Thursday, December 25, 2008

Greater Love

Bill Hale, missionary to Cambodia and member of FBC, Parker, submitted the following blog. Bill articulates a unique argument for unconditional election.
hb

For a few months I have been helping a friend via email work through the theology of God’s sovereign grace in election. He was in the same place I was in about ten years ago, having never really studied the doctrine and just following what I’d heard others say. He had all the normal freewill arguments: “God wants all men to be saved,” “Jesus died for the sins of all people without exception,” If the doctrine is true there is no reason to evangelize,” “Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge,” etc. You know, God votes for you, the devil votes against you, but you cast the deciding vote. Having seen the folly of these objections myself those ten years ago, I was equipped to help him.

You may think that this is just another lesson about the sovereignty of God in election, and that you have heard it plenty of times before by much better swordsmen. I readily concede the second point. As for the first, it is true that we Calvinists have heard this doctrine explained many times, yet the more I explain the doctrine to others, the more I study it afresh, and the more it stays at the forefront of my thoughts, the more beautiful it becomes. I realize what a worm I was (am), how deeply I hated Him, and what great love He had for me, which brings me to the point:

If it is true that God’s election is based on his looking into the future (the freewill definition of foreknowledge) and then afterwards choosing those whom he “foresaw” would love and trust him, then His electing love would be a lesser, imperfect kind of love.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus teaches us about that greater, perfect kind of love. He teaches that we should love even our enemies. He argues, “If we only love those who first love us, what reward is there in that? Even the wicked have this kind of love.”

You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Jesus taught us that the greater love is to love our enemies. Herein lies the beauty of the doctrine of Election. With what kind of love did the Father elect us? With the lesser, imperfect love of the wicked tax collectors and gentiles? Certainly not! This is not the kind of love scripture assigns to God Almighty. It attests to a God who loved us with the perfect love that loves one’s enemies.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

To say He elected us based on His foreknowledge of our love for Him is unbiblical nonsense. We love because He first loved us. We did not choose Him but rather He chose us. Behold the marvelous love of God! May He be forever praised by the objects of this greater, perfect love.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Down and Out

Today . . .

I could barely read their tag . . . Minnesota . . . far north . . . they must have brought the cold with them . . . now they were down here, out where they didn't belong . . . down and out . . . "down on their luck" and definitely "out" in terms of my "up and in" neighborhood . . . down and out . . . I knew it by the car they were driving (they were parked in the middle of the driveway at an angle that looked as if the car had broken down) . . . I knew it by the shoes they wore, by their dirty, ragged clothes, by the woman's stringy hair hanging down; they looked like they were living out of their car . . . I could see only the man's feet down beneath the jalopy on the opposite side . . . I caught a glimpse of a sleepy child's head hanging down in the back seat . . . poor kid . . . down and out alright . . . my first thought was "they're probably migrant criminals" . . . poor kid . . . my suspicions intensified as the woman got up and came inside to ask the clerk for change . . . "I need change to make a call" . . . her voice was hoarse and harsh, further confirmation of a rough life . . . "You need change alright . . . can't even afford a cell phone" . . . Most certainly they were down and out . . . poor kid . . .

I have that problem, you see: a propensity to judge before love, a propensity to condescend, a propensity to distrust those who look down and out, to judge their motives, their history, the reasons for their beggarly appearance and coarse demeanor and to ask, "What are those down-and-outers doing here?" . . . poor kid . .

Yesterday . . .

three down-and-outers . . . husband, wife, and sleeping child . . . dirty from travel . . . no place to go, no place to stay . . . just that old barn . . . definitely not from around here . . . don't belong here . . . must be something wrong with them . . . must've brought the cold with them . . . what are they doing here, just down and out no doubt . . . poor kid . . . poor kid . . . "

Forever . . .

Down and Out . . . Down from Heaven, and Out in the Flesh, Down and Out to this down-and-out world so that real down-and-outers like me could be Up and In. . . . Poor Child . . . .

Poor Child of Unsearchable Riches . . .

"Unto you is born, this day, in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. . . For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor that you, through His poverty, might be made rich."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Prominent Preachers and Plexiglass Pulpits

The old axiom is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Poppycock! Such a phrase is a damning comment on the collective ability of those people who create book covers, if you ask me.

While it may be occasionally so that a cover doesn’t accurately portray the contents of a book, as a general rule one need look no farther than the cover to judge the merit of its contents. For instance, I propose the following hypothesis with regard to books written by putative preachers: the more prominent the face of the preacher on the book, the less theologically sound.

I offer Exhibit A:



I can assure you (without oathing!) that only the softest most maleable clay is used in the Potter's House.

Exhibit B:



Osteen may be having his best life now with the dollars of sheep, but he leads them all astray.

Exhibit C:



Speaking of Joyce Meyer. My grandfather used to quip about women preachers, "They sound like a hen trying to crow." And if he ever heard Joyce Meyer get up to preach, he would have fled "faster than a minnow can swim a dipper."

Compare that to Dr. Sproul:



And to John Piper:



Yes, books can be judged by their covers, usually. Are there any caveats to the aforementioned rule? Yes, of course. First, all bets are off if the preacher is dead. Someone may put Calvin's picture on the cover if "The Institutes," but I assure you Calvin wouldn't have. Same for Luther, and Jonathan Edwards. Also, biographies can be an exception. You get the idea. If a book purports to be about theology or "Christian living," let it lie, pun intended, and leave it alone if the cover is dominated by a preacher's face.

