Monday, November 14, 2011

Calvin and Baptism of the Believer

As a Reformed Baptist, I have always been grieved by the divide between pedobaptists and credobaptists in the beautiful and rich garden of Reformed theology. I readily admit that both branches of this family have good defences of their views based on numerous passages of Scripture. Not being much of a debater myself, I'd like to highlight this teaching by John Calvin concerning believer's baptism. By posting this selection from the "Catechism of the Church of Geneva" I'm not trying to argue that Calvin was a credobaptist. I would, however, like to suggest that in his wonderful elaboration of believer's baptism there is room for a peace in the garden of Reformed theology. May we boast only in the Lord and His cross in all things.

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Scholar Baptism is a kind of entrance into the Church; for we have in it a testimony that we who are otherwise strangers and aliens, are received into the family of God, so as to be counted of His household...

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Master ...what is the meaning of Baptism?

Scholar It consists of two parts. For, first, Forgiveness of sins, and secondly, Spiritual regeneration, is figured by it. (Ephesians 5:26; Romans 6:4).

Master What resemblance has water with these things, so as to represent them?

Scholar Forgiveness of sins is a kind of washing, by which our souls are cleansed from their defilements, just as bodily stains are washed away by water.

Master What do you say of Regeneration?

Scholar Since the mortification of our nature is its beginning, and our becoming new creatures its end, a figure of death is set before us when the water is poured upon the head, and the figure of a new life when instead of remaining immersed under water, we only enter it for a moment as a kind of grave, out of which we instantly emerge. [desert rat: notice that Calvin uses both language of affusion and immersion here.]

Master Do you think that the water is a washing of the soul?

Scholar By no means; for it were impious to snatch away this honor from the blood of Christ, which was shed in order to wipe away all our stains, and render us pure and unpolluted in the sight of God. (1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7). And we receive the fruit of this cleansing when the Holy Spirit sprinkles our consciences with that sacred blood. Of this we have a seal in the Sacrament.

Master But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

Scholar I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when He promises us His gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

Master Is this grace bestowed on all indiscriminately?

Scholar Many precluding its entrance by their depravity, make it void to themselves. Hence the benefit extends to believers only, and yet the Sacrament loses nothing of its nature.

Master Whence is Regeneration derived?

Scholar From the Death and Resurrection of Christ taken together. His death hath this efficacy, that by means of it our old man is crucified, and the vitality of our nature in a manner buried, so as no more to be in vigor in us. Our reformation to a new life, so as to obey the righteousness of God, is the result of the resurrection.

Master How are these blessings bestowed upon us by Baptism?

Scholar If we do not render the promises there offered unfruitful by rejecting them, we are clothed with Christ, and presented with His Spirit.

Master What must we do in order to use Baptism duly?

Scholar The right use of Baptism consists in faith and repentance; that is, we must first hold with a firm heartfelt reliance that, being purified from all stains by the blood of Christ, we are pleasing to God: secondly, we must feel His Spirit dwelling in us, and declare this to others by our actions, and we must constantly exercise ourselves in aiming at the mortification of our flesh, and obedience to the righteousness of God.

Excerpts from the "Catechism of the Church of Geneva" taken from Treatises on the Sacraments (Christian Heritage, 2003), 86-87.

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