WCF On The Efficacy Of Baptism

“The Assembly’s discussions of baptism occurred in connection with both the Confessions and the Directory for the Publick Worship of God. These debates are of great interest, are recorded in great detail, and so will occupy us to a great extent. A grasp of the general tenor of discussion is needed in order to understand what the Assembly intended to say. Much debate concerned practical administrative matters. However, the theological meat had to do with baptism’s efficacy and how it relates to elect infants. This point has been lost for most modern Christians. Conservative Protestants have distanced themselves from the remotest connection with the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptism and, since the nineteenth century, from High Church Anglican sacramentalism too. In doing so, they have left themselves with a truncated sacramental theology in which the signs have been reduced to symbols. The classic Reformed sacramental theology has been largely lost” (Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology In Historical Context, p. 325).

Those with Letham’s frame of mind might call these Conservative Protestants, “baptyerians.” Now, I in no wise endorse the Westminster Assembly (nor its Confession of Faith), but following a careful reading of the WCF 28.5.6. one should not come to the conclusion that the framers of the WCF are not Reformed at all.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

Note that “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it.” And the denial “that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

Note that the WCF DOES affirm a carefully qualified efficacy of Baptism. “[Y]et notwithstanding,” what? What comes next? They say something about “grace” next. To them “grace” is exhibited and conferred in baptism to the elect infant (for instance). Now if the “appointed time” for a hypothetical baptized infant is 30 years of age, then the WCF enunciates a damnable version of “grace conferred by the Holy Spirit” that leaves this person ignorant of the ground of salvation till his 30th birthday. To paraphrase one Reformed pundit, the “grace” conferred and exhibited at infant baptism kicks in like an afterburner at age 30.

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