July 14, 2014

Wet Yet? Do I need to be re-baptized?

by Clint Archer

Hello, my name is Clint, and I am a Baptist. [Insert “Hi Clint”].

To our beloved pedobaptist readers, before we plunge into the discussion please understand that I am not making a case for believer’s baptism by immersion—I am assuming it.under water

This article is not an attempt to wade neck-deep into a turbulent,century-spanning controversy, nor to convince R. C. Sproul, Kevin DeYoung, or the Pope that Baptists are right. I am sharing the Anabaptist perspective of three practical scenarios that tend to pop up occasionally in the ministry of Baptist pastors.

1. The sprinkled Baptist

Occasionally a mature believer will sidle up to me and confess in hushed tones that although they are now fully convinced that baptism by immersion is the biblical method, they were—ahem—not immersed but—ahem—sprinkled.

I nod my head gravely, furrow my brow sagaciously, and then pose two diagnostic questions:

a) Did said sprinkling occur after you became a believer?

b) Is your conscience clear that you obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized?

If the answer to either question is “no” I would counsel that they get baptized by immersion.

If the answer to both questions is “yes” then I wouldn’t push that they get baptized by immersion. The fault with the incorrect mode here lies with the person who performed the procedure, not with the person who was being obedient by submitting to the Lord’s command.

immersed yet?Let’s face it, the word “baptize” has become ambiguous over the centuries of misuse. It takes a modicum of proper teaching to know that the English word is a transliteration of the Greek word for “immerse.”

Any pastor with one page of Greek vocab under his belt would never sprinkle, pour, douse, or dab one asking to be baptized. But it’s not a biblical requisite that a pastor performs the baptism. You may have been sprinkled by a well-meaning believer who thought that was a baptism. Now that you know better, does that mean you have been living in disobedience?

I usually counsel that mode is less important than timing, and it is ultimately a conscience issue. I will immerse a previously sprinkled person, but I would not insist on it.


2. The baptized backslider

Another murky pool of confusion is when a person was previously baptized, typically after a profession of faith at a fairly young age, but then experienced a prolonged period of “backsliding.” Then, after years in some cases, the person comes to church, repents of their backslidden ways, and “recommits” their life to the Lord (or some such claim). Now they want to know if they need to be re-baptized.

I whip out Occam’s razor and ask one question: Is your testimony that you were saved before you were baptized?

If so, then they ought not to be re-baptized. If, however, the former backslider doubts whether they were truly saved when they made their (fruitless) confession, which is a conclusion to which I might try guide them in their deliberations, then I’d urge they reconsider their testimony, which begets a new scenario…


3. The believer baptized as an unbeliever

a) Adult. This scenario is when the baptized backslider from point 2 above admits he/she never really was a believer at the time of their profession and baptism and has become saved since that prior immersion. I would counsel yes, they need to be (re)baptized, now as a believer.

b) Infant. This is an exceedingly common scenario. Without wanting to throw the infant out with the font water, we can surely all agree that at best this is a type of unbeliever baptism.wet footprints

Infants who have been sprinkled, dabbed, or doused (or even fully immersed, as in some Greek Orthodox churches), and then “confirmed,” have been “christened” as unbelievers.

Now that they have been saved they should be willing to be immersed as believers before applying to join a church that holds to believer’s baptism.

This does not amount to “renouncing their confirmation” or rebelling against their parents’ held beliefs about baptism. If anything, their parents should see this desire as the very fruit they were hoping for when they took that christening step on behalf of their child.

Footnote: I have great respect and admiration for many clever theologians, godly pastors, and countless friends and family members who view christening infants as  a valid form of baptism. I’m not trying to make waves here. They obviously believe I am wrong in my view, and so I am sure they wouldn’t mind me believing they are wrong in theirs.

Please do not flood the comment thread with views for or against pedobaptism, even if your arguments do hold water.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Dan Phillips

    Good counsel. My simple answer is no, no one should ever be re-baptized. But if you weren’t immersed in genuine profession of your repentant faith in Christ, whatever it meant to other people, YOU weren’t baptized. So you should be baptized. Not re-baptized.

