A subscriber asks, “Why do some people say that the ‘Go’ of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) applies to all Christians, but the command to baptize is only for duly ordained pastors? Does this commission apply to all believers, clergy only, or was it only for the Apostles?”
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Matthew and Mark both report Jesus commanding the Apostles to carry the gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18). Luke includes in the picture also “those who were with them” (24:33, 46-47). This group all are “witnesses” to the risen Christ, and he sends them all to wait in Jerusalem for heavenly power (v. 48-49). “They” all return to Jerusalem “with great joy” and are “continually in the Temple praising God” (v. 52-53). As Luke continues the story-line in Acts, he tells us that this group includes 120 people, among whom are “the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:13-15). “They” pray, confirm Judas’ replacement, and are all together when Pentecost arrives (1:26, 28; 2:1).
For Luke, it seems, the Great Commission was given to all Christ’s followers. It is no more limited to the Apostles than is the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Acts reports non-apostles witnessing to Christ, including both Stephen (6:8 – 7:60) and Philip (8:5-40). Barnabas, Silas and John Mark all take “missionary journeys,” although none of them is an apostle. If we include Paul’s epistles in our research, we find a host of others — men and women — actively involved in spreading the gospel and conducting the work of God (see for example Rom. 16:1-15).
Although Paul’s converts certainly were baptized, he usually did not baptize them himself, leaving us to guess which of his associates did (1 Cor. 1:14-17). The New Testament recognizes special callings and functions such as “apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher” (Eph. 4:11), but it nowhere restricts baptizing or serving the Lord’s Supper to any particular class. That notion originated in the sacramentalism which developed long after New Testament days. I see no biblical reason why every follower of Jesus Christ should not do everything in the Great Commission insofar as God gifts him or her with the ability and opportunity to do so — including (1) making disciples by sharing the Gospel, (2) baptizing those who believe, and (3) instructing them in the ways of Christian living.