Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Debate with a Reformed Baptist 

There has been an ongoing debate in the comments following my earlier post on The Apostles’ Creed and Christian Faith. This reply to David grew to such gigantic proportions that I thought it best to make it into a post. I would appreciate other people’s contributions to this debate. Ideally I would rather not have such a debate. I have a great appreciation for my Reformed Baptist brothers, despite my theological differences from them in a number of areas. I was a Reformed Baptist myself just over two years ago. I still attend a Reformed Baptist church and recognize that I hold much in common with Reformed Baptists. I have benefited, and continue to benefit, immensely from Reformed Baptists. I have learned much from Reformed Baptists and I continue to learn much from Reformed Baptists. I sit under good Reformed Baptist preaching each week and have profited greatly from it. I have been supported by the prayers of Reformed Baptists. I would not be where I am today were it not for Reformed Baptists. I have no desire whatsoever to promote a party mentality on this issue. However, I feel that if we are to retain fellowship it is important to be honest with each other. This honesty must involve a full account of where disagreements exist. Articulation of these differences should not be engaged in for the purpose of bringing about disunity or strife. Rather, clear expression of theological differences is, to my mind, a condition of true fellowship. This is where much of the ecumenical movement fails; people are unwilling to speak truthfully about their differences and purposely disguise their distinctives in order to get on. One of the challenges of true fellowship is that of feeling responsible for each other. If we are not prepared to speak truthfully about the existence of disagreements, error and sin how can we claim to be motivated by the concern for the other person that is fundamental to true fellowship? Problems can only be sorted out when we are honest about them. Sweeping them under the carpet should never be an option. Churches in the ecumenical movement are often unconcerned about erring brothers and are more concerned about everyone getting on with them. There are, of course, appropriate places for expression of such differences. My church leaders are aware of this weblog and permit me to continue for a number of different reasons. However, I do not feel that it is appropriate to publicize either the existence of my weblog or my theological distinctives among the lay members of my church. In criticizing the Baptist position, it should not be presumed that I mean to dismiss it as worthless. I believe that Baptists do have important correctives to certain positions within Reformed churches. Living around people who disagree with your theological perspective has the advantage of making one more aware of one’s blindspots. This is one of the many reasons why the Reformed tradition can benefit from the ministry of Reformed Baptists. We must also recognize that we should not presume to minister to our brethren by seeking to highlight error, unless we ourselves are willing to be ministered to. For this reason, it is important that we take seriously the critiques of our Reformed Baptist brethren; even if we finally choose not to follow them, we should beware of ignoring them. In speaking truthfully about the areas in which I differ from Reformed Baptists, my aim is not to protect my own distinctives and alienate my Reformed Baptist brethren. It is my conviction that theology is learned in dialogue and it has been in dialogue with Reformed Baptists that I have learned much of my theology. This dialogue has not always been characterized by disagreement. However, even when it is characterized by disagreement, I trust that it will be clear that I have a great underlying appreciation and affection for my Reformed Baptist brothers. Mutual upbuilding in the truth should be our goal, not polarization. Nevertheless, we must never forget that mutual upbuilding in the truth always necessitates the frank treatment of differences. Such is the challenge of fellowship. David’s comment will be in blue.
Reformed Baptists and the Reformed Tradition
The historical context of the rise of the Reformed Baptists. The Reformed Baptists are largely, in terms of historical continuity, heirs of the English Puritans. They arose out of the soil of Puritanism, retaining most of their previous theology, but rejecting infant baptism and embracing the doctrine of self-governing local churches. … However, I see from your later post that you appear to view the English Puritans as deviants from the Reformed position and not its heirs?
