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.

Belong before you believe, or believe before you belong?

Some of our leaders recently visited a local church holding a seminar on how to welcome new visitors. The practical advice and suggestions were all very helpful, but there was a phrase that caught our attention. During the seminar the speaker made a case for allowing non-members to serve in various ministries. The understanding seemed to be that if one gets plugged into the church they are more likely to return for subsequent Sundays. The hope was that eventually said person would come to know Jesus through exposure to other Christians, and eventually place their membership with the church. The speaker summarized this ministerial philosophy with the slogan, “belong before you believe.” In other words, whether one is a Christian, or simply a seeker there are no practical “lines in the sand” so to speak.

I get the heart and logic behind this statement, but I wonder if it’s biblical. It sounds pious but it may be missing the mark. It is definitely more pragmatic and yields immediate results, but is it the most healthy pursuit? Should we not call people to “believe before you belong?” Didn’t Jesus live out this philosophy? Some will reply—“Yeah but Jesus was accused for hanging out with drunks, prostitutes, and the unclean!” True, but we must ask ourselves—did Jesus hang around these people arbitrarily without any call for a change of lifestyle? Or did Jesus hang around these people for the sole purpose of calling them to “repent for the Kingdom is at hand?”

  • It was Jesus, was it not, who told the rich man to sell all of his possessions and give it to the poor before being allowed in the Kingdom (Matthew 19).
  • It was Jesus who said to the man who requested he bury his father before following Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8).”
  • It was Jesus who said the road to eternal life was narrow and few would find it (Matthew 7).
  • It was Jesus who said that in order to follow him you would have to love him more than your entire family (Matthew 10).
  • It was Jesus who said that one would have to deny themselves, and  take up their cross in order to follow him (Matthew 16).

In other words, have we as a church become so obsessed with attracting people into our community that we have neglected to set any standard by which one can come in? Perhaps instead of leaving the front doors of the church wide open and the back doors closed it should be the other way around.

The time Jesus was wrong?

Recently I preached a sermon from Matthew 15:21-28, the famous story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman. In this text I was taken back by Jesus’ seemingly harsh tone and attitude toward a woman who, from all intense and purposes, was one who showed tremendous faith and perseverance. A simple straight forward reading of the passage shows Jesus completely ignoring the woman’s plea for help (verse 23), dismissing her because she is not a Jew (verse 24), and finally calling this poor woman a dog (verse 26)! As one sifts through the Gospel of Matthew Jesus’ actions toward the persistent woman is oddly out of place. Jesus told the gentile centurion that he had never in all Israel found such faith (Matthew 8:10), spoke highly of the faith of the Paralytic in Matthew 9:2, and many more examples could be given. So, why in this particular instance does Jesus seem so unlike, well, Jesus?

While on the surface it may seem that Jesus is treating the Canaanite woman harshly could it be that there is something going on in the text that isn’t so obvious; that when one digs a bit deeper into the text discovers Jesus is actually being tremendously endearing? I think there is.

While trying to unpack the essence of this conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, some clues unveil in at least two places. The first involves the sudden shift in Jesus’ attitude in verse 28. It seems bizarre at first. After completely ignoring this woman while she cries out for Jesus’ help in verses 21-27, Jesus’ tone dramatically shifts as he exclaims “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire (Matthew 15:28).” So, why does Jesus intentionally ignore her in the first two requests for help, but then suddenly shift and speak of how much faith she has?

The second hint is found in the statement made by the Canaanite woman in verse 27. The Canaanite woman finally approaches Jesus, falls to her knees, and says “Lord Help me (verse 25).” At this point one could easily envisage Jesus responding in compassion. But no, Jesus actually responds with what only can be viewed as a harsh and rude statement: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (verse 26).” It is at this point that the Canaanite says something that changes Jesus tone entirely, verse 27 reads thus: “She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” What is it about this statement that radically changes the conversation?

I discovered that most English translations translate the Greek phrase Ναὶ κύριε, καὶ γὰρ (yes Lord, yet even) as “yes Lord, yet even…” or “Yes Lord, But even…” The problem however is that the words “καὶ γὰρ” never mean “but even” or “yet even,” but always mean “for even.” When translated as “but even” it gives the impression that the Canaanite is agreeing with Jesus statement. That is, it is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs—Implying that it is not right for Jesus to minister to the woman because his purpose was only to minister to the people of Israel. Rather, the phrase should be translated “For even.”

Read this way it implies something entirely different, namely that the Canaanite is disagreeing with Jesus. In essence she is saying in response, “Yes Lord, it is right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, for even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table…(my paraphrase)” In other words, the Canaanite woman was challenging Jesus’ statement. She was arguing that the Kingdom is for both Jew and Gentile! In light of this, Jesus’ ecstatic expression in verse 28 makes sense. Jesus in essence says to this woman—you’re right!

