“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”- Ephesians 4:5
Pastor Bailey of Heathrow Community Church was scheduled to meet with Aaron, a young man who had recently been attending the church. The subject was baptism. Aaron had been baptized in the triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as an infant in a church that was known to be theologically liberal, and he did not come to faith in Christ until he was much older. During the meeting, Aaron asked Pastor Bailey, “Pastor, do I need to be baptized again?”
An encounter such as this one happens regularly in gospel-preaching churches. But how do you think Pastor Bailey answered? Since Pastor Bailey’s church follows the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is representative of the historic Reformed position on baptism, he answered, “No.” For as the confession states, “The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person” (28.7).
There are several reasons why the confession and historic Reformed theology says that people should be baptized only once even if the baptism occurred before a person’s regeneration and profession of faith. First, Ephesians 4:5 tells us that there is only “one baptism.” Of course, today’s passage does not necessarily refer to the frequency of baptism. However, when we rebaptize someone, we are implicitly calling into question the legitimacy of the baptism administered by another church that called upon the name of the triune God in that baptism. This raises questions about whether there really is one baptism that unites all Christians.
More significant, baptism is primarily about God and what He does. Baptism’s efficacy is tied to neither individual involved in the sacrament, recipient or minister, but to the sovereignty and trustworthiness of the Lord in whose name baptism is administered. The validity of baptism does not depend on the individual faith of the one administering the sacrament, for that would make the efficacy of God’s promises dependent on a mere creature, as if God were dependent on the faith of the minister to give a new heart to one of His elect. The validity of baptism does not depend on its being received after a profession of faith, for baptism conveys God’s promise to give faith to His elect, and God is free to grant faith when He will (John 3:8).
Perhaps most significant, baptism is the sacrament of regeneration—a one-time event. The elect are born again and ingrafted into Christ only once, never to be lost (Rom. 6:1–4; 8:29–30). Baptizing more than once may visibly show that regeneration is repeatable.
Salvation is entirely by God’s grace from first to last. God only regenerates His people once and He preserves them in that state forever (Rom. 8:29–30). Water baptism in and of itself does not regenerate us, but it does show forth God’s promise to regenerate us once for all. Let us be grateful for His grace in regeneration and that if we are once regenerated, we will be forever regenerated. And when we see a baptism, let us remember this great truth.
Passages for Further Study