By David Pyles
Some potential converts to the Primitive Baptists have difficulty understanding their policy of rebaptizing all who come to them from other orders. This ancient practice of Primitive Baptists has many points in its defense. I attempt to present some of them in what follows, and wish particularly to address the most common questions asked concerning the practice.
1) Of those who have come to the Primitive Baptists from other orders, a great number had a deep conviction they were in need of rebaptism. These probably represent the majority of cases in my experience. Such cases prove that a mere conviction on the part a candidate that their first baptism is satisfactory is not sufficient to prove it such. Because if two individuals come to the Primitive Baptists with essentially identical backgrounds, then surely what is right for one is right for the other. Therefore, if it is right to rebaptize in one case, then it must be right to rebaptize in all similar cases. Now when it observed that those who came desiring rebaptism subsequently proved to be devout disciples, and in some instances even proved to be persons of beneficial leadership, then the strength of this experience serves to corroborate their original conviction that rebaptism was the proper course.
2) The denominationalism existing in our present world is a sad condition that Primitive Baptists did not cause and do not endorse; nevertheless, they must deal with it in a sound and consistent manner. Since the scriptures offer no New Testament precedent for denominationalism, the problem must be addressed using general scriptural principle and rules of sound reasoning. Under such approach, one is constrained to conclude that it is inconsistent to permanently sever fellowship with another denomination but to then receive the baptisms of that denomination. This follows because if the local churches in that denomination are indeed recognized by God as valid churches, then fellowship with them should not have been severed. Instead, scriptural labor should have been conducted for their correction. On the other hand, if these churches are not recognized by God as valid, then there is no authority for receiving their baptisms because there is nothing in scripture serving to qualify the baptisms of a nonchurch institution. This reasoning might not pertain to an intra-denominational division wherein fellowship were temporarily suspended for corrective purposes, but it must be valid for those inter-denominational divisions that are viewed as permanent. In maintaining these permanent bars of fellowship against each other, the churches of the denominational world have in effect declared that they cannot certainly know that their rivals are Divinely recognized churches. This being the case, they cannot certainly know that the baptisms performed by their rivals are valid. It is therefore inconsistent to receive these baptisms as though there were no question concerning them.
3) The validity of any religious or solemn service is critically dependent upon the intent and understanding of those who participate in them. If the intent or understanding is significantly in error, then the service cannot be valid. For example, suppose a young couple were in a wedding service and suppose the woman understood the service to be merely a rehearsal whereas the man thought the service to be genuine. Surely this would not be a valid wedding, and once the misunderstanding were discovered, neither the woman nor the man would be satisfied until the service were performed again. As a second example, I know of an actual case where a young man participated in a communion service thinking that a snack was being served. This occurred in a denominational church where grapejuice and crackers were used. Though the actions of the young man were outwardly the same as all other participants, it is clear that this service was not true communion to him, nor could it be considered such even after his understanding were corrected. These examples show the importance of understanding in solemn service. Here is yet a third example to show the importance of intent: A certain man went into the woods with a gun intending to shoot a deer, but his shot went astray and killed another man. Then there was another man went into the woods with a gun intending to murder a man, but his shot went astray and killed a deer. Which man is a murderer and which man is innocent? Obviously, the answer to this question depends entirely upon the intents of the men. Accordingly, the understanding and intent mean everything to the baptismal service. If a person has been baptized under false doctrinal notions, a false concept of Christ or a false understanding of the purpose of the baptism, then there is need that the service be performed again.
4) If the Primitive Baptists are what they claim, then they are of the same lineage, doctrine and practice as the true New Testament church. If the Primitive Baptists are not true to this claim, then one has no reason for leaving another order to come to them. Now there is only one instance in the Bible where people were baptized apart from this lineage (Acts 19:1-7), and in that one instance, those people were rebaptized. This was done notwithstanding the fact that those people were sincere in their convictions when they were first baptized, and notwithstanding the fact that the Bible considered them to be believers when they were first baptized.
5) The most common objection to rebaptism is the claim that the individual had a good feeling during their prior baptism. Our reply to this is that the feelings one has concerning their baptism is no trivial matter and we do not dismiss them as unimportant, even when they pertain to a baptism we consider unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, feelings alone are not a reliable criteria for assessing a baptism, or anything else. Consider the fact that those who practice infant baptism generally have a very good feeling about the service. They are very sentimental about it and have even been known to resort to violence in its defense. But this certainly does not make the service valid. Nor can good feelings justify anything that is contrary to the revealed will of God or at variance with sound reasoning.
6) But even if the good feelings concerning the former baptism were due to the blessings and assurance of God, this would not make rebaptism redundant or unnecessary. It is indeed the case that God may have blessed the former baptism by granting a feeling of His approval and assurance. This was because the individual was then doing the best they could given the knowledge they had at the time. If such efforts do not secure the blessings of God, then none of us would have any hope of being blessed in our endeavors to obey. The best any man can do is to act in accordance with what he believes to be right in the light of what has been revealed to him. But to be blessed by God for our imperfect efforts does not imply that we should be satisfied with those efforts or do nothing to correct them. There have been many times that I have felt blessed to preach upon a particular subject, but later discovered that I had given improper explanations to certain texts in the course of the sermon. Am I to conclude that because I felt blessed in these efforts that I should do nothing to correct those errors? Or should I conclude that because I felt blessed in these efforts that what I preached was surely accurate notwithstanding clear objective evidence to the contrary? Surely this would not be the proper course. It is my responsibility to do the best I can now given the knowledge I have now, even as I did the best I could then given the knowledge I had then. The same may be said of that individual who was baptized under erroneous convictions yet was blessed in it because their actions were done in sincerity.
7) The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians:
“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” – 2Cor 11:4
This text asserts there is another Jesus preached in this world besides the true Jesus of the Bible. There is also another gospel and another Spirit. Those who preach the other Jesus are in fact preaching the same historic Jesus of the Bible, yet Paul called him “another” Jesus because he is not the same in concept with the Jesus of the Bible, and his doctrine is not the same as taught by the true Jesus. Accordingly, the Jesus taught by the denominational world is not the same Jesus taught by the Primitive Baptists. Nor do they teach the same gospel and same Spirit. Anyone failing to see these differences is not truly ready to be a Primitive Baptist, and if their perceptions were correct, they would stand nothing to gain by becoming a Primitive Baptist. What could be gained by coming to the Primitive Baptists from another order if the Primitive Baptists teach the same Jesus, gospel and Spirit? But if Primitive Baptists indeed preach the true Jesus, and if world preaches another Jesus, then it is surely a feeble and dubious testimony when a person has willfully submitted to baptism for the other Jesus but has refused baptism for the true one. It is difficult to see how that this can be the proper answer of a good conscience towards God (1Pet 3:21).
8) Baptism is a joyous experience in the heart of anyone who is filled with the Holy Ghost. Any experienced pastor has heard the most spiritual members of his congregation make statements like: “I would have joined the church again today if I could have,” or “I would have been baptized again today if I could have,” or “How could anyone not join after the wonderful meeting we had today?” Even John the Baptist, of whom the Lord required no baptism, expressed a desire for it (Mt 3:14). And I believe that if any child of God will carefully consider the points I have given, and if they will consider the blessedness of knowing the true Jesus and true Spirit, and of hearing the true gospel, then they will find baptism unto these to be their joy and desire.