Calvin, Berkhof, Infant Baptism, and Me

For most of the weekend, I find myself at the feet of John Calvin and Louis Berkhof on the issue of infant baptism (not much difference between Berkhof and Horton, for I find the latter to be echoing the former).  The end result you might ask?  Before I get to that, let me share two reasons why I’ve exerted so much energy on infant baptism:

First, two of my colleagues are Presbyterians.  We discuss this matter of infant baptism all the time.  Back in California, a fellow pastor and I would discuss the matter oft.  So I said to myself that I really need to get a better handle on the matter.  Over the years as a Baptist, I’ve dismissed infant baptism a priori, not giving it much thought.

Second, the issue of baptizing our two children came up–our son 8 and our daughter 6, at the time.  They have not made professions of faith, and neither do we intend to force such on them.  But I was forced to rethink the matter, especially given the fact that my Presbyterian colleagues and I discuss the matter all the time.

On Calvin and Berkhof.  Though I’ve studied the matter of infant baptism in the past and have read not a few on the matter, everything seemed to come together while pouring over Calvin and Berkhof: from the continuity of the covenant to the nature of circumcision, the sign and seal of this covenant with Abraham and his offspring (how that it was more than a physical matter and why it was applied to infants apart from a profession of faith, though not the case with Abraham, Rom 4:11; cf. Gen 15:6).

As to the mode of baptism, I was presented the most challenge, given my Baptist mindset of baptism as immersion (even Calvin conceded on this; see Institutes 4.15.19).  But alas, I think the matter of mode is inconsequential,  whether sprinkling or immersion.  And as to texts like Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:11-12, it’s the import and not mode of baptism we should be after, as a closer reminder of context would reveal.

All my objections to infant baptism have been thus removed.

However, what is in my head has not made it to my heart.  It’s all cerebral at the moment.  I shared the matter with my dear wife.  Now the matter is up to the good Lord.  I will not force the issue.

This entry was posted in Baptism, Baptists, Infant Baptism, John Calvin, Louis Berkhof, Michael S. Horton and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Calvin, Berkhof, Infant Baptism, and Me

  1. Lon says:

    Howdy. Fun working this through isn’t it? 😉 Here’s a few of my thoughts…
    Mode: Even when I was staunchly anti-paedo-baptism, it seemed to me that the mode is inconsequential. Example: Do you really think the Roman and Jewish officials allowed Peter to immerse 3,000 dirty bodies into Jerusalem’s drinking water on the day of Pentecost?
    Covenant: I totally get the covenant arguments. But for one verse in Colossians 2 in which I think Paul clearly ties repentance with baptism (as did John the Baptist), I would be completely sold on paedo-baptism. Unfortunately, there’s that pesky verse in Colossians. Thus, I think I have to allow for both, either, and even both on the same individual if someone so chose.

    • TC says:

      Lon, howdy as well. It’s not an easy matter to work through. It requires much study and prayer and not to be hastily decided upon.

      (1) Good point about Pentecost. Perhaps it would have been good to read the Jerusalem Times on the matter as well. 😉

      (2) Yes, John Piper says that same thing about Colossians 2. It’s what “saved” him from the paedobaptist side, given that he did he doctorate at a Lutheran school in Germany.

      As it goes, I’m still Baptist. 😀

  2. Colin Heath says:

    TC, you are clearly on some journey! To a lesser extent it was one I made myself, though I never cam to faith during my upbringing in a Baptist Church. That came in the CoE, including the gentle probing and wise vicar , with 6 months to retiring, who counselled me and prepared me for Baptism and Confirmation. I have probably made a greater heart connection than you have felt able to do. In particular I have felt it wholly natural to take the questions of who and how we baptise as linked but separate. As I suggested when I first commented on this blog some 5 years ago!

    Cranmer’s rubric states that the curate will dip the child, which is why most old fonts in the UK are so large. The Roman Catholic I have read rubric states that dipping is ideal. In my case we did not have a baptistry so I was sprinkled, by the presiding Bishop, who then completed the Anglican process by laying on his hands in confirmation. That seemed a natural process. Incidently there was no pressure on me either way from the vicar.

    If you want yet further reading try Googling the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland website. They have articles both on the rightness of child baptism and suggesting the sprinkling is the “proper way”. I cannot say I agree with all their exegisis on the latter.

    I like the fact that a nearby parish church which was rebuilt recently has both a font and a baptistry.

    • TC says:

      Colin, I’ve made it something of a discipline to put everything that I believe to the acid test of Scripture and being willing to adjust accordingly. I tend to practice that fact that every generation of new believers need to rethink Scripture, but of course not divorce from theological ancestors.

      As mentioned in the post, the issue of baptism has become necessary. But I have been willing to go there.

      Yes, I was somewhat humbled at the references to sprinkling in the OT in connection with covenant ratification and so on. Then of course Ezekiel 36:25 is instructive when we think of baptism as a sacrament of purification and so on.

  3. I recommend the book, A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism by Matt Waymeyer. Best book I have read on the subject. I also recommend the friendly debate between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul over infant baptism. I believe that MacArthur wins the debate through his use of Scripture versus Sproul’s use of logic and tradition.

    • TC says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve listened to that debate as well. Good stuff from both sides. Yes, I do favor MacArthur’s side of the debate.

      In the end, it comes down to continuity and discontinuity of the covenants and who make up the new covenant people of God.

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