Reformed Credobaptism

In this post, I want to investigate the relation of faith to baptism in the Reformed tradition, and how it relates to modern discussions and debates.

Common Argument: Sacraments are God’s word to us, not our word to God

In my experience with debates about credobaptism vs. paedobaptism, one of the common arguments that modern Reformed Christians direct toward Baptists is that Baptists misunderstand the nature of sacraments. The common argument goes like this:

Sacraments are God’s word to us, not our profession of faith to God. Infant Baptism fits this perfectly because it is a picture of God’s grace promised to a helpless individual. Baptists turn baptism into a work performed by man, rather than a sign of divine grace given by God.

Let’s be clear, up front. It would be very easy to provide numerous examples of Baptists laying a heavy emphasis on baptism as man’s profession of faith to God. And it would also be easy to say that in such cases there is an omission and neglect of appreciating sacraments as God’s word to his people. I grant this in full, and Baptists need to do a much better job at teaching and appreciating sacraments as God’s word to his people.

However, do Reformed Christians fall into the same mistake, but on the opposite side? Do they, by emphasizing God’s grace signified to man in the sacraments, neglect and omit man’s side in the use of sacraments? The Reformed of the 16th and 17th centuries did not. But (if experience can be the gauge here) the modern Reformed do, frequently.

The Reformed: Sacraments are Mutual Testimonies

The Reformed of the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras clearly assert a mutuality in sacraments.

John Calvin, for example, defined a sacrament as:

“a testimony of God’s favor towards us confirmed by an outward sign, with a mutual testifying of our godliness toward him.”

John Calvin, The Institvtion of Christian Religion (London: Reinolde Wolfe and Richard Harrison, 1561), fol. 90v. (IV. 13. 1). Cf. also fols. 94v-95r. (IV. 13. 13-14).

And William Perkins offered a similar definition:

“Baptism serves to be a pledge unto us in respect of our weakness, of all the graces and mercies of God, and especially of our union with Christ, of remission of sins, and of mortification. Secondly, it serves to be a sign of Christian profession before the world, and therefore it is called ‘the stipulation or interrogation of a good conscience,’ 1 Pet. 3:21.”

William Perkins, A Commentarie or Exposition, upon the five first Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge: John Legat, 1604), 249.

And Lucas Trelcatius offered the same:

“By the name of Sacrament, we understand a signe of grace, ordained of God, that he might both seal up his benefits in us, and consecrate us to himself for ever; for in the signification of Sacrament, there is a mutual respect: the one on God’s behalf offering grace; the other on man’s behalf, promising thankfulness.”

Lucas Trelcatius, A Briefe institution of the Common Places of Sacred Divinitie (London: T.P. for Francis Burton, 1610), 293. Spelling updated.

These statements may seem to create a tension with infant baptism. How can an infant participate in the mutuality of the sacrament?

The Reformed: Faith is a Prerequisite for Baptism

For many paedobaptists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the mutual nature of sacraments was not an obstacle. They did not hesitate to connect baptism with a profession of faith, even in the case of infants. In fact, they required faith for baptism.

One way to handle this was to have sponsors answer for the child. This was the doctrine of the church of England. Sponsors profess faith and repentance for the child. You can read about it in this post.

The Westminster Assembly debated this issue and concluded that it was necessary for parents to make a profession of faith in the baptism of their children. You can read about it in the post just linked above. The Assembly’s decision relocates the profession of faith. It is not the child’s faith professed by sponsors, but the parents’ faith.

The Church of England and the Westminster Assembly were not alone in requiring faith in baptism. Edward Polhill noted that the Leiden Synopsis (its title is Synopsis Purioris Theologiæ, the work of Johannes Polyander, Andreas Rivetus, Antonius Walaeus, and Anthonius Thysius), first published in 1625, likewise required faith in infants prior to baptism.

Edward Polhill - Christus in Corde - 206

These are not the views of an isolated or idiosyncratic Reformed writer. The Westminster Assembly and the Leiden Synopsis are collaborative projects of some of the best minds the Reformed faith has ever known. But what does the Leiden Synopsis actually say about baptism, faith, and infant baptism?

The Leiden Synopsis: Infants of the Faithful have the Seed of Faith

I’ve translated relevant portions of Disputation 44, “Of the Sacrament of Baptism.” I don’t claim to be a Latinist, so feel free to check or correct my work in comparison to the original here. This portion of the Synopsis should be released in translation this year.

