UPDATE: Lindsey Williams has added his take on the question.
NOTE: There are several IM posts on Rebaptism in an SBC context. Use the search function and they are on the first page.
The Evangelical Untouchables are seven diverse evangelicals who will give us a window into what’s happening in evangelicalism today.
Who are the Evangelical Untouchables?
Michael Patton is the director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, blogs at Parchment and Pen and is one of the teachers on The Theology Program.
Tony Kummer is on staff at a Southern Baptist Church in the midwest and blogs at SBC Voices.
Ryan Couch is a Calvary Chapel pastor in Oregon, and blogs at Small Town Preacher.
Kirk Cowell pastors a Church of Christ in North Carolina. He blogs at A Soul In Training.
Lindsey Williams is planting a PCA Church in North Carolina, and blogs at From Acorns to Oaks.
Matt Edwards is a small groups pastor in a Non-denominational/Bible church in Washington, and blogs at Awaiting Redemption.
Darrell Young pastors a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This episode’s question: “Evangelicals love to convert and baptize other people’s church members.
Recently, I received word that one of the elders of a church where I served as supply pastor for many years had been baptized and proclaimed himself a new Christian. This was a man I discipled, prayed with, ministered with and was constantly encouraged by in my own ministry. While I’m not God, all my understanding of the evidence of true faith says he was a Christian. Now he’s been told by his new church that all those years- including years serving as an elder- were spent as an unconverted person.
Sometimes this happens with a stress on questioning assurance. Sometimes it comes because of the claims of the church involved.
How do you process, in your own understanding of conversion, grace and baptism, the “conversion” of your own church members into “new converts” at other churches? Would you tell a person who considered themselves a Christian that they weren’t, and needed to be rebaptized?”
Michael Patton (Independent/Bible Church): How do you process, in your own understanding of conversion, grace and baptism, the “conversion” of your own church members into “new converts” at other churches? Would you tell a person who considered themselves a Christian that they weren’t, and needed to be rebaptized?
Let me start by saying that I do believe that there are a lot of unconverted people in the pews of Evangelical churches everywhere. I never assume that just because someone is a member of this or that church that they have ever truly and personally trusted in Christ. I think one of our biggest problems in pop-Evangelicalism today, ironically, is the discharge of the Gospel. I am not one to continually call people’s assurance into question, but we must realize that there is a faith that does not save, and there are a lot of people in possession of such faith. Making our calling sure is very important.
Having said that, baptism would not be the issue. Baptism is a sign of your conversion, not the conversion itself. Therefore, rarely, would baptism come up unless we were to discover that this person was never truly a believer to begin with. If, upon discovery that this person had never trusted in Christ, the issue would be their trust in Christ. After this, I would discuss baptism. At this point I would think it a good idea for that person to be rebaptized, but we would not push this too much. I think I speak in line with my tradition, but my tradition on these issues is very broad.
Kirk Cowell (Church of Christ): Churches of Christ have historically held a very high view of baptism. A proper conversion in our fellowship involves an adult (loosely defined) who is baptized by immersion as an act of faith and repentance, following a public confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It is generally believed that a person is saved at the moment that he or she rises out of the baptismal waters. We don’t say sinner’s prayers or ask Jesus to come into our hearts. As a consequence, there is a very clear line of demarcation between sinner and saint. Although I’ve known people to leave Churches of Christ and later come to believe that they hadn’t fully received the Holy Spirit, or that they hadn’t properly understood grace, or that they had been indoctrinated into an overly restrictive and sectarian mindset, I don’t personally know of anyone who didn’t think that their conversion experience hadn’t been efficacious for salvation. One thing we’re good at is jumping through all the hoops!
And yet: The fundamental quality of a Christian is that he or she has submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus. I would never tell a people who have done so that they aren’t Christians. They might be misinformed–even badly so–but if the grace of Jesus doesn’t cover a person’s failure to properly grasp the normative process of conversion, then I certainly can’t trust it to cover lust, rebellion, greed and hatred–and we’re all in trouble. It’s been a long time since I could really sympathize with the mindset of folks who think that the same Jesus who said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” in regard to the people carrying out his execution would willingly (if regretfully) send pedobaptists off to hell, unable to forgive their doctrinal error. I’ve often asked my colleagues in ministry why it is that Abraham’s faith alone was credited to him as righteousness if we have to have faith + x (for divergent values of x, depending on your denomination) to be counted righteous? How is it good news if the work of Jesus resulted in it being harder for me to be saved than for Abraham? Wouldn’t I have been better off before the cross? But, of course, Paul’s point is that our God has, through Jesus, extended to all people the opportunity to be reckoned righteous in exactly the same way that Abraham was.
