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PatrickTMcWilliams

Puritan Board Freshman
Could someone please explain, in a nutshell, Abraham Kuyper's understanding of Presumptive Regeneration, and if it differs from other possible views of Presumptive Regeneration?

I always thought PR was the argument for paedobaptism that runs thusly: Baptism is to be administered to the regenerate; infants are to be presumed regenerate; therefore baptism is to be applied to infants.

However, I recently read a description of PR, citing Kuyper especially, which presented quite a different view. Basically: Baptism regenerates elect infants only; we cannot know which infants are elect; therefore, we baptize all infants; and, therefore, we presume that all baptized infants are regenerate until they prove otherwise.

Hopefully somebody can clear this up, because I see this as a huge difference in approach, and a possible misunderstanding that needs to be immediately cleared up. Thanks!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I've no idea if the view you've described accurately describes Abraham Kuyper's view or not.

I would say that the view you've described is only slightly distinguished from a Lutheran view, and probably describes many an Anglican who has a discriminatory view of baptismal operations. (Lutherans believe all the baptized are regenerated at baptism, and one can lose their salvation, and salvation is still monergistic all the way--a bit inconsistent they are; Anglicans tolerate quite a spectrum of views within their creedal bounds, and so not necessarily that all are identically affected.)

A less "presumptive" view (but perhaps still presumptive by certain measures) would be to say that the time of baptism is to be viewed hopefully, as representing the beginning of Holy Spirit's work in the life of the baptized. Some have gone so far as to say that the hour of baptism ought to be expected as the ordinary time of Holy Spirit's definitive saving work.

Over the space of 100yrs of the Reformation--from Luther, through Calvin, to the Westminster Standards--the Reformed church moved progressively away from the notion of baptismal regeneration as a matter of ritual "timing."

In my judgment, the more one leans toward expectation as to the timing of definite efficacy in conjunction with ritual, the further one has retreated toward sacerdotal views of sacramental efficacy. Presumption tends to rule over and crowd out disciplinary shepherding. Historically, the Reformed who adopted a strongly "presumptive" stance have ended up with the same weakening of the mark (by Reformed reckoning) of discipline that has characterized both Anglicanism and Lutheranism.

On the other hand, it is quite right to see in baptism a hopeful sign. It ought to signify the beginning of the discernible (external, visible) acts of Holy Spirit toward an individual who is being wrought upon by the appointed ordinary means of grace--Word and sacrament. These are the means by which God is bringing his elect to heaven, through their life-long use for the perseverance of the saints. But inasmuch as we do not presume on an adult's baptism (or any other statement about him or by him), neither do we presume upon an infant's baptism.

Rather, we reckon with two truths at once: 1) that God is pleased to work for our salvation over the whole course of our lives, using his appointed and ordinary means (which means, therefore, we ought to esteem and never neglect), in which baptism stands near the "door" of entrance into those means--and what God has promised to use ought to fill us with hope.

Further: 2) that his election does not stand so closely connected with any of his means (Word or Sacrament) that we might in any case count solely on participation in one or all those means as infallible, external testimony of any partaker's eternal salvation.
So has it ever been.
"Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!"
And God said, "No." Gen.17:18-19

only "...as many as the Lord our God shall call." Act.2:39

In the end, the baptism of infants as taught and practiced Confessionally by the Reformed is viewed particularly under the whole rubric of church-discipline, a crucial mark of the true, faithful church. Baptism is practiced according to the institution of Christ (as Head of his church). It is administered to those who by jure divino have a right to it. It does not rest practically or doctrinally on any presumptive state of the individual (thus showing the clear distinction between this practice, and those who baptize on the basis of any preexisting condition assumed necessary to validate the rite).

Presumption does not (properly) enter into the discussion of who is to be baptized. Persons who should be baptized present themselves, or are presented, and the church baptizes--once and for all--the passive participant; and by such an act the person is in fact baptized (irrespective of his instantaneous state of election, conversion, or possible future apostasy).
 

Elizabeth

Puritan Board Sophomore
Lutherans believe all the baptized are regenerated at baptism, and one can lose their salvation, and salvation is still monergistic all the way--a bit inconsistent they are
They have a handy word for this sort of thing: paradox! Very useful term. I love my Lutheran folk and am happy to worship with them (given our options, locally). I sure have a sore tongue from the biting, though. :doh:
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
However, I recently read a description of PR, citing Kuyper especially, which presented quite a different view. Basically: Baptism regenerates elect infants only; we cannot know which infants are elect; therefore, we baptize all infants; and, therefore, we presume that all baptized infants are regenerate until they prove otherwise.
Yes, that is an accurate summary of Kuyper's view.
 

