Benjamin Franklin: On Rebaptism…Again

One of the more common “gotcha questions” in the late 19th century discussion of rebaptism in the Stone-Campbell Movement was something like this:

Is baptism administered to a person scripturally valid when he claims he is in Christ before he was baptized, and will contend that his sins were all forgiven him before he submitted to the institution of baptism, and will still further affirm that baptism is not essential in order to remission of sins of any person.

This is the question Benjamin Franklin is asked in the 1872 American Christian Review (15.26 [25 June 1872] 204). For those who advocate “rebaptizing” those who have previously been immersed without the knowledge that baptism was for the remission of sins this is the ultimate question. One who answers this question in the affirmative demonstrates that they don’t really believe baptism is for the remission of sins. It is the question that many advocates of rebaptism believe will sufficiently illuminate the discussion that no honest person could deny that rebaptism was necessary in this instance. That this was the point of the question is evident when one reads the literature of the controversy in the 1890s-1910s (including the 1914 McQuiddy-Durst Debate).

Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878), the great defender of Campbell’s agenda in the Christian Baptist, responds in a surprising way. At least it would alarm many rebaptists.

A man is “scripturally baptized” when he is baptized according to the Scriptures. A man who believes in Christ, repents and is immersed, is scripturally baptized. His misunderstanding about something else could not invalidate his baptism. The Lord says: “He who believes and is immersed shall be save.” Suppose the man misunderstood: thought he was in Christ before he was immersed; or that he was pardoned, would that make void the promise of God?  Surely not. He believed with all his heart and was immersed, and thus came to the promise of God, that he should be saved or pardoned. That promise can not fail because he did not understand when he was in Christ or pardoned. The work to do for that man is not enough to convince him that what he had done, and done rightly, is to be discarded and repudiated, but teach him “the way of the Lord more perfectly,” or, in other words, correct his understanding in the things  wherein he does not understand, and leave what he had done rightly unmolested. There are evils connected with an ultra course in the above matter that many brethren do not see.

Franklin is quite willing to accept the obedience of this person who, in his opinion, thoroughly misunderstands the timing of pardon. He obeyed. That is sufficient. God does the rest.

But the most interesting point to me is the last sentence. He warns the church that to do otherwise is to proceed down a path that leads to some severe consequences. I think Franklin recognized the sectarianism that was in play with rebaptists. This is something David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, and Daniel Sommer would also recognize.  It was a dire warning that eventually came true.

McGary thought it was a reason to divide or might lead to division since some recognize and accept people as Christians who are not really Christians.

6 Responses to “Benjamin Franklin: On Rebaptism…Again”

  1.   dholman Says:

    Thanks… I think the danger is that “rebaptism” makes the church (clergy and organization)once again the dispenser of grace/salvation as in Catholicism of the middle ages (not sure about today). Thus the role of baptism, Jesus, and the identity of the church are altered significantly. Baptism is no longer “immersed in the name of Jesus” but “immersed by the church.”
    Thanks for a great article. As always, thanks for the thought and research you put into what you write.

  2.   Craig Cottongim Says:

    Jimmy Allan was teaching our class on Romans when I was in HSBS, and Jimmy had our class try to list all of the reasons/results of baptism.

    It was a great exercise, not just because Jimmy was so spirited on the topic, but we had 6 or 8 sub-topics on the board and Jimmy pointed out that most people don’t consider all of these when they are baptized, and he had us think through the consequences of expecting people to be re-immersed every-time they learned a new aspect of baptism.

  3.   russadcox Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! Always find the diversity of thought within the Restoration Movement to be interesting. Especially when I once thought they were all in complete agreement and it just happened to line up perfectly with modern beliefs/practices of the COC.

  4.   Terry Laudett Says:

    I’m interested in your reference to Daniel Sommer’s opposition to the rebaptists. Could you write about it soon?


  1. Daniel Sommer on Rebaptism | John Mark Hicks Ministries

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