Does the administrator matter?

Having addressed the definition of baptism and the question of whether baptism is necessary for church membership and admittance to the Lord’s Supper, Dr. Wills next turns to a question concerning who performs the baptism. Dr Wills writes:

Let’s recognize that not every immersion done in the name of Christ, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a true baptism. We must recognize that a Mormon immersion is not a baptism. Not a Christian baptism, anyway, for the Mormon church is not a Christian church. Eastern Orthodox immersions and Roman Catholic immersions are also not true baptisms because they are not Gospel churches. The Christian Church, Churches of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ traditionally have believed that baptism actually accomplishes the remission of sins. That is not Christian baptism. That is an overthrow of the Bible teaching of justification by faith. Baptists have traditionally not recognized their immersions as true baptisms.

What makes a baptism true or false? The form must be correct for it to be a true baptism. We’ve already dealt with that. But is that enough? What about the meaning? Clearly, the meaning is key. Roman Catholics teach baptismal regeneration. When the immersion of a professing believer in a Roman Catholic church takes place, that baptism is held to be a regenerating baptism. That is the proclamation and doctrine of that church. That is not a biblical baptism. So, the meaning of baptism must also be right for a baptism to be valid.

I would also argue that the commissioning agent of the administrator determines the meaning of a baptism. Baptism was established by Christ, in the commissioning of His apostles. That’s where baptism begins. It didn’t begin in the synagogue. It begins in Christ who established His church.

Acts 19:1-7 is a key passage in helping us better understand this. Here you have the 12 disciples from Ephesus who come to Paul and he sees that they have not been filled with the Holy Spirit, that they have not been united to Christ through the Spirit. He asks them about their baptism: “Into what were you baptized?” It is pretty interesting the way he phrases it: “Into what were you baptized?” This implies that baptism gets its meaning from somewhere. And they respond: “The baptism of John.” And Paul says, “The baptism of John was.” He knows what John’s baptism is. It has a definite content, a definite substance, a definite meaning. John was commissioned by God to baptize for a specific purpose.

In regards to the question of who administers baptism, two concepts seem to be of vital importance. First, baptism is an ordinance of the church and not simply an individual action. This is why there is no record of a self-baptism in Scripture. As Dr. Wills noted above, baptism is into something and that something is at least partially determined by the administrating body. So that a person who has only undergone Mormon baptism cannot say, “Well, my baptism was valid because to me it meant that I was trusting in the work of Christ alone for my salvation.” The witnesses of the Mormon baptism would have understood the immersion to symbolize acceptance of Mormon doctrine, and so it would not have been a proper testimony to the work of Christ.

That baptism is not simply an individual action also means that we are not to become overly concerned with the spiritual condition of the individual performing the baptism. In church history, there have been times when the validity of a person’s baptism was called into question because subsequent to the baptism it was discovered that the one performing the baptism had committed some sin that would disqualify him from ministry. But this should have no bearing on the validity of a baptism when we understand that a person is baptized by a body of believers, the individual performing the baptism merely acting as an officer of that body.

Second, baptism has a particular meaning in Scripture. When the act of immersion is performed without this meaning being understood by both the individual baptized and the body commissioning the baptism at the time, the immersion is not a valid baptism. This is demonstrated by the account in Acts 19:1-7, to which Dr. Wills refers.

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35 Comments on “Does the administrator matter?”

  1. Barry Says:

    Andrew!! You’re back!!

    Thank God, I thought something happened to you. Whew!!

    It doesn’t come as a surprise to me anymore that people like Dr. Wills postulate that certain criteria is valid or true for this group but not for that group. The common syndrome of “these people have it right and those people have it wrong” found in just about every Christian movement should be, by now, expected if not down right anticipated by all of us.

    The equally interesting part is that we can be, and this certainly includes Dr. Wills, incorrect in our presumptions.

    Today, I wonder if it is valid to suggest that the impact of the viewpoint of a theologian on a subject such as baptism, as applied to the varying movements, is really not so very significant as it might have been years ago, and that the wounding that someone like Dr. Wills, in his writings, might try to convey either consciously or subconsciously to people of other movements actually hits us like an insubstantial slap.

    And, then we find ourselves moving on to the the next interpretation whose design really is not to instruct or illuminate but to insult and alienate.

    The more I read the more I wonder if building bridges between movements isn’t just something we see on the surface, like a smile or a hello, and all the time we really have a heretical hand grenade in our palm waiting like a person behind a corner wall, who the moment prior had shook someone’s hand, and is now ready to heave the thing.

  2. Andrew,

    I am going to make some [many?] assumptions as to what I think you are getting at. Feel free to correct wherever I may err.

    You said “First, baptism is an ordinance of the church and not simply an individual action.”

    In the light of the topic of this post, I think you need to back this up with Scripture instead of merely asserting it.

    You said “This is why there is no record of a self-baptism in Scripture.”

    No, but that does not necessarily prove that baptism is a local church ordinance in the sense of a local church ordinance of which only duly authorized officers may perform baptism.

    The will of Christ is for believers to be baptized, not baptize themselves.

    The Great Commission was not given to the local church so that one cannot baptize [or make disciples] unless they are authorized by the local church to do so.

    [If He did, then the local church not only would have the authority to say who can and who cannot baptize, but also the authority to say who can and who cannot make disciples]

    Christ sent the Holy Spirit to teach all things and bring to remembrance everything Christ said [John 14:26] so that the teaching ministry of Christ continued through the Apostles.

    It is NOT that the Apostles gave the local church their inspired writings [including the Great Commission] so that the New Testament Scriptures must come through the local church first before it can be received as authoritative for the individual believer.

    And one cannot separate the Great Commission from the rest of the inspired Apostolic writings to say that only the Great Commission was given to the local church but not the rest–that would be inconsistent.

