One Great Purpose

Baptism 1

Here is quote from Samuel Miller in his excellent little book, “Infant Baptism.”

The truth is, one great purpose for which the church was instituted, is to watch over and train up children in the knowledge and fear of God, and thus to , “prepare a seed to serve him, who should be accounted to the Lord for a generation.” And I will venture to say, that that system of religion which does not embrace children in its ecclesiastical provisions and in its covenant engagements, is most materially defective. Infants may not receive any apparent benefit from baptism, at the moment in which the ordinance is administered…still the benefits of this ordinance, when faithfully applied by ministers, and faithfully received by parents, are abundant-nay, great and important in every way. When children are baptized, they are thereby recognized as belonging to the visible church of God. They are, as it were, solemnly entered as scholars or disciples in the school of Christ. They are brought into a situation, in which they not only may be trained up for God, but in which their parents are  bound so to train them up; and the church is bound to see that they be so trained, as that the Lord’s claim to them shall ever be recognized and maintained.

In a word, by baptism, when the administrators and recipients are both faithful to their respective trusts, children are brought into a situation in which all the means of grace, all the privileges pertaining to Christ’s covenant family, in a word, all that is comprehended under the broad and precious import of the term Christian education,  is secured to them in the most ample manner. Let parents think of this, when they come to present their children in this holy ordinance. And let children lay this to heart, when they come to years in which they are capable of remembering and realizing their solemn responsibility.

This is why churches should be in the business of training up children through various means most notably through Christian schools, including children in worship, and catechism classes.  All churches cannot do all these things. But the church, as well as the parents, have the solemn duty to train the children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Emergency Baptisms in Geneva

Baptism 1

Here is a section from Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors about why emergency baptisms were banned in Geneva. An emergency baptism was when a newborn who was about to die was baptized.

During the first decades after Geneva’s Reformation, the Consistory [pastors who oversaw Geneva’s spiritual care] investigated a handful of baptismal cases in outlying villages where godparents or midwives performed emergency baptisms out of concern for the salvation of a sickly newborn infant. While Lutheran churches in Germany permitted this traditional practice, Geneva’s ministers viewed emergency baptisms as pernicious because the sacraments should only be performed by ministers in the assembly of the faithful in conjunction with the preaching of the Word, and they were predicated on the false Catholic teaching that baptism was necessary for salvation. It was with these theological concerns in mind that the Consistory sharply rebuked a woman named Claude Mestral in 1548 for allowing a midwife to baptize her sick infant out of the mistaken belief that “if the children of believers do not have the external sign [of baptism] they will perish.” Though emergency baptisms became extremely rare in reformed Geneva after 1550, nevertheless, the parental instinct to assure the spiritual well-being of sickly children through baptism was very difficult to root out entirely. This is seen in the fact that, in the rural parish of Russin in 1599, parents continued to bring sick newborns to their pastor in the middle of the night to request baptism. The Venerable Company instructed the pastor of Russin and other countryside ministers to remind their congregations that “the doctrine which claims baptism is necessary for salvation is false” and that all baptisms should be celebrated in the presence of the Christian assembly and in conjunction with Christian preaching.

There are several interesting ideas in this paragraph.

First, it is clear that in Geneva, baptism was not considered necessary to salvation. Therefore, I think it follows, given the general teaching on the covenant, that baptism was administered because the child was in covenant, not in order to bring the child into the covenant.

Second, the pastors in Geneva kept a close eye on liturgical practices that would undermine Biblical truth. Allowing mid-wives to baptize sick newborns taught a particular view of baptism: that without it a child was not saved. They saw this as dangerous and therefore eliminated the practice. We should carefully watch our liturgical practices, both in worship and outside, to make sure our actions are not undermining the truth.

Let me give two examples. First, what does it say if we allow unordained fathers to baptize their children? Second, what does it say if we allow women to teach men in small groups, Sunday school, church conferences, etc. but refuse them the pulpit? Too many Christians assume that liturgical practices have little impact. That is deadly and allows false teaching to creep in unnoticed.

Third, again showing pastoral wisdom, Geneva’s ministers looked at why a person was doing a particular action. Wanting to have a child baptized was a good thing. But the why mattered. If you wanted your child baptized because you thought baptism was necessary for salvation there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Doing the right thing does not always mean the right thing is being done for the right reason.

Finally, baptism was a church event, not a family event. It was to take place in worship where God’s people were gathered and where God’s Word was preached.  There are numerous reasons for this including the necessity of the Word. But one key reason is that raising children takes the effort and prayers of the whole church body. The child is becoming part of God’s people. When we baptize babies we have vows for the parents, but we also have vows for the congregation. This is one of our liturgical practices that we believe reinforces a Biblical truth: the whole congregation in various ways and at various levels is responsible for leading a child to Christ and teaching them the ways of Christ. Here are the congregational vows we include in our baptismal service.

Covenant Vows for the Congregation
Minister: Do you promise as a covenant community to assist [Parent’s Name] by word, prayer, and Christian fellowship to raise [Child’s Name] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
People: By God’s grace we do!

Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive [Child’s Name] with love into Christ’s Church, pray for him, help instruct him in the faith, encourage, and sustain him in the fellowship of believers to the end that he may faithfully walk with Christ all his days and come at last to his eternal kingdom?
People: By God’s grace we do!

In Geneva, baptism was important but did not save, was communal, not individual, and was to attached to the Word, not separated from it.

John Calvin on Titus 3:5

Here John Calvin’s discussion of the phrase “the washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 from his commentary. I will post some paragraphs from his sermon on this passage later.

