Calvin on the Efficacy of Baptism

Status
Not open for further replies.

luvroftheWord

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:21eb24246b]So then we must ever come to this point, that the Sacraments are effectual and that they are not trifling signs that vanish away in the air, but that the truth is always matched with them, because God who is faithful shows that he has not ordained anything in vain. And that is the reason why in Baptism we truly receive the forgiveness of sins, we are washed and cleansed with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are renewed by the operation of his Holy Spirit.

And how so? Does a little water have such power when it is cast upon the head of a child? No. But because it is the will of our Lord Jesus Christ that the water should be a visible sign of his blood and of the Holy Spirit. Therefore baptism has that power and whatsoever is there set forth to the eye is forthwith accomplished in very deed. (John Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, p. 1244)[/quote:21eb24246b]

This is one of those Calvin quotes that the Federal Visionists like to throw around to promote their view of baptism. I will be completely honest here and confess that I am really struggling to understand what Calvin means in this quote. What does Calvin mean when he says that in baptism we truly receive the forgiveness of sins and are washed by the blood of Jesus? And that whatever is visible to the eye is accomplished in very deed? On the surface it sounds just like Calvin is saying that baptism = forgiveness of sins, which sounds awfully [i:21eb24246b]ex opera operato[/i:21eb24246b] to me, though I trust that in reality Calvin did not hold this view.

Now, I don't have Calvin's Institutes in my library as of yet, although I do have his commentaries and I haven't fished through them yet to see what Calvin teaches elsewhere. So if anybody has any insight here as to what Calvin believed about baptism, go ahead and chime in.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Point one, "we" in Calvin's language is covenant language, language that belongs between a pastor and Christians under his ministry.

Second point: The Spiritual is antecedent to the visible. This was [u:c5074c3ae0]always[/u:c5074c3ae0] Calvin's position. It has a certain [i:c5074c3ae0]priority,[/i:c5074c3ae0] even when the things may take place simultaneously. Ordinarily it doesn't happen simultaneously, or even that close (from our vantage point). E.g., the willingness to submit to baptism is the [i:c5074c3ae0]evidence[/i:c5074c3ae0] of a changed heart (in the true believer). Liars can be baptized, but they do not possess the reality behind it because it isn't accompanied by faith.

From a temporal standpoint (one that even encompasses a view of God's activity) one's sin is cleansed from him [i:c5074c3ae0]at some point in time.[/i:c5074c3ae0] He is washed up from his filthyness. Calvin is simply saying that what is symbolized with a little sprinkling (sorry baptists--but even then, a total BATH could never be but a practically invisible token of the reality, eh?) is really and truly accomplished in the Spirit. And why should we adopt a kind of mystical, non-temporal abstract concept of the divine act? The purpose of the sacrament is to concretize the event in our experience. So, the divine act is tied (by God himself), yet in a way that is not entirely without mystery, to the church-act. Efficacy not being tied to the moment of administration (WCF 28.6), such grace as is appropriate to such a one, at that time is actually given, to have its effects at their appointed time. At baptism God promises to do, only for the elect, what the act symbolizes. And with God, to promise is to perform.

Calvin would recoil from the idea that a reprobate child, any more than a reprobate adult, was actully washed from the sin that will damn him. There isn't even the seed of faith, or the prospect of it in one who will never come to embrace the salvation freely offered in the gospel. These aren't washed, then later have their sin thrown back on them. Nor is apostasy their being washed (according to RCC doctrine) of Original Sin, and then being damned by later sin.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Craig:

Did you see my note to you on the worship thread? Anyway, I asked if you had read anything by D.G. Hart, such as Recovering Mother Kirk. He is a history professor as Westminster. Anyway, he makes the point that modern lack of comfort in the efficacy of the sacaraments comes not from historic Protestant theology but rather from certain oddities in American Protestant history, such as American Presbyterian's atatchment to revivalism.

On the actual issue of sacraments, you may want to take a look at this, which is from an Anglican source. I think it is helpful, though:
http://www.stlukesrec.org/dunlap1.html

Here is an illustrative excerpt that I find useful:

[quote:50e0dc29c1]If we may presume to employ a simple illustration of this: How shall we define a ten-dollar bill? Defining it substantially (i.e., in terms of its material substance) would require us to see this monetary note as nothing more than a piece of paper with distinct dimensions and a distinct ink impression upon its surfaces. Defined substantially, its value is very small. And yet every American knows that a ten-dollar bill is worth more than the sum total of its material substance. It represents wealth. In someone's wallet or purse it represents a portion of the owner's wealth, so much so that if a person gives another person a ten-dollar bill a REAL transaction or transfer of wealth takes place. Wealth is intangible, and yet there is no denying its reality. In fact, its reality is more significant than the substantial reality of the piece of printed paper that we call a "ten-dollar bill." If I give you that tangible piece of paper, I transfer a portion of my intangible wealth to you. This is because the ten-dollar bill makes tangible that which is by nature intangible - wealth. For that matter, normally speaking, my intangible wealth is only accessible to you through tangible means. So it is with the sacraments: the elements - water, bread, wine - make tangible what is by nature intangible: grace. How this is done is a mystery. [/quote:50e0dc29c1]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Caig:

I think it is also useful to remember that Calvin's ideas are repeated in the Westminster Confession. For example, 28.1 tell us that baptism is a "sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life." This identifies the grace associated with the sacrament.

Then, par. 28.6 tells us: "The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and [b:aa5eb89c81]conferred[/b:aa5eb89c81], by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God"(tm)s own will, in his appointed time."

