An Email About Baptism

Baptism

Jay:Thank you for OneinJesus.info. Everyone there helps to challenge and push me on toward a closer and deeper understanding of God, the Lordship of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit. That said please help me with a puzzling question.

The reader explains that his congregation requires members baptized to obey God, rather than for remission of sins, to be re-baptized. In fact, the church insists that a baptism is ineffective if the believer does not understand the 5-steps of salvation.

This is a great time for this question to have come up, because there have been some great posts on the subject by Bobby Valentine lately.

Re-baptism: Where Does the Slippery Slope End?

Walter Scott and the Origins of the Five Finger Gospel

Alexander Campbell, Re-baptism and Sectarianism

Re-baptism Reviewed … David Lipscomb

J. W. McGarvey: What Is a Valid Baptism?

Bobby lays out much of the history of the subject very well. Here’s the short course: Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell taught that baptism is indeed for the remission of sins, but they did not consider faith in that fact essential to salvation. Faith in Jesus is essential — not faith in baptism. Campbell considered those who insisted on rebaptizing Baptist converts heretics, meaning that he saw them as dividing the body of Christ. Campbell only very rarely referred to someone as “heretic.”

Lipscomb and McGarvey held the same view, as did many others. However, Austin McGary founded the Firm Foundation to teach that baptism is only effective if consciously for the remission of sins. The Gospel Advocate, of course, held to Lipscomb’s view. Over time, the Firm Foundation‘s position — the “Texas school” as Bobby and John Mark Hicks say — came to dominate even the churches east of the Mississippi, particularly after Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was given editorship of the Advocate. The Gospel Advocate‘s original position — the “Tennessee school of thought” — nearly disappeared.

Until recently, the Texas school’s view was so dominant that few even realized that the contrary position had once been the original position of the Restoration Movement.

Now, this doesn’t fully answer the question, as ultimately the argument must be made from scripture. I offered my own argument some time ago. I’ll not repeat it.

Rather, I want to add to it, as you asked about Acts 19. I’d never heard that argument before, but noticed this picture on Bobby’s blog, so I figure that it’s common in some parts of the country — or maybe I’ve gotten out of touch.

(Acts 19:1-6)  While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Yes, the Ephesians were rebaptized, but not because they they weren’t baptized for remission of sins. In fact, they were surely already baptized for just that reason —

(Mark 1:4)  And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

(Luke 3:3)  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The phrase translated “for the forgiveness of sins” is identical in the Greek with “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38. The Ephesians had been baptized into John’s baptism, which means they had been baptized for the remission of sins already.

So why were they re-baptized? The text is quite clear. We ask our converts, “Were you baptized for the remission of sins?” Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” They said they hadn’t, and so they were rebaptized — and they received the Holy Spirit.

There are two key differences between John’s and Jesus’ baptism. The first is the name into which one is baptized. Paul baptized into the name of Jesus. John did not.

The second is the receipt of the Spirit. As Acts 19, Acts 2:38, and John 7:37-39 make abundantly clear, John’s disciples did not receive the Spirit, but those baptized into Jesus did (and do).

Barton W. Stone made this argument (I quote Bobby Valentine once again) —

The only kind of unity that Scripture knows, according to Stone, is “the union of fire.” Fire union is that created and founded by the Holy Spirit of the Almighty God. “Fire effects a perfect union—so does the spirit [sic] of burning, the spirit of Jesus.” Where can we find this unity? “This spirit is obtained through faith, not in a human form or set of opinions, whether written or not written, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners; and by cheerful obedience to his known commands … This spirit leads us to love God and his children … This is the very union for which Jesus prayed.” (Barton W. Stone, “The Retrospect,” Christian Messenger 7 [October 1833], 314-316). It is precisely because Stone did not believe that all must agree in order to be united that he was able to unite with Alexander Campbell.

Paul would agree. He didn’t ask the Ephesians about their faith in baptism. He asked whether they’d received the Spirit, as the Spirit is the mark of our salvation. We talk about “marks of the church,” but the mark of a Christian is his receipt of the Spirit —

(Eph 1:13-14)  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.

