Did The Reformation Corrupt The Gospel By Baptizing Babies?

That is just one of a series of claims made recently by my friend Mark Dever, who is a devout Baptist. Rather than reading my summary of Mark’s claims, you should watch this brief video clip for yourself, to which I will respond below in a series of bullet points.

RESPONSES

  1. Regenerate church membership and baptismal regeneration. The video above is only a partial clip, but the first question asked was on regenerate church membership. Mark asserts that the Anabaptist and Baptist conviction that only regenerate people may be members of the visible church is in continuity with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. It is partly true that the Roman and Eastern traditions believed in regenerate church membership. The late Patristic church, the Medieval church, and the Byzantine church came to teach that, at the moment of baptism, the baptized person is granted new life. It became dogma in the medieval church that the sacraments work ex opere, meaning that they necessarily confer what they signify. One does not necessarily find that view in the earliest church fathers. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration developed gradually and began to come to clear expression in the fourth century. Thus, Mark’s assertion, “it was paedobaptist Protestants who missed that point,” is misleading. Setting Luther himself aside (the Small Catechism does not teach baptismal regeneration but it is probably in other of his later works), Lutheran orthodoxy, as represented by the Book of Concord, certainly taught baptismal regeneration. I suppose that Mark must have had in mind the Reformed rejection of baptismal regeneration. It is claimed that some Reformed theologians (e.g., Calvin) taught that baptism confers new life at the moment of administration. This is disputed. I am far from convinced that Calvin taught it and I do not find it in the Reformed confessions. The Geneva Catechism (1545) opposed baptismal regeneration. The Heidelberg Catechism certainly does not teach baptismal regeneration. Indeed, in it we confess that the Holy Spirit creates new life “through the preaching of the Holy gospel,” and that the sacraments “confirm” the preached gospel (HC 65). The Belgic Confession (1561) neither teaches nor implies baptismal regeneration. In it, the churches took the same approach to baptism and regeneration as the Heidelberg. The Canons of Dort (1619)  neither teach nor imply baptismal regeneration. If the Westminster Standards teach baptismal regeneration, which I doubt very much, they certainly do not do so explicitly or clearly. Thus, I agree partly with Mark that the Reformed churches rejected the doctrine of baptismal regeneration but I do not think, therefore, that they “missed that point.” They consciously rejected the late patristic, medieval, and Byzantine position on baptismal regeneration. The evidence is that the earliest post-apostolic churches practiced infant baptism. Both Tertullian and Origen testify that infant baptism was the practice of the second century church. Augustine wrote that infant baptism was the universal practice of the ancient church. If the ancient church practiced infant baptism before teaching baptismal regeneration (they did), then the two are not necessarily or inextricably bound together. One reason they did so is their adoption and elaboration of covenant theology in response to the Anabaptists. They recognized that God instituted signs and seals under the types and shadows (e.g., infant circumcision under Abraham), and commanded the application of the sign to the children of believers—yet, it is evident that not everyone who receives the sign is necessarily regenerate. After all, the first person to receive the sign of initiation was Ishmael. Esau also received the sign. The Reformed understood early on (c. 1524) that the church’s business is to administer the visible covenant of grace, but it is God’s business who is and is not elect. Mark’s hyperbole, that, according to the Reformed “there is a church full of unregenerate people,” is clearly intended for comic effect and not meant to be taken seriously, so I will interpret it as intended. It is, after all, one thing to recognize the existence of unregenerate people in the congregation (as happened even in the apostolic church). “Not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6) and Paul’s distinction between external and internal members (Rom 2:28) are as true in the New Covenant as they were under the types and shadows: Judas (Acts 1:25), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Simon the Magician (Acts 8:18–25), Hymneaeus (1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17). Hebrews 6:4–6 reflects on the actual apostasy from some in that congregation, as does Hebrew 10:29. Fred Greco (on Twitter) is right. Baptists do not really practice regenerate church membership. They practice professing church membership, as we do. In that case, the alleged Baptist advantage evaporates.
  2. Protecting the gospel by getting rid of infant baptism and adopting congregational polity. Again, Mark was obviously exercised by what he perceives as condescension from Episcopalians and Presbyterians. It is a Baptist habit to adopt the posture of a persecuted minority even when they are not. Mark’s congregation is larger than some Reformed denominations, and the Southern Baptist Church is 26 times the size of all the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed churches in North America combined. They are hardly a persecuted minority. I agree with him that Bishops will probably not help Baptists to remain orthodox, but I am convinced that regional assemblies of ministers and elders can and do help. The Reformed churches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries agreed. None of the sixteenth-century Reformed churches were congregational in polity, and whether congregationalism was correct was hotly debated at the Westminster Assembly, which included Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Independents. John Owen, at different times, held all three positions. I do not remember him arguing that his final position on ecclesiology was essential to the preservation of the gospel. As Colton Brewer noted on Twitter, Congregational polity did not help the New England congregationalists avoid Unitarianism. Further, all the magisterial Protestants, who, unlike the Anabaptists, recovered the gospel for us all in the early sixteenth century, practiced infant baptism. The only groups who practiced regenerate church membership and who rejected infant baptism were chiliastic, mystical, Pentecostal, moralistic fanatics (i.e., the Anabaptists, or as Zwingli called them, “Catabaptists“). The Anabaptists held an Independent church polity and they rejected the Reformation doctrines of salvation (sola gratia, sola fide), so their polity seems not to have helped them much. The Particular Baptists aligned themselves strongly with the Reformation soteriology, but did their General Baptist forebears from the preceding two or three decades? Congregationalism certainly did not seem to help Richard Baxter, who flatly rejected the Reformation doctrines of justification and salvation. If the Reformed are so compromised regarding the gospel, why do Baptists appropriate their catechisms and confessions? Hercules Collins’ made a revision of the Heidelberg, and there’s a London Baptist revision of the Westminster Confession. To whom do the Baptists turn for their defense of the gospel when it is challenged by moralists like the Federal Vision? Do they not turn to Reformed paedobaptists (there are no other sort of Reformed)? From whom did the Particular Baptists learn their doctrine of salvation, if not from the Reformed, with whom they so strongly identify? If the Reformed have so gravely endangered the gospel, why is Mark so anxious to identify with us? Perhaps this is a turning point where the Particular Baptists will leave us behind, embrace their own history, and identity as their own rather than revising ours? Has Baptist congregationalism really preserved the gospel as well as Mark suggests? Is the SBC really a beacon of light on justification sola gratia, sola fide? Was there not a Reformation movement of sorts within the SBC? Why was that necessary given that they were Baptists and congregational in polity?

