Church,  New Testament

Who Can Perform Baptisms in the Church?

Who can perform the baptisms for church? Does it have to be an official pastor? Can a woman perform the baptism? These are important questions which have significant impact in the daily life of the church.

The impetus of this article was reading a provocative article entitled, “The (In)significance of the Baptizer in the Early Church: The Importance of Baptism and Unimportance of the One who Baptized.” As the title suggests, the author argued that the evidence of the early church downplays those who baptize in the church. I think there is wisdom in not making the baptizer more than he ought to be. However, at the same time, it is inherently a theological issue that we ought to think through. Does it matter who baptizes in the church? I offer my reasoning in three simple points.

First, Matthew 28:18-20 does not limit those who baptize to a special class.

Most people are willing to concede that Matthew 28:18-20 applies beyond the Apostles, and has an impact on the church today. Thus, part of the disciple-making process includes the need to baptize (v. 19). Perhaps importantly, those who baptize are left unqualified. Additionally, it seems in the book of Acts that there were many disciples who helped out the Apostles in the area of baptizing new converts (cf. Acts 2:41).

Second, given the symbolism and setting of baptism, one would expect a mature believer to be the one who will baptize.

Throughout Scripture, baptism is preceded by instruction (which presumably included the teaching of what baptism is – cf. Rom 6:1-7). To baptize someone is not merely the washing of the body, but it is the embracing of a new life of submission to Christ. Thus, it seems most natural for mature believers to oversee the instruction and to actually baptize those who need it. This would naturally be fulfilled by the shepherds/leaders God has placed over the flock since they are accountable for such activities (cf. Heb 13:17), but it wouldn’t necessarily be limited to pastors/elders.

Third, men should be the ones to baptize others.

Yes, I know I’m so politically incorrect. However, Scripture is clear that women are not to teach men or exercise authority over them (1 Tim 2:12), which I think would prohibit a woman from baptizing a man. But can women baptize other women? Still, here I think that the picture of male leadership ought to be preserved in recognizing that to baptize is essentially a function of a worship leader. And as a representative of Christ, to baptize another is a symbolic act of incorporation into the body of Christ. Since this kind of leadership role is given to men, it seems best to see application in the area of baptism as well. Interestingly enough, in early church history whenever there was mention of women performing baptisms, it was spoken of in a negative light.

Although much of this article is drawn from inference and not explicit text, I think a reasonable case can be made that those who baptize others should be mature men. This does not necessitate that these men be an elder or a pastor per se, but I think that would usually be the case.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

One Comment

  • Alex Krause

    Perhaps baptism primarily functioned as a confession of the baptized instead of a church initiation. Baptism also symbolizes death. The one to be baptized must know they are uniting with Christ in His death to be disciples who take up their cross and follow Him. The issue of who performs baptisms is minor in my view.

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