I recently finished reading an essay by Peter Lillback title “Calvin’s Covenantal Response to the Anabaptist View of Baptism” in the symposium The Failure of the American Baptist Culture. In this essay Lillback looks at Calvins’ response to the anabaptists of his day and breaks it down. Lillback pulls anywhere from 30 to 40 quotations from Calvin’s works and then gives a brief summary of each showing Calvin’s firm refutation of Credobaptism. The following quote was one that really resonated with me as I read it. In this quotation Calvin pushes the question to the anabaptist on how they understand Jesus’ loving embrace of the children in the Gospels. Calvin understands that the Church is Christ’s representative on earth and if Christ openly embraces children as heirs of the kingdom should not the church too? Here’s how Calvin puts it:
If it is right for infant to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven belongs to them why is the sign denied which, so to speak, opens them a door into the church, that adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the kingdom of heaven? How unjust of us to drive away those whom Christ calls to himself! To deprive those whom he adorns with gifts! To shut out those whom he willingly receives! But if we wish to make an issue of the great difference between baptism and this act of Christ, how much more precious shall we ragard baptism, by which we attest that infants are contained within God’s covenant, than the receiving, embracing, laying on of hands, and prayer, by which Christ himself present declares both that they are his and are sanctified by him? (Institutes IV. 16. 7)
Calvin seems to be presenting two different approaches here. The first approach presents a one to one relationship between Christ’s reception of infants and children and the Gospel and infant baptism. The second approach sets a contrast between the two actions. It is this second approach that really impacted me. I could be reading the quotation wrong but Calvin seems to be saying that if we are to insist upon a difference between baptism and Christ’s acceptance of children in the Gospels would it not be appropriate to regard more highly the acts of Jesus’ acceptance of infants and children than our baptism of them? Christs’ acceptance of infants is so generous and so great in the way he embraces, prays for, and lays hands on them that the Church should not hold back any such blessings from them. His argument is one from greater (Christs’ acceptance and blessing) to lesser (the Church’s acceptance in baptism).
Food for thought.