Infant Baptism and the Spirit’s Witness

I’m still trying to get my head around the whole infant baptism thing. It’s odd for me, knowing that infant baptism has been the practice of the majority of Christians for most of the history of the church, and yet I don’t believe in it. Some time I’m going to get around to reading the books that William Tighe mentioned in the comments section of this post. But in the mean time, Calvin’s discussion on the witness of the Spirit has gotten my head all turned around.

Paul declares that those only are the sons of God who are led by his Spirit, (Rom. 8: 14;) these men would have those who are the sons of God to be led by their own, and void of the divine Spirit. He tells us that we call God our Father in terms dictated by the Spirit, who alone bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God, (Rom. 8: 16;) they, though they forbid us not to invoke God, withdraw the Spirit, by whose guidance he is duly invoked. He declares that those only are the servants of Christ who are led by the Spirit of Christ, (Rom. 8: 9;) they imagine a Christianity which has no need of the Spirit of Christ. He holds out the hope of a blessed resurrection to those only who feel His Spirit dwelling in them, (Rom. 8: 11;) they imagine hope when there is no such feeling. But perhaps they will say, that they deny not the necessity of being endued with the Spirit, but only hold it to be the part of modesty and humility not to recognize it. What, then, does Paul mean, when he says to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13: 5.)

Calvin’s version of 2 Corinthians 13:5 is a little different from my NIV: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”, but you still get the idea. It’s interesting to think that most people reading this passage today would probably assume that Paul was telling the Corinthians to check their doctrinal positions – whether they believed the gospel. Calvin understands it much more experientially. He says, basically, “What else could Paul possibly be referring to, other than the witness of the Holy Spirit?” which would seem to put Calvin firmly in the experientialist/pietist camp instead of the “Christianity = sound doctrine” camp.

Which brings me back to infant baptism. To the best of my understanding, Calvin was a pedo-baptist, but I’m having a hard time squaring this with his position on the Christian’s personal witness of the Holy Spirit. Those of us who practice beleiver’s baptism place a great deal of emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s witness, since for us, unless a person affirms they’ve had such an experience, they cannot be baptized. Regardless of whatever else it might mean, baptism signifies that a person should be accepted by the rest of the church *as a Christian*, and so how can we confirm what the Holy Spirit himself has not ratified?

So I had always understood that pedobaptists were uninterested in the Holy Spirit’s witness to the believer. If they had been baptised, they were fully a Christian. The question of “conversion experiences” or the Holy Spirit’s witness were to be rejected as experientialism in favor of solid doctrine and right relationship with the church.

And yet, here’s Calvin, a good pedobaptist by all accounts, actively endorsing a position that says, “if you don’t have a verifyable from the Holy Spirit as to your relationship with God, you’re a reprobate.”

What then is the meaning of baptism?

Author: KB French

Formerly many things, including theology student, mime, jr. high Latin teacher, and Army logistics officer. Currently in the National Guard, and employed as a civilian... somewhere

One thought on “Infant Baptism and the Spirit’s Witness”

  1. “What then is the meaning of baptism?”

    One of the main reasons for infant baptism is the original early Christian belief that baptism is more than a symbol. My faith believes that during an infant’s baptism that the Holy Spirit enters the child and the child receives “grace”.

    As a parent, I have watched the faith of my own children grow as those initial ‘seeds’ of grace grew and are now producing fruit.

    You’re asking all the right questions and the fact that your finding answers that conflict with your current beliefs indicates that you’re discovering truth.

    One of the questions to ponder is what happens to infants (and children) who die before receiving credo baptism?

    The answer to this question is what drove most of the early Christians to seek baptism for infants.

    Here’s some resources to help your discernment:

    Infant Baptism in Early Church History
    by Dennis Kastens

    Views of Baptism as Regeneration in Ignatius, the Didache, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus

    Is Baptism Only Symbolic? (audio file)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: