Should I Be Re-Baptized?

6th Century Genevan Baptismal FontIn recent days this question has come up a few times but it occurs regularly. It occurs in the context of a new members class at church when someone entering a Reformed congregation, coming from outside the Reformed church  approaches the pastor to say something like, “I was baptized by an unordained [fill in the blank] college ministry staff member” or “by my neighbor ” or “in the Roman Catholic Church” or “in a Baptist congregation” or “by a person who has since apostatized from the faith” or “in the Mormon church.” The question that follows is usually, “Should I get re-baptized?”

This is a complicated, multi-layered question and answer. The first question is whether one was ever baptized at all. As far as I can tell “re-baptism” is an impossibility.  Either a baptism has been performed or it hasn’t. What is baptism? It is a sacrament of visible identification with Christ’s death, it is ritual death, a sign and seal of what is true of all those who believe, of the good news that Christ the obedient one died, was buried, and was raised on the third day so that all who believe have been given new life, have been given the grace of faith, and through it are united to him by the Spirit,  are freely accepted and declared righteous (justified) by God for Christ’s sake alone.

The biblical images for baptism are once-for-all acts that cannot be repeated. The Israelites (adults, children, covenant households) were all “baptized into Moses” (1Cor 10:2; i.e., ritually identified with him in their ritual, corporate death) in the Red Sea, “on dry ground” (Ex 14:16, 22, 29; 15:19). This was a definitive, once-for-all act. The Israelites were dead. Their backs were against the sea. Pharaoh’s armies were about to destroy them until the Lord baptized them all and saved them through (not by) the parted waters of the Red Sea. Before that episode there was the flood, never to be repeated, in which God’s little church was delivered, corporately through (not by; 1Pet 3:20) the flood waters, which was a ritual death, in which God’s people stayed dry and all the opponents of God’s people, were immersed and actually, not ritually, killed.  Later, the Israelites went through the Jordan “on dry ground” (Joshua 3:17; 4:18, 22). In Romans 6 Paul uses baptism as a picture of our once-for-all definitive break with sin and the inauguration of our new life of progressive sanctification by grace alone, through faith alone, in union with Christ by the gracious, ongoing work of the Spirit in believers. He teaches the very same thing even more explicitly in Colossians 2:11-–2, where, in order to explain the nature of this definitive break he appeals to circumcision, a typological, ritual death that looked forward to Christ’s being “cut off” for us. There was a circumcision, as it were, on the cross, when Christ was, as it were, cut off for us, when he was made unclean (Heb 13) for us outside the camp. That’s why Paul connects death, circumcision, and baptism in Colossians 2. They are all singular, onetime acts. That is why Paul says to the Judaizers that if circumcision is so powerful, they should go the whole way and cut themselves off (i.e., emasculate themselves; Gal 5:12).

Thus, a regular (i.e., according to rule), properly administered, Christian baptism is the application of water in conjunction with the Word of God (namely the Gospel) by a rightly ordained minister in a true, catholic, evangelical, Reformed congregation, i.e., a congregation with the marks of a true church (Belgic Confession, Art. 29), in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Obviously, in America, many ostensible baptisms take place in congregations that do not meet all these tests. Hence the difficulty.

We are not the first Christians to face these questions. The church faced this problem in the 4th and 5th centuries (300s and 400s AD) in the Donatist Controversy.  In the persecution of Christians by Diocletian, some Christians resisted the call to renounce the faith and to hand over Scripture to be burned. Others renounced Christ and handed over (traditur) to be destroyed. A controversy arose over how to regard those who had failed to give witness to the faith and especially with the election of Caecillian as Bishop (think senior pastor) of Carthage in 312. He was consecrated by a bishop who had been a traditur or who had lapsed. Donatus (died c. 355 AD) led a separatist movement of which he served as Bishop from 315  until his death. The Donatists argued that the legitimacy of the administration of the sacraments (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper) is contingent upon the spiritual state of the minister. Many in North Africa found this position attractive. Augustine (354-430), who became the Bishop of Hippo, rejected this position and argued against it strenuously and persuasively. Eventually, Augustine’s rejection of the Donatist was adopted by the church and it was to the church’s rejection of Donatism that John Calvin (1509-64) appealed in his critique of Anabaptists.

In Institutes 4.15.16 Calvin compared the Anabaptists, whom he called “Catabaptists” (Gr. Kata, against + baptismos) a term that Zwingli (1484–1531) and others had used to describe the Anabaptists because they rejected infant baptism and because, as Calvin notes, they denounced the baptisms performed in the Roman church. It’s true that Luther, Bucer, Zwingli, Melanchthon, and Calvin were all baptized in the old, medieval, pre-Reformation papal communion. It’s also true that they and the Reformed churches after them accepted those baptisms as valid.

