There are two differing mindsets at odds with one another in the “re-baptism” discussion. One says, “Show me where the Bible forbids a person from being baptized two, or three, or four, or a hundred times!” The other mindset asks, “Where does the Bible authorize baptizing a person two, or three, or four, or a hundred times?” You can’t have it both ways. Either a person can be baptized as many times as they like, or they can only be baptized once.
Point #2 – Re-baptism: An Unbiblical Term
Re-baptism is simply not a biblical term; it is nowhere found in Scripture. Though there are different false forms of baptism, there is only one true form of baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Though there have been different forms of baptism during different dispensations of time (Mark 1:4, Hebrews 6:2) there is only one for form existing today (Ephesians 4:5).
How many times must a person be baptized with the “one baptism” of the New Testament (Ephesians 4:5)? How many times is a preacher authorized to baptize a person with the “one baptism”? It seems that if there is only one baptism, for one reason, then true candidates for baptism can only be baptized once. Where is the passage that teaches otherwise?
Argument #1: What About Acts 19?
Though attempts have been made to justify the re-administration of New Testament baptism on the grounds of Acts 19, such justification cannot be found. Those who were baptized "again" in Acts 19 were not baptized “again” because the intent of their heart was wrong the first time, but rather because the form (lacking administration in the name of the trinity, and while recognizing the Son and His kingdom) was not Scriptural. Those of Acts 19 were baptized one time with proper New Testament baptism, just like every other person in the book of Acts and the whole New Testament. Acts 19 is not a second administration of New Testament baptism; it is a first. Acts 19 cannot therefor be used to justify a second administration of New Testament baptism.
Argument #2: “They didn’t know what they were doing!”
The common argument used to justify re-baptism is, “They didn’t know what they were doing.”
First, let it be understood that children are not under consideration in this discussion. Children are not candidates for baptism and thus should not be baptized (Matthew 18:2-7). If a person is baptized as a child they need to later be baptized as an adult; this is not re-baptism, but rather baptism for the first time.
When an intelligent adult has the purpose of baptism explained to him, he cannot later claim that he did not understand what he was doing when he freely submitted to being baptized. Though he may not have known everything there was to know about baptism, he did know enough to submit in obedience to the act.
Argument #3: “They did it for the wrong reason!”
A distinction between faith and motivation must be understood. It is possible for a person to have sufficient faith to be baptized while at the same time having a number of differing motivations for seeking baptism.
Q: If a man gets baptized in part because his wife wants him to, but also does so believing in Christ and understanding what it is that he is doing, does the fact that he was partially motivated by the desires of his wife change the acceptability of his baptism?
Case #1 - Though many of Christ’s disciples were motivated by fleshly desires, their motivation did not change the fact that they were his disciples (John 6:66). Making a commitment is a separate issue from what motivates a person to make the commitment.
Case #2 - When digressive brethren preach the Social Gospel and draw people to the truth through material means, does the material motivation negate a person’s obedience to the plan of salvation? 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 teaches that even though people are driven by the wrong motivation to obey the gospel, they are still added to the church. (This point in no way endorses the Social Gospel; the end does not justify the means and the church is not authorized to utilize the Social Gospel.)
Q: If a man marries a woman so he can obtain U.S. citizenship, is he married or not? If a man marries the Lord so that he can marry a woman, is he married to the Lord or not? If marriage to the Lord can be mocked so easily by claiming “I didn’t mean anything by it!”, why not marriage to a mere human? What motivates a person is an entirely separate issue from whether or not a commitment is binding.
Q: If a man can claim he was baptized for the wrong motivation and thus void his first baptism, why can he not make the same claim and void his second, third, fourth, fifth, or tenth baptism? If we must accept a man’s testimony the second time he wants to get baptized, why not the tenth time?
Warning (to young people especially): Think long and hard about what motivates you in obedience to the Gospel. You may have been partially motivated by parents, or friends, though you knew the commitment you were making. Point: Parental motivation will not last all your life. If you don’t gain the proper motivation and solidify your faith in the word of God, you’ll never make heaven.
Argument #4 - A Pattern of Dishonesty
Argument: A man gets baptized as a Mormon, then later as a Baptist, and then as a member of the church of Christ. Obviously he has lied about his faith and is willing to become whatever just so he can marry a woman.
Q: Does such a pattern of behavior indicate that the man never had faith in Christ, or could it be that he did believe while at the same time having fleshly motivation for joining several churches, and simply not caring about the commitments he was entering? Point: Though Mormon and Baptist baptism are not for the remission of sins, both religious groups require profession of faith in Christ. When a man confesses to believing in Christ as a Mormon, again as a Baptist, and again in order to become a member of the Lord’s church, there might be questions about his motivation, but surely not about his belief in Christ. Furthermore, if none of the three confessions (taken over the course of several years) can be believe, how could any confession that he might ever make be believed?
Point #3 – A Misunderstanding of the Purpose of Confession
One of the reasons people waver on the subject of re-baptism is because they do no understand the purpose of public confession. Public confession prior to baptism is not for the sake of the one being baptized, or for God’s benefit; it is for the benefit of witnesses. In Acts 8:36-38 Philip interviewed the eunuch before he agreed to baptize him, in order to ascertain whether or not the eunuch was a candidate for baptism. It must be noted that the eunuch’s confession was for the benefit of the preacher (witness), not himself. If all that mattered was the eunuch’s inward faith being understood by God, a verbal confession was not necessary.
