Baptism by Women

In the article, “Invalid Baptism by Women,” in the Standard Bearer of 1 March 2000 you take a position that seems to go beyond what the Bible by necessary consequence would demand. With you, I wholeheartedly enjoin that for baptism the application of water in the name of the triune God is required, as well as that women are not lawfully called to be ministers. It must be admitted that WCF, ch. 28.2; Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 20; the Bremen Consensus; and the Scottish Confession of Faith maintain that a sacrament is only valid when performed by a lawfully called minister. And although, for decency and good order, it is indeed commendable that, in normal circumstances, sacraments are performed by those lawfully called, yet for all these Reformed confessions I still sense a reprehensible, pietistic leviticalism in this last validity restriction.

The first reason is that God’s hand is never too short. God is able to bestow His grace in spite of what we mess up. We may even mean something for evil, but God intends it for good. A baptism in the triune God, in spite of all the misguided human understandings and actions, is still an act of God and will be of priceless comfort to the recipient who has accepted it in faith.

The second reason is that making a baptism dependent on the qualifications of a minister implies an exclusivistic, mediatorial, biblically unacceptable position of the minister. This notion, which is held among many of the Reformed, is brought about by unnecessarily limiting the interpretation of the term “preacher” in Romans 10:14, 15 to a homilete rather than including any believer who communicates the Word of peace and grace in whatever way. But, although the offices in the church should never be belittled, undermined, or relativized, leadership in the Bible is not based on exclusivism (qualification) but on excellence (worthiness). The deacons appointed in Acts 6 are sought for their good reputation and being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3 Members of the body of Christ are to use their gifts in proportion to their faith.Rom. 12:6-8). Elders who rule well are to be counted worthy of double honour (I Tim. 5:17). If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:10-11). God may use those whom He has appointed to certain positions but, especially if they think too highly of themselves, God will confound them by using others in their stead. Barak was humbled by Deborah and Jael. God’s prophets may be humbled by a lying spirit which He put in their mouths. Again, God’s hand is never too short. Men may judge a particular baptism invalid, but God may scorn that depreciation.

The third reason is that it is questionable whether the Bible indeed requires that only lawfully called ministers administrate baptisms. I like to quote what I just read in the most recent Messiah’s Mandate, not to set you up against its author but to consider the arguments.

The rule of the Directory for the Publick Worship of God of the Westminster Assembly is that baptism must be performed by a minister. Yet this does not comport with Scripture. Thus the rule’s origin is in man, i.e., in a human tradition. The Old Testament antecedent, circumcision, did not require the rite to be performed by someone specifically called. Zipporah’s circumcision of her and Moses’ son was valid. God Himself approved of it and accepted it.

Ex. 4:25, 26

The same unconcern with administrators is true in the New Testament. Kistemaker, commenting on the baptism of Cornelius’ household in

Acts 10:48,

is unafraid to accept the obvious: “Peter, as the Greek text implies, orders the … Jewish Christians to baptize the Gentile converts.” These Jewish Christians were simply “some of the brothers”

Acts 10:23

—the common term—not “some other ministers.” The apostle apparently regarded these ordinary, male Jewish Christians as covenantally competent to perform the rite of baptism. “The apostles, then, place emphasis not on themselves but on the name of Jesus.” Barnes agrees, explaining that “it seems not to have been the practice of the apostles themselves to baptize very extensively.” J.A. Alexander is forceful on this point: “It can scarcely be mere fortuitous coincidence, that Peter, Paul, and Christ Himself, should all have left this rite to be administered by others. ‘Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples.’

John 4:2

‘I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus, etc.’

I Cor. 1:14

‘Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.’

I Cor. 1:17

Baptisms were performed under the apostles’ supervision, but not necessarily by their hands.”

The fourth reason is that infant baptism (IB) and adult baptism (AB) are connected with profession of faith (PF). Admittedly, IB and AB are sacraments and PF is not. But the questions in the forms (PF 1-4, and AB 1-5) cannot be seen apart from each other. PF 1 cannot be affirmed without agreement with AB 1+4 and is a faithful response to IB 2+3. PF 2 cannot be affirmed without agreement with AB 2+3 and accepts IB 1. PF 3+4 cannot be affirmed without agreement with AB 5. Would you consider the PF in a former church of someone, who would seek membership in the PRC, “invalid” if his baptism was “invalid”? Should not the PF overrule the “invalidity” of baptism, since PF is a consummation of the intent of baptism, expressed specifically in PF 2: “Do you openly accept God’s promise, which has been signified and sealed unto you in your baptism”?

