BAPTISM AND REBAPTISM
by Wayne S. Walker
It has happened before and will no doubt happen again. Someone wants to become part of a local church of Christ, expressing that desire either by coming forward in the public assembly or mentioning it to a preacher in private. Yet this person admits that even though he has been "baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (so he believes), he has been a member of some religious group practicing error–such as the Christian Church or other denomination. But now he renounces that error and wants to come out of it. The question is, was his baptism scriptural if he claims to have been "baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins" and then joined himself to a denominational organization, or does he need to be immersed again in order to be saved and added to the Lord’s church?
Let us understand that this is not a matter of the qualifications of the baptizer. The Bible certainly does not teach that baptism is invalid unless performed by a preacher in the church of Christ. There is no such thing as "baptismal succesion" whether official or just assumed. Scriptural baptism does not depend upon any formal action by the church. Nor is it impossible for one to be baptized correctly, be saved, and then immediately join a denomination, although it does seem highly unlikely. Most denominations use the term "for the remission of sins" when they perform a baptism and will even practice immersion when requested. But their concept of "for the remission of sins" may be radically different from what the Bible teaches, either in theory or practice. Does their baptism put one onto the body of Christ or only into that particular religious organization?
Some object to saying that such a person as described in the first paragraph was baptized into a denomination because, they say, scriptural baptism (immersion in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins) does not put one anywhere except into Christ and into the universal church, Christ’s body of the redeemed. "There is one baptism," they quote from Ephesians 4:4. Of course, all that is true to a point. But it begs the question. Is such baptism truly scriptural baptism under the circumstances–is it the one true baptism? New Testament baptism includes not only the proper action (burial), element (water), candidate (penitent believer), reason (for remission of sins), and authority (in the name of Christ), but also the proper understanding (into the one body, 1 Corinthians 12:13). A person may have all the other points right (cf. John’s baptism, Mark 1:4), but if he does not understand that his baptism puts him into the non-denominational body of Christ, it is highly improbably that his baptism can be considered proper. And if he thought some denominational church was the body of Christ, then it is extremely doubtful that his baptism accomplished much except to put him into a denomination.
Here is a parallel example. A person is taught by Mormon missionaries and requests baptism. To qualify, he must be old enough to understand the gospel, believe in Christ, and repent. Upon a confession of faith, he is then immersed in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins–all just like the Bible says. Furthermore, the Mormon Church is one of the very few which believes that baptism is absolutely essential to salvation. These people teach truth on how people become Christians! But does their baptism, in spite of the fact that the person subesequently becomes a member of the Latter-Day Saints, put him into Christ? Or because of the error associated with it, did it put him into nothing but the Mormon Church? Then, does such a person, desiring to be united with the body of Christ, need to be rebaptized? These questions must also be asked of any other denominationally oriented baptism.
By the way, some dislike the word "rebaptize," saying that a person can be put under the water many times but "baptized" only once. However, the word baptize, as we all well know, simply means dipping or immersion. While it is true that a person can be baptized scripturally but one time, he can be immersed more than once; and if re-immersed, then re-baptized (cf. Acts 19:1-10). It is interesting to note that the same arguments used by some brethren to accept anyone from the Christian Church are used by Christian Church people to accept Baptists–i.e., they teach the truth on the action baptism (immersion). What would happen if a person from the Baptist Church joined the Christian Church, then wanted to become part of a local church of Christ? Must he be accepted simply because he came from the Christian Church, which just happens to teach truth on salvation?
I have know people desirous of leaving the Christian Church who felt that they definitely knew what they were doing when they were baptized, did it with the right purpose, and understood why. Thus they did not feel it necessary to be re-immersed. That is fine with me. It is their conscience they must live with. On the other hand, I have talked with people in the Christian Church wanting to break with it who, upon proper teaching, said they did not understand the correct design and intent of baptism but were merely immersed because their church taught it [even though it happened to teach truth]. Thus they asked to be baptized again to satisfy their consciences. There are some Christian Churches (even of the independent variety) who hold their candidates for baptism until they have enough for a baptizing. Does that sould like they are teaching the whole truth on baptism? It is not that one must understand everything about baptism or about the church there is before his baptism is valid. But there are certain basic facts revealed in the Scriptures, and he must know enough about them to appreciate the true Biblical nature and significance of baptism.
The point I am trying to get across is that it is wrong to demand that all from the Christian Church must necessarily be rebaptized, just as it is not right to teach that all such individuals were scripturally immersed and need only to "repent and pray." Both extremes should be avoided. Because the Christian Church in particular still teaches gospel truth on many points, each case must be examined individually. Some may decide to be baptized again to quench their doubts; this will probably be needful in the majority of instances, and if people reach this conclusion I encourage them to act upon it. But others may give sufficient indication that their former baptism was in order and need not go through the action again. Every individual must be persuaded in his own mind as he compares his faith and obedience to the Scriptures. Ultimately we will have to be satisfied with this. (taken from Faith and Facts; April, 1978; Vol. 6, No. 2; pp. 48-52).