If this interpretation is correct the tone and feel of the conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is read in a different light. Was Jesus being rude and ugly in response to the Canaanite woman’s plea for help? Some would conclude that he was. But, what if Jesus was purposefully responding in the manner he does in order to draw out the faith of the Canaanite woman? Could there be a bit of sarcasm and facetiousness being delivered by our Lord? Was Jesus purposefully saying something wrong in order for the Canaanite woman to correct him?NT scholar R.T. France seems to think so:

Cold print does not allow us to detect a quizzical eyebrow or a tongue in the cheek, and it may be that Jesus’ demeanor already hinted that his discouraging reply was not to be his last word on the subject. Need we assume that when eventually the woman won the argument Jesus was either dismayed or displeased? May this not rather have been the outcome he intended from the start? A good teacher may sometimes aim to draw out a pupil’s best insight by a deliberate challenge which does not necessarily represent the teacher’s own view—even if the phrase ‘devil’s advocate’ may not be quite appropriate to this context!” (France, R.T., NICNT, Matthew, 591)

When I preached this sermon I titled it “The time Jesus was wrong?” It got a lot of attention as you can imagine! But, in the end it is interesting to see that Jesus’ deliberate response to the Canaanite woman actually intended to spur on the great statement of faith that she did. And Jesus was glad she was right!

Are people generally good? A foundational question for young evangelicals.

I ran across a very interesting https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fprageru%2Fvideos%2F1739404986102350%2F&show_text=0&width=476“>debate (conversation?) that sheds much light on the contemporary landscape among young liberals and their political views. As a young individual with more conservative leanings I am concerned as to the future of our nation, and her approach to biblical virtues and morals. You can decide as to where you stand on the issues discussed in the video yourself; it is definitely an intriguing dialogue.

But as you listen to the conversation take note during the conclusion of the discussion. Dennis Prager submits what he sees as the essential dividing line between both groups–Are humans essentially good? How would you respond to such a query? Prager answers in the negative while the young college students answer in the positive. I think Prager has put his finger on an important issue that influences how one shapes his or her worldview.

One slightly familiar with the biblical narrative will realize before he reaches Genesis 4 that human nature has been seriously affected by sin. A biblical worldview argues that we as humans are not generally good but generally evil. Paul makes this clear in the opening chapters of Romans, claiming that “none does good not even one (Romans 3:12),” and “that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” In Ephesians Paul makes it clear that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).”

So, yes this is a crucial question in trying to determine why society is the way it is. The young college students propose that “badness” is the result of social conditioning; change the circumstances, change the people. But go back as far as you want, and you will discover that every generation struggles with being “good.” The Bible however offers the only true remedy to the problem of badness–It is in the regeneration of the Spirit of God graciously bestowed to us by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. A transformation must occur for lives to be changed. no amount of social conditioning, behavioral correcting, psychological diagnosing, or any other treatment will suffice. No, if the Bible is true then we have to conclude that true formation of our attitude and behavior can only come through the supernatural work of God! Thus, Paul can go on to say in Ephesians 2 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ( Ephesians 2:4). “

How Making Jesus your King Can Send you to Hell.

I was struck this past week, as I was preparing for my sermon on Jesus’ feeding of the Five Thousand, by a phrase in John chapter 6:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves (John 6:26, ESV).”

In the context of John’s rendition we discover that after Jesus performs the miracle of feeding a conservative estimate of 15,000 people with five loaves and two fish, the crowds are so amazed of what they experience they try to take Jesus by force and make him their King (see John 6:15). On the surface it seems fantastic; this is Jesus’ climactic opportunity to be exalted as King and Messiah. Yet, we read that Jesus perceiving this is what they were intending to do, withdrew….why?

We discover the answer in that most provocative verse above. Jesus reveals the true intentions of the crowd—they wanted Jesus for the bread of the flesh, not the bread of life! Rather than desiring a devotional allegiance to Jesus they merely wanted Jesus for what he could give, namely their physical security.

In fact, as the texts unfolds in the rest of John 6 Jesus begins to spell out exactly what type of attitude he desires:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).

In response to this radical call of devotion the crowds are taken back, and are not that sold on such a bizarre invitation. They are after all just wanting Jesus for his ability to feed their bellies, and perhaps heal them when they are sick. So radical was Jesus’ invitation to feed on him rather than mere physical bread, that it compelled the majority of those who claimed to be his disciples to no longer follow after him. This enormous crowd who moments earlier desired to make him their kind had now wanted nothing to do with him…

As I reflect on the massive implications of this compelling story I can’t help but wonder if this reaction is prevalent in today’s culture. Could it be that many who claim to want Jesus as their King really just desire him for what he can do for them, rather than wanting Jesus Himself? I wonder if some of us carry Jesus around, and only find him useful when he benefits our physical and emotional needs? Could it be that some of us really don’t want Jesus, but rather only want what he can give us? Could we be in danger of acting like the crowds and only wanting him because he has bread?! Is it Jesus that we want or just the benefits that come with carrying the name “Christian?” These are admittedly penetrating questions, but questions I think every serious Christian should ponder.

