Supernatural or Natural Birth?

Nov 27th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

I was involved in a wonderful conversation the other day with a few friends of mine, two Catholics (one of whom is a priest) and a Presbyterian (PCA). Over some good tobacco and coffee at the local cigar shop we discussed a variety of things, including Baptism. My friend, the Presbyterian, spoke about how Reformed Baptist churches do not allow for a simple transfer of membership and usually require those who come to their churches to be rebaptized if they want to become members, even those who were, for example, PCA. That being said, this led to an interesting discussion. He tried to make it clear that his view was not the sacerdotal Catholic view (his words) but that there was a linkage between baptism and regeneration. When pressed by us as to how his view was not the Catholic sacerdotal view he then proceeded to tear away at everything he had just expressed concerning his displeasure with the Reformed Baptists. The reason why we baptize our children, he said, was because by virtue of their being born to Christian parents they are already members of the Covenant and therefore receive the Covenant sign. This follows John Calvin, who wrote, “the children of believers are not baptised, in order that though formerly aliens from the Church, they may then, for the first time, become children of God, but rather are received into the Church by a formal sign, because, in virtue of the promise, they previously belonged to the body of Christ.”1 My friend, the priest, leaned back, took a nice puff on his cigar, exhaled a plume of smoke, and asked, “So you embrace sacerdotal natural birth as the efficacious means of salvation?” Our friend, caught off guard by this simple question, pondered and said, “I had never thought of it that way before.”

I have to confess when I was PCA I embraced this view of Calvin but when Father put it that way I had never thought of it that way before either. That being said, is not Calvin’s view strangely similar to the Jewish opponents of John the Baptist, who warned the Pharisees, “do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt 3:9)? Is not the appeal of Calvin an appeal to natural generation as the means to covenant participation and salvation? Lest anyone think Calvin did not have in mind salvation he wrote this, “Our children, before they are born, God declares that he adopts for his own when he promises that he will be a God to us, and to our seed after us. In this promise their salvation is included.”2

Is Calvin’s view similar to those who claimed natural lineage to Abraham as their means for being sharers of salvation? What say you?

  1. Institutes Book IV 15:22 []
  2. Ibid. IV 15:20 []
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  1. Tom,

    One problem is that the Calvinist does not know whether his children are elect-for-glory. If children of Calvinists were regenerated-by-natural-birth, they could (given that in Calvinism no one ever loses justification) never be lost. It would be true that “Once born of a Calvinist, always saved.”

    But in Calvinism, parents can do nothing to ensure that if their child dies before reaching the age of reason, that child will go to heaven. In Catholicism, by contrast, parents can do something to ensure this very thing. That is, according to the Catholic Church, parents who have their child validly baptized, can know that if that child dies before he or she reaches the age of reason, that child will go to heaven. In Calvinism, parents whose baptized child dies before that child reaches the age of reason, do not know whether that child is in heaven or hell. Whether or not they baptized the child is irrelevant, within Calvinism, not only because Calvinism denies baptismal regeneration, but also because even if some relation between baptism and regeneration is granted, the two events are not (for Calvinists) simultaneous, so the regeneration can take place years after the baptism, and thus the baptized child can die while still unregenerate.

    For the Calvinist parent who loses a baptized child before that child reaches the age of reason, there is no greater probability that that child is elect-to-glory than that that child is reprobate, and lost in hell eternally. If your infant or toddler has a terminal illness, you cannot know that the odds of your child being elect-for-glory are greater than his odds of being reprobate. And there is nothing you can do about it, but wait for the manifestation on Judgment Day of the divine coin-flip over your child’s eternal destiny. For Calvinist parents seeking to ensure the salvation of their children if those children were to die prior to the age of reason, the only option (besides becoming Catholic/Orthodox) is to treat original sin as only a tendency toward evil, not as a privation of sanctifying grace. (cf. Council of Trent Session V) In other words, besides becoming Catholic/Orthodox, the only other option for Calvinist parents seeking to ensure the present salvation of their children who have not yet reached the age of reason, is to embrace Pelagianism, either (1) by denying that all children are born into the world without sanctifying grace or (2) by denying that sanctifying grace is necessary in order to attain heaven.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. Is Calvin’s view similar to those who claimed natural lineage to Abraham as their means for being sharers of salvation? What say you?