…we think of ourselves as initiated by baptism not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19]; and that baptism is accordingly not of man but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God’s that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name. But if it was the baptism of God, it surely had, enclosed in itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, mortification of the flesh, spiritual vivification, and participation in Christ. Thus it was no hindrance to the Jews to be circumcised by impure and apostate priests; nor was the sign therefore void so that it had to be repeated, but it was a sufficient means by which to return to the real source.

It is not the quality of the person administering the sacrament that makes it a sacrament. It is the divine promises (the gospel) in the Word attached to the sign and seal that make it a sacrament. As Calvin noted, if we use the Donatist principle makes a hash of the history of redemption. The Donatist principle assumes that we can know things that we cannot really know. This is part of the Reformed critique of the (ana/cata)Baptist position: even if we suspend baptism until profession of faith we still only know the candidate’s profession. Only God knows the heart. What if a minister was unregenerate when he baptized a person but later coma to faith? Does that mean that the baptism was invalid but later, when the minister was regenerated, became valid? What, if  a candidate discovered or judged that her minister was unregenerate when he baptized her and so obtained another baptism before the first minister became regenerate? When the first minister became regenerate, did that invalidate the second baptism? We can see how needlessly tangled this becomes very quickly.

It has been argued to me that post-Vatican II Romanism, with its turn toward Modernism, is more corrupt today than it was in the 15th and 16th centuries when the Reformers were baptized. I doubt that. The Western church was deeply corrupt “in head and members” (Fifth Lateran) at the turn of the 16th century. The nature of the corruption may have changed but the degree hasn’t. In the 16th century laity couldn’t read Scripture in their own language but now, post-Vatican II, they may. The truth is, there are as many versions of Rome as there are Romanists. They all, every single one of them, picks and chooses those aspects of the church’s dogma to they will adhere. The only thing uniting them is a formal, outward submission to the Bishop of Rome. In reality, the status of Vatican II varies from Pope to Pope. John Paul II and Benedict XVI sought to roll back aspects of Vatican II but Francis seems intent on returning, in certain ways, to the advocacy of Vatican II prior to John Paul II. There is no substantively, single, Roman Catholic Church. We have no more or less reason to reject Roman baptisms than did the Reformers.

What about the validity of lay baptisms? Calvin addressed this problem in three sections of the Institutes (4.15.19–22). In §19 he argued that despite the corruption of the sacrament by the medieval accretions, which he called “theatrical pomp,” it remained a sacrament. It was still a Trinitarian, Christian baptism. In the next sections he rightly complains about midwives and others performing so-called emergency baptisms. These are improper because they assume that one cannot enter heaven without baptism. That is a false assumption. The thief on the cross was not baptized and yet he entered heaven. If a person was on a desert island and a water-tight package containing a bible floated to shore, and the shipwrecked person read it and came to faith and then died without baptism, he would go to be with the Lord. Baptism is a holy sacrament, a covenant sign and seal but it is not salvation itself. A lunch sign is not lunch itself.

Recently someone wrote to ask what to think about a case of a person who was baptized by a lay pastor who was not baptized. This layman was arguably ministering on behalf of an organization that we would regard as lacking one or perhaps two of the marks of a true church:

  • The Pure Preaching of the Gospel
  • The Pure Administration of the Sacraments
  • The Administration of Church Discipline

Absent one of these marks this lay minister is arguably acting on behalf of a non-ecclesiastical and, at best, para-ecclesiastical body. Arguably, this is true even of a more obviously ecclesiastical act (e.g., the minister is ordained in a body that lacks one or more mark). In effect this is the same case as a baptism administered by a layman working in campus ministry.

Calvin rightly argued that Zipporah’s circumcision of Moses’ second son (Exod 4:25) is no precedent for lay baptism but it was a circumcision never to be re-done. It was an irregular act. Calvin argued that Zipporah was presumptuous. Perhaps but the narrative seems to present Zipporah in a positive light—as if she saved Moses’ life. It’s a difficult narrative from which is risky to conclude much but it does seem like a good example of an irregular administration of the sacrament of admission to the visible covenant community.

My view is that, assuming the acts are performed by consciously Christian persons (i.e., not Mormons or members of some other duplicitous sect) then they should be regarded as irregular but valid administrations of the sacrament. To say that they are not baptisms pushes us perilously close to Donatism. It is best for baptisms to be performed regularly, by duly ordained ministers, under ecclesiastical sanction, in a true church, without corruption but it seems dangerous to say that an administration lacking all those qualities is no administration at all. Calvin, even though he railed against the abuse of baptism by laity did, not reject them as baptisms. Lay baptism is irregular but valid. In short: Stop it! Don’t do it but if it’s already done, don’t do it any more and join yourself to a true church and submit to its government and discipline. Those who’ve been baptized irregularly, e.g., by campus workers or some other layman, should not doubt that they have been baptized.

How far does this anti-Donatist approach go? What about Mormon “baptism”? It has been objected to me that the Mormons may pronounce the triune name but they deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They re-define the unity to be one of will or purpose but not of being. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one in being, three in persons. This is the doctrine of Athanasian Creed, for example. Thus, even though water is administered using Christian-sounding words, it is not a baptism. When a person is converted from Mormonism to Christianity he is not re-baptized because he was never baptized in the first instance. A Christian minister and a shower both put water on one’s head but that doesn’t make both things a baptism.