Through the Standard Bearer I have learned and do appreciate your biblical stand, e.g., on marriage and divorce, for which you are mocked, unjustly, by other churches. I find this issue, baptism by women, important enough to ask you to look more closely to the spirit of baptism and PF than to the letter, for I would not want to see you mocked for anabaptism. I would suggest that, although feminine ministers are a heretical phenomenon, baptisms performed by them are still valid.

J.L. Reckman

Aylmer, Ontario



Your letter objecting to my editorial, that the baptism by women ministers is invalid, raises issues that are of uncommon importance to the Reformed church today. Therefore, I respond at greater length than I like to do in the letters column.

It goes without saying that I appreciate your interest in our magazine and am thankful for your encouraging words concerning our biblical stand and your profit from our writing. Your letter is a careful, thoughtful contribution to the subject under discussion.

Nevertheless, the positions you advance are erroneous.

First, the Reformed confessions and church order are binding upon Reformed Christians. It is not permitted to any member of a Reformed church to criticize a teaching of the confessions of his church as “reprehensible, pietistic leviticalism.” I remind you that, in addition to the creeds you mention in your opening paragraph, I appealed also to the Belgic Confession as teaching that baptism by women is invalid.

Second, you carry the error of baptism by women a step further. The churches that lately ordain women yet acknowledge the necessity of ordination for preaching and administering the sacraments. But you question whether a lawful call by the instituted church is necessary for preaching and baptizing, as, evidently, does the author of the article in Messiah’s Mandate that you quote. To your mind, the preacher in Romans 10:14is not precisely and exclusively the man who is called to the office of the ministry by the church (even though the next verse insists on his being “sent”!). Rather, he is “any believer who communicates the Word of peace and grace in whatever way.” Also, you challenge the position that “the Bible indeed requires that only lawfully called ministers administrate baptisms.”

Article 30 of the Belgic Confession teaches that preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments are the work of “ministers, or pastors.” And Article 31 of this Reformed confession teaches that this work is an “office,” to which the minister is chosen “by a lawful election by the church.” Article 31 goes on to identify this “lawful election by the church” with God’s “calling” of the minister.

Article 3 of the Church Order of Dordt forbids anyone “to enter upon the ministry of the Word and sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto.” Preaching and the administration of the sacraments belong to office in the church. One occupies and exercises this office only by the lawful call.

What is taught about office in the church in Articles 30 and 31 of the Belgic Confession and in Article 3 of the Church Order of Dordt may not be questioned, much less set aside, in the Reformed churches. One who is determined to press an objection against this teaching of the confessions must present a formal overture to synod (“gravamen”).

Third, you mistake my editorial when you suppose that it intends to make “baptism dependent on the qualifications of a minister.” I expressly deny that the validity of baptism at all depends on the doctrinal soundness or personal holiness of the baptizing minister. But I contend that a woman cannot be lawfully called to the office of the ministry inasmuch as Christ, the King of the church, has forbidden the church to call women to the office of minister of the Word, or “bishop.” Since one of the three requirements for valid baptism is that it be administered by someone who has been lawfully called, baptisms by women are invalid.

Baptisms by women are not invalid because the female minister is unqualified. But baptisms by women are invalid because the female who baptizes is not, and cannot be, a minister.

Fourth, “profession of faith,” or as we prefer, “confession of faith,” cannot render an invalid baptism valid. If a person baptized by a woman someday seeks admission as an adult into a Protestant Reformed congregation, the church should baptize the individual upon hearing his public confession of faith on that occasion. I only note that the form of public confession of faith used in the Protestant Reformed Churches does not include any such question as the one you quote: “Do you openly accept God’s promise?” etc.