Yes, I am aware of the deep relationship between the Puritans and the Reformed Baptists. In his essay, The Polemics of Infant Baptism, B.B. Warfield writes:—
All Protestants should easily agree that only Christ’s children have a right to the ordinance of baptism. The cleavage in their ranks enters in only when we enquire how the external Church is to hold itself relatively to the recognition of the children of Christ. If we say that its attitude should be as exclusive as possible, and that it must receive as the children of Christ only those whom it is forced to recognize as such, then we shall inevitably narrow the circle of the subjects of baptism to the lowest limits. If, on the other hand, we say that its attitude should be as inclusive as possible, and that it should receive as the children of Christ all whom, in the judgment of charity, it may fairly recognize as such, then we shall naturally widen the circle of the subjects of baptism to far more ample limits. The former represents, broadly speaking, the Puritan idea of the Church, the latter the general Protestant doctrine. It is on the basis of the Puritan conception of the Church that the Baptists are led to exclude infants from baptism. For, if we are to demand anything like demonstrative evidence of actual participation in Christ before we baptize, no infant, who by reason of years is incapable of affording signs of his union with Christ, can be thought a proper subject of the rite. [emphasis added]
Many other authors have argued that the Puritans departed from the earlier tradition in a number of respects. For myself, I am convinced that, whilst some of these charges are overstated, Puritanism considered as a whole was a serious downgrade movement in the areas of ecclesiology and the sacraments. Of course, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and there were even those at Westminster who affirmed such doctrines as baptismal regeneration. Nevertheless, the Puritans have been accused by many Reformed people over the last few centuries of having far too deeply imbibed baptistic principles. However, much as I might dislike certain of the tendencies of Puritanism, I still believe that the Westminster divines are clear heirs of the Reformed tradition. Even though they may sometimes have tended in directions that I do not appreciate, the Westminster tradition was an organic outgrowth of the Reformed tradition. They represent the Reformed tradition by true and legitimate descent. The problem is that the history of ‘Reformed’ Baptists is characterized by separation from the established ecclesiastical traditions for the purpose of creating societies governed by their own distinctives. This explodes any claim that Baptists might have to be Reformed. Baptists, even ‘Reformed’ Baptists, have generally rejected the idea that they were historically connected with the Roman Catholic church. Their approach is more one of reconstituting the Church than it is one of reforming the Church. If there is any sort of position that may have a claim to be ‘Reformed Baptist’ it would be the position represented by people such as Karl Barth. Paul Jewett and others have, however, admitted that Barth’s relationship with the Reformed tradition indicates that he was ‘no Baptist’. This is why the issue of Baptism is so crucial. Baptism connected the Reformed movement to the medieval Church that they were claiming to reform. Reformed Baptist ecclesiology, on the other hand, proclaims a church without a navel. C.H. Spurgeon writes:—
We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves.
Whilst Baptists might legitimately point out theological commonalities between themselves and the Reformed churches, they have historically tended to deny any ecclesiastical connection between themselves and the Reformed churches, which nullifies their claim to be ‘Reformed’. To deny the validity of the Baptism of a tradition is really to ecclesiastically cut oneself off from it. The ‘Reformed faith’ is not a series of abstract propositions divorced from an ecclesiastical tradition. This is what Reformed Baptists forget. The confessions of faith, catechisms and canons were produced for the purpose of regulating the doctrine and practice of the Reformed churches. The ecclesiastical tradition logically precedes the dogmatic establishment of the tradition’s faith. Consequently, even Arminius was Reformed in a manner that no ‘Reformed’ Baptist can claim to be. Once this has been recognized it will be appreciated that there can be many divergent strains, each with a valid claim to be in continuity with the Reformed tradition. Furthermore, there are some strains that can quite remove themselves from many of the original forms of the Reformed tradition and yet still claim to be Reformed. When one studies the original confessional documents of virtually all the branches of the Reformed church one will soon realize that many of the churches established by these documents have moved away from them on such issues as the Lord’s Supper. As an illustration one could observe that the United States of America are/is (?) not always entirely faithful to their/its founding documents. However, the USA still stands as heir of that particular political, historical and cultural tradition. This tradition is not a mere static deposit, but is developed over time; some clear continuity is maintained with the past, without forbidding progress beyond it. The Reformed tradition is quite similar. Suppose a group of people who greatly admired the USA and its system of government were to take such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution and build a nation around them. They might decide to change a few things here and there, claiming that certain aspects of the founding documents of America are peripheral and can be dispensed with without compromising the whole. Of course, this would be a voluntary community, so one could only join when one was old enough to understand ‘Americanism’ for oneself. Allowing people to become members prior to rational and volitional assent to the founding documents might lead to the corruption of the pure tradition that they are trying to establish. Would such people be Americans? No, not even if they took to calling themselves the ‘One True America’ or something like that. By the same token Reformed Baptists are not Reformed. Clearly a relationship exists between Reformed Baptists and many within the Reformed tradition. However, this relationship is one of mutual appreciation rather than one of family relationship, a relationship of similarity rather than one of true and legitimate descent. Reformed Baptists do have much to be proud of in their tradition. They have had great preachers like Spurgeon, great writers like Bunyan, great hymn-writers like Gadsby and great missionaries like Carey. In the present day there are many thousands of Reformed Christians who can testify of the manner in which they have been blessed by the ministries of such Reformed Baptists as Al Martin and John Piper. I am one among many who has great appreciation for the work of Reformed Baptist theologians such as Don Carson, Stanley Grenz, Don Garlington, Wayne Grudem and others. Even though the Reformed tradition may appreciate the work of their Reformed Baptist brothers in many respects, it is nonetheless clear that to ascribe the term ‘Reformed’ to Reformed Baptists is quite inappropriate.