    Hello Tom,

    Without trying to exegete Calvin too deeply, the reply to your priest friend was that simply no, “natural birth” is not efficacious to save. The picture of what is happening is not the instrumental means. But of course God is faithful to generations of His people which is what was pictured in circumcision. God was faithful to Abraham’s seed and this was demonstrated in circumcision. But we don’t need to say that circumcision actually accomplished what God promised, do we?

    But I’m interested in your question because this is just the sort of question we ask of Catholics. Isn’t it true that the RCC claims that they have Peter as their Father just like the Pharisees claimed that they have Abraham as their Father? To us Protestants it always seems that the formal succession argument for adherents of the RCC trumps all else just as it did for the Pharisees with their claim of their Abrahamic lineage.

  3. Many, including Boettner, seem confused on this. In his book, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,” he quotes R.A. Webb who says,

    “Calvin teaches that all the reprobate ‘procure’ – (that is his own word) – ‘procure’ their own destruction by their own personal and conscious acts of ‘impiety,’ ‘wickedness,’ and ‘rebellion.’ Now reprobate infants, though guilty of original sin and under condemnations, cannot, while they are infants thus ‘procure’ their own destruction by their personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. They must therefore live to the years of moral responsibility in order to perpetuate the acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion, which Calvin defines as the “mode” through which they procure their destruction. While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that they will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches that they will be lost as infants, and while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate ‘procure’ their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself), that no reprobate child can die in infancy; but all such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.”

    Tom, so according to your friend, by virtue of their being born to Christian parents infants are already members of the Covenant and therefore receive the Covenant sign, though not necessarily regeneration. Piggybacking on this, this quote above says that if they are unregenerate as infants, they cannot die in infancy. Where did Calvin find that in scriptures?!! It’s illogical and there isn’t a biblical basis.

  4. Andrew,

    I would prefer to keep this conversation on the topic of baptism. I quoted Calvin, who says very clearly that we baptize infants because they are already members of the Covenant not to make them members of the Covenant. If one wants to say that there is a distinction between being a member of the Covenant and Salvation (covenant privileges are given but not necessarily salvation) Calvin makes it clear that he ties this in with salvation.

    Just sayin “No” to the question that my priest friend posed does not do away with what Calvin wrote and Calvin made a big deal about the there being a big difference between the children of believers and non-believers and that big deal was that the children of believers are members of the covenant and are adpoted as God’s own and their salvation is included. Thus, Calvin teaches that the children of believers by virtue of the fact that the parent(s) are Christians share in salvation.

    The simple question is: what does baptism do? That is: is it efficacious or not? Can a Presbyterian Pastor tell his people “By your baptism you have recieved the Holy Spirit, have been born again etc…” And if one can’t answer what baptism does, then a legitimate question is: should the church perform a sacarment in doubt?

  5. Tom,

    If Calvinism teaches that all children who die before reaching the age of reason go to heaven, it must hold either that babies have concupiscence but concupiscence is not sin, or that babies don’t even have concupiscence. Consider the implications of that dilemma.

    If concupiscence is not sin, then contra Luther and Calvin (1) the presence of concupiscence (disordered lower appetites) does not entail that one is not entirely righteous in the will. But if concupiscence is sin, then either (2) sin does not prevent us from entering heaven or (3) all babies are born not only already having sanctifying grace, but are born without concupiscence (and thus are born in the original state of Adam and Eve, as the children of Adam and Eve would have been born if Adam and Eve had not sinned).

    All three options are problematic for Protestantism. The first option undermines the basis for Luther’s simul iustus et peccator, and thus undermines his primary existential basis for sola fide. The second option nullifies the need for Christ’s incarnation, or presupposes a Catholic-like distinction between mortal and venial sin, and treats concupiscence as venial sin. This again, would undermine Luther’s basis for sola fide. The third option is a form of Pelagianism, in that it denies that Adam’s sin incurred death of the soul (absence of sanctifying grace and original righteousness) for his posterity (cf. Trent V.2), such that his posterity [Mary and Christ excepted] are all, from the first moment they are conceived, without sanctifying grace and without original righteousness. If Protestants have a problem with the Immaculate Conception, then a fortiori they should have a serious problem with this third option, because it makes every child to be immaculately conceived.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Tom R.,

    That is an interesting quote from Calvin. I think, with Andrew, that the answer to the priest’s question simply is “no.” Calvinism doesn’t teach that salvation accompanies natural birth any more than it accompanies baptism. What it does teach, if my last ‘new member’s’ study of Reformed theology was right, is that baptism seals our inclusion within the church visible (i.e., the covenant community), but does not accomplish inclusion into the church invisible (i.e., the elect). This baptism is proper and fitting, the Calvinist says, both for children of believing parents and for adults who convert and become believers.

