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Why do you not baptize by using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”? (Part 4)

In the previous three installments, we have shown that the text in Matthew 28:19 (“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) is NOT a formula to be uttered by the baptizing minister, and to insist on using these exact words as a formula would be erroneous and unbiblical. We have also investigated the question as to whether this passage is even genuine or whether it was added at a later time, and we left it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Some may respond that the Worldwide Church of God under the late Herbert W. Armstrong [who died in 1986] engaged in the practice of baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and that we must therefore do so as well.

This argument is flawed for several reasons.

We say this in our Statement of Beliefs, under Doctrinal Foundation:

“The major doctrines of the Church are those, which were taught by Herbert W. Armstrong, derived from the Biblical teachings as followed by God’s faithful servants, and originally established by Jesus Christ through the founding of His Church in the time of His chosen early apostles. Since we are to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we are committed to review and alter any of our teachings, if and when proven to be wrong by the Bible.”

As we have explained in this series, the idea that Matthew 28:19 –whether genuine or not – is a formula, to be repeated verbatim by the baptizing minister, is wrong and not in accordance with the Bible.

Therefore, no minister in the Church of the Eternal God and its international affiliates would use such language when baptizing a person. Instead, he would have asked the person to be baptized, during prior counseling, to study first our free booklet, “Baptism—a Requirement for Salvation?”, and he would then review pertinent Scriptures with the person to be baptized at the time of baptism, such as Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Matthew 3:11; Acts 19:5; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 2:28; as well as the concept alluded to in Matthew 28:19.

He would then tell the person before the act of baptism what is about to happen (placing the person fully under water) and what is going to happen after this symbolic burial (placing the minister’s hands on the person’s head and praying to God the Father, in Christ’s name, to grant the person the gift of the Holy Spirit).

The minister would then ask the person the following pertinent questions:

Have you repented of your sins?

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?

Do you believe in the gospel of the Kingdom of God and do you accept the fact that the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is necessary, but also sufficient payment for the penalty of your sins?

After these questions were answered with “Yes,” the minister would then baptize the person in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of his or her sins, to become a begotten child of God the Father and a begotten member of the Kingdom and Family of God.  The exact wording is not that important, as long as the concept as to what baptism symbolizes is being conveyed.

This process of baptism consists of three parts—placing the person under water to symbolize his or her death; the coming out of the water, symbolizing his or her resurrection from the dead to walk in newness of life; and the laying on of hands with prayer to the Father, asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out into the person.

For a full explanation, please see our free booklet, “Baptism—a Requirement for Salvation?”, page 42.

In the past, many may have been baptized in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Does this mean that this baptism would have been invalid? Not necessarily, if the following rings true (compare pages 42 and 43 of our afore-mentioned booklet):

“Christians who have been baptized ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ however, do not need to worry that their baptism is invalid, as long as they understood the proper meaning of baptism, including the facts that God is not a Trinity and that the Holy Spirit is not a separate divine being. After all, when one is baptized ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ the baptism ‘in the name of Christ’ is included, and, as we have explained, the Father and the Holy Spirit have an important role during the baptismal ceremony. As long as a person understands, at the time of his or her baptism, the functions and the nature of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, his or her baptism is valid.”

Still, knowing and understanding now that the wording in Matthew 28:19 is not a formula, ministers of the Church of the Eternal God and of its international affiliates would not today use those words when baptizing a person.

Returning to the argument that we must baptize in the way the Worldwide Church of God practiced under Mr. Armstrong, and that Mr. Armstrong may have considered Matthew 28:19 as authentic and that it set forth a biblical formula to be adopted and spoken,  it appears that Mr. Armstrong never addressed the possibility that Matthew 28:19 might not be genuine. In an older booklet, “All about Water Baptism,” copyrighted 1948, 1954 and 1972, Mr. Armstrong addresses Matthew 28:19 on pages 7 and 8 from the perspective that one reference in the Bible is enough, and that the thought that each thing must be established “in the mouth of two or three witnesses” only applies to the words of humans, but not of God. Mr. Armstrong nowhere addresses the question as to why he felt that the passage was genuine. It appears, he never considered the possibility that it might not be.

