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4. Ministers of Baptism

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIV. Of Baptism

4. Ministers of Baptism

Great importance has ever been attached to this ordinance as the initiatory rite of admission to the church. But the duty of administering the ordinance does not appear to have been restricted to any officer of the church. John the Baptist himself baptized them that came to him. But our Lord baptized none but his disciples. John 4:2. There is indeed a tradition that our Saviour baptized St. Peter, – that Peter baptized Andrew, James and John; and that these disciples administered the rite to others. To this tradition Roman Catholic writers attach much importance, but it rests on no good foundation.

In some instances recorded in the New Testament, baptism was administered under the sanction, and by the immediate order of the apostles. But it is remarkable that the apostles themselves are in no instance related to have administered baptism. No intimation is given that Peter assisted in baptizing the three thousand, nor is it probable that the ordinance could have been administered to them by himself alone. Acts 2:41. He only commanded Cornelius and his family to be baptized. Acts 10:48. Paul in 1 Cor. 1: 12–17, and Peter in Acts 10:36–48, evidently describes the administration of baptism as a subordinate office, compared with that of preaching peace by Jesus Christ.

On the whole, we learn from the New Testament the following particulars:

  1. Our Lord himself did not baptize, but he intrusted his apostles and disciples with the administration of this rite.
  2. The apostles, though they sometimes administered baptism themselves, usually committed this office to others.
  3. It cannot be determined whether other persons, either ministers or laymen, were allowed to baptize without a special commission.
  4. Phillip, the deacon, baptized in Samaria men and women, Simon Magus, and the Ethiopian eunuch, although no mention is made of any peculiar commission for this purpose. This he appears to have received at his consecration to his office as related Acts 6:3–7.

Justin Martyr, in his description of this ordinance, says nothing of the person by whom it was administered. But in speaking of the Lord's supper in the same connection, he ascribes both the administration of that ordinance and the exposition of the Scriptures to the president of the brethren; from which the supposition would seem not altogether improbable that baptism was not administered by the presiding officer of the church.

We have, however, good evidence that after the second century the bishop was regarded as the regular minister of baptism. Even Ignatius declares that it is not lawful either to baptize or to administer the Lord's supper without the bishop, *, an expression which implies the necessity of the bishop's authority. Tertullian says expressly that "the bishop has the power of administering baptism; and next in order the presbyters and deacons, though not without the sanction of the bishop, that thus the order and peace of the church may be preserved." He adds, that under other circumstances the laity may exercise this right; but advises that it should be done with reverence and modesty, and only in cases of necessity. Women are utterly forbidden by him to exercise this right. The Apostolical Constitutions accords this right to bishops and presbyters, the deacons assisting them; but denies the right to readers and singers, and other inferior officers of the church.' It is worthy of remark that here bishops and presbyters are placed on an equality, whilst deacons are made subordinate.

The sentiments of the Eastern church were coincident with those of the Western in relation to the ministers of baptism.

The officiating minister, as well as the candidate, was expected to prepare himself for performing this service by fasting, prayer, and, sometimes, washing of the hands; and to be clothed in white. 

Lay-baptism was undoubtedly treated as valid, by the laws and usages of the ancient church. It is equally certain, however, that it was never authorized as a general rule, but only admitted as an exception, in cases of emergency.

Clemens Alex. Hypoth. lib. v.: Nicephorus, h. e. lib. ii. c. 3.

Ep. ad Smyr.

De Bapt. c. 17.

Lib. iii. c. 2. Comp. also Jerome Dial: adv. Lucif. c. 4. Synod. Roman, ad Gall. Episc. c. 7. ed. Hard.: Concil. Hispal. 2, A. D. 619.

Justin Martyr, apol. 1. c. Q7.

Hieron. advr. Pelag. lib. i.

Baptismum dandi habet jus summus sacerdos, qui est episcopus; dehinc presbyteri et deaconi; non tanien sine episcopi auctoritate propter ecclesiae bonorum ; quo salvo, salva pax est. 

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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