Must Baptism Be Only “In the Name of Jesus”?

By Bobby Graham

The Spirit of truth would remind the apostles of Jesus’ teaching and give them additional truth — all truth. If Jesus’ teaching before his ascension would not be operating in the church, why did he provide for their be- ing reminded of it and place it on such a par with the rest of revealed

The basic position being reviewed in this study was set forth by Robert Adams of Jenkins, Kentucky in his tract called “A Study on Baptism.” Adams, who has preached in the mountains of Easter n Kentuck y for many years, is a member of the Mayking Church of Christ at Ermine, Kentucky. This writer preached in gospel meetings for this group before brother Adams began pro- moting this particular teaching.

A Brief History

When the members of the Mayk- ing congregation became convinced of this doctrine, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ on March 23, 1993. A letter published and distributed by Adams in November of 1998 claims that others believ- ing similarly are found in Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri. It then appeals for others preaching Acts 2:38 and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins to identify with them. The author distinguishes between those who have disrupted the plan of salvation set forth by God for saving the world, designated by him as a “FORM of the True Church,” and the “True Churches of Christ.” Fairly lengthy correspon- dence on this matter has taken place in recent years between this writer and the tract’s author. As far as this writer knows, there is no evil intent on the part of either of us; and this re- view of his position is as impersonal as this writer can make it.

The Position Stated

The position states that Jesus set in place a different order of baptism for that period leading up to Pente- cost from the one that he established for the time after Pentecost. The preface of the tract says that the apostles were not allowed to use the order stated in Matthew 28:19 on Pentecost, and for that reason we must not use it today. In fact, people today are urged to leave Matthew 28:19 where the Lord left it — out- side the church. A later statement on page 13 says that the only power capable of opening the door of the church (the key given to Peter by Jesus) was the name of Jesus Christ. It is further concluded on page 14 that we do not have the order of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we baptize in the name of Jesus Christ, because Jesus never gave that order of Matthew 28 after his ascension. “Matthew 28:19 in its Galilean form was never used during the ministry of the apostles and should not be activated today into God’s plan of salvation.” In view of the foregoing, Adams urges on pages 18 and 19 that we go back to the early church and do as did the Ephesians in Acts 19. He means that we need to be baptized in the name of Jesus and to burn whatever books or writings are contrary to this position. Brother Ad- ams declares, “If the name in which we are baptized isn’t the right name, then it will not matter what else we do and how we do them.” He further says, “Being baptized in a name that was not revealed by the apostles in the setting up of the church and after the church was established will void everything.”

A Review of the Position

The error involved in this scheme of teaching will become obvious in the following examination.

1. It disrupts the harmony in Jesus’ commission to the apos- tles. The different accounts of the Great Com- mission given by Jesus in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24 harmonize with each other. They came from the mind of God and the teaching of Jesus. For this reason no conflict ex- ists among them. What Jesus taught here was designed to apply fully, not partly, to the time of the church. He was not making a piecemeal ap- proach, intending of these passages to apply to the time leading up to the church and the rest to apply to the church. Notice the common element found in them: teaching all nations, preaching to every creature, preaching among all nations. If Mat- thew 28 related only to the people before the church’s establishment, as the tract says, then it directed the apostles to go to all nations before Pentecost. In other words, in that pe- riod of fifty days they were to teach and baptize all nations, only to have to go back and repeat the process after Pentecost in keeping with the order established by Jesus in Mark and Luke — “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Such an impossible task is the result of arbitrary interpretation of Scripture, not of clear teaching of the Lord by command, example, and necessary conclusion.

2. It breaks the continuity between the commission and its execution. The three accounts of the commis- sion already noted also harmonize with Acts 2:38. We need to remem- ber that when Jesus was on earth, he was teaching in preparation for the coming kingdom (Matt. 4:23). In giv- ing instructions to the apostles in the commission, he was directing them in the work that they would begin on Pentecost. While they had preached earlier, the preaching to all nations would begin at Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied all nations submitting to the rule of Christ in Isaiah 2:4, and Jesus directed that this teaching to them be done in Acts 1:8. The Spirit would make such possible (Acts 1:5; Mark 9:1). The commands given in Acts 2:38 correspond to the instruc- tions of the Great Commission. Baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ is equivalent to what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19. Baptizing “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is the wording in the American Standard Version. It means baptizing people into a relationship with all three persons of the Godhead. That is still the case, because when one is baptized ac- cording to New Testament teaching, he enters into a different relationship with all three. God is then his Father, Christ is his Savior, and the Spirit is his teacher. In addition, he is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” (by his authority, in submission to him). It is a colossal mistake to separate these two passages and to view them as presenting two different orders or formulas to be spoken at baptism. Jesus was not within a thousand miles of dealing with what must be said in either Matthew 28 or Acts 2. It is what must be done in baptism that Jesus addressed in both verses.

3. It changes submission into a formula. Focus for a minute on the expression “in the name of Jesus Christ” in Acts 2:38. Because it is re- lated to the authority of Christ, now ruling on his throne (vv. 30, 33, 34,

36), the requirement to be baptized in his name is a test of one’s willing- ness to yield to Christ’s rule. The very people who heard Peter in Acts 2 with an attitude of rejection of his deity and dominion, upon presen- tation of sufficient evidence, were then challenged to acknowledge his deity and power in the command to repent and be baptized. The context of the command demands this un- derstanding, not that some formula be stated at the time of baptism. What Peter was here teaching was the consequence of the commission given to all the apostles in Matthew 28 and its parallel accounts. Contrary to Adams’ charge that men have “brought in” the meaning of “by the authority of ” for “in the name of ” to justify their use of Matthew 28:19 as a verbal statement at baptism, a brief study of Acts 3:6, 12; 4:7, 10, 12 will show that to do something in the name of a person is to do it under that one’s authority.

4. It destroys Jesus’ promise with its insistence on another order of baptism. Possibly the strongest point that can be made from the disputed passage in Matthew 28 is Jesus’ promise in verse 20, where he said he would be with the apostles and added his approval of their work to the end of the world or age. What Jesus was here directing was to be worldwide in scope and age — last- ing in duration. It must then follow that Jesus left no room for another system or order of teaching/baptism. Jesus’ very promise shows the tract’s line of reasoning to be flawed.

5. It makes future revelation less important than Jesus’ teaching. It has often been the case that God has caused additional revelation to supersede earlier revelation (as the New Covenant did the Mosaic Covenant), but Jesus placed his own teaching on a par with the Spirit’s future revelation, not lower than it in John 14:26; 16:13. The Spirit of truth would remind the apostles of Jesus’ teaching and give them additional truth — all truth. If Jesus’ teaching before his ascension would not be operating in the church, why did he provide for their being reminded of it and place it on such a par with the rest of revealed truth?

In view of these considerations, is it not clear that the position being reviewed is a flawed one, taking into account less that the entire picture.