If a man’s confession cannot be believed when he makes it, there is no purpose behind a verbal confession. Furthermore, if a man’s confession cannot be believed the first time, how can it be believed the second time, or the tenth? When a person freely confesses Christ and is baptized, they are to be accepted as a brother or sister in Christ (Acts 2:41,47). Anyone called a brother or sister is to be held to a higher standard (1 Corinthians 5:11). Anyone who confesses Christ and is baptized for the remission of sins is to be called a brother (Acts 2:41,47). Thus, all who confess Christ and are baptized for the remission of sins are to be held to a higher standard and be made subject to church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). One may not claim they are not a brother and avoid the discipline of the church after having been named a brother for 15+ years.
It is impossible to judge a person’s motives and it is doubly impossible to judge their motives 20-30 years after the fact. The church is only required to judge action and such is the purpose of verbal confession.
Argument #5: Only God Can Judge the Heart
Attempts are made to argue that just as God alone can judge what is in a person’s heart when they commune, God alone can judge what is in a person’s heart when they are baptized. The problem with the argument is that the two items (communion and baptism) are not parallel. God has not required anyone to inquire about the intent of one's heart while communing (He leaves that between you and Him), yet He does require inquiry be made about faith prior to baptism. Thus the two situations are not parallel. We baptize someone based upon their confession and must take them at their word. Things that God leaves between Him and an individual need to be left between Him and the individual; things requiring public announcement must receive such recognition for the sake of witnesses. We know when a person is saved based on their confession and the proper administration of baptism.
To argue that a person’s salvation is ultimately only recognizable by God alone is to argue that the church cannot truly distinguish between a Christian and a person of the world. Yet Paul made a distinction between a person of the world and a member of the church by clarifying that a higher standard was to be applied to “anyone named a brother” (1 Corinthians 5:11) and not a person of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9). By making such a distinction, and requiring the church to recognize it, those who are brethren and those who are not must be identifiable to the church. Paul did not endorse the “only God knows who His children are” position. We must count as brethren any accountable adult who has made a free will confession and been baptized for the remission of sins.
To argue salvation is only recognizable by God is to argue as a Baptist. One of the problems Baptists face is that though they claim a person is saved at the point of faith, they are never quite sure when that moment occurs. Thus, salvation is always between the individual and God alone; no one else can really know. We have always taught that when baptism is properly administered (preceded by confession and for the remission of sins) it symbolizes the new birth (Romans 6:4) and marks a point in time when everyone can witness a soul being reborn. Yet it is now being argued that just as Baptists cannot know for sure when a person is saved, neither can we; God is the only one who can recognize His children. If God is the only one who can recognize His children, what is the purpose of public confession(Acts 8:36-38), and why does Paul demand that the church distinguish between brethren and the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-12)?
Argument #6: “Some children aren’t children; they are wolves.”
Another argument raised is that we cannot know who are children of God and who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. This is a false concept. Anyone who has confessed his faith and been baptized for the remission of his sins is a brother (Acts 2:41,47), yet not all brethren are faithful (James 5:19-20). Being a child of God and being a faithful child of God are two entirely separate issues and must remain distinct.
Point #4– The Four Soils of Matthew 13:3-9
In the Parable of the Sower, the Lord distinguishes between four types of soils: the wayside soil, the stony soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil. The wayside soil represents people who have heard the word but refused to accept it (i.e. they never obeyed it). The stony ground represents individuals who obeyed the gospel but did not put down any roots. The thorny ground is a depiction of people who obeyed the gospel and were gradually choked out over time. The good soil represents faithful Christians with varying degrees of ability (some produced thirty fold, some sixty, and some one hundred). All accountable adults of the Christian Era fall into one of these four categories.
There are four points that must be understood about the Parable of the Sower: First, Unbelievers fall into a single category, while Christians fall into one of three categories. Second, Christians are able (and required) to judge actions – not motives; they can know when someone obeys the Gospel by seeing the seed spring to life through obedience to the gospel. Third, salvation is not a Once-Saved-Always-Saved scenario. Many obey the gospel and many fall. Fourth, the problem is with the soil, not the seed. The word of God will always produce life and fruit when planted in an honest and sincere heart.
The Parable of the Sower deals a death blow to all who would claim that the children of God are unidentifiable. When a person obeys the gospel, they leave the category of the wayside soil and are now to be held to a higher standard.
The Bottom Line:
We can identify those who have obeyed the Gospel by the actions they take. We are not allowed to judge motives, but we are required to judge action.
There is a point in time when people obey the Gospel and are recognized as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Two Take-Away Points:
1- There are blessings in Christ that can only be found in Christ. The only way you can get in Christ is through His plan of salvation and that plan culminates in baptism for the remission of sins.
2- The Christian life is one of great commitment. Just as a marriage should not be entered into lightly, Christianity is not to be taken lightly. Though we may not have known all that we were getting into when we were baptized, we did know enough to commit ourselves.
Warning to Young People: Baptism is a serious thing and is only administered once. You don’t get to mess your life up into an unfixable mess, and then get re-baptized and leave all your problems behind. You may find a brother who will baptize you again, but don’t think for a minute you have escaped the judgment of God; the devil will eventually catch you as you try to beat him around the bush.
When God gave an exception for divorce and remarriage to Christians, He explained and clarified the exception. Getting re-baptized is not a second exception.
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.