Re-baptism: A Sad Form of Unbelief
A private discussion driveled down to re-baptism. I say driveled because my attitude toward the subject is not very kind. I am hoping to internally address some of those attitude problems by discussing the subject briefly. It is my opinion that few things in the Christian life express disbelief in God's promises more than re-baptism.
First, a definition of baptism is necessary. In fact, the way we define baptism means everything in this discussion. The traditional reformed position (both Reformed and Lutheran) is that baptism is a God-act towards the individual being baptized. In baptism God is the one speaking. In the traditional Baptist position baptism is a man-act of confession about individual belief. Despite the acceptance in the reformed tradition that baptism can act as confession, this is a minor echo. God's speaking is more important than our confession. And it is only an echo in as far as it reflects Jesus Christ, true Man, and His obedience on the cross. To focus on the man-statement would be like wondering what Adam's first words are with neglect to God speaking the world into existence. It is with this God-centered baptism that the Westminster Confession of Faith states,
The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person. (WCF 28.5)
This conclusion is drawn from the definition of baptism. If God is the one who speaks in baptism, then to ask for re-baptism is to demand from God a new word. This is essentially the Pharisaical demand that Jesus perform a new sign every other day. Now, I recognize many people do not request re-baptism on these grounds. Many have simply experienced a significant shift in their sanctification and understand better the salvation God has purchased for them. In a desire to commit themselves more fully to Him they fall back on the man-centered confession act. Essentially re-baptism becomes "I confess more clearly now than I did previously." If this fundamental idea was true than all of us should be re-baptized every Sunday. We will never cease progression in sanctification. Like a baby growing we begin to realize things that have been true for much longer than our recollection. Love, comfort, and warmth of parents are real and truly experienced long before the formation of the words "dad" or "mom." Baptism is a type of baby talk from God that as we grow becomes more and more clear.
In a slightly less nefarious condition, re-baptism is sought because of who performed the baptizing. This also is a concept that is utterly foreign to the reformation. It is also an idea completely foreign to church history. During the Donatists struggles, Augustine laid down that the performer of the baptism is virtually irrelevant. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way,
Neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it (WCF 27.3)
In this case of the baptizer, one's definition of baptism makes no difference. Both definitions would affirm that the minister performing the baptism is irrelevant (except perhaps in the context of church order). The reformed position though is stronger in affirming God as the true performer of any baptism. It should be quite clear that any request for re-baptism because of who performed the actions is a loud denunciation of the grace of God. Re-baptism only occurs when concern over the hands pouring the water trumps the hands that created the water.
I know my Christian brothers and sisters who believe in re-baptism mean well. They certainly do not mean the things I read in re-baptism. But re-baptism is nothing short of self-righteousness. It is Abraham sleeping with Hagar after God has made the promise to Sarah. When baptism becomes a man-centered act it ceases to have anything to do with traditional Christianity. It has nothing to with the Protestant emphasis on grace. Baptism is not man reaching up like at Babel. God has come down in Christ. We are clothed with Him in baptism. Re-baptism then is nothing short of rejecting what God has already done.