    Calvin’s words you quoted discuss that the Covenant is not dependent on (i.e., effected by) the seal of baptism. Baptism is “afterwards added” to “confirm” that the child is a member of the covenant. By covenant membership, Calvin says, the child belongs to the body of Christ. I think the confusion may arise from how we are reading Calvin’s language about belonging to the body of Christ. As I recall, Calvin believed that participation in the visible church (the body of Christ) was a prerequisite to, but not a guarantee of, election unto salvation. So the baptized child, or the covenant child who dies prior to being baptized, is a part of the visible church (and the covenant), but may or may not have been elect unto salvation.

    Bryan said, “If your infant or toddler has a terminal illness, you cannot know that the odds of your child being elect-for-glory are greater than his odds of being reprobate.” But I believe that even using the language of “odds” is foreign to a Calvinist’s justification parlance. God willed what he willed. Bryan, you may mean this in a way that is simply relative to the parents’ own ability to know whether God did predestine the child unto salvation. In that case, I would push the matter past the age of reason and say that in the Calvinist’s view we aren’t certain about anyone’s ultimate election, child or adult. The best we can have is the adult exhibiting evidence of election. I think the Calvinist can argue that covenant participation, which really conveys grace, is a great cause for encouragement, but not a perfect guarantee, to parents that their deceased child was elect. But there is a fair amount of disagreement within Calvinism on this question of infants dying.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  7. Tom B,

    You wrote:

    Bryan, you may mean this in a way that is simply relative to the parents’ own ability to know whether God did predestine the child unto salvation.

    That’s exactly what I meant.

    In that case, I would push the matter past the age of reason and say that in the Calvinist’s view we aren’t certain about anyone’s ultimate election, child or adult.

    The WCF says we can have infallible assurance of our own. (XVIII.2-3) But interestingly, the Catholic can be 100% certain that his/her baptized child who died before reaching the age of reason is in heaven.

    I think the Calvinist can argue that covenant participation, which really conveys grace, is a great cause for encouragement, but not a perfect guarantee, to parents that their deceased child was elect.

    I would love to see that argument. I’ve seen many Calvinists refer to it, but I’ve never seen any version that stands up to careful scrutiny. How exactly does covenant participation give the Calvinist parents even the slightest bit of justification for believing that their child is regenerate, or elect-to-glory? In other words, how does a Calvinist parent justifiably reason from “my child is now a covenant participant” to “there is a greater than 50% likelihood that my child is now regenerate or elect-to-glory”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Certainly Calvin’s developing theology of the Covenant is the larger context in which we must interpret the bits that Tom cites. Granted that framework, I wonder if Calvin is partially basing his assessment of the status of the children of Covenant members on this particular bit from St. Paul:

    “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14, RSV)

    In part, the relevance of this passage to the bit of Calvinism under consideration depends upon whether Calvin thought that the Covenant status of a child born to “unequally yoked” parents is equal to the Covenant status of a child born to two believers.

    More generally, the theological significance of this passage turns upon the kind of “consecration” and “holiness” that is being denoted.

    I don’t suppose that anyone thinks that the status of the consecrated, but unbelieving, spouse is the same as that of the holy (but unbaptized?) children. For one thing, there seems to be some cause and effect at work here, such that the faith of the believing spouse consecrates the unbelieving spouse, and the consecration of the unbelieving spouse is a prerequisite to the holiness of the (unbaptized?) children.

    My guess is that the consecration of the unbelieving spouse, via the faith of the believing spouse, renders the children holy, as in set apart, as in candidates for the sacrament of Baptism. I do not think that the Church has ever, except in extreme circumstances (not envisioned in this passage), countenanced baptizing the children of two unbelieving parents.

  9. Tom B,

    I agree that the average Reformed believer would answer “no” to the priest’s question. I also suspect that Calvin would as well, but the answer of “no” does not change the fact that Calvin, at least in his discussion in Book 4 :15 On Baptism, says that the promise of salvation is included for those children born of Christian parents because by virture of their birth they are members of the covenant.

