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Must We Be United in Our Understanding on Baptism?
“For twelve years I thus lived without immersion, and believe that I lived under the smiles of heaven. But when I became acquainted with my duty, I submitted to it.”
One of the most debated, divisive, and important subjects among the Churches of Christ is the subject of baptism. It is probably the issue on most members’ minds, with instrumental music being a close second. If someone from the Churches of Christ wants to study with a member of another denomination, it is probably about baptism. Personally, I have made people angry, cry, and feel insecure about their baptism. Not only would I mention the “plan of salvation” in every sermon, but I would also find some way to talk about baptism if someone in the audience was visiting who hadn’t been baptized in the way I thought they should.
In Ephesians 4, Paul said that there is one baptism. Someone from the Churches of Christ may ask, “Which baptism? Sprinkling infants or immersing adults? Baptism in order to be saved or because you already are saved?” In other words, the “one baptism” is specifically baptism in water for the remission of sins with the understanding that you are completely and totally lost until you come up out of the water, at least, according to the mainstream teaching of the Churches of Christ.
This idea about baptism has led some to reject baptized individuals from churches which practice believer’s baptism since their baptism wasn’t done exactly as stated above. Since they didn’t have the one baptism, they really didn’t have any baptism and were as lost as Hitler, Stalin, and Billy Graham.
If members of the Churches of Christ reject those baptized without a “correct” understanding of baptism, then they do not accept anyone as a Christian who was sprinkled as an infant. Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians are doomed to burn in Hell forever despite their holiness, love, and being willing to die for their faith in Jesus as Lord.
In the following sections, we will address these two issues from the standpoint of the Stone-Campbell Movement to see if these ideas of who is saved and who is lost originated with Campbell and Stone.
Rebaptism in the Stone-Campbell Movement
When I was eighteen years old, I attended Auburn University for a few years before deciding to begin preaching full time. While I was there, I was walking down the concourse on the way to Parker Hall one day when I came across a student reading her Bible on one of the benches. I was quite early for Calculus, so I decided to initiate a study. Following the example of Phillip in Acts 8, I asked her if she understood what she was reading. After a few minutes of going back and forth about Genesis 1, I began to show her how Spirit and water were related. When I came to John 3, we talked about her baptism and her reasoning behind it. She had been baptized to obey Jesus as a profession of her faith, but she was sure she was saved prior to getting wet. After I got done with her, she was in tears because I called into question her faith, her baptism, and her salvation since she wasn’t specifically baptized “for the remission of sins.”
The above story has happened thousands of times with only the setting and characters being changed. Some stories end in tears. Others end in anger. While few ends in the individual being rebaptized. Rebaptism is preached throughout many modern-day Churches of Christ, and it is just one of the many examples of how we have broken that old motto “Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” There is not one syllable in the New Testament that teaches, commands, or implies that one who had previously been baptized in the name of Jesus needed to be rebaptized because they were unfamiliar with all the blessings associated with it. If that were the case, then anyone who studies would need to be rebaptized every time they learn something else about the baptismal blessings.
The only account we have of one being rebaptized is in the case of the disciples in Ephesus in Acts 19. However, rebaptism isn’t the correct terminology to use when describing what happened to them, for they had only been baptized once into John’s baptism and would be baptized later, once, into the name of Jesus.
My friend Wayne Dunaway, who preaches for the Ohatchee church in North Alabama, made a good point to me in a conversation we had the other day. “Daniel,” he said, “If a preacher for the Church of Christ had been in Ephesus, he wouldn’t have rebaptized a soul because he would have only asked two questions: were you immersed and was it for the remission of sins?”
John’s baptism covered two of the major contentions the Church of Christ has with the baptism of other denominations. Furthermore, I doubt if there are many Churches of Christ preachers would have asked what Paul did: “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). Walter Scott popularized what is called the five-finger exercise: belief, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. One preacher asked, “What happened to Scott’s fifth finger?” While it isn’t the subject at hand, one wonders when the Trinity became God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible.
Regardless, what was Alexander Campbell’s view of rebaptism? How did he view those who were immersed without the knowledge of it being “for the remission of sins.” Well, Mr. Andrew Broaddus had a similar question: “How are the baptized to obtain remission of any sins which may have committed after baptism—must they be rebaptized as some have been?”
