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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

FAQ: How Do I Know My Baptism Was Real?

by Adriel Sanchez posted June 10, 2022

What makes a baptism a baptism? If you dunk someone in your bathtub, is that a valid baptism?

Ordinarily, a baptism should be done by a minister of the gospel. God wants someone who’s ordained in the local church to baptize people into the body of Christ. Too often, we have an individualistic view of our relationship with Jesus and think that if we’re baptized by a cousin in his pool, we’re good. But, in that case, there’s no real relationship to the local church.

Baptism was instituted by Christ as a sign and seal of his gospel of grace. It needs to be done in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 28. And since it should be done in the context of the local church, it should be done by a minister.

But what if it wasn’t? Or what if it was done by a minister who later rejected the gospel? Is that baptism still valid?

Well, this is something that Christians have talked about for 2000 years. In the ancient church, the Donatist controversy arose after certain Christians turned away from the faith because of persecution. People wondered what it meant if you were baptized by a pastor who turned away from the faith? Was that baptism still valid?  

The church said yes, because it’s not the individual who makes baptism effective. It’s the word of God. It isn’t the holiness of your pastor that makes your baptism stick. And thank God for that. Pastors are sinners, just like all of us. It’s Jesus and his word and Spirit that makes a baptism a baptism. And it needs to be done the way Jesus instituted it.

So what if it wasn’t done in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit? Maybe someone just dunked you without words. Well, that’s not a baptism according to Jesus. So, if that’s what you experienced, you’d still need to receive a true baptism.

What if you were baptized by a family member who wasn’t a pastor or elder, and they baptized you in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit? They were trusting in Jesus even though they didn’t understand everything. Would that baptism be valid? Here, there’s going to be some debate among Christians. That’s not how it should be done ordinarily. But we could still receive that baptism on the basis of God’s word, the person’s intention, and the fact that it was done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In Exodus 4, Moses hadn’t circumcised his son, so his wife did it. That’s not how it was supposed to be done, but God accepted it. Since circumcision in the Old Testament was the way someone became part of God’s covenant people—like baptism in the New Testament—this suggests we may not need to reject a baptism that wasn’t done the right way. But if it’s not done with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then it’s not a baptism no matter what.  

Too often today, we minimize the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But these are gifts that God gave to us. They represent God’s promises to his people. We should cherish and embrace them, and perform them the way Jesus called us to.

This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.

Dig deeper with these free resources from Core Christianity:

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Photo of Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.

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