Roundtable Discussion: Rebaptism

Roundtable Discussion: Rebaptism

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Once again, I call on my friends to join me at the Round Table for what I hope will be a lively conversation. Today's subject: Rebaptism.

BR: So Martin, what is it?

MHS: Rebaptism is the practice of baptizing adults who have already been baptized as infants.

BR: Okay. So, do we have anything from church history that will help us figure this out?

MHS: Well, rebaptism was the practice of the Anabaptists in Europe during the period of the Reformation and has since been a mark of such groups as the Mennonites and Baptists.

BR: Why did they practice rebaptism?

MHS: Rebaptism for many was a form of protest against infant baptism or christening.

BR: So rebaptism was practiced, primarily, by those who held the conviction that infant baptism was not biblical and by those who held to the belief that baptism was to be administered only to adults as public testimony to God's saving grace through Jesus Christ. Historically, what has been the Wesleyan-Holiness position?

JKG: Well, Wesley taught that infant baptism had biblical support. Lydia, (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34), and Stephanas (I Corinthians 1:16) were baptized along with their entire households, children included.

BR: Very interesting, Dr. Grider. But with all due respect, the biblical support you've cited assumes that these folks had children who were still in infancy or small children at the time of their baptism. That having been said, it appears that infant baptism has strong historical precedent but remains unclear to me from the scripture.

HOW: I view infant baptism as the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament practice of male circumcision. Just as an infant, on the 8th day of his life, was to be circumcised and thereby brought into God's special covenantal favor, so an infant is to be baptized.

RS: Maybe this will help. When it comes to sacramental practices, including baptism, there are three norms we need to consider: the historical, the theological, and the pastoral norms.

BR: Could you unpack that for me?

RS: Sure. The historical norm is simply, you don't do something contrary to 2,000 years of history. The theological norm is, you don't do something that conflicts with the theology of the church. And the pastoral norm supports the notion that there may be times when the historical and theological norms should be subordinate to the pastor's ministry to the person.

BR: Dr. Staples, that is very helpful, but the scriptural argument still appears weak to me. Be that as it may, my take away from the conversation is that each pastor must come to terms with this question, consciously utilizing Wesley's trilateral hermeneutic of tradition, experience, and reason. Of course, these tools must remain subordinate (good word, Dr. Staples) to the pastor's final authority in these matters: the Scripture.

Would you like to join in this conversation? There's a place for you at the table!

JKG: J. Kenneth Grider was professor of theology| Nazarene Theological Seminary.
BR: Bud Reedy is pastor of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, Pennsylvania.
MHS: Martin H. Schrag was professor of history of Christianity at Messiah College.
RS: Rob Staples was too, and is still a very active participant in the theological formation of the church.
HOW: H. Orton Wiley wrote the three-volume Christian Theology.

Bud Reedy is a pastor and avid sports fan. He loves the Baltimore Orioles and the Maryland Terps. He loves his wife, Sally, his two adult children, Greg and Heather, and his grandkids, Bayse Joseph, Makenna Grace, and Micah Daniel.

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