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Who Should Baptize?
By J. M. Pendleton (1811-1891)

      This is a strange question, in view of the fact, that the ordinance of baptism was instituted more than eighteen centuries ago, and has been observed in different parts of the world till now. It does seem wonderful that it is not a settled question outside of the realm of debate, but it is not. Conflicting opinions are held concerning it, and it appears to be destined to periodical, if not constant agitation. If I mistake not, there is as much interest in the subject now as at any former time.

      It will probably be easier to show who should baptize, by first showing who should not baptize. This, then, indicates the plan I adopt:

      The administration of baptism is not committed to the world. By the world, I mean men of the world, who “mind earthly things,” who “have their portion in this life,” who are unregenerate and impenitent. “The carnal mind is enmity against God,” — and that one of the ordinances of the Gospel should be placed in the custody of the world, transcends all rational belief. Baptism is administered “in the name,” that is, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and wicked men have no right to act in His name. “But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and caste my words behind thee” (Psalm 50:16-17).

      Baptism, too, is the symbol of regeneration, expressive of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life. What has an unregenerate man to do with baptism either as its subject or administrator? Surely I need not enlarge on this point, for no man of sane mind will seriously insist that the world has been made custodian of an ordinance appointed by Him whose “kingdom is not of this world.”

      The administration of baptism is not committed to those who have not themselves been baptized. If any one, in opposition to this view, says that John the Baptist was not baptized, I of course reply that his was a special commission from Heaven, and that his case, in the point referred to, supplies no precedent. That it does not is seen, as clear as the light of day, in the fact that Jesus Himself was baptized before He made and baptized disciples, as we are taught in John 4:1-2. If Jesus did not administer baptism through His twelve disciples, also called apostles, till after His personal immersion in the Jordan, I ask in the audience of the whole human race, what authority has any unbaptized man to baptize other men?

      Will it be said that there are good men among the unbaptized? I do not deny it. A good man, in the sense in which I now use the phrase, is a regenerate man, and Baptists, above all others, insist on regeneration as prior to baptism. They say with strongest emphasis that baptism should be administered to the regenerate alone. I concede, then, that men may be good, in the sense of being regenerate, who are not baptized, for they ought not otherwise to be baptized at all.

      But does it follow that these men ought to baptize? Evidently not. I do not care, so far as this argument is concerned, how good they are. It cannot be incumbent on them to baptize (immerse) others, till they themselves have been baptized (immersed). I do not say that their baptism would of itself sufficiently qualify them to administer baptism; but I do say that it is indispensable in the qualifications of a baptizer that he has himself been baptized.

      Baptism has been called a thousand times “the initiatory ordinance.” No one, so far as I know, objects to this form of expression. What does it mean? Obviously that baptism is the ordinance by which persons are introduced into a visible church. It is the appointed rite of induction. Very well. Then it follows that no one is in a visible church of Christ who has not been baptized. Men may talk as much as they please about what they call the “invisible church”; but it, of course, has no organization and no ordinances. Even if it had, they would be as invisible as itself, and baptism is a visible ordinance.

      It inducts into a visible church. Now can this ceremony of induction be performed by a person who is not himself in a visible church? Can one who is outside of a visible church put another who is outside[,] inside of a visible church? I can understand how he who is inside can initiate him who is outside; but how one who is outside can initiate another who is outside, defies my comprehension. I am sure the possibility of the thing would be denied by “lodges” and “societies” technically so-called. I have no experimental acquaintance with these organizations; but I express the opinion that no one outside of a “Masonic Lodge” can initiate anyone into the Lodge. So of an “Odd Fellows’ Lodge,” and of various other “Societies.” The attempt of an outsider to do what can be done only by one within would excite thoughts concerning the propriety and necessity of lunatic asylums.

      The view I oppose makes havoc of governmental analogies. For example, all civilized nations have some process of naturalization and citizenship. In our own nation the naturalization oath is indispensable. Who administers this oath? Not a foreigner surely, but a citizen appointed by the rightful authority. No man without citizenship, unless laboring under mental aberration, ever claimed the right to administer the oath of naturalization.

      In view of these illustrative analogies may I not say that it is absurd to suppose that an unbaptized man can perform the right of initiation into a visible church? Pedobaptists will not object to this position. They say, as I do, that those who baptize must be first baptized. They, however, say that any one of several acts is baptism, while I affirm that there is but one baptismal act. But as this article is written specially for Baptists, I need not refer to Pedobaptists.