Perhaps Mark is only being consistent with his view of continuity with the Medieval and Byzantine church and he does still believe in an ex opere system. For him, it may not be that baptism itself works ex opere, but that holding the Baptist view and Congregation polity that works ex opere?


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39 comments

  1. If Baptism is a sign and seal of being in the covenant of grace which we enter by faith in the gospel, do the infants receive the sacrament by faith? Or does the sacrament work later in their life when they have faith?

    • Jackson,

      Great question. Like Abraham we administer the sign of admission under the promise (Gen 17:7) and the command. The outcome belongs to the Holy Spirit. He brings his elect to new life when he wills. Sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until later. I was baptized in the hospital but I didn’t come to faith for 15 or 16 years. The Lord was merciful and he did bring what the sign signifies to reality in my life. The Spirit blows, if you will, where he wills. You don’t know where he comes from or where he goes (John 3).

  2. Dr. Clark, I would love to see the entire interview with Mark Dever but can’t seem to find it. Could you put the link here please?

  3. Dr. Clark,

    I’ve got two questions for you. The first is, as others have pointed out, how do you reformed folk get infant baptism from circumcision? How do you get “every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money” (Gen. 17:12) to “those who believe and their children.” The call to circumcise baby boys was within the confines of a national boundary. I’m still baffled by how that translates to Christians baptizing their infant boys and girls.

    The second question has to do with why you and other “reformed” men criticize the Federal Vision chaps but never criticize the Lutherans. The Lutherans clearly, unequivocally teach baptismal regeneration, but know one seems to care. Rod Rosenbladt is help in high esteem by you and your colleagues in Escondido, but not Mr. Leithart. It just doesn’t seem very consistent.

  4. Dr. Clark,
    Regarding your reply to Jackson…
    Does that then mean that baptism is a guarantee that all that are baptized will be saved at some point in their life?