And speaking of instant judging, let me give you all another tip. If you ever walk into a church and the pulpit is made of plexiglass, leave. Just walk out. Nothing good ever came from behind a plexiglass pulpit. If you can see through the pulpit, you should see through the preaching.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Modern Way

Rhetoric is a powerful tool. Yea, possibly the strongest, most influential weapon man has in his arsenal. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “The faculty of using all the available means of persuasion in a given message.” Others have offered their definitions as well, ranging from, “The art of communicating effectively,”…”The art of enchanting the soul,”…”Communicative deception,”…and so on. For purposes of this essay, we shall regard rhetoric as being the habitual dilemma of man(sic), in which verbal communication strives for the one goal of persuasion. Let us apply our objective epistemologies and critical wit to the field of rhetoric, more specifically, the rhetoric used by the modern evangelical churches, which I will collectively refer to as “The Modern Way,” out of sheer respect for Martin Luther, and his battles against this sense of “New Thinking,” in Erfurt.

The Modern Way uses rhetoric to establish a new look on the Gospel that is neither biblical, nor historical. The story goes like this: “You know you are a sinner, right?…Do you want to go to Heaven?…Repeat these words after me…were you sincere?…then you are SAVED!” Since when is the redemption process dependent upon the sincerity of man’s heart? The bible says the heart is deceitfully wicked. As a Calvinist, and writing this with fellow Reformed Aficionados blowing smoke around the table, I’m sure we are all ready to draw our pistols at Synergistic ideology, but let’s stay on task…Rhetoric is the issue at hand.

Although I side with the Aristotelians that rhetoric does qualify itself as an art—or Tekne—I side with the Platons on the uses, as well as the dangers of rhetoric. The rhetorical style of The Modern Way promises you a better life, with a more submissive wife, a more gentle husband, bigger bank accounts, better friends, and, oh yeah, Eternal Life. The Modern Way encourages, rather, builds, mega-churches and boasts of the numbers who prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” last service. Please note I do not entirely—“entirely” mind you— question the salvation of those who have prayed such a prayer. However, I stand firm that such a prayer is neither biblical nor representative of true faith with repentance and a turning away from sin. If you yourself experienced conversion in this manner, please note that you were not redeemed because of this prayer and manner but rather in spite of this prayer and manner.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).” The Modern Way, in almost every instance, though not exclusively, has steered clear of pluralism in their rhetoric. There is still one God; and there is still a Narrow Gate. However, the “seeker-friendly” attitude of The Modern Way has distorted, molested, and compromised the holiness of the gospel of Jesus Christ by falling upon the social sciences of Anthropology and Sociology to determine what their church environment, ideology, and appearance should resemble. When did the bible become insufficient in such matters? Paul Washer states, “It is fine for a church to be seeker-friendly when the one they seek is God.” The Modern Way has, and will, do everything in its power to become relevant to the surrounding worldly culture by molding itself to resemble that culture entirely. The promotion of the “Sinner’s Prayer” creates an army of un-redeemed “Christians.” The Modern Way will continue to value the advice given by carnal men on what to transform their church into. Then, they will be forced to continue their carnal nature and appearance to keep an attendance of carnal men, which they have prepared with golden bells for reprobation, and the fire that awaits them.

The rhetoric of The Modern Way’s pulpit promises salvation to all by making a few quick and simple decisions, like jumping through a few evangelical hoops to achieve eternal salvation. We will then march them off to Baptism the next Sunday, and rarely see them again in Church. Many years will pass and they will return, at which point a bold one may witness to this man, to which he will reply, “Oh, I have been there n’ done that. I’m a born-again believer. I have been most of my life.” Mind you that not only the Gate is Narrow, but the Way is Narrow as well, and true conversion is marked by the constant repentance of His children. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and they know Him and follow Him (John 10).

My friend, we as Christians are not relevant to our culture by establishing identical views and appearances; we are relevant to our culture because we are absolutely nothing of the sort. Likewise, evangelism does not depend upon a band that resembles MTV; it does not depend upon drawn-out altar calls, or a preacher who believes wearing blue jeans will make people more comfortable in church. Evangelism lies solely and utterly upon the Irresistible Grace of God, and for someone to move and become a child of God, it is not because of any other reason other than the Spirit of God moved in that place, as was ordained before the foundation of the world.
Let us not forget that the Way is Narrow, not only the Gate. Sharpen your brothers and sisters trapped in The Modern Way. Declare war against mindless preaching and worldly values molesting their way into that which is holy. Though it may seem as a mite beating his head against a world of granite; declare war against such things.

The Modern Way’s rhetoric is convenient, appealing, painless. Dear reader, declare war.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

To Atlas: Shrug

Is anyone else who regularly reads this blog troubled by the flippant use of the term “bailout” by our government and media? Perhaps your hackles are raised because of the proposal itself, and the language is of no concern. But politicians and auto-executives carefully chose “bailout” to describe what is being asked of the taxpayer. I don’t mean to pick nits here, but let’s examine this word and see whether it’s applicable.

According to the good people at dictionary.com, bailout has the following meanings:
– noun
1. the act of parachuting from an aircraft, esp. to escape a crash, fire, etc.
2. an instance of coming to the rescue, esp. financially
3. an alternative, additional choice, or the like, such as, “If the highway is jammed, you have two side roads as bailouts.”
– adjective
4. of, pertaining to, or consisting of means for relieving an emergency situation.

