Baptist History Homepage

The Validity of Baptism Administered by an Unbaptized Evangelist
The Tennessee Baptist
By James M. Pendleton, 1856
      SUCH is the caption of an Article in the "Southern Baptist" [newspaper] of May 27th, over the signature "W." I do not know who "W" is, but his reasoning is very singular. He aims to show that baptism administered by an "unbaptized evangelist" is valid. Strangely enough he first refers to the Commission of Christ and the practice under it. He admits that those baptized on Pentecost, at Samaria, in Caesarea, Corinth, &c, were baptized by men who themselves had been baptized. So far very good. But how the fact he concedes can help him in his argument is inconceivable.

      He says, "Light will be thrown on this subject by first ascertaining whether one can be an evangelist, or a preacher of the gospel, who has not been baptized. This is a question of fact. It is too obvious to need proof, that Jesus Christ makes the evangelist or preacher and not man." Does "W." mean by this that the churches of Christ have nothing to do in setting men apart to the work of the ministry? If so, the fact ought to be known. It is superfluous, not to say impious, for the churches to "license" and "ordain" men to preach, if "Jesus Christ makes the preacher" independently of church action. If "W." will look more thoroughly into the subject, I presume he will see that the call of God to preach the gospel must be recognized by a church of Christ. This has always been Baptist doctrine. It results irresistibly from the democratic sovereignty and independence of our churches that every church has a right to decide who shall preach. If this right is not with the churches, it does not exist at all. There is no "body" above the churches to exercise it. To let individuals decide for themselves whether they shall preach, or go forth even in irresponsible defiance of the churches is too absurd a view to need exposure. Let this be the understanding, and one thing certainly follows: Unworthy and incompetent men will most likely to preach. The true doctrine is that no man, according to the Scriptures, has a right to preach unless his call from God to do so descends to him through a Church of Christ.

      But says "W.", "We know that John [the Baptist] was not baptized, and yet, by his qualifications he was recognized and received. Martin Luther, John Knox, George Whit[e]field, Jonathan Edwards, preached the gospel with a power and success, unsurpassed by any preachers since the Apostles' day. Who made them preachers? Who blessed their labors so wonderfully? Not man, but the Lord Jesus, the King in Zion."

      I would be glad to know if "W." really believes Luther, Knox, &c. were sent of God just as John the Baptist was? If so, I suppose they were commissioned to inaugurate a new dispensation. The baptism of John was certainly a new rite. Was Luther authorized to practice a new rite? As to the fact that John preached without being baptized, and therefore Luther, Know, &c., had a right, as unbaptized men to preach, shall I call it reasoning or a burlesque on reasoning? Who was there to baptize John? Was he not the first baptizer? However, let it be shown that Whit[e]field or Edwards was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and that they word of the Lord came to him as it did to John, and I have no more to say.

      When "W." says that the Lord makes and blesses preachers, does he mean that we are to disregard the teachings of the Bible? Really he seems not to consider [in] the Scriptures the rule of faith and practice. He certainly feels great indifference, not to say contempt for gospel order. "W." says, "There have been thousands of unbaptized preachers in Pedobaptist Societies who have faithfully and successfully preached the gospel of Christ." Can any man faithfully preach the gospel who preaches the sprinkling of unconscious infants instead of the immersion of intelligent believers on a profession of their faith? No doubt the Pedobaptist preachers proclaim many truths, but that they preach the gospel faithfully I am not prepared to admit.

      "W." asks, "Have we not endorsed men as preachers, though unbaptized, by asking them into our pulpits," &c? Yet, this kind of endorsement is too common among Baptists, but it is manifestly inconsistent. It is to be hoped the day will come when it will be numbered among "the things that were."

      Again says "W.," "And if he [the King in Zion] commands his preachers to baptize believers upon a profession of their faith in him; and those whom he has made such, preach and baptize believers, though themselves unbaptized, on what ground can we refuse to receive their work in baptizing, as well as in preaching and in conversion, since it was by his Spirit's influence that they did both?" There is a great deal of sophistry in these few lines. "W." did not, of course, observe it. Let us see: The argument very properly, in the first place, admits that Jesus Christ "commands his preachers to baptize believers upon a profession of their faith in him." Where is this command given? In the commission. To whom was the commission given? To baptized or unbaptized men? To baptized men most certainly. Then do unbaptized men act under this commission at all? It was not given to them at first. Has there been a re-enactment of it since? I deny that according to the commission, unbaptized men have no right to baptize - nor have they the right to preach. "W." thinks we ought to "receive their work in baptizing," &c. Well, I suppose it is "their work" truly, as it is not done by the Lord's command. But how did "W." overlook another part of "their work" - the sprinkling of infants? Must we not receive this too? "W." will say, no. Why? Because the commission, he will resist, has nothing to do with infants. Very true, but it has as much to do with infants as with unbaptized administrators of baptism. If we receive a part of their work, why not receive it all? As to the Spirit's prompting these unbaptized men to baptize others, I am not so sure. Would not the Spirit first influence them to be baptized themselves. Does the Spirit prompt to a violation of the order given in the Savior's last commission. As to the baptizing and preaching of these unbaptized men, Baptists can very well dispense with both, and if the "conversion" referred to is "their work," it can be dispensed with also. But I suppose "W." means that if God converts sinners by means of these unbaptized men, we are bound to receive the converts into our churches. Yes, and no matter by what instrumentality sinners are converted, they are then proper subjects for baptism. In making application for it, they have only to satisfy the church that they are converted. It is nothing to the church by what means the work was accomplished. The only question is, Has it taken place?

      "W." says, "As Christ only makes and appoints the Evangelist, if he is pleased to dispense with his submission to the ordinance of baptism, it is his sovereign act; and we have no right to object to his act." Very true, "if he is pleased to dispense," &c. "W." considers baptism a ministerial ordinance. I regard it a church ordinance. Hence, every church is under obligation to preserve its purity, and in doing this must of necessity decide who shall receive it.

      One error pervades "W.'s" article. It is that there is now a class of unbaptized Evangelists analogous to the Evangelists of the apostolic period. This is not true. The Evangelists of the Apostles' day were baptized men, members of gospel churches. The Evangelists of whom he writes are unbaptized, and consequently have no connection with gospel churches. A material difference, indeed!
     J. M. P.

[The Tennessee Baptist, June 21, 1856, p. 2. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]


More on J. M. Pendleton
Baptist History Homepage