This rebuttal is only my attempt to challenge Dave Miller’s thoughts and theological understanding concerning the church’s responsibility to oversee baptism. I appreciate what he has written and hope that further debates over essential doctrines in the Southern Baptist Convention can be as cordial as ours.
In Dave’s paper he proposes that, “…the view that all valid baptisms must be performed under local church oversight may be argued from historic confessions, but not from scripture.” I beg to differ in that to argue against church oversight of Baptism is to make scripture say what it is not addressing or revealing, especially in the narrative portions Dave addresses. In his recounting of the narrative book of Acts, support for a lack of church oversight is argued from silence. Concerning Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, as argued in my original essay, the point of the story was not a theological treatise concerning baptismal oversight by the church. It was to tell the story of how the church began to expand outside of Jerusalem. What is to say that Philip was not commissioned by the church to evangelize? He was known as an evangelist and was part of the original seven who served as an early form of deacons. It is hard to think that Philip left Jerusalem without being blessed by the church concerning his plans. But that too is not in the text. So to argue from either vantage point using these texts is to argue from silence even though there is a slight whisper of Philip being commissioned to do so as revealed in him being part of the original seven deacons and his position as an evangelist.
In Acts 9, addition to scripture happens again as Dave declares that Saul was “immediately” baptized. It only states that Saul was baptized. If it were immediately, as Dave notes, would the house Saul was staying at have a pool in which to do so (an unlikely item for a first century Damascus house)? The time frame is not given leaving open the possibility that the Damascus church (probably small at this time) could have gathered for the witnessing of Saul’s baptism. Every detail was not recorded as evidenced in Acts 22:16 with further dialog of Ananias given by Paul as he testified before the Jews. Could it be that Saul’s connection to the church in baptism was not recorded because it was not necessary to the story? Once again, to press this narrative into denying church oversight is to make it address something that it was not intended to do. The same is true with Paul, Lydia, and the Philippian jailer. Paul, being commissioned by the church in Antioch had the responsibility to carry out baptism on behalf of the church in Antioch. To use a hermeneutic on these scriptures that injects a denial of church authority in baptism is the same as supposing that Lydia and Paul engaged in an affair since it is not specifically denied. Again, while narratives can and do provide theological insights, they are not meant to press every theological underpinning.
Concerning being baptized into the church, Dave makes a grave error when he says the Bible never says someone is, “baptized into the church.” Actually it does in a round about way. The church is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16) in which God’s Spirit dwells and the Spirit baptizes the believer into the body (1 Cor. 12:13), which is the church (Col. 1:18). Therefore it is appropriate and necessary for the church to do her part in administering baptism, as she is God’s physical temple representing the spiritual activity of the Spirit baptizing a believer into the church (body). While the church universal is implied as “one body” in 1 Cor. 12:13 (in the next verses context returns to the church local 1 Cor 2:14-27), this spiritual reality of a believer being baptized into the body can only be displayed and is only correctly symbolized under the local church context since the church universal will not gather until Jesus returns.
Another point is Dave’s explanation to who the Great Commission was given for its accomplishment. Again, I disagree with his analysis that it is a “hermeneutical stretch” to connect the Great Commission to the church’s oversight of baptism and discipleship. First, in interpreting this, we don’t just rely on Matt. 28:16-20, but on complimentary accounts of the Great Commission. In Acts 1, the disciples were told to wait for the “promise of the Father,” which is the power behind accomplishing the Great Commission. The Matthew 28 instructions weren’t given with the expectation that all the individuals there would just immediately go to begin this work (as they did not); they waited until the church was constituted to begin her work (Acts 2).
One thing that I agree with Dave on is that we have a vast library of historical confessions and beliefs that witness to the doctrine of the local church as overseer of the ordinance of baptism. I have not used this in my argumentation since we are to look first to the scriptures for doctrinal guidance. But since Dave broached the subject it is necessary to point out that nearly all doctrinal affirmations through out history have viewed baptism as an ordinance of the church. It is not my paper that Dave and others need to address, for my writing is only a paltry effort in light of the great theological arguments of the past. No, the challenge is to argue against the overwhelming witness of nearly 1900 years of theological thought and practice that has addressed this issue time and time again, affirming the church’s oversight of Baptism.
I pray that while neither Dave’s nor my defense was exhaustive (1000 words or less), that our debate will spark further theological investigation providing a clearer picture of what our Lord demands. In this way the body will be the winner of this Internet debate among brothers in Christ.