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Baptising Disciples

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“Jesus came and said to [the disciples], ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’’” [1]

Our Great Commander issued a binding order that has never been rescinded—make disciples of all nations. If we are not personally making disciples, we are AWOL in the battle for life. Though discipleship is often discussed within the Christian community, it is not often practised. If discipleship were practised, each professing Christians would be a disciple-maker, and disciples would multiply!

A recent news item suggests, “Religion may become extinct in nine nations.” [2] Our own nation of Canada is one of the nine nations studied. The news cited studies reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas and published earlier this year. [3] It is doubtful that religion will become extinct now or in the future. There will be a most vigorous religion promoted and practised during the reign of the antichrist preceding and continuing throughout the Great Tribulation. Though religion will likely change dramatically during coming days, I remain quite confident that the Faith will continue until Christ returns.

In our world today, many people claim to be “spiritual”; but too often there is no evidence that they are “saved.” People call themselves “Christian”; but they remain largely unchurched. People use the church to mark transitions—one wag has said that modern Canadians are “hatched, matched and dispatched” in a church; but those same people do not support the labours of the churches. People expect the church to be available for them in times of distress; but they do not attend the services. The pastor is expected to be hail-fellow, well met, praying at every turtle race that comes to town.

One can observe throughout contemporary society a generalised spiritual malaise (otherwise recognised as “rot”) that is manifested in a failure of commitment. Increasingly, couples choose to test marriage through living together without making a commitment to one another. The result is an exaggerated divorce rate. Vows declared before the altar of God during marriage ceremonies apparently mean little since the divorce rate among professing Christian couples matches the divorce rate among non-Christians. Even patriotism, love of one’s country, has taken a beating. We have raised a generation of “world citizens” who don’t believe their culture has any redeeming value; they are unwilling to sacrifice to ensure a brighter future for their fellow citizens.

Christendom, also, has suffered from the same deficit of commitment. The call to commitment is seldom proclaimed from the pulpit. Rather, we hear the benefits of being a Christian. We do not hear the call that George Verwer once issued for believers to “Come! Live! Die!” Consequently, individuals willing to enjoy the benefits of salvation without commitment to Christ disproportionately occupy the pews of the churches. Evidence for this is seen in the refusal of professed Christians to identify as belonging to Christ; they will not receive baptism, but they insist on being counted as Christians.

MAKE DISCIPLES — As disciples of the Risen Lord, we are responsible to disciple others. This is a task for all Christians—not only for a few. “Too much and too little have often been made of this observation. Too much is made of it when the disciples’ ‘going’ is overly subordinated, so that Jesus’ charge is to proselytize merely where one is. Too little is made of it when all attention is centered on the command to ‘go,’ as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so that foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity. To ‘make disciples “of all nations” does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be.” [4]

Discipleship begins with the Gospel, and continues with baptism and teaching. Without exception, each follower of the Lord Jesus has received the charge to disciple. The verb translated into English as “make disciples” commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The subordinate participles in VERSE 19 explain that making disciples involves “baptising” and “teaching” obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments. The first of these will be a once-for-all, decisive initiation into the Christian community; the second proves a perennially incomplete, life-long task. It is on the basis of this Great Commission that we baptise believers, though this is not the only basis for restricting baptism to those who openly confess faith in the Son of God.

The basis for discipling those who have faith in Christ is the authority that has been granted to our Risen Lord. Jesus began his instruction to His disciples with this affirmation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” [VERSE 18]. Immediately before Jesus spoke those delightful words inviting the weary and fatigued to find rest in Him, He gave thanks to the Father. Listen to His blessing. “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” Then He affirmed that the Father had entrusted all things to Him. “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father” [MATTHEW 11:25-27a]. This truth is iterated in JOHN 3:35 and JOHN 13:3. Whatever can be meant by the term “all things?”

