Why might a baptism be invalid? Here’s the story of two people who were rebaptized. Their reasons to get baptized again are eye-opening.
This is a true story about a country doctor and his wife and baptism. It took place over 45 years ago, but the lessons of their experience are still valuable for those with ears to hear.
The doctor had retired from a lifetime of medical practice in a small Canadian town. He and his wife were gentle, genuinely caring people. They were highly respected and loved by their neighbors. I met them because they asked for Church of God ministers to call on them to discuss what they had been learning from the Bible. I was assisting the area pastor at the time.
We made an appointment to visit the couple at their home. The meeting went well. It was cordial. Not only was the elderly couple gracious and hospitable, they were delighted to discover that we were of the same mind about the Bible’s teachings.
One of the fundamental biblical truths they had recently learned was that the Christian Sabbath is the seventh day, the same day God made holy at creation. All of the Christian churches in their area observed Sunday. The doctor and his wife wanted to worship in a Sabbath-keeping church. They wanted to fellowship with people of like mind, not only about the Sabbath, but also about a number of other truths that they were discovering from their Bible study.
They were conservative folks, not ones to jump into something new without careful thought. Our visit went by quickly, ending with an invitation to return soon for another. Over the course of a few months, they decided that they wanted to associate with the Church of God. Although they lived a few hours’ drive from the nearest congregation, they were so committed that they began making the trip every Sabbath.
The more they learned, the happier they were with their decision to associate with us. Eventually, they told us that they would like to become members of the Church of God.
What are reasons to get baptized again?
In the course of our visits, we had discussed the fact that one became a member of God’s Church through baptism. This they knew. We also discussed the fact that even most people who had been baptized previously needed to be rebaptized when God called them into His Church.
The doctor and his wife had been baptized in a church in their community decades before and they firmly believed that they were converted, that their baptisms were valid and that they did not need to be rebaptized.
We respectfully disagreed with their judgment, explaining why we believed that they needed to be baptized again. They balked at that. They thought that they would be exceptions. Clearly, they were hurt and probably somewhat insulted, if not a little angry.
They knew that the Bible teaches a person must be baptized by complete immersion in water, not sprinkling, and as an adult, not an infant. And that is how they had been baptized many years earlier!
They knew even then that baptism is a symbolic burial of the “old person” and that just being sprinkled would not do. (We explain the rich symbolism in “What Do the Symbols of Baptism Mean?”) They also knew that it is not possible for a baby or a young person to meaningfully recognize the need to “die” to his old way of life. (See “Infant Baptism?”)
They argued that they had been baptized in the way God instructs. Yet we maintained that we had no doubt that they needed to be rebaptized. For their sake, we could not just let this slide.
Is being a “good person” enough?
Why not? Clearly, these were “good people” of proven character. Their decision to become members of the Church was not made on impulse. No one would doubt their sincerity. They were humble and likable—quintessential grandparent types! They were not grievous sinners! So what would have been the problem with just officially declaring them members of the Church? What convinced us that they needed to be rebaptized?
I’ll get to that. First, I want to finish the couple’s story.
The idea of rebaptism was too much for them. After this meeting, they stopped attending church with us. Several weeks passed. Then the doctor and his wife asked us to call on them again.
We found them in a completely different state of mind from the last time we had spoken. They were positive again. They were happy. They explained that they had spent the intervening time reviewing everything that the Bible says about baptism. They had spent much time praying for guidance about what they should do. And they had come to see several reasons to get baptized again.
They came to realize that even though they had done several things right when they were first baptized, crucial things had been left undone.
The laying on of hands
The Bible shows that baptism must be followed by the laying on of hands by God’s ministry.The Bible shows that baptism must be followed by the laying on of hands by God’s ministry. After baptizing an individual, one or more ministers must ask God in prayer to give the person the gift of His Holy Spirit.
If you were to argue that God doesn’t have to give His Spirit this way, you would be right—He doesn’t have to! He could give it any way He chose. But when you look into the biblical examples, it is clear that this is how He chose to give His Spirit to those beginning the process of salvation.
