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Baptism Controversy

Baptism Controversy

By Ener Cabangis

“In history and prophecy the Word of God portrays the long continued conflict between truth and error. That conflict is yet in progress. Those things which have been, will be repeated. OLD CONTROVERSIES WILL BE REVIVED, and NEW THEORIES WILL BE CONTINUALLY ARISING. But God's people, who in their belief and fulfillment of prophecy have acted a part in the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages, KNOW WHERE THEY STAND. They have an experience that is more precious than fine gold. They are to stand firm as a rock, holding the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end.” (2SM 109.2)

Most recently, a controversy has been erupting in the midst of the believers regarding the proper words to be used in baptism, debating mainly the 19th verse of Matthew 28, which said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

I must admit that when I relinquished my belief in the triune god, and became a non-trinitarian, I also was persuaded that Matthew 28:19 could be a spurious text concocted by the papacy to advance the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the inspired Testimonies by E.G. White mentioned the text many times.

Many believe that Matthew 28:19 was added by the Catholic Church to enforce the creed regarding the belief in the Trinity.

“Only in the fourth century did the formula ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ become customary.” (Bible Cathecism, New Revised Vatican II edition, pg. 164)

However in the Didache, which many scholars today believe to have been written during the first century, we find:

“But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water.” (Didache 7:1)

Wouldn’t this be a great indication that these words were used to baptize even before the doctrine of the Trinity became the norm?

And how can this text be spurious when sister White wrote that these were the very last words of Christ to His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven?

“Christ's last words to His disciples show the importance to be placed on the work of spreading the truth. Just before His ascension He gave them the commission, ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (chap. 28:19, 20).” (TDG 107.4)

Therefore Matthew 28:19 cannot be an interpolation, but if one persists in thinking this, then it does nothing, but to strengthen the skeptics in their skepticism of the inspiration of the books of the Bible, let alone its totality, and also in the writings of Ellen G. White since she quoted this verse many times. Any good Seventh-day Adventist that would deny the validity and inspired inclusion of Matthew 28:19 in the Scriptures would be faced with how they will treat those many pages where EG White cited and quoted that verse.

Others try to use Ellen G. White’s writing against this verse when she wrote in Early Writings, pp. 220,221:

“I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. But I saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another. True seekers for truth need not err; for not only is the Word of God plain and simple in declaring the way of life, but the Holy Spirit is given as a guide in understanding the way to life therein revealed.”

If Matthew 28:19 was one of those verses in the Scriptures that suffered a word or words change, then she would be contradicting if herself as she endorsed this verse many times in her writings, hence a great wonder for me why anyone would try to use her writing to invalidate the verse?

The problem is not with Matthew 28:19, but with how men appropriated the verse to the erroneous doctrine of the Trinity because this verse was never meant to teach that doctrine.

We know that the Bible is both a historical and prophetical Book and I believe that the Bible has prophesied that the remnant church will have a prophet in her midst (Rev. 12:17; 19:10) in the person of sister White, and she indicated that conversations or letters dealing with common subjects that the people are not to consider her words under the special inspiration of the Spirit, thereby implying that her inspiration are on the religious subjects. Here it is:

“There are times when common things must be stated, common thoughts must occupy the mind, common letters must be written and information given that has passed from one to another of the workers. Such words, such information, are not given under the special inspiration of the Spirit of God. QUESTIONS ARE ASKED AT TIMES THAT ARE NOT UPON RELIGIOUS SUBJECTS AT ALL, and these questions must be answered. We converse about houses and lands, trades to be made, and locations for our institutions, their advantages and disadvantages.” (Manuscript 107, 1909)

And her warning for us.

