Since I have some break time ahead of me, I’m going to do several (3?) posts on Rebaptism. I know there are several angles to this subject, varying according to your own denominational preference. I am going to be writing from my position as an evangelical, a Southern Baptist and a lifelong minister to youth.
It will be impossible for me to write these posts without using illustrations, and yes, those illustrations will be related to real events that I’ve experienced. If that gets close to home with people who know me, I assure you I’m not taking aim at you at all.
I’m going to write about rebaptism, an issue that has deeply affected and weakened my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, and an issue that touches every Christian communion I am aware of in some way.
Rebaptism is a very emotional issue. One reason we don’t talk about it is how quickly it becomes an occasion for disagreement and division. I have seen many tears and heard many angry words over this subject. Just thinking about it and remembering what I have experienced has brought strong emotions back to me, even as I wrote.
Baptism stands at the entrance to the Christian experience. Christians may differ on exactly where that doorway occurs in relation to faith or forgiveness, and they may quibble about how directly that doorway leads into full communion in the church, but all Christians place baptism at the beginning of the Christian life, and assume that those who walk through it are, in some way, a part of the visible people of God.
In baptism, all Christians believe divine promises are heard. All Christians believe that baptism is, in various and very diverse ways, related to faith. All Christians believe that when the Church baptizes, it speaks a word from God to the one baptized, and a word to all Christians and all other persons who know the one baptized.
Amidst all the diverse and differing beliefs regarding baptism, there is a great common belief: This person is a part of God’s people, and is the recipient of God’s great promises in the Gospel.
I say all of this to make one point: For anyone to reject baptism- either their own or another’s- is a powerful and serious statement. It is powerfully divisive.
To reject one’s own baptism is to say something deeply revealing about what one believes about baptism, but more importantly, it is to say something revealing regarding the Gospel itself.
Rebaptism and the rejection of baptism that precedes it are full of ironies.
For example, my own Southern Baptist tradition does not believe in baptismal regeneration nor in the efficacy of baptism being tied to a particular congregation, yet Southern Baptists reject the baptisms of Roman Catholics- whether as adult believers or as infants- while the Roman Catholic church, which does believe the waters of baptism remove sin and that their church is the one and only true church, accepts the baptisms of Southern Baptists as valid.
It is Roman Catholics and most mainline Protestants who will refuse to rebaptize, while evangelicals often will rebaptize the same person multiple times over a period of a few years. Rebaptism by request for sentimental reasons- “My wife is being baptized and I want to be rebaptized with her”- is now commonplace.
Evangelicals will justify their own rebaptisms glibly, as if nothing were at stake at all in saying “I was baptized when I was 12, but I didn’t know what I was doing.” In fact, such a statement, while obviously meaningful as a description of an individual’s journey, has deep implications for the church and the Gospel.
In my own tradition, churches frequently refuse to accept other evangelicals baptized on their profession of faith, including other Baptists, without rebaptism. Such a posture has enormous implications regarding baptism, the Gospel and the church.
Those being rebaptized are seldom asked about their previous baptism, discipleship or Christian experience. Those who baptized and received them as Christians are left to assume they were wrong.
But most evangelicals seem clueless as to the seriousness of the issue of rebaptism. Submerged in the clamor for church growth, baptism has become a generator of statistics, and in that role rebaptism is seen as a blessing.
Only a few critics have the courage to point out that many “growing, evangelistic” churches are baptizing a percentage of their own members 2 and 3 times, while they are rebaptizing other Christians and acting as if these are conversions when they are not.
What does rebaptism look like among evangelicals today?
It looks like this:
A growing church requires anyone not immersed in a Southern Baptist Church to be rebaptized.
An evangelistic crusade at a church-related college results in over 200 decisions. Almost 2/3rds initially indicate that they are not Christians. Many will be rebaptized, even though they came to a Christian school after professing faith in Christ at their home churches for years. A local church will rebaptize many of these students who were baptized in their home churches.
After a revival, several of the deacons of a Baptist church- and the pastor’s wife and children- are rebaptized. The deacons continue serving as deacons.
A Baptist woman marries a Pentecostal man. The pastor who marries them says it would be a good idea of the man were rebaptized.
A woman is saved in a Baptist church. Her husband and children all ask to be rebaptized with her.
The entire youth group returns from summer camp and the youth minister asks the pastor that all the students be rebaptized. These are all the children of church leaders, and all were baptized in the past. The pastor baptizes them all at the next worship service.
A young adult woman asks her pastor to rebaptize her because, after a recent Beth Moore conference, she’s much more serious about her faith and wants to say that she’s starting over as a Christian.
A pastor tells the congregation that he is rebaptizing a man because, the man “just wants to be sure” that he’s a Christian.
A girl at a Christian school is rebaptized for the 4th time in 2 years. A teacher asks the pastor why, and he says “I don’t want to discourage her in her walk with Christ.”
A woman tells her pastor that she has not been living as a Christian the past few years, and now she wants to be resaved and rebaptized.
A man immersed in believer’s baptism in a Presbyterian church is told that in order to join a Baptist church he’s visiting, he must be rebaptized because Presbyterians believe in infant baptism.
There could be a hundred more examples. These are sufficient to get us started.
This is what rebaptism looks like. In my next post, I’ll look at where rebaptism comes from in evangelical belief, and what rebaptism has done to the Christians and churches where it is routinely practiced.
[Note: I know that many of my readers have probably been rebaptized. I’m not trying to start an argument with you. I am sure some of the pastors reading this post have rebaptized in cases where it seemed their best judgment to do so. I am not questioning your judgment. I am simply addressing a topic that I believe is a serious problem, and one that is rarely ever discussed.]