Scriptural Baptism: With Emphasis on “Rebaptism”

Scriptural Baptism

With an Emphasis on Rebaptism

 

Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor

Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church

101 East Walnut Street

Dawson Springs, KY 42408

Introductory Comments on Baptism

Baptism is perhaps the simplest, and at the same time, the most profound of all New Testament teachings.  It is so simple that the small child can see its deepest meaning, yet so profound that the greatest scholar cannot fully appreciate all its significance.  Who, but God, could merge such simple complexity?

Only God in His wisdom could have brought together in one ritual almost everything that Christianity represents, while only man in his depraved response to the ritual could have torn apart almost everything that Christianity represents.  Through Christian history misunderstandings, controversies and rebellion over baptism have probably led to more bloodshed than any other single issue.  The “baptizers” were imprisoned, tortured and martyred for holding to the New Testament teaching of baptizing those who professed their belief in Jesus Christ.  It is truly hard to imagine that those who claimed to be Christians would kill others who claimed to be Christians for baptizing others who desired to be Christians.  May God have mercy on us!

The ritual of baptism began under heaven’s authority when there was a man sent from God…to baptize with water. (John 1:6, 1:33)  Chapter after chapter of the Old Testament were devoted to details upon details of dozens and dozens of God-instituted rituals.  On the contrary, the New Testament speaks of only two very simple ordinances:  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  God chose baptism as one of only two ordinances for His church, and being one of only two is an indication of the importance that God placed on this ritual.  We, as Baptists, likewise hold baptism in very high regard.  We willingly claim the name, Baptists, tracing our roots all the way back to another who went by the same name, even John the Baptist, and tracing our practice all the way back to New Testament days.

So ministers baptize, and believers are baptized, because it is of God.  Yet baptism is much more than just obedience to God’s command.  Baptism is important because of all that it represents.  In a pictorial, symbolic, “show-and-tell” fashion, baptism paints pictures of particular Bible truths.  When properly understood a baptism is a sermon without words, proclaiming the gospel message without preaching.

 

 

The Significance of Baptism 

The simplest and most important of the wordless sermons represented by baptism is “Death, Burial and Resurrection”.  Surely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest of all Bible truths.  The fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the very centerpiece and foundation of Christianity, without which there is no Christianity.  When the one baptized goes under the water and is raised up out of the water, the mind of a child can grab onto the message of death, burial, and resurrection.  As Jesus literally died, was buried, and resurrected, so thousands upon thousands of Jesus’ followers have since that time painted and repainted that scene in the watery grave of baptism.  For hundreds of years preachers’ words have proclaimed the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection; and for hundreds of years believers’ baptisms have proclaimed the same message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Now the common sense of a child can watch a baptism and see the picture of death, burial, and resurrection.  The representation is so obvious that no further proof of the connection is really required, but our beliefs should still be based on the Bible, even above our common sense.  So let us go to the scriptures and find where God’s word makes the connection between baptism and Jesus’ literal death, burial and resurrection.

Luk 12:50  But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!

Jesus spoke these words about a baptism that He was to be baptized with, but it should be noted that Jesus spoke these words long after having already been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  Jesus had not forgotten that John had already baptized Him.  Neither had Jesus suddenly become displeased with the baptism that His Father had been so pleased with.  Yet long after His water baptism, Jesus said, I have a baptism to be baptized with.  The all-important clue as to what Jesus was talking about lies in the words, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!  Whatever Jesus was thinking about when He spoke of His approaching baptism certainly seemed to be something that He had difficulty thinking about.

To be in a strait is to be in a difficult and troubling situation.  According to Strong’s Concordance to be straitened is to be perplexed or preoccupied.  So Jesus anticipated something that caused Him to be troubled and perplexed, something that preoccupied His mind and was even difficult to think about.  It is not too hard to figure out what might have preoccupied the mind of our Savior.  Surely it was the same thing that troubled His mind in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed, Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  Now there is no doubt that Jesus was willing to drink the cup, but there seems to be little doubt that He was also troubled at the thought of drinking the cup.  Clearly His mind was somewhat perplexed and perhaps preoccupied by the whole thing, till it be accomplished!

Jesus had a baptism to be baptized with, and He was anxious to put it all behind Him.  What was this baptism that so troubled Jesus’ mind?  Jesus must have been speaking of His approaching death, burial and resurrection.  The baptism that He was to be baptized with, and about which He was straitened till it be accomplished, was His soon to be experienced death, burial and resurrection.  Thus we find that Jesus figuratively used the word, baptism, to express His literal death, burial and resurrection.

In addition we can look at the following passage in order to see another place that equates baptism to death, burial and resurrection.

Rom 6:3  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Rom 6:4  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Paul began by saying, know ye not, as if this was something that they all should have known, as if this was something that even a child could know, as if this was basic knowledge for a Christian.  Then he spoke of two different things:  their baptisms and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  Yet he spoke of the two things as if they were the same thing.  He spoke of those who had been baptized, as if they were in some way participants with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection.  Paul seemed to take it as common knowledge that any and all of us who are baptized, are baptized into his death, are buried with him by baptism, and like as Christ was raised up from the dead with new life, even so we are raised to a new life.

So first and foremost, baptism represents death, burial and resurrection.  Yet from this same text we can find a second significance of baptism in the words, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  When we are raised from the waters of baptism, we should rise to walk in newness of life.  Now lest there be any confusion, we need to make it clear that baptism is not in any way the cause of the new birth and its associated new life.  As you did not assist in your natural birth, neither do you assist in your spiritual birth.  The eternal life that comes from the new birth is totally accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit without any means or assistance.  The Holy Spirit moves where He pleases, and so it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit of God.  Prior to the new birth the carnal man is unwilling and unable to come to God.  Jesus said, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.” (John 5:40) [Emphasis added.]  Jesus said, “No man can come to me.” (John 6:44) [Emphasis added.] The scriptures declare that the natural man will not receive the things of the Spirit of God, because things in that realm are foolishness to him. (1 Corinthians 2:14)  The scriptures declare the unborn again man to be spiritually dead (John 5:25, Ephesians 2:1), and thus incapable of action in the realm of spiritual things.  The unregenerate man must be born again before he can see the things in that sphere of existence. (John 3:3)  So the first step is unassisted Holy Spirit regeneration for the incapable-of-action and yet-to-be-born fallen sinner.

Yet once the Holy Spirit gives the new birth, once He quickens with spiritual life, once He breathes spiritual life into the unregenerate and makes a new creature, then there are things that come with the new spiritual life.  With the new life come new feelings, new desires and new abilities.  There are new feelings about God and self, new desires about life and how to live life, and new abilities to live life under the new influence of the Holy Spirit.  The spiritually alive, born again, new creature with the new life now hears the gospel with new ears.  He has new feelings about the message of a Savior who died for sinners.  The words are no longer foolishness, but now prick his newly enlivened heart.  He no longer responds with mocking or indifference, but now seeks peace for his troubled soul.  He might cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall I do?”  And some preacher might say, “Repent and be baptized.”  Then this born again child of God with the new life in him responds to the message of the gospel by being baptized.

Now here is where our text comes in.  With a new “want to” from a new nature, this newly baptized repentant sinner should now rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life.  He should have a new walk, a new way of living, and a new mission for life.  As baptism paints the picture of death, burial and resurrection, even so it paints the picture of one who is raised from the dead to live a new kind of life, a life to the honor of the King whom he now serves.  Even so we also should walk in newness of life. 

Perhaps a very similar significance of baptism is found in yet another verse:  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)  So baptism pictures a putting on of Christ.  Perhaps we could think of it as being enrobed in Christ, shrouded with His presence, covered with His very being, and wearing Him wherever we go.  We are raised from baptism to wear a new outfit, even to wrap ourselves in the aura of Christ.  What a thought!  What a privilege!  What an opportunity!  What a mission for life:  To be able to walk in newness of life, to put on Christ, to be clothed in the very character of Christ, in order to let our light shine in a dark world to the glory of our Father which is in heaven.

We come now to a further significance of baptism, one we might call an engulfing of the Holy Spirit.  Just before Jesus ascended, he said to His followers:  For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. (Acts 1:5)  Jesus reminded them of John’s baptism, and how John had literally baptized with water, but then He promised a baptism that they were yet to receive.  In just a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost, and surely this great event occurred on the Day of Pentecost.  On that momentous day Jesus fulfilled the promise that He had made to them.  He prayed the Father, and the Father sent to them the Holy Ghost with great power.  The Holy Ghost literally came into that place as cloven tongues of fire and engulfed them with His very presence.  The Holy Ghost covered them, surrounded them, filled the place, and filled them.  What a scene!  Jesus called this phenomenal event a baptism.  As John baptized with water, they were baptized with the Holy Ghost.

