Should Christians practice rebaptism? Is there a Biblical basis for rebaptism? In my opinion there should be no rebaptism as there is no Biblical basis for it. But before I get into my arguments against rebaptism, I will give a brief history concerning it.
Contrary to what many people believe, the Anabaptists (meaning rebaptism) were not the first group to practise it. The first group that practised rebaptism was the Novatians around the 250s AD. They formed chiefly out of the problem of church discipline. During the Roman Decian persecutions, people recanted their belief in Christ. After the persecution was over, they wanted to return to the church. Should they just be allowed back into the church? Novatian, who was elected Bishop of Rome said “No!” If they wanted to come back into the church, they would have to go under strict discipline and self-examination. Most of the rest of the church said they could be readmitted. So Novatian was deposed as bishop. In reaction to this, Novatian created his own church composed of those known as the Catharoi (the pure). They demanded that those coming from the other Christian churches in their day, be rebaptised in order to become part of the Catharoi.
Another group that supported rebaptism was the Donatists around the 300s. They formed out of the same controversy the Novatians did, except this time it was regarding lapsed Christians during the Diocletian persecution. After arguing and fighting the Donatists created their own church system that called for the rebaptism of its members.
Some 1000 years later the Anabaptists appeared in response to not only the Roman Catholic Church but also the Lutherans and Zwinglians. They thought that the Reformers were not going far enough in their rejection of Roman Catholic doctrine. So they threw out infant baptism and did not consider the baptism of their theological opponents to be valid, so they called for rebaptism.
They supported their claims for rebaptism on Acts 19:1 – 6, which says, “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” The argument of those who purport rebaptism is Paul rebaptised the disciples of John; anyone can see that from the text. I agree that a very quick glance at the text says that. But quick glances often contain error.
This passage is not speaking concerning water baptism, but is speaking of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the focus of the passage. It is striking that the first thing Paul asks John’s disciples is “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” The question is not have you received the baptism of repentance? (The baptism of repentance is the baptism that John the Baptist and Christ both gave. Both baptisms symbolised the exact same thing, namely the washing away of sin and purification from sin by the blood of Christ.) The question Paul asked is have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed? John prophesied that Christ would baptise with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John’s disciples had already received the baptism of repentance from John. They were waiting for the fulfillment of John’s prophesy concerning Christ’s baptism. Paul is here to fulfill that prophesy personally for them.
Further, Acts 19 says that, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them . . .” When is not in the original Greek, it is an implied word that is used to denote the tense of the participle laid. The word after could also be used. “And after Paul had laid his hands . . .” In my opinion after implies more of a clarifying of the previous verses. So the preceding verses speak of the baptism and then verse six implies how Paul performed the baptism. But whether after or when is used the idea behind the two words is that of clarifying. This act of clarifying is in harmony with the Jewish mode of speaking. First the general account is given and then it is further clarified. This mode of speaking is throughout the Bible, if you want examples of it look in Revelations.
Also, the laying on of hands is in agreement with the baptism of the Holy Spirit as Acts 8:17 makes clear, “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”
But even if you do not agree with this interpretation, there is no warrant for the rebaptism that goes on today. Besides Acts 19, the only other reason given for rebaptism that I have heard is that, “I do not remember being baptised as an infant.” So the person is rebaptised so that he remembers it. The problem with that is that these people were already baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost! They already received Christ’s baptism! Acts 19 does not come into effect here even if you think it was water baptism. Most of the people who are baptized today were already baptised in the name of Christ. Even if you disagree with the doctrine of the church where the person was baptised, or even the concern of corrupt clergy, you cannot deny that the person was baptised with Christ’s baptism. That is because it is not the clergy or the church that performs the true baptism; it is God that performs it! Baptism is just a picture of the much better spiritual reality of the baptism of the heart that God works in us.
Therefore, rebaptism is wrong. The Scriptures only call for one baptism. Just as we cannot be regenerated twice, we should not be rebaptized. Baptism is a one-time event that pictures that we have been regenerated and changed into a new creature by the washing and purging away of our sins through the blood of Christ. To close with John Calvin, he wrote a section on John 19 in his Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 4, Chapter 15, Section 18, part of which I quote here, “‘And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them.’ In this last sentence is described what the nature of the baptism was. But if ignorance vitiates a former, and requires to be corrected by a second baptism, the apostles should first of all have been rebaptised, since for more than three full years after their baptism they had scarcely received any slender portion of purer doctrine. Then so numerous being the acts of ignorance which by the mercy of God are daily corrected in us, what rivers would suffice for so many repeated baptisms?”