"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:18-20)
This is the place to begin a discussion concerning who may baptize. All agree that those commissioned by Christ in these words have authority to teach, disciple, make converts, and baptize. If such authority comes from Christ, then it does not come from any other. It is an error to believe that the local church gives this authority or that a presbytery gives it.
There are basically three views as to who is given commission and authority in these last words of the Lord Jesus Christ. First, there is the view that the commission was given to the eleven apostles, and to them only, and through them to God called men who have been properly ordained by a presbytery of elders. Second, there is the view that the commission was given to the church as an organized body. Third, there is the view that the commission was given to every Christian or to disciples. How are we to know which is the correct view? How does knowing the correct view relate to answering the question as to who is given authority to baptize?
I recall Elder Sonny Pyles, many years ago, make the argument that the ones commanded to do the teaching were the ones commanded to do the baptizing and thus only teachers, or ordained elders, could baptize. But, his error lies in the fact that he limits the obligation to teach to the ordained ministry, and he has no grounds to do so. If the command to "teach" were indeed limited to the ordained clergy, then he would have weight to his argument. But, it is clear that the command to "teach" was not limited to the apostles or to the ordained elders.
Who can deny that many of those who are taught the gospel, or made disciples, or converted, were taught by unordained Christians? Even in the Hardshell church, many members were first taught the gospel by regular church members. So, the reality proves that the assertion is false. Which Hardshell wants to come forward and affirm that all their members were taught the gospel and made disciples solely by ordained elders?
Not only is the foregoing fact against the Hardshell interpretation that only ordained elders are intended by Christ to be teachers and converters of the nations, but so is the actual history of the fulfilling of the commission, as seen in the Book of Acts and in the NT epistles. In the book of Acts we plainly see that not all the preaching and baptizing was done by the elders. Also, from the epistles we see that gospel teaching was not limited to the ordained clergy.
You All Ought To Be Teachers
"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat." (Heb. 5:12)
The plural "ye" in this verse is not limited to the ordained clergy. What Hardshell or Landmarker will deny this plain fact? The words of the text are addressed to all disciples, who begin as students of the word, having others over them as teachers. Every disciple is to learn in order that he or she may be able to teach others. And, this being so, the great commission is clear that every teacher of the gospel is authorized to baptize those who they teach and convert. This is enough to settle the case about who may legally baptize.
Certainly it is the regular practice for new converts to seek baptism in conjunction with asking for church membership. This is true now and historically in the past. This being so, baptism is most often performed by ministers of the particular church where disciples are converted and where they seek membership with other Christians. But, though this is the regular normal scenario, this does not mean that every baptism occurs in this way, nor that it must occur in that way. In other words, if we ask whether it is a regular practice, historically speaking, for new converts to be baptized by the unordained, we answer "no." But, if we ask whether such an irregular practice is therefore invalid, we answer "no." Likewise, with baptisms performed by women teachers.
What is being affirmed is what the first Particular Baptists affirmed in the early 17th century when they said that "any disciple" is authorized to baptize. This has been proven by the words of the great commission. All who teach or disciple may baptize those who receive their teaching. And, as we have seen, every Christian ought to become a teacher or discipler.
Another verse, among many others that could be cited in addition to Hebrews 5:12, is the words of Paul to Timothy.
"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (II Tim. 2:2)
The first thing to notice about this text is that "men" is from ἀνθρώποις (humans) and not anēr (males). Timothy was to teach faithful persons, male and female, and these in turn would teach others. And, as we have observed, all who teach others may baptize those who are converted by their teaching.
From gotquestions.org in answer to the question - "Who is permitted to baptize/perform baptisms?" (see here) we have these words:
"If this commission is given to all Christians (as is commonly held), then it follows that the authority to baptize is also given to all Christians."
Remember that this was the teaching of those Baptists who put out the first London Confession in 1644. The writers at the above web site also write (emphasis mine):
"The Epistles never discuss who is to baptize. What is discussed is the meaning behind baptism. In both the book of Acts and the Epistles, the proper understanding of how one is saved (Acts 19:1-5) and the symbolism involved in baptism (Romans 6) seem to be more important than who is doing the baptism."
"Based on Matthew 28:18-20, as well as on the silence of the remaining portions of Scripture concerning this issue, it would seem that any true believer has authority from God to baptize, even as he has the authority from God to evangelize and teach all that Christ commanded."
