I recently received an email asking me a specific question regarding baptism. The questioner asked if I would address who may baptize someone. There are many who are teaching that for a baptism to be valid, it must be done by a Christian male. From my experience, while these brethren are sincere, they are sincerely misguided. In this discussion, we are not discussing someone who has been taught error or is obeying erroneous doctrine. It is a discussion of someone who has properly understood God’s Word and is obeying that Word. In connection with such, we are not discussing who has done the teaching, but only who does the actual immersion. I first want to look at their attempts to make their case.
The first attempt is to use the principle of example. They state that every example we have of a baptism is done by a Christian man. They thus wrongly conclude that for a baptism to be valid today, it must be done by a Christian man. The Scriptures are not as conclusive as some would have us to believe regarding this point, however. There is very little evidence as to who did the immersing in the Bible. Prior to the establishment of the church (thus, prior to anyone becoming a Christian), we do find that John the Baptist was baptizing people, including Jesus. However, Jesus showed that John the Baptist was not in the kingdom (which is the church) in Matthew 11:11. Then, in John 4:2 we find that Jesus’ disciples baptized people even though Jesus Himself did not.
When we move into the time the Lord’s church actually existed, we find very few times it actually mentions who is doing the baptizing. For example, when the church began (the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ recorded in Acts 2), after Peter convicts the Jews of sin and they ask what they needed to do to be saved, Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (2:38). (While I will return to this point later, Peter did not say to repent and be baptized by a Christian man.) We are told, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (2:41). Notice that it does not state who baptized these 3,000 souls, only that they were baptized. If the who is essential, then why does the text not state who baptized them? Why would it not state, “then they that gladly received his word were baptized by Christian men” (or simply by men or by the apostles)? The next time individuals being baptized is mentioned is the result of Philip preaching Christ to the Samaritans (8:5). We find that “when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (8:12). Again, it does not state who baptized these Samaritans (we would assume Philip did, but it does not state so), only that “they were baptized.” Why did it not state that Philip baptized them (or a Christian man, or just a man)? If the who is essential, then why is this essential point omitted?
We next come to Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in the later part of Acts 8. Philip preached Jesus unto him and when they came to a certain water “the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (8:36). Upon this Philip asked him if he believed leading the Ethiopian to make the good confession (8:37). We are then informed that Philip baptized the Ethiopian (8:38-39). We now have the only time in Acts the person who did the baptizing is actually mentioned. Again, we would ask that if the person doing the baptizing is essential to the salvation process, why is it omitted in every case of conversion in Acts except this one?
There is one other in Acts that bears specific mention and that is the conversion of the Corinthians. In Acts 18:8, Luke records, “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” Again, it does not state who did the baptizing. However, Paul in writing to the Corinthians stated that he did personally baptize Crispus, Gaius, the household of Stephanas, and adds that he did not know if he baptized anyone else (1 Cor. 1:14-16). If who does the baptizing is such an essential element to salvation, why would Paul (writing by inspiration of God) deal with it in such a cavalier attitude?
Now, upon these some argue that every example is of a Christian man doing the baptizing. Yet, when you actually look at the facts (not what we might assume—whether rightly or wrongly), there is only the Ethiopian and the ones Paul mentions where we specifically told who did the baptizing. Yet, these brethren build an entire doctrine upon these two accounts. That would be fine if they can now prove (not just assume) that these accounts are binding upon everyone in all places. This they do not even attempt to accomplish and instead simply pound the table that every example we have of a baptism is done by a Christian man and thus only Christian men can baptize someone today. (Every baptism was done in running water—at least the ones that state. Yet, none of them will bind the running water. Why bind the who does it but not the running water part of it?) I have come to the conclusion that these brethren do not know how to prove that an account of action is an actual example that is binding (it is a mandatory action upon all people at all times). By the lack of statements regarding who did the baptizing, one is lead to the conclusion that the person doing the baptizing is an incidental and not an essential matter (in opposition to what is being claimed).
