I Was Baptized as an Infant; Should I Be Baptized Again?
Whether or not to be baptized as a believer can be a difficult decision for people who have previously been baptized as infants. They have placed their faith in Jesus, but may feel that being baptized again is redundant or that it would contradict their earlier baptism. Adding to their challenge, they fear the relational damage another baptism could cause with parents or other family members still involved with the previous church.
Some branches of Christianity, including the Catholic Church, practice what’s called “pedo-baptism”, or the baptism of a child. Typically, this involves bringing an infant before the congregation to be baptized through the sprinkling or pouring of water. The earliest clear mention of infant baptism is found early in the third century in the writings of Tertullian, with it becoming commonplace by the time of Augustine around AD 400.
Churches that baptize only those who have placed their hope and faith in Jesus, on the other hand, practice what’s called “credo-baptism”, or baptism based on a person’s beliefs. As seen throughout the book of Acts and the first couple centuries of the Christian Church, credo-baptism is a public confirmation of the person’s faith in Jesus. The baptism does not “save” the person, but indicates that he or she has already been saved by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
These baptisms are not necessarily conflicting baptisms. In fact, many churches who practice credo-baptism also perform baby dedications or christenings. As with infant baptism, parents who dedicate their children present them before God. By doing so, the parents express their intent to raise their children in the ways of the Lord with the hope that their sons and daughters will someday enter into their own personal relationship with Jesus. Similar practices can be seen in Scripture, including when Hannah dedicated Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:11 and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Luke 2:22.
Instead of being viewed as contradictory, infant and believer baptisms can be viewed as complementary. The ultimate intent of infant baptism is that the children will come to know Jesus personally, but the children have no say in the process at that point. It is solely the choice of the parents. When these same children grow up and make their own decision to follow Jesus, then, their baptism as believers signifies their agreement with the infant baptism and declares that it has become real in their lives. It’s come full circle.
Unfortunately, some family members may still not understand this distinction and could even consider it a betrayal. They view it as a rejection of their church tradition rather than a broader acceptance of the Christian faith. For them, perhaps baptism has more to do with a specific institution than with a personal faith. It could also be based on a misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of baptism, or a belief that only baptism within a specific branch of the Christian Church is valid. Regrettably, such disagreements may not be easily resolved. The difficulty, however, lies not with the one being baptized but with the one who refuses to consider the purpose and history of baptism.
Baptism for a believer is an occasion to celebrate, not to quibble or debate. It certainly is not cause to create relational rifts. Yet it is a natural first step for a believer as prescribed in Scripture (Acts 2:38), and as such is an act of worship toward God. Believers have an obligation to maintain healthy relationships with others as far as it depends upon them, but ultimately, all believers are called to be baptized even when others may not celebrate alongside them. Instead of allowing different opinions to hold them back from expressing their faith and experiencing all that God has for them, they must choose to live in obedience to the commands of God and step faithfully into the waters of baptism.