Jesus has received “authority over all flesh; to give eternal life to all whom” the Father has given Him [see JOHN 17:2]. We know that He has received “authority on earth to forgive sins” [MATTHEW 9:6]. The Master has been granted “authority to execute judgment” [JOHN 5:27]. According to one writer of Scripture, everything has been put in subjection to Him; in fact, “He left nothing outside His control” [see HEBREWS 2:8]. We should rightly conclude that such far-reaching authority can mean only one thing—Jesus Christ is Master over all mankind. Whether man accepts His mastery or whether man rejects that mastery is of small moment—Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

On that great Pentecost day, Peter declared, “let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” [ACTS 2:36]. This truth is echoed by Paul in ROMANS 14:9. “Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Repeatedly, the Apostle to the Gentiles emphasises the point that God has appointed Jesus Christ as ruler over all mankind and over all things.

“[God] worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as Head over all things to the church” [EPHESIANS 1:20-22].

“God … highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” [PHILIPPIANS 2:9-11].

I stress the point of the reign of Christ Jesus as the One appointed by the Father with authority to give eternal life, with authority to forgive sin, with authority to execute judgement, with authority over the church, because His reign lies at the heart of the charge that He issued to those who are called by His Name.

I cite ROMANS 10:9, 10 as a concluding passage each week: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” To confess that Jesus is Lord without obeying His command is to deny with our life what we confess with our lips. This question confronts all disciples. “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you” [LUKE 6:46]?

To call Him Lord without accepting His authority to command my service is cause for concern. One statement Jesus made should disturb the casual confessor. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [MATTHEW 7:21-23].

Are you a Christian? Then you are responsible to make disciples. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” [MATTHEW 12:30]. I stress the truth that there is no such thing as an inactive church member—you are either sharing in the work of discipleship, or you are opposed to the work Christ assigned His people. Either you are a worker, or you are a shirker.

The expectation for all who are discipled is that they will “go.” This does not mean that only those who are missionaries “go.” Matthew frequently uses “go” as an introductory circumstantial participle that is rightly translated as coordinate to the main verb—here “Go … and make.” In MATTHEW 2:8, Herod instructs the Magi to “go and search diligently” for the child. The Pharisees sought to embarrass Jesus by asking why His disciples did not keep their law, and the Master responded by challenging them, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” [MATTHEW 9:13]. Questioned by the disciples of John the Baptist as to whether He was the expected Messiah or not, Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see” [MATTHEW 11:4].

When Jesus says, “Go … and make disciples,” it must be obvious that disciples are to be engaged in the task of making disciples. This is not a task restricted to “specialists,” but rather it is the task assigned to each Christian. As a child of the Living God, as a believer in the Risen Son of God, you are responsible to disciple others. The way in which you are to disciple others is outlined by two activities that are shared by all who are members of the Body of Christ. Those who are to be discipled are to be baptised and taught, and each Christians is responsible to participate in this great work.

BAPTISING THEM — Discipleship begins with open confession; and the means Christ has designated as the initial confession is for the disciple to identify with Him in baptism. That only disciples are to be baptised becomes evident from a review of Scripture. A parallel passage presenting this same Commission to believers is found in Mark’s Gospel. “[Jesus] said to [His disciples], Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” [MARK 16:15, 16].

Matthew speaks of those baptised as disciples, Mark refers to them as believers. According to the rules of language, disciples are believers. To speak of one as a believer is to acknowledge the starting point of the association with Christ. To speak of one as being a disciple is to confess that life-long, continuing relationship of Christ with those who follow Him. Jesus commands the Apostles first to teach all nations; then, when they are taught, they are to be baptised; after that, those baptised are to be taught to give obedience to all that Christ taught. The disciples are not to baptise the nations en masse, simply because each person was an integral part of the whole. It is one thing to make disciples in all nations, and quite another thing to make all nations disciples.

It is because of the imprecise nature of translation that confusion about who should be baptised can even be imagined. A disciple is one who believes, but the process of discipling continues throughout the lifetime of the disciple. If you have faith in Christ, you are a disciple of Christ. If you are a disciple, you are enrolled in Christ’s school of discipleship and that schooling will continue until you are removed from this earth.

Whatever religious rights we may enjoy we receive from the Word of God. Nowhere do we find that we have the right to worship God according to the “dictates of our conscience.” This is not to say that Baptists oppose the freedom to worship God as one sees fit; I am simply pointing out that the One receiving worship has the right to state what constitutes acceptable worship. By definition, that which is not demonstrated to be acceptable is, of necessity, unacceptable. If our consciences were an infallible guide in matters of faith and practise, then we would not have needed the Word of God.