The second way they attempt to establish their case is what they claim is direct statements. This is an appeal to the Great Commission (Mat. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47) in which it is claimed that Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize people. However, when one actually examines the Great Commission, it simply does not state what they want it to state. Since Luke’s account does not mention baptism, they center upon the other two. Matthew’s account states, “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.” By a simple reading of this, we could ask where Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize? The command is to “teach all nations,” literally to “make disciples of all nations.” He instructs them how disciples were to be made. Disciples are made by baptizing them into a relationship with the Divine Three and teaching them all things Jesus had commanded them. However, Jesus does not state who must do the baptizing or the teaching, only that is the way disciples are made. The baptizing and teaching are modal participles modifying making disciples, not the apostles.
When we consider Mark’s account, he records, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Like Matthew, this is more the idea “as you are going.” The command is to preach the Gospel. Thus, as the apostles (and us) are going, we must preach the Gospel. Then those who have heard the Gospel preached, if they believe and are baptized shall be saved. Notice it does not state who does the baptizing, and it does not command the apostles to baptize. It commands the apostles (and us) to preach the Gospel. For these brethren to have any argument supporting their position on this, it should have said, “He that believeth and is baptized by a Christian (or another synonymous term) man shall be saved.”
However, there is the old truth: what proves too much proves nothing. If this should apply only to the apostles and the apostles are being commanded to baptize, then it would invalidate anyone else doing the baptism. If this is true, no one can be Scripturally baptized since the time of the apostles. This they cannot have, so they arbitrarily change it to Christian men to support their doctrine. There is absolutely no textual basis for making such a change, and their interpretation does not correspond with what the text actually states.
If Jesus did command the apostles (and thus Christian men) to baptize, then the apostle Paul certainly did not know that. Paul (remember he was writing by inspiration of God) wrote, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). While our denominational friends misuse this verse, Paul still stated that Christ did not send him to baptize. Yet, if our brethren who hold this view are correct, then Christ did send Paul to baptize. Paul’s statement here, however, will forever stand against this view that the person doing the baptizing must be a Christian man for it to be valid. This passage in no way diminishes the necessity of baptism, but it does destroy the doctrine that the one who does the baptizing is of any importance.
Additionally, if we try to bind the one doing the baptizing, exactly where are those requirements? There are no commands or direct statements regarding it. There are no actual examples (there are the two accounts of action previously mentioned, but accounts of action do not automatically become examples—something bound upon all men at all times). There are simply no requirements. However, one of the requirements these brethren make is that the person doing the baptizing must be a Christian. Now, we are faced with some additional problems. For example, what if the Christian is not a faithful Christian? Does that invalidate the baptism? What if one is in the process of apostatizing or has apostatized but others do not know it, does that invalidate the baptism? (There was a man in a foreign country who while working as a missionary became a skeptic. He continued his work as a missionary, then came back to the states and worked as a local preacher—all the while a skeptic but not revealing such to brethren till later. Did those he baptize, need to be baptized again because they were baptized by a Christian who had become a skeptic?) What if the one doing the baptizing has committed some sin of which he has not repented when he does the baptizing? Brethren who hold this position simply do not like dealing with these types of questions. Upon asking one who believed one doing the baptizing must be a Christian if he had to be a faithful Christian answered yes. When asked further questions, the position changed to the idea that if he claims to be a Christian, then that is sufficient. I guess it never dawned on this person that denominational people claim to be Christians (they are not, but they claim to be).
While those who claim the person doing the baptizing must be a Christian man (faithful?) or it invalidates the baptism ridicule the idea of having an unbroken chain all the way back to the apostles, it is the case that their position demands such. Their position is that if someone baptizes me and that person is not a Christian (faithful?), then I am not a Christian. However, what if the person who baptized the person who baptized me was not a Christian? Then the person who baptized me is not a Christian and thus I am not a Christian. If just one person baptized someone, and that one person was not a Christian, then every person baptized after that is not a Christian (per this doctrine) because they were baptized by someone who was not a Christian. If I could trace the baptisms back 1,000 years and 1,000 years ago a person was baptized by someone who was not a Christian, then none of those from that one person 1,000 years ago are Christians including me. To be a Christian, one must be able to trace an unbroken chain of baptismal succession performed by Christians all the way back to the apostles. If that chain is broken at any place, then from that point on, no one would be a Christian. One of the problems with such (and one of the reasons those who hold this view ridicule this point), is that it is impossible to go back through the centuries to the apostles. There is far too much religious error and the historical records are either inaccurate or non-existent to accomplish such. Additionally, Scriptural baptism would then be dependent upon fallible human records.