Though not exactly germane to this discussion, we can note that the Leiden divines makes immersion or pouring an indifferent matter, as well as whether to dip/pour once or thrice.

Thesis 19. And whether the baptizand should be dipped once, or three times, is judged a thing indifferent in the Christian church, as also whether by immersion or aspersion.

Moving on to their theology of infant baptism, here are relevant portions. Edward Polhill’s quote above was referring to Thesis 29.

Thesis 28. No valid distinction can be made between the baptism of adults and infants, except that the baptism of adults is a sign and seal of regeneration already possessed, and the baptism of infants is the instrument of the beginning of regeneration. There is no foundation for any difference beyond this in all Scripture, which acknowledges but one kind of baptism only…

Thesis 29. Therefore we do not align the efficacy of baptism with the moment of its administration, when the body is dipped in the water, but in all persons baptized we do require beforehand faith and repentance, though with the judgment of charity. And this is just as true in the case of covenant infants, in whom, by virtue of the divine blessings and covenant of the gospel, the seed and spirit of faith and repentance are present, we contend, just as in adults, for whom profession of actual faith and repentance is necessary. For as when a seed is cast in the earth, it does not always grow to its height immediately, but [it grows] when rain and warmth come upon it from the sky, neither is the efficacy of the sacramental sign always tied to its first moment, but in the passage of time, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, is it granted.

Thesis 47. Second, we count [as valid subjects of baptism] infants who are born of faithful and federal parents, according to the promise of God, Genesis 17 “I will be God to you and your seed.” […] To whom the thing signified pertains, no one can deny the sign. […] Now then truly none can deny that the benefits of the blood and Spirit of Christ belong to the infants of the faithful, except those [children] who choose to exclude themselves from salvation; neither is anyone able to enter the kingdom of God unless they are regenerated by water and Spirit, John 3:5. For no one is of Christ who does not have his Spirit, Romans 8:9.

Thesis 48. Ephesians 5:26 is a confirming illustration of this, where the apostle says “Christ loved his church, and gave himself up for her, cleansing her in the washing of water through the word.” From which it follows that the infants of the faithful are not born into a different church from the one for which Christ gave himself, and which he cleansed with the washing of water through the word.

The idea that baptism and faith go hand in hand is not at all a tension for those who believe that the infants of the faithful possess “the benefits of the blood and Spirit of Christ” and have “the seed and spirit of faith and repentance.”

Some Reformed: Infants of the Faithful Have a Distinct, Provisional, Perishable, Regeneration

The doctrine that the infants of the faithful possess the seed of faith creates another tension. What does it mean for covenant children to possess the seed of faith and the blessings and benefits of Christ, and yet “to choose to exclude themselves” from salvation? Also, are the infants of the faithful not born in Adam?

There are varying answers to these questions among paedobaptists. Joseph Whiston lays out various options in this post. Whiston’s option is that the infants of the faithful have a provisional regeneration that is distinct in kind from the ordinary regeneration that believers experience.

For Whiston, and some Reformed, their infants, by virtue of the federal holiness they enjoy as children of the faithful, are cleansed of original sin, and are therefore guaranteed to enter Heaven if they die in their infancy.

For some sources on the discussion and pedigree of such views, see this post, this post, and the related (though later) discussion of sources here:

Conclusions

We can make the following conclusions:

First, the common caricature of “The Reformed make baptism God’s word to us, and Baptists make baptism man’s word to God” demonstrates that both sides need a lesson in historical theology.  There is no reason why Baptists should not appreciate and enjoy the sacraments, first and foremost, as God’s promises made visible to his people. Likewise, the Reformed should not hesitate to say that participation in the sacraments is a mutual testimony, from man to God.

Second, related to this, the common caricature that Baptists connect faith too closely to baptism must be applied equally to the Westminster and Leiden divines. They require faith for baptism. It simply isn’t a “Baptist” move. A distinction can be made between fidebaptism, and credobaptism. The Reformed baptize based on faith (fidebaptism), not necessarily profession of faith (credobaptism). However, that would only apply to infants. The Reformed would practice fidebaptism for infants, and credobaptism for adults.

Third, the modern Reformed departure/distancing from (what I perceive as) the more robust forms of paedobaptism explains some of the tensions with so-called “Federal Vision” ideas. Like it nor not, in some cases, certain tenets of the more “Federal Vision” flavor of paedobaptists are not so much a departure from the Reformed tradition as they are a return to one of its more robust forms.