Now if you do not read carefully, you might think that the Holy Ghost came down and baptized them, but that is not what Jesus said.  They were not baptized by the Holy Ghost, but with the Holy Ghost.  As John baptized with water, they were baptized with the Holy Ghost.  Jesus did not picture the Holy Ghost as the “baptizer”, but as the water of baptism.  The God of heaven did the baptizing.  The people were plunged into, surrounded by, encompassed with, and engulfed in the wonderful presence of the Holy Ghost.  As John baptized with water, the God of heaven baptized them with the Holy Ghost.  As the water of baptism covers, surrounds, and engulfs, so the Holy Ghost acted in like manner.

Now I do not pretend to say that we should expect another Pentecost in our day.  I am sure that God has the power to do a repeat performance, but I have my doubts that He will.  So I do not truly expect such a thing.  Yet I believe that the Holy Ghost is still real and active, perhaps not so much in a visible sense, but in a spiritual presence.  Moreover, I believe that the baptism with the Holy Ghost still applies to us in our day.  I am intrigued by Peter’s words at the close of his sermon on that wonderful day.

Act 2:38  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Act 2:39  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Peter first told those who were troubled by their sins to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.  He then said that they would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  This gift of the Holy Ghost that Peter here spoke of was not the new birth.  We have already seen that man’s actions are not involved in receiving the new birth, and besides that, the manner in which these men responded to the preached gospel is full proof that they had already been born again.  So the gift of the Holy Ghost must be something other than, and beyond the new birth.  Moreover, the gift of the Holy Ghost must be something beyond the miracle of that day.  They already had the cloven tongues of fire around them, so this gift of the Holy Ghost that they were yet to receive could not have been that which they already had.

Thus if the gift of the Holy Ghost is not the new birth or the appearance of cloven tongues of fire, what might it be?  Again note that Peter referred to this gift as something in the future, something they shall receive.  He further referred to it as the promise.  Now that which they already had experienced that day was the fulfillment of a promise made by Jesus concerning the Holy Ghost, yet Peter called the still to be received gift of the Holy Ghost, the promise.  Moreover, it seems that the promise was far reaching, in that it was not only to the people who were there that day, but also to their children, and to those who were afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call.  It can be noted that since God is still in the business of effectually calling His children, then it seems that the promise is still good today.

Thus the promise made at Pentecost is in some way still available to all God-called children, even today.  As the Holy Ghost literally surrounded, encompassed, and engulfed those who received the promise on that day, even so He spiritually still does the same thing for His children today.  He surrounds, encompasses, and engulfs us with His presence and protection.  He is above us as a watchtower and underneath is His everlasting arm.  He is in front to lead and brings up the rear to defend.  He comes along side with comfort.  He completely covers us with loving providence.  We are baptized with the very Holy Spirit Himself!

So the fully encompassing, engulfing waters of baptism paint a beautiful picture of the promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us.  As we earlier talked about baptism representing a putting on of Christ, we now see that it is also an engulfing of the Holy Spirit.  So we have the picture of death, burial and resurrection.  We have the picture of rising to walk in newness of life.  We have a putting on of Christ, and we have an engulfing of the Holy Spirit.  The significance of this thing called baptism is getting bigger and bigger.  Yet let us go on, for there is more.  As we come to the next significance of baptism, Paul tells us that we can be baptized and wash away our sins.

Act 22:16  And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

These words might throw up a flag to someone who is well versed in the scriptures, for the gist of the Bible proclaims that the blood of Jesus is what washes away our sins.  A defender of salvation totally by grace might run to the verse:  Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5) [Emphasis added.]  A staunch believer in the blood might think of the question in the song, “What can wash away my sins?” and then sing the answer with emphasis, “Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.”  There is no doubt that it is true that the blood of Jesus is what cleanses from sins.  Yet Paul’s statement about the water of baptism washing away sins is also true.

Notice the sense of urgency in the words, why tarriest thou?  It is as if the baptizing needs to take place right now.  It seems that many in the Bible sensed this immediate need for baptism.  In the eighth chapter of Acts, the eunuch heard the gospel, and nothing could hinder him from being baptized.  In the ninth chapter of Acts, Jesus sent Saul of Tarsus to the preacher, who immediately baptized him.  In the tenth chapter of Acts, Peter preached to, and the same day baptized, Cornelius and many who were gathered with him.  In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, Paul preached the gospel to the jailer and his family, and the same night baptized them.  The list could go on, but I think we see the pattern.  So it is clear how Paul’s words about not tarrying, but arising to be baptized do fit with the scriptural patterns.  Yet it is not so clear how his words about baptism washing away sins fit with other scriptural teachings.

Let us go back to the sense of urgency.  The common message of New Testament preaching was the crucifixion of Christ.  Paul determined not to know anything among them except Christ, and Him crucified.  Peter told his listeners that they by wicked hands had crucified the Son of God.  Philip preached Christ as the sheep who was slaughtered in the stead of the eunuch.  Cornelius heard how Jesus was hanged on a tree.  When these Spirit-filled men proclaimed the death, burial and resurrection of the Savior of sinners, something powerful happened in the Spirit-filled (yet sin-filled) hearts of those who heard the message.  The heart-pricked, Christ-killing multitude cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  With trembling voice the soul-convicted Christian killer mouthed the words, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”  In deep despair the shackler  of the preachers exclaimed, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

These were not Bible scholars with inquiries to fill the gaps in their commentaries.  These were not theologians questioning one another over the finer points of doctrine.  These were pitiful pleadings of guilt-stricken sinners battling dark sins.  These were mournful cries from consciences thought to be condemned to hell.  These were soul-wrenching confessions from the deep recesses of the very being.  It was urgent.  It was serious.  It was pressing.  It was real.

It was not the time for the “Five Points of Calvinism” or for memorizing detailed catechisms.  It was not the time to sort out the different “salvations” taught in the Bible.  Nor was it the time to distinguish between grace and works.  It was especially not the time to correct the wording of the question that had just been asked.  As important as sound doctrine might be, these times were not the times to talk to the head.  These moments were heart moments.  These questions were soul questions.  These troubles were not related to theology, but to conscience.  The things of the head could be addressed at a later date, but right at the moment there was an urgent thing going on in the heart.  Misunderstood doctrine was not the problem.  Self-understood depravity was the problem.

There is no doubt but what Paul preached the blood of Christ as the eternal cure for sin.  Paul preached the washing away of sins by the blood, the payment of debt by the blood, the forgiveness from God by the blood, the reconciliation to God by the blood, the acceptance of sinners by the blood, the justification of the ungodly by the blood, the perfection of the sanctified by the blood, etc.  Paul understood that the only way for a sinner to stand without condemnation at the judgment seat of God was by having been washed in the blood of Jesus.  Paul likewise understood that every blood washed sinner, without exception, would stand without condemnation at the judgment seat of God.  Paul was not confused about his doctrines, nor was he negligent to preach the truth.  Paul could logically spell out the details of salvation by the blood of Jesus as well as any man alive.  He could convincingly build point upon point until the whole plan came together in perfect order.  Just look at the Book of Romans or the Book of Ephesians.  (Yet be reminded that if you want to really understand those two books, you should perhaps set aside a few years, or maybe a few lifetimes.)  So Paul knew that the understanding of God’s eternal plan of salvation by grace and blood was of ultimate importance, but he also knew that the mind’s life-long grappling with the details of the plan was not the immediate solution to the problem of a guilt-stricken conscience.

Thus even though the blood of Christ is the only thing necessary when it comes to God’s eternal judgment of the sinner in the courtroom of heaven, it seems that something else might be necessary when it comes to the sinner’s immediate judgment of himself in the courtroom of his own conscience.  The ultimate thing that will eventually and totally reconcile the sinner with his own conscience is the understanding of the intricacies of the doctrines of salvation by grace, but this is certainly not the immediate answer to the urgent questions that come from the pricked heart.  The night was too short to explain to the jailer all the doctrines in the Book of Romans.  Maybe that time would come later, but for that night the jailer’s question needed a short answer.  The part of the story concerning the washing of the blood for eternal judgment could come later, but the washing of the conscience by baptism was the most needed thing for the moment.  Sometimes a man does not need to tarry.  Some times are urgent times.  There are times when guilty sinners need immediate answers, even solutions for right now.  There are times when the conscience needs more attention than the cortex.  There are times when the right words for the guilty sinner are, “Why tarriest thou?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.”

So Paul taught that baptism was the immediate solution to the guilty conscience.  Likewise, Peter told those at Pentecost who were pricked in their hearts over crucifying Jesus to repent and be baptized.  So it seems that both men considered baptism to be the proper response for convicted, guilt-stricken, soul-sick sinners.  Yet it is very interesting that in another place Peter described baptism not as the solution for a guilty conscience, but the answer to a good conscience.

   1Pe 3:21  The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: [Emphasis added.]

