Baptist History Homepage

Dr. A. M. Poindexter on Pedobaptist Immersions
Christian Repository

[We take the following forcible examination of this vexed subject by one of the most acute logicians the Baptists of America have ever had in their ranks, from the Banner and Pioneer of February 7, 1845. - shf]

Poplar Avenue, January, 18th, 1845.

The question, "Is it right to baptize those who have been immersed by Pedobaptist ministers, in order to their union with a Baptist church?" seems to be exciting considerable interest at present; and the increasing frequency of immersions by such ministers, renders it one of great practical importance.

The action of the Dover Association, at its last session, having occasioned the subject to be again introduced into your paper, I have concluded to send you a communication relative thereto.

The Herald of December 3, contains a letter of Elder O. B. Brown, and that of the 12th, one from Elder S. Jones, both relating to this subject. Upon these communications I will make a remark or two, before entering directly upon the discussion which I propose.

In the communication of Elder Brown it is stated, that "Baptism, to be invalid, must be either essentially deficient in form, or it must be inadequate to the end of baptism." Now, if this were taken as a position to be proved, I, and those who think with me, might join issue with him upon the argument intended to establish it. But, when it is assumed as a principle, I must be permitted to regard it as what logicians call a "petitio principii." It takes for granted the very point in dispute, viz.: Is the validity of the ordinance affected by the character of the administrator? Again, I should object to the end or design of baptism as being what he states it to be. Admitting that all for which he contends is accomplished by baptism, I should maintain also, that it is designed to introduce the believer into the church, or at least as an indispensable condition of church membership. If this position were sustained, the inquiry would then be, does such immersion answer this end?

Brother Jones, in his short note,1 seems to ground his support of the validity of such immersion upon the fact that religion is a personal matter, and that therefore the acceptance of one does not depend upon the faith of another. This is cordially admitted, and upon this ground, I would predicate an objection to such immersion being baptism. It would stand thus. Religion is a personal matter. This is true both in regard to the administration and the reception of its rights. The faith, therefore, of the recipient cannot impart validity to the act of the administrator.

Having made these remarks by way of clearing up the ground, I now proceed to the question. Is immersion, administered by an unbaptized person, valid Christian baptism? 2

The solution of the query depends, I conceive, upon the answer to be given to the following, viz:

1. Is the administration of baptism an official act! If so,
2. Do unbaptized persons (whether Pedobaptist ministers or others) possess the official character involved in the performance of the act? -- If not then,
3. Are official acts valid when performed by those who have no official right to perform them.

It may be well here to notice an error into which, it seems to me, brethren have fallen upon this subject. They ask, "If the character of the administrator affects the validity of his acts, what then is the condition of those baptized by such as apostatize?" Now, this question supposes that personal holiness and official standing are the same. But, does not every one, at a glance see this is not true? Personal character should be the ground upon which official character is conferred: but it does not affect the official doings of one upon whom office has been conferred, while he holds the office. The President of the United States is elected by the votes of those who believe him to be capable and patriotic. But, suppose he prove a traitor? Will that invalidate his official acts performed after the oath of office and before impeachment?

Is the administration of baptism an official act? It might be a sufficient reason for affirming this, that so it has been generally regarded by the professedly Christian church of all denominations. It is quite unlikely that where all agree, they are all wrong. At least, the individual who dissents from their belief, should be able to present clear and cogent reasons to sustain his position -- whence is derived the authority to administer baptism at all? Doubtless from the commission, Go ye, teach all nations, baptizing, &c.

Now, to whom was this commission given? Primarily to the Apostles, and through them to those whom the church should appoint to fulfill it. Or, in other words, to the Apostles and their successors. The other duties enjoined show conclusively the officia1 standing of the persons who were required to perform them, and baptizing is evidently of the same grade with the others. Besides, can it be shown that, in the days of the Apostles, any others than accredited ministers baptized?

2. Do unbaptized people possess the official character involved in the administration of baptism?

I take it to be a fixed article of faith among Baptists, that all official rights [acts] must emanate from the church. That the choice and solemn setting apart of an individual, to any office, by a church, invests him with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of that office, and that in no other way can office be conferred.