Fourth, modern Reformed Christians need to recognize that the common argument of “We baptize based on the promise to us and our children” is anemic in comparison to “We baptize on the basis of God’s covenant with us, by virtue of which our children are provisionally cleansed and have the seed of faith.” In the modern Reformed version, what is actually true of a covenant child? Promises are made to the child, but is there any way to say, definitely, that any given infant has actual possession of any benefit? I have a feeling that in the social media circles I know, any Reformed Christian who began to assert objective benefits for their covenant children would be swiftly and strongly denounced by other Reformed Christians.

Fifth, the modern Reformed version of paedobaptism creates a tension between infant and adult baptism (to use the Leiden Synopsis’ categories). As the Leiden Synopsis states, its version of infant baptism is very much in line with adult baptism. Both presuppose cleansing; both require repentance and faith. But the common modern Reformed version of paedobaptism makes paedobaptism, as William Cunningham said,

“a peculiar, subordinate, supplemental, exceptional thing, which stands indeed firmly based on its own distinct and special grounds.” (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation)

For Reformed Baptists (i.e., 2LCF Baptists), there is, as the Leiden Synopsis states, “but one kind of baptism only” acknowledged by the Scriptures. That is credobaptism, baptism based on profession of faith, not age. Are the modern Reformed ready to embrace the older Reformed credobaptism and bring their adult and infant baptism  into realignment? Or will they practice credobaptism for adults, and something else for their children?

John Owen, Unto the Questions, 7

Select Counterpoints with the New Geneva Podcast

I recently listened to the New Geneva Podcast’s Case for Infant Baptism (Part 1).

The podcast is both a positive presentation of a case for infant baptism as well as a response to various Baptist criticisms or questions. A portion of the interaction is specifically identified as relating to 1689 Baptists, and I wanted to respond briefly on a few points.

The hosts focus in on the key difference between 1689 Federalists and Reformed paedobaptists, namely that the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants are not the covenant of grace. Angela and Ben noted that credo and paedobaptists agree that salvific benefits won by Christ in his sacrificial death reach back in time. Angela expressed that she had not received a sufficient explanation of how the benefits of that sacrifice were administered to believers in the Old Testament if the Abrahamic covenant was not the covenant of grace.

What must be discussed at that point is typology (and the unhelpful ambiguity of the language of administration), and I would suggest two posts that seek to explain, in brief, the perspective of 1689 Federalism (or at least my own perspective) on such a question:

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

We All Have Our Types

I would also like to point out that the argument was already expressed by Scott in the podcast, when he said that “the covenant of grace was administrated through the Mosaic covenant, but it [the Mosaic covenant] was not the covenant of grace itself.” We would make the same move with regard to the Abrahamic covenant.

This, of course, brings us to another area that was discussed, namely passages such as Romans 4 and Galatians 3 and the argument that Jeremiah 31 contrasts the new covenant with Moses, not Abraham. I hope to address these passages in another post, soon. But for now, I simply want to point out that Romans 4:11, quoted in the podcast, contains ambiguities that the translator/interpreter must clarify.

καὶ σημεῖον ἔλαβεν περιτομῆς σφραγῖδα τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ

and sign received circumcision seal of the righteousness of faith that in the

ἀκροβυστίᾳ (Rom. 4:11)

uncircumcised/uncircumcision

This passage does not say, necessarily, that circumcision was the sign of the righteousness of faith that Abraham had while uncircumcised. Romans 4:11a needs more argumentation than the English translations provide in order to substantiate some of the points made in the podcast. But podcasts are podcasts, not journal articles. So I’m not criticizing a lack of exegesis, just pointing out for now that the translation appealed to in the passage is debatable, and therefore so is the theological point drawn from it.

Lastly, Isaiah 54:13 was appealed to as being another new covenant promise along with Jeremiah 31, a promise that explicitly speaks of children.

Isaiah 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.

However, this fails to realize that the prophets project the future in the language of the present. More so, this fails to realize that Jesus quoted this passage and applied it to say that being taught by God means hearing the voice of the Son and believing in him.

45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me–
46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:45-47)

So, yes, Isaiah 54:13 belongs with the Jeremiah 31 promise that all God’s people will know the Lord and be taught by him, because Christ is the heart and head of the covenant, and all who are in the covenant are those who heard his voice and believed in him. And we are to regard people as in covenant based on the same.

John uses these promises in the same way in 1 John 2:20-27,

20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie– just as it has taught you, abide in him.

