This question comes from Bri:
I have a very general and practical question: If Apollos from the book of Acts came to church today, what would he look like? Meaning, would there ever be a situation where a person would come to church, and need only to have "the way of God explained more accurately"? He only knew of the baptism of John, not a saving baptism in which a person partakes of Jesus' death burial and resurrection, yet Priscilla and Aquila did not "rebaptize" him. I am just curious if there could be a parallel situation in today's church, where someone is very knowledgeable of the scriptures, and was possibly baptized before (not for the forgiveness of sins) and lived a life according to the scriptures to the best of their ability. Or if this is a unique situation like that of the thief on the cross where it was a situation unique to the time in which it happened. For example, Jesus had authority on Earth to forgive sins, therefore the thief did not need to be baptized, and further, baptism for the forgiveness of sins had not yet been established since Jesus had not yet died. So would there be a similar situation in today's church where someone could come, not knowing fully about baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and not "need" to be "rebaptized", only be taught of God more accurately? Or was Apollos an exception like the thief on the cross? If it is possible, what would this person look like/what would constitute them not needing to be baptized [again]?
Thanks for your question Bri, this is indeed a difficult question that many Christians have wrestled with and come out on different sides on for the history of the church. In my ministry experience thus far I have encountered several people that I believe might fall under the category of what you are suggesting. I will do my best to unpack your question:
We cannot be completely sure what it was that Apollos was "inadequately taught" about in reference to baptism as it is not explicitly stated, although it was most likely the teaching of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to baptism in Jesus' name (c.f. Acts 2:38-39) and not necessarily forgiveness of sins, as you will remember that John's baptism was also for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) though not the gift of the Holy Spirit. In addition to all of this the context of the following passage of Paul with the men in Ephesus and their lack of knowledge of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7) leads us to conclude this is most likely in view for Apollos in the passage just before, though to be fair it is not explicit. We also glean that Paul actually baptized these men in Ephesus and laid his hands on them, so we cannot conclude definitively whether Apollos was baptized by Priscilla and Aquila, as the scripture is simply silent on this point.
I believe that there is a "normative pattern" in the New Testament (and all early Christian literature) that shows baptism in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the message of repentance and discipleship to Jesus' lordship. But we also see some "unique" instances where the pattern seems to be altered a bit (Acts 8, 10, 18, etc.). Perhaps Apollos is one of these "unique" circumstances? It is difficult to say definitively.
So to your question about people coming into the church today; I have run into this more than once (though it is not that common in my experience simply because many people in the west have been taught that baptism - historically a church sacrament - is "an outward sign of an inward grace", certainly an inaccurate notion all together). Personally (when I meet "Apollos") I teach that people must be willing to teach others the "normative pattern" of baptism as we join together to fish for men and carry out the great commission together, but that their own personal baptism must be sorted out in their own faith (1 Pet 3:21; Col 2:12; etc.). (It would be good at this point to note that baptism in the N.T. is always accompanied with the concepts of repentance and the Lordship of Christ, teachings I find often missing for people, though not always). This strikes at the heart of the concept of "baptismal cognizance" (how much must a person understand in order for baptism to be "effective"?). This is indeed a tricky question, and I realize that perhaps many of my readers might disagree here on this point.
I would encourage all of us to remain humble and open minded as we continue to plumb the richness of God and his wisdom, and that we beware of forcing the Scriptures into our own theological frameworks, but instead allow things to remain somewhat mysterious. This is difficult for us as humans, but I believe this forces us to humbly submit to one greater than us and to have faith like that of a child. Which is the point.
I find that the more I learn, the more I am forced to admit, "I don't know", and I have to learn how to be comfortable with that. Hope this helps.
** I have several book recommendations that might be helpful on this topic, but perhaps a good place to start is Zondervan's counterpoint series: "Understanding Four Views on Baptism"