The New Perspective and the Reformed Tradition
2. You say that it is ridiculous for me to say that you are “arguing that the ‘Reformed world after the time of Calvin has been reading the New Testament wrongly in fundamental issues’.” Why is that ridiculous? Most advocates of the ‘New Perspective’ on justification which you hold to are quite plain and clear in stating that they believe that the Reformers misread the New Testament and that they were wrong to place justification by faith alone at the heart of the gospel. You don't have to go far in reading Wright or Dunn to find them saying that Luther and Calvin were totally wrong. These writers are quite express in saying that almost all before them have read the New Testament wrongly. However you seem to have taken a quite novel position — that not only is the New Perspective largely the _correct_ reading of the New Testament, but you also hold that it was, after all, the perspective held by the Reformers after all! Historical revisionism?
A few points:
Charles Hodge and the Roman Catholics
3. I have read quite a lot of Hodge, and frankly your quoting of him is very selective. Hodge’s understanding of the gospel and justification is spelled out in his book “The Way of Life”, and is not the same as yours. If you read his commentaries on Romans and 1 Corinthians then you will see that he does not understand saving faith to be something which is compatible with the Roman church’s confession. Hodge’s view that Roman Catholic baptism is “Christian” is hence an idiosyncracy, and not a consistent part of his system as it is for you. For Hodge, it does not tie in with the view of the gospel and of justification which it does for you. This is why you quote Hodge on the question of Roman Catholic baptism, but do not quote him on justification! Historical revisionism of Hodge going on here?
No, I don’t think so. Hodge writes in a manner that directly addresses this question:—
The most common and plausible objections to the admission that the church of Rome is still a part of the visible church are the following. First, it is said that she does not profess the true religion, because though she retains the forms or propositions in which the truth is stated, she vitiates them by her explanation. To which we answer, 1. That in her general creeds, adopted and professed by the people, no explanations are given. The doctrines are asserted in the general terms, just as they were presented and professed before the Romish apostasy. 2. That the explanations, as given by the Council of Trent, are as stated by Theophilus, designedly two-sided and ambiguous; so that while one class of Romanists take them in a sense consistent with their saving efficacy, others take them in a sense which destroys their value. It is notorious that the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England are taken in a Calvinistic sense by one class of her theologians; in a semi-Pelagian sense by another class; and in a Romish sense by a third. 3. While we admit the truth of the objection as a fact, viz., that the dominant class of theologians do explain away most of the saving doctrines of her ancient creeds, yet we deny that this destroys the argument from the profession of those creeds, in proof that as a society she retains saving truth. Because it is the creeds and not the explanations, that constitute the profession of the people. [emphasis added]
It seems clear that Hodge recognizes that there is enough ambiguity in the Roman Catholic position for one to be honestly subscribe to Roman Catholic doctrine and yet to believe the gospel savingly. I must admit that I find you more than a little audicious to wilfully pit Hodge himself against his clear testimony on this very issue. He does tie in his view of the Roman Catholic church with his view of the gospel and justification. I question what right you have to say that Hodge’s view of the Roman Catholic church is an ‘idiosyncracy’ and not a consistent part of his system when he himself — and he arguably knew his own system of theology better than you do — saw it as totally consistent. Quite apart from this, one must appreciate that Hodge was engaged at the forefront of a debate on the subject of the validity of Roman Catholic baptism in the PCUSA in the 1840s, something that gave him considerable time and cause to think out his position on this matter in great depth. I suggest that you read John Tallach’s booklet, A Plea Against Extremism, which deals with this issue. Tallach writes:—

The view that the R.C. Church forms no part of the Christian Church and that baptism performed within it is to be disregarded as invalid was, for Hodge, a view in conflict with the Scriptures and with the Confession of Faith. It was also “at variance with all previously adopted principles and usage” in the Reformed Church; “in opposition to the principles of the whole Protestant world”.

Hodge believed … that “the cause of Protestantism suffers materially from the undiscriminating denunciations heaped upon the Church of Rome, and from transferring the abhorrence due to her corruptions to her whole complicated system of truth and error.” In fact, ironically, he felt that those who fanatically distanced themselves from everything connected with the R.C. Church were to some extent showing the spirit of Popery themselves.

Hodge was alarmed as he wondered where this movement was leading — the movement begun by those who had got the Assembly of his church to pronounce Romish baptism invalid. He thought that, if applied consistently to other defective churches, these attitudes would lead to the point where “we shall have to unchurch almost the whole Christian world: and the Presbyterians, instead of being the most catholic of churches, admitting the being of the church wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit, would become one of the narrowest and most bigotted of sects.”

My own position is essentially the same as that of Hodge. That is, whilst it is possible to read Roman Catholic theology in a manner that nullifies the saving efficacy of the gospel truths, there are clear and established forms of Roman Catholic theology that do not do so. Roman Catholic theology, although it may generally obscure the gospel in various ways, does not universally efface it. Roman Catholic theology may retain much of the force of sola fide whilst denying the legitimacy of the formulation.
Are Reformed Baptists Reformed? (Part II)
4. Frankly I do not mind if you define the term “Reformed” so as to exclude Baptists. It is just a term, after all.
The term ‘Reformed’ is no more ‘just a term’ than my surname is ‘just a word.’
I can see some justification for your usage; the mainstream Reformers weren’t Baptists. Fair enough. I am happy just to debate if the Bible supports my view or not, and do not need to rely on large quotes of other writers. But I hope you can also agree that the weight of historical consensus does not agree with you. The mainstream Presbyterian tradition has been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding. You can argue that that tradition has been wrong, but to deny that it is so is revisionism...
I am happy to debate these issues from Scripture too, and started a series discussing the doctrine of Baptism held by Reformed Baptists on my other blog some time ago now. I hope to finish it sometime soon. As regards the historical relationship between Reformed Baptists and the Reformed tradition, it is clear that historically there has been a close relationship. I am quite willing to admit this. However, the same people that have recognized this close relationship have also clearly recognized some very important differences between the Reformed tradition and that of the Reformed Baptists. Some within the Reformed tradition have perceived the relationship between themselves and the Reformed Baptists to be closer than others. However, your claim that ‘the mainstream Presbyterian tradition has been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding’ is questionable to say the least. First, it is clear that the Presbyterian tradition has historically taken many different forms. Some of these forms are downright hostile to Baptists. It is also easy to observe that many prominent forms of the Reformed Baptist tradition are openly hostile to Reformed practice of infant Baptism, speaking of it in the most pejorative of terms. The existence of any ‘mainstream’ on this issue is a myth. I challenge you to prove the existence of such a ‘mainstream’ all the way back to the earliest Reformed tradition. Second, there are Presbyterian movements that place far more accent upon the doctrines that are not shared by Reformed Baptists and downplay any connection with Reformed Baptists. These movements have an indisputable claim to stand in the Reformed tradition and to claim that these groups somehow do not belong to some mythological ‘mainstream’ is quite ridiculous. Third, whilst some movements within Presbyterianism may have ‘been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding’, this area of consistency is clearly not universal. Presbyterians of all stripes have tended to see infant Baptism as a very important distinctive, as have Baptists. There has been a considerable appreciation on both sides that, although much may be held in common, the differences that exist are very important ones. Your position depends on arguing for the existence of a general consensus in the Reformed tradition supporting the notion that infant Baptism is not an integral element of Reformed theology. I do not believe that such a consensus exists.