The irony however, is that while the crowds desired only the physical bread, it was Jesus himself that provided “everlasting satisfaction!” Jesus said “I am the bread of life!” Oh how I hope to always desire the bread of life over the bread of man! Take my friends, but give me Jesus! Take my family but give me Jesus!Take my life but Give me Jesus! As the songwriter puts it “when I come to die, give me Jesus. You can have all this world but give me Jesus!”

It’s no wonder we find these words from Jesus:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:10, NLT).

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).

A Case for Local Church Membership.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the words “thou shall be a member of a local church.” However, the absence of the word “Trinity” doesn’t seem to keep us from believing in a triune God either. The reason involves simple logical deduction or inference from a holistic reading of scripture, which moves us to conclude that God is one in being yet three in persons. Similarly, while the words “local church membership” are not found in the Bible, a serious reading of the text cannot but persuade one to its validity.

With that said the following is my attempt to list details from the NT that, I believe, accumulatively make a strong case for the NT’s teaching of local church membership. But first allow me to define exactly what I mean by my terminology:
Local—I mean a specific geographical area where the church meets regularly to worship God, in contrast to what’s typically termed “the universal church,” that is, true believers throughout the entire world.
Church—I mean the assembly of believers for the purposes of worshipping God, edifying the saints, and manifesting the glory of God.
Membership—I mean the intentional and apparent recognition of each individual who has pledged their lives to a particular local church, for the advancement of the Gospel in the local community, and throughout the world.

With our terms set before us here are ten biblical reasons why, when put together, make a strong accumulative case that every believer should be a member of a local church:

  1. The word for “Church” implies in itself a group of people who gather regularly, in a particular place, for a uniting purpose. The word translated “church” comes from the Greek Ekklesia meaning “a gathered assembly.”
  2. When the apostle Paul wrote his letters they were written to specific churches in a specific geographical location.
    • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2)
    • and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2)
    • Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1)
    • Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.(1 Thessalonians 1:1)
  3. The NT describes the first church as being established and having elders appointed to each local church.
    • And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.(Acts 14:23) (see also, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)
  4. The NT teaches that believers met regularly to worship God together.
    • I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.(1 Timothy 3:14-15)
    • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.(Hebrews 10:24-25)
    • But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse (1 Corinthians 11:17).
    • If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds. . . What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn. . .(1 Corinthians 14:23,26)
    • See also, Acts 2:42-27
  5. Paul at the conclusion of his letter to the church at Rome sends greetings to a number of individual believers. It seems from this list that there was a clear understanding of who had identified as being devoted to that particular local congregation.
    • See Romans 16:1-16
  6. The call for church discipline involves a mutual understanding between each member of a local church that they’re held accountable to each other for what they believe and how they behave.
    • Matthew 18:15-20
    • 1 Cor. 5:1-13
    • 2 Cor. 2:5-11
    • Galatians 6:1-5
  7. The call for church discipline implies that to be put out of fellowship with a congregation means that one would have once been in fellowship with a congregation. 
    • See passages in previous point
  8. The body/member metaphor given by Paul points to the design of a local church.
    • 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
  9. Leaders of the church being accountable for the souls in their flock assume they know who is in their flock.
    • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
  10. Jesus established and taught the importance of the Local church 
    • Matthew 16:13-20
    • Matthew 18:15-20
    • John 17:20-26

Reasons why baptism should be performed by immersion and not to infants or young children.

I have had several conversations with some of my Christian friends over the issue of the mode and candidates for baptism. And while this topic tends to divide us on doctrine it is nevertheless a crucial and important topic to have. As I heard one theologian put it: “when doctrine divides the worst thing to do is to say nothing.” So here are some reasons why I believe the proper mode of baptism should be immersion, and the proper candidates should be those who can believe and repent (i.e. not babies or children):

The Mode—immersion

  • The original word “baptism” comes from the Greek baptizo which literally means to “immerse” or “dip (see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer. 2nd ed. 130).”
  • In John 3:23 we are told that John the Baptist was baptizing near Salim “because water was plentiful there.” There is no need for a large quantity of water if anything other than immersion is to be understood.
  • In Acts 8:38-39 we are told that Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch went “down into the water…and they came up out of the water.” This seems to indicate that Phillip Immersed the Eunuch, rather than sprinkling or pouring.
  • The picture baptism symbolizes in Romans 6:2-4 is one that can only make sense with immersion in view. According to Romans 6 baptism pictures a death burial and resurrection.When one is immersed into water, and comes up out of the water it pictures Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Sprinkling or pouring cannot picture these symbols.
  • In the early church the only mode of baptism was immersion (see The Emergence of the Church, Arthur G. Patzia. 240.)

The Candidate—a Repentant believer

  • Baptism is always accompanied with faith and/or repentance (e.g. Acts 2:38; Romans 6:2-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, one would have to have the ability to place their trust in Christ and understand that they need to turn from their sin—babies and children are unable to do this.
  • Nowhere in the NT do we find children being baptized. Therefore, the silence of such examples leads one to conclude that infants are not required to be baptized.
  • Jesus says in Matthew 19:14 that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. Thus, until they reach an age of accountability it seems appropriate to conclude that Children are under the grace of God.