Before we tackle the confusion of the guilty and the good conscience, let us note that the first part of Peter’s statement is very supportive of all that has thus been said. Peter began by clearly stating that baptism is a figure.  This is what we have been saying all along. Baptism represents other things.  Baptism is not the real thing, but it paints the picture of the real thing.  Baptism is not the literal, but the figurative portrayal of the literal.  Baptism is not the literal death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but a figurative picture of His death, burial and resurrection.  Baptism is not literally rising from the dead to a new life, but it figuratively represents a rising up from the dead to walk in newness of life.  Baptism is not the literal putting on of Christ, but the figurative putting on of Christ.  In baptism the person is not literally engulfed with the Holy Ghost, but baptism represents the idea of an all-encompassing presence of the Holy Ghost.

After describing baptism as a figure, Peter went on to say that there was something in the figure of baptism that doth also now save us.  And lest we might jump to the wrong conclusion about how baptism doth also now save us, Peter immediately added a disclaimer.  He made it clear that the salvation that he was talking about was not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.  This is also in agreement with what has previously been said.  Peter, like Paul, understood that baptism was not the means to eternal salvation.  Thus Peter made it clear that the salvation that he was talking about was not the eternal cleansing by the blood that forever puts away the filth of the flesh in the eyes of God.

So in his disclaimer that baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, Peter lined right up with Paul.  Yet in his next words about baptism being the answer of a good conscience toward God, Peter seems to very much contradict Paul.  Remember Paul’s sense of urgency when he told those who were under the burden of a guilty conscience to rise and be baptized.  According to Paul the appropriate response (answer) to the guilty conscience is baptism.  Yet Peter said that baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God.  Furthermore, it seems that Peter even contradicted himself with this statement, in that here he recommended baptism as the answer to a good conscience, whereas at Pentecost he had recommended baptism as the response to those with the guilty consciences.

So how can we reconcile these apparent contradictions?  How can the one act of baptism be both the answer to a guilty conscience and the answer to a good conscience?  The solution to these seeming contradictions lies in understanding that there are differences in the states of mind of different individuals.  One person is full of fears.  He looks at himself and feels to be a condemned sinner.  His guilty conscience causes him to have despair that passes description.  Another person is full of faith.  He looks at his Savior and feels to be a saved sinner.  His cleared conscience causes him to have peace that passes understanding.

Where we previously learned of Paul’s words (and Peter’s words) spoken to the guilt-stricken sinner with the troubled heart, I think that here we have Peter’s words spoken to the enlightened head of one who understands the details of the gospel of how Jesus by His amazing grace has successfully saved sinners.  Peter’s words are to the sinner who knows what Christ has accomplished in behalf of the sinner.  Peter’s words are to the sinner who knows that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, and that God is completely satisfied that Jesus completed the work of salvation.  Peter’s words are to the sinner who knows that salvation is not based on the corrupt works of the sinner, but on the perfect work of Jesus in saving sinners.  Peter’s words are to the sinner who according to his own conscience knows that he is guilty, but according to the gospel, he also knows that God judges him to be righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ.

As this knows-he-is-saved sinner considers God’s judgment of his case, he sees God declaring him to be righteous instead of guilty.  So instead of being condemned by his own guilty conscience, he is instead justified in his own conscience by his faith in Jesus Christ.  Thanks to his understanding of what Jesus accomplished, and thanks to his belief in what Jesus accomplished, his guilty conscience has been cleared.  Thus the guilty conscience that once feared God’s condemnation is now the cleared conscience that anticipates God’s justification—a justification not based on his own works, but on the work of Christ.

So Peter calls for the same response from the guilty and the good conscience.  Peter tells the sinner who feels to be condemned by his own works that he should respond to those feelings by being baptized.  Peter likewise tells the sinner who feels to be justified by the work of Christ that the proper answer to those feelings is to be baptized.  The answer of a good conscience (the response to the clear conscience of the enlightened-to-the-gospel sinner who has come to understand that he can stand before a Holy God thanks to the salvation that is by Jesus) is to be baptized in recognition of the certain hope that rests in what Jesus accomplished by His death, burial and resurrection.

Sometimes the guilt-stricken haunted-by-sin conscience cries, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  The answer to that conscience is to repent and be baptized.  Sometimes the guilt-relieved soothed-by-the-gospel conscience cries, What doth hinder me to be baptized?  The answer to that conscience is, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  Thus the response is the same for the guilty conscience or the good conscience.  The answer is the same for the sinner who has only come so far as to see his depravity and for the sinner who has further come to see his deliverance.  In either case it is proper for the sinner to paint the picture of the death, burial, and resurrection by being baptized.  In either case it is right for the sinner to be baptized and thereby enter into the church.

Act 2:41  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. [Emphasis added.]

This verse brings us to the last point that we will make about the significance of baptism.  Those that were baptized were the same day added to the church, so baptism is the entry to the church.  Baptism is the proper response for the conscience-convicted sinner who comes to understand his sinfulness.  Baptism is the proper response for the guilt-relieved sinner who comes to understand the gospel of salvation by grace and experiences a good conscience when considering eternal things.  It is right for a child of God to put on Christ, to be engulfed with the waters that represent the Holy Ghost, to rise to walk in newness of life, to submit to his or her King, and to serve the King in His church that He established.  Baptism is the opportunity to publicly proclaim Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Moreover, baptism is the means to entering into the church where others publicly profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.   Why tarriest thou?  Repent and be baptized!

 

 

“Rebaptism”

 

The Acts 19 Account

There are probably many other things that we should say about the significance of baptism, but let us now move on to consider the sometimes controversial idea of “rebaptism”.  We begin with the following passage where Paul “re-baptized” men who claimed to have been previously baptized.

Act 19:1  And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,

Act 19:2  He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

Act 19:3  And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.

Act 19:4  Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

Act 19:5  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

There is no doubt but what Paul baptized the men in this passage who claimed that they had already been baptized.  Paul’s question, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” acknowledges their claim.  Their answer, “Unto John’s baptism”, affirms the same.  So the men maintained that they had been baptized, but the fifth verse says that they were baptized again.  Now I freely admit that the passage is somewhat vague in its details, and I further admit that the idea of “rebaptism” is to some extent a bit complicated, but surely we find in this text a scriptural passage that teaches “rebaptism”.  Surely we find in this passage even a scriptural precedent for “rebaptism”.

Some object to the whole idea of “rebaptism” and might even quote Paul’s words, One Lord, one faith, one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5) [Emphasis added.]  Since the Bible never contradicts itself, the words, one baptism, cannot disagree with the precedent that Paul set in this passage.  Paul did not teach one thing in one place, and then do something else somewhere else.  The apparent conflict can be easily resolved with a little further explanation.  The problem is not in the concept of “rebaptism”.  Instead, the problem is in using the word, “rebaptism”.  Notice that the passage does not use the word, “rebaptism”.  In the text the men claimed baptism, but then were baptized.  These men had never had true scriptural baptism.  They had received “so-called” baptisms, which did not fit the pattern described in the Bible.  So instead of saying that this passage teaches “rebaptism”, it might be more true to the scriptures to explain that these men had never truly been baptized the first time.  Thus Paul baptized these men in the Book of Acts with the one true scriptural baptism that he spoke of in the Book of Ephesians.

In that we acknowledge that the scriptures say that there is one baptism, and in that we acknowledge that Paul “re-baptized” those who claimed to have already been baptized, we must come to the conclusion that there are some “so-called” baptisms that are not true baptisms.  This brings us to the further conclusion that there must be necessary requirements in order for a baptism to be a true baptism.  Surely there must be a right way for baptism, and at the same time there must be a wrong way, or else Paul would not have “re-baptized”.  So let us pursue the question further and try to determine the “rights” and the “wrongs” according to the scriptures.

It seems fairly obvious that there were some problems with this scene in the nineteenth chapter of Acts.  It is astounding that the men in the passage did not even know whether there was any such thing as the Holy Ghost.  These men claimed to have been baptized, but did not yet know who God was.  That seems really serious to me.  There is one God and He is three:  The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  Yet when Paul mentioned the Holy Ghost, they said, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”  They had never heard of such a thing as that.

Jesus’ commission had been to teach, and then to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  So when Paul realized that these men had never heard of the Holy Ghost, he asked them a very reasonable question, “Unto what then were ye baptized?”  They answered, “Unto John’s baptism.”  So it seems that these men knew something about John, and there is no doubt that John knew something about the Holy Ghost, since he had seen Him come down in the form of a dove.  Yet these men said that they knew absolutely nothing about the Holy Ghost, not so much as to even know that there was any such thing as the Holy Ghost.  It surely seems as if something big is missing here.  There has been a real breakdown somewhere.

At that point Paul began to explain to them that John’s real purpose had been to point to a man called Jesus.  It seems that they must have known very little about this one called Jesus, because when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  It is impossible to determine from the brief passage how much the men had previously known about Jesus, but the words, they were baptized in the name of Jesus, might suggest that the Holy Ghost was not the only one left out of their first “so-called” baptisms.  Though the details are missing, it seems apparent that Paul must have told these men that they needed to be baptized again.  Or he may have told them that they needed to be really baptized, because their first baptisms had not been true baptisms.  I readily admit that I am not sure what Paul told them, but evidently there was something wrong with this situation that required “rebaptism”.

