Who Should Baptize in the Church?
Should anyone be allowed to baptize in the church? It is an important question for the church that has been asked by others as well. I recently read 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 argues that the evidence of the Early Church is to downplay 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, I think there is wisdom in thinking about this issue and attempting to apply biblical principles.
First, Matt 28:18-20 does not seem to limit those who baptize to a special class.
Most people are willing to concede that Matt 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 would prohibit them from baptizing men. 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, however, I think that would most naturally be the case.
Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash