Once upon a time, a member of an evangelical church approached the pastoral staff about the possibility of getting baptized. This person had been baptized three times previously: as an infant, as a teenager, and as a young adult in her mid-twenties. Here she was, now in her forties, asking to be baptized yet again. Her rationale for getting re-baptized was that this way the Spirit could work powerfully in her life, as she had stopped feeling the Spirit’s presence in her life. The senior pastor agreed to do it, but the associate pastor found himself struggling to support this decision. He had already wrestled with the concept of re-baptism for those who were baptized as children and now as adults wanted to proclaim what the Holy Spirit had done in their life, and he was reluctantly okay with re-baptism in those circumstances (mostly because there was no tradition of confirmation in this particular church). But this was different. This multiple re-baptism was a way to manipulate the spiritual high that the member was so desperately seeking from the Holy Spirit, and the associate pastor knew, based on this person’s level of faith, that this fourth baptism would not be the last.
In The Source of Life, Jürgen Moltmann writes about the experience a Christian has of being dead to sin and reborn through Christ’s resurrection. Moltmann argues that part of the problem of re-baptism (in this case, once as an infant and later as an adult) is that it opens the possibility of multiple baptisms, “to match corresponding experiences of the Spirit,”1 which is just what this member of the church was seeking in her fourth baptism.
Moltmann suggests that this approach to the Spirit is a form of re-incarnation, being born again, over and over. The New Testament, Moltmann argues, presents only one new birth that “is unique and eternal and never returns again.”2 It is “once-for-all” and “final.”3 This new life is not simply about restoration or renewal. It is completely new.4 And while there may be times of restoration and renewal through the life of a Christian, these are times of growth rather than times of re-birth. There was only one resurrection of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and through baptism, we enter into this one resurrection; this one new life.
Moltmann concludes, “it is important to make it clear to ourselves that it is not experiences that create faith, but faith that creates experiences. The firm lodestone of faith is not provided by the inner experiences of the Spirit…but by community with Christ, in the living and dying and rising again with him.6 Looking at the story above, Moltmann’s conclusion about the experience of the Spirit could be a useful way to facilitate a theological conversation between the pastoral staff and the church member about how Christians can experience the Holy Spirit in their lives and what practices can be used to facilitate appropriate responses of thanksgiving, repentance and transformation in a corporate worship setting.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 27.
2 Ibid., 28.
3 Ibid., 28.
4 Ibid., 30.
5 Ibid., 31.