- The London Baptist Confession 1689 sticks out like a sore thumb by claiming immersion is the only valid administration of baptism. Baptism, as a sign and seal of the New Covenant, is meant, analogous to circumcision, to reflect the the cleansing of Christ's blood and the washing of regeneration. Imagery of these significations in both the Old and New Testaments include, in contrast to "immersion," both sprinkling and pouring (e.g. Ezekiel 36:25, Luke 22:20, Titus 3:6, 1 Peter 1:2).
- The Reformers were awesome. Fesko covers, in brief, the beliefs regarding the nature of the sacraments and [infant] baptism of the following Reformers and Reformed Catechisms: Calvin, Polanus, Wollebius, Ames, Turretin, Witsius, The Thirty-Nine Articles, the Irish Articles, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession. I hadn't even heard of some of these giants, but I believe that out of all of them, I shall be revisiting Witsius the soonest.
- The Abrahamic covenant received brief attention, and though I expect it will be treated later in the book, I cannot help drawing attention to the fact of covenant continuity and its implications. A standard point of difference between Baptists and Presbyterians is the extent to which each see a covenant continuity. I will not post an extensive defense of infant baptism here, as I expect it will be treated by Fesko in Part II or III, wherein he considers baptism from the perspectives of biblical and systematic theology, respectively. However, the cumulative force of several of the following [paraphrased] observations made by the aforementioned Reformers necessitate the practice of infant baptism:
1) Circumcision no longer functions as the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant, a covenant which has not been abrogated (cf. Galatians 3-4).
2) In order for it to be true that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant extend to Abraham's descendants and throughout their generations (Genesis 17:7), it must be the case that we have a correlative sign and seal by which we may claim, as could Abraham, that we have a covenant in our flesh for an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:13).
3) Although it may be imprecise to call baptism a replacement for circumcision, since there are differences which shall, in due time, be pointed out, it is undeniable that baptism signifies the same soteric activity as did circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). It is the sign and seal of the God's eternal covenant with Abraham (Galatians 3:27ff.).
4) Moreover, infants were regarded as members of the OT covenant community, as is evident from the fact that the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant was applied to them at the command of God (Genesis 17:12).
5) Baptists sometimes complain that there is no explicit Scriptural command to baptize infants. I believe I will from now on complain that Baptists cannot point in Scripture wherein infants born after the institution of baptism are said to be cut off from the Abrahamic covenant. That is indeed what Baptists must argue, for there is no other reason to deny a member of the covenant the sign and seal of that covenant, given that the parallel sacrament from the OT (circumcision) was applied indiscriminately (cf. Matthew 19:13, Acts 2:39, 1 Corinthians 7:14, et. al.).
- One final observation, and I believe it is the most interesting: Fesko mentions in his section on Luther that Luther wavered between the idea that infant baptism implies infants possess faith and the idea that infant baptism is based on the faith of another (fides aliena). While Luther ultimately defended the former, the contrast compelled me to examine the Roman Catholic belief, for what reason I shall make clear in a moment.
Augustine, upon whom Fesko argues Rome grounded their baptismal practice, wrote in Book I of his A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants:
Chapter 25. Infants are Described as Believers and as Penitents. Sins Alone Separate Between God and Men.
“Some one will say: How then are mere infants called to repentance? How can such as they repent of anything? The answer to this is: If they must not be called penitents because they have not the sense of repenting, neither must they be called believers, because they likewise have not the sense of believing. But if they are rightly called believers, because they in a certain sense profess faith by the words of their parents, why are they not also held to be before that penitents when they are shown to renounce the devil and this world by the profession again of the same parents?”
Now it is clear that Augustine held to fides aliena, and predicated the validity of infant baptism upon the faith of the parents. The sense in which infants are said to be believers is not due to intrinsic faith, but is rather coventantal or relational: viz. the infant was to be regarded a believer due to the faith of his or her parents. It would appear, at least, that Rome has followed suit, as its Catechism, while qualifying that the fides aliena is a reference to the church, nevertheless teaches fides aliena:
1282 Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.
However, if infants are regarded by God as believers on the basis of the faith of another, this undercuts the ontological charge of "legal fiction" so commonly put forth against the Protestant teaching on justification. It seems to me that the closer Rome gets to covenant theology, the less they are able to wield these types of arguments.