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.
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.
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.
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.