When should a person be baptized?

water baptism

(courtesy HD Wallpaper)

By Spencer D Gear

I’m convinced that baptism is for those who believe. Therefore, believer’s baptism is the biblical mandate according to Scripture and it relates to making disciples:

‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).

Does a pastor have a right to reject a person’s baptism?

I met a person on a Christian forum who asked a sensible and practical question: ‘Does a pastor have a right to say when you can get baptized?’[1]

There were some provocative and hostile responses:

  • ‘No unless he is God, is he??’[2]
  • ‘No a pastor does not. If he will not, leave him and find a priest that IS ordained by the Holy Spirit, for that one is NOT’.[3]
  • ‘A pastor has an obligation to teach those who attend his church what the Bible says about baptism and who should be baptized.  He has the right and the duty to say when you can be baptized as long as he is passing along the teachings of the Bible and not just acting on his own authority’.[4]

Remember Paul, Silas and Philippian jailer?

I wrote:[5]

I’m reminded of what happened with Paul, Silas and the Philippian jailer’s conversion:

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized (Acts 16:29-33 NIV).

There are some fundamental biblical principles taught in this passage:

  1. A person must be saved (v 29);
  2. Salvation comes through continuing to believe in the Lord Jesus – it’s the Greek present tense of ‘believe’ (v. 31);
  3. There was teaching/speaking of the word of the Lord to those who believed (v. 32);
  4. That foundation means there is adequate belief and teaching to be baptized (v. 33).

Therefore, this should be all that is necessary for believer’s baptism to occur.

However, I speak as a former pastor who is ordained with a Christian denomination. I’ve seen some people who confess faith in Jesus and are baptized but within months or years they have fallen away from the faith and are no longer serving Jesus. Therefore, some pastors take a cautious approach to allow for people to be established in their faith and to continue to ‘bear fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matt 3:8 ESV) before they baptize them.

I was baptized by immersion at age 16, but I can tell you that that was too early for me. I was not mature enough to demonstrate fruit of repentance. My wife was baptized at the same age, but both of us agree that for some youth at age 16, it can be too young as lack of knowledge of the faith and immaturity can influence this decision.

I’m not suggesting that this is the case with you because I don’t know you. For how long have you been a Christian and are you growing in your faith? If I were to speak with someone in your congregation who knows you and ask the question, ‘How strong is David in his faith?’ what would he/she say? Sometimes a pastor is demonstrating wisdom when he asks for baptism to be delayed.

Remember the truth of Hebrews 13:17 (ESV), as a demonstration of fruit of repentance, ‘Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you’.

I think it would be unwise to leave a congregation because the pastor (one of your leaders) does not think you are ready for baptism. Obey and submit will demonstrate that you understand Scripture and are growing in your faith.

Some oppose delaying baptism

Mack Tomlinson considers ‘reasons why withholding baptism from younger believers is wrong’ (August 29, 2013). M Wayne Benson writes of ‘The urgency of water baptism’ (2015. Enrichment Journal).

Others support delaying baptism

Early church father, Tertullian, wrote:

‘And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children…. If any understand the weighty import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay: sound faith is secure of salvation. (New Advent, ‘On Baptism’, ch 18).

Is baptismal regeneration biblical?

Image result for immersion baptism clip art public domain

(courtesy christianholisticcenter)

Paul recounts his conversion experience in Jerusalem:

‘For you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:15-16 ESV).

However, the original explanation of what happened on the Damascus Road in Saul’s-Paul’s conversion was, ‘And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized’ (Acts 9:18 ESV). There is no mention of baptismal regeneration here, but there seems to be when he recounts the conversion in Acts 22:15-16. That is not Greek grammarian, A T Robertson’s, interpretation. His Greek reasons are:

22:16 By baptized (baptisai). First aorist middle (causative), not passive, Get thyself baptized (Robertson, Grammar, p. 808). Cf. I Cor. 10:2. Submit yourself to baptism. So as to apolousai, Get washed off as in I Cor. 6:11. It is possible, as in 2:38, to take these words as teaching baptismal remission or salvation by means of baptism, but to do so is in my opinion a complete subversion of Paul’s vivid and picturesque language. As in Rom. 6:4-6 where baptism is the picture of death, burial and resurrection, so here baptism pictures the change that had already taken place when Paul surrendered to Jesus on the way (verse 10). Baptism here pictures the washing away of sins by the blood of Christ (Robertson 1930:391-392).

For examples of church fathers who accepted the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, see this article by Bryan Cross, ‘The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration’ (June 15, 2010).

Is Jesus the sole leader?

What kind of response do you think my above comment would receive on a Christian forum? One person wrote, ‘One should have only one leader and that is Christ’. He then gave references to Luke 22:24-26 (KJV 2000) and Isaiah 8:4-7 (KJV), but affirmed the helpfulness of my posts on this forum.[6]

However, this person did not address the specifics of what I wrote.

Violation of Hebrews 13:17

Therefore, I wrote:

‘What you have stated here violates Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) as this verse speaks about “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls”. “Leaders” is plural. And there are multiple Christian leaders around the world.

Thanks for your encouragement, brother. Or, are you sister?’[7]


(courtesy hopnews.com)

When should a person be baptized? I leave that with the leaders of the church and the need for believers to submit to that leadership (this is not submission to abusive elders but submission to caring, pastoral leaders in the church). Has a person bearing fruit in his/her life that is in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8 ESV)?

This will be demonstrated over a period of possibly years of Christian growth. As for me, I’d rather wait some months – even years – to be sure a person’s faith in Jesus is real and he/she is growing in the faith before baptising in water.

For the Philippian jailer, baptism was soon after his salvation. For others it may be years later. I pray that church leaders will be given wisdom in making these kinds of decisions and that they will engage in open communication – with feedback – with the person seeking baptism. This will include giving wisdom if there is a delay in baptism.

See also my other articles on this topic:

Works consulted

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Acts of the Apostles, vol 3. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press. Also available HERE.


[1] Christianity Board, Christian Forums (Christians only), Christian Debate Forum, ‘Regarding baptism’, June 21, 2015, davidnelson#1. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21615-regarding-baptism/#entry256758 (Accessed 9 August 2015).

[2] Ibid., mjrhealth#2.

[3] Ibid.,pom2014.

[4] Ibid., theophilus#8.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[6] Ibid., mjrhealth#14.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#15.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.