    And I hope someone is not going to claim that the Apostles gave the Great Commission merely orally to the local church–how is one going to prove that?

    The inspired writings of the Apostles are immediately authoritative for the believer without any agency coming in-between the believer and their writings.

    It is Christ through the apostolic writings who is Lord over the believer.

    It is not Christ through the apostolic writings “and” through the agency of the local church who is Lord over the believer.

    The local church [including pastor(s)] should help the believer obey his Lord, not come in-between the believer and his Lord.



  3. Andrew Says:


    You seem upset that “just about every Christian movement” asserts “these people have it right and those people have it wrong,” yet you seem to think that you “have it right” and that Dr. Wills and I “have it wrong.”

    The idea that disagreement on this issue destroys all notion of ‘building bridges’ is simply incorrect. I have friends (such as, judging from the comments under the last post, former SBF blogger Gene Bridges) that would probably be inclined more toward Benji’s position, and yet this does not mean we cannot have fellowship in the gospel. This issue would, however, set certain necessary parameters on the kinds of activities this fellowship could include, as disagreements over these issues would mean that Benji and I, for instance, could not plant a church fellowship together, as we would differ in our understanding of the biblical requirements for membership.


    The points you raise are more complex and it will be awhile before I have the chance to respond.

    Grace to you!

  4. Andrew,

    No problem

  5. Andrew,

    Here are some more things to think about.

    The historically important Primitive Baptist “Black Rock Address” states this:

    “We will now call your attention to the subject of Missions. Previous to stating our objections to the mission plans, we will meet some of the false charges brought against us relative to this subject, by a simple and unequivocal declaration, that we do regard as of the first importance the command given of Christ, primarily to His apostles, and through them to his ministers in every age, to ‘Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,’ and do feel an earnest desire to be found acting in obedience thereunto, as the providence of God directs our way, and opens a door of utterance for us. We also believe it to be the duty of individuals and churches to contribute according to their abilities, for the support, not only of their pastors, but also of those who go preaching the gospel of Christ among the destitute.”

    I take what this is saying here to mean that the Great Commission is passed down to ministers for them to obey and not all Christians or local churches.

    Based on this understanding and on the same assumptions I had in my first comment, I say the following:

    I believe that you would say that the Great Commission was given to local churches and not ministers.

    However, how have you not laid down the groundwork for possibly coming out with the same practical result as the Primitive Baptists here by saying that the Great Commission was given to local churches which authorize ministers to baptize?

    If only ministers can baptize, then why can’t local churches authorize only their ministers to make disciples as well and then claim that they not only baptizes believers through their officers but makes disciples through those same officers as well?



  6. Andrew,

    A better english version of my last sentence.

    If only ministers can baptize, then why can’t local churches authorize only their ministers to make disciples as well and then claim that they not only baptize believers through their officers but make disciples through those same officers as well?

  7. Pat McGee Says:

    I would have great difficulty accepting much of anything from a Primitive Baptist document. The PB’s I know believe there is salvation outside of Christ. They take predestination to the nth degree. I once asked a Primitive Baptist if it was possible that the apostle Paul was burning in hell and that Hitler was in heaven. She answered in the affirmative. They disassociate predestination from the gospel.Their view of predestination does not necessarily predestinate you to become a believer, but does predestinate you to heaven or hell. That is an abomination.
    If there are primitive baptists out there that don’t hold that positiion, please educate me.

  8. Pat,

    My point is not about accepting or rejecting anything from a Primitive Baptist document.

    And I am not wanting to bring in their view of predestination into this topic.

    What I am asking about is whether or not the view that the Apostles gave the Great Commission to the local church lays down the groundwork for a practice that would come out looking identical to what the Black Rock Address seems to affirm [i.e., only ministers making disciples].



  9. Bosco Peters Says:

    Here’s a suggestion about baptism in the name of a gender-neutral Trinity:

  10. Tom Butler Says:

    The ordinance of baptism was, in fact, given to the local church, in the Great Commission. Jesus gave that commission to an assembled body. Paul, in I Corinthians 11, commanded that congregation at Corinth to guard the ordinances. That command applies to every congregation.

    In I Corinthians 12:27, Paul wrote to the Corinth congregation “YE are the body of Christ.” So it is with every New Testament church. Not just “a” body of Christ, but ThE body of Christ.

    Paul further told the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:28) that Jesus shed his blood for that congregation.

    The local church is the only, repeat only, entity uniquely equipped to carry out he Great Commission. Paul and Silas, and later Paul and Barnabas, were sent out as missionaries by a local congregation, and reported back to that church.

    For individuals to claim authority to baptize independently of a local church; and for an individual to seek baptism independently of a local church leads to all sorts of mischief, and fosters a low view of that for which Jesus shed his blood..

  11. Tom,

    In 1 Corinthians 12:27 there is no definite article in the Greek to prove your “THE” body vs. “A” body point with. I think you may be depending on an English translation, but not even all of the English translations have the definite article before body.

    In 1 Corinthians 11:2 there is no command to “guard” the ordinances. It says to “keep” the ordinances, not guard them. The Greek word does not mean guard either. I think the sense is “keep what has been given you”, not “guard what has been given you” as if you now own it in some sense.

    What is your exegetical basis for saying that the great commission was given to the local church?

    If the great commission was given to the local church [so that it guards it in some sense and authorizes who can baptize] then it seems to me the local church must authorize who can make disciples. If you disagree, could you please state why?



  12. Tom Butler Says:

    Jesus established his church during his ministry. By the time he ascended, it had everything it needed to function. The apostles were the material of the first church. Those apostles were assembled when Jesus gave his commission. The 120 were assembled on the day of Pentecost.

