Between The Anabaptists And The Romanists: Calvin Defended Infant Baptism Sola Scriptura

I do not, however, concede to [Rome] that Paedobaptism had its origin in the Tradition of the Church. It certainly appears to be founded on the institution of God, and to have derived its origin from circumcision. It would have little foundation if it depended only on the will of man. Accordingly, we must hold it as an universal rule, that no Sacrament is legitimate, unless it be of God and not of men. But to return to the present subject; not only the Blessing of the Pascal taper, the Exorcism of Water, and similar follies, which are of endless number, but the ritual of the Mass, and all the impious worship of this description, they make perfectly pure by a simple process, by merely giving them the name of Traditions, so that everything to which time has given a kind of prescriptive right is, as it were, placed beyond controversy, and holds up its head among the commandments of God. Will no man oppose this? Nay, rather a thousand times incur the obloquy of disturbing the peace, than by perfidious dissimulation betray the essential truth which is here endangered.

John Calvin, On The Truth Method of Giving Peace to Christendom in Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 269.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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9 comments

  1. Well, as a replacement for circumcision I have no issue with it. That being said, the practice of infant baptism was deemed heretical once it replaced the act of adult baptism – God requires very few sacraments from us. It’s Satan’s job to take away as many as he can, including the decision to follow God in the baptism ritual outlined in scripture.

    • Eric,

      What do you mean “heretical”? By whom, i.e., by which ecclesiastical body or council was it so deemed?

      Infant baptism was practiced by the early 3rd (200s) certainly and unequivocally by 250 AD. There’s some (disputed) evidence of it in the 2nd century. It was practiced by the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation churches. The latter condemned the Anabaptists for denying it. The Reformed churches confess it explicitly in the Belgic Confession.

      If infant baptism succeeds circumcision, and since infants were circumcised, then it would seem that infants should be baptized. For more on this see this resource page:

      https://heidelblog.net/a-curriculum-for-those-wrestling-through-covenant-theology-and-infant-baptism/

    • Interesting. Where does the notion infant baptism replaced adult baptism come from? I’m a Reformed Protestant who understands all in the Covenant Community are required to receive the Covenant sign of Baptism. I’d be interested to know where your information comes from.

    • As much could be argued against circumcision. No doubt as the church of Israel grew it’s sacramental administration of circumcision was more frequently administered to family offspring than to adult converts. It’s quite logical and biblical and no doubt all part of God’s design. Malachi says He designed marriage for a holy seed.

  2. Calvin’s general denouncement of adding to (changing) the sacraments is greatly undermined by his admission that the intentional apostolic mode of baptism was immersion, yet declaring other modes acceptable on the stated basis that “the church did grant itself the liberty to change the rite somewhat.”

    • Phil,

      I don’t agree with Calvin as to the original mode of baptism. I don’t think the church has the authority to change the mode of baptism. I don’t know that we have ontology certainty as to mode, but I think a good case can be made from Scripture and from history for effusion. That said, the Reformed view for centuries has been that the mode is morally indifferent.

    • Understood. Yet I think my point regarding Calvin’s credibility in this area stands. The fact also remains that the vast majority of Christian theologians, including among the Reformed through the mid 18th century or so, believed immersion was the apostolic mode of baptism. Were they all just bad or careless biblical exegetes? Of those who offered a specific reason why they thought pouring and/or sprinkling were nonetheless justified, the supposed dangers of immersion in cold climates, particularly in the case of infants, was the most common. Later Reformed polemical arguments – once the battle had escalated with the strict Baptists – began to see circumstantial evidence that modes other than immersion were also, or as a few have contended, exclusively used in the NT. Personally, while I am not a strict Baptist in the sense that I see non-immersion baptisms as invalid (1 Pet. 3:21), I think other modes are an unfortunate and impovershing abridgment similar to the practice of intinction in the Lord’s Supper. Pax.

  3. If it can be demonstrated the word baptize or baptism demands it only be defined as immersion then the baptists have a point. But if that word or its derivatives in scriptural usage broaden that scope of definition to include anything in addition to immersion the baptists are merely arguing, like they do with believer baptism, a part of the whole which all others already grant.

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