Navigating the Waters of Re-Baptism

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Jan 14, 2018

Navigating The Waters Of Re-Baptism

(Eph 4:4-6)

In the 16 years of this church’s existence, I have performed far more re-baptisms than initial (or first-time) baptisms. And what we wb doing today (at the end of our service) is another example of this. All the individuals who wb receiving the sacrament of baptism have been baptized in the past. And so it is in this regard, that I want to say a few things this morning. The title therefore of this message is, “Navigating The Waters Of Re-Baptism.”

1. The act of re-baptizing a person has a long history in the church.

In each case, the reason for re-baptizing was the belief that the former baptism was never (or no longer) legitimate. Things that have constituted a former baptism invalid include:

1.1. Embracing a false god after or at the time of baptism.

In the 3rd century, some Christians were proclaiming the Roman Emperor to be deity (through sacrifices to his name) in an effort to avoid torture. When the persecution stopped, these same people attempted to come back to the church.  The Early Church Father, Cyprian, viewed it as forgivable as long as those persons repented and were re-baptized. Accordingly, in the 4th century, the church decided that those who claimed to be Christian – yet had embraced the idolatrous Arian heresy (i.e. a rejection of Jesus’ full deity and the Trinity) needed to be re-baptized, since the Jesus they had believed in was the not biblical Jesus (and as a result were believing in a false god for salvation). Re-baptisms at this time were incredibly numerous given that those embracing the Arian heresy were more than those who were orthodox.

1.2. Embracing a false gospel or form of Christianity at the time of baptism.

The Anabaptists of the 16th century Protestant Reformation viewed the infant baptisms received in the Roman Catholic Church (which was the case for most people living in the Western world at the time), to be invalid due to the false nature of the Catholic Church itself. In the late 19th century, certain portions of the American Presbyterian church took the same positon, viewing Roman Catholicism as a false religion and therefore unable to extend this sacrament with any saving efficacy.

1.3. Embracing a mode of baptism not according to the Baptist formula in a Baptist church.

Also a part of the 19th century, was a movement known as Landmarkism. The Landmark doctrine essentially taught that unless one was baptized in a Baptist church and according to a certain Baptist formula (e.g. professing belief, Trinitarian and full immersion), then their baptism was invalid (i.e. an “alien immersion”) and needed to be re-baptized. To add weight to their claim, Landmarkers attempted to trace the history of the Baptist church all the way back through the centuries to John the Baptist himself.  This idea, called “Baptist successionism,” has been explained famously in a booklet called “The Trail of Blood” by James Milton Carroll (pseudo-history at best). Though denouncing Landmarkism in general, many Baptist churches today, nonetheless still operate according to Landmark doctrine.   Danny Akin (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.; 15.7 million members), estimated that 50% of their baptisms fit into this category (280k in 2016 = 140k wb re-baptisms).

2. Re-baptizing people whose prior baptisms were invalid (or whose prior baptisms we are unsure of as to their validity) is imperative given the fact that we are saved (and empowered) in the waters of baptism.

IOW: God will not accept anyone’s faith in Christ that is not expressed through the waters of baptism (sins forgiven = 1Pe 3:21; Act 2:38 – notice Peter doesn’t say “repent and believe” but “repent and be baptized” = believe/be baptized; covenant union w/Christ thru death w/Christ, death to sin, new life to God = Rom 6:1-7; covenant union with Christ = 1Co 6:11, 15:29; Eph 4:5, 5:26[1]; regeneration/rebirth = Tit 3:5 “regeneration” = rebirth; Joh 3:1-7; hence Mar 16:16). Those who think baptismal regeneration to be false (believing instead that they are saved the moment they believed/confessed belief – Rom 10:9):

2.1. Must not understand that baptism is where we are to call upon the Lord in faith (Rom 10:8-13 w/Act 22:16).

2.2. Must equally think that both the writers of Scripture and Jesus suffer from schizophrenia – or at the very least, an inability to make up the minds (As it re: to writers – e.g. 1Pe 1:8-9 w/1Pe 3:21; //As it re: to Jesus – Joh 3:5 w/16 ).

2.3. Must also have a hard time with the fact that this is how God used His prescribed covenant signs in the Old Testament. IOW: Once instituted, this was the way you must approach Him if you were to supernaturally receive from Him what the sign signified (e.g. covenant union = Gen 17:10-14; forgiveness of sin = Exo 12:1-13; Lev 16:1-10, 30; re: acceptability = Lev 22:17-33)

2.4. Must not realize that this is why the majority of the church throughout history has referred to baptism (as well as the Lord’s Table) as sacraments (i.e. covenant signs necessary to supernaturally receiving what they signify) versus ordinances (i.e. symbols for remembrance w/no supernatural conveyance of what they symbolize – e.g. a cross). It wasn’t until the 16th century that people began to reject the supernatural aspect of God’s covenant signs. At that time, this group was a small minority (the Anabaptists) considered heretics by the Protestant Reformers. Today they represent a much larger group (all Baptists, charismatic, Pentecostal and nondenominational churches).

2.5. Must be unaware of how theologically challenged they sound when using the thief on the cross as their defense (Luk 23:42-43 w/Luk 12:50 w/Rom 6:3-5).

3. We should only re-baptize those whose former baptisms we KNOW DID NOT (or are not sure) happened in a Christ established church (Act 11:19-26 = Only called a church after: 1. possessing a biblically qualified elder [22], 2. the covenant elements of faith and faithfulness are committed to [21, 23] 3. and the covenant sign is received [24]; the sequence and criteria used by Christ to establish His covenant communities/churches are the same in both the Old and New Testaments – Exo 24:1-8; see 1Pe 1:2).

4. The reason we need to re-baptize those whose former baptisms we KNOW did not take place in a Christ established church is because it is only to the elders of these kinds of churches that this key to the kingdom has been given (Mat 16:18-19; Joh 20:21-23).

5. Those whose former baptisms we are not sure took place in a Christ established church should be treated no different in regard to their current membership since this is what God expects in situations of such ignorance and will retroactively apply their re-baptism if their former was indeed invalid (Deu 29:29 = don’t act like we know what we don’t know either in relation to it being valid or invalid; Lev 16:30 w/Heb 10:1-14 w/9:13-15; Rom 4:10-12).


[1] British New Testament Scholar H.T. Andrews said after examining these five texts, “It is difficult to believe that [these] imply a merely symbolical interpretation of baptism. With this evidence before us it seems very hard to resist the conclusion (however little we may like it) that if the Epistles do not enunciate the ecclesiastical doctrine of baptismal regeneration, they at any rate approximate very closely to it.”