The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousnessâ€”for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
If it were just me making the call (and it isn’t), folks whose conversion process differ from the template we teach would be welcomed as full, participating members of our congregation, but we would simulatenously continue to teach that our tradition is believer’s immersion and it is our belief that such practice is in harmony with the best reading of the scripture. That might be a tricky balance to maintain, but I don’t know how else to live out the fruit of the Spirit in this regard: love for all who confess Jesus, joy in our mutual service, peace in spite of our differences, patience while Jesus leads all of us more fully into his truth, kindness to people who read the Bible differently than I do, goodness (not doctrinal conformity) as our calling, and yet faithfulness to my Lord and to the scriptures as I understand them. In a lot of ways it would be easier to say clearly “you’re in” or “you’re out,” but I see more wisdom in saying “I love you in the Lord; let’s walk together and keep talking about this one.”
Tony Kummer (Southern Baptist): Thereâ€™s a joke down in Louisville that the largest Baptist church in the city is actually Southeast Christian Church. Maybe thatâ€™s just seminary humor, but something about it rings true. Our little town is similar. All the churches take turns loosing membership to whichever church has momentum (newest buildings, dynamic preacher, cool music).
I donâ€™t call that conversion, just church-shopping. The current hot church is a Christian church that blends Campbellite doctrine with attractional church growth techniques. Itâ€™s a bit eclectic, but they still like to baptize former Southern Baptists. We believe this is an invalid use of the ordinance. Baptism should be a one-time symbolic act of public confession to faith in Christ. Itâ€™s a testimony to conversion, and it does not contribute to justification.
We discourage re-baptizing, mainly because it confuses the symbolism of the resurrection, which is a one-time deal. We make exception for people not literally â€œdunkedâ€ since we insist (with pompous Greek exegesis) that Baptism = dunked. I would counsel people to find assurance in personally knowing Jesus, not in the ordinance of Baptism.
Lindsey Williams (Presbyterian Church in America):First of all, I would say that as a pastor I can never guarantee someone’s conversion. I know plenty of people who have shown all the evidences of faith, and yet years later seem to have turned away from that faith which they professed (1 John 2:19). As pastors we are called to investigate and see if people give a credible profession of faith and show the fruits of such a faith before we admit them as communing members in a church. We are then called to treat those people as “believers” and encourage them in their faith and in the assurance of that faith. But it is entirely possible that an elder in my own church could end up not being a believer down the road. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 helps to keep me from being too consumed with whether or not previous people in my church were believers or not should they be “new converts” in a church that preaches the true gospel. Regardless, the credit goes to God and it doesn’t diminish God using me whether as a planter or as one who waters (either way, I can be confident God used me!). Obviously, the key issue is whether or not this new church is actually preaching the gospel and not some heresy. There are Christian traditions that confuse assurance of salvation with salvation itself, so it is possible that there is merely a poor teaching as it relates to these respective terms, and that is the cause for their “new conversion”
I would most certainly tell someone they aren’t a Christian if they don’t assent to the truths of the gospel. However, it gets trickier when it comes to addressing their Christian experience. There must be some evidence of “good works” in their life, but it is difficult to get a clear picture depending on how long you have known this person (and allowing for the reality of temporary backsliding). I would actually never rebaptize someone if they had already been baptized by an ordained minister in the name of the Trinity with water. In my denomination there is some debate as to the question of someone baptized in a Catholic church. The basic denominational position (which I tend to agree with) is that as long as the baptism meets the criteria above, then it is a legitimate baptism (Ephesians 4:5). The basic reformed position is that baptism is not ultimately about what we have to say to God, but what God has to say about us. It is God’s sacrament to us, not our sacrament given to God. We baptize those who profess faith, but we also baptize the children of those who profess faith precisely because God has declared that he has a special interest in the children of those in the covenant community (1 Cor. 7:14; Genesis 17; Acts 2:38,39; Colossians 2:11-12). This may be a whole other discussion topic on the question of infant baptism, but we’ll just assume I’m right on this and move on. A person’s actual conversion is not necessary for baptism, only the profession of faith on in the case of an infant (the profession of their parent’s faith). This is a good thing, because the whole point is that we can never be totally sure of someone’s conversion. Only God can. Furthermore, infant baptism has the exact same meaning as an adult baptism. Baptism does signify the signs of conversion like the remission of sins, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the only difference is that with a child we look to that from a different perspective in time. We hope that he will one day embrace all that baptism signifies. With an adult, he simply is baptized as one who has already embraced its significance. The difference between the two is only a matter of chronology (not unlike Abraham’s faith in the coming Christ as compared to our faith in the Christ who has already come). I’m writing this now at 2am, so pardon me if I have not sufficiently addressed this topic from my theological position.
Darrell Young (Christian and Missionary Alliance): I will leave it to some of the other Untouchables to articulate the theological nuances of this. I’ll just relate how some of this has worked out for me. The Internet Monk’s frustration over his friend is understandable. I had seen a man and his family through conversion, baptism, growth, membership, the whole deal, only to have him leave over an awkward conflict. He began reporting real spiritual progress in his next church. Then, during that same season, other fringe people left us for that same church and promptly became drawn right into it. While I didn’t like any of this, and doubted myself, it did give me a greater sensitivity when the opposite happened.
