We say that the Bible is our sole rule of faith and practice. It is an area of practice that we consider today. The question is, can just any believer baptize others or do they need to have authority to baptize bestowed on them from a local church? If the Bible and those precepts and patterns found therein is our rule book for practice then we should be able to find an answer readily.
First Mention: The first mention we have in the New Testament of the practice of baptism was in Matthew chapter three. In this chapter John the Baptist is baptizing his converts and Jesus comes along and asks John to baptize Him. What do we learn here? Well, if we look at it we learn that John the Baptist was before the church, so the question we are considering does not apply. Also we realize from John 1:6 that John the Baptist derived his authority to baptize directly from God.
(John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. also see: John 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.)
John the Baptist had authority to baptize from the Father and permission from the Son. There is no one else on earth that can claim this model as their rationale for operating outside the local assembly. John was the fulfillment of prophecy and before the establishment of the local church.
The concept of authority and permission to administer baptism is one that has been agreed on in the church for centuries. The trouble comes when people jump ship and leave the organized church. It is then that they take upon themselves the right to baptize without considering the implications.
What is the result of baptism? According to Acts 2:41 those who were baptized were added to a group of believers in a specific local. This, we know, was the church at Jerusalem that was being organized with leaders, doctrine, and discipline. They were not added to only the "universal church/body of Christ" nor were they added to a loose grouping of folks that walked away from "organized religion" to do their own thing. As we follow through the book of Acts, the more people who were saved and baptized, the same were added immediately to that local, organized church.
Who baptized in the Bible? This is important to know, because if we know the names and backgrounds of these people, we can discover the model that we are to follow in who should baptize today and where the authority for baptism rests. We already spoke of John the Baptist so let's move on to the others.
Phillip: In Acts chapter eight we find Phillip going down to Samaria to preach and baptize the converts. Later we find that he baptizes the Ethiopian. Who was Phillip? We know from Acts chapter six and verse five that Phillip was one of the men that was chosen and appointed by the church at Jerusalem. These men would have been the earliest form of what Paul would later call a "Deacon." The simplest and most obvious answer to our question is that Phillip had authority and permission from the Apostles and the local church at Jerusalem to baptize. We know that they were in support of his activities because later in the chapter Peter and John were dispatched to help out with the missionary effort and deal with the new converts.
The Apostle Paul: (I Cor 1:16 and other verses) Now we know and it is obvious that Paul got his authority to baptize from God as an Apostle. But strangely enough Paul also submitted to receiving authority and commission from his local church. In Acts 13 Saul (Paul) was commissioned by his church for evangelistic work. Even the great Apostle Paul was not immune to submission to the authority of a local church in receiving permission.
The Apostle Peter: In Acts chapter ten Peter goes to Caesarea and visits the home of Cornelius. A bunch of people trust in the message of Peter concerning Jesus. Then in Acts 10:48 we read, "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Here we find authority and permission in the administration of baptism. Peter was given authority by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20 and was himself as an apostle part of the "foundation" of the church. (Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;)
From these examples it is clear to the unbiased observer that there is an authority and permission that must go along with the one that does the baptizing. We are not saying that the individual must be part of the paid clergy. What we are saying, however, is that the individuals that do the baptizing must have been given that authority and permission by a local church. In the case of a missionary starting a brand new church, his home church (though it may be thousands of miles away) in sending him out to minister gives him that permission. Those that are baptized by that missionary become part of that brand new church.
On the day of Pentecost several thousand had to be baptized. It is very likely that many (if not all) of those who were in that upper room had to be involved in this monumental task. But never in the whole of Scripture do we find someone baptizing who has walked away from the fellowship of and membership in the local church. It is unthinkable in biblical terms and models.
The one baptizing must be a part of a local church in order to baptize the candidate into the local church. You have to be "in" in order to bring someone else "in", otherwise it is a case of the blind leading the blind. Simply to baptize someone into the "universal church" perverts the model of Scripture. Although the time of the book of Acts was somewhat a time of disorganization, we still see through the fog a clear picture of the necessity of authority and permission to baptize.
Stop and think with me for a minute. If just anyone can baptize without authority or permission from an established assembly, why can't your ten year old son baptize? Why can't the backslidden man baptize? If we have a big enough crowd to baptize, why can't we grab an unregenerate (unsaved) man to help out? After all, all he has to do is get them under the water and back up. (I speak sarcastically.) The point is, if there is no need for authority and permission, anything goes. Now for some, the idea of "anything goes" is appealing. But if you want to follow Christ, it means following the patterns of the Word of God. If you want to baptize (and you are not one of the Apostles of Jesus' time) you must get that authority and permission from a local church. The local church is God's program for today and the Great Commission, of which baptism is a part, cannot be accomplished without it.