October 08, 2006 Q & A

Who can administer baptism?


Who can administer the sacrament of holy baptism? Can this only be administered by a minister? A church officer? A lay person? I am a member of a PCA church and am curious about what Scripture says on this subject. Also, elders and deacons in the PCA are called by God and ordained in the church. Are they also able to baptize? Thank you.


The PCA and the OPC are both churches that profess adherence to the teaching of The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and The Larger and Shorter Catechisms. It is the teaching of these Standards that none but ministers may administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. See WCF 27:4:

There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

The reason for this is that the Sacraments are official ordinances of the Church, commanded by Christ. And in 1 Corinthians 4:1 the Apostle Paul says "Let a man so account of us, as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." This clearly implies that such a task as "the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12) is not something that a person takes to himself on his own, but is rather bestowed upon him by the church according to God's revealed will (Ephesians 4:12 and Hebrews 5:4). This has nothing to do with any idea of ministers being more holy than others, or even more worthy. It has everything to do with the clear Biblical teaching concerning the offices of the church, and their God-ordained function.

You ask another question that deserves a careful answer. You say, "elders and deacons in the PCA are called by God and ordained in he church. Are they also able to baptize?" I will answer it in two parts.

First, the answer under all ordinary circumstances must be "no." It is for this reason that I've never seen any sacrament administered without a minister of the word. And this is not without a scriptural basis. The word and sacrament belong together. And it is only an ordained minister (or teaching elder) who has been certified and approved by the church to both teach and administer the sacraments.

Second, there may be, in my humble opinion, possible exceptions under extraordinary circumstances. I once heard or read somewhere that the Covenanters in Scotland were deprived of the sacraments for an extremely long period of time. There may also be very unusual circumstances (such as war, for instance) in which irregular things might be done today that the church would afterwards approve. I am even of the opinion that the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) by the deacon Philip (in a time of severe persecution)—outside the context of any congregation—was irregular. Yet there is no question that it was fully valid. So I'm not willing to say that there could never be an exception to the good rule by which we regulate our normal practice. And I emphasize that I heartily agree with our practice under all normal circumstances.

Thanks for some interesting questions!



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