BAPTISM (REFORMED VIEW). Baptism is the ordinance instituted by Christ on the eve of His Ascension to heaven (Matt 28:19), dispensed by washing with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and signifying and sealing the benefits of the new covenant.
There are various modes by which baptism may be administered—sprinkling, affusion, immersion. The Baptist insistence upon immersion as the only valid mode and therefore of the essence of the symbolism is controverted by non-Baptists. The two arguments advanced by Baptists are: (a) that certain passages (cf. Rom 6:3-6; Col 2:11, 12) indicate that the burial of Christ in the earth and emergence from it in the Resurrection supply the pattern that must be adhered to, and (b) that the Gr. terms for baptism mean immersion.
The fallacy of the first argument resides in an arbitrary selection of certain aspects of Paul’s teaching regarding our union with Christ. It is true that believers are united with Christ in His burial and Resurrection, and it is also true that immersion in and emergence from the water appear to represent and symbolize this phase of union with Christ. But the union with Christ signified by baptism includes more than union with Him in His burial and Resurrection. It signifies union with Him in His death and crucifixion. The burial must not be equated with either. Paul in Romans 6 speaks of being baptized into Jesus’ “death” (v. 3), of being “united” with Him in the likeness of His death (v. 5), and of being “crucified” with Him (v. 6; cf. Gal 2:19). It is apparent that immersion and emergence do not resemble these. But they are as germane to union with Christ as burial and resurrection. In the Baptist argument, therefore, the burial and resurrection are accorded the exclusive relevance in the plea for symbolism.
Other passages likewise prove the arbitrariness of preoccupation with the analogy of burial and resurrection. Paul also writes: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal 3:27 ASV). It would be as legitimate to argue for the mode of baptism from this passage as from Romans 6:4. But the figure here is that of putting on a garment to which immersion bears no resemblance. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 the figure is that of making up one body which is foreign by way of analogy to immersion. The fact is that baptism signifies union with Christ in the whole range of His ministry, and other aspects are as integral as burial and resurrection. It is prejudicial to the completeness of the union signified to limit the symbolism to any one phase of Christ’s redemptive accomplishment.
The crucial issue concerns the baptism of infants and on this Baptists offer vigorous dissent. The argument in support of infant baptism is based upon the essential unity and continuity of the covenant grace administered to Abraham, unfolded in the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, and attaining to its richest fruition in the new covenant. The new covenant is the administration of grace that brings to fulfillment the promise given to Abraham: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen 22:18 ASV). It is the blessing of Abraham that comes upon the Gentiles through Christ (Gal 3:14). Abraham is the father of all believers and they are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise (Rom 4:16-18; Gal 3:7-9). The promises fulfilled in Christ were given to Abraham with covenantal confirmation. So it is proper and necessary to say that the new covenant is the fulfillment and unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Gal 3:15-17). The same unity and continuity are intimated when the covenant people of God are likened to one olive tree with several branches, all of which grow from one root and stock and form one organism (Rom 11:16-24).
The basis upon which baptism is dispensed to infants is, therefore, this divine institution. The promise of the covenant is to believers and their children. The abuses often attendant upon the baptism of infants should not be pleaded as objections to the ordinance itself. It is necessary that the church should exercise care and vigilance to prevent these abuses. Parents eligible to receive baptism for their offspring are only such as are faithful in their confession and in the discharge of their covenant obligations. Those who do not give evidence of the union with Christ which baptism signifies cannot claim the grace and promise extended in this institution (cf. Ps 103:17, 18).
As a rite instituted by Christ baptism is not to be identified with the grace signified and sealed. This is apparent from the terms of institution (Matt 28:19) and from the nature of baptism as seal. The existence of the grace sealed is presupposed in the giving of the seal. The tenet of baptismal regeneration reverses the order inherent in the definition which Scripture provides. The efficacy resides entirely in the pledge fo God’s faithfulness. God not only brings men and women into union with Christ as the embodiment of covenant grace at the zenith of its realization, He not only gives exceeding great and precious promises that are yea and amen in Christ, but He seals this union and confirms these promises by an ordinance that portrays to our senses the certainty of His grace. Depreciation of baptism insults the wisdom and grace of God and, more particularly, His faithfulness. He confirms to us the bond of union with Himself by adding the seal of baptism to the end that we may be more firmly established in the faith of His covenant grace.
J. Calvin, Institutes, IV, xiv-xvi; R. Wilson, Infant Baptism a Scriptural Service etc. (1848); O. Cullmann, Baptism in the New Testament (1950); P. Ch. Marcel, The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism (1953); J. Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (1960); J. Murray, Christian Baptism (1962).