Fifth, your fear that for denying the validity of baptism by women I may be charged with Anabaptism is completely unfounded. Surely, staunch defense of the lawful call and, thus, of office in the church is Reformed. It was the Anabaptists who tended to reject the special offices in the church and who in this way broke down the instituted church. Gifts, not the lawful call, were for them the requirement for preaching and administering the sacraments. In his fine study, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals (Eerdmans, 1981), Willem Balke wrote:

The divergence between Calvin and the Anabaptists becomes obvious also in their respective concepts of office. The Anabaptists had no elaborate theology of office. At first they accepted itinerant preachers or “messengers.” In their congregations they accepted one prominent person as a leader.

In contrast, Balke added, “all who are acquainted with Calvin’s theology of the ‘office of pastor’ will realize how highly he regarded the faithful exercise of this office in the midst of the local church” (pp. 235, 236).

According to Calvin, Christ has instituted the office of the ministry, or “office of pastors,” to be of “perpetual duration” in the church (Institutes, 4.3.1-6). Such is the importance of the office of the ministry that “whoever, therefore, studies to abolish [it] … or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church” (Institutes, 4.3.2; Beveridge translation). “The two principal parts of the office of pastors are to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments” (Institutes, 4.3.6). Since “no one should assume a public office in the Church without a call,” those who “push themselves forward to teach or rule” (and, we may add, to baptize) in the church, without a call, do so “presumptuously.” They show themselves “restless and turbulent men” (Institutes, 4.3.10).

Calvin devotes the last three sections of chapter 15 of book 4 of the Institutes to the argument that, since preaching and administration of the sacraments belong to the office of the minister, baptizing by private individuals, particularly women, is forbidden.

It is here also pertinent to observe, that it is improper for private individuals to take upon themselves the administration of baptism; for it, as well as the dispensation of the Supper, is part of the ministerial office. For Christ did not give command to any men or women whatever to baptize, but to those whom he had appointed apostles.

Calvin appeals to Augustine, Tertullian, and Epiphanius in support of the position that “a woman is not permitted to speak in the Church, nor yet to teach, or baptize, or offer, that she may not claim to herself any office of the man.” To the response that the church fathers only condemned women’s baptizing as a regular thing, not as “an extraordinary remedy used under the pressure of extreme necessity,” that is, when a baby seemed about to die at birth, Calvin replies: “Since he declares it mockery to allow women to baptize, and makes no exception, it is sufficiently plain that the corruption is condemned as inexcusable on any pretext.”

You bring to my attention that the author of an article in Messiah’s Mandate appeals to Zipporah’s circumcision of her son in support of his contention that valid baptism can be administered by others in the church besides the minister.

Listen to Calvin on the appeal to Zipporah in defense of baptism by any other than the ordained minister. In the context of his insistence that baptism belongs strictly to the office of the ministry, to which only some are called by the church, Calvin writes:

The example of Zipporah

Exod. 4:25

is irrelevantly quoted. Because the angel of God was appeased after she took a stone and circumcised her son, it is erroneously inferred that her act was approved by God. Were it so, we must say that God was pleased with a worship which Gentiles brought from Assyria, and set up in Samaria. But other valid reasons prove, that what a foolish woman did is ignorantly drawn into a precedent…. The last thing intended by Zipporah was to perform a service to God…. Her presumption is inexcusable in this, in circumcising her son while her husband is present, and that husband not a mere private individual, but Moses, the chief prophet of God, than whom no greater ever arose in Israel. This was no more allowable in her, than it would be for women in the present day under the eye of a bishop (Institutes, 4.15.20-22).

Summing up, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, which are Christ’s means of His grace in the church, belong strictly to the office of the ministry. To this ministry, qualified and trained men are called by Christ both by an internal call and by lawful election by the church. Inasmuch as Christ has clearly made known His will in Scripture that women are prohibited from ruling office in the church, women cannot be lawfully called to the office of the ministry. And since administration by one lawfully called is one of the requisites of valid baptism, baptisms by women are invalid in the church of Christ.

— Ed.

Problems with Women Ministers

Holy Scripture dictates that women in the office of minister of the gospel is wrong. No doubt about it. There can also be no doubt that as unlawfully called officebearers, women ministers are conducting invalid baptisms. One can surely accept the fact that this will become problematic for PRC consistories in years to come.

Would it be correct to extrapolate that unlawfully called and ordained ministers would also be conducting invalid marriages? If so, now what?