“When the Testimonies, which were once believed, are doubted and given up, Satan knows the deceived ones will not stop at this; and he redoubles his efforts till he launches them into open rebellion, which becomes incurable and ends in destruction. By giving place to doubts and unbelief in regard to the work of God, and by cherishing feelings of distrust and cruel jealousies, they are preparing themselves for complete deception. They rise up with bitter feelings against the ones who dare to speak of their errors and reprove their sins.” (CCh 94.1)

In her book, volume 3 of Spiritual Gifts, she wrote in the Preface:

“In presenting this, my third little volume, to the public, I am comforted with the conviction that the Lord has made me his humble instrument in shedding SOME RAYS OF PRECIOUS LIGHT UPON THE PAST…”

Then in page 9:

“‘WE’ present as the ground-work of the SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE of the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, THE ORIGINAL COMMISSION.” (3SG 9.1)

This book was published in 1864, just a year after the church became a denomination under the name Seventh-day Adventist.

So when she wrote, “We present as the groundwork…,” the “We” referred to the church when it was NON-TRINITARIAN. This is important for us to know because as a non-trinitarian denomination, they were baptizing under this original commission.

Let’s prove this showing in the next paragraphs:

“Mark 16:15-20. ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; But he that believeth not shall be damned… And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.’
Matthew 28:18-20. ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go Ye, therefore, and teach all nations, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’
This high commission relates to the gospel, to faith, TO BAPTISM, to salvation, and to spiritual gifts. The gospel was to be preached as long as there were sinners to hear it. Faith is equally requisite throughout the Christian age. BAPTISM IS A PERPETUAL ORDINANCE IN THE CHURCH, AND ‘THE MINISTERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY’ BAPTIZE IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST BECAUSE THE ORIGINAL COMMISSION REQUIRES IT. The terms of salvation stated in this commission were to be held out as long as sinners might be saved.” (3SG 9.1-4)

And who were these ministers she primarily referred to in the nineteenth century? Undoubtedly the ministers in her own non-trinitarian Seventh-day Adventist church during her time. And they baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And for what reason? She said, “because the original commission requires it,” which was from the Lord, and not from the papacy in the second century or even in the 4th century when the papacy claimed it became “customary.”

“The word which the Lord has given to me FOR OUR MINISTERS AND OUR CHURCHES IS, ‘Go forward.’ ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST...’” (TM 417.2)

This is indeed “RAYS OF PRECIOUS LIGHT UPON THE PAST.”

So if we are asked if the SDA pioneers ever baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the answer is unequivocally yes, because she said, the “original commission” requires it.

This controversy over what words to use in baptism is not new, but as old as Bible times since the rite was instituted. Notice that the disciples of John the Baptist became prejudice against the disciples of Jesus because they did not use the exact words of the Baptist when they baptized, instead they used the words as they heard from Christ in Matthew 28:19. Let’s read it:

“The prejudice of the Jews was aroused because the disciples of Jesus did not use the EXACT WORDS of John in the rite of baptism. John baptized unto repentance, BUT THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS, ON PROFESSION OF THE FAITH, BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT. The teachings of John were in perfect harmony with those of Jesus, yet his disciples became jealous for fear his influence was diminishing. A DISPUTE AROSE BETWEEN THEM AND THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS IN REGARD TO THE ‘FORM OF WORDS’ PROPER TO USE AT BAPTISM, and finally as to the right of the latter to baptize at all.” (2SP 136.3)

This clearly pointed out that the “form of words” PROPER to use in baptism for the disciples of Christ were the words instructed to them by our Lord in Matthew 28:19.

And so what about those records of baptism in the acts of the apostles done only in the name of Jesus found in the book of Acts (2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16)?

Let me cite one of them and if we can get clarity on it, then it should suffice that the answer is also applicable on all of the other verses.