So if you didn’t have the laying on of hands after baptism, that is another reason to get baptized again.
(Is this new to you? Did you know that Scripture calls the laying on of hands one of the elementary doctrines of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1-3)? Be sure to read “Laying on of Hands.”)
The doctor and his wife looked at the biblical examples and instructions. They came to see that this in itself was reason enough to conclude that their initial baptism was not valid. Since they had not had hands laid on them, they realized that they had not been baptized as the Bible instructs.
In addition to not having hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit, there was another issue concerning their previous baptism.
The importance of repentance
Coming to conversion is not just about procedure! It’s first a matter of the heart. Another indispensable element that must come before baptism is repentance. So not understanding repentance previously is another reason to get baptized again.
Although they had repented as best they knew how, they came to understand that they had not truly understood repentance at the time. Since repentance means turning from sin and toward obedience to God, it stands to reason that a person has to know what sin is and what God requires by way of obedience.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, one biblical doctrine they had not understood when they were first baptized was that of the true Christian Sabbath. They discovered they had been sinning in a significant way by failing to obey the Sabbath Commandment. So, their initial repentance was seriously incomplete. They realized they hadn’t really understood what to repent of, what to obey. They hadn’t repented, so they needed rebaptism.
(Is this new to you? Did you know that one of the first things Jesus told people to do was “repent” (Mark 1:15)? And did you know that John the Baptist and the apostles of Christ advised the same? Watch the short video with “How to Repent” and then explore our extensive collection of articles on this step in the pathway to salvation.)
Love … or following rules?
Love and following biblical instruction aren’t mutually exclusive.At this point some may be thinking that we should be focusing more on love and less on rules. The reality is that love and following biblical instruction aren’t mutually exclusive.
Note this biblical formula for growing in God’s love: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:4-7, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).
Part of the pathway to love is knowledge. It’s inescapable. It cannot be bypassed. You need to know what faith is and where to place your faith. You need to know what God considers to be good, rather than rely on personal opinion or cultural swings. You need to know what impulses you need to control, when to persevere and what godliness is. And you need to know who your spiritual brothers and sisters are.
Then, you can approach the capstone of true godly love.
You have to know
The following biblical proverbs capture the commitment we all must have to seek knowledge. Notice the intensity of the words:
“My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).
“If, if, if … then” shows cause and effect. The opposite is also true. If you don’t pursue it wholeheartedly, you won’t find the knowledge of God. There are things that Google just doesn’t know. Things that you will not understand by simply reading a summary on the Internet. Things that you will only understand by putting time and effort into digging them out for yourself. See the articles we offer in “The Practical & Priceless Benefits of Bible Study” section to look into the Bible for yourself.
To be sure, pursuing knowledge can be nothing more than an ego trip. Vanity. A reinforcement of the very nature a Christian is to leave behind. Yet claiming “love” without an accurate knowledge of the Bible is just as empty!
Fake news, fake gospel
Much is said about “fake news” in today’s culture. Did you know that first-century Christianity also had a crisis of fake news—that is, counterfeits of truth? In the same letter, Peter cautioned believers to beware of being led away by this misinformation (“the error of the wicked”).
The antidote for this? He advised them to increase their “grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:17-18).
The challenge of diverse personal opinion and misinterpretation of God’s Word continues today even in the world of Google. In one way, it’s never been easier to investigate what the Bible says. But it seems that many, if not most, want someone else to tell them about the Bible instead of digging into it personally.
The doctor and his wife set a wonderful example in many areas of life, including how they went about studying the reasons to get baptized again and deciding to seek rebaptism.
Like the Bereans of the apostle Paul’s day, they respectfully received what we told them. And then, they “searched the Scriptures … to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-12). That is, they didn’t take someone else’s word. They sought God’s Word.
Rebaptism for you?
Have you been baptized? Was it done when you were a baby? When you were a teen? Before you truly understood how God expects you to live? Perhaps you, too, should investigate what the doctor and his wife studied nearly 50 years ago. Here’s a great place to begin: “Rebaptism: Why Would You Be Baptized Again?”