Thus, those who are to be baptised must be received according to Scriptural principles. Note the grammar of the text. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that “them” is a personal pronoun used in the place of disciples. By specifying “them,” Jesus excluded all others from receiving baptism. I am aware that there are good people who would argue that the pronoun embraces disciples and their children. However, a pronoun can never embrace more than the noun for which it stands, and the word “them” is co-extensive with the word “disciples.” If for the sake of argument we were to allow that in this case that the pronoun encompasses more than does the noun, then we would be compelled to argue that the same holds true in every case.

As an example of this particular logic, consider that if, when we are commanded to “baptise them,” our Lord meant to baptise “them and their children.” By this same logic, when Jesus warns, “the angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, and throw them into the blazing furnace” [MATTHEW 13:49, 50], we would be compelled to conclude that the children of unbelievers must suffer the consequences of parental unbelief. Every principle of argument and logic conspires to cast the children of evil people into the blazing furnace if we cede the point of expanding the pronoun. However, such an argument violates every principle of righteousness laid down by the Lord; each individual bears his or her own sin and is judged for his or her own sin. Children do not pay for the sins of the father, or vice versa [see EZEKIEL 18:20].

Using a similar argument, some dear friends—believers in the Lord Jesus, though they are not baptised—contend that the inherent righteousness of the children of disciples entitles them to baptism. The same logic would say that the inherent evil of the children of the wicked consigns them to damnation. However, we know that righteousness is imputed and cannot be transmitted, whereas evil is the condition arising from our fallen condition and atonement must be provided through the sacrifice of Christ the Lord. Any righteousness we possess is the righteousness of Christ, and not our own.

Friends seeking to promote the paedobaptist position sometimes argue that baptism of infants has replaced circumcision. However, you must remember that circumcision was a national rite, whereas baptism is a religious rite. The one cannot take the place of the other. In order to demonstrate that baptism has not taken the place of circumcision, and that circumcision had a place of its own following the institution of baptism, I need but remind you that Paul was baptised after he was circumcised and that Timothy was circumcised after he was baptised. If baptism had replaced circumcision, then Paul would not have required baptism, for he had been circumcised, and Timothy would not have required circumcision, because he had been baptised.

Surely, the Apostles understood the intent of Jesus’ words, for they taught that believers were to be baptised, and that they were to be baptised because they were believers and not in order to become believers. When the Spirit of God was poured out at Pentecost, Peter preached a powerful message confronting those who had called for the crucifixion of the Son of God and calling on them to believe the message of life. As he preached, the convicted people cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do” [ACTS 2:37]? Peter’s response demonstrates his understanding of the place of baptism in discipleship. His rejoinder preserved the order commanded—“Repent … and be baptised” [ACTS 2:38].

This was the same model that the Apostles had witnessed the Master teach for three and one-half years. Preceding the ministry of the Master, the model was employed as evidence that people had accepted the preaching of John the Baptist. John made disciples by pointing them to repentance and faith in the coming Messiah [ACTS 19:4]. In the same way, Jesus made disciples before He baptised them. This is evident from the account that John the Evangelist provides in JOHN 4:1, 2. “Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that [He] was making and baptising more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself did not baptise, but only His disciples).” Jesus made and then baptised disciples. The Word does not say that Jesus baptised and then made disciples, but rather that He first made disciples and then baptised those identified as disciples. The steps to discipleship are clearly defined in the account of Jesus’ ministry. One is made a disciple; then, those who are made disciples are baptised—the divine rule is faith before water.

