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Is it the mission of the church to lead those who are within its fold to accept Christ, or is the church a body of believers whose mission field is the world? Shall the church and the world be united or separated? Is the church essentially a hierarchy, or is it a body of believers? These are the questions which lay at the bottom of the great controversy on infant baptism.
John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian and some of the Reformed churches, based his principal argument for infant baptism on God’s covenant of grace in which he believed the children of Christian parents to be in a sense included.
To baptize before that which is required for baptism, namely faith, is found is as if one would place the cart before the horse, to sow before plowing, to build before the lumber is at hand, or to seal the letter before it is written.
In short, I let you all be highly learned, as you boast, but I have spoken in simplicity and my speech is and shall be and must be thus; for the carpenter’s Son who never went to any school, has bidden me so to speak and he himself has hewed my pen with his carpenter’s axe. May God have mercy on us all. Amen.
The argument that the abolishment of infant baptism is contrary to Christian love was based principally on the fact that it led to separation from the state-church. Frequently the reformers condemned the dissent and separation of the Anabaptists. But if the separation in itself was wrong, what right had the state-church reformers to enter upon a course which led to separation from the Roman Catholic Church?
Bucer, upon the suggestion of Schwenckfeld, decided that Confirmation should be practised. In connection with this rite the young people should confess their faith and make the vow which others were supposed to have made for them when baptism was administered to them in their infancy. Later Confirmation was generally practised among the Lutherans and Zwinglians. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a number of religious denominations arose which retained infant baptism but advanced the new idea that baptism is not the rite of initiation into the Christian church and does not convey the right of membership, a thought that is foreign to Scripture teaching.
For the first step is to make disciples, as you express it. Now disciples are made by teaching. Secondly, those who accept the teaching, and who believe and desire to be henceforth Christ’s disciples, are baptized and through baptism they accept the duty to better their lives and follow Christ, as you yourself have said above. Thirdly, since imperfection of faith remains and shall remain unto death, it is necessary, never to cease teaching after baptism, that faith may be increased and grow as a grain of mustard seed.
Hubmaier was the ablest defender of believers’ baptism. “In point of scholarship and concentrativeness he surpassed his opponents, such as Zwingli, by far,” says the Protestant historian Loserth and Hegler recognizes that “in Scripture proof and partly also in formal consequence Hubmaier was Zwingli’s superior.”
Zwingli defended his position on baptism against the Anabaptists principally in three books, namely his Book on Baptism, his Reply to Hubmaier’s first defence of believers’ baptism and a treatise published in Latin, the Refutation of Anabaptist Tricks.
The Anabaptists desired a public debate in which they would have permission to present their arguments and speak freely without being interrupted and hindered by their opponents. They complained that they were refused the right to publish books or tracts and in the public discussions Zwingli had all liberty to interrupt them and prevent the full presentation of their argument.
While Zwingli was for a time of the opinion that it were better to abandon the baptism of infants, he became in the course of a few years, as pointed out elsewhere, one of the foremost opponents of the practice of believers’ baptism.
This opinion of the faith of infants was zealously defended by Luther, Melanchthon and their friends as well as by the Lutheran theologians of later centuries. In his Refutation of Some Unchristian Articles which the Anabaptists hold, Melanchthon says: “That the Anabaptists say. The infants have no faith, is a human imagination.”
Chapter 4. The Leading Reformers Discard Their Former Position Regarding The Authority Of The Scriptures
They decided that the battle of the church should be largely fought by the state and an exclusive state-church be established; hence they forsook their former position on the points of religious liberty and infant baptism.
He held that baptism should be considered “free,” hence the baptism of infants would not be invalid. “But if someone would desire to put off baptism [instead of baptizing the infants] and if he could do this without destroying the love and unity of those among whom he lives, we would not for this cause withdraw from him or condemn him.”
“I do not know, what to make of it,” says Hans Hottinger concerning Zwingli, “today he preaches one thing and tomorrow he recants it. And particularly he has preached years ago that the infants should not be baptized, but now he says, they should be baptized.”
We baptize infants and we also baptize adults. We comply with the wishes of those who do not desire to have their infants baptized, but we present them to Christ our Mediator and Redeemer by the laying on of hands and the prayer of the church. The Council of Carthage [in the fifth century] has decided that it shall be left to the liberty of every one whether or not he would have infants baptized. This is also our position.