    In Pauls letter to the Corinthian church, he’s correcting them for improper observance of the Lord’s Supper. He’s telling the proper way to behave when they assemble. His admonition to keep the ordinances is an admonition to keep them correctly. That is, to guard the integrity of the ordinances.

    Re I Cor 10:27, it makes no difference if there’s an article or not. If te correct rendering is “Ye are body of Christ,” the result is the same. The point is that a local NT church is righfuly called a body of Christ. Whether it’s THE body or A body is a semantic argument and changes nothing about the nature of that congregation.

    If Jesus did not commission churches to baptize, then to whom did he give the commission. The Universal” church? If that’s the case, then it has been a colossal failure, for it has carried out nothing. It is hopelessly fractured and divided, in fact we could call the “Universal” church dysfunctonal–that is, if it existed at all. The concept is a nice fantasy but useless otherwise.

    If he gave the commision to the apostles, they’re dead. If to individuals, they died. No, he gave it to local congregations, for which he died on the cross.

  13. Tom,

    Jesus DID NOT establish His church before His ascension. Jesus did not say “I am building my church”, He said “I WILL build my church”.

    And the Disciples DID NOT have everything they needed by the time Jesus Ascended.

    John 7:39 states “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified”

    1. John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize in the Holy Spirit

    2. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost.

    3. 1 Cor. 12:13-14 gives us the meaning.

    1 Cor. 12:13-14. For [in] one Spirit are we all baptized into one BODY, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the BODY is not one member, but many.

    Jesus, as the baptizer, baptized believers in the Holy Spirit and it is this Spirit baptism that formed the BODY of Christ.

    It is only on or after Pentecost that Jesus could ask a persecuter of God’s people “why are you persectuing ME” because it was on the day of Pentecost the church, the BODY of Christ was formed.

    There is a fourfold historical accomplishment of Spirit baptism in the book of Acts that always falls upon “groups” of people–the brethren, the Samaritans, the Gentiles, the followers of John the Baptist.

    Spirit baptism made these different groups ONE universal BODY of Christ [1 Cor. 12:13-14]

    The death, resurrection, ascension, and Spirit baptism of Jesus are all historical events never to be repeated again.

    Today Jews and Gentiles receive the Spirit by faith [Gal. 3:14].


    Sure the apostle is correcting the Corinthians on an improper way of observing the Lord’s Supper, but that is a far cry from somehow getting out of 1 Cor. 11 that the local church has the authority to say who can and who cannot baptize.

    You are assuming that the local church authorizing who can and who cannot baptize is a way of keeping the integrity of baptism and then citing 1 Cor. 11 as proof of keeping this integrity.

    1 Cor. 11 says NOTHING about authorization.

    You were the one who was citing 1 Cor. 10:27 as proof that the local church was THE [the definite article] body of Christ. I was just pointing out that there was no definite article. If all you wanted to prove was “The point is that a local NT church is righfuly called a body of Christ” then why bring up a “THE vs. A” contrast in the first place? I have no problem saying a local church is a body of Christ.


    The New Testament church had its shar of problems as well. They had to work through them. I suggest it would be a good ide for us to try and do the same. The UNITED STATES of AMERICA might be called dysfunctional as well. That does not prove it’s nonexistence.


    I would assume that when you talk about “church” throughout you are equating it with “assembly”. I suggest this is unnecessary. Yes, it is true that a word does not always mean the total parts that make up that word [ex. the opposite of throwdown is not throwup].

    However, I see no reason to not stick with the parts that make up the word EKKLESIA–“called out” ones. It harmonizes perfectly with who God’s people are [1 Peter 2:9-10].



  14. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Benji said-

    The inspired writings of the Apostles are immediately authoritative for the believer without any agency coming in-between the believer and their writings.

    Yes, but no: Hebrews 13:17; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:29; and numerous others. I would argue that the GC was not given to the church generally, though it has other specific and general application. But rather, it was given to the apostles as a particular call, and extending only to those particularly gifted, cf. Ephesians. Particularity must be kept in view, always. Otherwise we overthough the inherent structure of authority. The GC itself draws a distinction between those who make, those who are baptising, those who are teaching and those who are made disciples.

    This however is another track of thought. The real issue is not that there is a clear particularity within Scripture, but rather, if baptism falls within the authority that is granted only to the apostles/officers, or, does it fall to all believers, generally. Paul himself said he was not sent to baptize, though he did. Then, it falls to others necessarily to baptize, but just who? It is my understanding that Phillip cannot be identified with the apostolic band, nor of the seven, necessarily, but baptized the eunuch, and showed forth the signs of an apostle, though he was not, demonstrating authority but not within any designated “church”. Not to launch into a controversy there, it cannot be said that he was the member of any church, or distinctly, a member of the Jerusalem church. The uniqueness of the apostolic age and the goings on are just that, unique. To formulate a ecclesiological doctrine upon what is apparently a unique function and time seems a strech.

    So, who does baptize? From where did John’s authority come from? From God or from man?

    What was John’s baptism? Why was Jesus baptized, and by John, who had no authority under the GC, yet it fulfilled all righteousness? What does that mean? John operated outside of ecclesiatical authority, one of the things he was criticized for, but one of the things that he was commend for, also. When Wills mentions the baptism of John in Acts 19, why would it not also fulfill all righteousness? And when they were baptized in the name of Jesus, what does that mean? That they were immersed again? How does one come to that conclusion? Curiously the preposition anah, is missing. How is it that Moses was baptized in a cloud, was he immersed? And was it that Jesus was drowned and not crucified, since he calls his death a baptism? I am being facetious. However, baptism does not always mean immersion in water, for “You shall be baptized with the HS… It could mean immersion in the teaching of Christ. What the men in Acts 19 lacked was instruction in the meaning of John’s baptism. “We have not heard that there was a Holy Spirit”, contrasted with, “The One who comes after me will baptize in the Holy Spirit…” Most likely meaning that they had not heard of the events of Christ’s promise captured in Johns prophecy being fulfilled at Pentecost . And when it was explained, of what John had said about the one who comes after and baptizes with the HS and with fire, they were baptized into Jesus, and received the HS by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands (they were baptized through the Spirit, not water, into Jesus by the authoritative Word). Nothing here can be used to prove that they were baptized in water again anymore than Jesus saying he had a baptism that the disciples could not go through, but that they would later go through it similarly, meant that he and they were submersed in water again.

