Why it’s ok for women to baptize men

WomanOkay, now that I’ve mentioned that we’ve let a mother and father baptize their daughter, someone will likely get bent out of shape, supposing that God somehow condemns this practice. He doesn’t.

Now, for those interested in a thorough study on the role of women, read Buried Talents. But the point can be made simply enough.

As much as we like to complain that church shouldn’t be turned into entertainment, we often reason regarding women as follows:

  • Church is set in a building that is very much like a theater.
  • In a theater, the performers are the people who stand up. The people buying tickets sit.
  • Therefore, anyone who stands is a performer.
  • The performers are very important persons — people pay to see the performers — and so the performers must be men.

Now, we don’t consciously think this way, but this is how we think. After all, we refuse to let women pass communion trays. Now, passing food from row to row is obviously a silent, servant role. In some homes, passing food from place to place is done by actual servants. It’s very rarely done by the husband. In fact, in our culture, it’s a female role. And yet we don’t let women do it in church. Why not? Well, because it involves standing up, that is, being a part of the show we all came to see.

Under the most conservative possible reading of the role-of-women verses, women aren’t allowed to speak, teach, or have authority over men. Passing grape juice and bread from row to row is none of these things — not even close! And yet we see the job as involving a male-leadership role purely because it’s done while standing. After all, no one complains if women pass the emblems side to side while sitting. It’s the same job.

Now, as 1 Cor. 14:33-35 is often interpreted to prohibit women from speaking out loud during the assembly, I can see an objection to a woman administering a baptism during the assembly. I think it’s really okay, but I fully sympathize with those who would disagree.

But this would hardly keep a woman from participating as her husband does the speaking — or at a time other than the assembly.

1 Tim. 2:11-15 is usually interpreted as prohibiting a woman from exercising authority, and some might be concerned that a woman’s participating in a baptismal ceremony would be wrong. We unconsciously borrow a lot of our theology from Catholicism. And among Catholics, only the priest has authority to administer baptism. In fact, in apostolic succession churches, such as the Episcopalians and Methodists, the same idea holds. We sometimes forget that we aren’t Catholic and don’t have to worry about such things. No one needs special authority to baptize a convert.

Therefore, baptizing a convert is not an act of authority. It’s certainly not the imposition of authority over a Christian. Rather, it’s simply the conclusion of evangelizing a lost soul. And we are well aware that the Bible approves Priscilla’s teaching of the lost.

More fundamentally, women can hardly be criticized for obeying a command.

(Matt. 28:18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The command is to both make disciples and to baptize. The command is not limited to men. In fact, the apostles are told to teach all their converts to “obey everything I have commanded you.” This plainly means that women are commanded to baptize. And the authority they exercise is not theirs, but Jesus’. It makes a difference.

Of course, we could avoid the problem altogether by going the apostolic succession route and insisting that all baptisms be performed by our clergy. But surely it would be better to really do what the Bible says, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable. And we should be confident that if we let God lead us, we’ll be blessed. And my experience is that families and congregations are deeply, profoundly, richly blessed as we open the baptistry up to families and friends to delight in rebirths together.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Role of Women, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Why it’s ok for women to baptize men

  1. Josh Keele says:

    I don’t see that point 4 of your initial setup holds water at all “The performers are very important persons–people pay to see the performers–and so the performers must be men.” I think generally in our society we prefer female performers, so this point is not just weak but laughable. The real reason why women are not allowed to pass the communion must be that some sort of authority is connected with it and women are not to usurp authority over a man. How is there authority in passing around bread and a cup, you ask? For the simple reason that if someone walks in the door that you know is not a member of the church, they are not to partake of the communion. There is a certain amount of authority invested in the one doing the simple act of passing the loaf, for he has the authority (implicit as it may be) to pass over the non-Christian while passing the bread. Should a woman usurp this authority according to 1 Tim 2:12? Of course not. Again, baptism carries with it a certain authority. The man who baptizes another must accept the confession being given. If the candidate were to say, for example “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (:whispering: but not truly God)” then the baptizer would have the authority to reject that confession and not baptize the candidate. Should a woman usurp this authority according to 1 Tim 2:12? Again, I think it is obvious that she should not.

  2. Stephen McBroom says:

    Josh I have a feeling you will be greatly confused when we get to heaven. Jay great series. I come from a very conservative background and like Josh was told what to believe and how to prove it. Only when I got away from that mentality was I able to start searching for the truth myself. The fact that Josh keeps bringing up the same versus to prove his point shows that he is living in this way and has not taken the steps to grow as a christian. I am blessed by your thinking Jay and your fresh approach to growing in Christ through personal and open minded study of the Word of God. God Bless you and Josh if you can take anything from Jay take his approach to study. Leave your preacher's opinions at the cover.

  3. Kyle says:

    Josh I’m going to disagree with your ideas on baptism. The confession and confessor relationship is misplaced, I believe. The person being baptized is not only confessing that Jesus is Lord to the community but to God themselves.
    No one has the right to reject that confession but God. Besides, if a woman heard someone making the claim you use as an example, she would have every right to reject that confession. However, those discussions usually happen before the actual act themselves, so I think it’s a moot point all together.

  4. Charlie says:

    We had a situation like this recently; our Wednesday evening services were canceled one night while we visited a sister congregation. Three women decided to use the night to work in our clothing ministry room.

    A young man showed up and requested to be baptized. None of the women felt she could perform this task (citing, later, the ‘usurp authority’ passage). They sent him down the road 15 miles to the next coC congregation.

    I asked each of them why she felt she could not baptize. Then, using their rationale, I asked what would have happened if the young man died on the way to the next church? This threw them into a panic! I also reminded them that, even if we allow the ‘usurping’ passage to stand, that the young man was not yet a Christian, according to their hermeneutic, so it was fine to perform the ritual.

    They finally decided they were uncomfortable with the whole issue!

    Sad. What have we created?

Leave a Reply