Yesterday I posted some of Hughes Old’s quotes from The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century. All those quotes focused on the Anabaptist view of baptism. Today I want to post some quotes from the same book about the Reformers’ view of baptism, in particular infant baptism. The titles in bold are mine.
The Primacy of Grace
At the very heart of the Protestant Reformation was the revival of Augustinian theology with its strong emphasis on the primacy of grace. The Reformers believed that God took the initiative for humankind’s salvation. In light of such a strong doctrine of grace the baptism of infants was quite understandable. In fact, the baptism of infants demonstrated very powerfully that our salvation rests not on any knowledge or work or experience or decision of our own, but entirely on the grace of God.
Another matter which should be equally clear from this study is that the position of the Reformers in regard to infant baptism was an integral part of their whole theology. It is not as though baptizing very young children was a strange inconsistency which was perpetuated out of habit. It is not as though here was a place where the Reformers strangely neglected to apply their usual principles of reform…The baptism of infants was a logical corollary of sola gratia, for it clearly demonstrated prevenient grace…Far from being a failure to carry through their reforming principles to their logical conclusions, the Reformers’ position on infant baptism was thoroughly consistent with their whole program of reform.
A Gracious Covenant
While the Anabaptists spoke of baptism as a sign of faith that was already present, the Reformers more and more speak of it as a sign of God’s promise to give faith by uniting the child to Christ. It made sense to the Reformers to include children in the covenant because they understood the covenant primarily as a gracious promise given by God, while the Anabaptists, on the other hand, understood the covenant as a contract entered into by mutually consenting parties.
Planted in the Field of Grace
Oecolampadius [A Reformer] in his reply to Balthasar Hubmaier [An Anabaptist leader] stresses that by making the child a member of the Church he is planted n the field of God’s grace where, as it were, one can expect the cultivation of the Holy Spirit. In the fellowship of the Church the children are gathered about the fountain of God’s grace. It is from that fountain of God’s grace that we can expect faith to come. In the fellowship of the Church God’s Spirit can use the faith of other Christians to work faith in the heart of the child. The key to the position of Oecolampadius is his strong doctrine of the sovereignty of God. In the last analysis the basis of our salvation is God’s grace.
Not Going Back
An appreciation of the Augustinian doctrine of grace was one of the fundamental insights of classical Protestantism. It was this appreciation for grace which led the Reformers out of late medieval Scholasticism, and the Reformers were not about to be charmed back into it by the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were Pelagian and just as voluntaristic as the late medieval Scholastic theologians. In continuing to baptize infants the Reformers were only confirming their original Augustinianism. The baptismal rites they developed bore witness to a strong doctrine of grace. They were confident that the God who had so graciously made them members of the covenant community would be just as gracious to their children, and so they baptized their children. It was not because of a superstitious belief that their children would be saved by some magical ceremony, but out of faith in the covenant promises of God.
At the Beginning
All these [baptismal] prayers have a common theme. Baptism stands at the beginning of the Christian life as the visible Word of God, the promise of the gospel, that in Christ all sins have been washed away, are being washed away, and will be washed away. Baptism of the sealing of the divine promise on which are grounded all the prayers for growth in grace which every Christina pours out in the course of his or her pilgrimage. The waters of baptism flow from the beginning of the Christian life all the way to paradise.