By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: If one is a member of the Christian Church, does he have to be “rebaptized” to become a member of the Lord’s church? What about John’s baptism in Acts 19.3-5 regarding this? Is it left up to the elders to decide this question, and if a church is without elders, who makes the decision?
Reply: In response to the first question, all cases are not the same; therefore, each individual case must be considered in the light of the Scriptures. The New Testament teaches that one must submit to the conditions of salvation – faith, repentance, confession and baptism (Heb. 11:6; Acts 17:30; Rom. 10: 10; Gal. 3:27). One must be immersed (Rom. 6:3,4; Col. 2:12) for the proper reason (remission of sins, Acts 2:38). The real issue is: has one submitted to these conditions? There are no qualifications given in the Scriptures for the person doing the baptizing. The validity of one’s baptism is not dependent upon the character or the status of the person doing the baptizing. Alexander Campbell and his wife, his father and mother, and his sisters (seven persons total) were baptized by Matthias Luce, a Baptist preacher. Campbell had stipulated that the baptism be performed precisely according to the pattern in the New Testament. Luce first objected, as it was contrary to Baptist usage; but he finally consented, remarking that he believed they were right and that he would run the risk of censure (Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. 1, pp. 397-98).
These points are established: (1) that for one to be scripturally baptized, he must submit to the conditions of salvation set forth in the New Testament and (2) that the validity of one’s baptism is not dependent upon the one doing the baptizing. Therefore, we conclude that it is possible for one to be scripturally baptized by a preacher of the Christian Church. This is certainly not to say that everyone in the Christian Church has been scripturally baptized. No doubt many in that body have never obeyed the gospel. Therefore, to properly answer the querist, we cannot arrive at a “blanket” conclusion (one and one only) that win cover all cases of those coming from the Christian Church desiring to become members of the Lord’s church.
When one is scripturally baptized, the Lord adds him to His church (Acts 2:47), not the local church, but the universal church – a spiritual fellowship. One may at the same time, or later, identify himself with a local church (Acts 9:26). Or, although having been scripturally baptized, he might even at the same time or later, identify himself with some unscriptural body (such as the Christian Church), not knowing or understanding fully at least, the identity of the Lord’s church. Nevertheless, he was scripturally baptized, and we cannot say that this action nullified his former obedience. We cannot believe that the multitude on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) understood all about the church when about three thousand were baptized. But the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47). All of us had much to learn when we were baptized. But the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47). All of us had much to learn when we were baptized, and we are still learning.
We must be aware that not all religious bodies practice scriptural baptism. The Baptists believe and teach that one is saved before baptism, but they make it a necessary condition to enter the Baptist church. The Christian Church generally teaches baptism for the remission of sins, yet some practice open membership. So, when one comes from the Christian Church, it does not necessarily mean that he has ben scripturally baptized. On the other hand, we are not to conclude that everyone who comes from the Christian Church must be “rebaptized.” (There is only one baptism, Eph. 4:5, so the term “rebaptized” is an accommodative term.) We must also keep in mind that all baptisms for the remission of sins, but they baptize in the name of “Jesus Only.” Again, we emphasize that each baptism of one desiring to become a member of the Lord’s church must be examined in the light of what the Scriptures teach.
As to John’s baptism, referred to in Acts 19:3-5, it grew out of repentance (Mk. 1:4) as John was preparing the people for Christ. And even though it was for the remission of sins (Mk. 1:4), it was not in the name of Christ. John’s baptism was not in operation when those at Ephesus had been baptized into it. Apollos was continuing to preach it, “knowing only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). Those at Ephesus were “rebaptized” because they had been baptized into John’s baptism after it had been discontinued and after Christ’s baptism had gone into effect. This is not an established precedent for everyone coming out of the Christian Church and desiring fellowship in the Lord’s church. The case at Ephesus was an established matter without exception, whereas there is no one rule that applies to everyone coming out of the Christian Church to become a member of the Lord’s church.
As to who is to decide on the validity of a person’s baptism in such a case inquired about, the Holy Spirit has already revealed the pattern in the Scriptures. A person either has, or has not, conformed to that pattern. The decision of elders, or other men where there are no elders, will not change the status of the candidate one way or the other. The issue is: has the person been scripturally baptized? If one finds that he has not been scripturally baptized (having been shown by the Scriptures), then he should make himself right by doing precisely what the Bible teaches. When an honest person learns from the word of God that he is in error, then he will not hesitate to correct it. If he needs to be “rebaptized” (baptized scripturally) then, like those at Ephesus, upon learning the truth he will do as they did.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 8, p. 229
April 16, 1987