What strikes me is that the above-listed definitions imply an act of finality. The guy who escapes a plane crash ends up safely on the ground, for instance. “Bailout” is synonymous here with “rescue” or “save.” To a Calvinist, and even week-kneed Arminobaptists, to be saved is to be saved permanently, without need for continual saving. Is that what Congress is asking of the people? Hardly.

Instead of a bailout, what is truly being asked of the American people, strike that, taxpayer is to issue a binding guarantee to the wee three automakers. The 15 billion dollars figure currently being tossed about by Congress is a mere down payment, less than half of what the automakers are even asking for. And let’s be candid, people requesting “bailouts” never ask for what they actually need up front, rather they ask for a less taxing number.

As I understand it, what our esteemed representatives are wanting to do is essentially a three-part plan:

1. Give the automakers 15 billion dollars;

2. Appoint a Car Czar to oversee how that money is spent; and

3. Recommend to Congress what to do after that money is flushed down the toilet.

In essence, then, we have an institution, Congress, that has put its constituents in debt to the tune of trillions of dollars, wanting to appoint a “czar” over three companies that are only billions of dollars in debt, with the charge of getting them out of debt. And they’re serious about this.

I don’t mean to seem curmudgeonly, but “car czar”? Really? Currently, we have a drug czar to oversee the war on drugs, a war czar to oversee the Middle East wars, a cybersecurity czar (nobody’s sure what he does), and even a terrorism czar. Technically, the last czar that ever lived was gunned down by the Bolsheviks, who in turn installed Communism for decades in Eastern Europe. Besides, “czar” seems like too regal a name for a fella in charge of bureaucratic pettifoggery.

Our politicians smother us in encomiums biannually only to heap opprobrious resolutions on us while in D.C. One need not be a sycophantic follower of Rand to repine that if only one piece of advice could be dispensed to Atlas right now, it would be to shrug.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Impromptu Look at the Hierarchy of Coffee

Care for a little light reading? Permit me to publish the below essay on coffee that I penned during the weeks I was studying for the Bar Exam as part of an inchoate series I titled The Bar Missives.

“This is the good stuff,” Joe said as I entered class this morning. He was holding a 24 ounce cup of java. “Is that gas-station coffee,” I asked. “Ha, better: truck-stop coffee.”

We all know that’s true, don’t we—if you want a jolt of energy you can’t go wrong with truck-stop coffee? Of course we do. Truck-stop coffee sits atop the coffee hierarchy, looking down on boutique brands of coffee and regular ol’ gas-station coffee. Here’s why. Truck-stop coffee exists for only one purpose: to keep truckers awake. Truckers: that indomitable group of men who mount their steel horses to deliver, inter alia, our potato chips, beer, FISH (as so identified on all trucks hauling fish, check it out for yourself), and gasoline. They’re a rugged bunch, truckers—wearing caps that sit up a bit too high, ever using some form of tobacco, working in the word “niner” whenever possible, and constantly asking that most perplexing question, “you got your ears on?” Yes, my friends, the coffee designed for truckers isn’t that watered down drivel from Whataburger, nor is it labeled with some fancy moniker like Sumatra, Yukan, French Roast, or the like. No, trucker coffee needs no label.

Gas-station coffee is next. It’s no accident that the coffee pot at the gas station is immediately across from the Pennzoil display; when ordering gas-station coffee, it’s important to keep that in mind. 10W-30, 10W-40, etc. is how a real man orders coffee at the gas station. Interestingly, like Pennzoil, the strength of the coffee someone orders at the gas station will be directly related to the type of engine in the driver’s car. So for a person driving a Matrix, he’ll want to get his coffee from the cappuccino machine (probably 1-E-4 for large cappuccino with sugar). Whereas the Ford pickup driver will poor his coffee from the black-rimmed pitcher, and will most likely ensure that he gets some grains.

The next rung on the ladder of coffee is that of the standard coffee shop, this includes Starbucks and the like. One might be tempted to place this coffee further down on the list. But that would be the product of a bias against coffee-shop coffee, and not the result of careful scholarship. Many people are scared of coffee shops, some find them emasculating. Indeed, they can be. Why must the barista always be some androgynous twenty-something with spiky hair and skin that’s a little too supple for a boy, but hair that’s a little too dirty for a girl? They’re always donning the requisite brow-ring and those discs in their ears, you know the ones we used to make fun of the African tribesmen for wearing while we watched those National Geographic specials on PBS. There’s a chance he’s wearing makeup. He’s never wearing any D.O. for his B.O. Nevertheless, the coffee’s good—dang good. And the true coffee-shop connoisseur knows that one does not have grains in one’s coffee (silly gas station people), one has dregs. The baristas look down on truckers and gas-station coffee drinkers. But they do make a pretty good cup of joe.

I should add here, that coffee ordered from a sit-down restaurant will fall into one of the above categories, depending on the establishment. Are you at a Denny’s or an Oxford Street? If you’re like me, and wary of ordering coffee in a restaurant because you don’t know what kind they serve, there is a way to quell your anxiety. Before you enter the restaurant, look at the cars outside. If you see anything you might describe as a rig, you’ll get truck-stop coffee. If you see more than four cars that are in any of the following categories, you’ll get gas-station coffee: 1) Volkswagen Super Beetles (original models), 2) 1980’s model Oldsmobile or Buick that looks like the owner’s dentist and car-detail shop might be owned by the same person (that’s a genteel way of saying that both the car and the driver have bling in the grill), and 3) cars without catalytic converters (with the exception of old Jeeps, as in the original).