    • Hi Linda,

      Not at all. We baptize on the basis of God’s promise and command (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39) but only the elect come to new life and true faith and that in God’s time. Ananias and Sapphira were presumably baptized but they evidently had not come to faith. It seems unlikely that Hymenaeus was regenerate and yet he was a member of the church and therefore baptized. Those who trampled under foot the covenant and profaned the blood of Christ were (Heb 10:29) were baptized and yet not believers.

      We baptize in hope and expectation but God decides who comes to faith.

  5. Ligonier put a bunch of these guys on the map by allowing them to share the stage with RC. He put them up there for their Classical Theism, not their reformed theology. Almost every one to the man, (Piper, Wilson, MacArthur, Dever, etc.), have shown their true colors. The unintended consequence of Ligonier’s endorsement of these men was to confuse the P&R world as to what the historical beliefs of the Church have been. Godfrey was the lone voice calling out from the muddy mess.

    • I genuinely remain baffled at how RC Sproul could have welcomed John MacArthur into the Ligonier fold. Maybe the basics of the Christian faith were under attack e.g. the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, and he felt he could best defend those doctrines – but surely there were more capable men in NAPARC up to the task even then. For what it’s worth, I would never have become Reformed had my hitherto smug credobaptist self not encountered for the first time the connection between circumcision and baptism as articulated by Sproul in their debate.
      What I find extremely unbelievable if not astonishing, is that Dever who is well learned has never heard why we baptize our infants. He can’t in jest, pretend to be “less educated” as he does given he has a PhD. Yet there are children and people significantly less privileged in education who have received this truth in faith. Something else is going on and its not exegesis.

  6. Somethings that I find disturbing about the Baptist practice of baptizing only believers is the assumption that the church can decide who is regenerate, and baptize only them. This gives a false sense of security to the church and to the individual they decide to baptize. Baptism is only a ceremony, that represents a spiritual promise, but when it is assumed to guarantee that the baptized is regenerate it seems to make the ceremony a guarantee that the spiritual promise has been accepted. So the church assumes, on that basis, that it’s members are all regenerate, and the baptized, assumes, on the basis of their acceptance for baptism, that they truly are regenerate. So the ceremony, rather than Christ’s righteousness and sacrifice can become the seal of assurance. This is can be a dangerous false assurance.

    Infant baptism, in the Reformed practice, is simply the promise, that if you believe what this represents, you will be saved. It does not guarantee salvation, but only only extends the promise to assumed believers and their children. It does not make the ceremony of baptism the proof of regeneration.

    • What’s even more ironic (per an essay by Richard Muller) is that they examine the credobaptist candidate up one side and down the other to make sure that their profession of faith is genuine and then announce that we must come to the Lord with the faith of a child, which of course is scriptural, and that faith itself is a gift. Go figure.

    • They can’t know – that’s the thing. They think “a credible profession of faith” is a mechanism with which archetypal knowledge (what God knows entirely and perfectly) is obtained i.e. a valid peering into the lamb’s book of life. But humanity can only have ectypal knowledge.
      The hubris comes from a superiority complex; they have the numbers and we don’t. They have the “vibrant churches and conferences” and we don’t. They give the free offer of the gospel and in their minds, we don’t – because they presume we confer regeneration in covenant baptism whether they admit it or not. I know this because I’ve been behind those closed doors. The quiet part as they say, was merely said out loud. All of that however is flawed, ahistorical and unbiblical.

    • I love your explanation and I share in your observations! In going through a study on reformed theology we discussed God’s covenants with man, and that the signs and seals were given by God to man, they are a gift, and at times He permitted them to be removed from the church. But the Baptists rob God of His glory and take the sacrament for themselves, and declare what it means on their own terms, not His.

    • Yet, from what I’ve read on this blog and other places more than 90% of so-called independent “evangelical” congregations across the country are dyed-in-the-wool credobaptists. Perhaps that helps explain some of the confusion and misinformation circulating around about end times eschatology.