As for the person who thinks they are saved, I certainly would not base my opinion on which church they were from. I would simply get to know them, and should be able to get a good sense of their understanding and acceptance of the Gospel. From a church leadership standpoint this becomes important to discern if they want to get baptized and become a member. We hope to take only the truly converted through this. Our denomination requires “believer’s baptism” for membership. This can be frustrating for those baptized as infants, but its who we are and what we believe. We don’t twist arms for people to get rebaptized, but will do it if they want. At the same time, we don’t think this says anything about when they became converted. We would not take someone in from another denomination and insist they were not saved, must now convert and be rebaptized. In our tradition you can attend and even be involved in certain ways, and even for years, without becoming a member. We would simply start to walk along together and let the Lord work it all out.
Matt Edwards (Independent/Bible Church): he number one question we get about our church is â€œYou guys arenâ€™t some kind of cult, are you?â€ There is no offering plate passed, no baptismal, no membership, and no senior pastor. Itâ€™s weird for a lot of people, but itâ€™s who we are. We are â€œLow Church Gone Wild.â€ So, there is no doubt in my mind that former attendees are asked to get doubled dipped when they join other churches. Itâ€™s sad, but Iâ€™m not losing any sleep over it. I grew up in the Baptist church. We double dipped people with extreme prejudice. If you wanted to be a part of our church, your baptism needed to be â€œon the right side of your salvation.â€ My dad is a Baptist and my mom is a Roman Catholic. If my mom was ever to join my dadâ€™s church, sheâ€™d have to get double dipped (and thatâ€™s not going to happen).
I taught Sunday school to young married couples at an SBC church years ago. This great young couple joined our classâ€”the wife was from an SBC background and the husband was from a Methodist background. The husband had a kind of religious awakening when he got married and had kids. When they joined our church, he was asked to get re-baptized. He initially responded, â€œI was baptized as a baby. Why do I need to get baptized again?â€
He eventually consented to the baptism, not because he felt he needed it, but because the church required it. Our class all joined him at the baptismal, and as he was drying off I heard his wife ask him, â€œDid it take this time?â€ He laughed and said, â€œI hope so.â€ The whole experience turned me off to the practice of re-baptism. My friend obviously didnâ€™t feel the need to be re-baptized, but he did it because it was best for his family. It wasnâ€™t an act of faith; it was ecclesiastic hoop-jumping.
How do I respond to other churches converting and/or re-baptizing former attendees of my church? I donâ€™t let it get to me. It says more about that church than it does the legitimacy of that personâ€™s faith or baptism. I have zero expectations of most churches. Churches are controlling and sometimes abusive. But, I would also admit that perhaps the person did find something in this church that they didnâ€™t find in my church. Different strokes for different folks. Maybe God is doing something new in their life. Does my understanding of conversion lead me to convert people of other denominations? Yes and no. There are people who have been sitting in the pews of my church for 30 years who need to be converted. Obviously we are not reaching them. If the Presbyterian church down the street can convert them, praise God. If we can reach their members better than them, praise God. Like I said, different strokes for different folks. But do we feel the need to convert and re-baptize members of other denominations? Not if that church affirms the Nicene Creed. In my mind, if someone believes in the Trinity and the death and resurrection of Jesus, and if they have â€œfaith,â€ then they donâ€™t need to be converted. I allow for re-baptism if someone thinks that their first baptism was not an act of faith, but I would not try to persuade someone to get double dipped.
Ryan Couch (Calvary Chapel): Like most church planters, Iâ€™ve never set out to â€œstealâ€ people from other churches. But like all church plants weâ€™ve had many people come to us from other churches over the last 7 years. That being said I have never told any Christian that they need to be re-baptized into our church or our brand of Christianity. However if someone who believed themselves to be a Christian because they were raised in the church or went forward during an altar call yet later realized that they were never truly converted; I would not hesitate to ratify that revelation by praying with them for salvation, baptizing (or re-baptizing) them in obedience to Scripture, and discipling them so that they can truly bear fruits worthy of repentance.
In my opinion it is the height of arrogance to assume that people are not truly converted unless they make that decision in your church. It reeks of sectarianism and it is exactly what is wrong with the Church. There is only one baptism into one Church (1 Cor. 12:13). Granted there are many wacko â€œchurchesâ€ and religious groups that sadly attach Jesusâ€™ name to their idiocy. When â€œconvertsâ€ arrive to our church from those cults and pseudo-churches we do not hesitate to let them know that they were fed a false gospel and are in need of true conversion, baptism into Jesusâ€™ Church, and discipleship to strip away all the heresy and root them in the essentials of Christianity.
This arrogant sectarianism stems from a general misconception regarding salvation in evangelical circles. Responding to an altar call, raising your hand (while everyoneâ€™s eyes are closed and head is bowed) apparently to join some secret club does not equal conversion. Conversion happens when election and faith working in tandem revolutionize a life which is then substantiated by works that were already prepared by God and now made possible to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). True conversion is not a onetime response, it is a life of faith (Romans 1:17) that perpetually abides in Christ and rests in the finished work of the cross. A church with poor soteriology that wrongly believes that a person must get re-saved every time they sin will make these unbiblical demands of their people so that they can inflate their numbers to impress headquarters.