Monday, November 10, 2008

Luther and Calvin on Baptism

It seems that just about everyday since my conversion to Lutheranism I have had to explain what my view of baptism is. I am usually talking to Calvinistic protestants, as I go to Geneva college. I would like to evaluate what Luther and Calvin's views of baptism were.

Luther's view of baptism is pretty clear. "It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives all eternal salvation who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare". (Luther's small catechism) Simply put, baptism does what scripture says it does; it saves. "Concerning baptism, our churches teach that baptism is necessary for salvation and that God's grace is offered through baptism." (Augsburg Confession Article IX) Baptism is not a mere symbol of grace that is recieved. It genuinely offers and gives grace to the recipient. This is not equal to the Roman ex opera operato view of baptism as is often alleged. In the Roman system, one who is baptized is put in a state of grace, regardless of their faith and only loses that grace when one commits a mortal sin. We recognize that without faith, no man will be saved. Thus, baptismal regeneration is dependant upon faith. Since faith is a gift, God gives the gift of faith to the recipient, even as an infant. Though, the subject of infant faith must be the subject of a seperate post. It must also be said that it is possible for one to be saved without baptism, as faith in Christ alone justifies. However, outright rejection of baptism in tantamount to rejection of God himself, thus no true faith can really be present. True faith always results in baptism.

What is Calvin's view of baptism? "Baptism is the sign of initiation by which we are recieved into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God's children." (Institutes Book IV ch. XV) For Calvin, baptism is not merely a sign. It is not something man does to confess his faith before others, as he expressly states in the same chapter, "they who regard baptism as nothing but a token and a mark by which we confess our religion before men... have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to recieve baptism with this promise: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16)These quotes may surpise some Presbyterians, because it seems comparable to the Lutheran position which so many protestants reject as "Romish" without clearly evaluating the Biblical testimony. There is however, a difference between Calvin and Luther's view. For Luther, the grace given to the recipient, including infants is the Holy Spirit himself. For Calvin, the gift given is grace, but this grace comes in the form of entrance into the church community. In some sense the recipient does have a special relationship with the Spirit through baptism, but only as the Spirit is present with the church. This comes from the idea that Calvin does not accept that one can be regenerate and fall away, but Luther does. However, both agree that the elect will all be preserved by grace and gain final salvation.

I submit that Calvinists and other protestants look at the Biblical testimony seriously without rejecting out of hand what sounds Papistic. Just because the Roman church does it does not mean it is wrong. I would also exhort Calvinists to look carefully at what Calvin actually believed about this subject, as so many later Presbyterians see infant baptism as merely looking forward to something in the future, without actually doing anything. Calvin's idea was followed famously by Abraham Kuyper whose doctrine has been labeled "presumptive regeneration." A child is concidered a Christian after baptism, unless signs show that the child is not. Thus, the Spirit can regenerate through baptism but does not always do it. I would also encourage Lutherans to seriously look at Calvins doctrine of baptism, and stop misconstruing what Calvin actually believed in light of current Calvinists who obscure his teachings.


Jeph said...

Hello, I want to learn.

1) You said one can be justified by faith alone without needing to be baptize (at least in some special cases). Can you provide instances of these?

2) Can you please enumerate, based on what Luther taught, the benefit(s) of baptism for adults who have already come to faith in Christ?

3) Again, with regards to those who have trusted in Christ for Salvation and are not yet baptized, are they saved already, or not yet until they are baptized?

4) Do Lutherans believe in mortal sin?

5) What is Absolution?

6) I was baptized in a Baptist church (which holds that baptism is a mere profession of faith). Does Lutherans accept my baptism as valid?

That's all for now. Thanks and God bless!

Jordan Cooper said...

Jeph, these are great questions. Look in the next couple days for a post responding to this.

Jeph said...


Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to your responses. Let me tell you that I'm not looking for debate. I just want to have better grasp on what my Lutheran brothers believe on matters surrounding my questions above.

God bless!

Anonymous said...


To me it's a mystery how it is possible and even logical that one is saved through faith alone whereas someone else through faith AND baptism. And you mentioned Mark 16:16, however, quoting just the first part of it leaving out the second. The whole verse says this:

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not BELIEVE will be condemned." - Doesn't this clearly indicate that the only necessary thing for salvation is faith in Christ? Also, Luke 7:37–50 and other passages give us examples of people who where proclaimed as saved by Jesus even though they were not baptized.

So water baptism then is a visual reflection of the invisible spiritual baptism we receive when we repent and believe in Christ as the Son of God and our Lord. Therefore the wholeness of both can be represented as "Salvation", however only the first part (invisible spiritual baptism) is necessary for it.

Anonymous said...

In response to Jeph as a Lutheran:

Perhaps you have your answers now. I just found this and wanted to follow up... sorry if I'm just turning this into a zombie.

I'm no scholar and pray the Holy Spirit moves regardless of my words, that His will is done.

1) The thief on the cross. I'd think any real life circumstances that resemble this.

2) Baptism is commanded in the scriptures. If you have accepted Christ as your savior, you accept/believe his Word, which says to be Baptized. If you are a believer and come under the authority of God, you will be baptized into Him.

3) I'd toss that up to God as a heart issue speaking in more broad terms. (For instance, did they have the Word? Did other believers instruct them?) If someone just refuses to accept baptism at all, and chooses not to do it, then I would say that person is not "regenerate" and still has some major issues before I would consider them a follow of The Way or Jesus. (I'd be very skeptical)

4) No. Sins are sins in Gods eyes. While they might hold more or less weight in our eyes here on earth, no matter what it is, it moves us away from Christ just the same.

5)Essentially, it is the forgiveness of sins upon confession. Christ is the only one who forgives sins. Confession is a part of building the church body and repentance. The priest just vocalize the truth found in the Word to reassure the believer that Christ hears his heart, his confessions, his act of repentance and is forgiven.

6) Yes. There is only one Baptism. Baptism cannot be "messed up" per se. If you are baptized into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is "valid". Even if you were baptized as an unbeliever, it does not make your baptism any less a baptism. Or make it not "count".

Do not get hung up on the types of baptism, whether it "counts" or not, etc. It is an elementary thing and silly for your walk with God in Jesus to be hindered by such things. There is so much more to life, to the Gospel, to God than baptism. Focus on earnestly following God, your need for a savior in Christ, asking Him to increase your faith and understanding, that you might receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus will show you the way in his Word and in your heart.