Under that spell: Infant baptism in Reformed theology


A follow-on from The barque of Peter: The least leaky boat.

As is common knowledge among the uncommon, Roman Catholicism, as in Talmudic Judaism, teaches that there are two kinds of divine revelation: scripture and tradition. I, a Protestant, have found in discussions with Roman Catholics that they try to appeal to scripture alone, probably in an attempt to defeat – yes, it’s a battle – the “scripture alone” camp on their own ground. It’s a mysterium why they need to do that; after all, the reason why they belong to the Roman branch of the church is because they have handed over all authority on scriptural interpretation to the Roman Pontiff and his Magisterium. I focus on the Roman dogma of infant baptismal regeneration.

The Catholic Church teaches: “Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213). Many baptised babies (reborn as children of God, born of the Spirit) never come to have faith in Christ, yet, according to “baptismal regeneration” they once were children of God. The term “children of God,” in the New Testament, however, only refers to believers in Christ:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12).

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1).

If, though, the Roman Church decides to call baptised babies the children of God, there is no reason why its apologists (defenders) should have qualms about saying to us Protestants “Rome has spoken.”

What about the Reformers’ view of baptism, for example, Luther and Calvin. By golly, they also believed in infant baptism (paedobaptism). In Calvin, it looks as if he believed in baptismal regeneration as well. How else to interpret his words below?

We ought to consider that at whatever time we are baptised, we are washed and purified once for
the whole of life. Wherefore, as often as we fall, we must recall the remembrance of our baptism,
and thus fortify our minds, so as to feel certain and secure of the remission of sins. For though,
when once administered, it seems to have passed, it is not abolished by subsequent sins. For the
purity of Christ was therein offered to us, always is in force, and is not destroyed by any stain: it
wipes and washes away all our defilements.
Calvin: Institutes of Christian Religion 4.15.3.

Whatever Protestant paedobaptists mean by baptism, it is bizarre to link it to regeneration. I cannot agree that in baptism “the
purity of Christ was therein offered to us, always is in force, and is not destroyed by any stain: it
wipes and washes away all our defilements.”

How could baptism wipe away an infant’s defilements. After all, many, indeed most, who are baptised as babies never make a profession of faith, which is required to wash away “all defilements.” Only those who believe in Jesus as their saviour are called – in the New Testament – the “children of God.” Calvin speaks like a Roman Catholic on the matter. In my view, infant baptism makes no biblical sense because it is not linked to faith in Christ.

By the way, there are many “Calvinists” who do not believe in infant baptism. Great names (in Protestantism) are Charles Spurgeon, John Gill and John Bunyan. A modern stalwart is Steve Lawson. In a lecture in his series on the Attributes of God, he was told that he shouldn’t call himself an adherent of the “Reformed” tradition (for example, Calvin, Luther) because he did not adhere to all of the Reformers’ doctrines such as paedobaptism. Lawson replied:

I presupposes that Calvin, the Dutch reformers, that Luther were right on everything. And I don’t believe that they were. To be as covenental as they are, I can go to a certain extent with them but obviously I’m not baptising babies. I would say in reality those that hold to those confessions (for example, the Westminster Confession) are not reformed enough. I think I am more reformed than they are. So, I would revers the question: “Why are they not Reformed?” I think they only took a partial step away from the Catholic Church. And I think they remained under some Catholic spell as it relates to infant baptism. And I think, ads one who is “baptistic,” that we went further in the reform, according to scripture. And as it relates to the Confessions, in some sense, sola scriptura (scripture alone) is the only confession that I have. There is no baby baptised in the Bible. You can’t point to any verse in the Bible where a bay is baptised. So, I have gone further in my reform away from the Catholic Church.” (“Attributes of God 5,” minute 32 ff. This is the link to all 14 wonderful mp3 lectures).

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