    I say this only to premise that baptism is proclamation of the Gospel, not a charge that just any one can carry out, but one that does not require office to fulfill. Or, who is it that would argue that any believer cannot proclaim the Gospel?

    Wills said-

    Clearly, the meaning is key.

    And, surely it is. But, if it is the meaning that is clear, then the agent administering it is certainly not clearly defined, because Jesus was not buried by officers of the Church, nor was he crucified by them, nor did they play any part in his resurrection. To the contrary these actions were carried out by a mixed bag in the narative. If we are going to use circumstantial typology for defining doctrine we run into problems into which we don’t want to get involved. It does matter, however, that we keep some types. First, no man kills himself, but that is not the entrance point for baptism anyway. No man resurrects himself (the synergistic works of the God head in Christ’s resurrection excepted), but all men are buried by another. It is into his death, not his killing nor his resurrection, that is, it is his burial, being dead, which is the symbolic marker which identifies us, with him. Baptism then is post crucifixion for the believer. We identify with his death, and through that, his work before, up and through the cross, and his life after is imputed to us; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Colossians 2:12. We are already dead, and it is his death that is exchanged for ours, where our death is taken away, and the obediences of Christ and life eternal is given to us.

    The meaning is important. But, who is it that understands the exchange or the imputation when they are baptized? We do understand our sin, and forgiveness. But, quite to the contrary, most things follow in temporal order in the GC, baptism first, then teaching the understanding of it. Baptism then is the understanding that we have died in Christ, that is, death and sin has been circumcised from us, not that we have embarked upon a road to sanctification, but rather that Christ through his death has given us his life. It is finished. This is not, however, what is generally taught in instructions on baptism. In fact the opposite is generally true. The convert is taught that baptism is his dying to an old way of life and dedication to living rightly. The opposite is true. It is not the death of the believer, but the death of Christ, and not the believers repentance, but Christ’s life, both his active and passive obedience to the will of His Father. True, there is the extension of realities of baptism that flow from the meaning of it, (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2;12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4), however, these are not what baptism primarily symbolizes.

    Christ himself was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. It therefore cannot mean repentance from sin, nor can it mean that he did not have eternal life. John makes it clear that he indeed in his time on earth was the life. And, he was not dead, but he did die. Now, what the baptism of Christ proclaimed was Christ.

    (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

    It is the Gospel, Christ crucified on our behalf, all things accomplished for us, therefore repentance given by John is also post resurrection. That is, we know of repentance, after the resurrection life is given to us in regeneration. John’s baptism looks forward to the reality that comes after being born again. As with all things we obey because we have been made to walk in his statutes, therefore we return to him because he has redeemed us. Not, that we return to him so that we can be redeemed.
    John’s baptism, then, is a valid baptism.

    Baptism proclaims that Jesus, by the will of his Father, came into this world, lived died, and was resurrected. All by the will of another. Symbolically, there can be no self will which would be symbolized by self-baptism. What baptism recognizes is that it is another, monergistically, who has given us Christ. It is never focused on us, just as Christ himself did not come for the purpose of self-exaltation but, the exaltation of another. We have done nothing, he has done it all. To say that one submits to baptism because they have given themself to Christ is to invert it. Baptism is not our giving ourselves to Christ, but Christ given on our behalf.

    Now, who has the right to proclaim the Gospel. All the children of God. For in baptism it is the candidate that is fulfilling all righteousness. The baptizer is only the one pointing the way, Matthew 3:1-6. In reality then, the one proclaiming the Gospel is the candidate, but he is doing so in the likeness of John’s baptism of Chrsit, submitting to the baptizer’s Gospel call of repentance. He is being buried by another. But, it is the Word that is the central message of the symbol. So, all disciples have the authority to proclaim the Gospel, but not all have be made particularly called to the Gospel ministry. Still, we have not answered who is the proper authority for administering baptism.

    Two things are answered above. One, it was John, and not the Apostles who baptized Jesus. He was not given the commission and the one who had the authority gave it to the one commissioned. Second, it is the candidate, but it cannot be that the candidate was given the authority, for he is dead, cannot bury himself. First they must have been converted by the preaching of those who came before. There is a period of discipleship that must precede the commissioning of officers. Therefore we have three agents, all involved in the baptism, and the administration of it, all with equal authority, but it is conveyed to the three by God. There are those who have been commissioned for duty by call, but it cannot be the candidate. Then there are those candidates, who by their own baptism are adminstering it to themselves through proclamation, but do not have the call to baptize, for they are dead, then, there is the witness of the disciples at large, having in themselve the authority of the Spirit to preach the word, not as officers, but by virtue of the Truth in them, are also authorized to baptize. This is witnesseed to by the fact that there are others doing the baptizing in the Gospels, as was the case of those who did not follow the the band of apostles, yet were baptizing in the name of Christ, for which act he commended them as being for him and not against him, and they were not to be hindered. Because, baptism is the preaching of the Gospel. It is found before the church, in the church, and beside. It cannot therefore be the property of a church, but of the body of believers, universal, without distinction.

    Who is the proper officer, or administrator? It is not the candidate, and that is as much as can be said.

    Please do not beat up on me too badly. I have thrown more than one wrench into this converstation. What I have sought to do is to clarify the meaning of baptism and have probably muddled it. But, because what baptism is should dictate who is authorized to administer it I examined this with these words, open to any one’s insight.

