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.

Like model chemicals, maybe.

In a book review, Tim Challies says “God Performs Miracles Today!” And I’m still not satisfied.

There’s a bit of a feeling of bait and switch in the post, but that’s not really it. Here’s my problem with his review: technically I agree with everything that it says. God still does miracles. The greatest miracle is regeneration, even though it’s harder to discern. Compared to healing miracles, regeneration doesn’t get nearly enough fanfare. All true. But stated wrong.

It’s not as though there were some competition between miracles and regeneration. They aren’t rivals. They’re buddies. God intended them to work together. And if the wrong one gets all the attention, we should be used to that, and be ready for it. Healing writes large, and plain to see, what regeneration does on a tiny, more fundamental scale. So the naysayers deny healing, and ignore salvation, and having been denied, people go off to prove it, without teaching anybody what healing is a sign of.

Biblically, there’s a solid connection between miracles, specifically healing miracles, and regeneration. A touchstone verse would be Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

There have been all kinds of doctrines built on this connection between healing and salvation, and these have only been complicated by generations of unbelief, who were willing to let slide an invisible salvation, but not a healing that could be verified or disproved.

Here’s the whole connection that I see between regeneration and miracles: Salvation is “by grace… through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Similarly, healing is by grace, through faith, the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Healing miracles are a visible demonstration of what invisible salvation looks like.

Just as healing is a miraculous gift from God, salvation is a miraculous gift from God. Just as no amount of effort to drum up the appropriate amount of faith for healing will guarantee healing, no amount of effort to drum up the appropriate amount of faith for salvation will grant salvation. And just as some people mysteriously don’t get healed, some people mysteriously don’t get saved. They both come as gifts, so that no one can boast. And yet both come through the mechanism of faith. Sometimes God heals people who never get saved. Sometimes God saves people who never get healed.

There shouldn’t be any rivalry between the healing party and the salvation party. We should pray for both, and thank God for both, and use every occasion of the lesser miracle, healing, to teach about the greater miracle, salvation. And the first step is demonstrating that regeneration is the greater miracle.

Everyone sees the wonder of a miracle. Broken limb to whole limb. Got it. Blind to seeing; deaf to hearing; dumb to singing. Everyone agrees on what the problem is, and everyone can identify when a person is well. Not so with sin, and so we underrate the value of salvation.

Repentance is not turning over a new leaf. Regeneration is not a decision. You were dead in your trespasses. Lazarus didn’t decide to stand up and walk. When a person is born again, the first thing they do is to truly see their sin for the first time and be horrified by the very thing they used to love. And repenting, they repent.

That doesn’t just… happen. I know – we see something like it in raising children: My 10 month old likes dropping things in the toilet and fishing them out again. I’m pretty sure my 4 year old would never (but then again, he might). There is a process of learning right from wrong that children go through, but it’s a mistake to think that regeneration is nothing more than a part of this, like the hit man who just wasn’t raised right.

The fact that it goes deeper is what makes it so difficult to discern. It’s also what makes regeneration in fact a greater miracle than any healing. It’s more subtle than “the kind of change that would make an Eskimo renounce fur, that would make a vegetarian barbecue hamster.” It’s the sort of thing that can fundamentally change a person’s character without budging their personality. It’s so difficult to discern that some people can fake it for years, with no one the wiser. At the same time, it’s the sort of thing that can make a person drop their entire system of right and wrong on a single proof from scripture, or a single word from Jesus’ mouth. In other words, it’s unnoticeable, impossible, undeniable, and extreme.

It’s a lot easier to talk about removing cancer.

I’m going to go with the majority on this one: the greatest miracle still happens in the human heart. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been a witness to that transformation. Not right there, on the spot. I can see evidences, when I hear about a life that’s been renewed. I think of my wife’s cousin, who is showing every sign of a complete transformation, and for whom I have a great deal of hope. I think of my oldest son, who displays a rebellious nature nearly every chance he gets, and prays un-prompted for a new heart most mornings at breakfast. Sometimes I’m not sure I can see all that much evidence of a new heart in myself, so I’m a little jealous of David, who dropped everything last night to pray that the dog would get a new heart and stop biting.

The trick, I think is to take regeneration as seriously as healing, even though it’s hard to discern. Taking regeneration seriously means taking fallen nature seriously, which is harder than it sounds. We want so badly to hack at the symptoms. But that is why God gave us miracles: so that we could see our spiritual problems, in reverse scale.