It is helpful to read the ancients, if for no other reason, than to see that our faith is also ancient. Furthermore, there is the wonderful aspect of its continuity. We have the wonderful privilege of reading the same Bible Augustine read over 1600 years ago.
One of the often overlooked realities of the reformation is that great saint, Augustine. Particularly in Calvin, the reformation took the form of simply returning to the doctrines and practice of the early church. Calvin quotes Augustine page after page. In Augustine's case, we are harkening back to around 400 A.D.
As I read through Augustine's letters, I have been repeatedly surprised and pleased to find great support for some of our most distinctive elements. By our, I mean, our denomination, the CREC, Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
I hope to give you a few more of his quotes as I get along. Augustine speaks of baptism in a most wonderful way, fully consistent with our views that children are full members of the church.
This one from Letter 98, to Boniface. Augustine is replying to a question from Boniface about whether Christian children are harmed when their parents offer sacrifices to idols when they are sick.
"To which I reply that, in the holy union of the parts of the body of Christ, so great is the virtue of that sacrament, namely, of baptism, which brings salvation, that so soon as he who owed his first birth to others, acting under impulse of natural instincts, has been made partaker of the second birth by others, acting under the impulse of spiritual desires, he cannot be thenceforward held under the bond of that sin in another to which he does not with his own will consent."
Augustine then argues that the child is not held guilty by the guilt of his parents offering sacrifice. But note what he does say in this paragraph. Baptism has great virtue, brings salvation and is the second birth. Perhaps we want to qualify these statements somewhat and Augustine himself does so in many places. But instead of running to the qualifications, and then believing the qualifications instead of the principle of the thing, we ought to take a moment to bask in the thing signified in baptism. We get the 'thing' as well as the symbol of the thing. What is it? Virtue, salvation, born again.