The Curious Case of Baptism of Unbelievers
This is a very important question and issue, much more vital than many of our readers might imagine! Not only this, but this situation is probably more common than we would suspect. Lets make sure that we understand the issue involved in this problem. Suppose that a person thought that he (or she) believed in Christ and was then baptized. Later, he reflects on this early experience and concludes that it was not genuinehe really didnt believe in Christ and really didnt repent of his sins. Now, what about baptism? Was his earlier baptism genuine? Or was it not genuine since it was not really a baptism arising from saving faith? First, we need to have a little background.
For centuries the debate has raged: Is it necessary that one believe in Christ before he is baptized? From the third century (and some would say the second century), churchmen and theologians have argued that faith is not essential for baptism to be validin the case of children. Infant baptism (or what people claim is baptism) has been the rule from the time of Augustine. It became the standard practice in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches throughout the Middle Ages and to the present time, and many Protestant Churches have continued the practice.
Against this prevailing practice, the Anabaptists arose in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland in the early 1500s, claiming that baptism is not valid unless one has personal faith in Christ and repents of his sins. Because of this firm conviction, these sincere people were called Anabaptists by the infant baptizing majority (the Catholics, Lutherans, and followers of Zwingli and later Calvin). This term means rebaptizers since they thought that this movement baptized again (or rebaptized) those people who had already been baptized as babies. Conversely, the Anabaptists contended that baby baptism was not baptism at all; therefore, they were not baptizing again anyone. They claimed that they were baptizing for the first time people who had received an invalid and counterfeit religious rite as infants. We can understand how this aroused the hatred and anger of the majority, with the result that multiplied thousands of defenseless Anabaptists were killed in the most inhuman waysall in the name of Christ!
We do not wish to expand our treatment here to cover the whole question of infant baptismis it true or is it invalid? This must be dealt with in another article. Here, we will assume that the reader is convinced that one is to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and His death, that he must repent of his sins, and that he must then be baptized.
This situation does describe many thousands of people! One preacher told me that, as a teenager, he had been baptized following his assumed belief in Christ. However, years later, he concluded that there was something critically lacking in his earlier faith. That was more of a second-hand faith, or maybe a head or mental belief, and the heart was not really involved. Then he explained that years later he had come to a true faith in Christ. However, he had not been baptized again! While this preacher was a staunch opponent of infant baptism (since a baby cannot believe in Christ), he never saw the need to be baptized as an adult believer! Since he dismissed his teenage faith as being a saving faith and looked on his later faith as the genuine experience, it would logically follow that he has not truly been baptized with a faith-baptism! He has not been baptized with a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3)! His own non-faith baptism and non-repentance baptism was of no more value than the baby baptisms that he strongly opposed!
We must remember that Jesus said, He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). He didnt say, He who has been baptized and later believes, shall be saved. Furthermore, Peter declared, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Notice that we are to repent and then be baptized; we are not to be baptized and then later repent! Many other scriptures would show that we must place our faith in Jesus Christ (and God) and repent of our sins, and then we are to be baptized into Him. Notice especially Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 8:12, 35-39; 16:14-15, 30-34; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; 1 Peter 3:21).
When we look at the scriptures and the issues involved, it should be very simple for us to see the truth on this matter. If one has not believedtruly believedin Christ Jesus and His saving death and if one has not repentedtruly repentedof all his sins, then any baptism he may have had was not really a Scriptural baptism. It was not true and valid! What should one do in this situation? Surely he should examine his faith and repentance and make sure that this response is true and genuine. Then he needs to be baptized againthis time into Christ Jesus is Lord. In reality, this is not being baptized again for the first baptism was not really a baptism but was only a water ritual without significance. In reality, he is not to be rebaptized but he is to be baptized for the first time. If one has experienced a genuine baptism, there is not place at all for another baptism. There is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5).
The twelve Ephesian disciples had already been immersed with Johns baptism, but later found the need to receive a genuine baptism into Christ Jesus at the hands of Paul the apostle (Acts 19:1-6). This was a rebaptism inasmuch as they had been immersed before. But it was the first genuine baptism they had ever received since it was a baptism in the name of Christ Jesus!
Why is it hard for people to see this simple point? Although we cannot know all that is found in peoples hearts, we would suggest the following points. If I dont see the need of rebaptism, it may be because:
- I may think that as long as I have experienced a water ritual that others considered baptism, then it surely must have been valid.
- The preacher or pastor may think that the early baptism was valid, thus who am I to question this?
- I truly believe in Jesus Christ right now, so why should I be baptized again?
- Even if the early experience was not a baptism as it should have been done, still it is probably okay.
- If I were to request another baptism, then my parents or spouse or friends would consider me unstable or crazy!
- It would be so embarrassing of me to request to be baptized again.
- Ive never seen a person being baptized again, so I dont know how it can be done.
- The preacher or pastor would refuse to baptize me again.
- To be baptized again would disappoint or even anger God!
Whatever the reason for ones reluctance to be baptized again, we can confidently say that God would not approve of any delay in this vital matter! Jesus commanded baptism! The apostles commanded baptism! The early Christians practiced baptism! Baptism was considered to be of utter importance in the early preaching of the gospel.
If any reader is not clear about the meaning and purpose of Scriptural baptism, please read some of the articles on this subject on the True Discipleship website. Make sure you understand the significance of baptism, then you will be able to see your need to receive an authentic and valid baptism into the Lord Jesus!