Perhaps it is time for a disclaimer.  Before pursuing the idea of “rebaptism” any further, let me say that it is not my desire to complicate the matter.  Baptism is not hard to understand, nor is it hard to do.  Baptism is a simple ordinance, so simple that a child can see its deepest meaning.  It is not my purpose to get bogged down with a list of rules, nor do I wish to detract from the beauty and the simplicity of baptism.  Yet it is my firm belief that the scriptures do declare a few things that would make for a proper baptism, things that would enhance the beauty and the meaning of the ritual.  So let us now consider some scriptural details about baptism, and at the same time see some things that could turn what might appear to some to be a true baptism into nothing more than a “so-called” baptism.

 

 

Baptismo:  The Proper Mode of Baptism

The first and foremost thing to consider is the proper mode of baptism.  The Bible does proclaim a proper mode of baptism, but there is much misunderstanding on what that proper mode is.  As we try to find the true mode of baptism, let us start with the Greek word, baptismo.  When translating the New Testament Greek into English, the translators of the King James Bible did not translate the word, baptismo.  Instead, they just gave it somewhat of an English spelling, and then basically moved it into the English version in its un-translated form.  Perhaps the motive for this move is not certain, but looking at the history, it certainly can be speculated that there might have been ulterior motives involved.

Oh, if the scholars had only translated the word!  The Greek word, baptismo, simply means to dip in water.  Baptismo was a Greek word that was used in dyeing clothes.  A woman might have had a white shirt in one hand and a pan of green water in the other, but she could have never accomplished baptismo by sprinkling the green on the white.  In order to baptismo, she had to dip the white shirt in the green water.  The shirt went in white and came out green all over.  That is baptismo.  That is so simple.

Baptismo is what the Bible teaches.  You take that one that has been taught and baptismo him or her.  You are to do that disciple, just like the woman did that shirt.  Dip that believer down into the water, and then raise him back out of the water.  Oh, if the word had just been translated instead of transliterated, how much error and even bloodshed might have been prevented in the history of Christianity!  Oh, if men had just used a Greek dictionary instead of the stake!

But beyond the meaning of the Greek word, the scriptural accounts bear proof that the ones who were baptized were dipped into and out of the water.  Let us see.

Joh 3:23  And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. [Emphasis added.]

Now the verse says that John was baptizing in this particular place because there was much water there.  We could take very reliable reference books and look up the word, baptizing, and find that it means to “dip”, or find that it means to “whelm”, or find that it means to “make fully wet”.  We can also look at the words, because there was much water there, not just as if those words are there to take up space, but that they are there because they teach something about baptism.  John baptized in this place for a scripture-given reason.  John baptized in this place because this place had much water.  It does not take much water to sprinkle.  A half of cup or so would sprinkle a big crowd.  Yet, there is a necessity of much water in order to dip a whole person down into that water and bring him back out.

Now you may think that I am reading too much into the words much water.  So let us go to another passage that is very plain and straightforward about the proper mode of baptism.

Act 8:38  And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Act 8:39  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.

As we put these verses in their context, we find that Philip and this eunuch were traveling by chariot, and in their journey Philip had been preaching to the eunuch about Jesus.  In what appears to be God-orchestrated precision timing, at just the right moment, as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water.  Seeing the water the eunuch asked the question, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?”  In answer to that question Peter said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”  The eunuch’s words were, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

So now we come to the point where he commanded the chariot to stand still.  Now listen very closely to the next words:  and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch.  Do not miss the words.  Both men went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch.  Now both men going down into the water seems to be overdoing things a little bit, if Philip was only going to sprinkle the eunuch with a few drops of water.  Yet the passage clearly states that both men went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch.  So picture the scene in your mind.  There they both are.  Can you see them?  They are both standing in the water.

At that point the verse says, and he baptized him.  While both men were standing in the water, one baptized the other.  One dipped the other completely into the water; one “whelmed” the other; one made the other “fully wet” in the water.  Did you see that part?  When you pictured that water all around that eunuch, you saw the figure of the engulfing of the Holy Spirit.  When you visualized the eunuch going under and coming up, you saw the age-old picture of death, burial and resurrection.

After he baptized him, we find the words:  and when they were come up out of the water.  The ritual being completed, they both came up out of the water.  So let us review the whole scene.  First of all, they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch.  Next, he baptized him.  Lastly, they both came up out of the water.  That is pretty straightforward.  That is not hard to understand.  This passage is all that we need.  This passage gives us the scriptural pattern for baptism:  the preacher and the candidate both go down into the water; the preacher dips the candidate under the water; and they both come up out of the water.  That is the Bible’s way of baptizing.

But for the sake of certainty, let us look at one more place.  Let us look at Jesus’ baptism.  Surely Jesus got it right.  And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water. (Matthew 3:16)  The point is simple, but straightforward.  Look at the two back-to-back statements.  First of all, he was baptized.  Next, he went up straightway out of the water.  Jesus was baptized, dipped into the water, and then He went up straightway (immediately) out of the water.  John did not leave Jesus under.  He dipped Him under and immediately raised Him up.  Jesus did not stay long in the liquid grave.  He went in and came right back out.  Praise God, neither did Jesus stay long in the literal grave!  He went in and came right back out!  Oh, every time we see a baptism, we see a picture of Jesus’ victory over the grave!

Surely John the Baptist, the one sent from God to baptize, knew how to do it.  He knew that it took much water.  Surely Jesus suffered it to be done the correct way, when He was baptized under the water and came up straightway out of the water.  Surely Philip followed the pattern that had been passed down when he and the eunuch both went down into the water, whereupon he baptized him, and then they both came up out of the water.  These patterns give the proper mode of scriptural baptism.

Sprinkling is not the Bible’s way of baptizing.  Sprinkling is a “so-called” baptism; in that sprinkling is not truly baptism.  It is not baptism by definition.  Neither is it baptism by scriptural precedent.  Thus anybody who thinks that he or she has been baptized through the sprinkling of water should strongly consider being baptized according to the scriptural way of baptizing.

 

 

The Proper Candidate for Baptism

Let us now look at another requirement for scriptural baptism, and in a sense another way that a “so-called” baptism may not be a true baptism.  There is such a thing as a wrong candidate for baptism.  It is not right for just anybody to be baptized, because there are some people who just simply do not fit into the Bible’s descriptions of a person who is right for baptism.  The requirements are not grievously placed hardships to prevent one from coming.  They are not given as hoops to be jumped through or as obstacles to overcome.  The specific requirements for the proper candidate are given in order to prevent the turning of the sacred act of baptism into a mockery.  I find only three requirements mentioned in the scriptures for the person who desires to be baptized.  He or she needs to be repentant, needs to be a believer, and needs to be a disciple.  These things are not hard, but they are crucial before baptism.

First of all, one who desires to be baptized needs to be one who is repentant.  In the following passage we see that there were many Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John to be baptized.  Yet John refused to baptize them.  Evidently, John did not consider them to be proper candidates for baptism.

Mat 3:7  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Mat 3:8  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

Perhaps it seems harsh, but John called them a generation of vipers.  He then commanded them to bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.  He wanted to see some fruits suitable for one who is repentant.  He wanted to see some changes in their lives.  He wanted to see some realness in their willingness to travel in a new path.  We are not given to know the details of what John saw amiss in their lives, or perhaps in their attitudes toward the whole thing, but there must have been something that was very wrong.  The Pharisees and Sadducees would later become the notorious mockers of Jesus.  Perhaps they had come mocking this forerunner of Christ.  We are not sure of the particulars, but John called these men vipers, and further demanded evidence of repentance before baptism.

Now the one who desires to be baptized does not have to be perfect.  Far from it!  The requirement for baptism is not to be one who is free of sin, but to be one who is repentant of sin.  The disqualified are not those with sin.  The disqualified are those without repentance.  So you do not have to prove yourself to be without sin in order to be baptized.  As a matter of fact, if you consider yourself to be without sin, you are probably not far removed from the Pharisees at John’s baptism, who likely saw themselves with no need for repentance.  If you think you are righteous, when the scriptures say that none is, then you are probably as unfit for baptism as the Pharisees were.  Jesus had little use for hypocrites, who saw themselves as sinless.  Jesus did not call the righteous (self-righteous), but sinners to repentance.  So the scriptures do not invite the sinless to be baptized.  The scriptures instead invite sinners, and even lifelong failures to be baptized.  Repent and be baptized.

Beyond repentance, the second requirement for the candidate who desires to be baptized is to be a believer.  We return to the story of Philip and the eunuch.  Remember the words, and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?  The question is a simple question, “What could keep me from being baptized?”  Praise God, the answer is as simple as the question!  Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  Belief from the heart was Philip’s only answer to the eunuch’s question.  To this answer the eunuch answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  To believe with all the heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is not difficult for a born again child of God.  When God gives the new birth, He also gives the gift of faith, so one who is born again has no trouble declaring belief in Jesus.  He can readily answer that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Thus the child of God who desires to be baptized does not have to pass some complicated test of questions.  You do not have to be a lifelong Bible scholar to answer a question pertaining to heart-felt belief in Jesus Christ.  The newcomer to the faith is invited to profess belief in Jesus and be baptized.  Yes, even a child can answer Philip’s question concerning belief in Jesus Christ.

