Reformed Thought On The Sacrament of Baptism (1)

In connection with our discussion of the subject of Baptism on the Mission Field we wish to present also the views of various Reformed theologians. We do this not because the views of Reformed dogmaticians may be determinative of our stand: our standard must be Scripture and the Confessions. But these views are important from this viewpoint, that as a general rule our thinking ought to stand in the Reformed tradition; and when our views do not coincide with that of Reformed theologians generally, this should at least cause us to pause and to examine our position very, very carefully, in order to make certain that our position—as over against theirs—can stand the test of Scripture and the Confessions. 

It might be objected that these theologians were not concerned with and were not faced by the problem of baptism on the mission field. In some cases this is true; in others it is not true. And even so, the objection is not valid. For, in the first place, in some instances they set forth principles which can well be applied to the concrete issue in question. And, in the second place,—as is also plain from their writings—they were indeed aware of the very same passages of Scripture which speak of various baptisms in the New Testament. 

Our first quotation is from Dr. H. Bavinck. And part of its significance lies in the fact that Dr. Bavinck makes a direct reference to the subject of baptism on the mission field, makes a single exception in this regard, but limits it to baptism on the heathen mission field. Following is a translation of Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, IV, pp. 585, 586: 

“Therefore there is also no reason to depart from the apostolic usage and to allow the administration of baptism in instances of need by persons other than the ministers of the congregation. In connection with this, the Reformed also took the position that baptism should be administered consistently in the midst of the congregation. Although in the New Testament the administration of baptism took place everywhere where there was water, Matthew 3:6John 3:23Acts 8:36, it nevertheless soon became the usage, when the believers obtained their own meeting places, to have baptism take place in these. Nevertheless, exceptions were made in instances of need; in wintertime, in case of sickness, for princes and honorable persons, and the administration of baptism in private dwellings was permitted. This is certainly in conflict with the general rule which must obtain in the church. Although there are instances conceivable in which the administration of baptism may take place in homes, they cannot be and may not be anything else than the great exception, are not up to the judgment of the minister of the Word alone, but that of the entire consistory, and also then demand that the administration should not take place except in the presence of the consistory. For the administration of the sacrament is not a matter of the building, but indeed a matter of the gathering of the congregation. The sacrament is a constituent part of the public worship service, is a benefit which has been bestowed by Christ on His church, and must therefore be administered with the Word openly in the congregation. For the sacrament is always united with the Word; Christ Himself has connected the administration of baptism with that of the Word, Matthew 28:19. In the case of the planting of the church among a non-Christian population baptism can, in the nature of the case, not immediately take place in the midst of the gathering of believers. But as soon as this is present, the administration of the Word and of the sacrament must be transferred to the congregation, for they are a constituent part of the public worship service and a property of the congregation. Thus in apostolic times communion was celebrated in the midst of the congregation, I Corinthians 11:20. And thus it is no less proper that this take place with baptism, which after all, is precisely a figure of the ingrafting into Christ and His church, I Corinthians 12:13, and therefore most properly is administered in the public gathering of believers.”