Authority in the Baptism
THE BAPTISM COMMANDED FROM HEAVEN
IS COMMITTED ONLY TO BAPTISTS. By the late Rosco Brong
"Having been buried with him in the baptism in which also ye were raised with (him) through the faith of the energy of the God, the one having raised him from the dead." (Col. 2:12, literal translation.)
Our text describes the one baptism of the New Testament authorized as a continuing ordinance of God. First administered by the first Baptist on direct command from heaven, it was continued under the direction of Jesus by the disciples constituting the first Baptist church, and finally committed to that same church for administration to the end of the age. "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" (Mat. 2 1:25.) A right answer to this question must lead to a recognition of the authority of Jesus as Head of His church, even as Jewish priests and elders reasoned long ago.
Only One Baptism
In a literal sense the Bible teaches only one baptism, that is, one kind of baptism, as a New Testament ordinance. This is immersion in water of a born-again believer by the ministry of a New Testament church for the purpose of providing a symbol or figure of the faith professed. Other literal immersions, bathings, or washings are mentioned in the New Testament, but the Greek uses a different noun from the one used for New Testament baptism. Jesus spoke of His sufferings as a baptism, but of course this is figurative language. John said that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire, but this too is figurative, as baptism is properly a dipping in water. The first Baptist church in Jerusalem was once for all figuratively baptized by Jesus in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, thus receiving for all time divine certification that this is the kind of church in which God dwells on earth. It remains true that for New Testament purposes there is literally only one baptism (Eph. 4:5), and therefore our text (Col. 2:12) refers to it literally as "the baptism." The definite article is used also in Rom. 6:4, "we were buried with him through the baptism with reference to the death."
As our text makes clear, the baptism of the New Testament involves a burial in water and a raising of the buried body as a picture of the burial and resurrection of Christ. Obviously pouring or sprinkling do not afford such a picture, and if men call such rites baptism the term is bogus when so applied. Baptism is done through the faith of the operation or energy of the very God Who raised Christ from the dead. This rules out Campbellite and other so-called baptisms of false faiths. The one baptism is an expression of one faith in one Lord. (Eph. 4:5.) Now, to demand this faith in the person being baptized while denying its necessity in the administrator of baptism is a gross inconsistency. Any man, woman, or child with physical ability can imitate in word and deed the outward form of scriptural baptism, regardless of the religious or irreligious character of anyone involved, but if the act is not performed by divine authority it is bogus.
Certainly the only ultimate and absolute Authority is God Himself and certainly all Christians will agree in theory that baptism, as well as every other act of Christian service, must be in submission to His authority to be acceptable in His sight. Differences arise, however, with regard to subordinate authority in administration. John the Baptist was a man sent from God with authority to baptize (Jn. 1:6, 33), and the first disciples of Jesus got their authority directly from Him (Jn. 4:1, 2). When Jesus went back to heaven did He commit administrative authority to anyone in particular, or did He leave it to be assumed by anyone in general? Subordinate authority may be explicit, implicit, or assumed. Both explicitly and implicitly Jesus committed to His church the responsibility of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all His commandments. (Mat. 28: 18-20.) Attempts by other persons to exercise this authority are assumption based on presumption. Practically all Christendom has substantially agreed for over 19 centuries that Jesus committed to His church the administrative authority for carrying on His work. For the identification of this church, see chapters on "Christ s Church" and "Ten Bible Proofs of Baptist Perpetuity."
In recent years, the most destructive attacks upon church authority have been made by advocates of the universal invisible church theory, according to which all saved persons are members of this imaginary church. But if Jesus comrmssioned disciples merely as disciples to administer baptism, then sprinklers, pourers, and Campbellites, not to mention Catholics (or at least genuine disciples among them), have equal authority with Baptists, since there are almost certainly some saved people in all these groups. On the other hand, if by some feat of mental acrobatics the Baptist apologist for alien immersion insists that only the authority is unimportant, while the scriptural form, subject, and motive of baptism must be maintained, it need only be said that both subject and motive are unscriptural where divine authority is flouted. In alien immersion nothing remains but empty form.
Some disputants have tried to build an argument on the fact that inspired history in Acts does not give details of church procedure in connection with recorded baptisms. So they assume that at least some of these baptisms were administered by individual disciples without church authority. One answer to this problem, if it is a problem, is simply that in some exceptional cases God the Holy Spirit could have, if He so wished, given personal direction to an individual to administer baptism rather than directed through church action, which is His more normal procedure. Upon any person claiming such authority today lies the burden of proof to show that he is prompted by the same Holy Spirit in harmony with apostolic doctrine. More likely he is prompted by his own fleshly pride to promote his own heresy. Another answer, conclusive for saints who honor God s word, is that if we are going to assume something beyond what is written concerning the generally faithful servants of God, let us assume that they were obedient rather than disobedient with reference to service which God approves in His word. It is just as easy, and much more honoring to Christ and His body, the church, to assume that all baptisms recorded in Acts with divine approval were performed with church authority, explicit or implicit, as to assume that Philip or Ananias, for instance, acted without such authority (Acts 8:38; 9:10-18) just because the details are not recounted in the scripture.
A Matter of Doctrine
We are told in Acts 19:1-4 something of baptism without authority. At Ephesus Paul found about a dozen disciples who claimed to have John s baptism. Probably they had been dipped by Apollos, who later learned "the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18:24-28), but this point is irrelevant. The Bible does not say that these men had John s baptism. The Bible says that "they said, Unto John s baptism." That is, they claimed to have, perhaps they really believed they had, John s baptism. Attempts to distinguish between John s baptism and later Christian baptism, attempts to make the doctrine of John the Baptist and of the apostle Peter different from the doctrine of Paul such attempts are mere hogwash.
When these disciples showed their ignorance of New Testament doctrine while claiming the baptism of John, Paul immediately summarized the teaching of John as identical with that of all true New Testament teachers, "saying unto the people, that they should believe.., on Christ Jesus." The point is that New Testament doctrine must accompany New Testament baptism. Only so do we have the baptism of our text, "through the faith of the energy of the God that raised him (Christ) from the dead."
So instructed, the disciples at Ephesus "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" that is, under His authority through an official minister of His church. It is always so. Where Christ is honored, His word is believed, His body is respected. The authorized administrator of the baptism that pictures His gospel is the church that He instituted and that He promised to be with to the end of the age. This is the only kind of church that believes and obeys His word and so can teach other disciples to obey Him.
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