In an article titled "Who is Authorized to Baptize?" by Stephen M Young (see here) we have these good words:
"There is biblical precedent for asking church leaders to step back from out of the baptismal waters and give space for others to do the baptizing. A number of scriptures insinuate a model where the leader is not the lead baptizer. Jesus did not baptize, but rather his disciples did (John 4:1-2). Paul did not baptize many, he left it for others (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). Peter did not baptize Cornelius’s household. Instead, he simply ordered that they should be baptized (Acts 10:47-48). The Twelve almost certainly called upon the 120 for the baptism of at Pentecost (Acts 1:15, 2:41)."
This is very insightful and lends weight to the proposition that any disciple may legally baptize.
"This kind of immediate baptism on location is New Testament hallmark. The fact that they were done wherever the new Christians professed Christ is probably due to the pioneer missions nature of the events, but the immediacy is almost startling. Paul was baptized in Damascus before the local church even knew he was converted. The jailor and his family in Phillipi did not wait for daybreak. The Ethiopian, who didn’t interrupt his travel to hear the gospel, called his ride to a stop in order to be baptized before continuing. In each of these cases, everything happened so fast, the local church did not have a chance to be involved."
Again, these comments support the view that any disciple can baptize and baptisms may be performed without the consent of a church.
Consider these words from Acts.
"And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles...Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." (Acts 8:1-4)
Who can limit the class of disciples that were "scattered abroad" to ordained elders? Were those scattered abroad not a group that included many ordinary disciples? And, did they not preach or proclaim the word of the gospel? And, in doing so, did they not do what Christ commanded in the great commission? And, when they made disciples of the nations in all those areas where they were scattered, did they not baptize them? Did they have to get approval from the church at Jerusalem to baptize in each case? I think not.
Wrote John Gill (emphasis mine):
"As the first covenant, or testament, had ordinances of divine service, which are shaken, removed, and abolished; so the New Testament, or gospel dispensation, has ordinances of divine worship, which cannot be shaken, but will remain until the second coming of Christ: these, as Austin says, are few; and easy to be observed, and of a very expressive signification. Among which, baptism must be reckoned one, and is proper to be treated of in the first place; for though it is not a church ordinance, it is an ordinance of God, and a part and branch of public worship. When I say it is not a church ordinance, I mean it is not an ordinance administered in the church, but out of it, and in order to admission into it, and communion with it; it is preparatory to it, and a qualification for it; it does not make a person a member of a church, or admit him into a visible church; persons must first be baptized, and then added to the church, as the three thousand converts were; a church has nothing to do with the baptism of any, but to be satisfied they are baptized before they are admitted into communion with it. Admission to baptism lies solely in the breast of the administrator, who is the only judge of qualifications for it, and has the sole power of receiving to it, and of rejecting from it; if not satisfied, he may reject a person thought fit by a church, and admit a person to baptism not thought fit by a church; but a disagreement is not desirable nor advisable: the orderly, regular, scriptural rule of proceeding seems to be this: a person inclined to submit to baptism, and to join in communion with a church, should first apply to an administrator; and upon giving him satisfaction, be baptized by him; and then should propose to the church for communion; when he would be able to answer all proper questions: if asked, to give a reason of the hope that is in him, he is ready to do it; if a testimony of his life and conversation is required, if none present can give it, he can direct where it is to be had; and if the question is put to him, whether he is a baptized person or not, he can answer in the affirmative, and give proof of it, and so the way is clear for his admission into church fellowship. So Saul, when converted, was immediately baptized by Ananias, without any previous knowledge and consent of the church; and, it was many days after this that he proposed to join himself to the disciples, and was received (Acts 9:18, 19, 23, 26-28)..." (A Body of PRACTICAL Divinity, Book 3—Chapter 1-OF BAPTISM)
I firmly agree with Dr. Gill on this. I don't believe, however, that there is any scripture that says that Ananias baptized Paul. Ananias simply said to Paul - "get yourself baptized." Ananias may have baptized Paul, but the text does not say so. Further, Ananias does not tell Paul to get baptism from a particular administrator. This is revealing in itself. If the administrator was so important, then surely Ananias would have added words about that, such us "get yourself baptized by elder so and so" or "get yourself baptized by the authority of such and such a church."
More to come, the Lord willing.