  7. Dr. Clark,
    I have a church history question for you. Can you recommend to me an honest Baptist history?
    I have been trying to research this topic, and have run into a some snags, primarily that either a person makes outrageous, unsupported claims, which must be accepted at face value, or else they admit to having their roots in England in the early 17th century, following contact with Anabaptists in the Netherlands.
    This latter category seems to be the minority, as I’m only aware of one reputable source publicly claiming it (Dr. Patterson, of the SBC), while the rest seem fine with accepting those unsupported claims.
    I have a copy of Baptists Through the Centuries, which I heard recommended by Dr. James Renihan of IRBS.
    Any help you can render in this is greatly appreciated!
    -Sam Hoverson

    • Hi Sam,

      I’m probably not the person to ask. I don’t teach Baptist history and I’m not expert. Of those I read, the most influential thing was

      McGoldrick, James Edward. Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History. Atla Monograph Series, No. 32. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

      I think I’ve looked at this but Baptists have cited this to me as credible (and Bebbington is a respected scholar):

      Bebbington, David. Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2010.

      I’ve not read this but it looks interesting:

      Brackney, William H. A Genetic History of Baptist Thought: With Special Reference to Baptists in Britain and North America. 1st ed. Baptists. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2004.

      I need to read this:

      Renihan, James M. Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705. Studies in Baptist History and Thought, V. 17. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008.

      Most of what I’ve read from Jim has been his exposition of the various Baptist confessional documents, which is reflected in:

      1689 Versus The Westminster Confession: A Comparison And Contrast

      There are other essays linked there where I interact at length with Particular Baptist documents and writers.

  8. One of the many things I find confusing about Devers comments is that he seems to think no Congregationalists have taken a liberal bent. I can take him to one in Andover mass which was planted in the 1600’s

  9. Thank you so much, Dr. Clark!
    I don’t have the Bebbington book yet, but it has been ordered, so please pardon my misstatement there, but I appreciate you taking the time to respond and point me in a direction!

  10. Thanks for the post doc. Some of my friends were talking about this yesterday after church. Sad that Dever makes these comments. Sometimes I wonder if Baptist don’t pay attention to the Old Testament or church history. I wish more Baptist studied church history and read the confessions.

  11. I thank God for the believing and orthodox Baptists, including Mark Dever, but if he really thinks that congregational government and confessor’s baptism guarantee anything, let him visit some American Baptist churches in the North. One in the nearby city of Bloomington, Indiana flies a rainbow flag, & it’s not unique.

  12. A few years ago, Gavin Ortlund posed this question in a TGC Themelios article: “If the argument for baptizing infants arises from continuity with circumcision, why not baptize grandchildren (and great grandchildren, etc.) of believers?”

    He argues, “ To get from “you and your seed after you for the generations to come” to “those who believe and their children” is not the continuation of an established practice. It is a movement, a development, a change.”

    The article preemptively answers some presupposed replies to the question. But, how would you say that should we respond to this?

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/why-not-grandchildren-an-argument-against-reformed-paedobaptism/

  13. Thank you, Dr. Clark, for your brief and helpful response to Mark Dever. I found Mark’s comments enlightening; they exposed several key issues that Baptists should carefully reconsider. It seems to me that Baptists either do not understand or do not agree with the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church which Westminster Confession of Faith 25 helpfully explains. The Reformed distinction between the visible church and the invisible church seems to easily and effectively refute the idea of regenerate church membership (which when speaking of the visible church is simply indefensible from Scripture). I really liked your argument that Baptists borrow their defense of the gospel from the Reformed. Also, Mark mentioned the Episcopal Church and the PCUSA; what about all the faithful Anglican, Reformed, and Presbyterian churches across the world? As a Reformed minister, I find it offensive to suggest that if the Reformed are to truly defend the gospel, we must offload covenant infant baptism. For us, it is a most precious and clear display of the gospel, a display which is much more compelling and clear to us than the “Arminian-like” and human-centered Baptist understanding of baptism (based not on God’s covenant gospel promise, but on our commitment to God and going public with faith). Greater comfort is found in the Reformed view of baptism. When we say, “Remember your baptism,” we are pointing people to God’s promise to His people in Christ. When the baptism say the same, they seem to be pointing people to themselves for comfort: “You made this commitment on this day. Remain faithful to your commitment!” That’s not comforting. Our baptism must point us to the reality of God’s promise to us in Christ; that’s where the comfort resides.

  14. Dr. Clark, I know you’re being faithful to your seminary’s doctrinal standards in affirming Presbyterianism, but I can’t let this pass without comment: “As Colton Brewer noted on Twitter, Congregational polity did not help the New England congregationalists avoid Unitarianism.”