    Bryan,

    I would love to see how a Reformed believer would answer the three options you pose.

  10. To complete the thought:

    Based upon this passage, we could understand that there is a real, though potential, benefit that accrues to the children of believers, or a believer, but one that does not obviate the necessity of baptism. That benefit would be candidacy for baptism, even as, under the Mosaic rite, children of Covenant parents were candidates for circumcision.

    The great difference between Catholic and Calvinist theologies of the Covenant is that the latter tends to regard the efficacy of baptism as basically the same as that of circumcision, while the former regards the New Covenant rites as intrinsically more powerful than those rites by which they are prefigured.

  11. Bryan,

    I’m perplexed by WCF XVIII.2-3, but that may be off topic. I note that it refers to the first person only, so under the Reformed system, you cannot be infallibly assured of your wife’s salvation any more than your child’s, but you can be infallibly assured for yourself. (Do you think I have that right so far?) You can be greatly assured of your wife’s salvation because of her faith, but you do not know if it is “true” faith. If she became apostate, you would say she never had “true” faith. I wonder what the difference is between the first and second person assurances.

    As for parents being assured, I want to note that a parent’s ability to be so assured (or not) is not probative of the truth of Catholicism or Calvinism. I’m a little unclear what you get by having this assurance, besides the peace of mind.

    I understand some Calvinists argue that many (or even all) deceased covenant children are saved on account of God’s great grace. I cannot defend this position against the critique you offer above. It seems that some Calvinists are prepared to find an ad hoc exception to the normal rules about sanctification.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  12. Tom R.,

    You said, “but the answer of “no” does not change the fact that Calvin, at least in his discussion in Book 4 :15 On Baptism, says that the promise of salvation is included for those children born of Christian parents because by virture of their birth they are members of the covenant.”

    But I don’t think that’s what Calvin said or meant. He said, as you quoted, “but rather are received into the Church by a formal sign, because, in virtue of the promise, they previously belonged to the body of Christ.” He does not say “that the promise of salvation is included” in birthright covenant membership. He does seem to say that “belong[ing] to the body of Christ” is included in birthright covenant membership. I was trying to say in my earlier comment that to Calvin, being in the body of Christ does not equal being saved [elect unto regeneration].

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  13. Tom B,

    you cannot be infallibly assured of your wife’s salvation any more than your child’s, but you can be infallibly assured for yourself. (Do you think I have that right so far?)

    Yes.

    You can be greatly assured of your wife’s salvation because of her faith, but you do not know if it is “true” faith. If she became apostate, you would say she never had “true” faith. I wonder what the difference is between the first and second person assurances.

    We’ll get into that in our article on assurance. :-)

    As for parents being assured, I want to note that a parent’s ability to be so assured (or not) is not probative of the truth of Catholicism or Calvinism. I’m a little unclear what you get by having this assurance, besides the peace of mind.

    I completely agree. My point was to show a difference between the Calvinist and Catholic positions, and also to show an inconsistency between theology and practice in Calvinist pastoral practice. The common pastoral practice is to appeal to covenant membership as grounds for comfort for parents whose baptized children died prior to attaining the age of reason. But the theology does not justify drawing comfort from that (or giving comfort on that basis), because covenant membership does not allow us to justifiably draw any conclusions about the likelihood of those children being regenerate / elect-to-glory.

    I understand some Calvinists argue that many (or even all) deceased covenant children are saved on account of God’s great grace. I cannot defend this position against the critique you offer above. It seems that some Calvinists are prepared to find an ad hoc exception to the normal rules about sanctification.

    I agree. My point is that if we are going to say that God does something, then we need some basis or ground for it (other than wishful thinking). It seems to me that ad hoc comfort is no comfort at all, as soon as those receiving it recognize it as ad hoc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Gentlemen,

    Trying to keep on topic and the topic of “Sola Scriptura, Solo Scriptura” that has been ongoing on the “main stage “-

    Is this the Bible doctrine that is supposed to be so easy to understand it needs no “human” authoritative explanation, per J.C?
    With all due respect to your former faith (PCA, OPC, etc.), this is completely ludicrous. Luther at least, said in effect, “You are saved by faith alone in Christ who has given you his righteousness so you can just be whatever and not worry…”

    Calvin is not easy for the common man to understand fully (he wouldn’t have written all the Institutes and commentaries if everyone could understand his revelations).
    What is the “gospel according to J.C .? You may be assured of your salvation IF you are one of the elect, but you don’t know, only God, so …..keep perservering?
    I have told Tim (Troutman) before -I know without a doubt that if I found myself in J.C.’s Geneva, I would be running to get out.