Reformed Baptists and Calvin
“Claiming to be Reformed and yet denying infant Baptism is as misguided as claiming to be Lutheran and yet denying the Real Presence or claiming to be Augustinian and yet denying Augustine's ecclesiology.” This is a play on words. If you mean to fossilise the word “Reformed” in the Institutes of Calvin, then you’re correct. But if we see the English Puritans and the Reformed Baptists as the true heirs of the work which Calvin began, you’re wrong. And I argue you’re wrong.
I don’t mean to ‘fossilise the word “Reformed” in the Institutes of Calvin’. Calvin was a member of a broader theological tradition and had to harmonize his theology with his own Reformed contemporaries in certain respects. However, as I have argued in the past, the Reformed Baptist position is clearly repudiated by Calvin. It is frankly dishonest for Reformed Baptists to represent themselves ‘as the true heirs of the work which Calvin began’ when Calvin spoke in such strong language against their key distinctives. I can imagine that you would be appalled if someone treated your theology in such a cavalier fashion. Calvin did not believe that one could deny infant Baptism and yet leave the rest of his theology intact.
We welcome the core insight of Calvin that the New Covenant is the continuation and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham. We reject the erroneous inference that in the matter of baptism that the external administration is unchanged.
It is clear that the denial of infant Baptism is only the tip of an iceberg of differences between Reformed Baptist covenant theology and that of Calvin. I have read Calvin in depth and I have also read many key Reformed Baptist apologists These apologists almost invariably draw attention to deeper differences between the Reformed Baptist views of covenant theology and those of the Reformed tradition. Only by describing Reformed Baptist covenant theology in the most general of terms (as you have done above) can one obscure the irreconcilable differences that exist.
We consistently apply Calvin’s better insight in the case of the Lord’s Supper, that it is for believer’s only. By the way, if credobaptism disenfranchises Reformed Baptists from being “Reformed”, then so does paedocommunion, which was not held by Calvin either. You can’t have you cake and eat it — not without historical revisionism! ;-)
Well, first of all, one must recognize that I do not equate Calvin’s position with the ‘Reformed’ position. Calvin is a key representative of the Reformed tradition, but his is not the only position within the tradition. I mention Calvin’s differences with Reformed Baptists so much because they are prone to do violence to Calvin’s theological system when they claim to be ‘Calvinists’, when they are not Calvinists by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, one must recognize that paedocommunion has been a position that has been held by some within the Reformed churches in history. Among the early Reformers, the paedocommunion position was held by Wolfgang Musculus without his being denied the title of ‘Reformed’. In recent years, the paedocommunion position has gained a lot of support in many Reformed churches (with legitimate claim to descent from the Reformed tradition) and has been advocated by a number of leading Reformed thinkers. There are a number of Reformed churches that practice paedocommunion. Furthermore, paedocommunionism is not outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy in the same manner that credobaptism is. It is not explicitly condemned by any major Reformed confession. Consequently it is an issue that Reformed people are open to disagree on.
Just remember that when I say “Reformed” I don’t mean “identical in all things with Calvin”, I mean “heirs of the tradition from Calvin whose successors are the English Puritans and the adherents of the WCF, Savoy Confession or 1689 London Baptist Confession”.
Indeed. I am aware of what you mean by ‘Reformed’ and I am denying that the Reformed Baptists are ‘Reformed’ in that precise sense — namely, ‘heirs of the tradition from Calvin.’ Who entitled them to claim this tradition as their inheritance? It was not bequeathed to them by the Reformed churches. They have taken it to themselves. I am glad that they have benefited from the doctrines that are treasured by the Reformed churches. However, they claimed these doctrines whilst denying that they were the sons of the Reformed ecclesiastical tradition. The ‘navel-less’ ecclesiology of the Reformed Baptists undermines the legitimacy of their claim to be the ‘heirs of the tradition from Calvin.’
