In his Systematic Theology, III, Charles Hodge writes at length on the subject of baptism, giving a separate treatment to adult baptism. and infant baptism. In both instances he connects baptism with church membership. Taking his starting point in the Westminster Shorter Catechism he writes the following concerning the subjects of baptism, pp. 540, ff.: ‘Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to Him: but the infants of such as are members of the visible Church are to be baptized.’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 95)
“The question, who are the proper subjects of baptism? is determined by the design of the ordinance and the practice of the Apostles. It has been shown that, according to our standards, the sacraments (and of course baptism) were instituted, to signify, seal, and apply to believers the benefits of the redemption of Christ. The reception of baptism, so far as adults are concerned, is an intelligent, voluntary act, which from its nature involves (1) A profession of faith in Christ, and (2) A promise of allegiance to Him.
“This is clear,—
“1. From the command of Christ to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. A disciple, however, is both a recipient of doctrines taught, and a follower. Every one, therefore, who is made a disciple by baptism, enrolls himself among the number of those who receive Christ as their teacher and Lord, and who profess obedience and devotion to His service.
“2. This is further clear from the uniform practice of the Apostles. In every case on record of their administering the rite, it was on the condition of a profession of faith on the part of the recipient. The answer of Philip to the eunuch who asked, What doth hinder me to be baptized? ‘If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest,’ discloses the principle on which the Apostles uniformly acted in this matter.
“3. This has in all ages been the practice of the Church. No man was admitted to baptism without an intelligent profession of faith in Christ, and a solemn engagement of obedience to Him. . . .”
In this same connection, in commenting on the qualifications for adult baptism, Dr. Hodge describes how catechetical instruction was instituted in the early church for those persons who wanted to be baptized and thus to join themselves to the church:
“1. Faith supposes knowledge of at least the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. Some may unduly enlarge, and some unduly restrict the number of such doctrines; but no Church advocates the baptism of the absolutely ignorant. If baptism involves a profession of faith, it must involve a profession of faith in certain doctrines; and those doctrines must be known, in order to be professed. In the early Church, therefore, there was a class of catechumens or candidates for baptism who were under a regular course of instruction. This course continued, according to circumstances, from a few months, to three years. These catechumens were not only young men, but often persons in mature life, and of all degrees of mental culture. Where Christian churches were established in the midst of large heathen cities, the Gospel could not fail to excite general attention. The interest of persons of all classes would be more or less awakened. Many would be so impressed with the excellence of the new religion, as to desire to learn its doctrines and join themselves to the company of believers. These candidates for baptism, being in many cases men of the highest culture, it was necessary that their teachers should be men thoroughly instructed in discipline. We accordingly find such men as Pantaenus, Clemens, and Origen successively at the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria. These schools, although primarily designed for converts from among the Jews and heathen, on account of their high character, soon began .to be frequented by other classes, and especially by those who were in training for the ministry. When Christianity became the prevalent religion, and the ranks of the Church were filled up, not by converts of mature age, but by those born within its pale and baptized in their infancy, the necessity for such schools no longer existed. Their place, however, was supplied by the systematic instruction of the young in preparation for their confirmation for their first communion.”
Notice that at this early stage in church history already the church was certainly not hasty about baptism. And notice, too, that the catechetical instruction described in the above paragraph led not only to baptism, but along with baptism to church membership. At the conclusion of this discussion of adult baptism, Dr. Hodge identifies the qualifications for admission to the Lord’s table, the qualifications for adult baptism, and the qualifications for church membership:
“The question, although thus simple. in its general statement, is nevertheless one of great difficulty. As it is almost universally the fact that, so far as adults are concerned, the qualifications for baptism are the same as those for admission to the Lord’s table, the question, what are the qualifications for adult baptism? resolves itself into the question, what are the qualifications for church-membership? The answer to that question, it is evident, must be determined by the views taken of the nature and the prerogatives of the Church. . . .”
In connection with his discussion of infant baptism, Hodge writes, pp. 546, ff.:
“The difficulty on this subject is that baptism from its very nature involves a profession of faith; it is the way in which by the ordinance of Christ, He is to be confessed before men; but infants are incapable of making such confession; therefore they are not the proper subjects of baptism. Or, to state the matter in another form, the sacraments belong to the members of the Church; but the Church is the company of believers; infants cannot exercise faith, therefore they are not members of the Church, and consequently ought not to be baptized.
