Some years back I published a book review in the pages of Modern Reformation magazine. Some responded with a letter to the editor complaining that I had distinguished between the Reformed churches and the Baptist churches. My revised response is below.
Evidently the earliest Baptists did not call themselves “Reformed.” They knew better. According to Crawford Gribben, Baptists were designating themselves as Baptists in 1653. Keach used it of Baptists in 1697. A Quaker observer distinguished between “General” and “Particular” Baptists in 1672 (so Gribben). These designations pre-dated the nomenclature, “Reformed Baptist” by 400 years. I cannot find the expression “Reformed Baptist” in the 17th century. If it was used it was not by the Reformed theologians and churches. As the Baptist writer Pascal Denault has observed, the Reformed tended to class the Particular Baptists with the Anabaptists, Socinians, and other heretical groups. The Reformed churches never accepted the Baptist Churches as Reformed. There were seated at the Westminster Assembly Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans but no Baptists. Polity is one thing, covenant theology and sacramental practice are something else.
This is in part, as Denault argues, because the Reformed and the Baptists have significantly different covenant theologies with some Baptists denying that the covenant of grace even existed in history prior to the ratification of the new covenant. The Reformed regularly distinguished between the substance of the covenant of grace (e.g., Olevianus, 1585) and its various administrations and between external membership in the visible covenant community and an internal, spiritual apprehension of Christ and his benefits by grace alone, through faith alone.
In the Reformation, the Reformed Churches appealed to the unrevoked divine promises to Abraham, “I will be a God to you and to your children, which the Apostle Peter reiterated in Acts 2:39 and thus confessed infant baptism as essential to the Reformed faith and practice. In contrast, as Denault observes, the Baptists wanted to know who were the regenerate and to restrict the visible church to them. The two traditions read Jeremiah 31:31–34 quite differently.
In 1530, Huldrych Zwingli confessed infant baptism to the Diet of Augsburg as did the Tetrapolitan Confession (ch. 18; 1530). The First Confession of Basel (Art. 12; 1534), First Helvetic Confession (Art. 22; 1536), Calvin’s catechisms (1537, 1538, 1545), The Geneva Confession (Art. 15; 1536/1537), and the French Confession (Art. 35; 1559), all confessed the moral necessity of infant baptism. In the Belgic Confession (Art. 34; 1561) the Dutch Reformed Churches confess, “We detest the error of the Anabaptists” specifically the practice of re-baptizing believers and denying infant baptism. The Second Helvetic Confession (1561/1566; ch. 20) specifically condemned the denial of paedobaptism. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 74; 1563) insisted on infant baptism. The Westminster Confession 28.5 (1647) arguably (so Jonathan Moore in 2007) calls the “neglect” or condemnation of infant baptism “a great sin.”
In light of this evidence, it is hard to see how insisting on infant baptism is anything but consistent with the covenant theology and confession of the Reformed Churches, in which one finds not only a soteriology but also an ecclesiology and doctrine of the sacraments.