Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can You Be "Reformed" and Deny Infant Baptism?

The most recent issue of Modern Reformation (July/August 2009) includes a letter to the editor regarding a book review by R. Scott Clark. The reader, James Balson, Jr., objects that Clark too narrowly defines those who can legitimately claim the title "Reformed" as only those who accept infant baptism. Balson says, "According to Clark, one is Reformed if he practices paedobaptism and is not Reformed if he practices credo-baptism." I found Clark's response very interesting:

"I am grateful to Mr. Balson for raising this important question. I wrote a book to address it, Recovering the Reformed Confession (2008). Evidently, the earliest Baptists did not think it necessary to call themselves "Reformed." They called themselves "General" or "Particular" Baptists. In the Reformation, the Reformed Churches confessed infant baptism as essential to the Reformed faith. In 1530, Zwingli did so in the Diet of Augsburg as did the Tetrapolitan Confession (ch. 18; 1530). The First Confession of Basel (Art. 12; 1534), First Helvetic Confession (Art. 22; 1536), Calvin's cathechisms (1537, 1538, 1545), The Geneva Confession (Art. 15; 1536/1537), and the French Confession (Art. 35; 1559), all confessed the moral necessity of infant baptism. In the Belgic Confession (Art. 34; 1561), the Dutch Reformed Churches confess, ' We detest the error of the Anabaptists,' specifically the practice of re-baptizing believers and denying infant baptism. The Second Helvetic Confession (1561/1566; ch. 20) specifically condemned the denial of paedobaptism. The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 74; 1563) insisted on infant baptism. The Westminster Confession 28.5 (1647) arguably calls the 'neglect' or condemnation of infant baptism 'a great sin.' In the light of this evidence, it is hard to see how insisting on it is anything but consistent with confession of the Reformed churches in which one finds not only a soteriology but also an ecclesiology and doctrine of the Sacraments."

In light of this response we might ask should the "Reformed Baptists" change their name or has the term "reformed" taken on a broader meaning than it did during the 16th and 17th centuries?

Update: July 6 - I found this blog post by Michael Bird who defends the use of "reformed" with reference to John Piper and N. T. Wright against Clark. Bird says, "I think that "Reformed" has three primary usages: (1) it can be used historically to signify those Christian groups that emerged during or from the Reformation (Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.), (2) it can be used theologically to describe those who hold to a Calvinistic and Covenantal theology (though we could ask which part of Calvin is essential and whose covenant theology - e.g. Kline or Murray - is pristine?); and (3) it can be used ecclesiologically to describe those churches that stand in the Continental/Scottish Presbyterian tradition. To say that Piper is "Reformed" it is to mean it in the sense of (2) not (3)."

I'm inclined to agree with Bird.

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