The church has had to contend with the doctrine of baptismal regeneration throughout most of its post-Apostolic history. But God, in His providence, has raised up men throughout the ages to combat and condemn this dangerous doctrine, which is nowhere taught in the Bible. We include some of those condemnations below.
If only pastors today would likewise boldly condemn baptismal regeneration, perhaps the church would be in better shape.
1. John Calvin (Protestant Reformer)
We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, Chapter 3, Section 21.
2. Charles Spurgeon (Historic Baptist Preacher)
I say, with every ground of probability, that there is no marvel that Popery should increase when you have two things to make it grow: first of all, the falsehood of those who profess a faith which they do not believe, which is quite contrary to the honesty of the Romanist, who does through evil report and good report hold his faith; and then you have, secondly, this form of error known as baptismal regeneration, and commonly called Puseyism, …
The velvet has got into our ministers’ mouths of late, but we must unrobe ourselves of soft raiment, and truth must be spoken, and nothing but truth; for of all lies which have dragged millions down to hell, I look upon this as being one of the most atrocious—that in a Protestant Church there should be found those who swear that baptism saves the soul. Call a man a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, or a Dissenter, or a Churchman, that is nothing to me—if he says that baptism saves the soul, out upon him, out upon him, he states what God never taught, what the Bible never laid down, and what ought never to be maintained by men who profess that the Bible, and the whole Bible, is the religion of Protestants. ….
To lift it [water baptism] up in the other way, and say men are saved by it—ah! my friends, how much of mischief that one falsehood has done and may do, eternity alone will disclose.
Baptismal Regeneration, A Sermon (No. 573) Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 5th, 1864, by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
3. John Thomas Waller (19th century writer)
And now, if any one shall say that this is an argument without profit, let him reflect how dangerous this doctrine of baptismal regeneration is to the soul—how much calculated it is to lull men into a state of false security, when they are given the idea that being baptized is synonymous with being enrolled in God’s Book of Life; how apt to make men careless of returning constantly to the blood of Christ for pardon and renewed strength, when they are taught that the “priest” can do all for them by the application of the sacraments. May the good Lord long deliver our Church from being enthralled by these soul-destroying Popish errors!
John Thomas Waller, “Baptismal Regeneration a Blasphemous Fable,” 1883, Digitized Apr 23, 2007, page 37.
4. George Whitefield (Great Awakening Evangelist)
If there be such a thing—as a sudden, instantaneous change. … If there be, does he not lay an axe to the very root of the baptismal office? If the child be actually regenerated, when the minister sprinkles it, the change must be instantaneous and sudden. If there be such thing! Do your Lordships assent thereto?An instantaneous change is the very essence of baptismal regeneration,–that DIANA of the present clergy.”
If the whole bench of bishops command us to speak no more of this doctrine, we take it to be an ungodly admonition. Whether it be right in the sight of God, to obey man rather than God, — judge ye!
Whitefield quoted in Robert Philip, “The life and times of … George Whitefield, M.A.,” page 290.
5. Bishop George David Cummins (Founder of the Reformed Episcopal Church)
“I am more deeply convinced than ever that the root of all our evils lies in the sanction which our Prayer Book gives to the Sacerdotal system. Whether the Reformers and the compilers of our Prayer Book did, or did not, intend to uphold the system, there is enough in the language of our offices to give it countenance. I am, therefore, a most earnest advocate for a thorough revision of the Prayer Book, to take from it all that can be perverted to the use and maintenance of this false Gospel. Baptismal regeneration, the real presence of our Lord in the elements, the Sacerdotal idea of the Ministry—there are the dangerous errors to be removed by a revision.
“If it be possible to cleanse the Church from Ritualism, as a doctrinal system, we can abide in our lot, and work on zealously. If there be no hope of this, we will never be content to pass our lives in upholding an organization that proves itself unfaithful to the ‘first principles of the doctrines of Christ.’”
Cummins, in a letter to Bishop Chas. Edwd. Cheney in regards to revising the Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Jan. 29, 1872. Cited in
A History of the Formation and Growth of the Reformed Episcopal Church, 1873-1902, by Annie Darling Price, 1902, digitized Jan. 10, 2008.
6. John Gill (Historic Baptist Theologian), who also quotes John Owen (Historic Puritan Theologian)
“Once more, the baneful influence spread by Antichrist over the nations by infant-baptism, is that poisonous notion infused by him, that sacraments, particularly baptism, confer grace ex opere operate, by the work done; that it takes away sin, regenerates men, and saves their souls; …
“And this pernicious notion still continues, this old leaven yet remains, even in some Protestant churches, who have retained it from Rome; hence a child when baptized is declared to be regenerate; and it is taught, when capable of being catechized to say, that in its baptism it was made a child of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, which has a tendency to take off all concern, in persons when grown up, about an inward work of grace, in regeneration and sanctification, as a meetness for heaven, and to encourage a presumption in them, notwithstanding their apparent want of grace, that they are members of Christ, and shall never perish; are children and heirs of God, and shall certainly inherit eternal life. Wherefore Dr. [John] Owen rightly observes “That the father of lies himself could not easily have devised a doctrine more pernicious, or what proposes a more present and effectual poison to the minds of sinners to be drank in by them.”
John Gill, “Infant Baptism: a Part and Pillar of Popery,” Providence Baptist Ministries (Disclaimer: We disagree with Gill that infant baptism is itself an error, so long as it is understood that infant baptism plays absolutely no role in salvation. As such, we join Gill in condemning the Catholic view of infant baptism, which does hold that infant baptism saves.)
