How Should Baptized Infants and Children Be Regarded By the Church? (An Excerpt)

By : Brian Schwertle

Some of the early Reformed theologians speak in a manner that at the very least implies sacramental efficacy. Beza writes: “It cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed and germ of faith.”Another early theologian Amandus Polanus says that the infants of believers should be baptized “because they have been purchased by the blood of Christ, have been washed from their sins, and possess therefore by the work of the Holy Spirit the thing signified…. Because the Holy Spirit is promised to them, they possess the Holy Spirit. This position, which is becoming more popular today with the rise of Shepherdism and the Auburn Avenue heresy…

 The second view, which (like the first view) is held by only a few Reformed theologians, is that although the children of believers have a right to the covenant sign they are to be regarded as non-regenerated unbelievers until they exercise faith in Christ. R. L. Dabney, for example, repeatedly refers to baptized children as the “unregenerate members” of the church….

The position of these southern theologians (like the previous position) has serious problems. In the Scriptures the children of believers are never treated as little pagans who are the enemies of Christ. The children were saved from the angel of death in Egypt (Ex. 12:12). They were delivered from the armies of Pharoah by the supernatural action of God (Ex. 14:21ff.). The heathen were drowned. They are called holy by Paul (1 Cor. 7:14). …

 The third view, which one could call mainstream Reformed thought and is the position of the Westminster Standards, is that the infants of believers are to be regarded as federally Christians and federally holy before baptism (see Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God); that baptism is only “made effectual to the elect” (Larger Catechism 161); that baptism is a means of grace only when attended by the working of the Holy Spirit and when received by faith (Shorter Catechism 91); that the time of regeneration is not tied to the moment of the administration of baptism but can occur before, during or after baptism (Confession of Faith 38:6)…The Reformed view is that while baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration, God only regenerates the elect (those for whom Christ died; those for whom union with Christ is possible); and, He sovereignly regenerates a person either before, during or after baptism according to His good pleasure. The Scripture is very clear on this matter. John the Baptist was regenerated before he was born or circumcised (Lk. 1:41)… Further, there are many examples in Scripture of people who were circumcised as covenant children who were never ever regenerated. Therefore, attempts (whether by Romanists, Lutherans, Anglicans or high church Federal Vision “Presbyterians”) to connect regeneration to the moment of baptism, in all cases or even as the God-ordained normal course of events, have clearly contradicted Scripture. Baptism does not confer the Holy Spirit, but it is the sign and seal that the Holy Spirit has been, is or will be effected.

When people separate the necessity of faith from the efficacy of baptism they enter the realm of sacramentalism and mysticism. Charles Hodge’s comments on the necessity of faith and his comparison between baptism and the Word as a means of grace can help us avoid high church mysticism…

 Thus, while we must reject ex opere operato concepts of baptism (and their high church “Presbyterian” counterparts) we must also reject the idea that baptized children are unclean, Christ-hating pagans. We must trust in the promises of God and regard our children as Christians and treat them accordingly. Peter Martyr Vermigli writes: “We assume that the children of believers are holy; as long as in growing up they do not demonstrate themselves to be estranged from Christ. We do not exclude them from the church, but accept them as members, with the hope that they are partakers of the divine election and have the grace and Spirit of Christ, even as they are the seed of the saints. On that basis we baptize them.”

Note: this came from: and I include them to show that there is no uniform Reformed understanding of infant baptism and regeneration. My point is because the Scrptures always ties baptism with faith and salvation- most Christian denominations and tradition maintained a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. It is not easy to escape this conclusion even within Reformed churches. Only a Baptist view of baptism will be able to pull us out of this quagmire into a more Scriptural position-which is to baptize those individuals after they mad a credible profession of faith in the salvation purchased by Jesus Christ. Infant baptism does not confer anything to the infant-and in fact confuses them in their state- They are lost-and yet their church maintained their semi-saved status. This is a very dangerous delusion.


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