Do I Need to Be Re-baptized?
Your question is a very legitimate one. There are some people, even among religious leaders, who oppose any form of re-baptism.
For instance, in 1996, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church at a convention conducted in Denver, Colorado debated the matter of re-baptism. A position paper issued by the conference declared that Methodists who were baptized as infants should never be baptized again. The document explicitly stated:
“Whether a baptized infant grows up to be a professing Christian or not, that baptism stands valid.”
This position is flawed in many particulars, having no scriptural support whatsoever.
New Testament Precedent for Being Immersed a Second Time
While on his third missionary campaign, the apostle Paul came to the city of Ephesus. There, he encountered twelve men who formerly had been baptized with the type of baptism administered by John the Baptizer.
One might be inclined to conclude, therefore, that the apostle would have accepted these men as they were and merely organized them into a church.
But such was not the case. After questioning them as to the nature of their earlier baptism and determining that their pre-baptism instruction on the previous occasion had been lacking in essential details, Paul immersed these men into Christ (see Acts 19:1-5). A simple understanding of the text reveals that their first baptism was deficient in some way.
And here is an extremely important implication of this case of re-baptism. The case clearly demonstrates that in order for one’s baptism to be valid, accurate teaching and understanding must precede the rite. Otherwise, the act of baptism is a meaningless exercise and not based on faith (Rom. 10:17).
True Baptism — A One-time Act
Genuine baptism is needed only one time in a person’s life. Once a person has been baptized according to the full complement of scriptural instructions, he or she never has the need to repeat this new-birth process (cf. Jn. 3:3-5).
After a person has entered the family of Christ through baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Gal. 3:26-27), he is a part of the church, the household (family) of God (1 Tim. 3:15; cf. Eph. 2:19-22). The new Christian has access to all of the spiritual benefits of the in-Christ relationship (Eph. 1:3).
As a son or daughter of God within that sacred environment, the Christian prays to the heavenly Father for his or her personal needs by means of prayer (see Acts 8:22, 24; cf. Jas. 5:16) — including forgiveness for sins as we fail to live perfectly before God (cf. 1 Jn. 1:8; 2:1).
Qualifications for Baptism
Unfortunately, there are many in today’s world of Christendom that practice a form of what they call “baptism.”
When we compare what is practiced and taught by many with what the Bible teaches, we can see that a variety of doctrinal errors have developed that are not found in God’s word. Those corruptions invalidate a baptism and make it of none effect.
Therefore, many who have been administered what was called “baptism” but, in fact is not true biblical baptism, need to be baptized again — this time with a more accurate understanding that precedes the event, just like the case in Acts 19:1-5.
Here are some situations in which re-baptism would be warranted.
Baptism without faith or understanding
If one was “baptized” as an infant, thus was lacking personal faith (Mk. 16:16; Acts 11:21), he should repudiate the meaningless earlier rite in which he had no decision-making power, even though his parents were sincere in subjecting him to the procedure.
In genuine faith, he should submit to the command in the proper way. Infants have neither the need nor the ability to respond to the gospel of Christ.
The same would be true for young children too young or immature to understand their accountability to the plan of salvation.
It is a tender thing to observe young children who want to please God. But many times, their desire precedes their understanding and accountability for personal sin.
If an adult concludes that they need to be re-baptized because they were baptized as an infant or as a sincere but immature child, we would encourage them to be immersed in faith and obedience. Thus, they can be assured of the forgiveness of their sins. Their decision will bring peace of mind and confidence by knowing they are obeying God from the heart with full understanding.
Baptism without immersion
If one was “baptized” in some fashion other than by immersion, then he needs to be baptized with the proper form. The word “baptism” literally translated means immersion, not sprinkling or pouring.
True baptism pictures the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sinner is buried in water and raised from this symbolic grave (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12) just as the Lord was buried and then raised from the dead.
True baptism validates and proclaims one’s faith in the death and resurrection events. Being sprinkled with water or having water poured upon the head is no baptism at all. Such substitutes are without sanction in the New Testament. They are post-apostolic innovations.
Baptism without repentance
Baptism without true repentance is also ineffectual. I once heard about a man who emerged from the baptismal pool, turned to his wife, and said: “I hope you’re satisfied!”
No who is baptized without proper motive (and other prerequisites) can have validity in the divine scheme of things. Even John warned those who came to be baptized for a show without repentance. Only God’s wrath awaited those who were baptized with such false pretenses (Mt. 3:7).
Baptism without faith
If one is “baptized” without a sound faith, the ritual would be of no avail.
One might feel, for instance, that Jesus was a good man, perhaps even a “perfect man” — as the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” allege. As sincere as these may be, they deny that Christ is the Son of God (i.e., deity).
And yet, for various other reasons, they might desire to be baptized. But baptism grounded on false faith cannot be accounted as genuine.
Baptism without purpose
If one has yielded to baptism for some purpose other than that which is supplied by God’s word, he has not obeyed the Lord.
Baptism is never defined as “an outward sign of an inward grace.” It is not a mere representation of redemption for those who have already received forgiveness.
The purpose of baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), to have sins “washed away” (Acts 22:16), to put the candidate “into Christ” (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27), or into his “body” (1 Cor. 12:13). At this point, he is “saved” (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).
The common resistance to the biblical proposition that baptism comes before salvation constitutes a bold rejection of the plain testimony of Scripture. One cannot be immersed “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), if he believes his sins have been remitted already.
Your soul is too valuable, the plan is too simple and the remedy too easy to access to gamble — hoping that a former “baptism” will be alright in spite of the deficiencies associated therewith.
If you have any question about a previous baptism, I would encourage you to be safe and arrange for your baptism according to your informed knowledge.
If we may assist you in this regard, feel free to contact us for counsel.