    Back in the 1990s I wrote pretty extensively on the Unitarian Schism, including extensive research into primary source documents and the early media coverage of that era in what would today be called the “church press.”

    I think a fair argument can be made that Congregationalism was **PRECISELY** what kept New England Congregationalism from being destroyed by Unitarianism, despite the capture by the Unitarians of Harvard and of virtually all of the important (and wealthy) East Coast churches. There was also effective control by the Unitarian or Unitarian-leaning political elite of Massachusetts over the state legislature and the state court system that led to court decisions awarding property to what, in at least one case, was a grand total of two members of a local Congregational church that wanted to be Unitarian and to expel the Trinitarian pastor supported by virtually the entire church membership. (The details get really complicated and have to do with the established church status of Massachusetts Congregationalism at that time, which is something that should give serious pause to those in the “Christian Nationalist” movement who seriously advocate state-established churches. The last state establishment in America was for the Congregationalists in Massachusetts, and it was the conservatives, not the liberals, who pushed for disestablishment to prevent unconverted non-members of local churches who lived within the borders of a local civil parish from taking control of a building that, prior to disestablishment, was owned by the local civil parish and not the local church.)

    The simple fact is that conservative Massachusetts churches, most of them rural and not well-off, were able to start new ministerial training institutions, take control of the majority of the Congregational pulpits of Massachusetts, and drive Unitarianism into organizing separately as a new denomination.

    There are clear parallels to the Southern Baptist Convention, which was once dominated by liberals who controlled the seminaries and the denominational agencies and many of the powerful “First Baptist Churches” in Southern cities, but were driven out by a conservative revolt led largely by rural Baptists who were upset by the liberal dominance of a denomination which, like many of the Northern mainline denominations, had a denominational leadership that was far less conservative than the members of local churches paying the bills.

    No church polity is perfect. Satan walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and he will seek opportunities to destroy no matter what the form of church government.

    But under Congregationalism — and I would argue also under the form of Dutch Reformed polity as taught by Kuyper and practiced by the URCNA — the denomination can’t use the synod to abuse local churches. Even if the synod goes bad, a church can leave.

    I’m well aware many of the modern Presbyterian denominations also let local churches leave without penalty, but I’d argue that in doing so, they’re being more Congregational than consistent with their doctrine and history. At least with the URCNA, the Dutch Reformed can claim legitimate ties with Kuyper’s views of church government in ways that are far harder for Presbyterians to claim.

    • Darrell,

      Did most of the congregational churches go bad? Yes, they fud.

      Colton’s point (v. Dever) stands.

      He did not say that there weren’t faithful congregational churches or that there weren’t splits. He is refuting the claim the congregational polity ipso facto preserves the truth.

    • One more note: I don’t want to put words into Mark Dever’s mouth based on just a few sentences that may be out of context with his broader work, but his comments about the congregation voting could imply that Congregationalism means rule by the congregational meeting.

      Far too many people confuse Congregationalism with rule by the congregational meeting rather than that the local congregation is a self-governing church ruled by elders rather than by a presbytery or synod or general assembly. I don’t know if Dever does that, but those who use that definition of Congregationalism are not being historically accurate.

      A fair number of people in the self-described Reformed Baptist movement understand that God’s Word clearly gives the rule of the local church to elders. I’ll leave it to the Baptists to define what an elder means.

      But as for Congregationalism, the confessions teach this: “…The Holy Ghost frequently, yea always, where it mentioneth church rule, and church government, ascribeth it to elders, whereas the work and duty of the people is expressed in the phrase of obeying their elders, and submitting themselves unto them in the Lord. So as it is manifest that an organic or complete church, is a body politic, consisting of some that are governors, and some that are governed in the Lord” (Cambridge Platform, 10:7).

      People who think Congregationalism means rule by the voting membership in a congregational meeting do not understand Congregational history, haven’t read the confessions, or both. That’s “Brownism,” which was actually taught by a few expatriate Englishmen who fled to the Netherlands, but which was rejected by nearly all the Congregationalists of the 1600s and is explicitly rejected by the confessions that were formally adopted by the Congregational churches assembled a synod called after the Westminster Assembly to respond to Westminster and to declare what Congregationalists did and did not believe.