Differences on the Supper
7. “The doctrines of the Reformed faith interpenetrate each other and are not discrete, hermetically sealed units. The Reformed faith is like a cake: one cannot remove certain ingredients and add others and still expect to have the same finished article. The system is not just the sum of its parts. Rather, every part of the system is mutually conditioning with every other part.” Yes, but you have removed the doctrine of believers’ only communion, so you are also excluded. I am sure that you will deny with, but whatever argument you have that allows you to argue that Calvin’s view of communion is optional is one that I can use to make his view of baptism optional.
To claim that I am excluded from the Reformed tradition because I have ‘removed the doctrine of believers’ only communion’ is quite ridiculous. [However, I will readily admit (and have done so on this blog in the past) that I am not a true member of the Reformed tradition given the fact that at present I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church.] There are numerous heirs of the Reformed tradition who hold to the practice of infant communion. There has never been an articulated consensus condemning the practice of infant communion within the Reformed tradition. A number of Reformed confessional documents do not exclude paedocommunion. Even in churches that have confessional documents that preclude paedocommunion, the subject has been given serious thought. Many within churches that hold the Westminster confessional documents, for example, take exception to certain of the positions that exclude paedocommunion. The Reformed tradition has generally regarded differences over infant Baptism as far more determinative of Reformed identity than differences over paedocommunion, concerning which there is no dogmatic condemnation. John Murray writes in Christian Baptism:—

Why baptise infants if we do not admit them to the Lord’s table?

At the outset it should be admitted that if paedobaptists are inconsistent in this discrimination, then the relinquishment of infant baptism is not the only way of resolving the inconsistency. It could be resolved by going in the other direction, namely, that of admitting infants to the Lord’s supper. And when all factors entering into this dispute are taken into account, particularly the principle involved in infant baptism, then far less would be at stake in admitting infants to the Lord’s supper than would be at stake in abandoning infant baptism. This will serve to point up the significance of infant baptism in the divine economy of grace. [p.74]

The grounds on which Calvin and others within the Reformed tradition oppose paedocommunion are not the same grounds on which they oppose the position of antipaedobaptists. One position is generally opposed by focusing on the importance of self-examination and the difference between an active and passive sacrament, the other is opposed on the basis of covenant theology itself. Far more serious truths are jeopardized by the denial of infant Baptism than are supposedly denied by supporting the paedocommunion position. I’m frankly surprised that you would relate these two doctrinal questions in the manner that you do.
8. Of course, the Reformed theology was in fact one big enough to hold the views of both Calvin and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper, and your theology of the ordinances is once totally incompatible with a Zwinglian view. What’s more, your view of the ordinances is essential for your ecclesiology and soteriology, as I’ve understood it. Hence you ought to be more cautious in making Calvin’s theology of the ordinances an essential part of Reformed theology. Otherwise you’re open to the accusation of revising history...
A reading of the early Reformed confessions will soon reveal that it was the Calvinistic doctrine that was most generally received in the Reformed churches. As the Reformed tradition became more clearly articulated in confessional documents the Zwinglian view is seen to be largely elbowed out. It is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Supper that is taught in the confessional documents of most branches of the Reformed tradition. Keith Mathison writes in Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, after having studied a number of the early Reformed confessions:—
The second fact we must note is that of the three views that could conceivably claim to be the Reformed view (the views of Zwingli, Bullinger, or Calvin), Calvin’s doctrine is the most representative in the Reformed confessions of the time. Zwingli’s view is only represented in minor early confessions, and Bullinger’s view, although it does appear in important confessions, such as the Second Helvetic Confession, could be described as more “timidly Calvinistic” than overtly “anti-Calvinistic.”
As Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper is the one that has generally been received by the Reformed churches, it seems fair to see it as pretty important to the Reformed faith and to see a departure from it as pretty serious. Nonetheless, it is certainly not a sine qua non of the Reformed tradition in the manner that infant Baptism is. You are right in recognizing that my view of the sacraments is essential to my ecclesiology and soteriology. There is nothing wrong with this. The Reformed tradition is able to hold mutually incompatible positions on certain issues, provided certain essential things that are held in common are not denied. Just because I believe that the sacraments are essential to ecclesiology and soteriology and Zwinglianism is dangerously mistaken, does not mean that I deny that Zwinglianism is a Reformed position or that I claim that to be Reformed one must share my views concerning the relationship between the sacraments, ecclesiology and soteriology. For example, B.B. Warfield’s notion of an ‘immediate’ salvation is a departure from certain of the general historical positions of Reformed churches and I dislike it intently. However, I will happily grant that Warfield is Reformed, even though our systems of theology are radically different in a number of respects.
