Baptist History Homepage

Alien Immersions
By John T. Christian, 1926

      The subjects of alien immersions and the proper administrator of baptism often arose among the Baptists of this period. This was especially accentuated by the defection of the anti-mission forces and the followers of Alexander Campbell. After the American Civil War it sometimes became acute. There have always been differences of opinion on this subject; but among early American Baptists, perhaps, the vast majority rejected such baptisms and accounted them as invalid. Only a few instances and expressions can here be quoted, but they are sufficient and authoritative enough to indicate the general trend of the thinking of the denomination.

     Professor J. L. Reynolds, D. D., Professor in Columbia College, South Carolina, formerly President of Georgetown College, Kentucky, and once Professor in the Theological Department of Mercer University, Georgia, says of rebaptism:

In Africa the question attracted attention at an early period and received a prompt decision . . . The ground on which the validity of

[p. 438]
heretical baptism was denied, that there could be no real baptism out of the true church.
     He further says:
The Novatians, dissatisfied with the lax discipline of the Church of Rome, seceded from it, A. D. 251, and organized themselves on the most rigid principles. Claiming to be the true church they baptized, without distinction, all who were admitted to their communion. Applicants from other churches, were of course, rebaptized. They were the first Puritans Cathari and there is little doubt that they were opposed to infant baptism . . . The ground assumed by those separatists, as well as those who succeeded them, was that the Catholic Church (so-called) was become corrupt and anti-christian.
     Again:
In all cases of rebaptism to which I have referred, the principle of action was the same-out of the true church there was no baptism. This was a point on which all, whether heretics, or Catholics, seem to have agreed.
     He further says:
The Mennonites (so called from Menno, who died 1571) rebaptized all who were admitted into their communion. This is the statement of Neudecker, Lebrd. Dogmende, 621.
     Once more:
The vast body of the Mennonites adhered to the ancient practice which they had received from the earlier Anabaptists (The Christian Index, May 26 and June 16, 1843).
     Thomas Crosby, speaking of the Baptists in London, in 1615, says:
They rejected the baptism of infants as being a practice which had no foundation in Scripture; and all baptisms received either in the Church of Rome or England, they looked upon to be invalid, because received in a false church, and from anti-christian ministers (Crosby, The History of the English Baptists, I. 273. London, 1738).
     The Philadelphia Association, the oldest among the Baptists of America, in the year 1788, decided against the validity of baptism administered by persons who had not been lawfully baptized and ordained. They assigned four reasons for the decision. The fourth is as follows:
Because such an administrator has no commission to baptize, for the words of the commission were addressed to the apostles and their successors

[p. 439]
in the ministry, to the end of the world, and these are such whom the church of Christ appoint for the whole work of the ministry.
     Reference may also be made to similar decisions of this Association in 1729, 1732, 1744, 1749 and 1758.

     The Richmond Association, in 1809, decided:

Three things are required to make gospel baptism, viz.: a gospel mode, s gospel subject and administrator (Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, II. 472. Boston, 1813).
     In 1791 a case was brought before the Ketockton Association which produced considerable agitation. James Hutchinson, who was born in New Jersey, but raised in Loudon county, Virginia, had gone to Georgia, and there first became a Methodist, and then a Baptist preacher. Previous to his joining the Baptists, he had been baptized by a Methodist. When he offered to join the Baptists of Georgia, it was made a question whether his baptism, being performed by an unbaptized person, was valid! The Georgia Baptists decided that it was valid.

     In the year above mentioned Mr. Hutchinson came to Virginia to see his relations in Loudon county. While he was there, his preaching became effectual to the conversion of many. Mr. Hutchinson baptized them. These things stirred up the question in Ketockton Association, whether the baptism of Hutchinson and his disciples was valid. The decision here was just the reverse of the decision in Georgia. They determined not to receive him or those baptized by him, unless they should submit to be rebaptized. After some time they consented, and the ordinance was readministered (Semple, History of Virginia Baptists).

     Jesse Mercer, in a Circular Letter adopted and published by the Georgia Association, in 1811, assigns "the reasons, briefly, which lead us to deem Pedobaptist administrations, though in the proper mode, invalid." The first reason assigned is:

The apostolic church, continued through all ages to the end of the world, is the only true gospel church.
     After laying down several propositions he proceeds:
From these propositions, thus established, we draw the following references, as clear and certainly true; That all churches and ministers, and not successively to them, are not in gospel order; therefore, cannot be acknowledged as such.

[p. 440]
     Again he says in the same Circular:
Our reasons for rejecting baptism by immersion when administered by Pedobaptist ministers are:
I. That they are connected with churches clearly out of the apostolic succession, and therefore clearly out of the apostolic commission.
II. That they have derived their authority, by ordination, from the Bishops of Rome, or from individuals who have taken it on themselves to give it.
III. That they hold a higher rank in the churches than the apostles did, are not accountable to it, and consequently not triable by the church; but are amenable to of among themselves.
     Further on he remarks:
The Pedobaptists by their own histories, admit that they are not of it (the true line of the succession of the churches). But we do not; sad shall think ourselves entitled to the claim until the reverse is shown clearly. And should any man think that authority derived from the Mother of Harlots sufficient to qualify to administer a gospel ordinance, they will be so charitable as not to condemn us from preferring that derived from Christ . . . If any think the administration will suffice which has no pattern in the Gospel, they will suffer us to act according to the Divine order with impunity.
     The Christian Review, Boston, 1846, in a long article on Rebaptism, says:
We next consider the case of those who, though adults, baptized in the proper mode and form, yet at that time held grossly heretical doctrines; of adherence to which their baptism was a profession to the world: such as Unitarians, who deny the faith of the Trinity; Universalists, who deny all future punishment; Campbellites, whose acknowledgement that Jesus is the Son of God implies neither a belief in the divinity nor vicarious sufferings of Christ, nor a profession of a change of heart. Even the Mormons, it is said, baptize in the name of Jesus. When persons who may have been baptized in a profession in any of these forms of error, are afterwards brought to the truth as it is in Jesus, is it their duty to be rebaptized? In such cases, the first baptism, is surely to be regarded rather as a profession of disbelief, than of belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It should therefore be esteemed quite invalid, and be repeated by those who embrace orthodox doctrines. Nor can their subsequent faith make good their former baptism (The Christian Review, July, 18l6. XI. 198, 199).
     David Benedict, the historian, probably held a more extensive correspondence with the Baptists of America in his day than any other man. He was doubtless correct when he summed up
[p. 441]
the situation as follows: "I have ascertained by my extensive correspondence, that by far the greatest part of our denomination both rebaptize and reordain all who join them, from whatever churches they come" (Benedict).
===============

[From John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, 1926; rpt. 1997, pp. 437-441. jrd]



Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist History Homepage