“In order to justify the baptism of infants, we must attain and authenticate such an idea of the Church as that it shall include the children of believing parents. The word Church is used in Scripture and in common life, in many different senses, (1) it means the whole body of the elect, as in Ephesians v. 25, and when the Church is said to be a body, or the bride of Christ, to be filled by His Spirit, etc. (2) It means any number of believers collectively considered; or the whole number of believers residing in any one place, or district, or throughout the world. In this sense we use the word when we pray God to bless His Church universal, or His Church in any particular place. (3) It is used as a collective term for the body of professed believers in any one place; as when we speak of the Church of Jerusalem, of Ephesus, or of Corinth, (4) It is used of any number of professed believers bound together by a common standard of doctrine and discipline; as the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Lutheran Church, and the Reformed Church. And (5) It is used for all the professors of the true religion throughout the world, considered as united in the adoption of the same general creed and in common subjection to Christ.
“It is evident that no one definition of the Church can include all the senses in which the word is legitimately used; and, therefore, that we may affirm of the Church in one sense of the word, what must be denied of it in a different sense; and the same person may be said to be, or not to be a member of the Church according to the meaning attached to the word. In the present discussion, by the Church is meant what is called the visible Church; that is, the whole body of those who profess the true religion, or, any number of such professors united for the purpose of the public worship of Christ, and for the exercise of mutual watch and care. With regard to infant baptism the following propositions may be maintained.
“First Proposition. The Visible Church is a Divine Institution.
“Concerning the Church in this sense, it is clearly taught in Scripture, that it is the will of God that such a Church should exist on earth. This no Christian denies. God has imposed duties upon His people which render it necessary for them thus to associate in a visible organized body. They are to unite in His worship; in teaching and propagating His truth; in testifying for God in all parts of the world. He has prescribed the conditions of membership in this body, and taught who are to be excluded from its communion. He has appointed officers, specified their qualifications, their prerogatives, and the mode of their appointment. He has enacted laws for its government. Its rise, progress, and consummation are traced in history and prophecy, from the beginning to the end, of the Bible. This is the kingdom of God of which our Lord discourses in so many of His parables, and which it is predicted is ultimately to include all the nations of the earth.”
From the above it is evident what Dr. Hodge understands by the church in connection with his discussion of infant baptism. Like all Reformed theologians, Dr. Hodge connects baptism and the instituted, organized congregation. The two are not to be separated. He goes on to make the point that the children of believers are not to be excluded from membership in the church. Then Hodge faces the question, “Whose children are entitled to baptism?” And he states:
“This is a very delicate, difficult, and important question. No answer ,which can be given to it can be expected to give general satisfaction. The answers will be. determined by the views taken of the nature of the Church and the design of the sacraments. Probably the answer which would include most of the views entertained on the subject, is, that the children of the members of the visible Church, and those for whose religious training such members are willing to become responsible, should be baptized. But this leaves many questions undecided, and allows room for great diversity of practice.” (p. 558)
Note, however, that while Dr. Hodge speaks of “room for great diversity of practice,” he is nevertheless speaking of the children of the members of the visible church; and this diversity is not such that it allows room for baptism outside of and apart from membership in the church. Then, after discussing various views among Reformed theologians and among the Puritans as to who belong to the visible church, and after citing several statements from Reformed confessions, Hodge writes as follows:
“It is, therefore, plain that according to the standards of the Reformed Church, it is the children of the members of the visible Church who are to be baptized. Agreeably to Scripture usage such members are called ‘foederati,’ saints, believers, faithful, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling. The Apostles in addressing professing Christians in the use of such terms did not express any judgment of their state in the sight of God. They designated them according to their profession. . . . The Reformed, as well as the Lutheran theologians, therefore, speak of the members of the visible Church as believers, and of their children as born of believing parents. All that is intended, therefore, by the language above cited is, that the sacraments of the Church are to be confined to members of the Church and to their children.”
On p. 578 you may find the same emphasis: “The sacraments as all admit are to be confined to members of the church. But the Church does not consist exclusively of communicants. It includes also all who having been baptized have not forfeited their membership by scandalous living or by any act of Church discipline. All members of the Church are professors of religion. They profess faith in Christ and are under a solemn vow to obey His laws. If they are insincere or heartless in this profession, the guilt is their own. The Church is, and can be responsible only for their external conduct; so long as that is not incompatible with the Christian character, and so long as the faith is held fast, the privileges of membership continue.”
Lest there be any misunderstanding on this score, me point out that the fact that we quote from Hodge’sSystematic Theology does not mean that we agree with all the statements made by him. But we are quoting in order to point out that there is a consensus among Reformed theologians on the subject of the relation between the sacraments and the church. And from the above quotations it is very evident: 1) That by the church, or the visible church, in connection with this subject Hodge very plainly means the local congregation as instituted by Christ. 2) That he very definitely teaches that the sacraments, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are limited to, the membership of that visible church as represented in the local congregation.