These are difficult questions but the anti-Donatist view is fundamentally correct. It is not the spiritual quality that defines a sacrament. It is not even the ordination of the officiant that defines a sacrament. Nevertheless, we are still bound to say that laity ought not act presumptuously. They are not authorized by God to administer the sacraments. It belongs to the visible, institutional church to administer the sacraments. Jesus did not commission every believer to preach, evangelize, and to administer baptism (Matt 28:18–20). He authorized and commanded the visible, institutional church to do these things but if someone irregularly preaches and someone else comes to faith (praise God!) through that act we cannot say that the message did not go forth and that the Spirit did not use it to give new life and true faith. Which ecclesiastical body sent Billy Graham? Do we deny that God the Spirit used Graham to bring people to faith? No. Was it irregular? Yes. Should he have gone without ecclesiastical commission and oversight? No. It’s the distinction between is and should.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Very clear. Very helpful. Our family comes out of a non-reformed Jesus revolution/evangelical background. Two parents, 3 children – over the years all with different baptisms. Your teaching is the string on which each one is drawn together as valid in Christ. Thanks.

  2. Baptizees faith and baptizers spiritual state notwithstanding — is a trinitarian formula invoked over a child presented by non-believing parents for no other reason than to fulfill a private schools enrolment requirements a “baptism” at all?

    • Lynne,

      People frequently presented their children for circumcision for the wrong reasons and yet we wouldn’t deny that it was a circumcision. At the same time we would say with the prophets, “Circumcise your hearts!” We don’t have to choose between the outward (external; Rom 2:28) rite, rightly administered and the inward reality it signifies. We hope and pray for both. Baptism contains within it a call to faith and repentance. It is, after all, an external identification with Christ’s death.

      God has used and will continue to bring to fruition that which is signified and promised to the elect. I was arguably baptized for the wrong reasons. It was an emergency baptism (by an ordained minister) on the fear I would die. The Reformed agree with Calvin when he says that baptism is no necessity for heaven. Nevertheless, in my case, as in the cases of many, the Lord was faithful to the promises contained in that administration of the sacrament and I did come to faith years after the administration. Ultimately it is God’s grace and faithfulness and the gospel signified and sealed that matters.

  3. The mission school here regularly performs baptisms of middle school and high school students. These mass baptisms are done by any teacher or admin at the school. The most recent baptism announcement by a teacher says, “This is not a baptism into the church of Faith Academy but into the church of Christ!” In two respects, this is an “irregular” baptism: unordained baptizer, and outside any church body.

    Would these baptisms still be valid? If they were to come to our church, and we have the Holy Communion, then they wouldn’t be admitted?

    • I would treat them as irregular but valid and would ask my consistory to write to the school to beg them to stop administering baptism on the grounds that they have no authority to do so.

      Baptism is a necessary condition for the supper but not a sufficient condition. There are other conditions to meet. The church order of the URCs sets some conditions, which I would interpret in light of the Church Order of Dort, which requires profession of the Reformed faith, i.e., membership in a Reformed congregation as a condition for the supper. Many URCs operate with a broader approach, which is permitted by the language of the URCNA church order.

      Here are resources on fencing the table.

  4. I’ve been going through book 4 of the Institutes and hearing Calvin makes all these arguments. It sounded like his first objection to the Anabaptists was the Donatist idea they were espousing. This made me wonder though, and this is perhaps merely theoretical…were there those that rejected the Roman baptism for Donatist-like reasons, but still accepted paedo-baptism in principle? And if so wouldn’t Calvin have still considered them “Anabaptists” since they advocated re-baptism? I’m guessing there was no one that actually fit that category but it sounded like it was theoretically possible to accept paedo-baptism but still be Anabaptist by rejecting Roman Baptism. From what I have learned so far any group that rejected Roman baptism for Donatistic reasons rejected the padeo aspect as well. But I guess there could have been some I just hadn’t read about yet.

    • Traever,

      As far as I know that argument (affirmation of paedobaptism + denial of the validity of Roman baptism) didn’t exist until the 19th century. Southern Presbyterians rejected Roman baptism on the basis that Rome was too corrupt. There may have been others who made that argument prior but I don’t know who they were. Calvin wasn’t envisioning them. He was responding to the Schleitheim et al. The Westminster Divines represented the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy when they affirmed the anti-Donatist argument in WCF 27.3

      • Ok, that’s kinda what I figured. It just took a bit by surprise that the Donatist argument was prevalent enough for Calvin to give it the attention that he did.
        The establish nomenclature might start getting confusing if the term Anabaptist is applied to Southern Presbyterians that reject Roman baptism, so I’m guessing it did not become a tendency to apply that label to them

          • Right, I just meant that if they wanted those that were baptized in the Roman Church to be re-baptized, then someone could arguably say they were being Anabaptist in that sense (literally wanting to baptize again).