Archaeologists find First Century seals all the time. They were very visible marks showing the ownership of an object. And the presence of the Spirit — the mark of the Spirit — shows who belongs to Jesus.

baptismofjesusAnd so the argument proceeds at several levels. I’ve made a very technical argument regarding Acts 2:38 in my earlier article. Stone argues from the doctrine of the Spirit — a doctrine the Churches of Christ have worked hard to forget. And a serious reading of Acts 19 plainly shows that it’s not about whether you’ve been baptized for remission of sins. It’s about whether you’ve received the Spirit. And as Paul teaches in Rom 8:9-11, anyone with the Spirit is saved.

Is baptism to obey God sufficient to receive the Spirit? Yes, after all, it was sufficient for Jesus.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to An Email About Baptism

  1. Jay,

    This is such an important topic. Thank you for dealing with it and I appreciate you drawing attention to my posts on it. May much non-sectarian medicine be injected into our veins through your work.

    Shalom,
    Bobby V

  2. I confess I have a simple mind – far simpler than those who can speak knowledgeably on such matters – but isn't it also helpful to ask how many times Jesus was baptized … and how many times did Jesus die?

    If we have once died to sins, how many more times do we need to die to sins? (Romans 6) If we are baptized to obey God, how can that change the fact that we are baptized into Jesus' death? Is this really an "either-or"? Aren't we baptized both to obey God and for remission of sins? And to save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ? And to pledge a good conscience toward God and accept His pledge toward us? (1 Peter 3:31-32) And to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which seems to hover about the candidate? (Acts 2, 8, 10) To clothe ourselves with Christ? (Galatians 3:27) And on and on?

    Should we require a complete understanding of baptism from every candidate when, frankly, none of us would be willing to honestly confess that we have fully mastered the concept of it?

    I was baptized at the age of nine. Have I matured and grown in wisdom, stature, favor with God and man since then? (I sure hope so!) Do I need to be re-baptized because I didn't know enough, even though like Timothy, my momma and grandma (and a host of other teachers) had made certain that I knew Jesus? Can my knowledge add to or subtract from Jesus' power to wash away my sins with His blood?

  3. Jay thanks for dealing with this subject. I fear those of us who push for re-baptism has attempted to make salvation a formula followed rather than a total dependance of Jesus. Thanks for shedding light on this.

  4. Todd Collier says:

    If we are being "strict constructionists" shouldn't our denomination be rebaptizing our own as few if any of us were actually baptized into the Name of Jesus so we could receive the Holy Spirit?

  5. Robert Baty says:

    As I briefly review Acts 19:1-6, I notice that the Holy Spirit was not "received" by those baptized until after Paul laid his hands upon them.

    Is that the sort of thing (i.e., "pattern") being proposed for us today?

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  6. K. Rex Butts says:

    I always cringe when hearing stories like this. Is it any wonder why we have been accused of "works oriented" salvation by some? The "rebaptism" approach has made baptism and salvation about us… not to mention a salvation that requires faith not in God but in our own intellect.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  7. As I briefly review Acts 10, I notice that the Holy Spirit was "received" by those before they were baptized.

    Is that the sort of thing (i.e., "pattern") being proposed for us today?

    Sincerely,
    Disposed to be Contentious

  8. Robert Baty says:

    Keith,

    Your disposition is so noted.

    FWIW, I have recently been involved in disputes about Cornelius and whether his household's "receipt" of the Holy Spirt was the promised "baptism" of the Holy Spirit.

    Controversies here, controversies there, controversies everywhere!

    Only me and thee know the truth, and sometimes I doubt thee!

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  9. Doug Young says:

    Jay,

    If it was only about receiving the Spirit, Paul could've just laid hands on them. I've always looked at the re-baptism situation of Acts 19 in light of the fact that John's baptism was a pre-DBR baptism. Acts 2 is new covenant, great commission baptism. The men in Acts 19 had been taught John's baptism, not that of the great commission. I've always contended that such was the basis for their re-baptism.

