Daniel Sommer on Rebaptism

Daniel Sommer, the leader of northern conservatives within the Stone-Campbell Movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century, shared his mentor’s (Benjamin Franklin) perspective on the rebaptism questin within the Restoration Movement. He regarded the rebaptists as divisive and sectarian, and their position he judges as “unscriptural” and “inconsistent.” In 1904 he wrote that he began openly opposing this “extreme” view in 1887 (“Bro. Hutson’s Wonder,” Octographic Review 47.9 [1 March 1904] 1).

As early as 1891 Sommer published a tract defending the following proposition:  “Single immersion performed in the name of the Godhead even by a sectarian and even in connection with certain sectarian errors is valid baptism when rendered for the purpose of obeying Christ.” He published it because the FF was intent on “working division in the brotherhood” and consequently he permitted “no discussion of the rebaptism question” in Octographic Review (“Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work,” Octographic Review 40 (29 June 1897) 1, 8.

Since a reader has requested more about Sommer’s position, here are some representative statements.

Daniel Sommer, “Items of Interest,” Octographic Review 40 (23 March 1897) 1.

“Why I am Not an Apologist for Sect Baptism” is the title of a tract now on our table. Such a title assumes that such a something as ‘sect baptism’ exists. But neither the author of that title nor any one else on that side of the question, so far as we have learned, has ever had the courage to define that so-called “sect baptism” and affirm his definition for debate. Those who denounce what they call “sect baptism” and assume that to be validly baptized one must understand what they call “the design of baptism” have been fully tested, and we have not found one of them who will affirm his position and meet a well informed opponent in debate. After having fully tested them we have offered on e of their champions this proposition: “Those who preach that single immersion received in the name of the God-head, and in connection with certain sectarian errors is ‘sect baptism,’ and who preach that valid baptism requires that each person when baptized shall understand ‘the design of baptism’ and yet who refuse thus to affirm in debate occupy a position which is illogical, unscriptural, inconsistent and cowardly.” But this proposition was refused by the author of the tract now before us when it was offered to him in private correspondence. In refusing to affirm for debate what he preaches, and in refusing to deny a proposition which charges him with occupying a position which is “illogical, unscriptural, inconsistent and cowardly” the author of the mentioned tract shows himself less honorable than many of the sectarians whom he denounces. As for the mentioned trace, its foundation statement is that the expression “for the remission of sins” in  Acts 2:38 “is part of THE COMMAND.” If this could be so then “for the remission of sins” is no longer a promise, of it cannot be both a command and a promise at the same time and in the same sentence. Moreover, then the expression “that your sins may be blotted out” in Acts 3:19, is “a part” of the command, “Repent ye therefore and be converted.” But the absurity [sic] of this is evident as soon as stated to every one except those who oppose sectism so extremely and unreasonably that they place themselves in the position of sectarians. As the fundamental proposition of the tract before us is an absurdity it follows that the trat itself is a blunder.”

Daniel Sommer, “Nineteenth Century Efforts to Restore the Bible to Mankind,” Octographic Review 44 (10 September 1901) 1.

“But all rebaptism hobbyists, wherever found among disciples show more or less of his disposition. In their zeal against sectism they become sectarians, and in principle take the identical position of those Baptists who insist on rebaptism of those baptized believers who wish to unite with them after having been immersed by others than preachers of that particular Baptist society [see my blog on this point, JMH]….on account of their valid baptism ideas they are, to say the least, a very disturbing element in the disciple brotherhood. They have done much toward dividing and destroying churches, but have seldom been known to build up a church.”

Daniel Sommer, “A Letter with Comments,” Octographic Review 47 (2 Feb 1904) 1-2.

“I further say, if rebaptism extremists were right in every other particular, nevertheless they do enough false reasoning in behalf of that one extreme to endanger themselves in the judgment, unless I have misread my Bible in regard to truth and honesty. I also state this: I have yet to find a rebaptism extremist who does not hate what he regards as error more than he loves truth. Again, I have yet to find one of that class who does not hate what he calls “sect baptism” more than he loves the oneness of those who profess to be apostolic disciples….Finally, all rebaptism extremists adopt the sectarian plan of sitting in judgment on the fitness of persons for baptism. The only difference between them and genuine sectarians is that a sectarian sits in judgment on fitness for baptism BEFORE candidates are baptized, while the hater of what he calls “sect baptism” sits in judgment on their fitness for baptism AFTER they have been baptized!!”

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