    • Isn’t it more accurate to say “Old School Presbyterians” rather than “Southern Presbyterians”? The 1845 vote on the question was “nearly unanimous” against the validity of Roman baptism. Delegates from Northern states outnumbered Southern delegates by about two to one. Of the eight delegates who signed the dissent, five were from the North and three were from the South.

      • Scott and Andrew,

        Thanks for the correction. I need to do more reading on this as to why they rejected the 16th and 17th century consensus. I am in the midst of marking papers and theses right now so it will be a while before I can get to it.

  5. Two points:
    1. What evidence is there in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 that all that had baptized in the Corinthian church were ordained ministers? Indeed, was Philip strictly an ordained minister when he baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch? As regards circumcision, where in the Scriptures is there a word about who was and who was not to perform this rite? (In keeping with all this, I believe that virtually all staff at Faith Academy are sent by or through missionary societies)

    2. Is baptism in the name of a trinity that includes a son that regularly comes physically in a body consisting of bread and wine at the mumbo jumbo behest of a “priest” a valid baptism at all (I realize that a negative answer to this question would wrong-foot the Reformers)? What’s the difference in principle between such a baptism and a Mormon baptism?

    • Yes, Philip was a special officer, in the broader company of the apostles, in the church whose ministry included the administration of the sacraments.

      Your second argument is essentially a Donatist argument and, as you recognize, you just unbaptized the entire Western church for centuries leading up to the Reformation, a move which none of the magisterial Reformers or confessional Protestant churches made. Welcome to Münster.

    • Philip was only ordained as a deacon, to serve tables. He was not ordained as a minister of the Word. By your criterion, baptisms by him were irregular, but valid, which was the only point I was trying to make. My position is that what counts is the doctrine accompanying a baptism, not the person who performs it. So baptisms performed by Philip, as by other believers following the scattering from Jerusalem, were valid. I could add that at least some of them so baptizing may have been through water baptism in the name of the Trinity, which is more than can be said for the original 120, including the apostles!

    • As regards the second part of your post, I think I only unbaptized the part of the Western Church that had been placed under transubstantiation, which, strictly speaking, means unambiguously the time from Trent to the Reformation, which assessment I think is, if anything, too soft. I think I correctly left the Albigenses, Waldenses, and those baptized by Lollards and Hussites baptized.

      • The doctrine of transubstantiation was ratified at 4th Lateran in 1215. It was formulated in the 9th century and taught for centuries intermittently until Lombard included it in the Sentences and it became dogma in the 13th century and was defended by Thomas. You’ve unchurched most everyone in the West since at least the 13th century and a fair number of people since the 9th.

        Even Ratramnus, who opposed Radberus on transubstantiation in the 9th century didn’t accuse him of denying the Trinity.

        Yours seems like an extreme separatist view of church and church history.

    • I would add that the idea that a sacrament should only be carried out in presence of church leadership started with Ignatius, and that was relating to the Lord’s Supper. On the other hand, sacraments, being as they are a witness, should be performed as publicly as is possible in all wisdom. This would normally involve at least supervision by church leadership.
      As regards your concluding sentence, I think I could go Anabaptist without going over to Münster (about which, incidentally, I first heard while listening on a sickbed to a radio broadcast opera by Alexander Goehr) – I’m sure I don’t have to ask you whether you have never heard of Mantz and Grebel!

  6. Rube, I haven’t been able access all your links, but I think you may have missed my point, which is that the trinity of the Roman Catholic Church is no more and no less the true Trinity than that of the Mormons (Both deny the true nature of at least one member). So ditto their respective baptisms.

    • John,

      Can you prove that Rome denies the Trinity?

      The strongest argument I know is the assumption of the BVM and their claim that she is now co-mediatrix et redemptrix, which genuinely threatens the doctrine of the Trinity.

    • The doctrine of the Trinity is not just that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are a unity of being, but that the second member of the Trinity has come in the flesh, which means not only that He once came in the flesh, but that He has come once for all in the body, has been raised once in the body, and is in the body for all eternity. The doctrine of transubstantiation is a denial of this. Baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That means it is in the name of the Son (though not the Son only). A “Son” that participates in transubstantiation is no more a “Son” in whose name any baptism is valid than one that is not unified in being with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

      • John,

        All of Christian doctrine is related to the Trinity.

        Again, the Protestants rejected transubstantiation in the strongest possible terms but did not follow your reasoning. They accepted Roman baptism.

    • Yes, I believe Calvin&Pals accepted Romish Baptism; those modern guys who reject cat-lick baptism tend to discount that as a temporary expedient. But I have never seen any hint of criticism by Reformers of cat’lick trinitarian doctrine. But I’m sure RSC is much better equipped to discuss that point.