    • Seminal seminoid semantics. I agree with you. Anabaptists were called that in derision, not self-attributed concession that they had been re-baptized.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I hear the sounds of long blades being sharpened, revolvers being loaded, and bystanders fleeing for their lives. I’m staying out of this one. Nice knowin’ ya, Clint. See you on the Other Side. 🙂

    • I’m hiding behind my disclaimers!

  • It’s hard to read the Bible and see baptism as anything other than full immersion. A strong picture for me has always been that of Jonah, who wasn’t sprinkled with a light sea breeze… he was plunged completely into waters of death and only rescued by the grace of God. A faithful picture of Christ rescuing sinners for the acidic, isolated blackness of Hell.

    • I agree, but let’s not open that can of fish bait.

  • Greg Lawhorn

    In 21 years of pastoral ministry I’ve immersed many, since that is the clearest meaning of baptizo. However, I’ve affused at least three people, including my own son. Why? Because all three were paraplegics, confined to wheelchairs. Not only is getting a large paraplegic into a baptismal tank difficult (which anyone can imagine), it is also unsafe. As the parent of a handicapped man, I know just how brittle his lower extremities are. All three were clearly believers, and gave evidence for their faith. Their baptisms were no different than any others.

    There is also one woman that I wished that I had affused, after I immersed her. She was older (mid-sixties), and failed to tell me during our pre-baptism chats that she had a genuine phobia of water. She went into an absolute panic when I tried to lower her into the water, and threw her arms around my neck. I said, calmly, “It’s ok; I’ll go with you,” and lowered her until my face was in the water. I don’t see the Lord commanding us to traumatize those with such fear of the water.

    By the way, when I brought her back up, she threw her arms up and rejoiced, and walked out of the baptistry. She also left me immobilized, since, when I lowered myself as far as I did I filled my waders with water. The waders leaked a little bit, and so I had (ahem) removed my suit pants so they wouldn’t get wet. So, I really couldn’t peel off the waders in front of the congregation. I preached that (Easter) sermon from the baptistry! Afterward I waved from the tank, and after my wife had shut the sanctuary doors, I was finally realized from the watery confines; I know how Noah felt!

    • That is a seriously funny story. I laughed till I wet my pants…figuratively, unlike you.

  • g

    “…b) Is your conscience clear that you obeyed the Lord’s command to be baptized?

    If the answer to either question is “no” I would counsel that they get baptized by immersion.

    If the answer to both questions is “yes” then I wouldn’t
    push that they get baptized by immersion. The fault with the incorrect
    mode here lies with the person who performed the procedure, not with the
    person who was being obedient by submitting to the Lord’s command.”

    Can someone explain to me how this doesn’t result in some kind of subjective, experiential obedience and treatment of God’s Word?

    • Since g asked, i’m going to let “someone” answer that.

    • Ok, let me try. I personally don’t view dabbing as immersion, and doubt anyone else would either. But a guy standing under a waterfall for example, I would see as drenched enough to qualify as immersion, but not strictly a submersion. So I guess one would have to be convinced that baptidzo must mean “submerge”.

      • g

        Sorry, I guess I meant in a more general context, not necessarily that of baptism. Perhaps a different topic than the original post, but I hear a lot about “a clear conscience”. Well, to be blunt, if I were a serial killer, I could murder someone and have a clear conscience about it. So the fact that someone might have a clear conscience, to me doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that one has done the right thing…?

        • Agreed. A better way for me to have said it would be: if what the person did is NOT sinful, but their conscience is troubling them, then they should still rectify what they are doing. Like if a person’s conscience is troubled by drinking alcohol, they should abstain. Likewise if a person is troubled that the person who baptized them didn’t do it right, then they should be rebaptized. Better to have a clear conscience.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Clint — People do shy away from this subject. I’ve wanted to hear someone from Cripplegate venture into this subject. No problem, that’s how you see it.


    • I like to swim with the sharks (but only in a heated pool).

      • tovlogos

        HaHa — I’ll remember that one. I have learned over the years to do the same, at times. However, I am passionate about the water baptism ritual (I don’t believe in it at all for the church); so I tend to back away form that one; avoid disputes and remain Christlike.