      Dever is right that Congregationalism does teach the importance of regenerate church membership. That’s not usually a big difference between modern conservative Presbyterians and Congregationalists, but it was a very real difference under the state church system of the 1600s. What should be done with members of a local English parish when the pastor was a Puritan, either of Presbyterian or Congregational convictions, and had inherited numerous members who had made no profession of personal conversion and clearly were not living lives in accord with the mandates of Scripture?

      That is why the New England churches also had “societies” or “parishes” connected with them composed of people who did not profess to be personally converted but were obligated by the Sabbath observance laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Connecticut Colony, and other New England civil governments to attend church and to support the local parish meetinghouse that was used for both church purposes on Sundays and civil purposes during the week.

      That is a structure of civil government that is **NOT** taught in the confessions, and which proved to be a major problem by the late 1700s and early 1800s when in some cases the majority of the parish was in substantial disagreement with the majority of the church on whether the man in the pulpit should be a Unitarian who denied the need for personal conversion or a Trinitarian who, in most cases, was at least some sort of Calvinist who affirmed total depravity and the need for personal conversion.

      I don’t know for sure what Dever meant about the importance of a congregational meeting, but he’s speaking for his own form of government, not for what the historic Congregational confessions taught.

      It’s no secret that I’ve been saying for three decades that Dutch Reformed polity is much closer to historic Congregationalism than to Presbyterianism. It’s not irrelevant that in the Netherlands in the 1600s, there was an entire classis of expatriate English Congregational churches that were comfortable being under the Dutch church polity system when they weren’t willing to be Presbyterians back in England. The Pilgrim Church in Leiden wasn’t part of that classis — it was fully independent — but had cordial relationships with those English-speaking Congregational churches that were part of what was known as the “English Synod” (actually a classis, but called a “Synod” in the English documents, perhaps expecting that someday it would grow large enough to be recognized as a particular synod rather than merely a classis).

      If Dever is going to say Congregationalism is a good thing, he should be looking to what the Congregational confessions actually teach. If he agrees, great. Otherwise he probably should stick with the historic Baptist confessions and what they teach on church government.

    • Apologies, Dr. Clark — our comments crossed in cyberspace.

      With regard to this: “He is refuting the claim the congregational polity ipso facto preserves the truth.”

      I think we both agree that claim would be nonsense. The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture of sin and error, and that can and does allow Satan to gain footholds. Baptists know that too. Did not Spurgeon, during the Downgrade Controversy, believe that the Baptists of England had gone bad at the level of their broadest assembly?

      No form of church government, whether Congregational, Presbyterian or Episcopal, can make an ipso facto claim to preserve the truth. Apart from the Roman Catholics who claim that maintaining communion with the See of St. Peter will preserve a church from apostasy, I’m not aware of any denomination that actually makes that claim.

      I hope Dever’s comment was just an out-of-context snippet from his broader work with the necessary qualifications that he didn’t (and to be fair, couldn’t) make in an extemporaneous public discussion.

      I will defend elder rule because it’s what God clearly teaches in His Word, and I’ll cite the Congregational confessions to defend that. But broader assemblies, while they can be helpful to a local church, are not of the essence of the being of the church — and on that point I’m in agreement with the URC position and those among the Dutch Reformed who follow Kuyper.

    • Dr. Clark wrote: “Mark believes what he said.”

      Fair enough. You know him and I do not.

      I don’t think Baptist polity saved the British Baptists during the Downgrade Controversy. It didn’t save the Northern Baptists. Even for the Southern Baptists, it was touch-and-go for a while and it wasn’t at all clear that a large secession, comparable to the PCA secession from the Southern Presbyterians, would not become necessary.

      I hope Dever understands that while church polity can cause major problems for a denomination, even the best form of government will not keep Satan out of the church doors.

      God gave church government to elders. He didn’t say those elders would govern infallibly.

  15. Thank you Mr. Clark for the helpful response to this video. I’m currently wrestling through this issue right now and trying to figure out what Scripture teaches on the sacraments, especially baptism.

    I have been a credobaptist my whole life and have recently started to become convinced of covenantal baptism. I’m currently wrestling through Reformed doctrine and Lutheranism. I’ve been heavily damaged by pietism in the past and find great comfort for assurance in Lutheran theology. Though I admit that seems like a contradiction given their belief in resistible grace. I did read your article on Reformed Christians leaving for Lutheranism because of assurance and how they usually start with assurance and then convince themselves of the other Lutheran doctrines rather than the other way around. I have to admit, that is where I’m at.

