Baptisms and Re-baptising

Acts 19:1-5

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?”

So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”

Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

This passage came up in my Bible reading this morning, and I wanted to tease it out a little bit.  Paul comes upon some disciples, presumably Gentiles, and he notices that there’s something missing.  So he asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit.”  Presumably, this means that the thing that he noticed missing was some visible evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Upon further inquiry, he discovers that they were baptized “into John’s baptism.”  I take that to mean that they were repenting of their sins and believing in an unnamed christ, with the anticipation that they would one day gain the further information of who that christ was.  Paul supplies the missing piece, that the christ in question was Jesus Christ.  All twelve of them accept this information readily, and are baptized again, into Jesus Christ.  At this point, the Holy Spirit supplies the missing part that Paul noticed – they speak in tongues and prophesy.

I’m gong to completely ignore the question of whether regeneration, baptism into Jesus, receiving the Holy Spirit, and supernatural gifting are inextricably interlocked.  We can say that they are closely associated, but that it’s possible to be a bit patchy on a few of those items, and move on from there.

What caught my attention this morning was the concept of rebaptism.  Baptists, of course, are known for rebaptism, especially for those who were baptized as infants.  But I’ve always been a little leery of it, because I felt that getting baptized again involved among other things a repudiation of your former baptism.  It’s not like a bath, and it’s not like communion.  In some ways it is like circumcision.  If you have to do it again, this must mean there was something not quite right about the first time, so that it didn’t take.

So, my parents, when I was about 12, heard a new teaching about what baptism accomplishes, and were persuaded to get baptized again.  My mom recommended it to me, but I felt that the dunking I got when I was 5 was quite sufficient.  This was in spite of the fact that, right around that time, I had a major turn in my walk that looked a lot more like true repentance than what happened when I was 5.  But, as Luther said, the whole Christian life should be one of repentance.  If repenting some more was the basis for rebaptism, we ought to get rebaptized every day.

But here we see some folks getting baptized all over again, and they don’t seem to be repudiating their former baptism.  You don’t reject John the Baptist when you accept Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything John preached. On the other hand, having met Jesus, you can’t stay with John.  Or rather, you could, but that wouldn’t make you a Christian, would it?

Rebaptism from John to Jesus doesn’t seem to be a requirement.  Paul was baptized into Jesus and I think never into John.  James, and John the apostles were disciples of John before they came to Jesus, and there’s no indication that they were baptized again, any more than there’s an indication that Jesus baptized John the Baptist.

So it looks like rebaptism is okay, but it’s a totally optional practice.  Probably it’s not even a guaranteed method of getting the gift of tongues.

I’m still not sure what to do with groups like the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches, who apparently believe that it is acceptable to separate from other groups of Christians along the lines of Reformed doctrine, but perfectly reasonable to stay together across the issue of infant baptism.  They have churches that practice infant baptism, and churches that only baptize on profession of faith.  Usually those guys can be friends, but they can’t be the same denomination.  The Baptist church tells the guy who was baptized as a baby that his baptism was basically a meaningless event, every bit as invalid as an infant marriage, that he must say his vows and go under the waters again.  I think the Presbyterian church says basically that  the infant baptism is every bit as valid as an infant marriage – as long as you stayed with it, it must have took – and that it’s the remarriage as an adult that is kind of silly.

Paul here tells the Corinthians that the messiah is Jesus, and they are so excited that they go and get baptized all over again.  They come up spluttering and speaking in tongues.  And one thing is certain: after that the Corinthians definitely new how to speak in tongues.

Evaluating the Baptist proper rituals standard

###The Controversy###
There is a bit of a controversy going on right now, coming mostly from the Baptists, about baptism. I believe the conversation begins with a sermon series by John Piper, though I first learnt of it via Fide-o. Other comments by Jason Robertson (Fide-o) here. John Halton gives us a take from the Lutheran perspective here and here.

Excluding the silliness of those who don’t take baptism and communion very seriously, the argument as I understand it boils down to a plain reassertion of the traditional Baptist position on baptism. Baptists hold to a particular form of baptism: It must be done by immersion; it must be done upon (that is, immediately after) confession of faith. So it rules out sprinkling, and the baptizing of infants. But the tricky part is the position that *only* credal baptism by immersion is acceptable. For Baptists, properly, there are no sacraments, only ordinances (those things which Christ has ordered us to do) – baptism and communion. So the value of doing of those things is not their direct spiritual impact, but the value of obedience. If you didn’t do it the Baptist way, it’s not just a little whoopsie.

This is where Baptists prove that they are still anabaptists – re-baptizers: The argument goes that if you didn’t follow the prescribed ritual, it isn’t that you didn’t do it wrong. You never did it at all. Sprinkled? Unknowingly “christened” in your infancy? It wasn’t obedience; it wasn’t baptism. You’re unbaptized. And unbaptized people can’t take communion. You are officially excommunicated.

And here I got a little theological education. I had been under the impression that to excommunicate was to say, in effect, that the excommunicated was not a Christian. After all, the scripture says to treat such a person as if they were unsaved. Evangelize them, but don’t offer communion. But Frank Turk informs me that you can still be a Christian even while excommunicated. Even though we should treat you like you’re not.

###The Standards###
Regardless, the traditional Baptist position on baptism boils down to these two tenants:

  1. Baptism must follow a specific set of rules in order to be done **right**.
  2. If it wasn’t done **right**, it wasn’t done **at all**.

The first point usually get’s all the attention, but it wouldn’t carry water without the second coming right behind it. Hence John’s Lutheran response: “I *am* baptized! So there!” And yet, you hear constantly all the arguments for the first point, but never even a hint as to how to evaluate the second. Where does it say that if it wasn’t done right, it wasn’t done at all? I don’t know.

I think I have come up with an interesting criteria for evaluating the doctrine on baptism that if it wasn’t done right it wasn’t done at all: by comparing it to other similar rituals and seeing what happens if a similar rule is applied. I have two such in mind: communion and weddings. Continue reading “Evaluating the Baptist proper rituals standard”