Lastly, you have fast-food coffee. Fast-food coffee is bad, real bad. It’s not even coffee, really. No, it’s some sort of laboratory-created concoction reminiscent more of Dr. Jekyl’s brew, thereby bringing out the cad in all who drink it, than of anything worthy of the title “Java.” They brew it too quickly, like the coffee grounds (if that is really what they are) are being castigated for some evil tortious conduct of which only coffee can be guilty. Furthermore, because fast-food chains operate on economies of scale, they often skimp out on the grounds, thereby making weak coffee to boot.

Fin.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Three Rooms and a Path

Off the main highway and in the green, fertile woods of Arkansas beneath the shadow of Petit Jean Mountain, sits a little wooden country church, immaculately white without, pulpit and pews of varnished and knotted pine within, three rooms and a path. For those unfamiliar with the common rustic phrase, "three rooms and a path," it refers not only to a small house or, in this case, a small church, but also to the absence of modern plumbing and thus "a path" to the outdoor facilities; in this case, those too were immaculately white.

Every Sunday morning Judy and I would drive the seventy miles from Little Rock, take the exit to Blackwell (for some reason the railroad post called it "Blackville"), then turn again down a gravel road to the Rockwellesque church building. We were usually first to arrive. In fall and spring, the mountain's shade insured an almost perfect temperature inside; in summer I would turn on the noisy window-unit air conditioner; in winter I would light the single gas stove (I liked winter best; there's just something wonderful about chilly pine warming to an open flame). Judy would go immediately to the piano and begin to play and sing, and I would retreat to a back room to finalize my sermon; my common habit then was always to kneel and pray in preparation for worship. The wooden floor hurt my knees; the humble prayer helped my soul.

Within a short time, a small congregation of about twenty, composed almost entirely of retired farmers and their wives, would assemble to worship within the hallowed walls of that three-room house of God. In those three humble rooms dwelt Love, Joy, and Peace, and no matter what path we took, even the path out back, those graces traveled with us.

Dear Friend, what of the Architecture of your Soul? Is it off the busy highway and down the gravel road of grace, nestled within the fertile green, under the mountain's pleasant shadow, immaculately white, unpretentiously humble, and has it three rooms of Love, Joy, and Peace? And, no matter what path you take, do those graces travel with you?

If not, just light the fire, and kneel; you will surely find "three rooms and a path."

The Bible is a living document, you see

Where did it begin, this notion that the Bible is a living document, specifically designed to be maleable with the times? I speculate that it began with the decline of Bible literacy among the populace. The Bible has been inching further and further from its former-central role in American life.

Just last night I was reading 1776, and I was struck that in one paragraph I read the names of generals with the following given names: Israel, Israel, and Jabez. Of course, these men may or may not have been Christian. But their names indicate a society where Biblical literacy and knowledge existed in far greater degree than now.

Who knows what twists and turns Biblical literacy took along the course of the last 200 years. But at some point people, even non-Christians, moved from having a pretty good grasp of the Bible, and began treating every verse as though it came from Proverbs. Who hasn't heard someone cite Jer. 29:11 as proof that God has a specific plan for them, or been slapped in the face with, "judge not, lest ye also be judged"? (Is there a class secularists take on when to cite that verse?)

If we moved from the state of general Biblical literacy to the proverbalization of the Bible on a gradual arc, then we as a society when straight of the cliff to get to the point where "serious people" describe the Bible as a "living document."

I read this poppycock this morning here. The author of the article seeks to prove that gay marriage is perfectly acceptable in the Bible, and besides, Christians are drooling idiots for looking to such an unreliable text as the Bible to ascertain answers to 21st century questions anyway.

From the Newsweek article, "Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history." Ugggh. First, what is a "Biblical literalist"? Is that one who takes each passage literally, and thinks that Christ is really a door, a vine, water, or bread? I consider myself a Biblical literalist because I believe the Bible is literally true. And what on earth is a "living document"? In constitutional law, a living document is whatever a majority of Supreme Court justices say it is. Who are the robed men who sit in judgment on the meaning of Scripture? And does a document have to be "living" to speak to people over the course of 2,000 years? If that was the case, then the Pharisees would have been prancing around Jerusalem saying, "Genesis, you know, is a living document. One mustn't take things written therein too seriously, you see."

The article goes on to cite old-liberal standbys in Leviticus, without any effort to explain to the reader why Christians believe the dietary laws of the Old Testament are no longer applicable.

Although the author admits that the Bible condemns gay sex, he explains those texts away, writing in part that two Leviticus references "are throwaway lines." Perhaps they'll be revived as the document evolves. The author enlightens this Christian by explaining that a condemnation by Paul of men who "'were inflamed with lust for one another'" . . . is really a critiqu of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delustion, violence, promiscuity and debautchery" and is ultimately a reference "to the depravity of Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would hav grasped instantly." Apparently, that verse has not evolved to apply to others besides Nero and Caligula.

The author even questions the heterosexuality of King David, who had a great love for Jonathan. No word on whether David eyed Jonathan taking a bathe, however.

Reasonable people can disagree about the meaning and import of particular texts in the Bible. But there is no doubt about whether the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. One can argue that the Bible is irrelevant, or that public policy should not be influenced by its contents. However, no serious person, who really wants to know the truth, can deny that the Bible roundly denounces homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments.

