Question: [TBC's] statement that John Calvin taught that Infant Baptism saves betrays a regrettable ignorance of Calvin’s beliefs....I request you publish this clarification of our Protestant, Reformed position. | thebereancall.org

Add This
TBC Staff

Question: In the Dec ’05 issue of TBC there is an important, if not intentional, misrepresentation of fact which merits rectification. The statement that John  Calvin taught that Infant Baptism saves betrays a regrettable ignorance of Calvin’s beliefs. Here is what he really taught, quoting from the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Commenting on 1 Peter:3:21..., Calvin declares, “For he [Peter] did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing: nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament,” Vol. 2, page 513. Again: “We acknowledge, therefore, that at that time [speaking of one baptized as an infant] baptism profited us nothing, since in us the offered promise [of forgiveness of sin which baptism signifies] lay neglected. Now when, by the grace of God, we begin to repent, we accuse our blindness and hardness of heart of having been so long ungrateful for his great goodness” (Vol. 2, p. 522).

From these statements, it is made obvious that although John Calvin practiced infant baptism, as did John Wesley [et al.], he can no more be justly accused of teaching baptismal regeneration than they....Let me close with a final quote from Calvin’s Institutes: “For what is a sacrament received without faith, but most certain destruction to the church? For seeing that nothing is to be expected beyond the promise, and the promise no less denounces wrath to the unbeliever than offers grace to the believer, it is an error to suppose that anything is conferred by the sacraments than is offered by the word of God and obtained by true faith. From this another thing follows—viz., that assurance of salvation does not depend on participation in the sacraments, as if justification existed in it. This, which is treasured up in Christ alone, we know to be communicated, not less by the preaching of the gospel than by the seal of the sacrament, and may be completely enjoyed without this seal” (Vol. 2, p. 501). For the sake of manly fairness and Christian honesty, I request you publish this clarification of our Protestant, Reformed position.

Response: In his Institutes, Calvin contradicted himself, and you have only quoted him selectively. Your first quote comes close to a denial of what I said, which was, “If all one believes is that infant baptism saves, as Calvin taught...one is certainly not saved. If a person believes that he was saved through infant baptism, how is it possible for him, without relinquishing that false belief, to truly be saved by believing the gospel? He has no need of the true gospel, having already been forgiven his sins and made a child of God through infant baptism....” Your second (p. 522) only says that infants don’t understand the value of baptism, not that it has no value.

Your third quote merely says that salvation is possible by believing the gospel without the sacraments, not that baptism cannot or does not save. Now let me quote Calvin: “...at whatever time we are baptised, we are washed and purified once for the whole life...we must...recall our baptism...so as to feel certain and secure of the remission of sins...it wipes and washes away all our defilements” (IV: xv, 3). Again: “God in baptism promises the remission of sins, and will undoubtedly perform what he has promised to all believers. That promise was offered to us in baptism, let us therefore embrace it in faith” (IV: xxv, 17). And, “We have...a similar promise given to the fathers in circumcision, similar to that which is given to us in baptism...the forgiveness of sins and the mortification of the flesh....We deny...that...the power of God cannot regenerate infants....Let God, then, be demanded why he ordered circumcision to be performed on the bodies of infants...by baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ (1 Cor xii.13). [Therefore] infants...are to be baptised...” (IV: xv, 22; xvi, 3, 4, 8, 10, 17-32). I give these quotes in What Love Is This? on pp. 41, 388, 430, among others, and I hold Calvin to these statements. This is a Catholic dogma, yet it was carried over into many “reformed” churches and remains there today.

Furthermore, Calvin never tells of the moment that he renounced the false gospel of Catholicism and believed the true gospel. He extols the sacraments, says they can be performed only by the clergy (including Roman Catholic), and accepts infant baptism by a Catholic priest as efficacious. If he ever renounced Catholicism’s false gospel, when did this occur? And how could he have, considering that he banned from Geneva(1537) and persecuted the Anabaptists who, though raised Catholics, believed the biblical gospel and as a result were born again and baptized as believers?

The fact that Calvin was only baptized once—as an infant—and that he persecuted as heretics those who were baptized as believers, contradicts entirely what you think the quotations you cite mean. Moreover, one of the two charges (brought to the court by Calvin himself) for which Servetus was burned at the stake was his rejection of infant baptism for salvation. Calvin goes into great detail justifying this charge against Servetus and repeatedly scorning Servetus for rejecting the efficacy of infant baptism for salvation. Please read again pages 79-85 of What Love Is This? where I cover the subject thoroughly.