Not that the grace promised is actuall conferred. The means is not ex opere operato, but it is still a means of grace.

Note also in LC 161 that the sacaraments are "effectual means to salvation."

Scott
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Scott,

Is the sacrament effectual to salvation in any different manner than the Word (cf. WLC 155) ?

If not, does not that militate against a semi-mystical view of the sacraments?
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Fred: I think both the Word and scarament are efficacious in the same way, through the Holy Spirit. The Word and sacraments are two of the ordinary ways God communicates the benefits of redemption to us. From the LC:

Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

Also, there are big difference b/t a Reformed view of the sacraments and other views, including Lutheran, RCC, etc.

One important way relates directly to Craig's question. It is the Reformed view that infants are part of the covenant by birth, not by baptism. Baptism is necessary to bring them into the church and does convey grace. Yet, infants of believers dying without baptism are still treated as justified. Calvin says so much in Institutes, which would be helpful to Craig. I have not had time to dig it up.

Scott
 

twogunfighter

Puritan Board Freshman
[quote:65689b75c2]It is the Reformed view that infants are part of the covenant by birth, not by baptism.[/quote:65689b75c2]

This is my view. The question I think that comes to mind as a result of this statement is: then why [u:65689b75c2]require[/u:65689b75c2] baptism prior to a certain time? If the above is true then what [u:65689b75c2]requires[/u:65689b75c2] the baptism as an infant as compared to 5,7 or 15 etc? I talk to my kids as if they are really Christians by virtue of their heritage (3 generations) and the operation of the Holy Spirit on our family through history. I hold them to Christian standards as if they actually could attain them when clearly if they were reprobate there would be no way that they could. I require them to pray for repentance if they fail knowing that God will not give them that gift unless they are regenerate.

I believe that grace really attends the sacraments. I know and have seen the grace attendant with the Lord's Supper operate in my life. I am also certain that that grace is directly linked to my own self-conscious ability to examine myself. Similiarly I know that there is grace attached to my baptism. I wonder however whether there would be as much if I had not self-consciously undergone the sign knowing and understanding what I was doing and what the meaning of the sign was. And given that "The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered," I wonder whether later when more understanding of the sign comes would be better for the kids as well.

Chuck
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
They are not part of the church without baptism. They are outside God's appointed means of salvation.
 

twogunfighter

Puritan Board Freshman
Perhaps I misunderstood: [quote:67be891a45]It is the Reformed view that infants are part of the covenant by birth, not by baptism. [/quote:67be891a45]

If you are part of the covenant are you not part of the church? Isn't the covenant and the visible church pretty close to synonyms if one assumes that covenantal theology is correct?
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
[quote:fe8f648e8d="Scott"]They are not part of the church without baptism. They are outside God's appointed means of salvation.[/quote:fe8f648e8d]

Scott is correct in this assessment. The WCF states:

Chapter xxviii

Of Baptism

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, [b:fe8f648e8d]not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church[/b:fe8f648e8d]; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

~My emphasis added
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
You may also look at it in light of the OT too. The children of believers were consdidered part of the covenant [i:bbf47cdc72]unless[/i:bbf47cdc72] the parents refused to circumcise them. Then they were cut off.
 

twogunfighter

Puritan Board Freshman
[quote:9d77377fdf]You may also look at it in light of the OT too. The children of believers were consdidered part of the covenant unless the parents refused to circumcise them. Then they were cut off.[/quote:9d77377fdf]

OK, so at what point should we begin telling parents that their unbaptized child is not allowed to participate in church? Or do I not understand "cut off." If we are going to be consistent with applying the principle then we must accomplish both the sacrament and the punishment for failure to avail oneself of the sacrament. AND we still have the problem that there is no given time frame when the baptism must occur. In the OT there were specific rules that governed the timing of circumcision but in the NT there is no such time frame. Therefore one could baptize his kid at six days, six weeks, six months or six years. Just ensure that he gets baptized. In other words at what point do the elders cut off the child from the covenant community if his parents fail to baptize him? I mean if one is cut off from the covenant should he still continue to worship like all the other covenant keepers?

I guess the thing that I keep thinking too is: If failure to baptize infants is sinful even to point of putting your children in danger of hell fire, then why are not the PCA, OPC etc disciplining it as such? Cuttiing off one's children from the covenant is EVIL, EVIL, EVIL; if that is what we really believe then why are we not disciplining guys like me? I mean what's worse, endangering your children's soul or having the occasional dalliance with a working girl? Bottom line is, from their actions, Presbyterian's don't really believe that baptism really does what they say it does any more than Baptists, from their actions, really believe that their kids are unregenerate.

Chuck
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Chuck:

You will find that there are differences in whether and to what extent reformed churches discipline parents for failing to bring children forward. Some do and some don't. The PCA Book of Church Order charges elders with seeing that parents bring their children forward for baptism. It does not specify or require any particular discipline if this fails. Some officers ignore this requirement altogether. Others provide varying levels of attempts, ranging from:

[1] sermons on infant baptism
[2] talking to the parents directly and encouraging infant baptism
[3] suspending the parents from the Lord's Supper
[4] excommunication

Many PCA churches would never go to points [3] or [4]. More conservative presbyterian churches would.

As to your point that some presbyterians really see their children as unregenerate, etc., I think you are right. I think this is a shame, but true. American presbyterianism has been infected with the revivalistic mentality that has infected much of American protestantism. This diminishes the objective, outward effects of God's appointed means of grace in favor attempting to discern subjective realities that are known only to God.

Scott
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top