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.

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.

First Works and Rebaptism

I listened to a preacher today preach on Revelation 2:6. In his sermon he maintained that Jesus’ phrase “do the works you did at first” referred to one having to be baptized again. Apparently this church re-baptizes individuals numerous times. The logic is as follows: (1) Revelation 2:1-5 teaches that one can lose their salvation. This is what is meant by “lost your first love.” (2) Because one has fallen from grace they are commanded to do their first works again. This is taken to mean those things that one did when they first became saved; the “process of salvation.” (3) The process of salvation is as follows: believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. (4) Therefore, one needs to be re-baptized.

Here are some fallacies I see in this deduction: First, while I maintain that one can lose their salvation (Heb 6:4-6) this doesn’t seem to be the case for the church at Ephesus. In verse 5 Jesus says that if they do not repent then he will in fact “remove their lampstand.” While the church is in danger of losing their salvation they are not yet in the position. Secondly, to say that the “first works” refers to the plan of salvation is merely an implication read into the text. There is no contextual evidence to take this phrase in this way. Thirdly, to say that “first works” refers to the plan of salvation goes against the larger biblical teaching of salvation by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8-9). To say that “first works” refers to the plan of salvation is to imply that one is saved by “works.”

What seems to be intended by “first works” is faithful Christian conduct. That is, the church of Ephesus needs to repent of the unrighteous “works” and return to the righteous “works of God. In light of this I do not see Revelation 2:5 as a text favoring the practice of re-baptism.