Why The Reformed Churches Do Not Re-Baptize Roman Converts

XXVIII. In this belief we declare that, properly speaking, there can be no Church where the Word of God is not received, nor profession made of subjection to it, nor use of the sacraments. Therefore we condemn the papal assemblies, as the pure Word of God is banished from them, their sacraments are corrupted, or falsified, or destroyed, and all superstitions and idolatries are in them. We hold, then, that all who take part in these acts, and commune in that Church, separate and cut themselves off from the body of Christ Nevertheless, as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy, and the virtue and substance of baptism remain, and as the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon the person who administers it, we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism. But, on account of its corruptions, we can not present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution.

French Confession (1559).

25 comments

  1. Rome “baptizes” in the name of a “Father” who is happy to share his title of “Holy Father” with a Pope, of a “Son”, who is happy to be a piece of bread and wine at the whim of a “Priest”, and a “Holy Spirit”, who is happy for a Pope to share his title of “Vicar of Christ”. The words used may indeed be “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, but the name in which Rome baptizes is a very different name from the true Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. A name is more than just the words used in invoking it.

    • Fred,

      The Reformed churches recognized that Rome had corrupted the Christian faith and practice in significant ways but evidently the They (the Reformed churches) did not share your analysis of these problems. That Calvin, Beza, et al did not agree with you does not make them right but it might give you pause.

  2. Dr. Clark, what is meant by “…on account of its corruptions, we can not present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution.”? This statement puzzles me a bit.

    • David,

      The Reformed churches in France (and Geneva) were emerging from the corruption of the church by Rome. They still recognized in Rome, even with all her corruptions, enough of the faith to recognize her Trinitarian baptism as valid. Still, they did not want to encourage people to remain in the Roman communion as “Nicodemites,” those who professed adherence to the Reformed confession but who remained in Rome to keep peace in the family, nor did they want to people to continue to present children for baptism in the Roman communion but to join themselves to the true church.

    • Hi Bob!

      No and yes. No, inasmuch as they were never baptized in the first place. By definition any administration by an anti-Trinitarian cult/sect (e.g., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, UPC) is not a baptism. Yes, anyone coming out of such a cult/sect into a Trinitarian Christian church should be baptized.

    • Robert,

      I’m not sure if you’re addressing me but Trent concluded in 1563 and the French Reformed Confession was published in 1559. Trent had done most of its work by then. The Reformed Churches reached their conclusions in light of Trent.

    • Apologies for getting chummy, Scott, Frank Aderholdt did write
      “Beam me up, Scottie” on the “Against The Star Trek Christology”
      so I used that as justification!

      I agree with RC Sprouls position on Rome that:

      Ask RC: Should we accept a Roman Catholic baptism as legitimate?

      The vast majority of Protestants since the time of the Reformation take the view
      that we should accept Roman Catholic baptism. Several reasons are proffered.
      First, the donatist controversy. During the days of the Diocletian persecution
      there were those professing Christians who essentially repudiated the faith. The Donatists argued that the sacraments performed by those who recanted the faith
      were therefore invalid. Saint Augustine wisely argued that the efficacy of a
      sacrament is not tied to the faith of the one administering it. Second, there is the
      reality that at the time of the Reformation the magisterial Reformers accepted
      Roman Catholic baptism as valid. Third, there is nothing unbiblical about what is
      said in the Roman Catholic baptism, and it is said in the same Trinitarian formula
      as Protestant baptism. Fourth, many Protestants consider Rome to be a deeply
      flawed, chock-full-of-serious-errors true church and her baptisms irregular, but
      valid.

      While I certainly understand this common view I do not embrace it. Baptism is,
      among other things, that sacrament by which one enters into the visible church.
      Rome, after the formal adoption of the sixth session of the Council of Trent,
      became an apostate church. That makes her in my judgment not merely a bad
      church, but a former church. A bad husband is one who is unfaithful. A rightly
      divorced husband, though he had had to be married in order to be unfaithful,
      is no longer a husband. if I am correct, being baptized into a local Roman
      Catholic church is not being baptized into a part of the visible church.

      While the Trinity is a necessary, beautiful, critically important doctrine, while I
      believe that to deny it is to deny the faith, that it was the key issue for the first 500
      years of the church after the ascension, this does not make it the alone necessary doctrine for a church to be a church. Any “church” for instance, that denies the resurrection of the body is not a church, and we should not accept their baptisms.
      In like manner, any “church” that says that anyone who teaches we are justified
      by faith apart from the works of the law should be damned, as Rome says in the
      sixth session of the Council of Trent, even if they affirm the Trinity, is not rightly administering the sacrament.

      Which brings us to the Reformers. Though they may have addressed this and I
      missed it, it is important to remember that they are answering the question
      principally in a pre-Trent context. They are dealing with people who were
      baptized before Rome ceased to be a church, however weak they might have been
      up to that point. I don’t think Calvin or Luther or Zwingli, etc. needed to be
      baptized again because they were baptized when Rome was still a church.

      Finally, the distinction between the Donatist issue and this issue is here- I am not saying that the unbelief of the one administering the sacrament makes it invalid.
      I am saying the unbelief of the institution into which one is being “baptized”
      makes it invalid. It’s not that the baptizer disbelieves, but that the church is not a church.

      As rare as my position may be I am by no means the only one to take it. The
      southern Presbyterian tradition takes the same position. On the other hand, it
      has always been my practice not to impose my view on anyone. No one should
      ever get into any trouble for agreeing with Luther, Calvin, Warfield and Hodge
      and disagreeing with me. I believe Christians should submit to the wisdom of
      their shepherds on this issue, and I believe elders should be gracious toward their sheep.

    • Robert,

      Can you clarify where the quotation from RC begins and ends?

      The question as to whether Rome is a church of any kind is difficult but it does not seem obvious that she was any more corrupt in 1561, when the Belgic Confession was published (or in 1560s and 70s when it was adopted) than it was in 1547, when Rome condemned the gospel. After that, whatever she did was, as it were, just more corrupt gravy.

  3. As somewhat of an outside observer to this obviously paedobatist consideration (I’m a confessional Reformed Baptist who re-baptizes RCCs), it seems to me that to make Calvin’s transitional, and seemingly pragmatic, statement regarding this matter into a permanent position for all Reformed churches, is nonsensical. I greatly respect Calvin, you, the URC, and WSC, but this receiving of the baptism of those baptized by an apostate, antichrist organization, violates biblical, reasonable theology. I don’t expect you to agree with my conclusion, but I couldn’t let this go by without comment (I’m a regular reader of this blog).

    • Larry,

      The Confession of the French Reformed Churches is not Calvin’s private opinion. This is the confession of the churches. It was a conclusion to which the churches came after prayer and deliberation. Most all of the ministers, elders, deacons, and members had been Roman Catholics. They were well aware of the extent to which Rome had become corrupt. They saw it with their own eyes and some of them suffered for their fidelity to the gospel by giving their lives on the scaffold or at the stake.

      It is not as the Reformed churches were soft on Rome. After all, they denounced the Bishop of Rome as anti-Christ and Rome as a false church but they nevertheless accepted their baptism. So, when they concluded from their study of the Word and church history (e.g., the Donatist controversy) that Roman baptism, because it is Trinitarian and because enough of the truth remained (though veiled) in the Roman communion such that their baptism is still a Christian baptism, we should not take it lightly.

      For what it’s worth, this was the conclusion reached by virtually all the Reformed churches. I say “virtually” only to cover myself but I am not aware of a Reformed body in the British Isles or Europe that rejected Roman baptism.

      It’s valuable to consider the conclusions of the Reformed churches as we struggle with this. What should we make of a baptism by Campus Crusade workers (e.g., in a swimming pool)? Is it a baptism? That the Reformed churches accepted Roman baptisms as irregular but valid gives us a paradigm. It also helps the Reformed know how to think about baptisms performed in Baptist congregations, who though they do not usually accept infant baptism as valid (why would they? Isn’t that the point of being Baptist?) we have a category by which to accept theirs: irregular but valid.

  4. “I’m a confessional Reformed Baptist who re-baptizes ”

    Larry,
    Are you one of those Baptists who re-baptize those in their church who had been baptized IN THE VERY SAME CHURCH previously, but who later conclude that they weren’t truly regenerate when they were initially baptized?