Campbell dismissed the question as unnecessary. He felt that Broaddus already knew the answer to it, but to him it was a symptom of another matter, viewing baptism as an expiatory rite. Campbell insisted that one who would view baptism like making a sacrifice under the Law had missed the entire point of baptism to begin with. He goes on to observe that he had heard of some who had been rebaptized specifically “for the remission of sins.”
He then explained why someone may get rebaptized, and it sounds like what preachers today subscribe, but he believes the logic is flawed because it makes baptism into an expiatory rite:
It appears, indeed, that this was making baptism a mere expiatory rite, and regarding it as designed alone for ablution. It made void the former baptism, not because the subject did not believe and confess that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of God—not because the subject was not intelligently immersed into Christ, and did not constitutionally put him on, being, according to the commandment, immersed on said profession, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thenceforth admitted into the family of God; but because the subject or the administrator did not fully understand the whole purport of the institution. (Emphasis mine—bold and underline)
He followed this up by saying,
I trust we need not attempt to show that Jesus Christ has not ordained any institution solely for the remission of sins—any rite or observance for expiation…No person, intelligent in the [C]hristian religion, can be baptized for the remission of his sins apart from all other blessings. For one, then, that has been born again, born of water and of Spirit, one who has been baptized into Christ, confessing his faith in the person, character, and mission of Jesus, to be baptized a second time for the remission of sins by itself, or for the Holy Spirit by itself, or for any one blessing, is without command, precedent, or reason from the New Testament. (Emphasis mine—bold and underline)
Campbell then offered a humorous explanation for his reasoning when he wrote,
Indeed, I know not how any proclaimer of the gospel, how any intelligent disciple, can presume to bury a living disciple; [it is against the law!] how he can immerse a believer a second time into Christ, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He must have received a new commission. (Emphasis mine—bold and underline)
He demonstrated his point further by appealing to Romans 6 where Paul said, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3). They did not understand baptism in all its “designs, meanings, and bearings,” but the apostle did not demand they be rebaptized. From Campbell’s perspective, all items of a given covenant are secured to the person on the confirmation of the covenant. He explained,
“To as many as received Jesus he gave the privilege of becoming the children of God. In constituting them children he bestowed upon them all the privileges of children of God, made them heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ.”
If one were to ask Campbell his thoughts on a preacher who demands that individuals be rebaptized, he would respond, “He that insists upon a person being rebaptized in order to fellowship, makes his own inferences a bond of union, and adds to the commandments written in the book.” While this may not be that difficult to hear, what about one who has never been immersed at all? Does God accept them as His children? We’ll cover that in the next subsection.
 Barton W. Stone, The Christian Messenger, Vol. 12(1841), p.38.
 I understand that this is expression to my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ, but what are we if not divided?
 The “plan of salvation” consists of five, sometimes six, steps: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized, and live faithfully. This is adapted from a Stone-Campbell evangelist named Walter Scott who had a five-finger exercise: believe, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and the gift of the Spirit.
 Believer’s baptism is the immersion of believers only, not infants. Many people have been persecuted, burned at the stake, and had all sorts of terrible things done and said about them for believing this doctrine.
 I don’t mean to say that I believe Billy Graham to be lost, but since he was the preacher of the 20th century, he is often a punching bag for preachers in the Church of Christ, much like Joel Osteen, Max Lucado, and Rob Bell are today for conservative churches of every background.
 While I will only write a few paragraphs, Dallas Burdette wrote around 28 pages on “Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Movement.” You can access his essay here: https://freedominchrist.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Chapter-04-Rebaptism-in-the-Stone-Campbell-Movement.doc.pdf
 Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger (1831), p.431.
 An expiatory rite is a religious ceremony, like sacrifice under the law, which is able to make atonement.
 Ibid. p.482.
 Ibid., p.483.
 Ibid., p.484.
 Ibid., p.485.
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I think Dan is on the right track!
Of Course, this subject is more involved than this, but you are tracking historically with the SCM legacy, as with well-thought-out biblical logic. “Remission of Sins” is a blessing that results from the baptism in the name of Jesus, in other words, a gift of God. Just like “gift of the Holy Spirit” has been misunderstood and hardly ever used as an exclusion teaching, “forgiveness of sins” has been overstated and wrongly used as a reason for excluding people from the kingdom of God. God gives it when the repentant baptized person responds in the name of Jesus of Christ. “In the name of Jesus is what makes baptism effective and not knowing that it is for the “forgiveness of sins.”