Prof. F. M. Ten Hoor teaches the same thing in hisDogmatiek, p.267 (we translate):
“Baptism is administered in Christ’s stead, and this administration is bound-to the office of the gospel,Mark 1:4; John 4:2; Matthew 28:19, but baptism is subordinate to the Word, I Corinthians 1:14-17; Acts 10:48. It must be administered in the midst of the congregation, since it signifies engrafting into the congregation, I Corinthians 12:13, and must be accompanied by the ministry of the Word.
In his Christian Dogmatics, II, p. 749, J. J. Van Oosterzee writes:
“As to the administration of Baptism as a solemn initiation into the Church of the Lord; it ought properly to be administered in the midst of His Church whether gathered together as the congregation or the family. Naturally it is entrusted to the same persons to whom the Lord has committed the teaching of His people, whilst baptism in case of necessity, perhaps by entirely unauthorized hands, can be justified only from the standpoint of those who, in opposition to the Gospel, teach an absolute need of baptism for salvation.”
In his Systematic Theology (Fourth edition), L. Berkhof, writing on the characteristics of the Word and the Sacraments as means of grace states the following, pp. 605, 606:
“They are the official means of the Church of Jesus Christ. The preaching of the Word (or, the Word preached) and the administration of the sacraments (or, the sacraments administered) are the meansofficially instituted in the Church, by which the Holy Spirit works and confirms faith in the hearts of men. Some Reformed theologians limit the idea of the means of grace still more by saying that they are administered only within the visible Church, and that they presupposed the existence of the principle of the new life in the soul. Shedd and Dabney both speak of them, without any qualification, as ‘means of sanctitication.’ Says the former: ‘When the world of unregenerate men are said to have the means of grace, the means of conviction under common grace, not of sanctification under special grace, are intended.’ Honig also distinguishes between the Word of God as a means of grace and the Word as it contains the call to conversion and serves to call Gentiles to the service of the living God. Dr. Kuyper, too, thinks of the means of grace merely as means for the strengthening of the new life when he says: ‘The media gratiae are means instituted by God that He makes use of to unfold, both personally and socially, for and through our consciousness, the re-creation that He immediately established in our nature.’ There is, of course, a truth in this representation. The principle of the new life is wrought in the soul immediately, that is, without the mediation of the Word that is preached. But in so far as the origination of the new life also includes the new birth and internal calling it may also be said that the Holy Spirit works the beginning of the new life or of faith, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, ‘by the preaching of the holy gospel.'”
In discussing the relation between the Word and the Sacraments, Berkhof writes on p. 6 16:
“They differ: (a) in their necessity, the Word being indispensable, while the sacraments are not; (b) in their purpose, since the Word is intended toengender and to strengthen faith, while the sacraments serve only to strengthen it; arid (c) in their extension, since the Word goes out into all the world, while the sacraments are administered only to those who are in the Church.”
Although one does not find very much material on this subject in John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, yet the few indications that are found in the following quotations show that there is agreement between the various Reformed theologians whom we have already quoted and Calvin on this score. He also limits the sacrament of baptism to the organized congregation. We find the following statements in Book IV (Allen Translation):
“Baptism is a sign of initiation, by which we are admitted into the society of the Church, in order that, being incorporated into Christ, we may be numbered among the children of God.” (Chapter 15, p. 583)
“It is also necessary to state, that it is not right for private persons to take upon themselves the administration of baptism; for this, as well as the administration of the Lord’s Supper, is a part of the public ministry of the Church. Christ never commanded women, or men in general, to baptize; He gave this charge to those whom He had appointedto be apostles. And when He enjoined His disciples, in the celebration of the supper, to do as they had seen done by Him when He executed the office of a legitimate dispenser He intended, without doubt, that they should imitate His example.” (Chapter 15, pp. 599, 600)
“It remains for us briefly to show what advantage results from this ceremony, both to believers who present their children to the Church to be baptized, and to the infants themselves who are washed in the holy water; to guard it from being despised as useless or unimportant.” (Chapter 16, p. 610)
The last quotation is significant not because of the subject as such which Calvin is discussing here, namely the advantages of baptism; but it is important for our purposes because it speaks of believers presenting their children to the Church to be baptized. Incidentally Calvin (and all Reformed theologians follow him in this) denies the absolute necessity of the sacrament of baptism. The Reformed position is that baptism is not indispensable in the sense that it is not necessary to salvation. This is not to say that baptism must be neglected and despised: for it is an ordinance of, God. However, in view of the fact that baptism is not indispensable unto salvation, there certainly is no hurry about baptism on the mission field prior to the time that a congregation is instituted or the time, when its institution is even likely—even apart from any other considerations.