I don't mind secularists, really. But I'd rather them not tell me what my religion teaches. By the same token, I won't tell them what secular-atheists should believe.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Moving on to Baptism

*This is very rough, and is still incomplete (I'm about a third of the way finished), but I thought I'd post what I have so far here and invite comments. I've found myself thinking a great deal about baptism lately, and have been jotting down some thoughts and observations as I go. Hope you enjoy.

In which I seek to determine the meaning and
manner of baptism in the Christian church


Questions Presented

1. What is the purpose of baptism?
2. What is the meaning of the word “baptize”? Mode
3. Who are the proper subjects of baptism? Subject

I.
Introduction


Words have meaning. When interpreting a text, any text, the interpreter must engage in making determinations as to the meaning of the particular words chosen by the author. Reformed Christians are especially aware of the necessity of carefully examining Scripture in order to ascertain proper meaning. What budding-Calvinist hasn’t struggled with the words “elect,” “predestined,” and “chosen,” utilized by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 1 and Romans chapter 9, while carefully studying the petals of free grace? And what Calvinist hasn’t studied the relationship between the subject, verb, and direct-object in the statement “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”?

Perhaps my own training as an attorney amplifies my fascination with language and boosts my desire to “know the hope,” as it were. It was as a law student, prompted most likely by my class in the law of contracts, that I first began dissecting the language of the Bible in order to discover its meaning, as opposed to reading the Bible in such as a way as to do little more than confirm the presuppositions of a spiritual neophyte, focusing more on the editor’s notes at the bottom of the page, than the Author’s words at the top.

A commitment to the text is the means by which God brought me to the truths that He is sovereign and grace is free. Once a Christian comes to those conclusions, his ears are ruined to preaching, as my uncle says, and he is often forced to look for a new church home. Such was the case with me. The journey begun, the Calvinist finds two options, generally: the Baptist, and the Presbyterian. In fact, one has to be a bit lucky (providentially blessed?) to find a Baptist/Calvinist church—Presbyterian Calvinists, though easier to find, aren’t just plentiful themselves, at least not in Lubbock, Texas. Regardless, most newly Reformed Christians are quickly faced with choosing whether to attend a church that accepts or rejects paedobaptism.

Which font should the Christian choose: the child’s font or the believer’s? While one is small in size, it is broad in application, and although the other is physically broader it is applied more restrictively. This paper is my effort to examine the purpose of baptism as well as its proper mode and subject.

Generally, I will do my level best to offer “both” sides of the various debates concerning baptism. I will pit the paedobaptist against the credobaptist, the sprinkler against the immerser, Covenantalist against the Baptist. My hope is that the iron of both sides will sharpen me, and that I will come to a proper understanding of how to carry out Christ’s command.

II.
The Purpose of Baptism


Before diving into the debate on the proper mode of baptism and the proper subjects of baptism, it may be fruitful to see what the two sides of the debate say about baptism. I will use the Westminster Confession of Faith as being representative of the paedobaptist view, and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith as being representative of the baptistic point of view.

A. The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 28

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.

B. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be to the person who is baptised - a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Christ; of remission of sins; and of that person's giving up of himself to God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
1. Those who actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects for this ordinance.
2. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, in which the person is to be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
3. Immersion - the dipping of the person in water - is necessary for the due administration of this ordinance.

C. A Brief Comparison

a. Baptism — A Command


It’s no accident that the former is longer and more complicated than the latter. At the base of both confessions, we see that each side agrees that the central purpose of baptism is that it is an ordinance or sacrament of the New Testament, issued by Christ in the Great Commission.

b. Baptism — A Seal and Sign

The Baptist asserts that baptism is a sign of the baptized’s “fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection.” The paedobaptist avers that it is a sign and seal “of the covenant of grace” with the baptized, and that the baptized is “ingraft[ed] into Christ,” it is a sign for the baptized “of regeneration, or remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.”

D. A Brief Contrast

To say that when one receives baptism he is part of the “covenant of grace,” indicates that any recipient of baptism is saved. However, the paedobaptist knows this is not the case. The Westminster Confession is contradictory here. For while baptism is a sign and seal for the Christian, it does nothing for a spiritually dead baby other than admit him into the so-called “visible Church,” although it seems the paedobaptist believes that the adult’s infant baptism serves as some kind of lingering encouragement. I’ll leave the discussions to visible versus invisible church to another time, and probably another author.

III.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD “BAPTIZE”


Now to the meat of my study. To my mind, the question, “what does the word ‘baptize’ mean in the original Greek” is the most important issue to be answered if I am to gain a proper understanding of the mode of baptism.

The first question, then, is what word or words should I be looking up. One would think this wasn’t a debatable issue. But I quickly found that Baptists want me to study the word baptizo, while paedobaptists want me to study the word bapto in addition to baptizo. Why? Before the research, I wasn’t sure. But after the research, the answer is plain. If one only studies baptizo, he will come to the necessary conclusion that immersion is the proper mode of baptism. If one studies bapto and baptizo one may come to the conclusion that immersion is the proper mode of baptism, but will likely come to the conclusion that it is uncertain what the proper mode of baptism is, or that mode is altogether irrelevant.

Consider the Westminster Confession above. In it we read that you don’t have to immerse, and that you may pour or sprinkle. Well, if you take that to mean that you may immerse, pour, or sprinkle, then you’ve effectively said that when baptism is in view in the New Testament the writer could be referring just as likely to one of the three proposed modes as the other. That, however, is not the case, as I’ve found.