I asked this real-life situation to a few individuals who hold that the one doing the baptizing must be a Christian. Brother Wayne Duran by use of correspondence course taught Benard Kagaga the truth. Brother Duran was in the United States while Benard Kagaga lived in Kenya. There was no congregation in Kenya where Benard lived and to anyone’s knowledge there were no Christians where he lived. Benard, knowing the truth and desiring to obey the truth to the salvation of his soul, finally got a Roman Catholic priest to immerse him in water and Benard was doing so for the remission of his sin. If this doctrine is true, then Benard Kagaga is not a Christian. The situation does not end there because brother Kagaga then taught and baptized hundreds more (including some who are now faithful preachers). If brother Kagaga is not a Christian because he was not baptized by a Christian (faithful?), then none of those he baptized are Christians. However, it does not end at that point because those he baptized have likewise baptized hundreds of others. Therefore, if this viewpoint is true, none of those individuals are Christians all because a Roman Catholic priest put Benard Kagaga under the water even though a faithful Christian taught brother Kagaga and he was obeying the truth as found in God’s Word. Yet none of the ones I presented this real-life situation to would affirm that Benard Kagaga and the hundreds he baptized and the hundreds they have baptized are all hell-bound. Yet, if this teaching is true (that one must be immersed by a Christian) is true, that is the result. (It also illustrates the unbroken chain that must go all the way back to the apostles.) Should brother Kagaga find a Christian man (obviously no one he has taught and baptized, nor any they have baptized) and be baptized again? Should he then go find all the ones he has baptized and re-baptize them, and inform them that they need to find everyone they have baptized and re-baptize them? (If one of those who simply obeyed the Gospel has passed away, then they will spend eternity in hell because they were baptized by a person who had been baptized by someone who was not a Christian! Who can believe such?)
If the one doing the baptizing is essential to the one being baptized, then we have added an additional aspect to God’s plan of salvation. We need to change all the teaching we have done in the past from: upon hearing, believe, repent, confess, be baptized for the remission of sins. This is no longer the proper plan that God has established. We must change to: upon hearing, believe, repent, confess, be baptized for the remission of sins by a Christian man. This has become an essential element of God’s plan of salvation and to omit it is to transgress God’s Word. We would have no more right to omit being baptized by a Christian man as the Baptist denomination has of omitting being baptized for the remission of sins. To omit one is just as ungodly as the other, and to fail to teach it as such would be just as ungodly. (How many who advocate this view actually teach it as part of God’s plan of salvation?)
However, in demanding such (that one must be baptized by a Christian man), we have changed the power of the Gospel from the Gospel itself to the one doing the baptizing. One’s salvation or damnation is dependent upon the one doing the immersing rather than the Gospel of Christ. Yet, Paul would write, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The Gospel is no longer the power of God unto salvation, but the one who does the baptizing is God’s power to salvation (or damnation if not a Christian man).
In placing a requirement upon the one doing the baptizing and not the one being baptized, then we are placing our salvation (or damnation if not done by a Christian man) upon the basis of someone else and not upon the basis of what we do (or do not do). The Scriptures repeatedly state that we will be judged upon the basis of what we do. Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). John adds that each one will be judged “according to their works” (Rev. 20:12). Never is judgment based upon what others are or do. Yet, if this view regarding the one doing the baptizing is true, it places the one being baptized salvation (or damnation) upon the basis of the one baptizing them and not upon the basis of what they do. The one being baptized cannot be saved based upon his own obedience, instead it is dependent upon the one immersing him and whether he is a Christian (faithful?) or not.
The obligations of the Great Commission that our Lord initially gave to the apostles and is applicable to us today is to preach the Gospel. Those who believe it and are baptized will be saved; they will come into a relationship with the Divine Three. The place, the water arrangements, the travel methods, the person doing the immersion, etc., are all incidental matters and not binding conditions. Let us stop placing requirements upon what God has established in the salvation process and let us do the work we are required to do: go preach the Gospel, go make disciples.