We want to talk a little bit about a specific issue related to baptism.
This is something we have vaguely encountered in our ministries but not to any major level.
However, when teaching in Ethiopia it is a major point of controversy and confusion. The leaders there asked us to help them confront and deal with the idea that the only proper way to baptize a person is in ONLY the name of Jesus. There is a large number of churches that make this a cardinal doctrine.
So we decided that in preparing to give the Ethiopians an answer that we would turn it into an episode as well.
In the United States this doctrine is most commonly found in what is called the Oneness Pentecostalism.
This is a sect that is modalistic in their teaching of God. To get a full understanding of that you should listen to our whole series on the Trinity.
Bottom-line, they reject the Trinity as three persons. Rather he manifests himself in three different modes.
We would be very reluctant to see a Oneness Pentecostalist as a believer. They certainly would not be orthodox. Of course, exceptions may exist.
Like all things in theology, ideas have consequences and baptism is one of those in this sort of theological system.
The argument goes something like this: God is one, he manifests himself at times as the father, son or spirit. But these are merely descriptive titles that belong to one person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore they would argue that though Jesus said to the apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that this is not what He actually expected them to do. Rather, they received this instruction from the Lord Himself and His name was Jesus and that was whose Name was to be used. They point to Acts as a key example to prove that the Apostles knew this.
What is also important is that most of the various forms of Oneness Pentecostalism teach that baptism in Jesus’ name is a prerequisite to salvation.
So in the Apostolic Oneness Network they say this, “What is the one plan of salvation? It is repentance, then water baptism (by total body immersion) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and Holy Ghost baptism (speaking in tongues as the Spirit of God gives utterance)."
Here is what is written on the UPCI’s website: “The saving gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. We obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17) by repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). (See I Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 2:4, 37-39; Romans 6:3-4.)"
There a lot of various groups who fit under this heading of oneness pentecostalism, so be aware of that fact as well. But to our knowledge they all hold to these ideas.
Notice also that tongues speaking is also a requirement.
We dealt with that in our series on Tongues.
The position makes its argument from the fact that in Acts there are several passages that say that they baptized in Jesus’ name.
"Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 NAU)
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 8:14-16)
"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)
"When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:5)
Out of those four passages, and then a couple more that don’t actually talk about baptism, this doctrine is developed and established.
Finally some will also appeal to a few verses that talk about baptism in the sense of water baptism.
“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:3-4)
We cannot deal with this in this episode due to the vastness of the issues. Suffice it to say that this passage is not water baptism, but baptism into the Church as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
We will do an extended series on this when we address the doctrine of baptism in the bible as it gets into issues related to infant baptism as well.
The question becomes rather simple, what do we do with the explicit command of Jesus in Matthew 28 when compared to these passages where the Apostles seemed to disobey it and do something different?
Like many things, when people try to show a few verses to prove a point it is often a bit more complicated and a bit more nuanced than merely looking at some verses.
First, you should ask them if they believe in three persons in the Godhead? Or is the Godhead bound up in the person of Jesus?
This is really the key issue. For it is about the nature and being of God.
We do not know of any group that holds to the Jesus Name only, who is not also part of one of the several Apostlic churches that take this position. Though I am sure there are some here and there.
If you reject the orthodox position on the Trinity then their position on baptism is very easy to take.
But if you maintain an orthodox position then it becomes a much more difficult position to hold, regardless of those four verses.
To be blunt, if they have an aberrant theology proper, then they should not be considered within the confines of the Christian faith, and frankly nothing they teach should matter to a Christian’s theology and practice.
Second, the next question should be if baptism is necessary for salvation.
Within these movements, the answer is “yes.” It can get worded in different ways, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that baptism is part of the saving work of God. Without it, a person cannot be a believer.
This comes from a few verses, such as:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
"Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Again, to make baptism necessary for salvation puts a person outside of orthodox Christianity. It is a work, rather than through faith alone.
This is why it is also a challenge when discussing infant baptism as well. Many who argue for infant baptism will sound like they are teaching baptismal regeneration.
And often they actually are out of ignorance of their own doctrine. This is the difference between what people in a pew believe, versus what their denomination actually teaches.
Again it is rather complex and needs several episodes to develop and explain.
Third, you should ask if the speaking in tongues is also a prerequisite to know if a person is actually saved. Again, this movement usually has this as a standard for true salvation.
As a result, it again usually will put them outside the realm of orthodox Christianity and you are not dealing with an actual Christian.
We dealt with this whole doctrine and practice in great detail in our podcasts already.
But it is worth noting that by now you should be seeing how interrelated theology really is. The issue here is not actually about baptism in Jesus’ name. It is about the nature of God and salvation. Get those right and this becomes a much simpler matter.
If a person is pushing Jesus only in baptism, but answers yes to these other questions, then don’t try to answer the issue of baptism in Jesus’ name. Instead, evangelize them by first dealing with the Trinity, sin, the atonement, and faith alone. They need Christ, not a debate.
How do we answer those who still point to those verses, and ask what we do with them?
First, remember that the book of Acts is a transitional book and things are shifting from Old Covenant to New Covenant. So you have what are sort of “in-between” people at times.
Some had not been baptized as Christians, but only in John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance.
Some had not yet received the Holy Spirit but were believing in Jesus.
Some had received the Holy Spirit but had not yet been baptized.
In other words, everything is transitioning. And as a result, Acts is not the place to develop your foundational theology of the Church.
Second, to do something “in the name of….” is not so much a formula, as an expression of authority or in a manner consistent with that person’s will and mission.
When the bible says that you are to ask in the name of Jesus, it is not a way to signal an end to your prayer. Nor is it some method of invoking God’s blessing or power. Rather, it is asking in accordance to His nature and will and authority.
When you come “in the name of the Lord” in the OT, you are coming and representing Him.
An example is in 1 Samuel 17:45 where David tells Goliath that he has come in the name of the Lord of hosts.
In another instance David blesses the people in the name of the Lord. This is one where it is a blessing with the authority of the Lord attached to it.
This carries on into the New Testament in a variety of expressions. So Jesus talks about how giving a cup of water to a needy person in the name of a disciple, is worthy of reward (Matthew 10:42).
This is what is meant as well when you believe in “the name of the Lord” and are saved such as in John 3:18. They believe who Jesus claims to be and what He represents.
So take this into Acts in the non-baptismal passages, and you’ll see it perhaps more clearly.
"But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- walk!" (Acts 3:6)
"And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus." (Acts 4:18)
"And they took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them." (Acts 5:40)
"And [Paul]was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord." (Acts 9:28)
"And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.'" (Acts 16:18)
You can see that it was not merely some magic formula you had to say to make something work or be proper. It was expressing that you were doing these things under and in His authority, and consistent with His will.
Third, to baptise these people in the name of Jesus is simply them saying that these people are expressing faith in the reality of who Jesus is and what Jesus has accomplished, and therefore they have come “in His name” to be baptised. They are connecting their baptism with the person and work of Jesus Christ. They are not merely reciting a proper formula.
We hope this is helpful. As most things that relate to sects and aberrant doctrines, so often what is described as being a small thing is actually connected to much bigger doctrines.
What Jesus is saying in Matthew 28 is that when you baptize His disciples, it is to be done in accordance to the will and purposes of the Triune God, and it carries the Triune God’s authority and approval when you do it.
The baptism is not somehow invalidated if you get the formula wrong. Rather, it’s the concept behind the formula that matters.