baptism |ˈbapˌtizəm| - noun: the immersion in water of a believer into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. ed note: This is not a deep "be all/end all" post on baptism. I've written on it a few times in the past - it is just some thoughts I've had the last few days on the subject. There are and have been deep and divisive discussions on this topic for MANY years. This is not my "weigh-in" on those discussions.
The subject of “Re-Baptism” goes way back. Way back. Really all the way back to Acts 19 where some had been baptized by John’s baptism and need to be baptized again. But I’ve never liked the term “re-baptism” for Ephesians 4 says there is “one baptism” and this along side of one Lord and one hope. In the Bible there are, I think, about seven baptisms mentioned: the baptism of John (a baptism of repentance in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of Christ), the baptism of fire (a baptism into (a baptism of judgement), the baptism in the wilderness (or of Moses), among others. But by the time you come to the Ephesians passage there is only one baptism. While it is a logical and innocent term it is an incorrect one. If there is at this point “one” baptism a person cannot be “re-baptized.” I wouldn’t slap someone down over this question but I do inwardly cringe anytime I hear someone say something like: “We had 4 baptisms at camp. One of those was a ‘re-baptism.’” I feel as though they are downgrading that baptism.
But there’s a problem: What do you do if someone who you know their baptism to have been valid is baptized again? I mean, you baptized them the first time, you talked to them, you asked about their decision, their understanding of the purpose, their repentance. Here’s the answer to the problem: You can’t know. You can do all you can but that is all you can do. You can’t read hearts, you can’t know motives. I’ve said for over 20 years you should, especially with children, have them write out what they are doing and why - because their understanding of their understanding will grow dim over the years and it would be nice if they could go back and read their younger self’s insight into the earlier decision.
I preached in south Alabama for about 9 months. The day before I left to move to Hamilton an older lady - at least in her 80’s, maybe in her 90’s met me at the church building. She said she needed to talk. Whether it was something I had preached or taught or just that she thought it was safe since I was moving the next day far away, she said “I’ve had serious questions about my baptism for over 40 years. I feel I need to be baptized just to be sure.” What would you do?
While at Granny White late one Wednesday afternoon one of the deacons stopped by the office. He has always a deeply reflective man. He said: “I want this to be private, for I don’t want to cause any strife, but I was baptized when I was very young and I am just not sure that I understood what I was doing. It has bothered me for years. Would you baptize me?” What would you do?
If someone is unsure as to the effectiveness, original purpose, etc of their baptism they need to be sure.
But it does present some real issues to consider. Some small, some larger: If a person is baptized who you had earlier baptized and your practice is to give a Bible to new Christians: do you give them another Bible? What do you say publicly? Did the guy at Granny White need to resign as a deacon? What if he’d been an elder - if he now a novice?
I see another issue. Some hold the “alien-sinner” position when it comes to M, D, R. If so, could a person just say: “Well I didn’t understand what I was doing” and divorce over and over and keep on saying “I didn’t understand” and be baptized each time they they wanted to re-marry?
Ultimately: If a person comes to believe their baptism was not right - for whatever reason it is not re-baptism but a person being baptized for the right reason, right way, etc - and only the person knows. Just some thoughts this morning.