PatrickTMcWilliams

Puritan Board Freshman
So are there different types of "Presumptive Regeneration"? One that involves presuming regeneration THROUGH baptism, and one that presumes regeneration, therefore APPLIES baptism?
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
So are there different types of "Presumptive Regeneration"? One that involves presuming regeneration THROUGH baptism, and one that presumes regeneration, therefore APPLIES baptism?
Yes, I think that's true. In Kuyper's theology, baptism is administered on the basis of a presumption regarding the spiritual state of the one being baptized. This became controversial in the 1930s and 1940s in the Reformed Churches in Netherlands and was partly responsible for the Vrijmaking (Liberation) of 1944. Klaas Schilder and others objected to Kuyper's position, arguing instead that baptism is on the basis of God's commands and promises, not on the basis of any presumption. But by then, Kuyper's position was entrenched, especially with the church hierarchy, and no dissent from Kuyper would be tolerated. That led to Schilder and others being suspended and then later deposed.
 

GloriousBoaz

Puritan Board Freshman
Historically, the Reformed who adopted a strongly "presumptive" stance have ended up with the same weakening of the mark (by Reformed reckoning) of discipline that has characterized both Anglicanism and Lutheranism.
Right on the money!

Lutherans believe all the baptized are regenerated at baptism, and one can lose their salvation, and salvation is still monergistic all the way--a bit inconsistent they are
This reminds me of a discussion I was reading last night between a blogger named Rhology and several Lutheran's on baptism, to which they veered off onto the topic of paradox and the Lutheran's said:
"It might help to know why paradox, in scripture, not just it is "Lutheran", but why is it so. Because it gets back to the root problem of fallen human reason and original sin. Original sin is a trust (bondage of the will) issue not a "moral/law compass" issue (total depravity). There is paradox on all articles of faith, without exception, take your pick; the trinity, the two natures, the sacraments, creation, the church, the holy one's in the church, etc... it "makes room for faith alone (sole fide)" and kills reason that asks the questions "but what about...". It is black and utter darkness to reason. Same thing with predestination that "reasons" forth double predestination or "limited atonement".

It makes room for faith alone truly and only, reason can never perceive but the opposite (true sola fide), in the word alone that creates the very paradox that only faith (sola fide) "sees" (sola scriptura), so that it is only by grace alone. Reason goes where faith will not, hence said reason when it does this is repeating original sin ridden by Satan."
To which Rhology addressing this quote from one of the Lutheran's:
"Paradox is a big part of Lutheran theology"
Rhology replied:
"So salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not by grace alone through faith alone?

Isn't that denying the Gospel?"
lol!
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Here is Berkhof's summary. He begins with the Confessional ground for infant baptism and then articulates the PR issue:


c. The ground for infant baptism.

(1) The position of our confessional standards. The Belgic Confession declares in Art. XXXIV that infants of believing parents “ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children of Israel formerly were circumcized upon the same promises which are made to our children.” The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question, “Are infants also to be baptized?” as follows: “Yes, for since they, as well as adults, are included in the covenant and Church of God, and since both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, the Author of faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to adults, they must also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.” And the Canons of Dort contain the following statement in I, Art. 17: “Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with their parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14).” These statements of our confessional standards are entirely in line with the position of Calvin, that infants of believing parents, or those who have only one believing parent, are baptized on the basis of their covenant relationship. The same note is struck in our Form for the Baptism of Infants: “Since, then, baptism has come in the place of circumcision, the children should be baptized as heirs of the Kingdom of God and of His covenant.” It will be observed that all these statements are based on the commandment of God to circumcize the children of the covenant, for in the last analysis that commandment is the ground of infant baptism. On the basis of our confessional standards it may be said that infants of believing parents are baptized on the ground that they are children of the covenant, and are as such heirs of the all-comprehensive covenant-promises of God, which include also the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit unto regeneration and sanctification. In the covenant God makes over to them a certain grant or donation in a formal and objective way, requires of them that they will in due time accept this by faith, and promises to make it a living reality in their lives by the operation of the Holy Spirit. And in view of this fact the Church must regard them as prospective heirs of salvation, must regard them as under obligation to walk in the way of the covenant, has the right to expect that, under a faithful covenant administration, they, speaking generally, will live in the covenant, and is in duty bound to regard them as covenant breakers, if they do not meet its requirements. It is only in this way that it does full justice to the promises of God, which must in all their fulness be appropriated in faith by those who come to maturity. Thus the covenant, including the covenant promises, constitutes the objective and legal ground for the baptism of children. Baptism is a sign and seal of all that is comprehended in the promises.