    My brother in law ( an elder in the RPCUS Church after splitting with the PCA over FV) told me
    once,
    “You would never commit sin because you would be afraid of the penalties that were in place to take care of that in this glorious time (of Calvin’s Geneva). That would be the true joy of living for The Lord.”
    Like I said, I would be running for the nearest door, gate, etc.

    As you discuss this issue of infants and elect and assurance, I am reminded of Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty University (former Muslim now professor) who spoke on “Why I’m Predestined Not To Be A Hyper Calvinist”.
    He spoke against the idea that someone would stand up and say to women in their congregations who had lost infants due to miscarriage or early death – that they could not be assured their baby was in heaven. Only God could determine if the infant was elect. He thought this was heinous.
    He, being a former Muslim, said he left that “god” behind when he left Islam – the fatalist god who for his good pleasure damned men and infants because he can.
    He said you can call it a “religion” but don’t call that “the good news or gospel” because that is not good news to anyone.
    As a former Protestant, I grew up with Liberty and TRBC in my back yard literally.

    Blessings to you all for your efforts toward understanding and unity.
    May each of you and your families be blessed during this time of Advent. What a gift it is for me to be celebrating it with The Church this year!
    Teri

  15. Tom B,

    I am not so sure that Calvin, at least in his discussion on baptism, does not include salvation for the unbaptized child by virtue of their being born of Christian parents. In his discussion on baptism he makes it clear that no one other an ordained minister of the Church may baptize. The danger of death is not sufficient for one, other than an ordained cleric, to baptize. Thus, he writes, “But there is a danger that he who is sick may be deprived of the gift of regeneration if he decease without baptism! By no means. Our children, before they are born, God declares that he adopts for his own when he promises that he will be a God to us, and to our seed after us. In this promise their salvation is included.”

    Again, I know that no seminary professor I had, no former colleagues in my Presbytery, and no one that I served in ministry would say that salvation is by natural generation. My thought is, if they embrace Calvin’s notion, do they have good reason for saying, “no.”

  16. The simple question is: what does baptism do? That is: is it efficacious or not? Can a Presbyterian Pastor tell his people “By your baptism you have recieved the Holy Spirit, have been born again etc…” And if one can’t answer what baptism does, then a legitimate question is: should the church perform a sacarment in doubt?

    Tom,

    As per I Cor 7:14 that Andrew P mentions, children of believers are made holy through the faith of their parents but baptism is not mentioned here. Baptism is a picture and exhibit of what happens rather than the means by which they are saved. The Church who first read I Corinthian understood covenantal signs because they knew of the history of God’s covenantal people and the sign that was administered to children of the covenant, that being circumcision. And we see the faithfulness of God to His people that is symbolized in circumcision. But are we to conclude here that circumcision caused salvation because of the close association of circumcision to God’s saving works that was exhibited in circumcision? So likewise in baptism, the sign demonstrates to us what God does in drawing His people to Himself, but we should not draw from this that God uses baptism as a means to justify.

    So let me ask you to compare two infants of believers, one who dies unexpectedly at birth and is not baptized and the other who also dies in infancy but is baptized before death. Is there a difference here concerning the fate of the children? Is the fact that one was baptized while the other was not a determinative factor in our being able to assure the parents in these cases? Remember that in both cases the children are “holy” as per Paul’s epistle.

    I’m interested in this last phrase you use above, “a sacrament in doubt.” Are you saying that if we are not sure what baptism does we should baptize just to hedge our bets so as to speak?

  17. If on the Reformed view you are going to baptize them because their parents are church members, why not also commune them? Is the eucharist not part of the Covenant to which they belong?

    Likewise for Bryan, if you are going to do something to help ensure their salvation, why baptize them but not give the communion?

