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COMMENTARY: Parents Baptizing Children, Members Baptizing Friends »
In the winter of 2008, my wife Cindy and I studied the Bible from Genesis to Revelation—from tree of life to tree of life—with our daughters. That summer, I baptized our girls in the Jordan River.
I was not a pastor at the time (my invitation to pastoral ministry came later that same year). I was simply an Adventist church member and an ordained elder. But I could find nothing in Scripture that prohibited me, as a disciple of Christ, from teaching and baptizing my own children. In fact, I’d found just the opposite. Prior to stepping into the Jordan River, we had visited the Galilean mountainside where Christ spoke these words to His followers: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you . . .” (Matt. 28:18-20).
To whom did Christ speak these words? Ellen Write writes, “The Savior's commission to the disciples included all the believers. It includes all believers in Christ to the end of time. It is a fatal mistake to suppose that the work of saving souls depends alone on the ordained minister. All to whom the heavenly inspiration has come are put in trust with the gospel. All who receive the life of Christ are ordained to work for the salvation of their fellow men. For this work the church was established, and all who take upon themselves its sacred vows are thereby pledged to be co-workers with Christ” (Desire of Ages p. 822).
The gospel commission to (1) teach and to (2) baptize is for all believers. None of us would disagree that, as church members, we are called to teach others. But what about the other half of the commission—the call to baptize?
Traditionally, in our church, only ministers have baptized. While we encourage members to teach a child or a friend, they typically do not baptize that child or friend. Only the minister can do that—regardless how well the minister knows the child or friend. I remember a local Adventist church frantically calling nearby Adventist churches, requesting that a minister come and baptize a new believer that evening; their own minister had to be out of town. There was no thought of the local elders and members who had actually studied with the new believer also baptizing the new believer.
Why is this? Why shouldn’t a church member, a disciple of Christ who has studied with a friend or child, be the one who baptizes the friend or child? How can I find the words to express the overwhelming joy and privilege I felt that day in the Jordan—baptizing my own girls? What difference might it make in the lives of our church members if they realized that they could—and should—baptize those closest to them? How might this elevate their sense of calling as priests in the high priesthood of Jesus Christ?
But shouldn’t things be done in order—under the guidance and blessing of leadership? Of course they should. Church members should always work in concert with the pastors and the conference, receiving approval for baptism and training in how to do it.
Like the church member Philip simply baptizing the one he studied with (Acts 8:26-40), why shouldn’t our church members do the same?
Andy Nash is senior pastor of LifeSource Adventist Fellowship in Denver, Colorado.