This series of posts will attempt to summarize the Reformed teachings on baptism. Although the information has been gleaned from three of the primary Reformed confessional documents (The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, and The Westminster Confession of Faith), it should be noted that all of these claim only to be summaries of the Biblical teaching on baptism. The Bible is the ultimate authority, and any view of baptism must answer to the full counsel of scripture. In summary, I believe the Reformed view of baptism and its purpose as ordained by God can be summarized under three headings: baptism as an objective seal, baptism as a means of conferring grace, and baptism as a source of assurance for the faithful. And of course, there is overlap between these three aspects, as they interact with each other. To begin with, let’s look at the key scriptural texts concerning baptism. The discussion of the three headings I mentioned above will follow in subsequent posts.
Pertinent Scriptures Regarding Baptism
Most if not all of these passages are used as proof texts regarding baptism at various points in the Reformed confessions.
Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Mark 16:15-16 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
(NOTE: This verse occurs in a passage at the end of Mark that is questioned in terms of the author and date of writing. It may be a later addition on the actual writings of the apostle Mark.)
Luke 3:2-4 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. 3 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.
Acts 2:38 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 22:15-16 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’
Romans 6:1-4 1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Galatians 3:26-27 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Ephesians 5:26-27 26 so that He (Christ) might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
Colossians 2:9-12 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Titus 3:5 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…
(NOTE: This has been taken as a baptismal reference throughout church history, including by the Reformers. It fits well with Acts 22:16 and uses the same word for washing as Ephesians 5:26)
Hebrews 10:19-22 19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
1 Peter 3:20-21 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…