Finally beyond repentance and belief, there is yet one last requirement for the one who desires to be baptized.  According to Jesus’ commission the one who is to be baptized needs to be one who has been taught.  Jesus’ told the preachers to go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  In Jesus’ order of things, the teaching came before the baptizing:  first teach, and then baptize.  The ones receiving the baptism needed first to have received the teaching.  They needed first to be learners, pupils, even students under the teachers.  In the original language the word teach encompassed the meaning of being a disciple, a follower.  Again the commandment is not meant to be difficult.  The one desiring baptism does not have to have all the answers to all the questions.  He just needs to be committed to being a disciple, a follower, even one willing to be a learner of Christ and His ways.

So concerning the qualifications for the candidate for baptism, the scriptural requirements are few and simple.  First of all, a person who desires to be baptized needs to be repentant.  Secondly, he needs to be a believer in Jesus Christ.  Finally, he needs to have already learned of Jesus and be willing to continue to learn and follow Jesus.  These things are not hard, so why tarriest thou?  If you have not been baptized, then arise and be baptized.  Repent and be baptized.  Believe and be baptized.  Be Jesus’ disciple and be baptized.

 

 

The Proper Authority to Baptize

We have thus far talked of the wrong mode of baptism and the wrong candidate for baptism, but there is at least one more thing that can cause a baptism not to be a scriptural baptism.  If the one doing the baptizing does not have scriptural authority to baptize, then the baptism fails to be a scriptural baptism.

At first thought this one may not be as obvious as the others, so for the sake of illustrating the point let me take this to an extreme.  Back when we were children, we would often go to a local lake to swim.  As usual for kids, we splashed each other and were always looking for an excuse to dunk one another.  So we would sometimes “baptize” each other.  One would be the “baptizer”, and the other would get “baptized”.  Were those scriptural baptisms?  No, of course not!  I realize that we were children, but to be honest the whole scene was very irreverent.  I do not mean to sound harsh, but our antics were at best a mockery of a sacred ritual, and perhaps even bordered on blasphemy.

So there were lots of reasons why those games were not scriptural baptisms, but one very important reason is that the one doing the baptizing had no scriptural authority to baptize.  Even if the child that was dunked had long been considering the idea of baptism; even if he had been convicted of his sins and desired to repent; even if he had a true belief in Jesus; even if he had learned of Jesus and was committed to being His disciple; even if the mode was dunking and not sprinkling; and even if the attitudes of the “dunker” and the “dunkee” had been attitudes of worship; the dunking of one child by another child still would not have been a scriptural baptism.

Now let me take this thing one step further, and say that even if the children had been adults, the story is still the same.  Sincerity is not all that matters.  Using the right mode is not all that matters.  Having the right candidate is not all that matters.  According to the teachings of the scriptures, it matters who does the baptizing.  According to the scriptures the one doing the baptizing must have scriptural authority before he can properly baptize.  It may again sound harsh, but even if everything else is right, without this proper authority by the one doing the baptizing, the “so-called” baptism is only a dunking.  For a baptism to be a scriptural baptism, the one doing the baptizing must have the scriptural authority to baptize.

Let us go to the scriptures and see if these things are true.  In Matthew 3:13 we find the words:  Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. [Emphasis added.]  Surely this is a very important verse.  Jesus traveled from the province of Galilee to the Jordan River unto John, to be baptized of him.  Now we do not know exactly where Jesus had been in the province of Galilee, and we do not know the exact location on the Jordan River where John was baptizing, so it is not possible to give an exact distance that Jesus traveled.  Yet we can look at the possibilities and come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus must have traveled somewhere in the range of forty to sixty miles in order to come unto John, to be baptized of him.  Be reminded that in those days there were no cars, no buses, and no easy way to travel such a distance.  Such a trip surely would have been a hard journey, but Jesus made the trek.  Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

The New Testament describes many disciples of Jesus who came from the region of Galilee.  Why not just let one of His followers from Galilee dunk Him in some water up there?  They were good disciples.  They were sincere men.  They were faithful to the cause.  Yet most of all, they were handy.  Practically speaking, it would have saved a lot of steps.  What was the difference between the sincere disciples from Galilee and John?  John was the Baptist.  John was the “baptizer” with God given authority to baptize.  Apparently Jesus thought it was very important to get to the man who had the proper authority to baptize.

So how do we know that John was the one with the authority to baptize?  First of all, the scriptures declare that God sent John.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (John 1:6) [Emphasis added.]  Yet God sent lots of men for lots of different reasons, so the next thing to determine is what God sent John to do.  John’s own answer is that God sent me to baptize with water. (John 1:33) [Emphasis added]  John—a man sent from God.  John—a man sent to baptize.  Thus we can see that God, the Highest Authority, sent John for the purpose of baptizing, and with the authority to baptize.

Jesus alluded to John’s heaven-given authority in the following:

Mat 21:23  And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

Mat 21:24  And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Mat 21:25  The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?

Mat 21:26  But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.

Mat 21:27  And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.

This passage is obviously about authority.  The priests and elders questioned Jesus’ authority.  “Where did your authority come from?  Who gave you the authority?”  Jesus answered their questions with His own questions about authority.  “Where did John’s baptism come from?  Did it come from heaven, or was it simply of men?”  Everybody that was there knew the answers to Jesus’ questions.  All held John to be a true prophet who had been sent from God.  Surely Jesus also held John to be a true prophet sent from God.  Otherwise He would not have used John to make His point.

Yet if we look at Jesus’ question a little closer, we find that Jesus did not really use John to make His point.  He used John’s baptism.  The question is not where did John come from.  The question is where did the baptism of John come from.  Surely Jesus’ point was that the baptism of John had been sent from God with heaven’s authority.

So Jesus knew that God sent John, and Jesus declared that John’s baptism had heaven’s authority.  In addition all the people knew that God sent John, and now they also knew from the words of Jesus that John’s baptism had heaven’s authority.  Still further the Bible declares John to be a man sent from God, and the Bible declares that God sent John to baptize.  So the unquestionable conclusion is that John did indeed have God’s authority.  John was God’s man, sent from God on God’s mission, sent from God with God’s authority, and sent from God to baptize.  Does it really matter?  It mattered to Jesus.  He walked a long way to get to the man with the authority.

Thus it is important that the one doing the baptizing have heaven’s authority to baptize, and John did have heaven’s authority, but did anybody else have heaven’s authority to baptize?  At the time that John first began baptizing, it appears that he was the only one with the authority, but shortly thereafter it seems that other disciples of Jesus also began baptizing.  In order to see the details of this we need to look at the following verses.

Joh 3:22  After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

Joh 4:1  When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

Joh 4:2  (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

The first verse begins with the words, after these things.  In the context we see that this was not only after Jesus’ baptism by John, but also after Jesus’ miracle at the wedding, after Jesus’ confrontation with the moneychangers, and after Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  So after all these things, Jesus and His disciples came to Judea, and there he tarried with them, and baptized. [Emphasis added.]  The second passage goes on to say that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John. [Emphasis added.]  At first glance these two statements certainly seem to say that Jesus was the one doing the baptizing, but the parenthetical statement appears to further explain the situation with the words, though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples. [Emphasis added.]

Well how can it be that Jesus baptized, and at the same time Jesus baptized not?  I believe the answer lies in the idea of the authority to baptize.  Going back to John’s baptism, we remember that John baptized under God’s authority.  John literally did the baptizing.  Yet at the same time, baptism was of God, in that John was a man sent from God to baptize.  So while it is true that John literally accomplished the baptizing, it is also true that God through His purposes and through sending John to baptize accomplished the baptizing.  Thus in one sense, John did the baptizing; while in yet another sense, God did the baptizing.  Authoritatively speaking, God baptized.  Yet literally speaking, God baptized not.

In the same way I believe that Jesus’ disciples baptized under Jesus’ authority.  Jesus’ disciples literally did the baptizing.  Yet at the same time, their authority to baptize was of Jesus, who was God in the flesh.  So while it is true that Jesus’ disciples literally accomplished the baptizing, it is also true that Jesus (God) through His purposes and through sending them to baptize accomplished the baptizing.  Thus in one sense, the disciples did the baptizing; while in yet another sense, Jesus did the baptizing.  Authoritatively speaking, Jesus baptized.  Yet literally speaking, Jesus baptized not.

Now Jesus is God, and Jesus came from heaven as God.  Moreover, being God come down from heaven, Jesus had heaven’s authority.  So Jesus, as God with heaven’s authority, authorized His disciples to baptize.  Just like John’s authority to baptize was from heaven, so Jesus’ disciples’ authority to baptize was from heaven.  Just like John was sent from God to baptize, so Jesus’ disciples were sent from God to baptize.  The point is that John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples all had authority to baptize, and they all received their authority to baptize from the same source, even from the God of heaven.

