In the presentation, I argued that "baptism must be administered by the church, which is to say, by particular churches. Each local assembly which is a true church is an expression of the body of Christ at that time and place, and no other person or institution is authorized by Christ to administer baptism. Baptism should not be administered by grandpa in the backyard pool or by Joe counselor at the local Christian camp. To do so risks making baptism a merely human act that God has not authorized, on the one hand, and on the other hand it fails to unite the one baptized with any real expression of the body of Christ."
That argument prompted this question, "Philip baptized the Ethiopian in the middle of the desert. The jailor and his family were baptized that same hour of the same night that they heard the gospel. Lydia likewise. All of these examples were not performed by the church as a body. Isn't any person who is a baptized believer part of Christ's church? If so, based on the examples from scripture this statement concerning who should baptize or where and when seems to be in error."
In response, I wrote what follows. I don't think it was the best response possible, but perhaps it is helpful. I submit it to you for your judgment.
In each of the cases you mentioned, as well as most other instances in the book of Acts, there was no local church to represent Christ in that place at that time. There was, however, an apostle to baptize in Jesus’ name. The church began with the apostles’ ministry. When they baptized, they were acting as authorized representatives of Christ. The apostles eventually moved off the scene, but the church carried on Christ’s commission by baptizing and teaching all that he had commanded....
The question then becomes, “Who is authorized to represent Christ today by baptizing those who receive the Word?” For you see, when we baptize someone we are claiming to be enacting what Jesus does by his Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). That’s a big claim. Can just anyone who feels like it do it? Could my seven year old daughter, who is a believer, claim to be enacting the Spirit’s work and then proceed to baptize someone? Furthermore, how can others know that one is a believer and a representative of Christ? Just because I say I am?
Today we tend to reason simplistically like this:
- Each individual believer represents Christ.
- Each individual who represents Christ is authorized to act publicly on Christ’s behalf.
- Therefore, each individual believer is authorized to act publicly on Christ’s behalf (and we then quickly assume, to baptize people).
But this reasoning leaves important truth out of the equation. It is true that each believer represents Christ, but not each believer purely as an individual. Each believer represents Christ as a member of his body. To say that each believer represents Christ purely as an individual is like saying that I can be married purely [read: solely; in isolation] as an individual. But this is impossible, for marriage by definition includes a spouse of the opposite sex. I cannot be a husband without having a wife. I cannot be a Christian, representing Christ, without being placed into the body of Christ.
Another analogy to tease out a little of the importance of this corporate connection: As an American citizen, if I travel to another country, people will look at me as a representative of American people. That is legitimate, for that is what I am. Nevertheless, the fact that I represent America on that level does not authorize me to enter into a treaty with that country, to give federal money to that country, or to wage war on that country. I am not a representative of America in that sense.
So it is in the church, the body of Christ. We all represent Christ, but there is order to how this works out. Since baptism is a public admission to the body of Christ, the rite which enacts our initiation into the body of Christ, it is a function of the church, not of any individual within the church. The church is the people, but no individual is the church. Christ has established offices in the church and has given pastors and teachers to the church so that the church is equipped to carry out his work (Eph 4:11-16). There is structure and leadership to the way the church operates. No individual can claim to publicly represent the church and act on behalf of the church without being authorized by the church. No matter which way you slice it, if you have a biblical understanding of baptism as I attempted to put forward in my little study, you will end up with the necessity of the church.
One further thought. Claiming the authority to baptize, and thus to admit people to the church, correlates with the authority to discipline, and thus to remove people from the church. Can any individual believer, purely as an individual, pronounce another person outside the body of Christ? No. This is the prerogative of the church, not of any individual (Matt 16:13-20; 18:15-20). We certainly don’t want a crowd of “protestant popes” running around, each claiming to be the real vicar of Christ, excommunicating people whenever they want to. Likewise, we don’t want a bunch of individualists running around, each claiming to be the real representative of Christ, baptizing people whenever they want to.
We have to deal with the same question that Jesus put to the Jewish elders regarding John's baptism, albeit in a different context. Is our baptism from heaven or from men?