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…
Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. By regeneration, understand regeneration conceived in thought, not discerned by bodily…’Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:— for his visible body, water, the sensible element — for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. ‘For the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but cannot tell whence He comes or whither He goes.’ He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby.
-Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ
In Holy Baptism, what is it that we secure thereby? Is it not a participation in a life no longer subject to death? I think that no one who can in any way be reckoned among Christians will deny that statement. What then? Is that life-giving power in the water itself which is employed to convey the grace of Baptism? Or is it not rather clear to every one that this element is only employed as a means in the external ministry, and of itself contributes nothing towards the sanctification, unless it be first transformed itself by the sanctification; and that what gives life to the baptized is the Spirit; as our Lord Himself says in respect to Him with His own lips, “It is the Spirit that gives life;” but for the completion of this grace He alone, received by faith, does not give life, but belief in our Lord must precede, in order that the lively gift may come upon the believer, as our Lord has spoken, “He gives life to whom He wills“.
-Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Spirit, Against the Macedonians
The EPC prides itself on allowing differences in “non-essentials” among its churches, and this has included the thorny issue of the eternal fate of people who die in infancy.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states,
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
The Confession strikes an agnostic position that borders on a tautology: elect infants dying in infancy are the ones who are saved. This position allows for a great deal of flexibility, since the who and how of election for those incapable of being outwardly called is not identified.
In 1903 the PCUSA added a declaratory statement to the beginning of the WCF which functionally amended it. The declaration stated, in part, that,
…with reference to Chapter 10, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how he pleases.
This declaration had the effect of eliminating flexibility from confessional subscription. Now only one position, namely that all who die in infancy are elect, was permitted. The EPC formed in 1981, and had to choose which amendments and alterations to the Westminster Standards it should adopt. The Declaratory Statement was one of the items considered…
The Westminster Theological Society is a group a ministers in the EPC who are striving to keep the denominational discussions and priorities centered around scripture. In 2017 they began publishing the Westminster Society Journal, which is aimed at EPC ministers, ruling elders, and interested lay people. I contributed an essay to the 2018 volume, ‘The Needful Duty of Improving Our Baptism’. A copy of the journal can be found here. The opening paragraphs of my essay are below.
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