PARSONS: Christ has authorized His elders of His church, His undershepherds, to baptize. Yet, we also have run across many circumstances where people have been baptized by someone other than an elder of Christ’s church, and that’s where we have to use a great deal of wisdom and discernment. We have to consider the circumstances and how the baptism was performed. It takes the wisdom of the plurality of elders in a local body to discern if that baptism was a legitimate baptism.
We have to deal with this quite frequently as a church. People come from lots of different backgrounds, such as house churches, and people are baptized in a number of different ways. There is an article that Scott Clark wrote that is very helpful in showing the history of this. It helps churches ask some good questions and provides some very helpful, gracious answers on this question.
NICHOLS: I think this is a very important question and I want to elaborate on it a little bit. I found online that back in the early 1970s, the Los Angeles papers covered Pat Boone baptizing in his swimming pool. There were all these musicians and hippies in the Jesus People Movement, and they were all getting baptized in Pat Boone’s swimming pool.
There is a large group within American evangelicalism that’s always been there that has a low ecclesiology and a low understanding of how God has ordained the church. I know the question is specifically about baptism, but this comes up sometimes with the Lord’s Supper too. Something that happens a lot among young people who are very sincere Christians is that they want to give each other communion and have communion on Christian college campuses in their dorm rooms. I think it’s reflective of a symptom of American evangelicalism having a low ecclesiology and not recognizing how God has ordained His church as the means of grace and how He has ordained the sacraments or the ordinances, which are in the purview of the church. American evangelicals are sometimes susceptible to not seeing that and de-valuing what God has ordained as His church.
This is a transcript of Stephen Nichols’s and Burk Parsons’s answers during our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.
To study this subject further, read R.C. Sproul's discussion of this topic.