      There are some Baptists who claim for Pedobaptists what the latter do not claim for themselves — namely, the right as unbaptized persons to administer baptism. It is humiliating to know that the most striking specimens of spurious charity are to be found among those who wear the Baptist name. They believe, of course, that the subjects of baptism are regenerate persons, and that immersion alone is the act of baptism. Whether they believe in the old Baptist doctrine that a “visible church is a congregation of baptized believers,” etc., I will not undertake to say. If they do, they seem also to believe that a church may likewise be a congregation of unbaptized persons. That they believe this I will not affirm, for I do not positively know. I will say, however, that if they do, they are not more inconsistent than in believing that unbaptized men may baptize others. In this latter dogma inconsistency very nearly exhausts itself, and there remains but little more for it to do.

      Let the reader look at the matter for a moment. Christ commands the Gospel to be preached, and for those who believe to be baptized. There are two prominent commands to those to whom the Gospel is addressed — believe and be baptized. Some believe and are baptized; others believe, but for reasons it is not my business to divine, they are not baptized. Still, it is said, that their personal non-compliance with the command to be baptized, is no bar to their legitimate administration of baptism to others! Surely this theory must break down under the weight of its own absurdity.

      There is another view which should not pass unnoticed. It is, in substance, this — that God calls Pedobaptists to preach, and that in the call to preach is involved authority to baptize. It is said, sometimes, that Saul of Tarsus was called to preach before his baptism, etc. However, this may have been with Saul, it is historically true that he did not preach till he had been baptized; and I do not see why baptism should not precede preaching now as well as in apostolic times.

      What about the call of Pedobaptists to preach as involving authority to baptize? Many absurd things have been said concerning the call to the ministry, — but there is doubtless such a thing. This is not the place to attempt its definition. Every man is not called to preach who thinks he is, or whose partial friends things he is. How is it to be known that a man is called to preach? Some say that the success attending his labors is the proof. This is not a satisfactory view; for success is often apparent and not real.

      I know of no better way of deciding that a man is called to preach, than the old-fashioned Baptist way, namely — that a church of which a brother is a member shall decide the point. If it is said that a church is not infallible, I reply, even so; and, therefore, the churches are liable to make mistakes. But, after all, the church to which a brother belongs, is the best judge of his ministerial qualifications — can best decide whether he comes up to the scriptural standard given in the first epistle to Timothy. The call of God must be recognized by the church. Unless this is done, there is danger of the greatest disorder and confusion.

      Hence, Baptist churches, as a rule, have ever exercised their authority in recognizing God’s call to any of the members to preach and to administer the ordinances. This has been their plan, and I know of no better plan. Now it strikes me as very singular, that any Baptist should admit the right of Pedobaptists to administer baptism when the right is not believed to be in a Baptist till it is conferred by the church of which he is a member. Why this capricious discrimination in favor of Pedobaptists and against Baptists? Why practically say that an unbaptized man may do what a baptized man is not allowed to do till his church gives him authority?

      Will it be said that “Pedobaptist churches” have given their ministers authority to baptize? What does this amount to? “Pedobaptist churches” so-called, are not scriptural churches. There is, there can be, no ecclesiastical connection between Baptists and Pedobaptists. The Baptist who does not understand this, does not know why he is a Baptist.

      If there are not fundamental differences between Baptists and Pedobaptists on what may be called emphatically “the church question,” Baptists have no right and title to denominational existence. But if there are fundamental differences and if Baptists hold the New Testament view of a regenerate church membership, and of the ordinances of the Gospel, then their denominational existence is a great necessity; for it is essential to the purity of church life and the integrity of the ordinances of Jesus Christ.

      Having indicated who should not baptize, I shall attempt to show who should baptize. Before I refer to the scriptural argument, I will present what has been, as I think, the general views of Baptists, I go back to the Confession of Faith, put forth in London in the year 1689, by the “ministers and messengers of, and concerned for, upwards of one hundred baptized congregations in England and Wales,” etc. There was a previous Confession in 1643, but as only “seven congregations” were concerned in it, I make no special reference to it. The moral influence of the Confession of 1689, in the making of which such men as Hansard Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, Andrews Gifford and others took part, is far greater than that of the Confession of 1643.

      But the supreme reason for referring to the Confession of 1689 is, it was adopted by the first Baptist Association in America, and is in this country called the “Philadelphia Confession of Faith.” I suppose it may be said that all the Baptist Associations of the United States have a historical connection with the Philadelphia Association. One thing is certain, namely, that while the utterance of the Philadelphia Confession in the quotation I am about to make, is not authoritative, it may be regarded as the best exponent of the Baptist view of the matter referred to. I make this statement because it has been recently intimated that there is scarcely a Baptist in New England who holds the view advocated in this article. If this be so, I have only to say that New England has, in this particular, apostatized from the Baptist faith, and so much the worse for New England.

      The extracts I make from the Confession of 1689, now the Philadelphia Confession, are these:

      “A particular church gathered and completely organized, according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members: —and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so-called and gathered) for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power, or duty, which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.

      “The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop, or elder, in the church, is that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of the hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands.”

      “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in His church to the end of the world.