    I would also argue that the commissioning agent of the administrator determines the meaning of a baptism. Baptism was established by Christ, in the commissioning of His apostles. That’s where baptism begins…It begins in Christ who established His church


    This is simply an untrue statement. Baptism precedes the GC. And, beside that, it is clear that it is not restricted to the Apostolic band, nor to ordained officers, because baptism in the NT took place outside of them.

    Here you have the 12 disciples from Ephesus who come to Paul and he sees that they have not been filled with the Holy Spirit, that they have not been united to Christ through the Spirit.

    How do we know this is true? Are we to assume that none of the Twelve were filled with the HS and united to Christ before Pentecost? Clearly this is a case of tradition intruding upon the texts.

    First, baptism is an ordinance of the church and not simply an individual action.

    Yes, it is an ordinance of the church, but exceeds local boundaries, as is amply testified to in Scripture. Not that it cannot be regulated by any fellowship, but that it is not the property of any ecclesium.

  15. Barry Says:


    My point was not, and never has been, a delineation of the “rules” of baptism. Unlike Dr. Wills who seems to know what the rules are and which movement’s baptisms are bogus and which movement’s baptisms are valid I was simply suggesting that his “rule” making criteria is yet one more example of arbitrary interpretation.

    He, and you, are free to suggest that a Catholic baptism is not “true”.

    My first offering was that this is an opinion. Secondly, nobody really much cares if Wills thinks this group or that group has it “wrong”. Thirdly, that the end result of his opinions do absolutely nothing for illuminating or bridge-building if his negative thrusts are directed not at his movement but some one elses.

    We don’t get far with one another when we happily, and chronically, ascribe to the “right/wrong” syndrome. It is fairly obvious that this is the principle impetus of Wills.

  16. Tom Butler Says:

    I have neither the time nor inclination to deal with every point raised in this discussion. My aim is to show that the local church exercises authority over baptism (and the Lord’ Supper), and that it involves the mode (immersion), the design (picture the gospel, etc.) and the subject (believers only).

    I will touch on a couple, however.

    First, the idea that the baptism in I Cor 12:13 is Spirit baptism is taken for granted, but shouldn’t be. The Greek word for “by” can also be translated “in.” The Scriptures know nothing of the Holy Spirit baptizing anybody. Every other reference I’m aware of speaks of being baptized “with” or “in,” but never “by,” with the HS as the baptizer.

    So the baptism in that passage is, in my view, water baptism. And that means that the body into which we are baptized is the church at Corinth. Or, since Paul was a member at Antioch, Paul could be speaking in a general sense of being baptized into the local body.

    Second, those references to “the church” are generic in nature, in the same way we speak of the family. To refer to a “breakdown in the family” is meaningless without reference to specific families. The right to “trial by jury” has no meaning without a trial by a specific, concrete jury.

    So the scripture knows nothing of a Universal church, which, by the way, were it to exist, has never won anyone to Christ, never given a dime, never sent a missionary, never fed the poor, never taught the gospel to anybody. Those who get bent out of shape when such a concept is challengd should provide an answer to the question, “For what purpose does it exist?”

    Finally, the church was not established in the day of Pentecost, but during Jesus’ earthly ministry. It already existed. In fact, the Jerusalem congregation was already assembled and had just had a business meeting when the HS was poured out. Those who were saved that day were added to the congregation in existence.

    And they already had the Holy Spirit, because Jesus told them to receive it in John 14. Even earlier, this little group had a mission, and they had power (cast out demons, etc) directly from Jesus. What it had on the day of Pentecost, the church had during Jesus ministry.

    The coming of the HS on Pentecost is unrelated to the existence of the church. It means something else entirely.

  17. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    So the scripture knows nothing of a Universal church

    Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee…To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

    Besides this the word for chruch is always singular, a collective. So it is most proper to say, the church at, such that in the Book of Revelation the church is defined as the seven, the church at, and hear what the Spririt says to the churches, collectively. The all is each one and the one is the all. To define the church as only the local assembly so bifurcates the texts as to render them incomprehensible. The church, each one individually, and them collectively, is the target of revelation. The idea of a Universal church is not only everywhere in Scripture, the accomodation of local churches, is merely geographical, never doctrinal. However, as we each one of us constitutes the temple, so too, any one or two gathered, contitute the temple, so also, the brethren scattered throughout the world, and not only there, but also those in heaven, constitute the Universal Church. Nothing could be clearer, nor more logically derived than that.

    were it to exist, has never won anyone to Christ, never given a dime, never sent a missionary, never fed the poor, never taught the gospel to anybody. Those who get bent out of shape when such a concept is challengd should provide an answer to the question, “For what purpose does it exist?”

    This is simply a strawman, born out of traditionalist reactionary defense. What purpose has been served by automous local churches? Division, strife, envy? See, that line of arguement is fruitless. Why does the Universal Church exist: soli deo Gloria. The reality, is that it is the “local” assembly that is the anomaly, spiritually speaking, a shame, our sin before our eyes. There should be no division, and that has developed out of this very kind of discussion.

    But, being that that is the case, who cares what the postition is concerning catholicity ecclesiologically, when what we want is definition applicable to the ordinances specifically. Discussion will necessarily concern the faith once and for all delivered to the saints universal. How they are interpreted and applied derive from the univeral aspect of the Scripture in that no Scripture was given at anytime for private interpretation. Therefore, we strive for understanding universal. Why would we settle for less?

  18. Tom,

    You said “The Scriptures know nothing of the Holy Spirit baptizing anybody.”

    You are actually agreeing with me. Jesus is the baptizer. Jesus baptizes in/with the Holy Spirit. That is the Spirit baptism I am talking about.

    The verse talks about being baptized in/with the Holy Spirit. Water is nowhere to be found in 1 Cor. 12:13-14 [either explicitly or implicitly].

    The Old Testament showed the Holy Spirit coming upon people, but it was prophesied in the Old testament that the Holy Spirit would be put IN people.

    The Holy Spirit was WITH, not IN [i.e. indwelling] the disciples: Jn 14:17. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth WITH you, and shall be IN you.

    The logical relationship of Jesus having to ascend FIRST before the Holy Spirit would be given is clear in these passages:

    John 7:39 “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; BECAUSE that Jesus was not yet glorified”

    John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

    In the light of Christ’s statement in John 16:7, I do not see where you get that Jesus told the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit in John “14”.

    John 20:22 is admittedly not the easiest passage to understand. However, in the light of the clear teaching of the passages already quoted, I take what Jesus did to mean that He was giving them a taste of what was to come on the day of Pentecost.

    The Holy Spirit “officially” came on Pentecost.



  19. genembridges Says:

    So the scripture knows nothing of a Universal church, which, by the way, were it to exist, has never won anyone to Christ, never given a dime, never sent a missionary, never fed the poor, never taught the gospel to anybody. Those who get bent out of shape when such a concept is challengd should provide an answer to the question, “For what purpose does it exist?”

    See John L. Dagg on that. He’s throughly rebutted it, as did P.H. Mell. If there is no “universal church” then for what local church did Christ die? (Eph. 5). This, brother, is you making a classic example out of defining a concept by the meaning of a single word. You’re no better than the Roman Catholic here, who sees “church” and defines it as a visible body, namely the one true holy apostolic (Roman) church. Your Landmarkism, not the Bible is informing your exegesis.

    While you ponder that, Brother, can you tell us all the links in the chain of your baptism? If not, how do you know you’re validly baptized?

    For Barry:

    We don’t get far with one another when we happily, and chronically, ascribe to the “right/wrong” syndrome.

    I see binary logic escapes you. The Roman ecclesiastical community teaches a false gospel, ergo, any baptism it performs is a false baptism.

    Now, you can dispute that, but then that means you’re buying into that “right/wrong” syndrome. That must be quite the conundrum for you.

    Ah, the Landmarker and the Romanist, ecclesiolatry all around!

  20. Tom Butler Says:

    Brother Thomas, you described my question “For what purpose does the Universal Church exist?” as a strawman, born out of traditionalist reactionary defense. Your answer was Sola Gloria Dei. The natural followup question is, how does it do that? If by being obedient to the Great Commission, it fails the test. If by winning souls, failure. If by sending missionaries, failure. If by assembling for fellowship, study of the word, worship, again, failure.

    Brother Gene, I have such respect for you and your knowledge of scripture and your great mind, I feel inadequate to engage you in any discussion. I am also respectful of Dagg and Mell.

    You asked, if there is no Universal Church, then for what local church did Christ die? I find the answer in Acts 20, where Paul called the elders of the Ephesian congregation to Miletus for a goodby chat. In v 28 he said, “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, overwhich the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” The flock to which he referred is, of course, the congregation at Ephesus. They were the overseers of that flock.

    He continued in that same verse “ feed the church of God (the Ephesus church over which they were overseers), which he (Jesus) hath purchased with his own blood.” The flock and the Church of God are the same entity–the Ephesian congregattion, whcih Paul said Jesus had purchased.

    I think that those who cling to the Universal Church concept confuse it with the Kingdom. Our church of Christ friends hold that they are the same, so they are consistent, though mistaken. I also understand that the UC idea is critical to dispensationalism. I have been mystified at the animus which my views arouse. I held to my views before I knew what they were called, because I see them consistent with Scripture.

    Lumping Landmarkers and Romanists together seems a stretch to me.

    And what is wrong with concluding that if A is correct, B can’t be?

  21. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    The natural followup question is, how does it do that?

    It does it in manifold ways through manifold means, one of which is the local church- but your assertion was that Scripture knows nothing of the Universal Church, as if to say, as Gene pointed out, that Christ died for the local church as something separated from the body, i.e. the Universal Church-

    I quoted Revelations where it is “hear what the Spirit says to the Churches”, a plurality in unity. It is a single message to the ekklesia, a singular collective. What Christ says to one church he says to all. Of course the local church sends but not as distinct from the body but as one with it. It is in reality Christ who sends and he sends from all “local” members of the one body. Locality does not make for some foreign ecclesium. We are separated by our traditions, not by Scripture. But that is the point of this ongoing discussion of Baptism.

    Whether we can gain concensus is not the issue. As I stated, what is important is that we are reforming, not to discover new truths, that is what has separated us. But, to establish, as far as conscience will allow, what Scripture says.

    what we want is definition applicable to the ordinances specifically.

    There is wide ranging disagreement. And I hope that the outcome will be that each of us grows in our understanding of the meaning and proper administration of baptism which is not further isolated by locality, but is further universalized Scripturally.

    Local autonomy is fine, except when it degrades into localized patterns of traditions of men that have no reality outside the generations that spawned them. That simply results in loss of fellowship and distrust. The way to unity is truth, not complaceny and compromise, nor a bunker mentality that says we’ve got our truth and you cannot have it. For the way of love is that we each to our neighbor speak truth for the edification of the whole. That means by extension, that the local church is not isolated, but is accountable and responsible.

    Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

    Earlier in that chapter these men are introduced: Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. Timothy was the Elder at Ephesus, was he not, and these men were with them in company? And when he called the Elders, were not all these men in attendance? This whole scene seems to be somewhat of a conference that was arranged for final instruction. Timothy apparently was left there, and we know that Titus was left a Crete for similar purposes. My guess is that the Elders that were called included the entire company that was with Paul on this occasion, as well as others, and not just a group from a local assembly. Beside, that begs the question, just how many local assemblies were at Ephesus? This was a Roman capitol of the proconsolate of Asia. It is likely the area was called by the name of the capitol. Ephesus may have had multiple churches in and around the city, as well as nearby villages. Beside, this was to be the epicenter of the “mystery of the church” which was delivered to Paul. A mystery by the way that is universal in scope. It was from here that the center of operations of the gentile church would range. But it was also from here that Paul would travel to meet with James and the elders where he would establish himself as their equal as shepherds over God’s church, universal. Along the way they stopped in Tyre for a similar meeting.

    It becomes merely a symptom of provincialism to isolate one congregation from another as if that was the intension of the unity of the Spirit. It seems rather backwards to preach the reconciliation, if what was meant by it is that we should remain divided. It is my belief that we are to work as Ephesians says until we all come to the unity of the faith- and that, the one which was once for all delivered to the saints.

    And I am by the way, solidly non-ecumenical.

  22. Barry Says:


    That’s what you guys feast on is the “right/wrong” syndrome.

    You know?

    If you couldn’t slam another movement there wouldn’t be much to keep you going.

    That is the aegis of your thinking: I’m not part of this movement so I’ll feel free to say that it’s false.

    I’m not a victim of the “right/wrong” syndrome, Gene, because I think they are all false. If I thought any one of them were true, then you could accuse me of using this egregious syndrome you so happily ascribe to.

  23. Tom,

    You asked ““For what purpose does it [the universal church] exist?”

    I will give you one answer. In Eph. 2:15 the Bible says that Christ, through the cross, has made “one new man” made up of Jews and Gentiles and verse 16 says this one new man is “one body”.

    A new humanity in Christ has emerged onto the scene of history that should look different than the old humanity in Adam.

    I have attended the local church that Gene is a member of [nice guy, by the way] and, praise God, the people who had assembled to worship the Lord were not all white.

    Now, if I had noticed this and then walked out because this local church [assuming they were members] was not all white, then I would be acting as if I was a member of the OLD HUMANITY instead of the NEW HUMANITY.

    This new humanity should live out their identity in Christ and in living it out reflect the glory and wisdom of God.

    This new humanity extends beyond local assemplies. This new humanity is made up of concrete flesh and blood people whether they are assembled or not. This new humanity [one new man] is the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the church.

    Col. 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church



  24. Tom,

    You said “I also understand that the UC idea is critical to dispensationalism.”

    I’m not sure if this is alluding to what I have said or not, but just to make it clear–I do not adhere to the dispensational system.

    I adhere to New Covenant Theology [as taught by Baptists such as John Reisinger].



  25. Tom Butler Says:

    Brother Benji, my reference to dispensationalism was not directed at you. It was an observation that dispy eschatology requires a distinction between the (Universal) Church and Israel. Without that distinction, dispensationalism falls apart. Without the concept of the Universal Church, there is no dispensationalism.

    Re: your reference to Colossians 2, I take from the passage that the gospel has now been extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles as well. They are the “other sheep” Jesus referred to in John 10.

  26. Tom Butler Says:

    I don’t want get too far astray from Andrew’s original essay. My posts have been designed to support his view that the the administrator of baptism is important. And that the authority to baptize resides in the local congregation. Any other way leads to all sorts of mischief.

  27. Tom,


    I agree with you that Eph. 2 [I think you said Col. 2 by mistake] means that the Gospel has extended beyond the Jews to the Gentiles as well and that these Gentiles are the “other sheep” that Jesus referred to in John 10.

    However, Eph. 2 also says that these Jews and Gentiles have been made “one new man” and are “one body” and as Jesus said in John 10:

    16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be “one fold”, and one shepherd.



  28. Some of this has already been mentioned in the thread above (I think), but I wanted to touch base with some ideas introduced in Benji’s original comment.

    The issue has been raised over whether the performing of baptism is a church ordinance or a command to individual believers. Benji wrote: “The Great Commission was not given to the local church so that one cannot baptize [or make disciples] unless they are authorized by the local church to do so.”

    I think some of the comments in the thread above have tended to identify baptism too closely with evangelism. So that, for example, if my wife has the joy of leading one of her co-workers to faith in Christ, she would then have the responsibility of baptizing her (?). But, to contradict a statement from Thomas Twitchell above, baptism is NOT the preaching of the Gospel; otherwise, Paul could not write, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,” (1 Cor. 1:17a). We must also recognize that baptism unites the believer with the body of Christ- that is, the church, as seen in Acts 2:41, 1 Cor. 12:12-13, and Eph. 4:4-6. And while the “one body” language in these last two passages does indicate a universal church, it is apparent that during the church age (following Pentecost) the universal church is consistently expressed in local church congregations. There must be some way for a person to be recognized as a member of the church at a local level so that the person can receive encouragement, instruction, and discipline from a specific group of brothers and sisters in Christ. These are a few of the considerations that help me reach the conclusion that pastors authorized by the local church are the most appropriate individuals to perform baptism.

    The primary issue addressed in Dr. Wills’ article is different, however. Dr. Wills’ was concerned with making the case that someone baptized into a non-evangelical group (he gives Mormons, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and churches of the Cambellite movement as examples) has not undergone a true baptism, and therefore should be baptized as a testimony to faith in Christ. Is there any commenter here that disagrees with this assertion?

  29. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    But, to contradict a statement from Thomas Twitchell above, baptism is NOT the preaching of the Gospel; otherwise, Paul could not write, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,”

    That Paul came to preach and not to baptized does not rule out that baptism is the preaching of the Gospel. I would contend that the proper disposition of the means of grace given all preach the Gospel, or should. Perhaps I could restate it to make it more palatable, “Baptism preaches the Gospel.” Now if anyone wants to argue that, just begin explain baptism. The preaching of the Gospel cannot be avoided. In its best presentation it should. And, hopefully the presentation is clear in the understanding of the three targets, the congregation, the candidate and the world.