    The more I listen to and read Lutherans, the more I can’t help but be assured of my salvation in Christ alone. The more I listen to mainstream Reformed and Baptist theologians, the more I begin to excessively navel gaze and look to myself for assurance. Although, I am beginning to see that it appears modern day mainstream Reformed theology differs from historic Reformed theology in some ways and there are people in the Reformed camp that offer plenty of assurance.

    I have 2 questions on baptism I was hoping you could answer from a Reformed perspective.

    1) Do the Reformed draw on their baptisms for assurance of salvation?

    I find great comfort in Lutheran theology that you can look back to your baptism as a means of assurance. Them seeing it as not our work but God’s as well as the promises of God in baptism provide a great deal of assurance. It gives you something objective to look to rather than your subjective feelings.

    2) Does God ever use an infants baptism as a means of regeneration?

    It appears that Lutherans believe God always regenerates an infant in their baptism which is something that I struggle with believing. However, I have read Reformed Christians speak on the fact that regeneration can and does take place in infants. Is it fair to say that Reformed believe you CAN be regenerated in baptism, but that they don’t presume that to be the ordinary means of it in an infant?

    I’m still new to all of this and learning so I appreciate any response you can give to me.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Justin,

      In the immortal words of Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain.” There is too much introspective preaching and teaching in Reformed circles. That said, I would encourage you to define the adjective Reformed very carefully. A lot of what passes as Reformed in our age isn’t. Have you read Recovering the Reformed Confession? If not, I wish you would.

      None of the Baptists you may have been reading (some of whom are likely friends) are Reformed. Some Reformed are attracted to Pietism, in part because they don’t know the difference between piety and Pietism or because they come from Baptistic and Pietistic backgrounds and they have simply attached the doctrine of predestination to their theology.

      The transition from Baptist to Reformed is more difficult than people sometimes realize. I urge you to give it time.

      1) Are you in a sound, law & gospel distinguishing and gospel-preaching confessional congregation? If not, then do nothing regarding becoming Lutheran until you spend a year or two in an actual Reformed church. A predestinarian Baptist church is not a Reformed church.

      2) We’re you listening to good Reformed preaching, I think you would be just as encouraged. Have you listened to Chris Gordon? He’s my pastor and his preaching is very edifying. Listen to Dan Borvan or Harrison Perkins. There are lots of genuinely Reformed, Christ-honoring, gospel-preaching Reformed ministers out there.

      To your questions:

      1) Do the Reformed draw on their baptisms for assurance of salvation?

      I find great comfort in Lutheran theology that you can look back to your baptism as a means of assurance. Them seeing it as not our work but God’s as well as the promises of God in baptism provide a great deal of assurance. It gives you something objective to look to rather than your subjective feelings.

      Baptism is a means of assurance in Reformed theology but not because it works magic. The Lutheran mistake is to confuse the sign with the thing signified. Baptism does not save us (and Scripture doesn’t say that baptism does. Keep reading the passage). Christ saves us! Baptism is a sign and seal of what Christ has done for his people. Listen to the Heidelberg Catechism:

      69. How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism, that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

      Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water1 and joined therewith this promise: that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.

      70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

      It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross; and also, to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and unblamable lives.

      71. Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?

      In the institution of Baptism, which says: “Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.” This promise is also repeated, where Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins.

      72. Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?

      No, for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

      73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?

      God speaks thus not without great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us, that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.

      74. Are infants also to be baptized?

      Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.

      From a teaching point of view, the Heidelberg has all the benefits of Luther’s Small Catechism on baptism without the liability of the ambiguity.

      These are gospel words. Remember, the Heidelberg begins with the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer is a gospel answer:

      That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

      You’re right to look for an objective ground for assurance and that objective ground is the promise of Christ to his people, of which baptism is a sacrament.

      2) Does God ever use an infants baptism as a means of regeneration?

      It appears that Lutherans believe God always regenerates an infant in their baptism which is something that I struggle with believing. However, I have read Reformed Christians speak on the fact that regeneration can and does take place in infants. Is it fair to say that Reformed believe you CAN be regenerated in baptism, but that they don’t presume that to be the ordinary means of it in an infant?

