Precision Questions on Baptism
Below is a series of nine questions on baptism from my sent folder intended to highlight the difference between the position of the Reformed tradition and someone who prefers administering baptism only to those who profess faith. Yes, all of the citations are confessional texts, not biblical texts, because these questions were designed to show what our doctrine is. Nor are these all the important questions and such about baptism.
Is repentance/belief a necessary prerequisite to receive the sacrament of baptism?
- No, repentance/belief is not a necessary prerequisite. The sacrament confirms Christ’s action and is a means by which Christ through his Spirit works repentance/belief (WCF 27. 3, 28.1, 28.6; WLC 161-162, 165-166, 177).
Does the covenant of grace include the promise of regeneration, remission of sins, and justification? Do the sacraments of the covenant of grace sign and seal all of the covenant of grace and its benefits?
- Yes and yes. The covenant of grace is the full promise of redemption and grace in Christ, and the sacraments are holy signs and seals that confirm to their recipients their interest in the covenant of grace with all of its benefits, including regeneration, remission of sins, and justification. (WCF 7, 27.1, 28.1; WLC 30, 32, 35, 57, 162, 176-177).
Is baptism more powerful, effective, beneficial, or meaningful if administered to someone who is more mature or who has already professed faith?
- No, the power, effectiveness, benefits, and meaning of baptism are truly the same no matter the age of the recipient to which it is administered. The power and effectiveness of baptism depends not upon the faith of the recipient, but upon the institution of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (WCF 27.3, 28.6; WLC 161).
Should a family delay presenting their child for baptism until they have grown and have professed faith?
- No, they should present their child for baptism as soon as reasonably possible. To delay on the basis of wanting to have the child make their own decision or express their own faith is to sinfully denigrate God’s covenant and neglect the sacrament. (WCF 28.5; WLC 166).
Should an adult who was baptized as a child seek or receive another baptism now that they have a stronger faith?
- No, baptism is to be administered but once. The baptism of an infant is as truly and spiritually powerful as the baptism of an adult. To seek a second baptismal experience now that someone has more faith is to value baptism not on the basis of God’s covenant and promise, but on the basis of the recipient’s faith and experience of the sacrament. This is a sinful devaluation of God’s covenant and sacrament. (WCF 28.5-7; WLC 166-167, 176-177).
Should the church presume the regeneration, remission, and justification of infants who have received the sacrament of baptism?
- Yes, not because of the ritual of the sacrament, but because of the covenantal promise of God. The reception of baptism does not automatically regenerate a person, nor is the work of the Holy Spirit automatically tied to the moment of administration. Notwithstanding, the grace offered in baptism is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred to those who properly receive it, including infants. (WCF 7.4-6; 28.1, 28.5-6; WLC 32, 35, 161, 165, 177).
Is the sacrament of baptism the means by which God baptizes his people with the Holy Spirit?
- Yes. There is a correspondence between the sign and the thing signified that is a sacramental and spiritual union. Baptism is the sign and seal of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The reception of the sacrament does not automatically confer the Holy Spirit, nor is the baptism of the Holy Spirit automatically tied to the moment of administration. Notwithstanding, the grace offered in baptism is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred to those who properly receive it. (WCF 27.2-3, 28.1, 5-6; WLC 163, 165, 167; see the EPC’s position paper on the Holy Spirit).
Is there a difference in substance between the sacraments of the old covenant and the sacraments of the new covenant?
- No, while the sacraments of the old covenant looked forward to the work of Christ and the sacraments of the new covenant look backward to his finished work while anticipating his return, the substance of all the sacraments is the covenant of grace in the person and work of Jesus. Therefore, just as circumcision as a sacrament of the old covenant was given to infants, baptism as a sacrament in the new covenant is to be given to infants. This is the normative and best and good practice of the church. (WCF 7, 27.5; WLC 32-35, 166)
Is baptism correctly administered by pouring and/or sprinkling?
- Yes, though this is not necessary; baptism by immersion, though not normative, still counts. The pouring and/or sprinkling reflects the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (i.e. baptism of the Spirit) on Pentecost to which the sacrament corresponds and Moses sacramentally sprinkling the people of Israel with the blood of the covenant to which baptism corresponds. (WCF 28.3)