Mr. Armstrong, in trying to explain the inconsistencies between Matthew 28:19 and the rest of the Scriptures, felt that the term “baptizing in the name of Jesus,” just means, “baptizing by His authority.” While this might explain some of the Scriptures, it does NOT explain why the apostles baptized people only into [“eis”] the name [“onoma”] of Christ, but NOT into [“eis”] the NAME [“onoma”] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We discussed this aspect in the first installment of this series.

In addition, as mentioned before, we must grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and we must correct any erroneous understanding when we discover the need to do so. Mr. Armstrong had to do this himself in regard to certain aspects pertaining to the understanding and procedure of baptism. At one time, the Church felt that non-ordained and even unconverted people could baptize, as long as they were associated with the true Church of God. That was the reason why in the “early days,” non-ordained Ambassador College students of the Church were sent out on “baptizing tours.”  It is unclear as to whether they “just” baptized, or whether they also laid hands on the head of the baptized person, but in any event, they would have had no biblical authority to do either, and in a sense, that kind of “baptism” would have been unbiblical.

The incorrect understanding of using unordained students for baptisms was apparently derived from the fact that Jesus Christ authorized and used His unconverted disciples to baptize others (John 4:1-2). But we must understand that His disciples and especially His apostles were in a completely unique situation and category. They partook of the New Testament symbols of bread and wine during Passover—something which is today only permitted for those who have been properly baptized and who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit—and they were empowered to cast out demons—something which today, no unordained person should attempt to do.

The Church under Mr. Armstrong seemed to have come to the understanding that unordained persons were not to baptize, and later abandoned this practice, so that only ordained ministers were called upon to baptize persons, with the laying on of hands and prayer to the Father.

But even that procedure was not fully understood, it seems, at the beginning. An initial baptismal Church outline for ministers only included the thought that the minister would say that he baptized the person in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing was said in the initial outline that the minister would lay hands on the head of the person and pray to the Father to bestow the person with the gift of the Holy Spirit. These requirements were later clearly practiced by baptizing ministers, and rightly so. As we point out in our afore-mentioned booklet, the laying on of hands by the baptizing minister is a necessary requirement for a proper baptism.

Again, the question may be asked as to what happened to those who were baptized by non-ordained students and died before they were able to receive a proper baptism. Did they receive the Holy Spirit? God, in His mercy, might very well have honored this procedure, as the Church, at that time, did not understand it better. BUT, He would most certainly NOT honor such a procedure today, as He has now given His Church proper knowledge and discernment.

There is no doubt in our minds that Herbert W. Armstrong had the Holy Spirit; in fact, that he was an apostle who was used mightily in the Work of God.  He describes his baptism when he came to the faith; namely, that he was baptized by a Baptist minister. We would never recommend such a procedure today, but at the time, Mr. Armstrong did not understand it better and just acted upon what God had revealed to him.  We have also been informed that subsequently, Mr. Armstrong had doubts as to whether that baptism was proper, and so he had a minister of the Church of God Seventh Day baptize him. The author of this article has seen the small river in Oregon where Mr. Armstrong, according to eye witnesses who were allegedly present at that ceremony, was baptized again by the Church of God minister. Whether true or not, as we said, God had clearly given Mr. Armstrong His Holy Spirit, but again, we would most certainly not recommend today a baptism which would be conducted by unordained or even unconverted lay persons, or by ministers unassociated with the true Church of God who do not believe the Gospel.

We bring this up for the sole reason to explain that we must grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In the context of our discussion, this means that irrespective of what the Church of God under Mr. Armstrong might have believed and practiced in regard to proper baptism, God has revealed to us today that Matthew 28:19, even IF genuine, does not set forth a trinitarian baptismal formula to be used, verbatim, by God’s ministers.

Lead Writer—Norbert Link