Infant Baptism and the Reformation

Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament Why do Reformed churches baptize infants along with adults?  That’s a huge question, obviously.  Using a few paragraphs from Bryan Holstrom’s Infant Baptism and the Silence of the New Testament, I’m only going to deal with one small part of a bigger discussion in this post.  Here’s Holstrom:

“For years… [since becoming a Christian and joining a Baptist church] I had heard that infant baptism was a relic of the past, a holdover from the Roman Church, assumed by the Reformed churches as a matter of expediency, and resulting in what one noted author and pastor has described as an ‘incomplete Reformation.’  And I had simply bought into such a notion without any further investigation of my own.  After all, it seemed to be a perfectly reasonable argument.  I couldn’t find any place in Scripture where parents were commanded to baptized their children, nor could I locate a single explicit reference to the rite being administered to any child of tender age in the New Testament.”

“Nevertheless, as I continued to read the great writers of the past, men with names such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Henry, Baxter, Owen, Edwards, Dabney, Hodge, and Warfield, I couldn’t help noticing that, although these men came from slightly different Reformed backgrounds (some were Presbyterian, some were Congregationalist, and a few were Anglican or Lutheran), they all agreed on this – that the practice of infant baptism was a scriptural one.”

“To be fair, there were some great writers of the Baptist persuasion from those centuries as well, men such as John Gill, John Bunyan, and Charles Spurgeon.  But it struck me that there were far fewer of them.  Of course, there have been times in the history of the church when only the brave few were engaged in fighting for the truth of a scriptural principle against the overwhelming tide of theological opinion.”

“But such did not seem to be the case here, for the men who had embraced infant baptism were all beholden to the truth of Scripture, and it didn’t seem fitting to attribute their belief in the practice to one of expediency.  These men never determined anything on the basis of what was expedient.  In many cases, they risked their very lives to stand on the principle of truth, and they were not men who were given to simply accepting received traditions of the past without requiring a full-fledged biblical basis for them.”

“An untold number of traditions, including that of baptismal regeneration, were abandoned by the Reformers of the sixteenth century for the lack of biblical basis, sometimes in the face of widespread popular sentiment in favor of them.  To argue that these great men had somehow allowed an unscriptural practice to be retained in the church because they were too lazy or indifferent to the truth concerning it was nothing short of slander, especially when you consider that the Reformed and papal theologies of baptism bear no resemblance whatsoever to one another.”

Holstrom goes on to argue that the “argument of silence” in the NT actually works to prove the biblical foundation for infant baptism (you’ll have to get the book to explore that!). 

Here I simply want to encourage our dear Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ not to argue that infant baptism is a holdover from Rome, or that the Reformation was “incomplete.”  The argument is invalid (i.e. fallacy of ignoring the counterevidence); it does not follow.

The above quotes are found on pages 17-18 of Bryan Holstrom, Infant Baptism (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2008).

shane lems

4 thoughts on “Infant Baptism and the Reformation”

  1. “For years… [since becoming a Christian and joining a Baptist church] I had heard that infant baptism was a relic of the past, a holdover from the Roman Church, assumed by the Reformed churches as a matter of expediency, and resulting in what one noted author and pastor has described as an ‘incomplete Reformation.’

    I used to see infant baptism in much the same light. Before looking into this myself, I also held the false view that those who baptized infants necessarily held to baptismal regeneration. I am studying it out though, after coming to see that such a view is somewhat shallow.

    Thanks for bringing up this book. I’ll have to read it myself.



  2. Thanks, Shane.

    As a former Southern Baptist (gotta love ’em) and trained in a SBC seminary, this was one of the first books on Infant Baptism I read while studying reformed theology more in depth prior to joining a URCNA church (where agreement with the 3 Forms of Unity was required for joining, requiring a LOT of study).

    Joining prep forced me to research a number of things again more carefully (Soteriology, Covenant, Providence, church history, etc.) including infant baptism, starting a slow, ongoing process of theological detoxification / adjustment / learning / reevaluation.

    I’ve come to believe that the weight of OT/NT church history / Scripture as seen in an over-riding, biblically covenantal framework appears to give significantly more weight to infant or adult believer baptism than to just believer baptism alone.

    Guess we’ll know for sure in eternity, but that seems right to me now.

    Doug W


  3. When I was a dispy, I read through commentaries on revelation, and one by Tim LaHaye, who took the approach that the 7 churches represented the supposed ‘7 stages of church history.’ He believed very much the same thing going so far as to say that Sardis/the dead church represented the reformational churches because they practiced infant baptism and supposedly didn’t go out an evangelize.
    Thank goodness I have since left that ‘cult following’ behind.


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