How about the decisions made by a consistory with women ministers and elders? Is a public confession of faith valid if it is heard and accepted by women ministers and elders?

What about classical and synodical decisions made by bodies that include unlawfully ordained officebearers?

Recognizing that baptism is a sacrament while marriage is not may help in dealing with some situations. But it stands to reason that women preachers would be functioning illegally in all aspects of the office they hold.

Your editorial (“Invalid Baptism by Women,” Standard Bearer, March 1, 2000) surely generated some discussion. Be assured that your work as an unwavering apologist for the Reformed faith is appreciated.

Eric J. Ophoff, Sr.

South Holland, IL

Incomplete Response

I am commenting on your March 1, 2000 Standard Bearer response to a letter from an Anglican “Presbyter.” For the most part I enjoyed your response. However, there is one part of his letter that seems to have escaped your attention. That is the Anglican’s statement, “in fact, good hymnology is the church-catholic (Col. 3:16).” He seems to suggest that Colossians 3:16 is a mandate for the hymns of Watts and C. Wesley.

First, I would like to suggest that our brother Anglican has a wrong interpretation of Colossians 3:16. He ought to be instructed that in the Septuagint (Greek translation) that the apostle Paul used, the headings over the different Psalms in their titles were designated “Psalmos” (a Psalm), others, “ode” (a song), and others, “alleluia.” This last is a word borrowed from the Hebrew, and when used as a noun in the Greek language is equivalent to “hymnos” (a hymn). Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is basically commanding the New Testament church catholic to continue to have the Psalms as the song book of the New Testament church catholic. The primitive New Testament church understood this, and uninspired compositions did not appear until after AD 350.

Our Anglican brother ought not only to be aware of the hymns of Watts and Wesley, he should also be aware of the erroneous teachings which influence their songs. Dr. Watts in particular wrote many beautiful hymns which fired up the emotions. He also wrote 150 imitation Psalms, which hundreds of Presbyterian churches in the U.S. adopted and subsequently left inspired Psalmody. In those 150 imitation Psalms, Dr. Watts left out all the imprecations (admonitions, warnings, and judgments) to the apostate church that were in the inspired Psalmody. He did this because, in Dr. Watts’ own words, “I wanted to try and make David talk like a Christian.” Can you imagine that under the influence of the Holy Spirit David did not speak like a Christian? Dr. Watts’ hymns portrayed the same sentiment. He portrayed a God of love but not a God of judgment, not a complete God!

Now look at the admonition of Paul in Colossians 3:16, who under the influence of the Holy Spirit wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (would our Anglican brother believe this to be inspired Psalmody or uninspired composition of Watts and Wesley?); “teaching and admonishing one another” (in Psalmody, or words of Watts and Wesley?); “in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (all Psalms!); “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

I rest my case in the interest of God’s glory.

John VanBaren

Grandville, MI

A 900-Pound Gorilla

A hearty “Amen” to the editorial on Hillsdale (“The Hillsdale Scandal,” Standard Bearer, March 15, 2000).

It strikes me that divorce and Sabbath-breaking are like two 900-pound gorillas in the parlor. Everyone sees them, but no one says anything about them. These sins are rampant in the “Christian” population. Clever conservative fund-raisers like D.J. Kennedy fulminate about the bad things that unbelievers do … but within the “Christian” camp? Divorce? Sabbath-breaking (including the obsession with NFL football)? Participation in antinomian worship? Not a peep!

Therefore, your comments on divorce and remarriage are appreciated.

J.M. Rodgers


Friends in Other Churches

With great pleasure, we read your editorial, “A Time to Laugh, A Time to Dance” (Standard Bearer, Feb. 15, 2000). Our son and daughter are looking forward to attending this year’s Protestant Reformed Young People’s Convention. To tell the truth, we were secretly feeling a little insecure regarding their attendance since the convention is part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the PRC. Perhaps, our children would not quite fit in. Tears fell from our eyes and joy filled our hearts when we read your last paragraphs inviting those of us who are “friends” in other churches, one with you in the truths of the sovereignty of God.

Our family took time at our dinner table to read your article together, so that our children will be confident of their welcome this June.

Once again the Lord brought His desires to your mind to write that editorial.

Henry and Bonnie Boyd

Belhaven, NC