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.