Why Does Baptism Need a Repeat?

As I was cruising the lovely land of Upstate South Carolina yesterday, I was listening to a sermon about Baptism.

No, this is not my usual M.O. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some excessively spiritual—or excessively nerdy—preacher who listens to sermons all the time. But, on occasion, I like to hear what others have to say.

The sermon was about a large baptism that this particular church had planned (always a good thing). The preacher said:

“This is for those who are being baptized the first time, and for those who are being re-baptized because the first time it didn’t mean anything.”

Whoa. I hit the pause button on the ipod to give that some thought. That’s a bold, brash, and incredibly arrogant statement for a pastor to make.

I was once in the category of those who thought that my original Baptism was “meaningless” because I was too young. As a 17-year old senior in high school, I had a spiritual awakening of sorts that made me believe my original baptism was useless.

As a seven-year old PK (that’s Preacher’s Kid if you didn’t know), I went down front because that’s what you were supposed to do. Yes, I believed that Jesus was God, that He died on the Cross, that He rose again on Easter Sunday. Deep down, I even knew that Jesus was more important than Easter eggs and candy.

That’s all we need to know, isn’t it?

Yes, I was young and naïve and had very little idea of what all this meant for life as a whole. And yes, I thought it was “the thing” to do. But does that mean the entire event was invalid?

As a 17-year old, I thought that it did. I heard evangelists and youth ministers and pastors talk about how it wasn’t a “real baptism” if you were just following the crowd.

As a 29-year old for the last 12 years, I realize that I was buying into some hype that sounded right. But it wasn’t right.

To say that my first baptism was a fake invalidates everything that God was doing in my life to that point. It means that the Lord wasn’t really working in me. It was also an insult to my parents, my father/pastor, and the church family that did their very best to raise and nurture me.

That’s exceedingly arrogant for any person, or any church/pastor, to say. And it borders on hubris for any pastor, church staff, or church to say that OUR baptism is the only one that really counts.

This also borders on making baptism of a particular kind a requirement for salvation and discipleship. I cannot find any scripture that supports this idea (if you can, please point it out to me).

I don’t know exactly what God was doing in my life at the age of seven. But I knew the basics. I was just at the beginning of understanding what they meant. After all, isn’t Baptism supposed to be the beginning of a journey rather than a final destination?

To say that we need renewal is fine, because we all need that on a regular basis. Even Jesus stepped away from time to time to be refreshed in his walk with God. But we need to be extremely cautious about saying that we need RE-baptism because the first one didn’t “take” on us.

Encouraging people to be spiritually renewed is one thing, but encouraging them to be re-baptized reeks of arrogance, maybe even self-righteousness. As pastors, we should be very careful not to negate the work of the Holy Spirit in order to pad our baptism numbers.

And as Christians, we need to look carefully at what God was doing in our lives, even when we didn’t fully realize or understand it.

God doesn’t have to ask our permission before working in someone’s life, even at the age of seven.


6 thoughts on “Why Does Baptism Need a Repeat?

  1. I was baptized after studying the word when I was 23 and after spending two years in the church came to my own realization that I don’t think I ever repented of my sins. So I studied it out with someone again and this time really focusing in on my sins and repentance. After a month of digging I was re-baptized with the right mindset and heart. If we only have one shot in this life, I for one would rather error on caution than pridefully resist the idea that I was right the first time. I don’t know which one was really “valid” but I feel better knowing I did all I could to do it right before God. If you have doubts then get humble and do it again. Why not? is God going to be offended even if you think you lacked faith? No he’s going to be honored by your re-commitment even if it turns out to be un-necessary.

    • Don’t think that either of these experiences would be “invalid” for sure, but it is problematic, IMO, for a pastor to preach in a way that leans towards invalidating a previous baptism experience. Also, there is always a need for recommitment and rededication, and I constantly do that. But should we be quick to discount our original baptism? Shouldn’t we live in the assurance that God has “covered” us and continues to reconcile us to Him, even when we didn’t fully comprehend our initial encounter? I am reminded that the disciples didn’t really “get it” about Jesus until He had already ascended from this earth.
      Again, my intent is not to judge one experience valid or invalid. My point is that, as ministers and church leaders, we must use caution not to “invalidate” an experience where God has been working for many years, perhaps in ways that are unseen or not even comprehended. And we must be especially cautious about doing that just to “pad” the baptism numbers. I don’t think God is offended in the least at your need to re-commit, but He may well be offended at me, as a minister, trying to convince you that His original work is not real.

      • Well, I look at the disciples in Acts 19 who only knew of John’s baptism and had to be re-baptized into the name of Jesus as an example of people with right hearts but wrong teachings…
        Also when you’re only 7 or 8 years old I don’t think you’re yet in danger of the fires of hell. God allows grace for the young, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these… but once you reach the age of accountability which I believe is when entering puberty then you have to take serious the idea of becoming a disciple.
        Children are not guilty of sin (Ezek.18) and they certainly would have to be mature enough to comprehend the concept of God and the message of Christ to gain faith, (Heb. 11) so I’m not sure anyone under the age of say, 14 should really be confident their baptism was true or even necessary.

      • Certainly anyone examining their conversion needs to be confident of their own salvation so long as it coincides with the truth. Preachers motivated to look good instead of saving souls have issues beyond this topic… The goal of a disciple is to see that those who believe come to a knowledge of the truth… Not everyone should be teachers either. That’s the biggest fear I have is accidentally leading someone astray and being held to a higher standard for assuming the role of teacher. I think too often preachers get a little too full of themselves and are enticed by Satan to look good in the eyes of others instead of God, or they’re motivated by a desire to have bigger and better things and want to let anyone in so long as their tithe shows up on a weekly basis allowing sin to creep in to the camp and defile the body. Anyone looking to join a church body should expect to be scrutinized and validated by the leadership.

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