The Reformers and the Validity of Roman Catholic Baptism
9. “The Reformers accepted the validity of Roman Catholic Baptism” — but not on the grounds that you do! The Reformers argued that their baptisms in the Roman Catholic church were valid because their later faith and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit cleansed them of their corruptions and original invalidity. However you argue that Roman Catholic Baptism is inherently valid. Hence it’s very misleading of you to enlist the Reformers in support of your argument. Why do you want to portray yourself as being faithful to Reformed theology? If your position is biblical, why does it need all this historical fudging to stand on its own two feet? Who’s revising history?
Witness Calvin in Institutes IV.ii.2:—
Of old, certain peculiar prerogatives of the church remained among the Jews. In like manner, today we do not deprive the papists of those traces of the church which the Lord willed should among them survive the destruction. God had once for all made his covenant with the Jews, but it was not they who preserved the covenant; rather, leaning upon its own strength, it kept itself alive by struggling against their impiety. Therefore—such was the certainty and constancy of God’s goodness—the Lord’s covenant abode there. Their treachery could not obliterate his faithfulness, and circumcision could not be so profaned by their unclean hands as to cease to be the true sign and sacrament of his covenant. Whence the Lord called the children born to them his children [Ezekiel 16:20-21], when these belonged to him only by a special blessing. So it was in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England after the Lord established his covenant there. When those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, the Lord used two means to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men. Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die. [emphasis added]
This does not seem to be saying that only later faith made Baptism ‘valid’. Indeed, the resting of the validity of Baptism upon faith is a notion the Reformers repeatedly repudiated. Calvin writes in his treatment of Amos 5:25-26:—
Now then we see that the Prophets speak in various ways of Israel: when they regard the people, they say, that they were perfidious, that they were apostates, who had immediately from the beginning departed from the true and legitimate worship of God: but when they commend the grace of God, they say, that the true worship of God shone among them, that though the whole multitude had become perverted, yet the Lord approved of what he had commanded. So it is with Baptism; it is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men. [emphasis added]
In Institutes IV.xv.16, Calvin clearly states his position on this issue:—

Now, suppose what we have determined is true — that a sacrament must not be judged by the hand of the one by whom it is ministered, but as if it were from the very hand of God, from whom it doubtless has come. From this we may then infer that nothing is added to it or taken from it by the worth of him by whose hand it is administered. Among men, if a letter is sent, provided the handwriting and seal are sufficiently recognized, it makes no difference who or of what sort the carrier is. In like manner, it ought to be enough for us to recognize the hand and seal of our Lord in his sacraments, whatever carrier may bring them.

This argument neatly refutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the force and value of the sacrament by the worth of the minister. Such today are our Catabaptists, who deny that we have been duly baptized because we were baptized by impious and idolatrous men under the papal government. They therefore passionately urge rebaptism.

We shall be armed against their follies with a strong enough argument if we think of ourselves as initiated by baptism not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19]; and that baptism is accordingly not of man but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God’s that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name. But if it was the baptism of God, it surely had, enclosed in itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, mortification of the flesh, spiritual vivification, and participation in Christ. Thus it was no hindrance to the Jews to be circumcised by impure and apostate priests; nor was the sign therefore void so that it had to be repeated, but it was a sufficient means by which to return to the real source.

Their objection that baptism ought to be celebrated in the assemblies of the godly does not have the effect of extinguishing the whole force of what is only partially faulty. For when we teach what ought to be done in order that baptism may be pure and free of all defilement, we do not abolish God’s ordinance, however idolaters may corrupt it. For when in ancient times circumcision was corrupted by many superstitions, it did not cease nevertheless to be regarded as a symbol of grace. And when Josiah and Hezekiah called out of all Israel those who had forsaken God [2 Kings, chs. 22; 23; 18], they did not summon them to a second circumcision.

