Monday, October 15, 2007

Presbyterian Paedobaptism and Roman Catholic Paedobaptism Part 1

Once upon a time, in the comments of a post, a Roman Catholic asked me the difference between the Presbyterian and RC views on paedo-baptism (baptizing infants/children.) Both baptize infants. Are the views that different? Sometimes I see critiques of paedobaptism that only deal with one view, yet the writer acts as if they have vanquished all paedobaptists. There are four broad categories of paedobaptism I am aware of-Presbyterian/Reformed, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran. (Possibly Eastern Orthodox should be included as a separate category. I would include the Methodist view as a subset of the Anglican. Anglicans also have some differences among themselves.) These posts will only be dealing with the first two. I may address the others later.

These posts are also not intended as a defense for paedobaptism itself, nor are they intended as an examination of the credobaptist (Believer only) view. What they are intended to be is an overview of the differences between the Presbyterian/Reformed view and the Roman Catholic view. Undoubtedly, I may miss some of the finer nuances in doing this. So I welcome comments if anybody feels I miss anything, or misrepresent either view. If such comments are left I may interact with them in the comments section or in a new post. I may not interact with them here, but I will not ignore them. Which response I give will depend on the comments’ relevancy and on my time. Of course, it’s possible no comments will be left as well.

I will be presenting the two views primarily from the Roman Catholic Church’s most recent catechismCatechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). These documents are seen as having validity for Roman Catholicism and Presbyterianism. (If anybody wants to jump in with the Heidelberg Catechism, which is the Reformed denominations’ counterpart to the WCF, please go ahead.)

Both Roman Catholics and Presbyterians refer to baptism as a sacrament and a means of grace, but they mean different things by this. Using the same terminology can certainly lead to confusion. I have seen more than one Baptist assuming we mean the same thing, and so “disproving” the Presbyterian view. In Roman Catholicism baptism is a means of grace as it wipes the slate clean and provides the recipient with grace with which they can co-operate to gain merit. The Presbyterian view is tied to the idea that baptism is tied to God’s covenant with His people and the promises and blessings of that Covenant. It is a means of grace in that sense. Both these descriptions are only scratching the surface, but it does show there are distinct differences.

In the CCC sacraments are described this way-
1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

1132 The Church celebrates the sacraments as a priestly community structured by the baptismal priesthood and the priesthood of ordained ministers.

1133 The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the sacraments by the Word of God and the faith which welcomes that word in well-disposed hearts. Thus the sacraments strengthen faith and express it.

1134 The fruit of sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful an the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness.

Chapter 27 of the WCF describes sacraments this way-
1. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

2. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

3. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

4. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

5. The sacraments of the old testament in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.

While there is some similar language used, when you read these you see the different emphases of each. The corresponding sections on baptism show the differences more clearly. I'll take a look at those in part 2.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremiah 31:34/Heb 8:11 handles both views. "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." In the OC the infant entered the covenant completely ignorant and then was instructed "know the LORD." But in the NC, no man will need to tell another in the covenant "know the LORD" because they knew him before they entered. They understand before entering, both who the LORD was and that in entering they would receive the forgiveness of sins.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

In Roman Catholicism baptism is a means of grace as it wipes the slate clean and provides the recipient with grace with which they can co-operate to gain merit.

That's actually a very good, concise description. The only thing I wouuld add is that we also consider it an initiation into the covenant, similar to the Jewish circumcision. That's secondary, though, to the washing away of original and actual sin. The original sin is gone for good, but actual sin can recur as we commit it. The way I explained that to my (so far unbaptized) son is that baptism is the big bath that washes away everything, and confession is the occasional shower to clean up any dust that accumulates after.

With this view, knowledge on the baby's part isn't necessary, as that will be dealt with as he grows older and commits actual sin. Original sin doesn't require his understanding; the sacrament is efficacious in and of itself.

I'm looking forward to the rest of your series.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very thorough introduction to this topic - looking forward to the next posts.

Just to let you know that my blog is back up.

A Mind Awake at


10:44 AM  
Blogger pilgrim said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

egomakarios--please re-read the post as this is not about proving paedobaptism or credobaptism. It's about how 2 different groups view baptism. Yours isn't one. You are welcome to comment on the topic at hand.

joel--your comment will actually be something that's addressed later--at leats in part. Presbyterians would agree with some of your comments, but probably interpret the meanings differently.

And thanks Chris too.

Part 2 should be up soon, I've been tired a lot lately. That and life.
So keep watching.

11:00 AM  
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9:08 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Given how long it's taken you to put together part 2, I'll be expecting a masterpiece when it shows!

9:47 PM  
Blogger pilgrim said...


There--how's that for how long it took me to reply to your comment?

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both infant baptism views are equally vanquished by Jeremiah 31:34 (aka Hebrews 8:11) which states plainly, And those in the New Covenant will no longer teach their neighbor or brother in the Covenant saying 'Know the LORD' (as they did in the Old Covenant with those who entered the Covenant as ignorant infants) for everyone in the Covenant will already know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD, whereby it is clear that infant membership in the New Covenant is absolutely non-existent. "Oh but that's horrible! The poor infants will go to hell then for Adam's sin!" No, because we do not inherit Adam's sin, as the Lord says in Ezekiel 18:20 "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son" and as Paul shows in Romans 7:9 "Once I was alive apart from the law [i.e. not born dead or condemned for another man's sin but born spiritually alive]; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died [i.e. because I then personally broke it]." As for the last bastion of the sin inheritists, Romans 5:12, see my article Eph ho in Romans 5:12.

12:01 PM  
Blogger pilgrim said...

And you don't sin?

I did state upfront this was about the differences between two views of infant baptism and not a discussion or defence of paedobaptism vs credobaptism.

There's much I disagree with in your comment, but that's a discussion for another day.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Protoprotestant said...

I'm afraid the Reformed Baptist reading of Jeremiah 31 is failing to take into account prophetic perspective. It's viewing the NC in inauguration and consummation in one sweep. Just like the controversial Isaiah 65.

We're there, but we're not there.

RB's are guilty of exegetical taxonomy on this issue...I think.

Of course most Reformed today are actually Mono-covenantalist, not seeing any distinction. I'll grant that.


10:10 PM  
Blogger MaryC said...

Why do some Protestants insist on calling Catholics 'Roman' Catholics. Can't you just just say 'Catholic'?

10:13 AM  
Blogger pilgrim said...

I don't insist on using "Roman Catholics"
I grew up Catholic, and I heard plenty of references to Roman Catholics--from the family & outside.
We never took offense at either reference (With or with or without the "Roman" part.)
So I'll use either- sometimes the context determines which I use.
After all, catholic means universal--so it could have other connotations.

But thanks for reading and commenting after all this time.

6:13 PM  

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