As we continue to consider the authority to baptize, let us now turn our thoughts to the Apostle Paul, and let us begin our study with Paul’s words from the following passage.

1Co 1:14  I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;

1Co 1:15  Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

1Co 1:16  And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.

1Co 1:17  For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel… [Emphasis added.]

Though Paul had not baptized many at Corinth, he acknowledged that he did baptize at least a few:  even Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas’ family.  Thus we can be certain that Paul did baptize.  Yet the words, Christ sent me not to baptize, cause us to wonder about Paul’s authority to baptize.  God had sent John to baptize, but the scriptures make no mention of God sending Paul to baptize.  Christ had sent His disciples to baptize, but the passage declares that Christ did not send Paul to baptize.  So if not sent of God, and if not sent by Christ, then who did send Paul to baptize?  In answer to that question we declare that Jesus’ church and the ministers in that church sent Paul out with the authority to baptize.

Act 13:1  Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

Act 13:2  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

Act 13:3  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

While the ministers in the church at Antioch were going about their business of serving the Lord, the Holy Ghost revealed two things to them.  He first made it known to those ministers that He had previously called Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to a particular work.  He next made it known to the ministers in the church that He was now calling those minsiters to a special work in regards to the previous calling of Paul and Barnabas.  So upon realization that the Holy Ghost had called Paul and Barnabas to do the particular work of a God-called minister, and that they were now being called upon to do a special work that God-called ministers are sometimes called to do, these ministers in the church at Antioch fasted, prayed, and laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, and they sent them away.

Thus the church at Antioch and the ministry in that church ordained Paul and Barnabas to do what the Holy Ghost had already ordained the men to do.  The ministers at the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out from that church as ministers of the gospel with the full authority of gospel ministers, including the authority to baptize.  So Paul’s statement about Jesus not sending him to baptize is not a problem, and the fact that Paul baptized without having been sent by Christ to baptize is not a problem.  Paul baptized with the authority that had been given to him by Jesus’ church that was located at Antioch and by the ministry at that church.

But the next question is who gave the church at Antioch the authority to give authority?  To answer this question we need to go back to the words that Jesus spoke to His Apostles just before His ascension.

Mat 28:18  …All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

Mat 28:19  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Mat 28:20  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

It was important to Christ for His cause to continue after His departure, so He told His Apostles to perpetuate what He had initiated.  He commanded them to go, to teach, to baptize, and to further teach the ones baptized.  Thus Christ left His Apostles with the authority to continue teaching and baptizing.  Moreover it would still remain important to Christ, even after the departure of His Apostles, that what He had initiated continue to be perpetuated.  His concern would not cease with one generation.  Regarding His church Jesus had stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, indicating that the church that He initiated would continue even to the end of the world.  So it was important to Christ not just that the cause continue unto the end of the days of the Apostles, but even unto the end of the world.

Those final words, even unto the end of the world, are a statement of perpetuity.  With those words of perpetuity, Jesus not only insured the perpetuity of the commission itself, but also insured the perpetuity of the authority given in the commission.  The commission and the authority given in the commission were to last as long as the church, even to the end of the world.  The chain of authority would continue to perpetuate the church from generation to generation, while in a sense the church would continue to perpetuate the chain of authority from generation to generation, so that the cause of Christ would be continued even to the end of the world.

Thus Jesus directly gave His Apostles the commission to go, to teach, and to baptize.  And with the words, even to the end of the world, Jesus perpetuated the commission to go, to teach, and to baptize all the way to the end of time.  The authority that had been given to the Apostles was to be passed on by the Apostles to other men in the church.

The previously described event at the church at Antioch gives the pattern whereby the commission that Jesus gave to the Apostles was to be continued in the church even to the end of the world.  As Jesus had called men to be Apostles in the original church, even so the Holy Ghost would call men to be ministers in the continuing church.  In response to the recognition that the Holy Ghost had called a particular man to the ministry, the Apostles and their successors in the early church laid hands on and ordained that Spirit-called man to be a minister of the gospel.  Thus the Apostles passed the ministry, the commission, and the authority on to the next generation, and then that generation of ministers passed it on to the next, and so on, even to our day.  As with the church at Antioch, in each successive passing they sent them away with the same authority that they had received from the previous generation.

Thus Paul’s authority to baptize came through a chain of authority that Jesus had established prior to ascending back to glory.  Paul did have full authority to baptize, but his authority had not been given to him directly from Jesus.  Paul’s authority to baptize came indirectly from Jesus through the chain of succession that had originated with the authority that Jesus gave to the Apostles.  Paul’s authority to baptize had been passed down from the Apostles to other God-called ministers, and finally passed on to Paul when those ministers laid hands on Paul ordaining him to the ministry.

In this same manner the commission given to the long gone Apostles still has its continuation through the ministry of the still-here church.  Moreover the authority to baptize that was given in that commission is still passed down in the still-here church, in that the church still sends men out who have been called by the Holy Ghost and ordained by the ministry in the church.  These men are sent out with the same authority that has been passed down since Jesus first gave it to His Apostles.  In this fashion the authority to baptize has been passed down through the generations in Jesus’ church and by His ministry in that church.

So Jesus initiated His church and has perpetuated His church.  The gates of hell are yet to prevail against it.  Jesus’ church still exists somewhere in the world today, and the ministers in that church still have the authority to preach, to baptize, and to lay hands on men and send them out with the authority to preach and to baptize.  At first thought the whole idea that the authority to baptize has been passed down through the church and by the ministry in the church seems simple enough.  So what is the big deal?

More serious consideration of the subject brings to mind a very important question.  If the authority to baptize has been passed down through Jesus’ church that He perpetuates, then a minister with authority to baptize can only be found in the church that Jesus has perpetuated.  So the question is, “Where is Jesus’ church today?”  Is every building with a sign that says, CHURCH, Jesus’ church?  Is every group that calls itself, CHURCH, Jesus’ church?  Does every preacher in every building have scriptural authority to baptize?  These are important questions.  They are academically important questions for our study of the scriptural authority in baptism, but more importantly, in a practical sense they are crucial questions for determining who has had scriptural baptism, and who might not have had scriptural baptism.

So how can Jesus’ church be recognized?  Paul recognized the New Testament Church that Jesus built as the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)  The church of the living God is the keeper of the truth of the living God.  The church that Jesus perpetuates is surely a church where the true gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ is preached, and not another gospel. (Galatians 1:6-7)  So if the church is the pillar and ground of truth, and if the church is to be found where the true gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached, then the next question is, “How far away from the truth of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ can a church drift and still be considered to be a church?”

According to Jesus a church can cease to be a true church.  In Revelation Jesus declared that the seven candlesticks were seven churches, and then He threatened to remove the candlestick out of its place.  So there is a point at which a church can cease to be a church.  When a church strays far enough away from the truth, in practice or in gospel, it can cease to be a church in the eyes of the Lord.  It may still have a building.  It may still have a sign that says CHURCH.  It may continue to be something, even something man has made, or something man perpetuates.  Yet if Jesus has removed the candlestick, it is no longer a church in His eyes.  If it is no longer a church in His eyes, then it no longer has the authority connected with His church.  If it no longer has the authority connected with His church, then its ministers no longer have scriptural authority to baptize.  If the ministers no longer have scriptural authority to baptize, then those that they have baptized have not received scriptural baptism.  It really matters who does the baptizing.  Jesus made a long journey unto John, to be baptized of him.

In summation, we can make the following points.  First of all, it is certain that the real church still exists somewhere.  Secondly, the real church is recognizable, in that it is the keeper of the truth of the gospel by grace.  Thirdly, the true church still has authority to send out Spirit-called men with the authority to preach and to baptize.  Finally, these Spirit-sent and church-sent men go out preaching the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ, having the authority to baptize (with the proper scriptural mode of baptism) those repentant sinners who have learned of and believed on Jesus Christ.  This is the Bible’s plan.  This is Jesus’ plan.  Baptisms that occur outside this plan are questionable as to whether they are sufficient to be recognized as scriptural baptisms.  Paul was not satisfied with the baptisms that the men in Acts 19 claimed to have had.  Paul “rebaptized” those men.  Maybe we can learn more about the subject if we return to that story.

 

 

Back to the “Rebaptism” in the Book of Acts

For the moment let us leave our general discussion on the details of proper scriptural baptism, and return to the specifics of the account of “rebaptism” recorded in the Book of Acts.  We have already looked at the first part of Acts 19, where Paul baptized those men who had claimed a previous baptism.  Let us now see if we can find further insight into the situation described in Acts 19 by going back to the last part of Acts 18.  In Acts 19 we found unenlightened men who claimed that they had already been baptized.  In Acts 18 we can find an unenlightened preacher, even a preacher whose authority to baptize would be very questionable.

Act 18:24  And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.

Act 18:25  This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.

