The question of the kind of authority invested in individual believers and ordained clergy is much-debated. The title of this post is not really about baptism, but about the relationship between ‘clergy’ and ‘lay’ (or ‘pastors’ and ‘flock’), what authority looks like and where it lies.
The Reformers seem to be clear that the authority of Christ was invested in the whole church. But this was understood by theologians like John Owen to be a corporate authority, and that there were privileges and responsibilities that could be applied to the church corporately that could not be applied to individual believers. He wrote,
“That this power under the name of the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’, was originally granted to the whole professing Church of believers, and that it is utterly impossible it reside in any other, who is subject unto death, or if so, be renewed upon any occasional intermission, is fully proved by all Protestant writers”. (The True Nature of a Gospel Church, XVI, 15).
Perhaps the best summary of his view is expressed thus:
“But as the whole Church-power is committed unto the whole Church by Christ, so all that are called unto the peculiar exercise of any part of it, by virtue of office-authority, do receive that authority from him by the only way of the communication of it – namely, by his Word and Spirit, through the ministry of the Church.” (ibid.)
In short, it seems that all believers have all Christ’s authority, but not all are called to exercise that authority publicly. It is thus a matter of Church order that we see some people exercising public authority within the church, while others do not. Not all have all the gifts. Not all are teachers.
Levi P. Cuir in his article “Priesthood of all Believers” rightly stresses the corporate nature of our priesthood, but extends the priestly authority of the individual to every area of church life even in public ministry. Thus he concludes that the entire church is given the authority to baptize, without qualifying it as the Reformers would have done. Let me quote part of it here, picking up at his chapter on Corporate Responsibility:-
“God’s calling for the community of believers is always a corporate concept. It has an intensely personal element, but it is never isolated individualism. Every believer is expected to function as a faithful and responsible part of the community (Eph. 2:19f, Rom. 12:4). This speaks of a personal implication of God’s call to the entire people of God. Evidently, what is true of the entire people of God as a community is equally true to all its members. With this regard, the significance of the responsibility is reduced when the community diminishes the privileges of each member. [So far, so good (JB)] In the same way, the effect of the privilege is hindered when the responsibility is not emphasized. … Each believer is a priest and thus, each one is called toward the ministry.The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the whole people of God as priests for the ministry. … The entire church is given the authority to baptize [italics mine (JB), not Cuir's]. Thus, every Christian has the power to baptize. Even the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a charge given to the whole church. Every Christian is empowered to take an active role in serving the meal.
For what it’s worth, I think Cuir’s view helpfully calls Christians to their priestly responsibilities, but ultimately ends up flattening the distinctions (of authority) that we find in the New Testament. In other words, if every Christian has authority to do everything (in public as well as in private), then why did Paul think it fit and necessary to instruct Titus to appoint elders? Whenever you appoint a person within the church authority is present. The Reformers understood this.