Friday, 30 May 2014

Infant Baptism in Reformation History

What follows is a section of a rough draft of an essay that I had to write on infant baptism. The draft essay was too long so the following content had to be shortened down. I post it here out of interest and for future reference. I have added hyperlinks where I can, and a little note about Bullinger. In my final essay I counted some of these points that are put forward here - I may post on how I see infant baptism is presented in the Bible at a later date.

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Luther (1483-1546) did not depart very much from Augustine, and was willing to give tradition the benefit of the doubt as long as it didn't contradict scripture (McMaken, 2013, p. 21). Luther’s Large Catechism saw that faith must have something to believe or something to stand on, and infant baptism gave the believer something to hang their faith on (Forde, 1993, pp. 229, 233). Luther saw the Great Commission as a command to go out and “confidently and freely baptise everyone” and ultimately “we leave it to him to be concerned about the faith of those baptised” (Works, XI, 257-28) (Forde, 1993, p. 239).

Zwingli (1484-1531) initially agreed with the Anabaptists saying that baptism should not be administered to those under the age of discretion, however he changed his position on this matter (George, 1993, p. 249). Zwingli denied that infants were born with guilt from original sin and so rejected Augustine’s reason for infant baptism (McMaken, 2013, pp. 21-22). He rejected the whole notion that external things were able to accomplish spiritual things such as the forgiveness of sins (McMaken, 2013, pp. 22-23). Zwingli instead saw infant baptism as valid because it was a convent sign. In the same way that circumcision was a sign of the covenant for the families in the Old Testament, baptism was a sign of the covenant for families in the New Testament (Colossians 2) (McMaken, 2013, p. 23; Stephens, 2002, p. 187). He saw the lack of reference not to baptise infants in the Bible and 1 Corinthians 7:14 stating that children are counted as God’s people to support infant baptism. He also said that there is no reference to women taking communion, but it is assumed that they are to take part in that sacrament (Stephens, 2002, p. 188). Zwingli used the doctrine of election against the Anabaptist who insisted that a demonstration of faith was needed for baptism. Zwingli was confident of the election of those born into a believer’s family until there was evident to the contrary as there was with Esau (Stephens, 2002, p. 188).

Calvin (1509-1564) also supported the idea that baptism corresponded with circumcision (Raitt, 1980, p. 54). Both baptism and circumcision are seals of the promise and both show spiritual regeneration (Raitt, 1980, p. 57). Calvin had a principle of “offered to all, received by faith”, meaning that infant baptism only became effective when it is joined by faith (Raitt, 1980, p. 54; McMaken, 2013, p. 24). He did also state that infants could have faith in that “some part of that grace which in a little while they shall enjoy to the full” maybe given to infants (Institutes, IV, xvi, 19) (Raitt, 1980, p. 59; McMaken, 2013, p. 24). Arguing against the Anabaptists, Calvin joined the idea that children of Israel were to be circumcised with Jesus asking the little children to be brought to Him (Mat 19:13-14; Luke 18:15-17) to infer that infant baptism is an ordinance of God which he though should be enough for his interlockers (Raitt, 1980, p. 59).

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Bullinger (1504-1575) argued against the Anabaptist for four decade on the issue of infant baptism. (In my mind he presented the best and most sustained arguments for infant baptism – if anyone was going to convince me of this position, I think it would be Bullinger.) He used some of the same arguments Zwingli used (Stephens, 2002, pp. 187-188). Bullinger saw that there was only one covenant in the Old and the New Testaments, which includes children. He said that only the ceremonies have stopped from the Old Testament and not God’s covenant with his people. So now under this new period of grace baptism has replaced circumcision (Stephens, 2002, pp. 172, 176). He argues, if children before Christ received the sacrament of circumcision, why should the children be excluding form the new sacrament in this time of grace? Jesus letting the children come to Him (Mat 19:13-14; Luke 18:15-17) was seen as a valid reason to allow infant baptism as that is a sign of coming to Him (Stephens, 2002, p. 172). Bullinger points out that Paul baptised three households, and in Genesis 17 a household clearly involved children (Stephens, 2002, p. 173). The Anabaptists objected to infant baptism due to the biblical example of people first coming to faith and then being baptised (Mat 28:18-20; Mar 16:15-16; Act 2:41, 8:37-38; Rom 10), therefor infants should not be baptised as they cannot believe. However, Bullinger pointed out that Simon Magus was baptised when he was not a true believer (Acts 8:9-25) and that there was more to ‘believe’ than what the Anabaptist made out. Children were part of the covenant in Genesis and 1 Corinthians 7:14 states that children are God’s children and counted as believers, based on His grace, mercy and promise (Stephens, 2002, p. 176). Bullinger saw that God was the God of children and adults, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Since children are God’s they have the Spirit, and therefore as children baptism shouldn’t be withheld from those who have the Spirit (Stephens, 2002, p. 177). Also, John the Baptist rejoiced in Christ present when he was in the womb (Luke 1:44), showing that God could write the law in the hearts of infants (Stephens, 2002, p. 185).

Works Cited

Forde, G. O. (1993). Something to believe: A theological perspective on infant baptism. Interpretation, 47(3), 229-241.

George, T. (1993). The reformed doctrine of believers baptism. Interpretation, 47(3), 242-254.

McMaken, T. W. (2013). The sign of the Gospel: Toward an evangelical doctrine of infant baptism after Karl Barth. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Raitt, J. (1980). Three inter-related principles in Calvin's unique doctrin of infant baptism. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 11(1), 51-62.

Stephens, P. (2002). Bullinger's defense of infant baptism in debate with the Anabaptists. Reformation and Renaissance Review, 4(2), 168-189.


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