Act 18:26  And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Act 18:27  And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:

Act 18:28  For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

Here we are told that a certain Jew named Apollos…came to Ephesus…and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  This man named Apollos was an eloquent man (a gifted orator), and that is a good thing for a preacher to be.  He was mighty in the scriptures (well-studied in the Old Testament), and that is a good thing for a preacher to be.  He was instructed in the way of the Lord (had been taught things concerning Jesus), and that is a good thing.  He was fervent in the spirit (earnest in his motives), and that is a good thing.  He taught diligently the things of the Lord (a dedicated teacher), and that is a good thing.  So surely Apollos had a lot going for him:  a good speaker, studious in the word, strongly motivated, and diligent to teach others the things that he had been taught concerning the Lord.  In these things Apollos probably surpasses most preachers today, myself included.

Yet in spite of all these good things about the man, there is something concerning his situation that is rather bothersome.  After the declaration that Apollos taught diligently the things of the Lord, comes the disclaimer:  knowing only the baptism of John. [Emphasis added.]  So Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord, and Apollos taught diligently the things of the Lord.  Yet here is the problem.  It is not possible for a teacher to teach more than what he himself knows.  Thus the things of the Lord that Apollos taught could not have exceeded the things of the Lord that Apollos knew, and he knew only the baptism of John.  Now that is a good thing to know, but if that is the only thing that Apollos knew about the Lord, then his knowledge of the Lord was indeed very limited.

At this point it could be argued that we are going too far if we assume that Apollos’ knowledge of the things of the Lord was limited to knowing only the baptism of John, and nothing else.  After all the passage says that Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord, so maybe his knowledge, at least to some degree, went beyond knowing only the baptism of John.  Perhaps we could give Apollos the benefit of the doubt, if not for a second statement about his lack of knowledge.  When Aquila and Priscilla had heard Apollos preach, the passage says that they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.  Obviously these two, who had learned of Christ through the preaching of Paul, found something significantly amiss in the preaching of Apollos.

So Apollos came preaching, but in some shape, form or fashion, he was unenlightened in his preaching.  He knew about the Old Testament, and at least to some extent he was instructed in the way of the Lord.  He obviously knew something about John, but it seems possible that his knowledge of the things of the Lord might have been limited only to the story of the Lord being baptized of John.  We cannot be certain what it was that bothered Aquila and Priscilla, but something sure seemed to throw up a flag, because after these two seasoned believers heard him preach, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Apollos had already been an eloquent speaker, but thanks to the teaching of Aquilla and Priscilla, he now had the truth to speak.  He had already been mighty in the scriptures, but thanks to the teaching of Aquila and Priscilla, he now could take those scriptures and prove that this Jesus was the very Christ.  Apollos had already been instructed in the way of the Lord, but since Aquila and Priscilla had expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly, he could now expound those ways of God more perfectly to others.  Apollos had already been fervent in spirit and diligent in his efforts to preach what little he knew, but after learning of the truth of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ from Aquila and Priscilla, he must have now been on fire to more perfectly preach the whole truth and nothing but the truth.       

After his session with Aquila and Priscilla it seems that a “fired-up” Apollos was ready to go and preach, and when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren (at Ephesus) wrote, exhorting the disciples (at Achaia) to receive him.  Here the church at Ephesus sent Apollos out with authority, and even with a letter attesting to his authority.  Surely this is similar to what had happened when the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out with authority.  So even though I am doubtful as to whether Apollos came to Ephesus with the authority to baptize, I feel certain that Apollos was sent from Ephesus with the authority to baptize.

When Apollos came to Achaia, he helped them much which had believed through grace:  For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.  He preached mightily.  He preached convincingly.  He preached publicly.  He preached the scriptures.  He preached Jesus.  He preached that Jesus was Christ.  Aquila and Priscilla had expounded to this man the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and this God-gifted preacher went and convinced the Jews at Achaia of the same truths that he had now come to know.

 As Apollos had left Ephesus in the last words of Acts 18, Paul was arriving there in the first words of Acts 19.  And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth (Achaia), Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples…  So this brings us again to our passage on “rebaptism”, but perhaps now we have new insight.  Considering what we now know about the account of Apollos, we wonder if Paul found certain disciples who had learned from Apollos.  If Apollos had been their teacher, they could not have learned much, in that Apollos had not known much.  To a limited degree Apollos might have instructed in the way of the Lord, but a preacher in such dire need of being himself taught is likely a poor choice for one to teach others.  We have previously seen that the disciples that Paul found were unenlightened, and now we surmise that the reason for their lack of knowledge is that their teacher had also been unenlightened.

When Paul asked, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”  They responded, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”  This was a bad answer to the question, but the answer was good, in that it led Paul to know two significant things.  Foremost, their answer led Paul to know that these men did not know who God was, and if they did not even know who God was, they probably needed a little more teaching before being baptized.  Secondly, their answer led Paul to know that something else was bad wrong with their baptism.  According to Jesus’ commission they should have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, yet they had not heard of the Holy Ghost.  Since they had not ever heard of the Holy Ghost it is fairly obvious that whoever baptized them had not baptized them in the name of the Holy Ghost.  So they very likely had had a “baptizer” who was not in the succession of authority that had originated with Jesus’ commission, for it seems that any minister who had been in the chain of succession would have baptized in the names that had been given by Jesus.

These two things that Paul would have known by their bad answer were two important things, in that the one being baptized needed to have learned, and the one doing the baptizing needed to have had authority.  So after gaining good information from their bad answer, Paul desired to confirm his suspicions with his next question, “Unto what then were ye baptized?”  To this they answered, “Unto John’s baptism.”  That answer certainly helped Paul confirm his suspicions, and at the same time it helps us to confirm our suspicions.  Is it a coincidence that Apollos had come to Ephesus knowing only the baptism of John and that these men of Ephesus said that they were baptized unto John’s baptism?  These men knew only what they had been taught, and it seems that the one who knew only the baptism of John had been the one who had taught them all that he knew.

I do not want to be too critical of these disciples at Ephesus.  I believe that they had done the best that they could with what they knew.  They had listened to the one who had taught them.  They had consented to a “so-called” baptism.  Unlike the Pharisees that came to John’s baptism, I expect that these men had been very sincere in the whole affair.  Yet in spite of their good intentions and sincerity, Paul looked at their case and deemed it necessary to “rebaptize” them.

Neither do I want to be too critical of Apollos.  He was fervent.  He was sincere.  He was diligent.  He meant well.  There is no reason to doubt his good intentions, but according to the scriptures it takes more than good intentions to be a preacher and a proper “baptizer”.  While many things about Apollos were very commendable, his being a preacher with authority to baptize is very questionable.  With his apparent lack of knowledge in the things of the Lord, it is questionable whether he knew enough to be preaching.  Moreover, it is likewise questionable as to whom, if anybody, would have sent one with such a lack of knowledge out with authority to preach and baptize.  So I am made to wonder where he had come from, and who, if anybody, had sent him.  The scriptures lay out a pattern for the perpetuity of the church and her ministry, and it is through that succession that ministers receive authority to baptize.  It is hard to imagine that one as lacking in knowledge as Apollos had come through the Jesus’ established chain.

Yet both stories end well.  By the end of the story about Apollos, he was enlightened to the truth of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ, and he was given scriptural authority to preach and baptize.  By the end of the story about the disciples at Ephesus, they were enlightened to the truth of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ, and they were given scriptural baptism.  Do we here have a scriptural pattern of how to correct that which is wrong?  Are there preachers in our day who have unquestionable sincerity, but need to be taught the things of God more perfectly and sent out with truth and unquestionable  authority?  Are there people in our day, who with unquestionable sincerity received a “baptism”,  but might still need a scriptural baptism?

 

 

So What Do We Do?

After having studied the Bible’s story on “rebaptism”, the question now becomes, what we do with the story?  Do we just ignore these teachings and pretend that they are not there?  Or do we try to sort out the truths and deal with the tough issues associated with the controversial idea of “rebaptism”?  Do we try to erase these teachings out of our Bibles and out of our minds?  Or do we accept all of God’s word as the guide for our faith and practice?  As a church that desires to follow scriptural teachings, what do we do?

It would be much easier to just accept everybody’s baptism and ignore the whole notion of “rebaptism”.  When I consider the idea I ask myself who I think I am that I would have the right to judge somebody else’s baptism.  I confess that I am unfit to judge anybody, in that I fall far short of being the person or the pastor that I should be.  I further admit that our church is far from perfect, even perhaps to the point of being uncertain as to whether our church is still looked upon by Jesus as His church.  I certainly hope that it is, and I feel that it is, but feelings can often fool you.  So I admit that I am not sure how Jesus looks upon our church, but I am sure how I look upon it.  I want it to be a real church.  I want it to be a church of the living God, a pillar and ground of truth.  I want to preach the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ, and not some other gospel, which is not gospel.  I want to please Jesus in our beliefs and in our practice.  That is why I struggle with such things as baptism and “rebaptism”.  It would be so much easier to just ignore the question, but the scriptures do not ignore the question.  It mattered to Paul in Acts 19, and if it is in the book, it matters to God.  So for me to say that it really does not matter is to go against God, and to go against God is to risk losing the candlestick.  I want our church to be a pillar and ground of truth.

