As both a pastor and a professor who teaches Baptist history and thought, hardly a month goes by that I do not have at least one person ask me if they need to be “re-baptized.” From time to time, this question comes from someone who was sprinkled as an infant and is now wrestling with the practice of exclusive believer’s baptism. My answer in this case is simple: infant baptism is a practice that is alien to the New Testament and absent from church history until likely the middle of the second century. Biblical baptism is the full immersion of a presumably regenerate individual following his or her conversion. Since infant baptism is not biblical baptism, one who was sprinkled in infancy needs to follow the Lord’s command by receiving believer’s baptism by immersion.
Far more often, however, the person asking the question grew up attending a Baptist (or at least baptistic) church and now, in adulthood, struggles with whether or not he or she was actually converted prior to his or her immersion. I am very sensitive to this question, since I was immersed at age nine in a mainline Disciples of Christ church following a confirmation class, but never heard the gospel clearly proclaimed until I was around fourteen. I was subsequently converted around the time I graduated from high school and later baptized at the age of twenty-four, after years of struggling with this very question. Many folks have a baptismal testimony similar to mine, likely for a variety of reasons (that is a topic for another day). When I ask my Baptist History class how many of them have been dunked more than once, it is common for between one-third and half of them to raise their hands.
Bobby Jamieson of 9 Marks Ministries recently weighed in on this very issue in an article written for The Gospel Coalition’s website. I was pleased to see that Jamieson answers this question exactly like I do. If you are absolutely convinced that you were not a Christian when you were immersed, as with my own testimony, then you have never been baptized – you have merely been dunked. So you do need to be dunked again, but it is definitely not a “re-baptism,” but rather your actual baptism, since this second dunking conforms to the biblical practice.
But if you simply struggle with the question of when you were converted, which is especially common among those who profess faith during childhood and/or in more revivalistic contexts, then you should not be immersed again. Baptism is not some repeatable sacrament that infuses sustaining grace into us or grants us ongoing assurance of salvation. As Jamieson argues in his fine essay, “It’s easy to mistake childlike faith for no faith at all, and to impose an adult standard of spiritual fruit on a child or even a teenager. In such cases, I’d encourage someone to get baptized only if she came to be absolutely convinced that she was not converted at the time of baptism.” Amen.
If you know that you have never followed the Lord’s command to be baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ according to the New Testament pattern, then I would urge you to submit to biblical baptism. If you simply struggle a bit with certainty about the exact timing of your salvation, or if you are haunted by the guilt of a season of rebellion or staleness, then I would urge you not to rush back into the waters of baptism. Instead, look to Christ and remind yourself of the gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised from the dead for you. Repent of any un-confessed sin, but be assured that as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you will forever belong to the living God who has adopted you as his spiritual child. Baptism testifies clearly to this gospel, but it is not a substitute for the good news.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He serves on the Biblical Recorder’s Board of Directors.)