Set for the Defense (Phil. 1:17) — Pentecostal Baptismal Formula

By Larry Ray Hafley

“Why We Baptize In Jesus Name” is the title of a tract by Mrs. T. M. Bowen. It is published by the United Pentecostal Church. The tract correctly and scripturally sets forth two facts; namely, (1) Baptism is immersion, and (2) Baptism in water is essential to salvation. However, the major portion of the tract is an attempt to establish a “formula to be used in baptizing.”

The Tracts Position

The tract does not adequately or clearly define its theme. The following debate proposition, signed by Mr. Paul Ferguson, and endorsed by the First Apostolic Church (United Pentecostal) in Aurora, Illinois, U.S.A., vividly declares and describes Mrs. Bowens meaning of a “formula to be used in baptizing … .. The Scriptures teach that the formula used in the New Testament baptisms contained the name of Jesus audibly invoked over the candidate and this therefore is one of the essentials of Christian baptism.” This is the position the tract seeks to affirm.

What About Mt. 28:19?

The tract answers and destroys its arguments on other passages by its comments on Mat. 28:19, “Go . . . teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Commenting on this, Mrs. Bowen says, “He (Jesus) did not command them to use that as a formula, but commanded them to baptize in the name.”

This statement completely eradicates, eliminates, and annihilates the Pentecostal baptismal formula doctrine. This comment shows that even they recognize the difference between telling the disciples what to do rather than what to say. Keep that fact in mind-Jesus did not “command them to use that as a formula” (did not tell them what to say), but commanded them to baptize in the name” (told them what to do).

The Issue

In discussing the “formula” to be used in baptism, the tract, true to Pentecostal preaching and practice, cites such passages as Acts 2:38; 4:12; 8:12, 16; 10:48; 19:5. These verses ascribe salvation and the remission of sins to the name of Christ, but that is not the point of difference.

The Issue Is Not:

1. Are we baptized in Jesus, name-we are.

2. Should we baptize in Jesus name we should.

3. Were people baptized in Jesus name in the New Testament-they were.

4. Is salvation by the name of Jesus — it is.

The Issue Is: Must we orally pronounce or audibly invoke the name of Jesus over a candidate for baptism?

It will always assist one to keep in mind what the issue is and what it is not when discussing this question with Pentecostals. There is a vast difference between baptizing in Jesus name and calling the name of Jesus over a candidate for baptism. Passages like Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16; 10: 48; 19:5, show what was to be done or what was done, but none of them tells us what was said or what is to be said.

The Doctrines Absurdities

If Acts 2:38 contains the formula to be spoken, then the formula must be used twice, once as the person repents in the name of Christ and once when he is baptized, for it says, “Repent, and be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ.” To repent in the name of Christ, must the name of Jesus be spoken over the candidate before he repents? Pentecostals would answer, “No.” Hence, one may repent in the name of Jesus without having someone pronounce a formula. It is the same with respect to baptism. But if one persists and insists that something must be said when baptizing, then the same words must be used when the person repents.

Further, Col. 3:17 says, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Does this mean someone must repeat a set rule of words over you before you can do or say anything in the name of Jesus? It requires but little perception to picture the absurdity of such a wrested and wretched doctrine.

In I Sam. 17:45, David came against 1-4 Goliath “in the name of the Lord.” Surely he did not have a formula of words pronounced over him before he could properly come “in the name of the Lord.” Thus, when we read, “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5), it does not infer that anything was said over them to make their baptism in Jesus name. Again, this shows what was done; not what was said.

We are to give “thanks unto God … in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Does this mean someone must speak a formula over the person who gives or offers thanks? It does if the same reasoning that is used by Pentecostalism in Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16; 10: 48; 19:5, is applied.

Conclusion: Christians do not doubt or deny the essentiality of baptism in the name of Jesus. One cannot be saved, cannot have the remission of sins, unless he has been baptized in Jesus name (Cf. Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38). This is what must be done. What passage gives a formula for what is to be said while this is being done? The tract under consideration has no answer because Mrs. Bowen and her fellow formularizers have no Scripture.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 45, pp. 12-13
September 21, 1972