The Rapid Transfer of Responsibility in Discipleship: Baptism Case Study

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One of the truest hallmarks of a Disciple-Making Movement is the rapid transfer of responsibility from disciple-maker to disciple. To illustrate this, I am going to use baptism as our case study. This is a cursory but sufficient study to demonstrate the point, as well as to show the unity between the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles on this matter.

Jesus did not baptize – His disciples did

[Jhn 4:1-3 KJV] 1 When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2 (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) 3 He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.

For context’s sake, recall that Jesus will shortly come into contact with the Samaritan woman at the well and introduce Himself as the Living Water, a context which is rich in discipleship truth.

The Pharisees had a problem. Their arch-nemesis, John the Baptist, had drawn many away from their fold who publicly showed their identification with John’s preaching through baptism. Now, this upstart teacher from the backwater village of Nazareth had seen even more baptized than John.

It is notable that John the Apostle calls those who were baptized ‘disciples.’ Baptism in the New Testament is the functional beginning of a believer’s discipleship. It is the point at which they are not simply saved from Hell, but are now identifying publicly with their Lord, and taking steps of obedience to Him. That being the case, it is notable that Jesus Himself was not the one baptizing these disciples – instead, His own disciples did the baptizing. This event occurred relatively early in the ministry of Jesus, yet we find His relatively new disciples baptizing. What does this imply? That baptism is one of the first actions that a new disciple is equipped to carry out.

The Twelve were disciples – and some at least began their discipleship through John’s baptism. Under Jesus’ discipleship, they began baptizing others. Not once does He rebuke them for this activity – instead, we have every indication that He instructed them to do it. This tells us that new disciples can and should quickly become involved in baptizing others.

Baptizing the 3000 at Pentecost most likely required more than just the 12, unless it was ‘group baptism’

[Act 2:41 KJV] 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.

This point is more conjecture, but I think it more probable than alternatives. If we agree that Christianity is an individual ‘religion’ rather than a corporate one, we might believe with confidence that Christian baptism was, at the beginning (as testified by early church history), an individual rite. That being the case, it is unlikely that the Twelve actually baptized everyone:

  • There were 3,000 to be baptized individually
  • Given the weight of early Christian testimony, it is likely that the baptizer asked for a confession of faith, similar to what we do today.
  • All 3,000 were baptized on that same day
  • Peter began preaching around 9AM. We don’t know exactly how long he spoke, or how long the follow-up process took.
  • If we allow 1 baptized per minute for each of the Twelve, it would take around 5 hours to do the baptisms (3 P.M.), assuming that the crowd had no great distance to travel for sufficient water for such a large immersion.
  • If we even slightly increase the time (2 min. avg. per baptism), then we would pass sunset (and enter another day).
  • There seems to have been some kind of follow-up and fellowship afterwards as well.

If all of these points are true (remember, this is just conjecture on probabilities), then many more of the 120 must have been involved in baptizing on Pentecost. Some of these would have been very recent disciples themselves.

Paul only baptized the first few at Corinth – Who baptized the rest?

[1Co 1:14-17 KJV] 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

In Paul’s understanding, baptism was a very basic rite – not anything extraordinarily special. He chided the Corinthians for looking at the person performing the baptism, as if that gave it any authority or special blessing. Instead, he points them back to the point: identification with Christ.

Neither Paul nor his companions performed the bulk of baptisms in a new city. Instead, they baptized the first few families, and then turned those functional reins over, almost immediately. In Paul’s practice, anyone who was baptized could baptize, again implying that baptism is one of the first actions that a new disciple is equipped to carry out.

Application

Since baptism is one of the first actions a new disciple is equipped to carry out, it follows that the prerequisite for baptism, the Gospel and its witness, are also something a new disciple must be equipped to carry out. Far too often, new believers are left to grow at a snail’s pace, rather than being given key truth and taught to use it. So, through the years, we have devolved from a powerful, every-member-a-disciple-maker church, to a professional clergy church, substituting the training and expertise of men for the simple and powerful plan of God. We need to return to a sola scriptura mindset that truly exalts Jesus as Lord, sees Him as the Authority, and obeys. If we do that, we will teach new disciples to evangelize, baptize, and teach others also.

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