“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, THEY WERE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS.” (Acts 19:1-5)

And here is the record of that same event in the Testimonies:

“Then the apostle [Paul] set before them the great truths that are the foundation of the Christian's hope… HE REPEATED THE SAVIOUR'S COMMISSION TO HIS DISCIPLES: ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST.’ Matthew 28:18, 19…
With deep interest and grateful, wondering joy the brethren listened to Paul's words. By faith they grasped the wonderful truth of Christ's atoning sacrifice and received Him as their Redeemer. THEY WERE THEN BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF JESUS...” (AA 282,283)

Here sister White clearly stated that Paul repeated the Saviour’s commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:18,19, which was the words they were to use in baptizing, and then “they were baptized in the name of Jesus.” This last part does not allude to Matthew 28:19, but to verse 18 when Christ said “…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Paul cannot contradict himself by repeating the words to use to baptize and then baptize them saying differently.

These records of baptizing in the name of Jesus is alluding to whose authority they were to perform the rite of baptism, in the name or authority that was given to Jesus.

“‘All power’ are the words used to show the AUTHORITY of Jesus Christ. ‘Is given unto me,’ as Mediator between God and man. ‘Teach all nations,’ for the purpose of persuading them to become My disciples. ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’ - the three great personal powers, the authorities of heaven. ‘And, lo, I am with you,’ in the work—to guide you, to comfort you, to sanctify and sustain you in this aggressive warfare; to render you successful in bringing many souls to acknowledge the truth, confessing their sins.” (Lt205-1901}

“The disciples were to carry THEIR WORK forward IN CHRIST’S NAME. Their every word and act was to fasten attention on His name, as possessing that vital POWER by which sinners may be saved. Their faith was to center in Him who is the source of mercy and power. In His name they were to present their petitions to the Father, and they would receive answer.” (AA 28.2)

So the disciples were to continue the work of Christ in His name.

When Peter went into the temple as recorded in Acts 4, he began to teach the people and preached Jesus, and for this cause him and John were brought in the midst of the religious leaders and faced interrogation.

When the high priest asked Peter,

“…By what POWER, or by what NAME, have ye done this?” (Acts 4:7)

Peter replied,

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that BY THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” “Neither is there salvation in any other: FOR THERE IS NONE OTHER NAME under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (vss. 10,12)

Their badge of authority for teaching and preaching religious matters was by the name or authority of Jesus. All the records in the book of Acts that mentioned the baptism performed by the apostles were not an allusion to the “form of words” to be used, but the mention of Jesus’ name was alluding to the authority that gave them the right to preach, teach, heal, and to baptize.

However, when they baptized, the form of words that they used were the ones instructed by the Lord in Matthew 28:19.

“They were to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. CHRIST’S NAME was to be their watchword, their badge of distinction, their bond of union, THE AUTHORITY FOR THEIR COURSE OF ACTION, and the source of their success. Nothing was to be recognized in His kingdom that did not bear His name and superscription.” (AA 28.2)

Did you notice the distinction? The name of Jesus was their authority for the course of their action, but when they acted upon the rite of baptizing a believer, the words they used was in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

All the mentions of the baptism in the name of Christ done by the acts of the apostles allude to Matthew 28:18 when Jesus told them that “…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” The word “power” is the same Hebrew word for the word “authority” in Matthew 7:29 when Jesus taught as one having authority, and by that He commissioned His disciples to continue His work (John 14:12), and baptize those that will believe on them with the proper words to use as stated in Matthew 28:19.

But if we continue to insist that the disciples used form of words other than what was instructed, then it creates issues among the believers because:

a) where did they get the idea to deviate from the proper form of words as instructed by the Lord?

b) it creates people to suspect Matthew 28:19 as spurious.

c) it causes believers to suspect those portions of the Testimonies as error or corrupted, and once a person choose this path, he will begin to repeat it on other subjects that may not be agreeable to his understanding of the Scriptures.

My high hope and prayer for this study is that it will settle the controversy in each minds and unite in this ray of light when we baptize new believers so that we as believers in the Father and in His Son may also believe in the agency of the Holy Spirit without fear that Matthew 28:19 was interpolated for the promulgation of the doctrine of the Trinity, because this was never instructed by our Lord to teach an fallacious concept of God.

God bless.