Lies About John Calvin: Baptismal Regeneration

On volume 2 of a DVD series titled “Wide is the Gate” produced by Caryl Productions, a woman named Brenda Nickel, who says she was a Calvinist for 14 years, made some accusations against Calvinism that simply aren’t true.  And it mystifies me that she would make such claims given that she had been involved with Calvinism for so long.  But she seems to be one of many so-called Calvinists who know nothing about Calvinism.  Dave Hunt, for example, gets some of his false information about Calvinism from people whom he says are Calvinists.  It distresses me that such people speak as authorities about something and someone about whom they know little or nothing; and in making their claims public, their statements are gladly seized upon by enemies of John Calvin and paraded as being authoritative because it is Calvinists who have made these false statements.  And John Calvin, who was a faithful and humble servant of God, has his reputation trashed and his teaching maligned; and that by ignorant people who haven’t taken the trouble to see what Calvin actually said and taught.  They’d rather take the lazy route and quote from others whom they regard as authorities, but their authorities are just as lazy and just as ignorant, and so it’s a case of the blind leading the blind, and does not bring honour to Christ, or even to themselves.

The Sacraments

Brenda says or implies that Calvinism teaches baptismal regeneration; she also says it teaches that the Eucharist is salvific.  The DVD accompanies this by showing a film clip of Lutheranism’s High-Church Catholic worship, calling it “Reformed”, and implies that Luther and Calvin had the same theology.  Calvin did love and respect Luther for his great work in challenging the Romish Church and breaking from it, thus sparking the Reformation.  But their theologies were very different in several respects, Calvin making a more thorough break from Catholic theology and practice than did Luther.  Calvin’s ecclesiology was Presbyterian and based firmly in scripture, while the Lutheran Church is closer to Anglo-Catholicism in its polity and practice.  And Luther’s view of the sacraments was very close to Rome’s, while Calvin’s view was definitely and clearly Protestant and rooted in scripture.

In order to let Calvin speak for himself, let us see what he wrote on baptism:

1. Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the church, that being engrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God.  Moreover, the end for which God has given it (this I have shown to be common to all mysteries) is, first, that it may be conducive to our faith in him; and, secondly, that it may serve the purpose of a confession among men.  The nature of both institutions we shall explain in order.  Baptism contributes to our faith three things, which require to be treated separately.  The first object, therefore, for which it is appointed by the Lord, is to be a sign and evidence of our purification, or (better to explain my meaning) it is a kind of sealed instrument by which he assures us that all our sins are so deleted, covered, and effaced, that they will never come into his sight, never be mentioned, never imputed.  For it is his will that all who have believed, be baptized for the remission of sins.  Hence those who have thought that baptism is nothing else than the badge and mark by which we profess our religion before men, in the same way as soldiers attest their profession by bearing the insignia of their commander, having not attended to what was the principal thing in baptism; and this is, that we are to receive it in connection with the promise, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved’ (Mark 16:16).

2. In this sense is to be understood the statement of Paul, that ‘Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word’ (Eph 5:25-26); and again, ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost’ (Titus 3:5).  Peter also says that ‘baptism also doth now save us’ (1 Pet 3:21).  For he did not mean to intimate that our ablution and salvation are perfected by water, or that water possesses in itself the virtue of purifying, regenerating, and renewing; nor does he mean that it is the cause of salvation, but only that the knowledge and certainty of such gifts are perceived in this sacrament.  This the words themselves evidently show.  For Paul connects together the word of life and baptism of water, as if he had said, by the gospel the message of our ablution and sanctification is announced; by baptism this message is sealed.  And Peter immediately subjoins, that that baptism is ‘not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is of faith.’ No, the only purification which baptism promises is by means of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, who is figured by water from the resemblance to cleansing and washing.  Who, then, can say that we are cleansed by that water which certainly attests that the blood of Christ is our true and only laver?  So that we cannot have a better argument to refute the hallucination of those who ascribe the whole to the virtue of water than we derive from the very meaning of baptism, which leads us away as well as from the visible element which is presented to our eye, as from all other means, that it may fix our minds on Christ alone……

6. The last advantage which our faith receives from baptism is its assuring us not only that we are engrafted into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ himself as to be partakers of all his blessings.  For he consecrated and sanctified baptism in his own body, that he might have it in common with us as the firmest bond of union and fellowship which he deigned to form with us; and hence Paul proves us to be the sons of God, from the fact that we put on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27).  Thus we see the fulfilment of our baptism in Christ whom for this reason we call the proper object of baptism.  Hence it is not strange that the apostles are said to have baptized in the name of Christ, though they were enjoined to baptize in the name of the Father and Spirit also (Acts 8:16; 19:5; Matt 28:19).  For all the divine gifts held forth in baptism are found in Christ alone.  And yet he who baptizes into Christ cannot but at the same time invoke the name of the Father and the Spirit.  For we are cleansed by his blood, just because our gracious Father, of his incomparable mercy, willing to receive us into favor, appointed him Mediator to effect our reconciliation with himself.  Regeneration we obtain from his death and resurrection, only when sanctified by his Spirit we are imbued with a new and spiritual nature.  Wherefore we obtain, and in a manner distinctly perceive, in the Father the cause, in the Son the matter, and in the Spirit the effect of our purification and regeneration.  Thus John first baptized, and thus afterward the apostles by the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, understanding by the term repentance, regeneration, and by the remission of sins, ablution.

20. With regard to women, it was decreed, without exception, in the Council of Carthage (c. 100), that they were not to presume to baptize at all.  But there is danger that he who is sick may be deprived of the gift of regeneration if he decease without baptism!  By no means!  Our children, before they are born, God declares that he adopts for his own when he promises that he will be a God to us, and to our seed after us.  In this promise their salvation is included.  None will dare to offer such an insult to God as to deny that he is able to give effect to his promise.  How much evil, has been caused by the dogma, ill expounded, that baptism is necessary to salvation, few perceive, and therefore think caution the less necessary.  For when the opinion prevails that all are lost who happen not to be dipped in water, our condition becomes worse than that of God’s ancient people, as if his grace were more restrained than under the Law.  In that case, Christ will be thought to have come not to fulfill, but to abolish the promises, since the promise which was then effectual in itself to confer salvation before the eighth day, would not now be effectual without the help of a sign”.

If Brenda, Dave Hunt, and all those who regard his book as the authority on Calvinism had bothered to check for themselves, they would have seen that Calvin had an orthodox view of baptism and that salvation is by faith in Christ – baptism is the sign of that salvation, in the same way circumcision was a sign of salvation in the Old Testament.

So I’ve saved them the trouble of having to look for themselves.  Reader, you can see for yourself that the claim that Calvin believed baptismal regeneration is a lie, and therefore Brenda, Dave Hunt, and all others who peddle this lie are liars themselves.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Preface to the Hendrickson Edition”, 2008, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Peabody, Massachusetts