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An Extremely Perceptive Baptist

I am writing a paper for my church history class that will contrast sacramental theology in the Westminster Confession of Faith and one of the Baptist confessions--probably the Baptist Faith and Message of 1925. In my research, I just came across an excellent essay by G. Todd Wilson called "Why Baptists Should Not Rebaptize Christians from Other Denominations." As you read this, remember that, when he speaks about baptism's "biblical intent," he is writing in the belief that the New Testament teaches that new believers should be baptized as a symbol of joining the faith community of the church:
If we opt for that alternative [i.e., rebaptism], however, we are put in the uncomfortable position of insisting that while baptism is not essential for salvation, it is essential for membership in a Baptist church. We must also take this view in the realization that we are giving baptism a different meaning from its biblical intent, and this weakens our appeal to the authority of the Bible for our faith and practice. Furthermore, if we change the meaning of baptism, can we really insist that others are not free to do the same, even if they choose to baptize infants? (44)
It does seem that Baptists cannot logically say that both of the following are true: (1) biblical baptism is only the kind of baptism that is administered as a sign of entry into the community of faith; and (2) those who were (unbiblically) baptized as infants, but have been members of the community of faith for years, must be rebaptized before becoming members of a Baptist church. Wilson makes an excellent point that the rebaptism of (2) is not the "biblical" baptism of (1), nor can it be, by definition.

I wonder if this argument would have made any different in John Piper's recently failed attempt to admit certain infant-batized Christians to membership in his Baptist church (see here and here).

Here is the second quotation, which, I think, stands alone:

In this same regard it is interesting to compare our practice of baptism with our emphasis in the Lord's Supper. In baptism we have focused upon the form and letter, but in the Lord's Supper our concern is with the spirit and substance. We have held firm on the mode of immersion, but we have ignored the "one cup" and "one loaf" so vitally significant to the meaning of the Lord's Supper in the biblical account, not to mention that we also substitute grape juice for wine. Our rigidity in baptism is so different from our freedom regarding the Supper, and this marked inconsistency deserves attention. The integrity of our Christian symbols is at stake. (45)
I would encourage believer-baptists and infant-baptists alike to read the entire article, if possible. Here is the bibliographic information:

Wilson, G. Todd., “Why Baptists Should Not Rebaptize Christians from Other Denominations.” In Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord's Supper, edited by Walter B. Shurden, 41-47. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999.

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My sophomore year of college, my roommate decided to join NWA's largest Baptist megachurch. She was informed that she would need to be baptized into membership, even though she had been baptized at her Baptist church in Kansas not five years earlier. It became a rather large ordeal, and eventually her pastor in Kansas was communicating with the pastor of this church in Arkansas, discussing whether or not her membership required re-baptism. In the end, it did. She withdrew her decision to join. Apparently every member of this church (and membership was in the thousands) had to be baptized, so I wondered how many of these were re-baptisms, and if any, or how many truly balked at this. Perhaps the better question to ask is how the concept of baptism was understood at this church.

My question to you is this, and the answer may be simple. Say you are the pastor of a church and you have a person who was raised Catholic and thus baptized as an infant. They want to know if they need to be baptized again in your church. Do they? Does it matter whether or not their family would be considered devout or non-practicing?

That's a fascinating story. I think that really shows what this pastor was getting at in the article. I didn't quote another part of his article, but he also talked about how baptism becomes nothing more than a social club membership prerequisite (rather than a holy sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ) when Baptists require rebaptism to join a church, especially when your friend had already been baptized as a believer by immersion!

To answer your question, the Westminster Confession of Faith says, "The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any one person" (28.7). They are following a long church history precedent that was especially fortified by Augustine during the Donatist Controversy. Augustine said that, unless a person were baptized by a heretic or was not baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they should not be rebaptized. I see no biblical reason to go against this tradition, so I would be extremely hesitant to rebaptize that person.

I think I read somewhere that, one certain occasions under extenuating circumstances, PCA churches sometimes do rebaptize their new members from Catholic churches, but I am not exactly sure what those circumstances would be.

So, I hope that answers your question.

It does. I was merely asking because I know some people don't consider the Catholic or even Greek Orthodox to be truly Christian, and thus are worthy of "real baptism that'll count" as I once heard. I don't believe that, but I can see how they might get there, especially if these children were baptized and then raised in non-practicing families. Such people need to go back and read their doctrines (and oh, Scriptures).

Practice varies a bit in the PCA. I was astonished at Presbytery once to hear one of our men say he would always baptize a Catholic since the Roman Catholics are not a true church and their baptisms are invalid. I disagree absolutely, but there it is. You will run across a minority in the PCA that insists on true baptism. (not "re-baptism" since that earlier thing doesn't count as a baptism).

The question for ordination candidates is always "what constitutes a valid baptism?" The 'right' answer is always, "use water and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." The next question is always about Mormons, and the right answer is their baptism are not valid because they are not Trinitarian.

I don't know how some guys justify excluding Roman Catholic baptism. Calvin was absolutely clear: RC baptism was fine with him because it doesn't depend on the minister because it is God who is working here - in spite of any errors and faults of the ministers.

I was baptized when I was 12 years old in a PCA church. It was a believers baptism but I was sprinkled. I guess I'm really weird. I approached an elder in my new home church in Sioux City (Baptist, because my parents are basically reformed baptists) and asked him if, should I desire membership in the church, I would have to be re-baptized. He said that I would.

I don't think this is right at all. The church is then taking the spiritual sign (whatever this spiritual sign is--baptists and PCA'ers will disagree) and making it about the process of baptism (ie my head didn't go all the way under water!)

If I find myself pastoring a baptist church someday, you can be sure that I will not follow this or re-baptisms in general.

Which Baptist organization are you thinking about joining? Or maybe you haven't much thought about it yet. Which one is John Piper a member of?

Also, here's an issue that I can't remember if Wilson raised, or if I thought about it while reading something only marginally unrelated, or read it somewhere else (I've been doing a lot of research lately): if Baptists insist that baptism is only a symbol, why should the amount of water matter? Baptists talk about a baptism not "taking" because a person wasn't submerged, but what's to "take" in a symbol?

It seems that the whole idea of an "defective" baptism would mean that there is more involved than a person making a public profession of faith through water.

Just a thought to anyone who might be interested...

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