Churches cannot, without violating every principle of propriety, pretend to confer office upon those who do not belong to them. Baptist churches cannot, therefore, confer the office of baptizer upon unbaptized persons. Such persons cannot be members of their communion.

But a claim is set up by bodies which we regard as unbaptized, to be churches of Christ, and they, in virtue of this claim, authorize persons to execute the commission. Now, that to these bodies themselves, the administration of such persons of ordinances, is valid, is evident, because from them is derived the authority acted upon. But is it valid in itself considered. This depends upon the decision of the question, are these Christian churches? If they are, then the acts of their officers, in so far as they do no violate the Christian church, are valid. And it is no longer a question whether we shall sanction as baptism, the immersion by them, of a believer. We are bound to do it, and the re-immersion of such an one even if he should desire it is anabaptism. But then it follows that baptism is not a condition of membership in the church of Christ, and by consequence we must not only receive such, by any believer, baptized or unbaptized into the church. If, I say, communities of unbaptized believers are Christian churches, entitled to the rights and privileges of Christian churches, then is not baptism a condition of membership in the church of Christ: and the fact that a pious and otherwise orderly believer has not been baptized, we must, therefore, reorganize our whole system of church government. Well, be it so. If truth require us to abandon the position, that baptism is a pre-requisite to church membership - if upon this point both Baptists and Pedobaptists have been in error, -- why, let us renounce it, and publish to the world that the door of the church is Scripturally open to unbapitzed believers?

But is it so? I know that at this point I have to contend with the prejudices, also the kindly feelings towards Pedobaptists, of many of my brethren. But I must be content to encounter them. I wish to present truth upon its own proper basis before the minds of those who shall read this communication. Let the question be distinctly considered: Is baptism an indispensable condition of membership in the church of Christ? The fact that -- so far as I know with one exception -- all professed Christian churches have so regarded it, might -- as remarked in relation to another point -- go far towards settling the question. But all may be wrong. Are they?

The inquiry, be it remembered, is not What is baptism? -- nor is it, Does the conscientious submission by another, to what he thinks is baptism, require that I should regard and treat him as baptized? It is plainly and only, Is baptism an indispensable condition of membership in the church? Nor does the fact that other things are requisite in the case affect the decision.

The following statements will not, it is presumed, be controverted:
1. We are not, in the New Testament expressly taught, that unbaptized persons may be members of the Christian church.
2. In every case in which we have definite information, we are taught, that those mentioned in the New Testament as church members, were baptized.
3. When no such definite information is recorded, the circumstances lead to the conclusion that they were baptized.
4. Exhortations are addressed to the churches as communities of baptized persons.

Now, these facts would lead to the conclusion that the apostolic churches were composed of baptized persons only. If so, no others should now be admitted in the church.

The commission, as recorded by Matthew, makes it imperative upon ministers to baptize: and, as given by Mark, upon every believer to be baptized. It may, therefore, be safely affirmed that the New Testament does not contemplate the continued existence of a single unbaptized believer; and of course, not of communities, -- we can know no unbaptized churches, nor unbaptized members of churches. But if this conclusion be just, it follows that persons authorized by Pedobaptist churches to administer the ordinances, have a defective commission. We enquire therefore in the next place,

Are official acts valid when performed by those who have no official right to perform them?

To this question it would seem that but one answer can be given. Suppose an individual, assuming to exercise gubernatorial authority, but not in fact invested therewith, to issue a reprieve to a condemned criminal, would it avail to his release from the penalty of the law? And would it avail though a portion of the community should invest him so far as they could with such authority? The question what right had they to do it? would at once determine the invalidity of all its acts. Baptism, therefore, being an official act, is invalid when administered by one not properly authorized to perform it.

Perhaps you may hear from me again upon this subject.
Affectionately yours, in Christ,

A. M. Poindexter



1. Will not Bro. Jones withdraw the word, "decree" applied to the decision of the Association?

2. I have noticed with regret that it is not unusual to state this question thus "Is baptism administered," &c. Now this is wrong. It represents those who take the negative as affirming the necessity of re-baptism. It is calculated to produce the impression that they contend that baptism is not baptism. Whereas their position is, that immersion thus administered is not baptism.


[From the Christian Repository, S. H. Ford, editor, January, 1879, pp. 187-192. - jrd]

Return to Poindexter Index
Return to Baptist History Homepage