    Am I off base?

  10. Joe Baggett says:

    The only thing required for Baptism is actual faith. You can do the five steps and never really believe. It is not subscription to list of doctrinal positions or adherence of a 5 religious acts or rituals. What if we emphasized repentance as much as the physical act of water immersion? Is it less important? Repentance has been relegated to a onetime thing where we said we were sorry and tried to stop sinning the moment we got out of the water. This repentance many times was only for the really bad sins and not the nice respectable ones. I believe that if we spent more time actually leading people to faith in Jesus and not membership to certain religious group or list of rituals and religious acts the fewer issues of re-baptism we would have. The more we understand and teach actual repentance as immediate and ongoing transformation and not just being sorry or feeling guilty for your sin when you get dunked then we might have less issues with people getting into their quarter life and discovering faith for themselves and wondering if they must be re-baptized to be “right” with God.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    I don't think so. I focused on the Spirit because Paul did. To be true to the text, you have approach things in Spirit terms. But it's also true that the Ephesians had not been baptized into the name of Jesus.

    We don't know for sure whether the Ephesians were baptized before or after Pentecost. We know from history that there were Jews practicing John's baptism for centuries after Pentecost. And given that Act 19 would have happened decades after Pentecost, it seems very likely that at least some of the Ephesians were baptized with John's baptism (for repentance, unto remission of sins) after Pentecost.

    Therefore, it's entirely legitimate to observe that John's baptism was inadequate not only because it didn't bring the Spirit's indwelling, but also because it was not in the name of Jesus (or the Trinitarian name), which, of course, is why the Spirit didn't come.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    I quite agree. We do a lousy job of teaching repentance, often not even asking a convert whether he has repented. My preference is to ask whether he is willing to submit to Jesus as his Lord. After all, the confession Paul speaks of in Rom 10:9 is "Jesus is Lord," which we rarely ask of our members, preferring the confession in Acts 8:37 "that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," which isn't even in most modern translations because it's not in the oldest Greek manuscripts.

    As a result, we miss an important teaching opportunity — and leave many converts with the idea that Jesus just wants a dunking and regular church attendance. And we wonder why 80% of our members are uninvolved in ministry.

  13. Terry says:

    Jay,
    I'm curious about your statement that some Jews were "practicing John's baptism centuries after Pentecost." I had never heard about it before (except of course for the Jews in Acts 19). I would be interested in learning more about this topic. Could you recomment a book or web site on this topic?

  14. Jay Guin says:

    See Introduction to the New Testament, by Goodspeed.

    There were still those who regarded John the Baptist as the Messiah, or at least as the new Elijah of Mal. 4:5, like the men Paul found at Ephesus, Acts 19:1-7. Justin mentions Baptists among the Jewish sects, Dialogue lxxx. 4, and in the third century the Clementine Recognitions speaks of people who declare John to be the Messiah.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/goodspeed/. The dating of Recognitions is uncertain and could be as late as the 4th century.

    There's a group called the Mandaeans, still in existence, who honor John the Baptist as their greatest prophet. According to the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, their roots go back at least to the third century. http://books.google.com/books?id=kgRV7QohACcC&amp

  15. Doug Young says:

    Thanks Jay. I see it both ways. I have worked under the impression that the close of Acts 18 shows that people like Apollos were teaching others, knowing only the baptism of John. For that reason, Priscilla and Aquila taught him God's better way. Since Apollos had been preaching in Ephesus, it seemed logical to me that maybe the people Paul meets up with in Acts 19 were people who had heard Apollos's preaching of John's baptism. I can't prove it, but it seem logical.

    Either way, what you offer as to how Paul gets the conversation going is unequivocally Spirit oriented and Spirit driven!

  16. JdB says:

    I chuckled a little when I read that. I think I'm a good preacher in the church of Christ because I always ask, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and are you willing to make him the Lord of your life?" How's that for not leaving any stone unturned? lol

  17. Terry says:

    Thanks for the information on followers of John the Baptist, Jay!

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