Over the past months, I’ve heard of more than one instance where evangelical churches have either re-baptised, or were planning to re-baptise, Christians who had already been baptised in another church. It always deeply saddens me when I hear this sort of thing. It is deeply divisive to adjudge another church’s administration of a sacrament to be so deficient as to make it invalid. There aren’t many things more damaging to church unity. The logical conclusion of such a position is that someone might always get a ‘better’ baptism somewhere else!
In churches that call themselves reformed, this ought not to happen. If being reformed means anything, then surely it means we’ve got time for John Calvin!
…if we have rightly determined that a sacrament is not to be estimated by the hand of him by whom it is administered, but is to be received as from the hand of God himself, from whom it undoubtedly proceeded, we may hence infer that its dignity neither gains or loses by the administrator. And, just as among men, when a letter has been sent, if the hand and seal is recognised, it is not of the least consequence who or what the messenger was; so it ought to be sufficient for us to recognise the hand and seal of our Lord in his sacraments, let the administrator be who he may.This confutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the efficacy and worth of the sacrament by the dignity of the minister. Such in the present day are our Catabaptists, who deny that we are duly baptised, because we were baptised in the Papacy by wicked men and idolaters; hence they furiously insist on anabaptism. Against these absurdities we shall be sufficiently fortified if we reflect that by baptism we were initiated not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, that baptism is not of man, but of God, by whomsoever it may have been administered. Be it that those who baptised us were most ignorant of God and all piety, or were despisers, still they did not baptise us into a fellowship with their ignorance or sacrilege, but into the faith of Jesus-Christ, because the name which they invoked was not their own but God's, nor did they baptise into any other name. But if baptism, was of God, it certainly included in it the promise of forgiveness of sin, mortification of the flesh, quickening of the Spirit, and communion with Christ. Thus it did not harm the Jews that they were circumcised by impure and apostate priests. It did not nullify the symbol so as to make it necessary to repeat it. It was enough to return to its genuine origin. The objection that baptism ought to be celebrated in the assembly of the godly, does not prove that it loses its whole efficacy because it is partly defective. (Institutes, IV,15,16)