      “These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified, and thereunto called according to the commission of Christ.”

[These extracts are made from chapters 26 and 28, and may be verified by a reference to CUTTING’S HISTORICAL VINDICATIONS, pp. 168, 171.]


      I call attention to the fact that “the peculiar administration of ordinances” is referred to as pertaining to the “officers” of a church, “bishops or elders,” no doubt, being meant. These “ordinances” are declared to be “baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” and they are “holy appointments,” to be “administered,” not by everybody, not by every church member, but “by those only who are qualified, and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ.”

      This is Baptist doctrine, brought into this country at an early day, and which found expression in the formation of the Philadelphia Association in the year 1708. It will be observed that no line of discrimination is drawn between the ordinances; that is to say, it is not intimated that there might be men competent to baptize, but not to administer the Lord’s Supper. No, this is an intensely modern theory, adopted, no doubt, for the support it is supposed to furnish in a certain exigency. Our Baptist fathers believed that the authority to administer the two ordinances of Christ is precisely the same. It seems never to have entered into their minds that a man might be qualified to baptize, but not to preside at the table of the Lord. It is now said by many that a Pedobaptist preacher may baptize, but that he cannot be allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper! Our fathers believed that the officers of the churches, chosen by the suffrages of the churches, and set apart by ordination, were the men to administer the ordinances of the Gospel. This was the old doctrine; and when I am asked to interpret the new I answer in the language of Scripture: “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better” (Luke 5:39).

      But it will be said that the views of Baptists of former generations are not authoritative and binding on us, unless those views are in accordance with the Word of God. I concede this. Far be it from me to recognize anything but the Holy Scriptures as the supreme standard of faith and practice. Is the Word of God appealed to? Then to the Word of God we go.

      The prominent thought possessing my mind when I formed the purpose to write this article was, that there is no scriptural authority for the administration of baptism by an unbaptized man. This I solemnly assert. He who says that an unbaptized man has this authority, must prove it. On him rests the burden of proof. He will find it a burden; for, to say nothing of Baptists, no Pedobaptist, Romanist or Protestant will render assistance. The practice of infant baptism, so-called, renders it impossible for any Pedobaptist to touch the burden with one of his fingers. What is called baptism among Pedobaptists is inevitably administered by those who have received it. It cannot be otherwise: for the reception of baptism by the infant inexorably precedes the administration of baptism by the man. No more concerning Pedobaptists on this point.

      I refer, as did our fathers in the Confession from which I have quoted, to Matthew 28:19: “Go ye, therefore, and teach (disciple) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” All the authority on earth to administer baptism is traceable to this commission. Should this commission be expunged from the New Testament, and administration of baptism being wholly unauthorized, would be nothing better than an act of will-worship. How this commission was understood and carried into effect, we learn from the Acts of the Apostles.

      I surely take it for granted that the commission was given to baptized persons. That Jesus, though Himself baptized, chose as His apostles unbaptized men, can be believed by no man of sane mind. The commission then, was given to baptized men, and they were required to disciple the nations. When the process of discipleship took place, baptism, the outward profession of discipleship was to be administered. The baptizers had themselves been baptized. There could be no open profession of faith in Christ without baptism. Hence, all the thousands of converts mentioned in the New Testament were baptized, and the New Testament churches were congregations of baptized believers.

      It may be said that the apostolic office was extraordinary and temporary. This is true; but it was made the duty of the apostles to teach the baptized disciples to observe all things commanded by Christ. Among the “all things” we may be sure was included the appointment of “bishops or elders” in the churches: for we know that there were leaders in the church at Jerusalem. See Acts 11:30; 15:2. When Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church at Antioch, on a missionary tour, they visited many places, and “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Doubtless the appointment was made in every instance in concurrence with the suffrages of the membership. That there were elders in the church at Ephesus we know from the affecting interview Paul had with them (Acts 20). In the epistle to the Philippians “bishops and deacons” are named, while in the epistles to Timothy and Titus the qualifications of bishops or elders are specified. James refers to “the elders of the church” and Peter exhorts the “elders” among the brethren to whom he wrote.

      In view of these facts it is indisputable as an axiom that elders or bishops were officers of the churches in apostolic times. So our Baptist fathers declared in their London Confession of Faith in 1689, which is, in this country, called the Philadelphia Confession. They said, moreover, that to these officers pertained “the peculiar administration of ordinances.” This commends itself to every man’s common sense, for the officers of any organization are naturally expected to administer its rites.

      The responsibility of the officers of a church to its members is unquestionable. The supreme responsibility is, of course, to Christ, but there is a subordinate responsibility to the membership. This follows invariably from the independency of churches, a doctrine always dear to Baptists, and, therefore, held by them with unyielding tenacity. If officers of the churches are, under Christ, created by the churches, they are amendable to the churches.

