by Dave Miller
Recently the North American Mission Board (NAMB) focused the topic of On Mission magazine on baptism. I was pleasantly surprised when I found three leaders weighing in to encourage and support every believer's opportunity and responsibility to be a baptizer. Having grown up in the Southern Baptist world, it is refreshing to see emerging change towards empowering every believer in disciple making, including baptism, as Jesus did in the Great Commission.
I am mindful of many passages in scripture that cause me to firmly believe and promote that any believer can be a baptizer, especially the command to make disciples by our Lord, through going, baptizing and teaching to obey Jesus' commands in the Great Commission. But three other striking moments moved me from casual acknowledgment to active training of others.
Philip and the Ethiopian
Philip was not one of the apostles. He was most definitely considered a leader by the end of Acts and even as early as Acts 6 if you are inclined to consider the Philip chosen to serve in the widow debacle as the same Philip mentioned in Acts 8 with the Ethiopian (which I am). Yet here we see one of the early leaders in the church, recognized not as an apostle or elder, but instead as an evangelist (Acts 21:8) baptizing a new believer in the middle of the wilderness immediately upon the Ethiopian’s request (Acts 8).
Jesus Delegated Baptism
In John 4, the Apostle John notes that Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples. In fact it was in response to the news that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John in the ears of the Pharisees that pushed Jesus very early in his ministry towards Galilee. The fact that we are only months into Jesus ministry and he was allowing his disciples to do the baptizing was striking to me. The lesson I learned? Delegate baptism to emerging disciples.
Paul at Corinth
When a scuffle over leadership authority broke out in the church at Corinth, Paul writes to assure them that all the leaders who had influenced the church in the true gospel were mere servants of our Lord. The need to proclaim allegiance was not to any man, but to Jesus. In making his point, Paul asks, "Were you baptized in the name of Paul?" The answer was of course no. They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Jesus commanded. Then Paul wrote, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name" (1 Cor. 1:14). Crispus and Gaius of course were the first converts in Corinth. Paul then wrote, "(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..." (1 Cor. 1:16-17).
It is not that Paul didn't baptize in his ministry, clearly he did. It was that baptism was passed on, according to Christ's instruction and example to the Apostles, in order to empower them in the Great Commission. So who baptized after Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas? Well it stands to reason, Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. I am sure Timothy and Silas joined in, but the point is, Paul released baptism to the disciples.
Releasing baptism to disciples entrusted to our care empowers multiplication. It focuses movement towards lostness within their relational network and beyond. New disciples can experience the joy of obeying the Great Commission and participating in the special moment of the public announcement of identity in Christ with those they are discipling.
When baptism requires return to professionals, the thrust of the gospel will always be limited to the capacity of the one with baptizing authority. Empower your disciples. Train your disciples. Let them baptize. If the church is not a location, then believers baptizing will always mean the church is baptizing wherever they go.
Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...