What about Rebaptism?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 7:02pm
THE QUESTION OF REBAPTISM
On Aug. 26 I received the following query about whether a “rebaptism” would be advisable in the questioner’s case. I thought my response might be of interest. (I have the writer’s permission to use this.)
QUESTIONER’S QUERY. I would like to go over some basic background information that may help you better understand my dilemma. I was raised in a home where there was no strict doctrine. Though my mother had grown up in church, our family did not regularly attend for large parts of my childhood. The only church we did regularly attend was when I was a very young child under the age of ten. This church was an apostolic Pentecostal church; they were oneness Pentecostals. I was baptized at an early age and honestly don’t remember how old I was when I was baptized. I attended church off and on for the next 10 – 12 years and went to a couple of non-denominational churches that all had a Pentecostal style. Within the last two years I began attending a non-denominational church that holds to Baptist doctrines which I don’t agree with, and I felt the strong need to be rebaptized. I was rebaptized a little over a year ago, and I have been vigorously studying the Bible and doctrine ever since. Since I’ve been studying and learning and trying to love Jesus more, I feel that He has most definitely led me to your book [The Faith Once for All]. My wife and I married this February, but all this time I have been fighting this lingering notion that something has been incomplete in regards to my salvation. I don’t feel the security or the surety that I find in the Bible; I act and think in ways that cause me to question my salvation and I can’t help but think that possibly I was never baptized correctly and with the right belief, namely, that baptism is where Jesus meets the sinner and gives the Holy Spirit and remits sins. After reading your chapter on baptism I felt the immediate need to contact someone regarding this issue, but honestly I did not have anyone who would have understood besides you. All my friends and my Pastor take the Baptist stance on baptism, which I myself held until I realized that the Bible was saying something different and that the earliest church fathers were saying something different as well. My wife was baptized in a church of Christ, and so was my mother; and they both feel the same way you do about baptism. My wife suggested that I email you with my question. I guess this can all be summed up thus: What should I do if I feel that my baptism was done incorrectly, or not with the correct mindset/belief? I really appreciate any help that you can give me on this issue. I truly feel that my salvation rests on my understanding of baptism and my submission to it. Thank you in advance for any response to this question. Thanks again, J.
COTTRELL’S REPLY. Thank you for writing, Justin, and thank you for expressing your sincere desire to be true to Scripture at all costs. The issue at stake—what specifically does a person have to know or believe is happening in baptism for it to be valid–is quite thorny. In the Oneness Pentecostal context the main issue is whether or not one believes in the Trinity. This may or may not have been a factor in your Pentecostal baptism; anyway, it is a moot point since you were baptized again. But in the Baptist context, the official teaching of most Baptist churches, and the actual belief of most Baptist preachers, is that baptism is not a salvation event, but is something a saved person does to be accepted into membership in a local congregation. The real issue is this: not what the Baptist church teaches, not what the Baptist preacher who baptized you believed, but what YOU believed was happening when you were baptized. Only you are able to think back to that time and try to remember just what you assumed was going on in that moment.
But now this question must be raised: at the time of baptism, how much does a person have to know about baptism’s purpose for it to be valid? The thing is this: every one of us knows now a lot more about baptism than we knew when we were baptized. We now know specific details about what was happening at that time, even if we were not aware of them in that moment. So here is my rule of thumb, based on Colossians 2:12, which says that we were buried and raised up with Jesus (i.e., born again or regenerated) IN BAPTISM, through our FAITH IN THE WORKING OF GOD. My conclusion from this is that the baptism is valid IF the baptized person at the time of baptism believed that GOD WAS WORKING in some way to bestow salvation. I.e., the baptized person must understand that baptism is NOT just the act of the baptizer nor just something that he himself is doing (expressing his faith, testifying to the church that he is one of them, etc.)–i.e., a work of MAN. Rather, he must have at least the simple faith that GOD is the one who is working in this moment.
But here is the qualifier: one does not have to have SPECIFIC knowledge or faith about what SPECIFIC things God may be doing there. The one being baptized is simply submitting himself into God’s hands, trusting that God is doing SOMETHING for him there, i.e., some salvific work that he cannot do for himself–even if the baptizer did not look at it that way. You can try to think back to your baptism; if you had at least this simple trust, I believe your baptism was valid. On the other hand, if you still do not feel confident and secure about the matter, it will be appropriate for you to seek out a faithful person who can baptize you with all of these things in mind. Your wife herself could baptize you. Or so could any good Restoration preacher! After all, remember: it’s what YOU have in your heart at the time that counts. Remember also that your salvation rests not on the baptism itself, but on the gracious God who is doing what he promises to do in that moment. You may contact me again for further clarification. Jack Cottrell
QUESTIONER’S REPLY. Thank you so much for you response. I would actually be glad if you were to use my question for teaching purposes. If my situation can in any way help someone else who is going through a similar struggle, that would be a great work of God. I feel that preaching about baptism has been so watered down over the years, that I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had these same issues. I do believe that I will seek further counsel from a restoration preacher about what my next steps will be. I think that being baptized in the Biblical way is something I must look into further because God is shedding light on me that I did not have before; and I feel that this is for a reason, because my other baptisms were done with the wrong mindset and the wrong beliefs. – J.