  18. Andrew,

    I borrowed the term from the late Father Neuhaus who said the Church cannot perform a Sacrament in doubt. In the way he used it he was discussing women’s ordination and the fact that the Church says that the proper matter for orders is that one be a baptized male. The way I am using it I am suggesting that the traditional Reformed cannot tell you what the Sacrament of Baptism does, is it effective (Westminster seems to suggest that it is, its language about not being tied to a moment in time) or is it just a sign of the covenant. Was the child born again by this act of baptism or not? Did the child get clothed with Christ or not? Thus, when the Reformed perform a Sacrament (e.g. Baptism) they perform it in doubt and this is why the Reformed are not able to derive assurance or comfort from the Sacrament. I remember a friend of mine (a PCA minister) attending a Catholic funeral. He was blown away by the beauty of the Liturgy and especially the opening words of Introductory Rite, “In the waters of baptism (name of the deceased) died with Christ and rose with him to new life…” My friend said that he was struck by the confidence and hope expressed in the power of the Sacrament. Cardinal DeLubac in an article he wrote in the journal Communio, stated that the problem with Reformed Sacramentology is that it is trumped by the Reformed doctrine of election.

    Back to the quotes from Calvin come from his discussion of extraordinary baptism (e.g. non-cleric baptizing). He adds a bit later, “Hence if, in omitting the sign, there is neither sloth, nor contempt, nor negligence, we are safe from all danger.” What does the “safe from all danger” refer? For Calvin, the context suggests that the salvation of infants born of believing parents are safe provided the omitting of the sign was not due to sloth, contempt, or negligence.

    All that being said, as to your question to me, the Church teaches that God is not bound by the Sacraments (but we are). They are His Sacraments not ours. Thus, if one dies without baptism, we can hold out hope that God, who is Mercy and Love, can bring that person into salvation by applying the merits of Christ and the efficacy of Baptism to the individual. The Church teaches three types of Baptism (Desire, Blood and Water) but only water Baptism is the Sacrament. As the Catechism says, “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (#1257-58).

    I do think Bryan’s options that he posed in #5 put it very well and it would be interesting to see how they could be answered from a Reformed perspective.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  19. Andrew McCallum: Baptism is a picture and exhibit of what happens rather than the means by which they are saved.

    Is this what the typical Calvinist believes about the Sacrament of Baptism?

  20. Hi Tom,

    Your Presbyterian friend’s comments interest me. While his statement that the children of believers are already part of the visible church and the New Covenant by virtue of who their parents are is pretty standard in Presbyterian belief (usually with 1 Cor. 7:14 appealed to to justify this), I haven’t ever heard of this as ensuring regeneration. Since Presbyterians believe that one can be a member of the New Covenant without ever being justified and regenerate, wouldn’t this serve as answer to your friend the priest’s question? Or perhaps I’m misunderstanding what your Presbyterian friend meant.

    Bryan,

    You said:

    Whether or not they baptized the child is irrelevant, within Calvinism, not only because Calvinism denies baptismal regeneration, but also because even if some relation between baptism and regeneration is granted, the two events are not (for Calvinists) simultaneous, so the regeneration can take place years after the baptism, and thus the baptized child can die while still unregenerate.

    In addition to this, the Westminster Confession says this about baptismal efficacy:

    The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

    So there is a grace in baptism in Presbyterianism, but it is only given to “such as that grace belongs to, according to the counsel of God’s own will.” Thus, Calvinist parents, even if they conceded some sort of connection between baptism and regeneration, could not be certain of whether regeneration was effected, because of its dependence on the election of their child.

    Andrew,

    You said:

    The great difference between Catholic and Calvinist theologies of the Covenant is that the latter tends to regard the efficacy of baptism as basically the same as that of circumcision, while the former regards the New Covenant rites as intrinsically more powerful than those rites by which they are prefigured.

    Do you mean that the Catholic theology of baptism would agree with Calvinism about the candidacy of children of believers for baptism but just say that baptism is more powerful than circumcision? I come from a Baptist background and am still not sure of the differences between the Calvinist and Catholic view of infant baptism.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  21. If Calvinists believe, as Andrew McCallum writes, that “Baptism is a picture and exhibit of what happens rather than the means by which they are saved”, then there is a very big difference between what Catholic believe about the Sacrament of Baptism and what Calvinism teaches.

    First, a Catholic definition of a sacrament:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. …

    The sacramental grace proper to the Sacrament of Baptism:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church 1279 The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ.

  22. Spencer,

    The conversation centered more upon the Calvin quotes that I cited, which seem to suggest that, for Calvin, salvation of the child is related to the fact that they are children of believing parent(s).

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