In context, the meaning is that all of Christ’s people have a saving knowledge of him, and false teachers claiming to have secret knowledge necessary for Christianity automatically invalidate their claims of authenticity.

For our purposes, an appeal to Isaiah 54:13 must explain Jesus’ use of it, and I think that the way it was used in the podcast failed to take that into account.

I hope that this interaction will help to particularize and sharpen some of the dialogue between us. I appreciated and enjoyed part 1.

John Clark, Phraseologia, 65

The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

In the seventeenth-century polemics of paedobaptism and credobaptism, one of the common arguments asserted by the English Particular Baptists was that their paedobaptist brothers agreed that a profession of faith was a necessary prerequisite for baptism. To make their point, Particular Baptists like Andrew Ritor, Benjamin Coxe, William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, and Thomas Patient appealed to the catechism of the Church of England, which was appended to the Book of Common Prayer. The catechism specifically required a profession of faith and repentance before admission to baptism.

Here is the portion to which they referred:Church of England Catechism in Book of Common Prayer

The Particular Baptists viewed this as inconsistent credobaptism, or perhaps we could call it “credopaedobaptism.” If actual repentance and faith were necessary, how could these be promised by parents or godparents? Given their strong Calvinism, the idea of promising actual faith and repentance (which could only be given by God) for another was an absurdity. To the Particular Baptists, this presupposed the election and thus salvation of children, many of which were not saved. If the children were presupposed as elect, then salvation could be lost. If the children were not presupposed as elect, then there could be no presupposition of God-given repentance and faith in them.

When the Westminster Assembly began its work reforming the Church of England  in order to impose national uniformity through a new Confession of Faith, Catechism, and Directory for Public Worship (with a few more documents), they inherited the unlucky task of wrestling with the question of a profession of faith in baptism. George Gillespie’s Notes of Debates and Proceedings of the Westminster Assembly give us a glimpse into how the Assembly handled it. Read below and decide for yourself if their conclusions about credopaedobaptism were satisfactory.

Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 89-90Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 90Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 91Gillespie, Notes of Debates and Proceedings, 91-1

The 1677 Confession on Open vs Closed Communion

The editors of the confession intentionally avoided addressing open and closed communion in order to allow more churches to be able to subscribe to the confession. The majority of its subscribers were advocates of closed communion, but there had been a strand of open-communion going as far back as Henry Jessey and others among the original Particular Baptists of the 1640’s. To accommodate those, and especially Baptists in Bristol, the confession is silent here.

1677 Appendix, 137-138

By church-communion is meant “official church membership.”

They explain their rationale below.

1677 Appendix, 138-139

Confessions do not exhaustively represent everything that a given church or association holds to be true. For that reason, a line has to be drawn somewhere by which some things are confessed and others not. Unity should be striven for, but never at the cost of truth. In this case the editors extended an olive branch to their open-communion brothers, and exhorted paedobaptists to do the same to them. Remember that through government power (whether controlled by Presbyterians, Independents, or Charles II), the Baptists were persecuted for their view on baptism. Because infant baptism, or christening, was a means of social and political enrollment and enforcement, failure to participate in this process was viewed as a breach of loyalty to the country. You were supposed to be registered in a given parish and required to attend the church of England within that parish. The Baptists did not submit to infant baptism, and they excommunicated their members who left for the church of England. This adds a certain character to their plea for tolerance beyond that of “let’s all get along.”

This is found at the end of the Appendix on baptism.

Click the image for a larger version.

Samuel Fisher contra Stephen Marshall, Daniel Featley, and Thomas Blake on the Great Commission

Speaking of the great commission, Fisher comments:
Samuel Fisher, Babism, 163

It may seem strange to us, but in the context of national churches there were more plausibility structures in place for this kind of argumentation. Nevertheless, Samuel Fisher says, “Really? Really??”

From Samuel Fisher’s “Babybaptism Mere Babism.”

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The Particular Baptist response to the Federal Vision (i.e., Richard Baxter)

Keach, Marrow of Justification, 12-13

Keach, Marrow of Justification, 14

Is faith “sincere obedience” or “faithfulness” or is it “resting and receiving”? Is man’s great sin not persisting in the covenant of grace through unfaithfulness or not entering into the covenant of grace through unfaith, i.e., unbelief? Do we join the covenant in order to be justified or because we have been justified? Is personal holiness (sanctification) a necessary prerequisite for salvation or a necessary benefit and consequence of salvation?

From Benjamin Keach’s “The Marrow of True Justification.”

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