      Yes, God the Spirit is free. You don’t know where he comes from and you don’t know where he goes. He is free to regenerate in baptism but we have no promise in Scripture that he necessarily regenerates in baptism. The is one of the more serious mistakes of Lutheran orthodoxy, to confuse the sign with the thing signified and then, rather than admitting their mistake, to make it worse by making grace resistible.

      Where’s the assurance if grace is resistible? What it means is, “I’m baptized! But I might fall away.” The first sentence is good news but the second is bad news.

      Baptism isn’t the promise. Baptism is the sacrament of the promise. Trust Christ. Rest in Christ. Trust his promise. Rest in his promise. He will not abandon you and no one shall snatch you out of his hand.

      • Mr. Clark,

        Thank you very much for your generosity in giving such a comforting response to my questions. It was very helpful in giving a more clear understanding of Reformed view of baptism. I have long struggled with assurance due to Pietistic preaching. I was influenced heavily early on by Piper and MacArthur (and others influenced by them) whom I still love very much but always leave me introspectively looking at the intensity of my affections and obedience for my assurance. Which no doubt is never where it should be. Do I want to treasure Christ supremely, of course I do! Do I want to obey the Lord, absolutely! But what I want and what I actually do don’t always match up! So what am I supposed to do then? Question if I was ever really legit in the first place? Or run to the objective fact that Christ died for me and fulfilled the law on my behalf and now gives me His righteousness! Lutherans are fantastic at giving you Christ alone for the grounds of your assurance! I’m also starting to see that actual Reformed Christians are likewise fantastic at doing the same.

        I have not read “Recovering the Reformed Confession” but I just put in an order for it and it will be here tomorrow, thank you for the recommendation, I’m looking forward to diving in to it! I also agree with your counsel not to jump to Lutheranism too quickly. My wife and I are both under agreement that we’re going to take this slowly and prayerfully, I’m currently doing a slow read through the Book of Concord and am also diving into the historic Reformed confessions as well. To answer your questions

        1) I am a member at predestinarian Baptist church at the moment. They are very sound doctrinally and definitely Gospel-preaching. I love my church and our pastors/elders very much. Although sometimes, I do pick up on Pietism due to our leaders being heavily influenced by the types of pastors mentioned above. That could also just me not quite knowing how to interpret law & gospel distinction yet and misinterpreting it as Pietism.

        Are they confessional? No. I believe if you look on Founders it shows we’re a 1689 church however, that isn’t broadcast from the pulpit or on the website.

        Do they preach law & gospel distinction? To be honest I’m not sure. I’ve never heard the term law & gospel distinction from the pulpit or our leaders that I can remember. I wasn’t familiar with it until I recently started listening to TheoCast, White Horse Inn and studying Lutheranism.

        Unfortunately there are no URCNA churches in my area. There is an OPC church about 45 minutes away and a PCA church about 35-40 minutes away. I wasn’t sure on those denominations and their faithfulness to Reformed doctrine and law/gospel preaching? There is an LCMS church right next door to our current church, however I’m still pretty far away from making a jump to Lutheranism.

        2) Am I listening to good Reformed preaching?

        I’m still learning who those good Reformed preachers are. I have been listening to Chris Gordon the last few weeks and watching his podcast which has been very helpful to my soul! I’ve also been listening to TheoCast (I know they’re not Reformed), White Horse Inn and The Pactum all of which have been helpful in giving me Christ alone and law/gospel distinction.

        I appreciate your other recommendations, I will add them to my list of preaching to listen to! I was given a gentle warning by a leader in my current church to be careful with White Horse Inn and yourself because of an apparent downplaying of the importance of works 😂. I took it with a grain of salt because I know it’s not the case.

        I am struggling with the issue of baptism and what to do about my children. I have 3 children and the oldest was baptized last year after an agonizing year and a half of trying to determine the legitimacy of her profession of faith. However now that I’m convinced of paedobaptism, I’m being convicted that I’m withholding a precious means of grace from my other 2 children. I don’t want to rush to leaving my church but I’m not sure what to do with that conviction. I also don’t want to baptism them until I come to a clear conviction on whether I would identify as Reformed or Lutheran.

        I thank you again for your response and apologize for the long winded reply!

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