Thus I feel that I must take a stand on the subject of “rebaptism”.  In taking a stand I am not trying to say that I am better than everybody else.  As a church we are not trying to say that our church is better than other churches.  The stand that we take is not based on comparing our church with other churches of our day.  The stand that we take is based on comparing our church with the New Testament church of the Apostles day.  We strive to be scriptural in our doctrines, to be a pillar and ground of truth, and to proclaim nothing but the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ.  It seems that we stand alone in preaching that the sinner’s salvation is totally by the grace of God without even the least bit of help or cooperation from the sinner who is being saved.  Yet we continue to preach this, because this is what was preached in the New Testament day.  We also strive to be scriptural in our practices, even to the point of trying to pattern our style of worship according to what we find in the New Testament.  We want to worship in the same manner that they worshipped in the New Testament day.  We want to do what they did in the New Testament day.  So we take a stand on such a controversial thing as “rebaptism”, because Paul took a stand on it.  We do not take a stand because we like to offend God’s children.  We take a stand because the Bible takes a stand.  We take a stand because we love Christ and want to be His church.

So what is our stand on infant sprinkling?  Do we accept infant sprinkling as scriptural baptism, when John the Baptist said that the one who desires to be baptized needs to bring forth fruits meet for repentance?  Has that infant brought any fruit?  Do we accept infant sprinkling as baptism, knowing that Philip told the eunuch that the thing that would hinder his baptism was a lack of belief?  Has that infant believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?  Do we accept infant sprinkling as baptism, when Jesus Himself said to first go and teach, and then baptize?  Has that infant been taught?  Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not preaching against babies.  I am preaching against “baptizing” babies.  I am preaching against baptizing anybody who is not repentant, who is not a believer, and who has not been taught.  I am also preaching against sprinkling and calling it baptism.  So it is not right to sprinkle babies and say that they are baptized, but even if you dipped the baby, it still would not be right.  Baptism is just not for babies.

What about an adult that is sprinkled?  It might be said of an adult who has learned of Jesus and has come repenting and believing to the water of sprinkling, that his motives were good.  It might be said that he was truly sincere.  Lots of things might be said of the situation, but it still cannot be said that he has been baptized.  The candidate might have been a right candidate, but the mode was the wrong mode.  To sprinkle and call it baptism is by definition wrong, because baptismo means, “to dip”.   To sprinkle and call it baptism is by scriptural pattern wrong, because from the days of John the Baptist and Jesus, through the days of the Apostles the scriptural pattern for the mode of baptism was baptismo.  To sprinkle and call it baptism is by true Christian practice wrong, because through the centuries since the New Testament days, the succession of ministers in the church that Jesus established has continued to use baptismo as the scriptural mode of baptism.  Baptismo is in the Bible, and the true church holds to the Bible as the guide for its beliefs and its practices.  So when a previously sprinkled person comes desiring to join with us as a part of our church, we ask him to be baptized.  We mean no harm or insult to him.  We mean no insult to any other group.  We just desire to follow the word.

What about those who come saying that they have already been baptized by immersion?  This question is more difficult than the one on sprinkling.  Some would say that we should accept anybody that has been immersed, but has every individual who has at some point been dipped in the water had a scriptural baptism?  What about those men in Acts 19?  They had been dipped, but Paul “rebaptized” them.  Are they the exception to the rule or the pattern for the church?  Are they the only ones in history who had been dipped, but had not received scriptural baptism?  If there are others, who are they?  How can we tell?  What do we do?

What should we say to someone who comes saying that they want to join with us, and that they were baptized years ago by old Brother “Somebody” in such and such church?  It is very typical for such a person to speak of how meaningful his baptism was, and to speak of what a good brother old Brother “Somebody” was.  I am not saying that the old brother was not a good brother.  It is very possible, and even likely, that he was a better man than I will ever be.  I am not saying that the first baptism was not a moving experience.  It is not my intention or my right to question feelings or sincerity.

So in this case the possible need of “rebaptism” is not based on questions about sincerity or motives.  A lack of sincerity can be a problem, such as when John the Baptist faced the Pharisees, but insincerity was not a problem with the person we have described.  A lack of belief that Jesus is the Son of God can be a problem with a “so-called” baptism, but I do not believe that that was a problem in this case.  What a person believes about Jesus might vary, but I have yet to find anybody who came wanting to be baptized who did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

I must now remind you that sincere feelings, and even belief that Jesus is the Son of God, are not the only things that matter when considering the need for “rebaptism”.  In my experiences the need for “rebaptism” generally has much more to do with authority than sincerity.  In my experiences the need for “rebaptism” has much more to do with the extent of truth than the extent of belief.  The most common issues concerning the possible necessity for “rebaptism” are related to which churches are really churches and which ones might not be.  The potential need for “rebaptism” has to do with which preachers have the authority to baptize that comes through the chain of succession that Jesus established and which ones do not.  The unanswered questions concerning “rebaptism” have to do with how far a church can stray from the truth of the gospel and still be a church or how much truth a candidate needs to have been taught before being baptized.  I do not have the answers to these questions, nor do I know how to find the answers.  As I ponder the questions I conclude that some groups are very far from the doctrines and practices that are taught in the New Testament, while some are relatively close.  Yet no church is perfect, including my own.

Jesus declared that a church would cease to be a church if it strayed beyond the limits that He allows.  But what are those limits?  When does a church cease to be a church?  How much error is too much error?  To which churches is Christ still extending patience?  From which churches has He already departed?  Which groups are still churches?  Which groups are just groups?  Which “baptizers” have scriptural authority?  Which ones have none?  These and many other similar questions would have to be answered before all the issues concerning the necessity for “rebaptism” could be satisfactorily resolved.  Yet the problem is that we will never have the answers to all these questions.

So since we can never answer all these questions, what is the answer to the question about who needs to be “rebaptized”?  Some cases are much easier to deal with than others.  Sometimes the answers are obvious.  Those that have been sprinkled as opposed to baptismo are not hard to figure out.  The sprinkling may have been a moving experience.  Lots of rituals are designed as such, but if a person has not been dipped, then he has not been baptized.

In many other cases I honestly do not have the answers.  Some churches are very close to scriptural teachings in many ways.  I feel sure that there are many churches that are churches in the eyes of Jesus that do not go by our name.  I feel sure that there are many ministers in other churches who in the eyes of Jesus have scriptural authority to baptize.  It would be simple if I had Jesus’ list of churches and the names of His preachers, but I do not have such a list.  It would be simple if there were a test that I could give and see if the one who wanted to join with us had already had a scriptural baptism.  It would be simple if I had a preacher test to give to the other preacher and see if he passed the test to be a proper “baptizer”.  Yet if I had the test, how would I grade it?  How many wrong answers would it take to disqualify a man?  How close to the truth does a church or a man have to be?  To whom might Christ in His sovereign grace still be extending mercy?  It is not my privilege to have Jesus’ list.  It is not my right, nor do I have the authority to give anybody a test.  If I were to do such, I would be adding something that is not in the scriptures, and we are told not to do that.

So I admit that I do not know, nor do I have the way to find out, nor do I have the right to say, which churches or which preachers have the God-given authority to baptize.  Neither do I know, nor do I have the way to find out, nor do I have the right to say, which people have received scriptural baptism.  Thus I give you my conclusion to the whole matter.  Since there is no way of knowing which baptisms are true scriptural baptisms, and which are not, we just ask anybody from another church who wants to join with us to be “rebaptized”.  That is not the perfect solution.  It is just the only way that we know how to do it, but in doing it this way we admit that we are sometimes wrong.  Through the years I am sure that we have asked some people to be “rebaptized” who had already received scriptural baptism.  For this we beg forgiveness.  I again say that our church is not a perfect church and that I am not a perfect pastor.  I will even go so far as to say that it is possible that we might be holding to the wrong position on “rebaptism”.  If we are may God forgive us and give us enlightenment.  Our desire is not to persecute God’s children or to place a burden on them.  Our desire is to do all that we do in a way that would please Jesus.

Now let me close with thoughts about my Dad who just recently passed away. In his lifetime he was baptized three times.  I know very little about the first two times, but when the providence of God finally led him to the church that preached salvation totally by God’s grace, he was ready and willing to be baptized for the third time.  He faithfully became a part of that church and continued to enjoy hearing the truths of salvation by grace for the remainder of his days.  I do not believe that he ever regretted his decision to be baptized into the church that held to the good news of salvation by grace.  There is nothing in this world that can bring peace to the heart like believing that salvation is totally of the Lord.  To the sinner saved by grace the message of the gospel of God’s salvation by grace truly never grows old.  If you believe these things, why tarriest thou?  Come and be baptized.  Join with a people who try to hold to the doctrines and the practices that were established by Jesus in His day and have been held to by His church since that day.

May God bless you always and in all ways.  Amen.

 

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