I have no doubt that he alludes, at least, to baptism, and even I will not object to have this passage expounded as relates to baptism; not that salvation is contained in the outward symbol of water, but because baptism seals to us the salvation obtained by Christ. Paul treats the exhibition of the grace of God, which, we have said, has been made by faith. Since therefore a part of revelation consists in baptism, that is, so far as it is intended to confirm our faith, he properly makes mention of it. Besides baptism-being the entrance into the Church, and the symbol of our ingrafting into Christ-is here appropriately introduced by Paul, when he intends to shew in what manner the grace of God appeared to us; so that the strain of the passage runs thus:-‘God hath saved us by his mercy, the symbol and pledge of which he gave in baptism, by admitting us into his Church, and ingrafting us into the body of his Son.

Now the Apostles are wont to draw an argument from the Sacraments, to prove that which in there exhibited under a figure, because it ought to be held by believers as a settled principle, that God does not sport with us by unmeaning figures, but inwardly accomplishes by his power what he exhibits by the outward sign; and therefore baptism is fitly and truly said to be ‘the washing of regeneration.’ The efficacy and use of the sacraments will be properly understood by him who shall connect the sign and the thing signified, in such a manner as not to make the sign unmeaning and inefficacious, and who nevertheless shall not, for the sake of adorning the sign, take away from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, as far as relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious, and in whom, therefore, it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy. But by this mode of expression we are reminded that, if we do not wish to annihilate holy baptism, we must prove its efficacy by ‘newness of life.’” (Rom. 6:4)

Presumptive Regeneration as Basis for Baptizing Infants?

Here is an excellent quote by Pierre Marcel on why we do not baptize infants because we assume they are regenerate. All italics are Marcel’s.

While recognizing that children of believers are baptized because they are in the covenant and are, as such, heirs of the promises implying a right to justification and to the regenerating and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, a certain number of Reformed theologians have attempted to add one of the effects of the covenant of grace to the foundation of infant baptism, namely, presumptive regeneration. They have considered that presumptive regeneration could be the ultimate ground of baptism, more so than even the covenant. It must be acknowledged that this attempt has failed. Presumptive regeneration cannot be regarded naturally as the legal ground of infant baptism, for this cannot be anything other than the promises of God contained in the covenant. One cannot baptize on the basis of a presumption. To the question: “Why can you presume the regeneration of the children of believers?” one can only reply: “Because they are born of believing parents” ; or in other words, because  they are born into the covenant. Besides, Scripture and experience afford proof that not all children born into the covenant are regenerated to salvation.

It is obvious that to refuse to consider this presumptive regeneration as the foundation of baptism is not at all the same as saying that it is impossible or unjustifiable to assume that the little children of believers are regenerate: we shall return to this point. But, in accordance with the indications of the Word of God, we do not wish in any way to restrict the divine liberty which acts in sovereign independence when and as it wills, and which is never confined to means. The  promise of the regeneration of the children of the covenant is sufficient for us. It is not for us to define whether this regeneration in view of salvation is found in the elect children before or at the moment of baptism, or sometimes even years afterwards.

No Prohibition Found

From Abraham onwards, for a period of twenty centuries, children were expressly received into the Church from the time of their birth if they were born of Jewish parents or as minors if they belonged to families of which the father had been converted to Judaism. Through twenty centuries not only tradition and ritual, but religious and theological thought fashioned by the promises and prescriptions of the covenant of grace, which is the foundation doctrine of the Old Testament, confirmed in all points in the New, owed their organic character to this covenant. Has the force and vigor of this conception according to which children ought to receive the sacrament of the covenant been truly represented? In reality, the silence of the New Testament regarding the baptism of children militates in favor of rather than against this practice [infant baptism]. To overthrow completely notions so vital, impressed for more than two thousand years on the soul of the people, to withdraw from children the sacrament of admission into the covenant, the Apostolic Church ought to have received from the Lord an explicit prohibition, so revolutionary in itself that a record of it would have been preserved in the New Testament. Not only, however, does the eternal covenant remain intact in the New Testament, but in Jesus Christ it reaches supreme fulfillment. Had our Lord wished the reception of children into this ever valid covenant to be discontinued He would have said so in order that no one might be any doubt. (Pierre Marcel in The Doctrine of Infant Baptism)

How Does Scripture Treat Children of Believers?

The legitimacy of infant baptism depends entirely on the question of the manner in which Scripture regards the children of believers and wishes us, consequently, to regard them. If Scripture speaks of these children in the same way as of adult believers, and if the promises which are made to them and the benefits of grace received by them are the same, then the legitimacy and, still more, the duty of infant baptism are securely established; we cannot withhold from children that which is granted to adults. (Pierre Marcel, Doctrine of Infant Baptism)

Not Only in Our Hearts

Let us then realize that we are baptized on this condition, namely, that we should devote ourselves fully to our God…so that we may glorify Him who has shown Himself so liberal towards us and who has exercises such pity. Every time that God’s benefits are recalled to our memory, and especially the remembrance that it has pleased Him to call us to the knowledge of His truth, we should add this: that it is in order that our life should be dedicated completely to His honor and to His service.

Baptism is our confession before men inasmuch as it is a mark and token by which we openly declare that we wish to be numbered among the people of God, by which we testify that we agree and concur with all Christians in the service of the one God and in one religion, by which, in short we publicly assert and declare our faith, in order that God may be glorified not only in our hearts, but also that our tongues and all the members of our body may, to the utmost of their ability, sound forth His praises. For in this way all that is ours is employed, as is fitting, in promoting the glory of God, which ought everywhere to be displayed; and others are stimulated by our example to the same course. (John Calvin, quoted in Pierre Marcel)