    • Also John, I was not providing the links only for your benefit, but for the general interest of anybody reading this post (and delving into the comment trail…)

    • Dr Clark, there’s a point staring us in the face, and I’m sorry I missed it previously. It isn’t necessary to prove that Rome denies the doctrine of the Trinity for her baptism to be invalidated. This is because the Great Commission is not “baptizing them in(to) the name of the Trinity”, but “baptizing them in(to) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. It is in the name of each member of the Trinity individually, as well as in that of the Trinity as a whole. Rome’s baptism is in the name of a “Father” who is prepared to share his name of “Holy Father” with the Pope, of a “Son” who has not come in the flesh, and of a “Holy Spirit” that acknowledges the Pope to be the Vicar of Christ along with himself (It is staff of the Protestant Alliance, originally founded in the UK by Lord Shaftesbury, who first drew my attention to the Pope’s blasphemous usurping of God’s titles and the way in which transubstantiation is a denial of the full incarnation). Thus Rome’s baptism is not in the name of the true Father, nor of the true Son, nor of the true Holy Ghost – It is, therefore, invalid.
      Is THIS a Donatist argument? Is it STILL your conviction that Roman baptisms are valid?

  7. Slight historical correction: Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo, not Carthage.

  8. Great article Dr. Clark…one question though –

    …what would you say to a person that came to believing faith while attending a onenness pentecostal church. The person believed the gospel and was baptized in Jesus name – as they typically do in these churches since they deny the trinity.

    • Abraham,

      We should give thanks for the mysterious and sovereign power of the Spirit who is able to use truly crooked sticks to strike straight blows. The administration of water, however, in an anti-Trinitarian sect (oneness Pentecostals) is not a baptism. Ergo, that person has yet to be baptized and should seek membership in and baptism in a true, Christian congregation.

  9. Enjoyed this post. Very good analysis of the issue. Two questions / comments, however:
    1. I believe the strongest argument against accepting RC baptism is whether they do actually teach the Trinity. As you mention in your comments (not in the article), their doctrine about Mary theoretically and practically undermines what they elsewhere teach about Jesus. This is very true for us in Mexico, as much of RC here is goddess worship and right out of Isaiah 46. I would like to see you address this question more in depth in the article or in another blog post.
    2. This is a practical question. If all of the other NAPARCs were baptizing former RCs, what would you do? That is the situation in Mexico with the Reformed / Presbyterian church here.
    Thank-you for your consideration.

    • Hi Matthew,

      I would answer the way Calvin did. Yes, Rome has polluted Christian doctrine but 1) the churches have not ruled that Roman baptisms are no longer Trinitarian and Christian. 2) Rome still affirms the Trinity. We see inconsistency but, unlike Mormonism, she still intends to confess the catholic doctrine of the Trinity. There are lots of examples of blessed inconsistency. Lutherans come, in some ways, perilously close to Arminianism and the Federal Vision error. They teach in by baptism, stay in by not resisting. They teach the possibility of losing one’s election or losing one’s salvation and yet they still affirm justification sola gratia, sola fide and on that basis we accept them as fellow heirs of the Reformation—even though they confess that we are crafty sacramentarians. We rejoice in the blessed inconsistency. There are other examples. If Rome formally denied the Trinity, then, of course, it would be a different matter.

      If all the other NAPARC denominations were baptizing former Romanists I would be open to listening to them but I want someone to show me that it’s not Donatist. 50 million Frenchmen can be wrong.

      • Thanks for your reply. The language of “blessed inconsistency” is helpful. I have further thoughts, but will desist.

        However, I did not state my second question clearly enough. It was not so much what *should* you do (and believe) if you all the rest of the NAPARC was baptizing, it was rather what *would* you do. Practice, in other words. Would you be willing to baptize RCs for the sake of broader unity? Is this “a hill to die on”? (There are a lot of issues, if you think about it; e.g., members moving to other churches.) Once again, this is not a theoretical question in Mexico.

        • Matthew,

          My conviction is that Roman baptisms are valid. Still, I would want to hear from the churches. I want to keep the peace. Can they persuade me that they are not reacting to Rome on Donatist grounds? Perhaps they can. Failing that, however, I would accept Roman baptism and sometimes denominations disagree, even where they might agree on other points. I’m not ready to dispense with my Southern Presbyterian friends even though I disagree with them on this point.

  10. Thank you for the article. Somewhat off topic, but related in a sense is that our church, a historically Presbyterian and reformed congregation, recently started a practice I will call “water” rededication. Instead of baptizing the person in the name of our triune God and sprinkling water three times, water is applied once as an analogue of the forgiveness of sins and the pastor makes a different pronouncement than the one made for the person presenting for baptism. These rededications occur during the worship service at the same time that baptism is administered. As best as I can tell, this practice appears to be an accommodation to Christians baptized as infants. Is there any precedent for this practice in Scripture, the secondary standards or the history of the church?

    • Whoa! This is downright weird. We’re told to remember our baptisms, but I have never heard of something like this.