    • I am a confessional Reformed Baptist who believes and practices credo-baptism. We’ve never done what you ask about, although in theory we might. We have re-baptized applicants to membership (maybe 2-3 in the 22 years I’ve been a pastor at my current church) who came from another evangelical church but who gave credible reason for requesting baptism as a believer. We’ve re-baptized a couple of folks from SBC churches, both of whom gave us good reason to believe they had been baptized before their conversion. We believe we must give due diligence in this, so sometimes we conclude that the request is not warranted. A request for baptism is sometimes not as clear a matter as we wish for.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    I realize the point of the post is to consider our own opinions in light of the early Reformation fathers’ opinions, but I would just concur with Sproul here, that there is absolutely no certainty that in God’s sight Rome is a church. We have no visible, logical means by which to hope that the Roman communion has the vestiges of the apostolic religion, right?

    I wonder, if we receive the baptism of Rome, doesn’t that mean we are legitimizing her priesthood as well?

    • Adam,

      1. These are are not the private opinions of some early Reformed individuals. This was the sober, prayerful judgment of the Reformed Churches.

      2. When we interpret this language in the context of the whole confession, whether the French Confession or the Belgic or other similar churchly document, we see that the churches were not naive about Rome nor were they legitimizing the wicked things the Roman communion claims and does. They did see, however, enough of the truth remaining in the Roman communion and a Trinitarian baptism to warrant receiving Rome’s administration of baptism as irregular but valid.

      3. Maybe this helps put it in perspective: As far as I know, the Reformed churches also accepted the administration of baptism by nursemaids and Anabaptists. The latter denied the true humanity of Christ and salvation sola gratia, sola fide. From the perspective of the Reformed churches, the Anabaptists were about as corrupt as Rome. The Reformed wanted to be as ecumenical as possible regarding the validity of baptism. So that when they refuse a baptism, that is very serious judgment indeed.

    • Would you say then, that it is schismatic or sinful for a Reformed church to ajudge a Roman convert in need of baptism, to effectively disagree with the early Reformed fathers?

    • Adam,

      No, I would not draw that conclusion. The southern Presbyterian churches (and at least one old-school northern Presbyterian GA) have tended to re-baptize Roman converts. I agree with the judgment of the earlier Reformed churches. I suspect that we are more influenced by the prevailing Baptist-revivalist-Evangelical ethos than we may recognize. As a consequence, we are sometimes more prepared to accept baptisms from non-Roman communions and even extra-ecclesiastical organizations before those of the Roman communion.

      My hope, in alerting people to the older view, is to give people an opportunity to think through the issue from another point of view rather than to assume the correctness of the status quo.

  6. Dr. Scott,
    Since Reformed churches don’t consider baptism to be part of salvation itself, whereas Baptist churches do, why don’t we require the re-baptism of someone who joins a reformed church because of it’s completely different meaning? I would certainly have to be re-baptized by immersion if I wanted to join a baptist church, even a Reformed Baptist church.

    • Sorry, but this is baloney. I can’t say that _some_ Baptists out there, somewhere, believe that baptism is “part of salvation itself,” but this is not standard and would generally be regarded as a false teaching akin to works righteousness. To quote the website of the local Independent Baptist Church, which is about as fundamentalist as they come: “Baptists only baptize those who have trusted Christ as their personal Savior. Baptism does not have any ‘saving power’ but it simply and publicly identifies one as a ‘Believer.'” Similarly, the Southern Baptist Convention’s web page on “How to become a Christian” does not mention baptism once.

  7. Scott,
    Looking around the web, It seems that Rome accepts the Baptisms of Protestant &
    other Churches as valid (don’t know if this is a post Vat II thing) if they are performed
    with proper matter,form & intent.

    I. The “matter” is water baptism by pouring, sprinkling, or immersing the one
    being baptized
    II. The “form” is the Trinitarian formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father,
    and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
    III. The “intent” is that the minister must intend to do what the Church does when
    baptizing

    On a personal note they would invalidate a “baptism” if one person was to pour the
    water while another person pronounced the words of the formula, this is how my
    Baptism in an Assemblies of God Church was performed, the elderly Minister
    remained on the podium, pronouncing the words of the Trinitarian Formula, whilst
    a Church Helper(s) performed the immersion, would this invalidate my Baptism
    or just make it an irregular one?

  8. The idea of re-baptism is an important pastoral issue. More than a handful of times I have been asked about this by those desiring to be members of our local congregation. I find that the question has to answer the RC baptisms and evangelical baptisms. While Rome lacks the Gospel, the same could be said about the preaching and practices of contemporary evangelical churches.

    I also find that while the objections are understandable and I can sympathize with them, ultimately we trust in the objective message of the baptism (Rom 4:11-12).

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