Why did all the Reformers believe that the baptism of infants is a complete baptism?
You are wondering why the great Reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, continued to uphold infant baptism. You are certainly correct in thinking that by doing so these Reformers were, in effect, saying that infant baptism is as truly baptism as adult baptism. And we of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church heartily agree with these Reformers.
We believe that the sacrament of baptism replaced Old Testament circumcision. The Bible says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11–12). And surely it is clear that the Old Testament made no distinction as to the validity and meaning of circumcision, whether it was for an adult or an infant (Gen. 17:1–14). The reason, as we understand it, is that circumcision was not a recognition of something that an Israelite adult or infant had done, or of any quality that any possessed. No, it was rather an outward declaration of God concerning what he would do, or had done, with respect to those he commanded to receive it. Likewise, baptism (when rightly administered) is not a statement about something done by—or some condition in—the person who receives it. No, it is rather an outward declaration of God concerning the covenant blessings that he is pleased to bestow on those to whom he has said it to be given. And in the New Testament, as well as the Old, it is to be given to those who profess the true faith and to their children. As an old Scottish pastor of a previous generation put it: “God included the children of believers in his church, and gave them the covenant sign, and only he could revoke this.” This he has never done.
I have a Baptist relative. As well as I can understand, that relative seems to me to be saying that what counts is what he did to receive adult baptism. It sounds to me like saying my adult baptism is my statement about my conversion. We Presbyterians do not think baptism is our statement about ourselves, but rather God’s statement about his covenant promise to be a God to us and to our children (Acts 2:39).
Thanks for a worthwhile question that deserves an honest answer.
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