Baptism & Faith

Here is a bullet point summary of a fantastic article by Jonathan Rainbow called "Confessor Baptism: The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists," which is one of the chapters in Believer's Baptism edited by Schreiner and Wright:
  • The NT clearly links faith and baptism. Faith is presented again and again as the prerequisite for baptism.
  • Augustine clearly understood that faith and baptism are linked, and that faith was the prerequisite for baptism. However, during his time, infant baptism was the norm. But how could infants believe? His solution was the concept of fides aliena (alien faith). The church believed for the infant.
  • Later medieval theologians are famous for their love for details and nuances. They questioned the idea of alien faith. What if the people who were believing for the infant were in error? Their solution involved the infant's faith as on deposit in the treasury of merits (good works of Christ and the saints stored in heaven).
  • Peter Lombard and others developed another direction. By around 1200, the dominant viewpoint was that faith is virtus infua baptisme (a power infused by baptism). But if baptism creates faith, then faith cannot be the prerequisite for baptism.
  • Its important to note that all of these discussions tied baptism and faith. Baptism was the sacrament of faith, even though there were differing ways of trying to show how infants could have faith.
  • Martin Luther was unsatisfied with the previous discussions, and argued that infants themselves actually believe! Luther had a high view of the Word and argued that the Word of God creates faith in the infant. [Luther changed his tone (and maybe his theology of baptism) when arguing against the Anabaptists].
  • Ulrich Zwingli completely changed the meaning of baptism. He was aware of the novelty of this teaching, writing in 1525: "In this matter of baptism-if I may be pardoned for saying it-I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles." This is quite the bold move. Zwingli seems to have almost moved to the Anabaptist position, but then retreated. Zwingli, in his theology of baptism, did what nobody else had yet done: He cut the NT link between faith and baptism. What about all the passages that link baptism and faith? Zwingli avoided these by saying that baptism sometimes refers to the outer symbol and at other times means the inner reality of faith. This move allows him to dodge all the texts that link baptism and faith. Also, Zwingli used the doctrine of the covenant to argue for infant baptism. He taught that there is one covenant, and therefore one covenant people, and therefore parallel signs of the covenant: circumcision and baptism for children of the covenant members.
  • Balthasar Hubmaier was an Anabaptist who ended up being put to death for his views. He had a different solution. Faith is the prerequisite for baptism, but infants cannot believe. Instead, baptism can only be administered to those who confess Christ. He argued that the reformers pointed the way forward, but did not go far enough. They chickened out!

This is fascinating. Baptists have more in common with Lutherans and Roman Catholics than with Presbyterians concerning baptism in the sense that we link faith and baptism. Zwingli changed the meaning of baptism, severing it from faith.