Romanian Baptist Pastor Panel and My shared concern over the high number of “re-baptisms” in U.S. Churches

Posted: November 23, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Baptism, Theology
Tags: , ,

Trevor Wax interviewed a panel of Romanian Baptist pastors, asking some probing questions about catechesis, baptism, and rebaptism. You can find the link here.

One issue that personally troubles me is that 40% of reported baptisms in the U.S. are re-baptisms. Trevor Wax asked about this issue and I was impressed with Pastor Doru Hnatiuc’s answer:

Trevin Wax: How would you advise Southern Baptists in America regarding this problem of rebaptism?

Doru Hnatiuc: There is no simple answer. The question has major theological and doctrinal implications. The practice of the church in this matter leads to a reorientation around other key doctrines (like church discipline, methods of evangelism, the gospel, salvation, evangelistic invitations, decision/faith, etc.).

In the U.S., I once helped at a church where the pastor offered a Bible to all those who had been baptized the week before. One of the baptized people was his wife, who had declared that her baptism at 10 years old had been invalid. The pastor and his wife were in that church for many years. She had been a teacher in Sunday School. She had led many children to Christ, who had later been baptized. She had taught these children the way of faith, lived in obedience to the Lord, and had raised her own children in godliness.

Was all of this fruit invalid? Or just her baptism? No one at the church was thinking through these sorts of implications. She might have said that her fruit is not invalid just as it is possible for a lost pastor to lead others to Christ and to baptize them, and his state before God not affect the act of baptism.

My question is this: If there is evidence of a new life in Christ, of a life of obedience to him, why then does that evidence not confirm the validity of the early decision and baptism? We need to think about these implications and make some decisions. Otherwise, we are going to wind up in ridiculous situations, teaching deformed doctrines and leading others in aberrant practices.

I share the same concerns as my Romanian brother in Christ. We believe in “One Baptism”, upon which our unity in Christ is partly based. Baptism is an objective act which seals the “believer” in unity with Christ and His Church. One might later be convinced that the baptism wasn’t valid due to a lack of genuine faith, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were already baptized and marked off as a member of Christ’s Church.

Marriage is an objective act as well. One might be later convinced that they really didn’t love their spouse and got married for the wrong reasons, but none of that changes the fact that they are objectively married. You don’t get remarried, nor ought you to repudiate the marriage, but you are called to live in the reality of the covenantal vows that were made, whether you initially meant them or not. There are way too many baptism annulments in the U.S. Church and I am troubled by the lack of understanding on this issue. I think that folks have overemphasized their personal narrative in relation to baptism and this has caused some folks to want to be rebaptized as many as 4 or 5 times in their lifetime, constantly seeking assurance and reassurance. This is unhealthy. The fact is that our walk with Christ, just like our marriages, may go through ups and downs. The solution isn’t to get remarried to seek some emotional catapult, but rather to bring oneself under the discipline of the marital vows. Maybe you never believed, or walked away from the faith, but the fact is that you are still wearing Christ in your baptism. The fact that one is baptized actually makes such sins that much more serious, as they should be dealt with within the jurisdiction of the local church; just as infidelity in marriage is worse precisely because you are married, irregardless of what you thought of your marital vows. The judge won’t care what you were thinking when you got married when settling custody disputes, alimony, child support, etc.

The fault, however, rests much more severely upon the American church. The American church has pretty much abandoned any guarding of the sacraments, membership, discipline, etc. The church has aided and abetted by trampling previous baptisms in annulling them with great joy as they celebrate yet another baptism they will mark in their books as their own. I have been asked about rebaptism from some folks and have graciously explained why I couldn’t, in good conscience, rebaptize them (the only exception being infant baptism, which I don’t repudiate if they hold it in good conscience as their valid sign and seal of regeneration in Christ and the Church). I’m grateful that the folks I have spoken to have been understanding. The common question I pose is, “What makes you so certain that this 2nd, 3rd, 4th baptism is genuine?” and “Do you expect me to baptize you again in a few years should you be convinced that you are not really regenerate right now?

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