When the ordinance of baptism is in view, the word baptizo is invariably used. The word bapto is used to describe certain Old Covenant ceremonial-washings, such as sprinkling the blood of the bull, etc. But when we’re talking about people’s baptisms, we’re looking at the word baptizo and not the word bapto. Although the words are related, it turns out Greek writers knew the difference between them, and they are distinct words with distinctly different meanings.

So I operate under three assumptions: (1) the Holy Spirit intended the word bapto where it is used and baptizo where it is used; (2) the Holy Spirit did not intend ambiguity; and (3) I will be able to ascertain the meaning of the mode of baptism by limiting my study to the word the Holy Spirit chose to use for baptisms.

A. Use of the word “baptize” in the New Testament

The following contains each instance where “baptize” is used in the New Testament as a translation of the Greek word baptizo.

• “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confession their sins.” Matt. 3:6 (referring to John the Baptist).

• “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Matt. 3:11 (John the Baptist speaking contrasting his baptism with Holy Spirit baptism.)

• “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.” Matt. 3:13.

• “But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” Matt. 3:14.

• “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:” Matt. 3:16.

• “But Jesus answered and said, Ye known not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.” Matt. 20:22.

• “And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” Matt. 20:23.

• “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 28:19.

• “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4 (Mark describing John’s baptism.)

• “And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:5.

• “I indeed have baptized you with water: be he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” Mark 1:8; see Matt. 3:11.

• “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.” Mark 1:9.

• “And king Herod heard of him; for his name was spread abroad: and he said, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.” Mark 6:14.

• “And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.” Mark 7:4.

• “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Luke 3:16; see Matt. 3:11.

• “John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;” John 1:26.

• “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” John 1:33.

• “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1 Cor. 1:17.

B. Use of the word “baptize” in the Septuagint and ancient-Greek literature

Merely citing all the verses where baptizo appears settles nothing among English speaking Christians. After all, it is the definition of the word that is at issue, and context alone can be wriggled to explain any definition of baptism one likes, regardless of its real meaning.

But there must be a real meaning to the word. Otherwise, we accuse the Holy Spirit of intentional ambiguity. This is a most damning charge given the command of Christ to go and make disciples, baptizing them. If Christ commands us to do something, and then He and the Holy Spirit intentionally choose an ambiguous word to embody that command, then Christ’s church can never be certain that it is abiding by His command.

Lexicons

Dr. Strong, whose lexicon is commonly regarded as the best among people who know such things, tells us that the above-listed verses are those in which the Greek word baptizo is used. Strong defines the term thusly: to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e., fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism. See http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=greeklexicon&isindex=907.

Dr. Thayer defines the word baptizo thusly: (1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk); (2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe; (3) to overwhelm. See http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm? strongs=907&t=KJV.

A perusal of other Greek lexicons will yield similar, if not identical results.

Greek Literature

What about Greek literature? Glad you asked. Pindar wrote in 522 BC: “For as when the rest of the tackle is toiling deep in the sea, I as a cork, above the net, am undipped (abaptistos) in water.”

Plato (heard of him?) wrote in 429 BC: “I perceiving that the youth was overwhelmed (baptizomenon), wishing to give him respite . . . . I was one of those who yesterday were overwhelmed in wine.”

Homer, 400 BC: “The mass of iron, drawn red hot from the furnace, is dipped (baptizetai) in water.”

Alcibiades wrote in 400 BC: “You dipped (baptes) me in plays: but I in the waves of the sea dipping (baptizon), will destroy thee with streams more bitter.”

Demosthenes wrote in 385 BC: “Not the speakers, for these know how to play the dipping (diabaptizes-thai) match with him, but the inexperienced.”

Eubulus, 380 BC: “Who now the fourth day is immersed (baptizetai), leading the famished life of a miserable mullet.”

Evenus of Paros 250 BC: “Bacchus (the use of wine) plunges (baptizei) in sleep.”

Polybius in 205 BC: The enemy “made continued assaults and submerged (ebaptizon) many of the vessels.” The vessel “being submerged (baptizo-mena) became filled with sea-water and confusion.” “Even if the spear falls into the sea, it is not lost; for it is compacted of oak and pine, so that when the oaken part is immersed (baptizomenon) by the weight, the rest is buoyed up, and it is easily recovered.” “Themselves by themselves immersed (baptizomenoi) and sinking in the pools.”

Strabo wrote in 60 BC: “To one who hurls down a dart, from above into the channel, the force of the water makes so much resistance, that it is hardly dipped (baptizesthai).” “And he who enters into it is not immersed (baptizesthai), but is lifted out.” “The water solidifies so rapidly around every thing that is dipped into it (Lake Tatta) that they draw up salt crowns when they let down a circle of rushes.”

Josephus wrote in 37 AD: “And stretching out the right hand, so as to be unseen by any, he plunged the whole sword into his body.” “There are thirteen other examples in Josephus, all in the sense of dipping.” John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 25 (Baptist Book Concern 1891).

Each time a classical Greek writer used the word baptizo, that I’ve been able to find. he used it to describe a dipping or immersion. The only exception to this rule that I have seen is when the writer uses the word to describe one as being whelmed or overwhelmed by wine or the like. Those expressions, however, bolster the primary meaning of baptizo meaning immerse. To say one is immersed in wine certainly conveys the idea that one has overly-partaken of the fruit of the vine better than saying that one was sprinkled by the wine. The exception, therefore, proves the rule, in the traditional meaning of that tired phrase.