A divine from a past era challenges any who doubt that only disciples are to be baptised. He calls on all who struggle with this issue to “draw a perpendicular line. On the right of it write the words, Believers in Christ, Lovers of Christ. On the left of it, write the words, Unbelievers in Christ, Haters of Christ. Now from which side of that line will you take your candidates for baptism? Will you baptise the hating and the unbelieving? You dare not. If from the other side you take them, then already are they God’s children, for what saith Scriptures: ‘Whosoever believeth has been born of God. Whosoever loveth is born of God.’” He continues by noting, “Baptists do not bury the living sinner to kill him to sin. But they bury those already dead to sin.” [5]

The text gives no command to baptise anyone other than a disciple, unless we have received a new revelation from heaven showing that the Saviour was mistaken. It is impossible to tease out such a thought from the text before us. The Commission we have received deals only with the baptism of disciples; it is not as an act to create disciples.

Baptism is for believers as evidenced in the preaching of the Apostles. Peter’s message was that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” [ACTS 4:12]. The message of Paul from earliest days was that through Jesus “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed… and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything” [ACTS 13:38, 39]. The consistent testimony of the Apostle Paul was “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus” [ACTS 20:21]. There was not a hint of a call to baptism in order to become a disciple.

In fact, Paul makes a point of noting in his first missive to the Corinthian Christians that he baptised only a few people in that congregation. He reminds them, “I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptised in my name. (I did baptise also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptised anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” [1 CORINTHIANS 1:14-17].

If we ignore the clear instruction of the Word, how will we answer the Master when He says to us, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” [JOHN 15:14]? If we substitute our ideas for what He has commanded, how can we claim to be His friends? If we think that we are able to change His charge, we set ourselves above Him.

When the Lord commanded Moses to make the Tabernacle, He gave specific instructions. Then He commanded the man of God, “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” [EXODUS 25:9]. Likewise, instructions for making the accoutrements used during the offering of the various sacrifices were accompanied by the same command. “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain” [EXODUS 25:40].

When Noah was commanded to build the ark, it was to be built of “gopher wood” [GENESIS 6:14]. Noah dared not build the ark of cypress, of teak, or of mahogany. Though such woods might be more attractive, he was to build the ark exactly as God commanded. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. If Abraham had offered Sarah, it would have been disobedience. Neither would it have done for Abraham to offer up Isaac and Sarah; then, he would have been guilty of murder. What is specified prohibits substitution. This is true in law, and it is assuredly true with God’s commands. He commands repentance. He commands righteousness; He commands obedience.

God has given a command concerning the ordinance of baptism; when we begin to change that command, we are not only disobedient but we rob the rite of the significance with which the Master invested that act. Baptism imitates Christ, for this was His example when He came to John to be baptised. Though the Baptist demurred, yet the Master insisted. In His acceptance of baptism from John, we are provided a model to imitate. “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” [MATTHEW 3:15], said the Master. Jesus our Lord identified with us in our broken condition, just as we are called to identify with Him in His death and resurrection.

TEACHING THEM — Discipleship is a lifelong process. This brings into focus two separate issues that are vital to congregational health. Since disciples are to be always learning, a major responsibility entrusted to any congregation is the ministry of teaching. Parents have primary responsibility for training their own children; but the congregation bears responsibility to provide instruction in righteousness. I fear that whenever I speak of teaching—of Christian education—too many listeners think only of Sunday School. Churches that will be pleasing to the Master are congregations that emphasise instruction in the Word by every means possible.

This ongoing task of teaching will be carried out not only through Sunday School, but especially from the pulpit. The teaching ministry will be provided through Bible studies and training will be provided through discussions with mature Christians, and always with a submissive spirit and with prayer as the disciples seek the face of the Lord. This is a great task, and it assuredly means that those who are elders are to teach. However, the mark of each mature Christian is that he or she must be prepared to teach.

When Paul wrote Titus, he commanded, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine” [TITUS 2:1]. In years past, Lynda set up and provided oversight for a mentoring ministry conducted by the women of former congregations. The women of the churches were merely applying in practical fashion the words of the Apostle. You will recall that he instructed Titus, “The older women … are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” [TITUS 2:4, 5]. The teaching ministry of a church is a shared ministry. Formal instruction is provided from the pulpit, and the members echo what is taught there, with older men teaching younger men and older women teaching younger women.

