Jesus gave a clear directive for the disciples to baptize "them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). While there are some scriptures that refer to baptism in Jesus' name without specifically mentioning the Father and the Holy Spirit, none of these contradicts Jesus' instruction to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the Bible, a "name" implied not merely what a person was called but also their reputation, character and entire being; therefore, references to the "name of Jesus" speak to the same righteous character of God the Father, which is imparted to believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. We should ensure that we give proper emphasis to the role of God the Father and His Spirit in the conversion process.
We conclude that statements about baptizing in the name of Jesus were simply an abbreviated reference to the same practice described by Jesus Christ in Matthew 28:19. The United Church of God complies with this scripturally-supported practice in obedience to the words of Jesus Christ by baptizing disciples into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Taking on the name of God the Father
At times, the book of Acts refers to baptism "in the name of Jesus" (Acts 2:38), "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 10:48) and "in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). Additionally, Galatians 3:27 states that we are baptized "into Christ." However, not one of these verses contradicts or invalidates Christ's instruction in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Concerning these phrases, consider also Paul's insight in Ephesians 3:14-15, that "the whole family in heaven and earth is named" after "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Being "named" after the Father speaks to the broader concept of sharing in His character and essence. In this way, the name of Jesus Christ cannot be distinguished from the name of God the Father, and the goal for Christians is to take on the family name of God by developing righteous character through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. This idea is also enshrined in the Third Commandment: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). In addition to not degrading the name of God by using it carelessly or as a curse, this implies that we must not dishonor the reputation of God by practicing sin after committing our lives to Him.
How the Father, Son and Spirit fit together in baptism
Baptism initiates a covenant relationship with God the Father that is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the transformational power of God that dwells in us. This agrees with the teaching of Paul, who said, "You were washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). While God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all acknowledged as part of the process of baptism in Matthew 28:19, we understand the Spirit is the power that proceeds from God and Jesus Christ to empower us to live a righteous life, not a "third person" in a Trinity. For more information, see Does Matthew 28 verse 19 Prove the Trinity? and our free study aid Is God a Trinity?
What should we do?
With these considerations, our practice is to follow the admonition of Jesus Christ by "baptizing [disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded" (Matthew 28:19). In doing so, we emphasize that the covenant made at baptism represents reconciliation to God the Father through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which allows us to receive the Holy Spirit for the purpose of changing our lives and becoming a new, spiritual creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).