Septuagint

The word baptizo occurs precisely twice in the Septuagint. John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 36 (Baptist Book Concern 1891). “Namaan went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” 2 Kings 5:14. “My iniquity overwhelms me.” Is. 21:4. “The root word bapto is frequently used in the sense of to dip, and is so used seventeen times in the Old Testament.” John. T. Christian, Immersion, the Act of Christian Baptism 36 (Baptist Book Concern 1891). Each of those seventeen instances is a translation of the Hebrew word tabhal, which unsurprisingly means to dip. Id.

The Namaan example provides powerful linguistic and theological evidence in favor of immersion. Namaan is told by the prophet to go all the way down into the Jordan, and dip himself seven times, in order to make himself clean. The Isaiah example of “overwhelm” also supports the idea of a complete covering, which only immersion accomplishes.

I’ll leave tedious expositions of the other texts to more capable authors, dedicated to linguistics. I do not accept the premise laid by many that one need interpret related to baptizo in order apprehend the command by Christ to baptize.

C. Examining the sprinkler’s interpretation of baptizo

Oftentimes arguments are won or lost based on how one frames the question at issue. While a Baptist commentator may capitulate to a meaning of baptizo that encompasses both the idea of simple immersion and the more ambiguous “washing,” sprinklers begin with the idea that baptism is itself a washing rather than a burial. In so stating, the sprinkler reasons that if baptism is a washing, typifying the washing away of sins, then the way in which one washes is really irrelevant, so long as a washing occurs. So a sprinkler would phrase the question this way, “What modes of baptism are acceptable for washing?” While a Baptist address the issue more narrowly, without first presuming the definition of the word “baptism” by asking, “What does the word ‘baptize’ mean?”

In this vein, the eminent Charles Hodge begins his discussion of Baptism in his Systematic Theology by citing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 94, which begins, “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water . . . .” Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 94. After citing the catechism, Hodge wrote, “According to the definition given above, baptism is a washing with water.” Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Vol. III 526. Since baptism is a washing, Hodge reasoned, then it “may be done by immersion, affusion, or sprinkling.” Id. 526. Hodge went on, writing that to baptize is “to wash with water. It is not specifically commanded to immerse, to affuse, or to sprinkle. The mode of applying water . . . is unessential.” Id.

Hodge wrote with great clarity, so much so that his deft pen can fool readers. Christ commanded people to baptize. The primary definition of baptizo is to immerse or dip (which carries with it the idea of full coverage of that which is dipped), and the secondary definition allows for the idea of washing. Hodge, by initially citing the Westminster Confession bypassed any linguistic complications or obstacles to his illation.

In fact, when Hodge did discuss the meaning of the word baptizo as used in the classics, the Septuagint, and the New Testament, he puzzlingly undermines his premise. For instance, Hodge wrote that the accepted definition of baptizo was the following: “(1) To immerse, or submerge. . . . (2) To overflow or to cover with water. . . . (3) To wet thoroughly, to moisten. (4) To pour upon or drench. (5) In any way to be overwhelmed or overpowered.” Id. at 527. Each of the proffered definitions conveys the idea of a complete covering with water. Somehow, however, Hodge and other sprinklers want a sui generis meaning of baptizo as it relates to the rite of baptism.

Even in the face of that, ahem, overwhelming definition, Hodge argued that baptizo “belongs to that class of words which indicate an effect to be produced without expressing the kind of action by which the effect is to be brought about.” Id. at 528. Given the above-listed alternative definitions, the effect to be produced is being immersed, submerged, covered, thoroughly wet, drenched, or overwhelmed. Presented with the option to immerse or sprinkle, absent initial bias due to the practice of one’s particular church, any clear minded person would aver that immersion more plainly produces the effect of being drenched or overwhelmed than does sprinkling.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More on the Christian's Relationship with the State

Please allow me to clarify some of my points (comments on the earlier blog posting entitled “On the Christian's Relationship with the State”) and to decline (at present) your invitation for a word-for-word exposition of Romans 13. I would like to see such an exposition myself, and may write one in the future. Currently, my thoughts on this text are far from “congealed.”

I am, however, resolutely convinced that the powers have benefited greatly by encouraging an exposition which leads Christians (liberated souls) to bow and scrape before principalities and powers with which they should be wrestling. A dominant function of religion in the history of states and cultures has been to maintain an oppressive status quo.

If anything useful can be gained from Michel Foucault’s “queer Marxist” (this is my characterization) analysis of history, it may be (in my opinion) that “Christendom” (and this would include 90%+ of “Calvinists”) has sought “power” over people – by the sword – just like every other major world religion.

This is NOT the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus truly inaugurated a new kingdom –then (with Jesus) we are dealing with a radically new phenomenon – a phenomenon which often does not seem to accord with Aristotelian logic. My point here is that the teachings of Jesus often seem to be at odds with what seems “reasonable,” “practical,” and “expedient.”

Clearly, a man would be a fool to slander Calvin. However, as a convinced baptist, I disdain to quote Calvin as an “authority” on anything [read whichever biography you please – but Calvin either presided over, or stood by for the torture and execution of a professing Christian who had a different opinion than he (Calvin) did]. I am convinced of the soundness of “Calvinist” soteriology (i.e., TULIP), not because of Calvin, but because of Paul (i.e., by the NT scriptures). Hence, I will ever (only) use the title “Calvinist” for convenience – though it pains me.

All of this to say – forget Calvin, forget Luther, forget Zwingli (and realize that their writings – which we possess today – were always published with a glittering sword in the ‘background’). And remember – all of these men sought the protection of state power (understandably), and none of these men died as martyrs at the hands of a wicked state (as did James, Paul and Jesus).

