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A Methodist Preacher’s Cardinal Sin

What is a cardinal sin for Methodist preachers?

Re-baptism.

It’s one of the things that can get us in some ecclesiastical trouble. If we knowingly baptize someone who was baptized as an infant or child, we are likely to hear from Methodist higher ups.

The history behind the “rebaptism controversy” is quite long (you can read some here) and much broader than just the Methodist movement. Yet the driving distinction between those who re-baptize and those who don’t revolves around who is the main actor in a baptism. Is baptism something God does or is it the volitional choice of the person being baptized?

Historically, Methodists have believed baptism is what God does — so we don’t “re-do” what God has already done.

Our Baptist friends, among others, contend that the person being baptized is the central figure in the sacrament — that’s why in their view an infant baptism is not valid. What infant can decide from himself or herself to follow Christ? So they will eagerly re-baptized people.

Yet as I have wrestled with the issue, two other items come to mind. First, baptism in the New Testament seems to be an exclusively “after” event: it is observed “after” a person comes to faith in Christ. (Yes, Acts 16:16 and 16:33 suggest “family wide” baptisms, but those references are imprecise at best.)

The bigger argument against a firm “no rebaptism” policy is Acts 19:1-7 which I include below:

1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized into[b] the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues[c] and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.

What does the story describe?

A re-baptism . . . because the converts did not fully comprehend the nature of their first baptism. Once they had received full teaching about Christ and his Holy Spirit, they received it with joy and were baptized into the faith. A volitional choice made after conversion.

Hmmmm. A biblical second baptism.

Infant baptism is certainly different that “John’s baptism” (19:3) . . . yet both involve incomplete or absent knowledge & awareness.

And just like the converts in Acts 19, those who have been baptized as infants need to receive the urgent news of what Christ has done for them so they too can make a volitional choice for faith.

And after that? That’s a matter for more prayer. And conversation.

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