IS WATER BAPTISM FOR THE GENTILE CHURCH?
Question: In the Great Commission, Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them. Are these instructions for the Gentile church, or was Jesus just speaking to His Jewish followers?
Answer: Some Christians believe that both baptism and even the Lord's Supper were ordinances for those living in the time prior to the church age. They would argue that baptism and the Lord's Supper are not church age ordinances.
In I Corinthians 1:14-17 the apostle Paul writes, "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . ."
There are two observations that need to be made about these verses. First, Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) did indeed baptize. By his own words we know that he baptized Crispus and Gaius, and also those in the household of Stephanas. If the apostle to the Gentiles baptized Gentiles, who are we to say that it is not for the Gentile church?
Secondly, the apostle did not disparage baptism, though at first glance he may appear to do so. He writes, "I thank God that I baptized none of you." Then he also writes, "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."
Paul was writing to a divided church. Several factions had developed that were following key personalities. Paul did not want to encourage anyone to follow any church leader or teacher. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:12, "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you. . ." Paul is happy that he didn't baptize too many people. If he had, he may have collected his own little clique of followers, something he did not want to do.
Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations, and to baptize them. And that's what the early Christians did in the Book of Acts. Peter preached his message on Pentecost and exhorted his audience to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Paul and Silas baptized the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:33).
Question: But some argue that the church did not begin until the ministry of Paul. Therefore they argue that the examples of baptism in the Book of Acts are not examples for the church.
Answer: In Galations 1:13 Paul states that before his conversion, he persecuted "the church of God." Obviously, the church existed prior to Paul's ministry. The church which Paul persecuted was the same church, or body, to which he and the converts whom he won to Christ were added.