NOTE: The following is a dialogue constructed by Alexander Campbell in 1832 to illustrate his view on the popular practice of rebaptizing someone who had already been immersed, but without the understanding that his sins were remitted at the time. The issue arose because immersion had been preached and practiced for some time in the restoration movement before Walter Scott noticed and started preaching that one of the blessings of baptism was the remission of our sins.
Campbell himself was baptized prior to his understanding of that fact, as were many of the early reformers. Campbell, like others, had been immersed as an act of obedience on profession of faith in Christ as the Messiah. He was never rebaptized.
The dialogue is between Alexander (himself) and the fictitious character Rufus, who is imagined to have been rebaptized for the remission of sins ten years after his first immersion into Christ. Rufus is doubting the validity of that baptism because he is just now realizing that baptism cleanses one from sin.
Dialogue on rebaptism
by Alexander Campbell
A. Have you really been baptized?
R. Not re-baptized in my sense of the word; for I regard my former baptism as nothing better than infant sprinkling.
A. If no better than infant sprinkling, you certainly ought to have been baptized. But you must mistake the meaning of that essay, if you suppose it regarded infant sprinkling as Christian immersion. It applies not to such a hypothesis. What I designate re-immersion, is the immersion of one a second time, who had voluntarily and understandingly confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God; and as such cheerfully submitted to him, and was immersed into his name as Mediator, as Prophet, Priest, and King. Were you not immersed upon such a profession some ten years ago?
R. I was about that time immersed without understanding the meaning of it, and had no respect to the remission of my sins in immersion: for I believed that I was forgiven six months before my immersion, through faith in the blood of Jesus.
A. You had faith, then, in the blood of Jesus, and consequently regarded him as the Messiah.
R. Yes: I had faith in him, indeed: but I was not immersed for the remission of my sins. I was immersed because Jesus was immersed in the Jordan, and because he commanded all believers to be immersed.
A. And such a baptism as this you now say is no better than no baptism or than infant sprinkling. Does an infant act at all, does its understanding, will, affections, or conscience feel or act in reference to the example, authority, command, or promise of Jesus Christ? Surely you confound things that differ, the breath and length of heaven.
R. Oh! There is some difference, indeed! But as touching the remission of sins, an infant as much expected it in its sprinkling, as I in my first immersion.
A. That may be, for you say that you thought; nay, were assured, that your sins were remitted six months before you were immersed. But this, in my judgment, constitutes no reason why you should, after ten years citizenship in the kingdom of Christ, be again immersed. When I was naturalized a citizen of these United States, there were certain immunities and privileges attached to citizenship which I had not in my mind at that time, nor were they any inducement to me to be naturalized, any more than to that child now sleeping in the arms of its mother. But did that circumstance annul my naturalization and leave me an alien?
R. I dare not say there was no church of Christ, no kingdom of God all this time. But I will say the church was in the wilderness.
A. That helps you not. It was still a church, although it was in the wilderness; and this destroys your assumption. I admit that he who understands not fully the Lord’s day, the Lord’s supper, and Christian immersion, cannot fully enjoy the blessings of the gospel of Christ, and that it makes all the difference between the wilderness and the fruitful field to understand fully these institutions: but yet there are degrees both in faith and knowledge; and he that lives in the wilderness still lives.
R. I am candid to confess that I did not foresee this impediment in my way. But, come, does this greatly detract from the importance which you and others attach to the discovery of the capital item of the ancient gospelâbaptism for the remission of sins? This indeed is the only item which obtains for the ancient gospel the eminence which it claims.
A. Not in the least. It stands true that this is its proper meaning. The not understanding of this institution has prevented many Christians from enjoying its benefits; but the not understanding it does not make them aliens from the kingdom of Jesus.