Contemporary evangelicals continue to feel John Calvin’s theological influence. This does not mean that some evangelicals do not have significant points of disagreement with parts of Calvin’s theology. For instance, take Calvin’s teaching on infant baptism. Baptists (and other credobaptists) vehemently disagree with Calvin (and other paedobaptists) on this point. I encountered Calvin’s comments on Acts 8:12 in my sermon prep last week.
“But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
Whereas baptism followed faith, it agreeth with Christ’s institution, as concerning strangers, (Mark xvi.47,) and those which were without. For it was meet that they should be ingrafted into the body of the Church before they should receive the sign; but the Anabaptists are too foolish, whilst they endeavor to prove by these places that infants are not to be baptized. Men and women could not be baptized without making confession of their faith; but they were admitted unto baptism upon this condition, that their families might be consecrated to God; for the covenant goeth thus: ‘I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,’ (Gen. xvii.7.) (Calvin, Commentaries, 18:333; cf. 363).
Some brief observations from a Baptist:
- The teaching of believing adults being baptized is sourced in Luke’s inspired writings, not Anabaptists.
- The absence of explicit references to infants being baptized in the NT is sourced in the inspired authors and ultimately the Holy Spirit, not Anabaptists.
- Calvin employs an OT covenant text to inform a NT church ordinance. This is consistent with covenant theology but still a larger theological point of division.
- Calvin affirms the practice of believer’s baptism for the first generation only. Subsequent generations are “consecrated to God” by the baptized adult. But why then does the infant truly need to be baptized?
- Acts 8:12 would have been an ideal place for Luke to use terms that include children or infants, such as nepios or paidion. Instead, he used “men” (andres) and “women” (gunaikes).
In short, it seems to me that John Calvin is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He is advocating for believer’s baptism on the one hand while undermining it by advocating infant baptism on the other. Moreover, he identifies the rejection of infant baptism as “foolish” and attributes it to the Anabaptists. The burden of proof rests on him and others who assert that infant baptism is a NT teaching when it is nowhere mentioned in the NT. The good news is that John Calvin is quite clear on all of this now.