Going back into the water?—Why re-baptism is an unbiblical idea.

A while back the following announcement came across my Facebook page:

“I accepted Christ when I was seven years old and was baptized shortly after; 27 years later, my relationship with Jesus has grown stronger than I ever knew possible.
August 2018 God lit a fire in my heart and I knew it was time to make my way back to the water. Words will never do justice to the way I felt at this moment.”

“And I knew it was time to make my way back to the water?” While undoubtedly the actions of this individual were well-intended, I can’t help but scratch my head over the misunderstanding this quote places on one’s understanding of Christian baptism. Unfortunately, I am seeing a trend among many evangelicals where “going back into the water” is happening more and more. Indulge me if you will as I briefly lay out why I think this trend is not only unhelpful, but unbiblical.

There is no such thing as a “re-baptism.”

Many like to talk about how they were “re-baptized.” The logic behind this practice, from conversations I have had, involves one’s deep conviction that their initial baptism was done with wrong motives (e.g. they saw others doing it and thought it was a cool idea), or perhaps they felt their baptism was premature because of their lack of knowledge. But, for whatever reason one decides to get baptized again, if their first baptism was done without true repentance, then the first baptism was no baptism at all! All that occurred in that first ceremony was purely physical—nothing spiritual took place. In reality there is no such thing as a “rebaptism.” Why—because baptism is a one time event wherein the repentant believer submits to the Gospel, and has his or her sins washed away (e.g. Acts 2:38, 22:16). To speak of “rebaptism” is actually a contradiction in terms. Baptism by its very definition is a singular event. No wonder the apostle Paul speaks of “one baptism” in Ephesians 4!

But, some get baptized multiple times for more concerning reasons. Rather than being “rebaptized” because the first baptism was done with improper motives, others do so because, as one person put it to me, “I wanted to rededicate my life to the Lord.” Or as the person above put it, “God lit a fire in my heart…” In other words many are getting baptized 2, 3, 4 times because they come to a place of conviction and use baptism as a way to “have a new start,” or to “have a fresh beginning.”

The problem with this idea is that this was never the purpose of Baptism as taught in the NT. Baptism is not an event to be repeated every time one feels convicted of sin. Baptism is a one time event done for the purposes of having ones sins forgiven and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38). It is daily repentance and confession of sin which is the proper action to be taken under these circumstances (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:10-12, 1 John 1:8-10).

Re-baptism as a rededication blurs the purpose of baptism.

I recall a number of years back when I baptized a gentleman in his 40’s. He was previously an atheist, but through many conversations he came to accept Christ and desired to follow him; it was a wonderful and exciting day! A couple weeks later this same fella came running into my office in a frantic state. “I think I need to get baptized again! “He said. “ I have been studying the scriptures and I never knew all of this stuff about baptism, I don’t think I got baptized for the right reasons!” After I calmed him down I simply asked my friend, “when you were baptized did you do so because you knew your sins had separated you from God, and that the only way to be saved was through Christ’ work on your behalf?” He replied, “well yeah, I knew that, but not much more!” I then responded: “All that tells me is that you are bearing the fruit of your baptism!”

The point here is that many seem to think that when they are baptized they have to have the whole Christian life figured out beforehand, and when they discover new things from scripture, especially in regards to their baptism, another baptism is needed. But this doesn’t seem to be what Paul taught about the purpose of baptism. In fact, Romans 6:1-5 seems to show that if baptism is needed every time we are convicted of sin, or that we come to understand baptism in a deeper way, then the Roman church should have all been re-baptized!

But, this is not what the apostle teaches. When he tells his readers that they are not to “sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1),” he REMINDS them of their baptism; he doesn’t tell them to get baptized again! When we are tempted to indulge in our sinful nature, Paul tells us to remember our baptism! Baptism was the occasion in which you died and began to walk in the newness of life! Rather than being “rebaptized” we need to “remind” ourselves of what happened at our baptism!

Biblical precedence over personal pragmatism.

Finally, some may respond: “but what does it matter? Rebaptizing people isn’t going to hurt anyone. In fact, isn’t it prudent to be “better safe than sorry?” Let me briefly conclude with the following:

  • First, as discussed above, there is no such thing as a “rebaptism.” Therefore, if the reason one desires to “go back into the water” is based on the fact that their initial baptism involved merely getting wet, then a proper-one time-baptism, based on a true repentant heart, in true saving faith, should be done.
  • Second, those who desire to be “rebaptized” for the reasons stated above (i.e. as a rededication), should be reminded what happened at their initial baptism as taught in Romans 6:1-5, rather than going through the baptismal ceremony again. Repentance and confession of sin should be the encouragement for those desiring to rededicate their lives to God.
  • Finally, just because being rebaptized “doesn’t hurt anyone” it doesn’t make it right. As Christians we should desire to be biblical, and seek to do what the Word of God says. For church leaders this should be a double caution. I know that for some rebaptisms are actually an effective way to increase conversion stats! Lord forbid that this be the motive for encouraging rebaptisms! We need to be biblical rather than pragmatic in this regard.