Should Baptism Only Be Performed by Clergy? (A Response to Kevin DeYoung)

John baptizing Jesus, apparently somewhere in Western Europe

John baptizing Jesus, apparently somewhere in Western Europe

In a recent blog, Reformed Pastor, Kevin DeYoung, argued that only pastors/elders should baptize new believers—or, for that matter, administer the Lord’s Supper.

He argued his position on biblical, theological, exegetical, and practical grounds.

I would like to offer a response for the primary reason that I believe such a view is detrimental to both discipleship and sound doctrine.

1.      Biblically

DeYoung argues that the only people we find baptizing in Scripture were “officers” in the church. He then states that the Great Commission was specifically given to the Apostles, not to disciples in general.

This creates numerous problems for DeYoung. If baptism is only for the Apostles then 1) so is the power of Christ and the command to make disciples and teach Christ’s words and 2) it would have been wrong for any ole “officer” to do so, such as Paul or Phillip or Kevin himself. However, we find numerous mentions of people being baptized without direct indication that it was performed by an “officer.” (Not to mention the fact that John the Baptizer, who was not a church “officer,” baptized the Messiah.)

To borrow DeYoung’s method of interpretation here, Jesus is the only person seen administering the Lord’s Supper. It is not mentioned in the Great Commission to the Apostles, but it is a Sacrament that must be observed by the church. Of course, Paul mentions it in 1 Corinthians, but since he makes no mention of who administered it, we can only assume it was Jesus. Therefore, the only one who can administer the Lord’s Supper…is the Lord!

2.      Theologically

The second argument is that Christ rules his church through the pastors/elders. He contends that since the Sacraments are a bestowal of grace on the believer, God will only do so through a called and ordained minister of the church.

Again, this creates some pretty major problems. The belief in authoritarian leadership is firmly rooted in the Reformed tradition. It is also firmly rooted in a profound misinterpretation and mistranslation of a couple verses (see this post for an explanation).

The argument that God will only give his grace by means of a church “officer” is found nowhere in Scripture. (Indeed, DeYoung doesn’t even provide any.) He simply asserts without proof that the Sacraments are an “exercise of church power which belong to the office bearer of the church.”

On the contrary, almost every instance I found of grace being administered in the New Testament church came directly from God to the believer. The few exceptions are in 2 Cor 8:7, where Paul says to excel in the grace of giving, and in Eph 3:2, where he says God gave him grace to give to the church. Perhaps more importantly, 1 Peter 4:10 says,

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

The gifts of grace we have from God are for the purpose of spreading his grace to others. This is by no means limited to a special class of believers called “clergy.”

3.      Exegetically

DeYoung’s third argument is actually a rebuttal to the belief that, as a “Kingdom of Priests,” all believers should have the opportunity to baptize. He makes the case that even though Israel was called a “Kingdom of Priests,” the nation still had tasks that were limited to the actual priestly tribe.

This would be a valid argument if we had a special tribe of people dedicated to making offerings and interceding for the rest of us, who were the only ones allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. However, we don’t have a special tribe or class of Christians. We are all able to enter the Holy of Holies. We are all able to approach the throne of God without fear. We are all given equal access to God. We are all able to intercede for one another. And we are all given equal authority to share gifts with one another (indeed, we are commanded to do so many times). While the pastor/elder must be qualified to hold such an honorable position, this position is in no way connected to the priesthood of Israel. Moreover, none of the pastor/elder’s duties are denied for anyone else in the assembly. (See this post if your gut reaction to that statement was, “Except for women!”)

4.      Practically

The final argument offered for the restriction of baptism to pastors/elders is what seems to be a logical conclusion based on the first three arguments. Since pastors/elders are the authority of the church they would naturally decide (or at least be involved in) who gets baptized. “…it stands to reason,” he claims, “that they exercise their Christ-given authority in performed the baptism itself [sic].”

Perhaps, if you accept premises 1 through 3, it does stand to reason for the pastor/elder to administer Sacraments. However, these arguments are about as solid as Wal-Mart furniture. They fall apart as easily as you can put them together.

To relegate the Sacraments to a special class of believers called “clergy” is to take away the privilege and the commandment given by Jesus that we—you and I—should make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You should be the one to baptize those whom you disciple.

What do you think? Is DeYoung’s argument convincing? Is the Great Commission for everyone, or just the eleven Apostles? Who do you think should be able to administer baptism?

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2 responses to “Should Baptism Only Be Performed by Clergy? (A Response to Kevin DeYoung)

  1. What Kevin wrote may not be sacerdotalism, but it is an appeal to priestcraft and the self-interest inherent in guild mentality.

  2. I read Kevin’s article and most of the comments as well as your rebuttal here. I normally think his writing is pretty spot on and insightful but in this case I am disappointed. Clearly tradition has prevailed in his eisegesis of Scripture.

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