Who can baptize? Adventist policy is clear: Adventist pastors alone have the authority to baptize, and that, under the authority of the Conference president. Milton Adams respects this, but in his article “Who Gave You Authority to Baptize?”1 finds a way forward for Adventist believers to baptize their friends who become disciples — and this way is also within policy, but true also to the commission of Jesus.
The question Adams addresses was not only thrown at John the Baptist, and implicit in early challenges to Jesus’ authority when His very new disciples baptized many others (John 4:1, 2), but a very significant and practical question for all committed to mission and cultivating movements today. Typical of the approach we have come to expect, Adams’ writing is careful, and while generous, also measured, even cautious — but he leaves no doubt about the tension that has developed between the biblical instruction and Adventist church policy as outlined in the Church Manual. He is well aware of the negatives of this dichotomy, and spends considerable space documenting the reality that changed attitudes today is resulting in many choosing biblical over institutionalized authority.
As an Adventist writing primarily for Adventists, Adams takes the gospel commission to heart and also engages carefully with the writings of Ellen White, demonstrating her commitment to Jesus’ commission, affirming that all believers are ordained for all the tasks of disciple-making — both teaching and baptizing. He is clear, the task, privilege, and joy of sharing the gospel is not the task of paid clergy alone, and nor is baptism — an integral aspect of disciple-making.
Adams explores the two distinct tracks that the Church Manual outlines for people to become members of the Adventist Church. One is by baptism by a duly ordained pastor of the Adventist Church. The second track to membership is by profession of faith — acceptance of a person into full fellowship and membership on the basis of a previous immersion baptism. The only question asked of that person is: were you baptized by immersion? If the answer is yes, that person is voted in as a new member. On this track, no one is asked: Who can verify this? Who baptized you? Was the one who baptized you of the ordained or clergy class?
Track 1 requires an officially Adventist Church-ordained pastor — but track 2, according to the Church Manual, does not require any validation of the person baptizing. It could literally be anyone. So, as Adams points out: the profession of faith track is available for those baptized by Adventist believers (who are not ordained clergy) who then wish to join the denomination — recognizing of course that the Seventh-day Adventist Church retains the right to examine those who want to become members, regardless of who baptized them.
Adams seriously examines the membership tracks of church policy, and while “the first membership track requires a church-approved officiant to legitimize the baptism,” the second does not. It “does not require validation of any baptismal credentials…of any kind” on the part of the one baptizing. Adams is not simply exploiting a loophole in church policy, rather he concludes: “the Seventh-day Adventist denomination recognizes that baptism by immersion without respect to church ordination of officiants is biblical” (Adams 145).
This is a must read for all denominational leaders, pastors, church planters, and members. Adams believes a careful biblical response to this question “Who Gave You Authority to Baptize?” — based on Jesus’ commission, supported by White, and affirmed within the opportunities of Church Manual policy will encourage many faithful believers living within our rapidly changing culture, and prove to be a message of trust, honesty with Scripture, integrity, and inclusiveness (Adams 150).
Notes & References:
Milton Adams, “Who Gave You Authority to Baptize?” Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, Vol. 14 , No. 1, Art. 10 (127-155). https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jams/vol14/iss1/10/
Peter Roennfeldt is an author, professor, administrator, and pastor who equips church planting teams.
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