In the next section Calvin goes on to argue that their lack of faith did not nullify the validity of their Baptisms:—
Now our opponents ask us what faith came to us during some years after our baptism. This they do to prove our baptism void, since it is not sanctified to us except when the word of promise is accepted in faith. To this question we reply that we indeed, being blind and unbelieving, for a long time did not grasp the promise that had been given us in baptism; yet that promise, since it was of God, ever remained fixed and firm and trustworthy. Even if all men are liars and faithless, still God does not cease to be trustworthy [Romans 3:3]. Even if all men are lost, still Christ remains salvation. We therefore confess that for that time baptism benefited us not at all, inasmuch as the promise offered us in it — without which baptism is nothing — lay neglected. Now when, by God’s grace, we begin to repent, we accuse our blindness and hardness of heart — we who were for so long ungrateful toward his great goodness. But we believe that the promise itself did not vanish. Rather, we consider that God through baptism promises us forgiveness of sins, and he will doubtless fulfill his promise for all believers. This promise was offered to us in baptism; therefore, let us embrace it by faith. Indeed, on account of our unfaithfulness it lay long buried from us; now, therefore, let us receive it through faith.
In 1559, with his student De Chandieu, Calvin wrote the following statement in the French Confession of Faith:—
…as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy, and the virtue and substance of baptism remain, and as the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon the person who administers it, we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism. But, on account of its corruptions, we cannot present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution… [emphasis added]
Calvin’s position was also generally received by the Reformed churches. The recognition of the validity of Roman Catholic Baptism is one of the principal reasons why the Reformed churches could be called ‘Reformed’. They saw themselves as historically connected to the Roman Catholic church by their Baptisms, consequently they were involved in reformation not revolution. They were reforming an existing Church and not building a new separate church from scratch. I would appreciate if you would back up your claims that I am misrepresenting the Reformed tradition on this matter by concrete quotation, such as those which I have presented. I believe that these quotes from Calvin totally disprove the notion that he held that Roman Catholic Baptism was invalid prior to conversion. In fact, had he made the validity of Baptism contingent upon faith in such a manner he would have eviscerated his whole Baptismal doctrine, which ascribes a strong objective force to Baptism.
Concluding Comments
10. “To become a Baptist is to cease to be Reformed. One must demonstrate that Reformed Baptists were part of a movement that developed within the Reformed churches and continued within them.” The history of the rise of the Reformed Baptists is exactly that — they developed out of the soil English Puritanism, not Continental Anabaptism. If by “continued within them” you mean that they remained within churches with Presbyterian Church government, then obviously I’d have to say “don’t be silly”.
As I have argued church affiliation is important when establishing a claim to be ‘Reformed’.
11. I’m disappointed that you didn’t actually answer my question about the relationship between the WCF, the Savoy Confession and the 1689 Confession.
I see that there is a considerable formal similarity between the documents. However, as I have already argued this is not sufficient to rule Reformed Baptists into the Reformed tradition, for a range of different reasons.
This exchange is very illuminating for me. It is really opening up for me the revising of history that is necessary to sustain your viewpoint. Though you target Reformed Baptists for disenfrachisement from the Reformed faith, the actuality is that Zwinglians, the English Puritans, Congregationalists, Independents (John Owen!), and today’s mainstream WCF-confessing Presbyterians are all to a greater or lesser extent disenfrachised by your views.
I see no need to revise history. [Incidentally, I do find this accusation a bit rich coming from a Baptist]. However, I do believe that the claims of Reformed Baptists, Congregationalists and Independents to be within the Reformed tradition are quite spurious. Zwinglians and many of the English Puritans are clearly Reformed, even if their distinctives are not always to my liking. ‘Today’s mainstream WCF-confessing Presbyterians’ are undoubtedly Reformed and I have not stated otherwise. Whilst in places they are not always as faithful to aspects of the historic Reformed tradition as they could be, they do have indisputable claim to stand in a fundamental continuity with it and to be legitimate heirs of the tradition. Thank you once again for the discussion. I trust that this lengthy post has served to make my position a bit clearer. Every blessing.

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