Reprinted with permission from Faith Pulpit (Apr-Jun, 2011).
Sola Gracia, Sola Fide. Sola Scriptura. These affirmations are held to be the guiding principles of the Reformers. However, one of my professors in graduate school, a Catholic scholar of the Reformation, openly questioned the Reformers’ commitment to the last of these principles: sola scriptura. At the time I quickly dismissed his query, considering the source of the objection. But later, as I studied the Reformation at another university, I began to rethink his idea, especially regarding infant baptism. I concluded it was important to revisit the 16th century baptismal controversy in order to understand how the Reformers justified infant baptism.
Baptists see the Reformers’ defense of infant baptism as a concession to a historical practice over the Word of God. Is that a correct assessment? Did the Reformers violate their own guiding principles in defending infant baptism?
The issue of infant baptism affected many other areas of doctrine in the Reformation, including the use of church discipline, the concern for the purity of the lives of church members, and especially the practice of allowing the unsaved into the membership of the Reformers’ churches. All of these issues in the Reformation have left tangible results in the contemporary church scene and deserve further investigation.1
This article will briefly explore how the Reformers defended infant baptism.2 The three major recognized Reformers are Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. I will add a lesser-known Reformer, Martin Bucer, who also was prominent in the controversy over infant baptism.