in Samaria, and when the people believed Philip “concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized”. Again, no mention of who was doing the baptizing.
– Acts 8:30-39
The account of Philip baptizing the eunuch is the only time in Acts that it says specifically who did the baptizing.
– Acts 9:17-18
Even when the Apostle Paul got baptized, it never says specifically who it was that did the baptizing. Only that Ananias laid hands on him, he received his sight, and was baptized.
– Acts 10
In this account of Peter taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, the “Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word”. Peter then commanded them to be “baptized in the name of the Lord”.
– Acts 16:30-36
When Paul and Silas were in prison, the jailor got saved and “was baptized, he and all his, straightway”. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.
– Acts 19:1-8
Those who had been baptized by John in Ephesus were re-baptized in the name of Jesus. There is no mention of who did the baptizing.
It is safe to assume, however, that those involved in presenting the Gospel were then also involved in the baptism.
However, it is also safe to assume that the writer of Acts thought who was getting baptized and why they were getting baptized was more important than who did the baptizing.
We know that Paul did baptize people because he talks about it in 1Cor. 1:11-17. However, he makes it clear that who did the baptizing was of no importance and says that he’s glad that he didn’t baptize very many “lest any should say that I baptized in mine own name.”
Why do we baptize people?
Jesus spoke of baptizing when He gave the great commission to the eleven disciples. He said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” (Mat. 28:19-20a)
This is understood to apply to all followers of Christ, not just the apostles. This is evidenced by Philip the Evangelist and deacon– not to be confused with the apostle Philip– who baptized the eunuch and others in Acts 8.
If we believe that the Great Commission applies to all Christians, is it wrong to apply only part of it to all Christians and assign the rest to only the bishop or ministry team? Jesus simply said “Go”, “Teach”, and “Baptize”.
Could I be so bold to say that either all of it applies to all believers, or all of it applies to only specific believers that hold a ministry position?