A very interesting and informative little Dutch book by H.J. Olthuis is entitled (I translate): The Baptismal Practice of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, 1568-1816. As the title indicates, this book studies the actual practice of the Reformed Churches with respect to baptism; and as you might expect, there is much data taken from synodical records and decisions. There is strong emphasis on the idea that baptism belongs in the instituted church, in the gathering of the congregation for public worship, and may not be administered elsewhere. Let me cite a few passages.
“Nevertheless they are not so absolutely necessary unto salvation (the sacraments, HCH) that the lack of them would be the cause of someone’s damnation. Also, they may not be administered by unlawful ministers and still less outside of the gathering of the congregation, as, for example, with the Roman Catholics, who permit baptism by women out of fear that sick children may die unbaptized.” (p. 10)
“In harmony with this (Articles 30, 34 of the Netherland Confession, HCH) those gathered at the Convent of Wezel in 1568 declared: ‘Since the sacraments are joined to the ministry of the Word by an unbreakable bond, let no one doubt that they belong to the office of minister. We, therefore, judge that baptism can be administered in the proper manner by no one else than by the minister of the Word.’ In the same manner, repeated mention is made in the Church Order of Dordt of 1574 and in that of 1619 of the , ‘ministers’ or ‘church ministers’ to whom the administration of baptism is committed, ‘in the public gathering of the church along with the preaching of the divine Word.'” (pp. 25, 26)
“It would be difficult, however, to have a speedy administration of baptism in the smaller villages, where at the beginning of the Reformation they were no yet able to obtain their own minister. Religious services could not yet be held there at regular times. And since they might not administer baptism, as we shall see later, except ‘only in the public gathering of the Church when the Word is preached,’ many children would remain unbaptized for a considerable time. But also in this, provision was made by holding baptismal services during the week. ‘In the places where preaching seldom takes place and where, nevertheless, there are children to be baptized, a time shall be set at which they may present the children in the church for baptism, and they shall ring the bell, call the people together, and have a brief sermon before baptism.'” (pp. 61, 62)
“The administration of baptism is a matter in which the entire congregation has an interest, at which the entire congregation must participate. If the one baptized, the parents, the witnesses and relatives are in the first place interested therein, the congregation receives a new member. She must receive this new member among the members of the covenant openly, and bear it up in prayer. But at the same time, everyone is reminded of his own baptism and of the obligations which this brings with it, both for himself and—if he has children—for his family, in order that he should bring them up in harmony with that baptism.
“Already Valerandus Pollanus in his Liturgia Sacra of 155 1 warned the church of the refugees at London not to administer baptism, except after a worship service. Baptism; thus the liturgy says, may not be administered separate from the preaching ‘because Christ committed baptism and the preaching of the Gospel to his disciples at the same time.’ As much as possible, one must try to let the congregation participate in that which happens at the worship service. They must learn to understand in what way salvation in Christ becomes visible in baptism. The Articles of Wezel speak just as clearly: ‘Baptism shall be administered nowhere else nor in any other manner than in the gathering of the church, accompanied by the preaching and the catechism.’ Thus, also, the later synods strove for an administration of baptism in public, that is, in the presence of the congregation and accompanied by the preaching of the gospel. ‘One shall not administer baptism except only in the public gathering of the church when the divine Word is preached.’ (Church Order of Dordrecht 1574, Art. 58; Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1578; Church Order of Middleburg 1581, Article 39; Church Order of ‘s Gravenhage 1586, Art. 50; Dordrecht 1618-19, Art. 56).”
In the next section of this same chapter the author discusses the proper place for the administration of baptism. He points out how repeatedly the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands insisted that baptism should be administered in the place where the gospel is preached to the congregation. Since in the beginning of the Reformation the gatherings of believers could not take place in a church building, they were automatically compelled to baptize in certain houses. This, however, took place only where believers gathered for the preaching of the Word. As soon as possible, they built their own churches, and in these churches baptism was administered in the gatherings of the church for public worship. Although from time to time, because of the superstitions which persisted with regard to baptism, various synods compromised and allowed private baptisms, the overwhelming position of the churches was as stated above, namely: that baptism should take place in the local congregation, in the local church building, in the service for public worship, where the Word is preached.