The point is (from my perspective) when it comes to the relationship between the Christian and the state – these men (the magisterial reformers) have little to tell us. If you want to read what the Presbyterian power brokers (intoxicated by the possibility of having the state “sword” on “their side”) thought about this – read Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXIII. They were supporters of the state power status quo.

The Baptist Confession of 1644’s language (see chapter LI) is more tentative than Westminster’s. I wish it were even more tentative – but in 1644 the Brits were still struggling under the “Divine Right of Kings” deception.

Historically (at least until the flag-wrapped crosses of the 20th century), baptists and anabaptists have not been big state supporters. Maybe this is because states and state-churches have imprisoned, tortured and killed a lot more baptists and anabaptists than other “Protestants.”

You are correct in understanding that it is my position that Paul would never teach Christians to submit to evil powers. My position (which I believe is also Paul’s) is that Christians should always resist evil, but that their resistance should be non-violent (i.e., not physically violent).

This position has historically been characterized by some as “non-resistance,” but I believe this characterization to be an inappropriate denigration of the spiritual weaponry with which Christ has equipped His brethren.

Since I hold the aforementioned presupposition (i.e., that Paul would never teach submission to evil powers), I must seek some intelligible interpretation of the Romans 13 language that upholds my presupposition – or (I believe) I should abandon it.

I do believe that Jesus Christ (God) ordains all things (though when I state this, I must confess that faith has surpassed understanding). Since I believe that God ordains all things - I believe that this “all things” must include evil governments.

So, if Paul’s language appears to say that Christians should submit to evil powers, (with my presupposition in place) I cannot grant this. Since this is my position – I am forced to seek an alternate explanation, exposition or qualification, for the meaning of his words.

Hence, my earlier note (comment to an earlier post in this blog) that while Rome could not have existed had not God ordained it – He must have disapproved of it, because it (Rome) was an evil power.

You say, “If Paul was telling the Romans to only submit to good governments, and all earthly governments are evil governments, then Christians must be disobedient to all earthly government.”

I think you have clearly understood my point. If you have the presupposition that I hold, then it is inevitable that Paul is forcing all Christians to (at some point) be disobedient to earthly government(s) – because they are all evil.

If this seems paradoxical, then just imagine that your name is Abram – and the God whom you serve (a God who prohibits murder) has just told you (you think) to make a human sacrifice out of your only son.

What do you do? Well, I think that you (humbly) do the best that you can.

In your last response, you wondered (because of my musings), “what [do] you do if you're simply a subject.” Honestly, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet, but I do think about it a lot and I do read about it a lot.

I can say that I’m confident that as a “subject” and a Christian, you should “live like Jesus” to the best of your ability.

The Lord Jesus Christ embodied a countercultural existence in almost every one of His acts and words. We know that the early Christians saw Jesus as the antithesis of Caesar and as victorious over Caesar - not through physical violence, but by “making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20).”

They understood Christ to have “spoiled [the] principalities and powers, [and that] he [had] made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15).” Roman converts to Christianity could no longer participate in the emperor worship cult – they had bowed to a new master; their relationship to the old master became, of necessity, “tentative.”

In very practical terms, what does this mean (i.e., what do I do?)

Maybe it means: just be at peace, and “ignore” the state as much as possible.

As I said, I don’t have this all “worked out” yet.

I do want to quibble with what I perceive to be an unexamined presupposition of yours. In part II of your argument/essay you list four government employees mentioned in the New Testament (a centurion, Zaccheus, Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus) and then you argue that their professions were acceptable because scripture does not mention that their professions were unacceptable.

I believe that this is an argumentum ex silentio, which does not warrant the deductive leap to the conclusion that Christ or the Apostles approved of these professions.

Your contention that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not by any means a “given.” This notion may be uncomfortable for some who have either served in the military, or had beloved relatives whom they have considered heroic because they served in the military. Be that as it may - let truth reign.

Of course there is the matter of unchristian oath taking, which would forbid some (of sensitive conscience) from swearing to defend the constitution (in today’s American political climate this has denigrated into a promise to invade whatever country the current administration has a beef with).

I have commented on oaths and pledges here, but I believe there is a stronger reason why the notion that a Christian may righteously serve as a soldier is not a “given.”

You have intimated that Jesus (i.e., God) did not forbid service in the killer corps, but the analysis may be shortsighted.

There was a prophet (John, the baptizer) of whom God (Jesus Christ) said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).” Apparently, the Lord Jesus Christ had a very high regard for John.

One day some soldiers came to John and asked him, “what shall we do? (Luke 13:14).”

John’s answer is instructive. He answers them, “do violence to no man.”

Violence is the soldier’s business, so what he (John) is really saying to them is “find another job.”

Major Premise: Christians should not be violent
Minor Premise: The ultimate job of a soldier is to do violence
Conclusion: A Christian should not be a soldier

This was the consensus of the Church fathers and the practice of Christians until the Constantinian creation of “Christendom” (for more on this, see here).

As I stated in a comment to an earlier post on this blog, I believe you may be neglecting a significant wing of Christian thought (a wing I believe is much more attuned to the ethic of Jesus) when you focus on the majority protestant corpus to the neglect of the anabaptists (generally, their older works were not in large circulation because they were being persecuted by the “protestants” [God will judge them]).

A note to younger readers – if I stop voting, it will not be because of “intellectually void regurgitations.” If I stop voting, it will be because that is where my rational contemplation has led me.