Calvin on the Validity of “Romish” Baptism

"We are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists — and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord.   Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty….

"Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct….   There always have been persons…imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness….   Such of old were the Cathari and the Donatists…..   Such in the present day are some of the Anabaptists…. Seeing that among those to whom the Gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance with the doctrine — they forthwith conclude that there no church exists!

"The offence is indeed well founded….   It is one to which in this most unhappy age we give far too much occasion….   Still, those of whom we have spoken, sin in their turn — by not knowing how to set bounds to their offence.   For where the Lord requires mercy, they omit it and give themselves up to immoderate severity.   Thinking there is no church where there is not complete purity and integrity of conduct — they, through hatred of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church….

"Those who are the most forward and as it were leaders in producing revolt from the Church have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men. Well and wisely therefore does Augustine say…that pious reason and the mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought specially to regard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace….   Those bad sons who…attempt altogether to draw away…, pervert to sacrilegious schism….  To the pious and placid his advice is mercifully to correct what they can and to bear patiently with what they cannot correct; in love lamenting and mourning until God either reform or correct — or at the harvest root up the tares and scatter the chaff.   Augustine: Against the Donatist Parmenian chs. 1-2….

"Christ Himself, His apostles, and almost all the prophets have furnished us with examples. Fearful are the descriptions in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk and others deplore the diseases of the Church of Jerusalem.   In the people, the rulers and the priests, corruption prevailed to such a degree that Isaiah hesitates not — to liken Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah!    Isaiah 1:10. Religion was partly despised, partly adulterated — while in regard to morals we everywhere meet with accounts of theft, robbery, perfidy, murder and similar crimes.

"The prophets, however, did not therefore either form new churches for themselves or erect new altars on which they might have separate sacrifices.   But whatever their countrymen might be,

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reflecting that the Lord had deposited His Word with them and instituted the ceremonies by which He was then worshipped — they stretched out pure hands to Him, though amid the company of the ungodly….   If the holy prophets felt no obligation to withdraw from the Church on account of the very numerous and heinous crimes not of one or two individuals but almost of the whole people –we arrogate too much to ourselves, if we presume forthwith to withdraw from the communion of the Church [just] because the lives of all accord not with our judgment or even with the Christian profession.

"Then, what kind of age was that of Christ and the apostles?    Yet neither could the desperate impiety of the Pharisees nor the dissolute licientiousness of manners which everywhere prevailed, prevent them from using the same sacred rites with the people and meeting in one common temple for the public exercises of religion….   They knew that those who joined in these sacred rites with a pure conscience, were not at all polluted by the society of the wicked.   If any one is little moved by prophets and apostles — let him at least defer to the authority of Christ!"

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