By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Long before our time the question of re-baptism has been debated, argued and hashed over many times. One can understand the need for such discussions during that period of time when men were trying to come out of the sects of christendom to unite on the Bible. Issues were not as well defined then as they are now. One can appreciate the disposition of inquiring minds not yet settled on doctrinal matters (1 Thess. 5:21). Since that time (i.e., what is commonly called the “restoration”) what constitutes genuine baptism has been stated and restated many times. In spite of this some still want to argue the propriety of re-baptizing those who come out of denominationalism. Also it is not too infrequent that we come into contact with some people who are troubled with what they call “my baptism.” Those who are this anxious regarding their baptism usually make their uneasiness known by requesting a “second baptism.” This too has been thought to be inadvisable and unnecessary by brethren.
It is obvious that genuine baptism is required only once, both for time and eternity. Everything that is called baptism today is not baptism. Baptism is baptism only when it is done the way the Lord said it must be done, and for the purpose for which he said it must be done. If a person does not understand the nature of baptism (its purpose, action, etc.), how can it be argued that that person has done what the Lord commanded even though he may have gone through an act that resembles baptism? Obedience is a purposeful act on the part of an individual who is accountable to God (2 Cor. 5:10). In order to obey God, an individual must not only know that salvation is essential; he must know what the Lord requires in order to obtain it. To re-baptize a person who feels that he or she has just gone through a semblance of baptism, and feels deeply that he did not know what he was doing when he did it, is justifiable. It is justifiable even if for no other reason than “to make one’s calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). As to re-baptizing a person who comes from a denomination, it can be established in most cases that the person could not obey what he did not believe was essential and therefore-should be re-baptized.
How Much Should One Know?
Discussions on the subject before us usually end up, one way or another, with the question of how much a person has to know about baptism in order to do what is required of the Lord This writer has been distressed over the fact that at least one brother several years ago took the position that re-baptism is not necessary because a person does not have to believe or understand that baptism accomplishes anything (Sentinel of Truth, Vol. 4, No. 8, pp. 10-14). This in effect says that a person can obey something that he does not understand and is ignorant of. On the other hand I know of no preacher who takes the position that before a person can be baptized he must understand all that the Bible says about baptism. This is demonstrated by Romans, chapter six.
However, the person wanting to be baptized must know something about baptism, even if the extent of that knowledge is open for discussion. If the examples of conversion in the book of Acts teach anything, they teach that a person must know enough to prompt him to do what is commanded. For example, the eunuch knew that baptism was essential to his salvation, and that it required a burial in water (Act 8:36-39). The three thousand baptized on Pentecost knew that baptism was necessary to save them from this “untoward generation,” and that the act was for the “remission of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, 40). It is concluded therefore that one must have knowledge of the scriptural motive for being baptized and have an understanding of the design or end in view. When a command is given with the reasons for the obedience stated and the benefits to be derived from that obedience given, obedience from the heart must include an understanding of the reasons and benefits thereof. Like worship, obedience to the Lord in baptism must be in accordance with truth (Matt. 4:24; Matt. 15:9). A person knowing no more than what any one example of conversion in the book of Acts demonstrates or teaches knows enough to be baptized. In fact, that person should be baptized. Corning to a fuller and more complete knowledge of the subject at a later date does not necessitate re-baptism. However, if a person feels he did not know or understand what he was doing, he should be baptized a second time.