    • Bill,

      There is nothing teaching this in Scripture but there is precedent for this in history—but not in a good way. The patristic and early medieval church adopted practices that were elaborations of the two divinely ordained sacraments (baptism and the Supper) that came to be called “sacramentals.” These sacramentals, over time, grew up into sacraments. Here’s an explanation. This practice of re-dedication seems like a sacramental, a well-intentioned elaboration of the sacrament. In Reformed/Presbyterian practice, we initiate covenant children and unbaptized adult converts into the covenant community. Adult converts are ordinarily instructed before baptism and covenant children are instructed (catechized) after baptism and before communion. They renew their profession of faith not with another baptism but at the Lord’s table.

  11. Dr. Clark, I understand what you are saying here, but what do you do in the instance where a person coming out of a certain group that feels themselves that they have not been truly baptized? I am speaking of someone who may have felt that their group was cultish in some manner or another. Do you then advocate the baptizing of this person and then help them to understand and recognize that whichever was done rightly is the true baptism and the other really just a pouring of water?

    • Jon,

      I’ve tried to write a couple of different responses but I can’t until I know more. E.g., what do you mean by “cultish”? E.g., a heavy-handed minister/session or heresy against the catholic faith?

      We must begin with the objective before turning to the subjective (our experience, feelings etc).

  12. I’m tending to think that I would re-baptize a former RC, if his/her conscience is really bothered, even after a whole lot of teaching and dissuading. But again, the danger is a whole mass of former RC’s who would want to be re-baptized.

    • I’m sympathetic to the problem of conscience. Help me understand exactly what troubles them. On what grounds would former Romanists doubt that they were baptized?

      • The usual argument is that the RCC is not a true church because they have a false gospel.

        • Well, we do confess that Rome is a false church but we don’t confess that fact invalidates her administration of baptism. These folk have set up a test that we have not.

  13. I don’t believe its been mentioned yet, but one of the reasons Thornwell gave for rejecting them was that Rome adds oil (Chrism) to the water.

  14. Well, the Old School Presbyterian Church USA in 1845 voted nearly unanimously that Rome’s “baptisms” are not valid.


    Starting at page 34 (as numbered on the pages, not the page number as found in the pdf) at the third paragraph from the bottom.

    The second to last paragraph on that page reads

    After a full discussion carried through several days, this Assembly has
    decided, by a nearly unanimous vote, that baptism so administered, is not valid.

    It concludes on page 37 with

    In 1835 the Assembly declared the papacy to be apostate from Christ, and no true church. As we do not recognize her as a portion of the visible Church of Christ, we cannot, consistently, view her priesthood as other than usurpers of the sacred functions of the ministry, her ordinances as unscriptural, and her baptism as totally invalid.

    N.B. That the 1835 Assembly reference by the 1845 Assembly was prior to the Old School / New School division.

    HT to Wes White a PCA minister, sorry Teaching Elder, who posted, with the original reference, an article on his former blog a few years ago. Since it is no longer active I can’t provide a link to his post.

  15. Thank you Dr. Clark for taking up this matter. I enjoyed the read.

    Let me not waste anyone’s time here and just jump right into the discussion head first. Please feel free to cherry-pick any of my inquiries.

    1. How should the visible church regard the variety of post-reformation anti-confessional ‘organizations’, ‘bodies’, and ‘campus ministries’? An organization can be classified as either a church or a non-church. And churches can be classified as either more or less pure. But a non-church-organization (e.g. Mormonism) cannot even be classified as a false church (RC), categorically, despite having some kind of constitution.

    2. Because Arminianism is so dangerous and pervasive in our modern context, I don’t think it’s prudent to simply take these rogue groups at their superficial word. We cannot trust what they truly mean, just like we cannot trust the Mormon profession. I don’t understand why the reformed are suddenly so afraid to insist on public affiliation with Christian creeds and the reformed confessions when engaging heretical groups and the other post-reformation sectarians. Our predecessors have already done most of the hard work for us.

    3. At least with Zipporah, she was arguably acting on behalf of the covenant community. I don’t think it can be said that ancient Israel would have viewed the various genital mutilations of the pagans as a legitimate expression of the sign of their covenanted community. Granted the hypothetical pagan male converting under the old covenant sign may not have anything left to circumcise, I doubt it would follow that they should look to the former pagan mutilation of their genitalia should they ever lack assurance of their membership in God’s covenant community.

    4. You say: “Those who’ve been baptized irregularly, e.g., by campus workers or some other layman, should not doubt that they have been baptized.

    How far does this anti-Donatist approach go? What about Mormon “baptism”? It has been objected to me that the Mormons may pronounce the triune name but they deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They re-define the unity to be one of will or purpose but not of being. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one in being, three in persons. This is the doctrine of Athanasian Creed, for example. Thus, even though water is administered using Christian-sounding words, it is not a baptism. When a person is converted from Mormonism to Christianity he is not re-baptized because he was never baptized in the first instance. A Christian minister and a shower both put water on one’s head but that doesn’t make both things a baptism.”