      The opposite view is an absurdity. How is it possible for the creature to be free from obligation to the Creator? Every church—I mean every local church—is responsible to Christ for the preservation of His ordinances in their original integrity and purity. The administrator of these ordinances, then, is responsible to the church of which he is a member. If this were not the case, and the administrator of the ordinances should change or mutilate them, where would be the remedy? There would be none. Manifestly the churches cannot maintain the ordinances in their purity unless they have control of the officers who administer the ordinances. This point seems to me too plain to need elaboration.

      Possibly I may make it plainer to some by saying that when a church officer acts unworthily of the Christian name, he is excluded from membership, and with the termination of this membership ends his official existence. The church gives him his official character, and, in the case supposed, takes it away. It is under Christ, competent to create and competent to annihilate. Church authority is not the trivial thing which some imagine it to be; and it is to be hoped that there is no church in our denomination that would suffer its authority to be trifled with. I do not believe there is. That is to say, if a Baptist pastor should so far surrender the faith and practice of the Gospel as to believe sprinkling and pouring, as well as immersion, baptismal acts, and to administer baptism, so-called, to speechless infants, we have no church that would hesitate to exclude him. His official authority would be taken away and no respect would be given to anything he might do. But, “tell it not in Gath!” we may find here and there a Baptist church that will accept as valid an immersion performed by a Pedobaptist preacher, when if that preacher could, by any possibility, be a member of that church, he would be excluded at the first business meeting! Dr. Cone, a great man in our Baptist Israel, well wrote in 1845 as follows:

      “In the early part of my ministry I was intimately acquainted with Gano, Baldwin, Holcombe, Staughton, Williams, Richards, Fristoe, Mercer, and many others, now gone to glory, and I never heard one of them drop a hint that baptism by a Pedobaptist minister opened the door into a regular Baptist church. I must be made over again before I count that to be ‘valid baptism’ when neither the administrator nor those who ordained him believed immersion of believers any part of their commission, and never submitted to it themselves, in obedience to the command of the King of Zion.”

      What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Clearly this: The commission of Christ, from which comes all authority to baptize, was given to baptized men. They were, to say the least, either a church or the nucleus of a church. They were divinely appointed to act a special part in the establishment of Christianity among Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles. As apostles, in the technical sense of the term, they have had no successors, but the church order which they, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, established, has been authoritative till now, and will be to the end of the world.

      We have seen what that order is — churches composed of baptized believers, and the officers of these churches, bishops, elders or pastors (equivalent terms) and deacons. It is evident from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Epistles that such churches were formed, each one “the pillar and ground of the truth,” and clothed with authority from Christ. To the custody of these churches were committed the ordinances of the Gospel. The churches, therefore, appointed elders to preach and administer the ordinances. This, I think, has been demonstrated, and, in fact, it results by inexorable necessity from the independence of the churches.

      But for the sake of argument I waive all this, and now present this point, namely, that no administrator of baptism, with the exception of John the Baptist, was an unbaptized man. I suppose all Baptists will concede this. The question now is not whether baptism administered by a baptized man, a church member, is valid. This is not a practical question. Laymen in our churches do not baptize, and I would not have them to do so. There is no necessity for it; but I must say, in my judgment, a baptism administered by a Baptist layman would be far better than an immersion performed by any Pedobaptist minister under the heavens. The New Testament administrators of baptism had been themselves baptized, and the baptisms performed by them were valid.

      Those Baptists who oppose the position advocated in this article will grant this, but what then? They will at once say, in substance, that Pedobaptist administrators of immersion have not been immersed, but that immersions performed by them are valid! What sort of reasoning is this? The validity of baptism conceded because the administrator has been baptized, and its validity conceded because the administrator has not been baptized! O shades of Aristotle and Whately! Is this logic?

      I must close my article leaving a great deal unsaid. I make a suggestion before I close: If irregular baptisms (that is, baptisms performed by Pedobaptist preachers, and I call them baptisms only by courtesy), have been tolerated by any of our churches till now, from this time let there be a new departure. I would not offend any in Baptist churches who have received immersion at the h ands of Pedobaptists, though if I were in their place I should, to say the least, seek a better baptism; and I have in several instances administered it.

      Certainly the best way to have peace is for those baptisms only to be received which all the members of our churches recognize as valid. Even if a decided majority in a church should be in favor of Pedobaptist immersions, is it best to offend and grieve the minority? Is this not paying too dear a price for what may prove a disturbing element? Is it not better to have harmony in our churches than to covet the smiles of Pedobaptists by the exercise of the spurious charity which exalts itself on the sacrifice of truth?


[From Ford’s Christian Repository and Home Circle, pp. 13-23, July, 1889; via The Berea Baptist Banner, April, pp. 61, 68-69 and May, pp. 81-83, 2003. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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