Post Author: Bill Pratt
According to church historian John Hannah, there were four major Protestant streams that developed during the Reformation in the 16th century: Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anabaptism. Each of these streams placed great stress on the idea of salvation by faith alone, yet they did not all agree on what infant baptism means or whether it should even be done.
To my knowledge, all the reformers rejected baptism as the cause of a believer’s salvation; again, salvation is by faith. An infant obviously cannot believe on her own, so if baptism is only a sign of the faith a person possesses, then why are infants baptized?
First, let’s look briefly at Calvinism. According to Hannah, “Calvin defended the baptism of infants, believing that children of the godly are born members of the church by virtue of the hereditary nature of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision having been replaced in the New Covenant with baptism as a sign.”
For Calvin, since infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized under the New Covenant. Infant baptism does not cause regeneration, but it ensures that the child will be taught what she needs to know about Christ when she gets older, so that she can then exercise her own faith. If she dies before she can exercise her own faith, Calvin believed that God could still save her, as He is not limited to save only those who exercise faith (although that is the normal way).
The Anglicans closely followed Calvin on the issue of infant baptism.
Luther also held very similar views to Calvin. He believed that infants, who cannot exercise faith, should be baptized because of the faith of their parents and church family. The faith of the church family could not directly save the infant, but their faith would later help the child to grow in knowledge and receive her own faith from God. Again, infant baptism signifies the entrance of the child into the church where she can be instructed.
The last group, the Anabaptists, differ greatly from the other three streams. The Anabaptists believed that a sign should always follow the thing it signifies, not anticipate it. Hannah explains further Anabaptist views: “People are born into the world lost and need to be regenerated. One does not enter the church as a citizen as one enters the state. In the latter one is naturally born into it; in the former one is spiritually born into it. The state is not the church; the church is not the state.”
The earliest confession of the Anabaptists states: “Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with him in death. . . . This excludes all infant baptism . . . .”
So what do you think? Should infants be baptized? Please vote in the poll below.