While David Lipscomb, editor the Gospel Advocate after the Civil War (beginning in 1866), opposed rebaptizing those who were immersed to obey God though they did not understand its design for the remission of sins, the original editors of the GA thought differently. While reading through the 1855-1861 GA, I ran across the following two statements from Tolbert Fanning (David Lipscomb’s mentor) and William Lipscomb (David Lipscomb’s older brother).
1. Fanning, “Immersion of Baptists,” Gospel Advocate 5 (November 1859) 346
Bro. N. W. Smith, of Georgia, recently immersed some eleven Baptists into Christ. This he did because their first immersion was only intended to bring them into the Baptist church. Whilst we do not desire to debate the necessity of re-baptism, we have no doubt it is as fully the duty of persons who are baptized without understanding the truth, as it was for the twelve who were taught, and no doubt, baptized by Apollos, to be baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ after they heard Paul preach. We do not intimate that the candidate must understand every thing regarding the ordinance of baptism to render the act valid in the sight of heaven; but our position is, that he must know some scriptural statement of the matter in order to acceptable obedience. If he should not know baptism is in order to the remission of sins, it may answer to understand that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, or in being buried in Christ and rising again, we put off the old man and put on Christ; but he who is put into the water because he is pardoned, has got religion–been regenerated and made and heir of God, evidently does not honor Jesus Christ, or in any sense obey the gospel. No one in profound ignorance can walk in the light; but there is neither occasion of darkness or stumbling, if we follow the dictates of the Good Spirit.
2. William Lipscomb, “Re-Immersion,” Gospel Advocate 4 (June 1858) 187-188.
Asked whether one “baptised [sic] by a baptism in the baptist faith, in the full sense of the term” is also “baptised [sic] into Christ,” William Lipscomb–the brother of David Lipscomb and co-editor of the Gospel Advocate–replied:
Reply.–No service is acceptable to Heaven which is not performed with a full understanding of its purposes. No individual who goes through the form of immersion without understanding its meaning is in the least profitted [sic] thereby. While we are disposed to think that many who are under the various systems taught in our land are better than the systems themselves, and many are frequently immersed under them who do believe that immersion is for the remission of sins, yet the authority of Scripture is for re-immersion where the intention of act was not clearly understood. It is for each individual to determine for him or herself whether the performance was in obedience to the word of God, or according to the theory of some human party.
This is fascinating on a couple points. First, though Fanning was quite aware of John Thomas’s controversy with Alexander Campbell over rebaptism in the 1830s–even noticing his visit to Nashville in the 1850s, he sided with Thomas on the rebaptism question. This was a minority position within the Stone-Campbell Movement at the time. Second, this highlights the fact that David Lipscomb did not simply uncritically inherit his position. It would seem his position was forged in an environment where his older brother and his mentor were on the opposite side of the question. Lipscomb’s position was no untested “denominational” hangover or lag. It was his considered conviction.