    And, no I would not contradict Wills. Currently, I am teaching baptism using Dagg. There is something in the Trinitarian formula that contains an “authority” in baptism. The name is not just that which we are being baptised into, (this would seem be contrary to the exclusiveness of Christ’s office) but it is the authorization to baptize. However, when we go this way it may be extended to the evangelism and teaching authority (though I believe in the particularity of the GC having only generalist application). I prefer though that the Trinitarian formula belongs to the baptizing agent. That it is authority given to baptize and is restricted by succession of ordination. That is, Christ commissioned the Twelve through whom the authority would be given to ordain others similarly. So I am tending toward Wills understanding, in that the baptizer should hold the faith with clear conscience being duly ordained for the purpose. They then would be those who have passed the scrutiny of Timothy and Titus as elders who have the authority to lay hands upon others.

    By “most appropriate” do you leave room for exceptions?

  30. Andrew,

    If a person was baptized into the content of any of those groups Wills mentions, then I do not think that baptism was a Christian baptism.

    [switching gears]

    If the “whole” of the great commission was given to the local church, then how is it not true that the local church must authorize persons to fulfill the parts that make up the whole?

    If “part” of the great commission [i.e. baptism] is given to the local church, then I would like to see where Scripture backs that up.

    You said “We must also recognize that baptism unites the believer with the body of Christ- that is, the church, as seen in Acts 2:41, 1 Cor. 12:12-13, and Eph. 4:4-6.”

    This is where we disagree. What you mean is “water” baptism unites the believer with the body of Christ. I believe Spirit baptism unites the believer with the body of Christ.

    Acts 2:41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

    The text does not explicitly say nor implies “baptism united the believers with the church”. The Greek text word order says it powerfully I think–“baptized AND added”. Never forget the “and” in this verse.

    1 Cor. 12:12-13. The text says we were baptized “in one Spirit”, not “in water”.

    Eph. 4:4-6. There is nothing in this text about baptism [whether it be water or Spirit] uniting believers with the church in this text.



  31. Andrew,

    Just wanted to add that I do believe Acts 2:41 contains “water” baptism.

  32. Thomas Twitchell Says:


    Do you think that since the ordination of Eldes is localized and least in the post Timothy teaching, that that controls the authority? And since Elders rule locally, would it then follow that the authority to baptize is controlled by that?

    I agree that baptism in water is symbolic of that baptism which has “actually” happened into Christ by the Spirit. Water baptism, however, is an ordinance given and by nature has to be administered locally. That does not mean that a baptism outside that order is necessarily invalid. I agree with the “content” rule.

    Still working on it…

  33. Thomas,

    I’m still working on it as well:)

    I’m probably going to have to think on your question a bit.

    Let me say this about baptism though. I don’t believe water baptism is to reflect Spirit baptism. I believe water baptism should reflect baptism into Christ as seen in Romans 6 and Colossians 2.

    In other words, the actual Baptism into Christ and the actual Spirit Baptism I believe to be two separate baptisms.

    In a sense, I see three baptisms in the New Testament.

    1. The Baptism performed by John the Baptist.
    2. The Baptism performed by Jesus in/with the Spirit.
    3. The Baptism into Christ [reflected in water baptism].



    P.S. Would you mind rephrasing your question? I think it might help me understand it better.

  34. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    I’ll see if I can-

    The GC which was given to a select group, apparently carried the authority given in it. That is, the authority and not just the act was commissioned. Now, in view of the fact that Paul gives instructions on the laying on of hands in commissioning Elders, does the authority to baptize come through succession? That does not exclude exceptions, that is, where there is no apparent authority, is it valid to baptize? It also would not mean that the Elders could not themselves enlist others in the task. Then, it is the proper authority, not a particular administrator, though that authority is properly passed down by succession. So, when we put together the solemn trust given to hold to the faith, with the proper authority given, as requisites, then the ordinance belongs within the local churches. Do those things control who is the proper administrating authority?

    It still begs the question, that although an improper baptism is administered, does that invalidate it for the candidate? My thinking is, though the administrator may or may not be qualified in either understanding or succession, the candidate may be fully qualified as the recipient of an act that is not dependent upon rightful understanding or authority outside themselves. At this point it appears that I contradict Wills, but I am considering the candidates understanding, and not the administrators. To me it is conceivable that the recipient may be more enlightened than the administrator. And I am going to throw an incendiary in the mix. Those who administer baptism with an Arminian/non-Calvinist understanding, I am not sure that is a qualified baptism. I agree, and perhaps too strongly, with J.I. Packer, that it is a different gospel, and if so, can hardly be considered a valid baptism under the parameters that it is the administrating authority alone that validates baptism. If it is that alone, we might have to be rebaptising about 12,000,000 or so SBCer’s.

    So I have wandered a little bit here. The question is, under normal circumstance, (and we can agree that much of what we see in Acts is not normal circumstance), does the authority rest solidly within the local congregation and that by the duly succeeded authority of Eldership?

  35. Thomas,

    I’m sorry I have not responded. I still don’t think I have a good answer to your question.

    “Succession” does not easily flow off the pages of Holy Writ to me.

    I’ll tell you where I think I am stuck at.

    1. If the whole of the Great Commission was given to the local church so that the church must authorize who can administer baptism, then it seems that consistency demands that the local church must authorize who can obey the rest of the Great Commission [which would include evangelism].

    2. But if the Great Commission was given to Christians and not local churches, then it seems that consistency demands that Christians not only evangelize but baptize as well. Thus, the failure to baptize would be a sin.

    Therefore, methinks I’m stuck:)

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