Dear brother Jeff,
I am so glad I came across your website some two years back, and have never stopped coming ever since. I'm a 19-year-old young man, brought up in a God-loving family who were guided by the grace of our God to be added into His church.
Since this is my first mail to you I wanted to thank you for all the amazing articles, Bible studies (especially the studies for teenagers, and the studies for young adults), resources (the acapella recordings and other things), and very importantly the Q&A section, which is very very helpful to me, especially when I get to know the answers to so many questions thrown by people who are not from my culture. Some of these questions I find very odd since I come from a rather conservative background but have helped me so much in understanding how to tackle all the different types of questions there are. There are many questions that people find difficult to ask people they know, and the La Vista website is doing a great job of answering all those "un-askable" and "unanswerable" questions. I really appreciate the time and effort put in by you, and I think I am going to write you on a fairly regular basis to encourage you and to clear some of my doubts as well!
This doubt I had in mind from a long time ago, and I have asked brothers from many places, but I have found varying degrees of variation in them. When a person is taking baptism, is it important that the person who is giving the baptism must already be baptized as well?
One example that I got from one of your answers: How can you be in a church when there isn't one in your area? is that this young man you mention got his friends to study the Bible and they baptized each other. In this situation, we understand that they couldn't find Christians to study the Bible with and be baptized.
Another example that I can recall at this point is, one brother once told me that in a correspondence course they had gotten a letter from someone in Africa who had fully understood what the Scriptures said regarding salvation and wanted to be baptized. Some two months later, when the people went to the place and inquired, they found that that person was not living anymore.
But as far as I have searched the New Testament, I haven't found a reference to an unbeliever giving baptism. I am sure there is an answer to my question. One more thing is that I have found that most brethren here say that the baptizer himself must be a believer, and the brethren from the USA say the opposite. I have also found that many of the brothers from the USA don't believe in covering of the head but was glad to know that you wrote on your website what was true regarding that matter. But like you said, even in your congregation, you have learned to co-exist in spite of all the differences and those things shouldn't disturb our relationship with God.
I have also found out that since some brothers teach that the person giving baptism is not important, people from the denominations start out considering themselves saved, and later come to realize that they need to be re-baptized. Shouldn't there be strong teaching in place so that all this confusion is avoided?
The La Vista church and its ministry will be in my prayers.
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Christianity is spread by one Christian teaching another person and leading him to Christ. "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). This is the normal and typical way that Christianity is taught. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). Since the Christian who is teaching is there, the issue of who should do the baptism never arises. The Christian knows what the Lord wants to be done, he teaches the one needing to be saved and then aids him in obeying the Lord.
The question is: What can be done when the teaching takes place at a distance, through letters, phone conversations, and the like? What happens when someone picks up a Bible and reads for himself what the Lord commands and desires to be saved?
Throughout the New Testament, we see that there is an urgency in obeying God's commands. Ananias asked Saul, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:32-33).
Any immersion in water will not constitute a baptism into Christ. The person has to know what he is doing and the reason he is doing it. It has to be done with the proper authority. See: Is My Baptism Valid? In general, a Christian will know what needs to be done and why it needs to be done. He can see to it that the person is baptized in a way that satisfies the Lord's command.
But is who baptizes a person important? In Corinth people were dividing, claiming to be followers of certain teachers. "Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name" (I Corinthians 1:12-15). Notice that Paul's argument is that who did the actual baptism doesn't matter. What matters is whom a person is baptized into to -- that is, Christ. Paul had baptized a few of the Corinthians, but that was meaningless. What held meaning was that they were baptized into Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7). This is why people who are properly baptized don't need to be baptized again just because a false teacher was doing the baptism.
What is important is that the truth is taught and followed. The qualifications of who happens to teach the truth don't matter. "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:15-18; see also Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50). Now you are more likely to find faithful Christians teaching the truth accurately, but the measure remains with what is taught and not who did the teaching.
If there is a Christian available, the Christian should be helping people put on Christ by baptizing them (Galatians 3:26-27). It is his duty. But if a person has learned from afar by reading the Bible, studying with someone at a distance, or even taught by a person who knew the basics accurately but is wrong about other things, what matters is whether the person heard and understood God's Word, believes what it says and that Jesus is His Lord and Savior, repents of his past sinful life, confesses before others that he believes Jesus is Lord and is baptized into Christ. Doing these things, he has obeyed the Lord. Who helped him go down into the water and back up is minor.
I agree that you don't see a non-Christian doing a baptism in the Bible, but then you also only see people who are directly taught by another Christian getting baptized. The question then is can God's word teach without a Christian present, and I believe that answer is "yes." "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (I Peter 1:22-23). Given that, it isn't correct to add a rule that God did not make by saying only Christians can baptize. If a Christian is present, he should be doing the baptism, but it can't be a hard-fast rule.
When God made it clear that He accepted the Gentiles, Peter asked, "Can anyone forbid water?" (Acts 10:47). If someone wants to be a Christian, knows what he is doing and why, then it isn't for us to stand in his way.