Re-Baptizing People from Denominations
Almost all denominations confidently believe that one makes his peace with God and enjoys forgiveness of his sins without baptism. People coming from these groups not only fail to believe what the Bible teaches about baptism, they in fact disbelieve them. Disbelieving what it says about the subject is far different from failure to understand! Can one possibly obey God from the heart when he obeys a command which he believes is nonessential? Believing that one cannot obey God by accident, but that obedience is a purposeful act, this writer does not hesitate to teach and encourage those who are wanting to come out of denominationalism to be re-baptized. The worth of one’s baptism is not dependent . upon the person doing the baptizing, nor upon a baptismal formula. True baptism purges one’s life from the control of sin (Rom. 6:1-6; 1 Pet. 3:21). That life should be replaced with a new kind of life (Rom. 6:17). “Therefore the person who is baptized in response to the authority and Word of God, in obedience to him and in realization of the necessity of dying to sin, being cleansed of the guilt of sin, and in being joined to Christ in order to live the rest of life in service to him, is fulfilling the scriptural conditions of baptism, and to my way of thinking this is the sort of teaching that will solve the problem of those who were baptized within the framework of denominational teaching” (Firm Foundation, May 13, 1969, p294).
Baptism is not baptism when it is done in infancy, because scriptural baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Infants have done nothing wrong and are as pure as heaven itself (Matt. 19:14). Baptism is not scriptural when it is administered by pouring or sprinkling. Baptism is a burial with Christ (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4-6). One is not baptized, even if he was buried in water, when he does so to be admitted into some man-made church. This constitutes the wrong purpose and involves institutional baptism. These are just a few of the reasons why those coming from denominations should be baptized again. If one is scripturally baptized within the framework of denominational teaching, it will be in spite of and not because of their teaching!
Is Re-Baptism Church of Christ Theology?
At this point let it be re-stated that the spiritual condition of the person being re-baptized does not depend upon the spiritual condition of the one doing the baptizing. When Jesus commanded baptism (Matt. 28:18-20), he did not grant to any specific group of persons the exclusive right to administer the act. It is possible, but most unlikely, that a person who is an alien might learn about the command to be baptized from the Bible and render proper obedience, even though it is administered by an unbeliever. A person could possibly do so without even hearing that there is a church of Christ, for the simple fact that once the process of the new birth is begun and carried out, no one can deny that the person thus baptized is a new creature (Jn. 3:1-6; Matt. 7:21; Matt. 18:3; 2 Cor. 5:17). This is not to argue that the person under these conditions remains faithful, or that we have fellowship with him. Fellowship exists only when those translated out of darkness continue to walk in the light (Col. 1:13; 1 Jn. 1:6-7). Our fellowship is contingent upon our faithfulness to do God’s will. This is why there are no Christians as such in the sects, and why we cannot fellowship those who depart from truth to join denominational teaching.
It is possible, though I do not know of any example of such, for brethren to view second baptism or even baptism itself as “Church of Christ baptism.” If so, then this is pure sectarianism. If there are any who do teach: baptism as a “Church of Christ doctrine,” then those who are baptized in response to it obey the “Church of Christ” and not the Lord! I would insist that this person be baptized again in response to the Gospel just as quickly as I would insist that one who was sprinkled be “re-baptized”-rather, that he be immersed, which is the Biblical meaning of baptism.
Robert Turner, in the May 1, 1969 issue of The Gospel Guardian, demonstrates how easy it is to equate practice with truth. He shows’ how we conclude (rightly so) that the true church is that body of people who accept and obey the truth; how that if we accept and obey truth that makes us the true church; and how some take the fatal step from the divine standard to the human by concluding (wrongly so) that only those who do as we do are members of the church. We must be careful less we view baptism in this light and conclude that only “Church of Christ preachers” can baptize scripturally. While in some rare instances there may be some who view baptism in a sectarian atmosphere, we must be careful not to label all who insist for truth regarding second baptism as teaching a “Church of Christ theology.” More important yet, one must not allow the abuse of this question to drive him to the other extreme to where he practices “open membership” by insisting that it is not necessary to re-baptize those coming from denominations.
Baptism is baptism when an individual voluntarily and understandingly confesses his faith in Christ Jesus, and as a penitent believer cheerfully submits himself to God by being baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 2:38): God nowhere accepts substitutes for what he commands in baptism. If you have not done in connection with your baptism, or if your baptism does not coincide with the requirements laid down by God-you should be baptized again. In face, you simply should scripturally be baptized!
Truth Magazine XVIII: 6, pp. 89-90
December 12, 1974