Question: I was not aware until recently that, like Lutherans, those who claim to be of “Reformed” faith...practice infant baptism. Do they believe that baptism saves the infant? They say it is like circumcision for Jews. Is this biblical? |

TBC Staff

Question: I was not aware until recently that, like Lutherans, those who claim to be of “Reformed” faith, such as Presbyterians, practice infant baptism. Do they believe that baptism saves the infant? They say it is like circumcision for Jews. Is this biblical?

Response: Luther and Calvin had been Roman Catholics and carried much Catholicism (including sacramentalism) over into the Reformation. Every Lutheran church follows Luther’s Small Catechism, published by Concordia Publishing House of the Missouri Synod. Here is what it says (emphasis theirs):

242....By a Sacrament we mean a sacred act—A. Instituted by God Himself; B. In which there are certain visible means connected with His word; and C. By which God offers, gives, and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins which Christ has earned for us....243....There are only two such Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper....251. How do you prove that infants, too, are to be baptized...? A. Because they are included in the words ‘all nations’....B. Because Holy Baptism is the only means whereby infants, who, too, must be born again, can ordinarily be regenerated and brought to faith....253. What...does Baptism give or work? A. It works forgiveness of sins....B. It delivers from death and the devil....C. It gives eternal salvation....

Calvin likewise taught that “God in baptism promises remission of sins...let us therefore embrace it in faith” (Institutes, IV: xv, 17). He taught that the gospel was no sure way of bringing people to Christ because not everyone hearing it was among the elect; but that everyone who was baptized was among the elect if he believed in his baptism—and children of the elect were automatically elect. He taught that through baptism (even though performed by an unbelieving Roman Catholic priest), “God, regenerating us...ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption....” (Institutes, IV: xvii, 1). This is sacramental salvation by works as practiced in Roman Catholicism and was brought into “Reformed theology” by Calvin as well as by Luther. Calvin derided Anabaptists for being rebaptized as believers because they “deny that we are duly baptised, because we were baptised in the papacy by wicked men and idolaters....” (Institutes, IV: xv, 16,17).

In the New Geneva Study Bible (p. 38), R. C. Sproul argues for the efficacy of infant baptism, likening it to circumcision. He is following Calvin who wrote, “The promise one in both [circumcision and baptism]—viz....forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And the thing figured is one and the same— viz. regeneration....Hence we may conclude, that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to is incontrovertible, that baptism has been substituted for circumcision, and performs the same office” (IV: xvi, 4).

Calvin’s and Sproul’s analogy won’t hold for several reasons. First of all, circumcision did not produce regeneration or effect forgiveness of sins or salvation, but was for all physical descendants of Abraham. For Jews only it was a sign of the old covenant that involved the land and was inappropriate for Gentiles. Nor did circumcision have any spiritual significance without the same faith in God that Abraham had. Even Ishmael, a rank unbeliever and outside Israel, was circumcised. Furthermore, it is a common medical practice for many non-Jewish male children to be circumcised today.

Sproul (New Geneva Study Bible, p. 1740) tries to argue for household baptism from Acts:10:47,48 and 16:31-33. It is clear from the verses, however, that only those who believed the gospel were baptized. Cornelius told Peter that everyone present was there “to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts:10:33). “The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” The Gentile converts began to “speak with tongues and magnify God” and Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (10:44-48). All who were baptized had heard and had believed the gospel (impossible for infants) and had spoken in tongues as a sign to the Jews that Gentiles also could be saved. Clearly, no infants were baptized.

As for the Philippian jailor’s household, Paul and Silas “spake...the word of the all that were in his house” (Acts:16:32). Once again, there were no infants; only those were present who were able to understand and believe the gospel. And it is such persons who were then baptized as a result of their faith in Christ.

The Ethiopian asked, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts:8:36,37). Infants can’t understand or believe the gospel and thus cannot biblically be baptized.

That only those who have believed the gospel are to be baptized is also clear from Christ’s command to His disciples: “teach all nations, baptizing them” (Mt 28:19); and “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk 16:16). Those who teach baptismal regeneration point to the latter verse for support. Note, however, that whereas a multitude of passages offer salvation through faith alone with no mention of baptism, neither here nor anywhere else does Scripture indicate that those who believe but are not baptized are not saved.