In his last imprisonment, Paul wrote Timothy a poignant letter that is a gem of terse pastoral theology. One of the admonitions given to the young theologue was this: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” [2 TIMOTHY 2:2]. The local congregation is to be a seminary, training up men for the teaching ministry. The elders are to be alert to those maturing men able to assume the mantle of a teacher. The church of the Living God is to be characterised by its teaching ministry, and there is a place for each member to teach.

Just as the ministry of the church is defined by teaching, so each individual member bears responsibility to be a learner, to avail himself or herself of opportunity to be instructed in righteousness. Each member of the congregation is to enter eagerly into the ministry of learning so that he or she can in turn assume the responsibility of teaching others. The ministry of discipleship is a shared ministry, and there can be no place for takers only. Each Christian must aspire to be a giver.

What truths are to be mastered by disciples? I invite you to turn once again to the Apostle’s instructions in TITUS 2:2-8, and note the curriculum. “Older men” are to be sober minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, [sound] in love, and [sound in] steadfastness. “Older women” are to be reverent in behaviour, avoiding gossip and refusing to be mastered by anything. Such godly women are to embody what is good, and communicate those truths. They are charged with training the young women within the congregation to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, and submissive to their own husbands. This behaviour is to be encouraged so that the Word of God may not be reviled. “Young men” are to be taught to be self-controlled—this lesson is enough. Pastors are to be models of “good works,” demonstrating integrity, dignity and a sound message [literal sense of “sound speech”].

Growing disciples must aspire to solid food—understanding the great doctrines, such as the role of Christ as our great High Priest. One significant reason for disciples to harbour this desire for knowledge is so that they can teach others. The Apostle lists several reasons each believer should be a teacher. Be a teacher of the Word, discipling others so that “the Word of God may not be slandered,” so that opponents of the Good News of Christ “will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us,” and so that “in everything [we] may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” [TITUS 2:5, 8, 10].

Yet another reason for mastering the deep truths of the Word and discipling others is that in the process of telling what you know, you will grow. You will not only help another to grow, but you yourself will be strengthened. Without question, as you tell others of the truths being opened to you, some will seek Christ and others that know Him will be stimulated to learn still more about Him. In this way, you will become an instrument of righteousness, building others and glorifying the Lord Christ.

Peter encourages believers to “always be[] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” [1 PETER 3:15]. Evangelism must not only be modelled for those who will be discipled, but each one needs opportunity to be trained in evangelism. There is no excuse for failure to tell others of Christ, “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous to do good works” [TITUS 2:13, 14].

When we Baptists insist on baptising believers, rejecting the sprinkling of infants as foreign to the practise of the Apostles and antithetical to the Word of God, it is not because we are contrary; rather, it is because we are committed to adhering to the pattern of sound doctrine we received from the Master. We understand the clear teaching of the Word to make disciples, baptising them, and then instructing them.

Have you believed? This is the first truth you must accept if you will be saved. Christ Jesus died because of your sin, according to the Scripture. He was raised from the dead on the third day, was seen by witnesses and ascended into Heaven. Now, through faith in Him as the One whom the Father appointed as the perfect sacrifice once forever offered for sin, you can enjoy the forgiveness of sin. This is the message of God.

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Master,” believing in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be set free. With the heart one believes, resulting in a right standing with the Father, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in freedom.” The Word of God declares, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [ROMANS 10:9, 10, 13 free translation].

If you have already believed this message of life, the question that must be asked is whether you have obeyed the Master’s command to confess openly that faith through baptism. Are you fully engaged in the process of discipleship, beginning with open confession of faith in the Saviour. Take a stand with Christ, confessing His salvation and confessing the transformation He has worked in your life. Do it today. Do it now. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Jason Palmer, “Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says,” BBC News, 22 March 2011, , accessed 22 March 2011; Frank Appleyard, “Canadians losing faith as religion faces extinction,”, 23 March 2011,, accessed 1 April 2011

[3] Daniel M. Abrams and Haley A. Yaple, Richard J. Wiener, “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation, arXiv:1012.1375v2 [physics.soc-ph] 14 Jan 2011 (, accessed 22 March 2011

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 2001) 431

[5] B. H. Carroll, Baptists and Their Doctrines (Fleming H. Revell Co., New York, NY 1913) 22-23

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