(2) Differences of opinion among Reformed theologians. Reformed theologians did not all agree in the past, and are not even now all unanimous, in their representation of the ground of infant baptism. Many theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took the position described in the preceding, namely, that infants of believers are baptized, because they are in the covenant and are as such heirs of the rich promises of God including a title, not only to regeneration, but also to all the blessings of justification and of the renewing and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. Others, however, while recognizing the truth of this representation, were not wholly satisfied with it. They stressed the fact that baptism is something more than the seal of a promise, or even of all the covenant promises; and that it is not merely the seal of a future good, but also of present spiritual possessions. The view became rather prevalent that baptism is administered to infants on the ground of presumptive regeneration. But even those who accepted this view did not all agree. Some combined this view with the other while others substituted it for the other. Some would proceed on the assumption that all the children presented for baptism are regenerated, while others would assume this only in connection with the elect children. The difference of opinion between those who believe that children of believers are baptized on the ground of their covenant relationship and of the covenant promise, and those who find this ground in presumptive regeneration persisted up to the present time and was the source of a lively controversy, especially in the Netherlands during the last period of the nineteenth, and the beginning of the twentieth, century. Dr. Kuyper at first spoke of presumptive regeneration as the ground of infant baptism, and many readily accepted this view. G. Kramer wrote his splendid thesis on Het Verband van Doop en Wedergeboorte especially in defense of this position. Later on Dr. Kuyper did not use this expression any more, and some of his followers felt the need of more careful discrimination and spoke of the covenant relationship as the legal, and presumptive regeneration as the spiritual, ground of infant baptism. But even this is not a satisfactory position. Dr. Honig, who is also a disciple and admirer of Kuyper, is on the right track when he says in his recent Handboek van de Gereformeerde Dogmatiek: “We do not baptize the children of believers on the ground of an assumption, but on the ground of a command and an act of God. Children must be baptized in virtue of the covenant of God” (translation mine). Presumptive regeneration naturally cannot be regarded as the legal ground of infant baptism; this can be found only in the covenant promise of God. Moreover, it cannot be the ground in any sense of the word, since the ground of baptism must be something objective, as the advocates of the view in question themselves are constrained to admit. If they are asked, why they assume the regeneration of children presented for baptism, they can only answer, Because they are born of believing parents, that is, because they are born in the covenant. Naturally, to deny that presumptive regeneration is the ground of infant baptism, is not equivalent to saying that it is entirely unwarranted to assume that infant children of believers are regenerated. This is a question that must be considered on its own merits.

It may be well to quote in this connection the first half of the fourth point of the Conclusions of Utrecht, which were adopted by our Church in 1908. We translate this as follows: “And, finally, as far as the fourth point, that of presumptive regeneration, is concerned, Synod declares that, according to the confession of our Churches, the seed of the covenant must, in virtue of the promise of God, be presumed to be regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the contrary appears from their life or doctrine; that it is, however, less correct to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their presumptive regeneration, since the ground of baptism is the command and the promise of God; and that further the judgment of charity, with which the Church presumes the seed of the covenant to be regenerated, by no means intends to say that therefore each child is really regenerated, since the Word of God teaches that they are not all Israel that are of Israel, and it is said of Isaac: in him shall thy seed be called (Rom. 9:6, 7), so that in preaching it is always necessary to insist on serious self-examination, since only those who shall have believed and have been baptized will be saved.”

(3) Objection to the view that children are baptized on the ground of their covenant relationship. It has been said that, if children are baptized on the ground that they are born in the covenant and are therefore heirs of the promise, they are baptized on another ground than adults, since these are baptized on the ground of their faith or their profession of faith. But this is hardly correct, as Calvin already pointed out in his day. The great Reformer answered this objection effectively. The following is a translation of what Kramer says respecting Calvin’s position on this point: “Calvin finds occasion here in connection with infant baptism, now that he has taken the standpoint of the covenant, to draw the line farther. Up to this point he has not called attention to the fact that adults too are baptized according to the rule of the covenant. And therefore it might seem that there was a difference between the baptism of adults and that of children. The adults to be baptized on the ground of their faith, infants, on the ground of the covenant of God. No, the Reformer declares, the only rule according to which, and the legal ground on which, the Church may administer baptism, is the covenant. This is true in the case of adults as well as in the case of children. That the former must first make a confession of faith and conversion, is due to the fact that they are outside of the covenant. In order to be admitted into the communion of the covenant, they must first learn the requirements of the covenant, and then faith and conversion open the way to the covenant.” The very same opinion is expressed by Bavinck.3 This means that, after adults find entrance into the covenant by faith and conversion, they receive the sacrament of baptism on the ground of this covenant relationship. Baptism is also for them a sign and seal of the covenant.


Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (pp. 637–641). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.
 
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