    How refreshing. Now I can appreciate a creedal/confessional appeal. Contradicting the historic Christian creeds seems to be good ground for dismissing the Mormons’ Trinitarian verbiage as anything of real substance. What about the other sectarian groups that will similarly agree with our creedal/confessional rhetoric, but truly promote Christological heresy? Or the so-called protestant organization (e.g. ‘re-baptizers) that outright rejects the reformed confessions?

    5. Wasn’t Arminianism declared by the church to be another gospel? Those individuals and organizations holding the position were identified as heretical, finding themselves now resting outside the boundary of the visible church just as the Mormons did when they misunderstood the trinity.

    If the heresy of Arminianism is merely some sort of peripheral minor misunderstanding, then why not let the Mormons back into the circle? Or the Anabaptists for that matter? Calvin may have been willing to acknowledge baptism by the lay member of the visible church (RC), but I’d venture to say he’d never extend that same charity to the rogue heretical Anabaptist group. And, if this is the case, I don’t think the Donatist label would be a good fit for Calvin or those who would agree with the notion that the the visible church ought to have no association with these new ‘re-baptizing’ groups at all.

    6. You say: “He authorized and commanded the visible, institutional church to do these things but if someone irregularly preaches and someone else comes to faith (praise God!)”

    If the keys of the kingdom are with the elders, the church could never even validate this “irregular if”. This hypothetical situation cannot actually be demonstrated in real life. I don’t see how this type of conjecture and imaginative meddling promotes the unity of the visible church. It seems to me that many confessional churches are simply unwilling to see that the reformed creeds and confessions call out the numerous heretical groups sparing no ink to name each one explicitly, for sake of maintaining the unity of the visible church.

    7. For the same reason Mormon ‘baptisms’ ought to be rejected (i.e. creedal/confessional unorthodoxy, via misappropriation of the Godhead etc.), shouldn’t all the other sectarian groups be rejected? I don’t think we can even know what these contemporary sectarian groups believe about the trinity unless they are unwilling to identify with some kind of confession. Naturally, the former Christian attainments (historic reformed confessions) would need to be addressed. However, if these subordinate standards are to be put aside, then by what criterion are to we evaluate orthodoxy more effectively? Working so hard to stake out ground for these rogue movements contributes nothing to the visibility of the church today.

    Now the burden of proof lies with the person who wants to argue that those heretical anti-confessional constitutionally sectarian groups (e.g. re-Baptizers & Arminians) ought to be viewed as part of the body of Christ. I can’t possibly see how the argument would amount to anything more than promoting tolerance and individualism over integrity and unity, as many of the reformed churches have already done with the RPW.

    I hope you can appreciate my concerns and perhaps provide some more insight. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to any feedback.

    • Joshua, what do you mean by Arminianism? Do you mean that of Arminius himself, or the HyperArminianism of the Salvation Army, which is what is commonly called Arminianism? As far as I can see, the 39 Articles of the Church of England exclude the latter, but not the former, which would affect whether you would accept or reject Anglican baptism (The question of Salvation Army baptism doesn’t arise, as that body ignores the Sacraments. It may be irrelevant, but I can’t resist throwing in that the followers of Cornelius Stam {brother and sometime co-worker of the well-known Christian missionary martyr} practise only one Sacrament, that of the Lord’s Supper, having rejected water baptism on the grounds of Stam’s non-sequiturs).

  16. Hi John,
    When you say that the 39 Articles allows for Arminianism (i.e. the former), how do you come to that conclusion? Is it based on how much of modern Anglicanism now teaches the Articles? That I can understand. But I would argue, based on historical record, that reformed English churchman such as Cranmer (primary author of the Articles), Jewell (2nd Book of Homilies), Whitgift (see Lambeth Articles 1595), Ussher (whose Irish Articles were a major influence at Westminster), and Toplady (The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England) surely didn’t see it that way. In addition, a delegation from the Church of England was at Dordt and signed the final synod documents. I would grant that by the mid-17th century Arminianism was beginning to creep into the Church of England. Yet even today there is a vibrant reformed tradition in Anglicanism that remains faithful to the soteriological Calvinism of that era.


    • Hi Jack,
      I couldn’t find all of TULIP in the 39 Articles (which, I believe, were finalised while Arminius was still a student). The only ones I could find were Total Depravity and Unconditional Election, which, I’m told, Arminius accepted – Oh yes, and reprobation is asserted – I don’t know what Arminius’s views were on that.
      The Lambeth Articles omit Particular Redemption (which, in my view, is entirely independent of the other doctrines of grace – It would stand irrespective of election and reprobation, etc.) and Irresistible Grace.
      As long as there’s been an Old High Church within the Church of England, there has been a doctrine of general baptismal regeneration, which forces a choice between Arminianism and Antinomianism.
      I agree about today’s vibrant reformed tradition in Anglicanism. I praise God for what is being taught at Oak Hill, Tyndale House, and by some of the Proclamation Trust, not to mention the Church of England (Continuing) and the Free Church of England Evangelical Connection.

