A reader has sent us the following question: "Those baptized in the Church of Rome or apostate Protestant Churches; is that baptism legitimate? or is it illegitimate on the grounds: (1) that they are apostate churches, or (2) that there is no right to baptism due to unconverted parents. If we accept their baptism; on what grounds is it acceptable? (1) Do we recognize the authority of the one who did this (i.e., priest or unregenerate minister) or (2) the doctrinal position of the church?"
It is a great temptation to say that the baptism of apostate churches is not legitimate, especially that of Rome, which is the false church. We nevertheless have difficulties with this position.
For one thing, the idea that Romish baptism, or the baptism of other apostate Protestant churches is invalid, is very much a minority position in Reformed Churches and, as far as we know, was rejected by all the leaders of the Reformation (cf. Calvin's Institutes, IV, 15, vi). This, in itself, of course, proves nothing, but should lead us to investigate further.
In the second place, then, if one rejects Romish (or other) baptism because Rome no longer has any of the marks of the true church, then it is difficult to see how the baptism of other Protestant churches that have also departed from the truth, but to a lesser degree, can be viewed as legitimate. Indeed, the logical conclusion of the matter seems to be the teaching (called "Donatism" in the early church) that only the baptism of a church that has all the marks of the true church is legitimate.
Similarly, if one claims that the sacrament is invalid because its administration is not Biblical, one has the same problem. How, on this basis, does one avoid, for example, the Baptist teaching that only baptism administered by submersion and to adults is legitimate, or on the Reformed side, the rejection of baptism as administered in Baptist churches?
Nor do we see how one can reject Romish or apostate Protestant baptism because the person who administers the sacrament is evil. We would agree with the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith at this point, that the "efficacy of a sacrament (does not) depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it" (Rom. 2:28, 29, I Pet. 3:21).
Last, and most importantly, we would be reluctant to reject anyone's baptism in view of the Biblical teaching that baptism is a sign of regeneration (cf. Tit. 3:5). That is the fundamental reason it can only be administered once. We can only be regenerated - born again - once! This, we believe, is the reason Reformed churches have rejected rebaptism, and should avoid the temptation to call the baptism of Rome, of the anabaptists or of other groups, illegitimate - that is, the fear of rebaptising anyone.
Since the sacrament of baptism is not essential to salvation, we would prefer to face the possibility that a person is unbaptised because illegitimately baptised, than the possibility of rebaptising someone and so denying the fact that salvation cannot be given more than once, as rebaptism suggests. That, it seems to us, is the greater error.
As long, therefore, as baptism is administered into the Name of the Trinity, that is, according to its institution in Matthew 29:19, we would not reject it or rebaptise those who had previously received the sacrament elsewhere.
- Volume: 5
- Issue: 13
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address317 North Park St.
State or ProvinceWA