Right Desire, Wrong Response

“I was baptized when I was very young and I’m not sure I really understood what I was doing at the time.  What should I do?”  Most preachers have heard this question many times and have probably offered this typical response, “If you have any doubts, why not be baptized again and remove all the doubts?  If you did it properly the first time, you’ll just be getting wet, but if you didn’t, you’ll be receiving the forgiveness of your sins.”

While that response is appropriate in some situations, it is wholly inappropriate in others.  Very similar to the above scenario is the person who desires to be “rebaptized” because they want a new start; they had fallen away since their baptism, feel guilty for it, and just want to be baptized again as a way to start all over again.  It’s at this point that the appropriate response is not to “proceed with the baptism to give them peace of mind,” but rather to teach this person the biblical response to their situation.

We have always preached, and rightly so, that God has two laws of pardon; one for the non-Christian (Acts 2:38) and one for the Christian (Acts 8:22).  We would never accept or advise a person who need to be baptized to simply pray for forgiveness, but what would make us think that baptizing a person who needs to repent and pray would be any more acceptable?  That’s the right desire, but the wrong response.

A non-Christian’s sins are not removed by praying to God.  He needs to be baptized.  Likewise, a Christians sins are not removed by being “rebaptized.”  He needs to pray.

While there is a place for “rebaptism” for one who did not understand what they were doing at the time of their baptism, or for one who had the wrong motives for being baptized, “rebaptism” is wholly inappropriate for the person who understood their baptism, but just wants to be “rebaptized” because they feel guilty and want to start again.  Many of our religious neighbors teach people who have the right desire to respond in the wrong way, namely praying when they should be getting baptized.  Let’s not be guilty of the same mistake, only in reverse, by telling people who need to pray to be baptized.

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Comments 4

  • Steve,

    This is such a wonderful post. You are correct that this is a conversation that occurs quite frequently, and it is always a bit awkward (at best).

    This may be “off-topic,” but one thing I have found helpful in baptizing those who are young, or who are very new to the Truth, is to have them write a brief statement of WHY they are being baptized, date it, then put it in a safe place. Then, if this question ever arises in the future (“Do I need to be rebaptized? I’m not sure I knew what I was doing.”) all they have to do is read that statement. I have had several tell me that is provides a great deal of comfort to know that, while they have matured in the Faith, they knew what they were doing at the time.

    Excellent post, and a great topic. Keep up your great work.

  • Adam, I do something very similar. However, instead of writing it out, I record on a CD the child talking about what they’re doing, why their doing it. Then when they get older and can’t remember why they did what they did, they can go back and hear themselves explain what they were thinking at the time.

  • Great topic and very timely. I have taken the same approach in encouraging those with a question to remove all doubt.

  • Steve,

    Great article. When I studied with daughters I made sure that they understood, as best as I could, what they were doing and why, so that when they have doubts they could look back and know that I made sure they knew what they were getting into. But even with that one of my daughters has been re-baptized and was afraid to tell me, but I would have hated her to live with that unresolved uncertainty, because I truly believe that God will honor men’s honest attempts to be right with Him, as long as they lead them to act in accordance with His Word. At the same time made sure to take the opportunity to reinforce what I know she knew, that our faith is based not on our feelings at a given time, or a perfect knowledge, but rather that God keeps His Word and He promised to forgive us if we submitted to Him in baptism. I am sure that each of us could have done more perfectly, but my confidence is in His grace and His promise that He put in writing and I battle my feelings with what He has committed to me.

    However I know that there are people who genuinely were not baptized correctly because of where they were and only they can know that. And they need to do whatever they need to do to put themselves in a right relationship with God. But as you say God has provided a much better restart mechanism in confession and repentance, not necessarily public, than being re-baptized to eliminate our guilt.

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