7. John Owen (Historic Puritan Theologian)
This truth, in general, of an implantation into Christ, and the ensuing confirmation in grace, is universally assented unto; none can deny it without denying the whole doctrine of the gospel. But the sense and experience of it was lost amongst them of whom we treat; yet would they not forego the profession of the principle itself,—which would have proclaimed them apostates from the grace of Christ. Wherefore they formed an image of it, or images of both its distinct parts, which they could manage unto their own ends, and such as the carnal minds of men could readily comply with and rest in. As in the other sacrament they turned the outward signs into the things signified, so in this of baptism, they make it to stand in the stead of the thing itself; which is to make it, if not an idol, yet an image of it. The outward participation of that ordinance with them is regeneration and implantation into Christ, without any regard unto the internal grace that is signified thereby; so that which in itself is a sacred figure, is made an image to delude the souls of men.
… It may be some will say, there is no great matter, one way or other, in things of this sort; they may be suffered to pass at what rate they will in this world. I confess I am not so minded. If there be any thing in them but mere formality and custom,—if they are trusted unto as the things whose names they bear,—they are pernicious unto the souls of men. For if all that are outwardly baptized should thereon judge themselves implanted into Christ, without regard unto the internal washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; … they are in the ready way to eternal ruin.
John Owen, “The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open; An Antidote Against Popery,” in The Works of John Owen: Volume VIII, edited by the Rev. William H. Goold (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860, Digitized Oct. 10, 2008), 586, 587.
8. The Waldenses (pre-Reformation sect opposed to Catholicism)
“the third work of Antichrist consists in this, that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit unto the dead, outward work, baptizing children in that faith, and teaching that thereby baptism and regeneration must be had; and therein he confers and bestows orders and other sacraments, and groundeth therein all his Christianity, which is against the Holy Spirit.”
In a tract written in 1120. Cited in John Gill, “Infant Baptism: a Part and Pillar of Popery,” Providence Baptist Ministries.
9. Robert Smith (16th-century martyr) in a conversation with Catholic Bishop Bonner
Bishop Bonner:— “I believe (I tell thee) that if they [infants] die before they be baptized, they be damned.”
Smith:— “Ye shall never be saved by that belief. But I pray you, my lord, show me, are we saved by water, or by Christ ?”‘
Bonner:— “By both.”
Smith:— “Then the water died for our sins ; and so must ye say, that the water hath life; and it being our servant, and created for us, is our Saviour. This, my lord, is a good doctrine, is it not?”
… “Whereas ye allege St. John, ‘ Except a man,’ etc., and will thereby prove the water to save, and so the deed or work to save and put away sins, I will send you to St. Paul, which asketh of the Galatians, ‘Whether they received the Spirit by the deeds of the law, or by the preaching of faith ?’
… Yea, and although your generation have set at nought the word of God, and like swine turned his words upside down, yet must his church keep the same in that order which he left them, which his church dare not break; and, to judge children damned that be not baptized, it is wicked.” (For more on this conversation, click here)
Stephen Reed Cattley, ed., The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: Volume VII (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1838, Digitized Oct. 11, 2008), 352.
10. Ulrich Zwingli (Protestant Reformer)
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. (4) Thjs is a serious and weighty assertion, and I make it with such reluctance that had I not been compelled to do so by contentious spirits I would have preferred to keep silence and simply to teach the truth. But it will be seen that the assertion is a true one: for all the doctors have ascribed to the water a power which it does not have and the holy apostles did not teach. …
When he took upon himself the curse of the Law, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, deprived us of all external justification. Therefore no external thing can make us pure or righteous.
That means that everything ceremonial, all outward pomp and circumstance, is now abolished, as Paul says in Hebrews 9: “This figure was for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washing, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” etc. [Hebrews 9:9, 10]
… These verses tell us, however, that Christ abolished external things, so that we are not to hope in them or to look to them for justification. Certainly we are not to ascribe cleansing to the external things which are still left.
For if in the Old Testament they were only carnal and outward, not being able to cleanse us or to give us peace or to assure the conscience, how much less are they able to accomplish anything in Christ, in whom it is the Spirit alone that quickeneth.
… Before treating of baptism we must first indicate the meaning of the word sacrament. In our native tongue the word suggests something that has power to take away sin and to make us holy. (7) But this is a serious perversion. For only Jesus Christ and no external thing can take away the sins of us Christians and make us holy.
And as a result of this misunderstanding there are some who cry out: “They are depriving us of the holy sacraments whereby our poor souls are comforted.” But we have no desire to take away the sacraments but simply to use them rightly and not to pervert them. And they are perverted by those who ascribe to them a virtue which they do not posses.
… Of those who complain I ask only this: that they let the sacraments be real sacraments and do not describe them as signs which actually are the things which they signify. For if they are the things which they signify they are no longer signs: for sign and the thing signified cannot be the same thing.
(10) Sacramenta—as even the papists maintain—are simply the signs of holy things. Baptism is a sign which pledges us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The remembrance shows us that Christ suffered for our sake. Of these holy things they are the signs and pledges. You will find ample proof of this if you consider the pledge of circumcision and the thanksgiving of the paschal lamb.
Ulrich Zwingli, “Of Baptism,” in Zwingli and Bullinger, edited by G. W. Bromiley (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1953), 130, 131.