  17. Hi John,

    Can you find TULIP articulated in the Belgic or the Heidelberg? It seems an unfair standard to apply. Can you find the covenant theology of the Westminster Standards in the the 3 Forms or Calvin for that matter? Apparently Dordt had no problem with the 39 Articles, as the Synod received the delegates from the Reformed Church of England and, as I said, those delegates signed their Church to the document as in full agreement.

    I think that not only the 3 Forms, but also the 39 Articles, though not expressing the full blossomed doctrines found in Dort, are consistent with Dort.

    High Church Anglicanism is hardly a fair measure of the Reformed Church of England as confessed in the 39 Articles, in the same way that the PCUSA is hardly a fair measure of the WCF. Ashley Null in his book on Cranmer’s theology believed (based on Cranmer’s notes) that Cranmer understood that the regeneration mentioned in the baptism article was dependent on God’s sovereign election which is consistent with WCF.

    See some of my thoughts on the Predestination as taught in the 39 Articles. It follows that if God chose some unto salvation and some unto reprobation, then Christ died only for the elect.


    • I think don’t think Limited Atonement depends upon Unconditional Election in any way. It follows simply from the consideration that people’s sins are either on Christ and paid for by Him or on themselves, but not simultaneously in both places (an argument I first heard in one of Geoff Thomas’s baptismal sermons).

      You may be right about High Church Anglicanism, but please let’s clarify that we’re talking about the pre Oxford Movement variety, held by people like Wordsworth and Burgon.

      The 39 Articles do not contradict Dort, but I think Arminius could have signed them with a good conscience. That’s what I was referring to initially, when I asked what Joshua meant by Arminianism. Coming to think of it, did the Dordrechtians brand Arminius as a heretic?

  18. Hi John,

    You wrote: I think don’t think Limited Atonement depends upon Unconditional Election in any way.

    In any way?

    Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world, he hath, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.

    39 Articles:
    Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

    Arminius would see a foreseen faith as determining election. The 39 Articles refutes that by placing election at the head in that those who are chosen in Christ in eternity do in time come to faith by Grace obeying the calling of God, i.e. faith given by Grace follows upon election. This would logically exclude the idea that election to salvation was made only possible by Christ’s death and is dependent on man’s exercise of faith for that election.

    Speculating on what Arminius would or wouldn’t sign is just that, speculation. As I said, the same argument could be made against the HC or BC. I think looking to the historical record for evidence (as noted above) is a more sure way to determine how the Articles were and weren’t understood. Did they need revising? Yes. Thus Parliament convened the Westminster Assembly. I don’t recall anything in Robert Letham’s book that the Divines were concerned that the Articles had an Arminian bent. But I will go back to check. Dr. Clark may be able to speak to this.

    By the way, it could be argued that the HC and BC without Dort would be incomplete as confessional standards and thus open to misinterpretation. But that would hardly prove that both were written in such a way as to allow for those misinterpretations.


    • “Arminius would see a foreseen faith as determining election” – I am told that whilst this would be the position of some remonstrants, the Salvation Army, and those who would be called Arminians today, it was not the position of Arminius himself, who accepted Unconditional Election.
      As regards Particular Redemption, the IDENTITIES of those redeemed and not redeemed by the death of Christ depends entirely on who is and who is not elect. But as a DOCTRINE, Particular Redemption would stand, even if election were conditional, grace resistible, perseverance not assured and man able to respond savingly to the gospel in his own ability.

  19. Hi Ptr Clark, thanks for this article. I enjoyed reading it and it’s a blessing for me. Now I’m satisfied because this has been my struggle in the past few months when I asked my former Ptr who baptized me if he is an ordained ptr and he said that he is not. So comforting to read this article of yours. Praise God. Now I can enjoy and be nourished in partaking the Lord’s Table in my new church that I’m attending.

    • Talking of ordained pastors, when was Ananias ordained to baptize Paul? And does 1 Corinthians 1:7 only apply to Paul and not to every preacher of the Gospel? Which leaves the distribution of authority to administer baptism to be very wide indeed.
      However, when it comes to DOCTRINE accompanying baptism, churches would seem to be too tolerant. The book of Acts always refers to baptism into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as baptism into the Name of Jesus Christ, or the Lord, or the Lord Jesus. What business have we then to accept baptism in the name of a trinity that includes a false Christ, even if the relations between its members seem correctly defined?
      I recognize that I have hereby unbaptized the pioneer reformers, but deny that I have by this unbaptized those baptized by them or by those teaching similar doctrines. It is no more necessary for a baptizer to have been baptized into the Name of Jesus Christ than it was for the Apostles themselves to have been.

  20. Former Southern Baptist here; I remember vividly being immersed at the time of my baptism, I was 12 now 25, but I don’t recall the Trinitarian formula being said. Should I be confident that my baptism is effectual or should I err on the side of caution and be baptized conditionally?

Comments are closed.