Reflections on Calvin, part 10

Chapter Eleven: Of Baptism

I think this will be the first reflection where I am not extremely critical of Calvin. Sure, I could make quibbles about his arguments concerning the historicity of infant baptism in the earliest Church (something Dr. Everett Ferguson’s magnum opus Baptism in the Early Church should put to rest), but I will resist. Instead, I wish to focus on an aspect of Calvin’s theology of baptism that has thus far eluded me. Being reared in a conservative Baptist church which ironically placed little seriousness to Baptism (other than that it doesn’t “save you”), I had a low view of Baptism. It was merely my public profession of faith that really wasn’t necessary for salvation. Upon entering College, I began to think more seriously about this and other theological issues and concluded that such a view is shallow, too simplistic, and utterly un-biblical.

Over the years I struggled with understanding what Baptism meant, often vacillating from one position to another. In fact, this is still something that I, and my wife, struggle with as we hope to one day have children. All of this is to lead up to the reason I found one aspect of Calvin’s baptismal theology so helpful. On page 515 he states, “The faithful are made certain by baptism that this damnation is taken away and cast out from them because…our Lord promises us by this sign that full and complete remission of sins is made for us.” The efficacy of baptism is in the promise (as most things are for Calvin). In this, one might say that Calvin, along with Luther, can find assurance in Baptism (instead of my “sincerity”). Instead of merely being my profession of faith, baptism is first the promise of God for the forgiveness of sins. My faith is founded upon this promise. I am justified by faith, not by believing in my belief, but by believing the promises of God. That being said, considering the nature of baptism on the basis of the promise of God could also give insight into the issue of infant baptism; but I’ll save that for another time.

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