By The Rev. J. Patrick Niles is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Hilbert, Wisc.
This post has been a long time in the making. For the past decade, every time I read a post by some avant-garde religious/church-planting/emergent/post-modern blogger, I think, “Hmmmmm. I should respond to that.” Then kids need diaper changes, sermons need to be written and shut-ins need to be visited. Right now, however, I have some time to write a response.
Time and time again, I have read blog posts about how the church is doing church wrong. The church is a victim of its ambivalence toward its own perpetual exclusivity of the present generation who has needs that are not being met. And each time I read the same list of an interchangeable 5-7 attributes (unloving, culturally irrelevant, superficial worship and unintelligible jargon are ones that top the list most often), I realize that the ire and frustration comes from a misunderstanding of what church is. So let’s break the silence on behalf of the church . . . the Church . . . the historical Christian Church. I am tired of being misrepresented. I am tired of being judged (sound familiar?). I am tired of disenfranchised people making more people disenfranchised with an improper understanding of church. And so, without further ado . . .
1. We want you here. Really. We do. However, the reason might surprise you. It is not to boost the average age of the worshiping community to give us more “street cred.” It is not so that we can have your money. It is not so that we can legitimize our existence. As a matter of fact, the reason that we want you here has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with you. We firmly believe that God distributes His good gifts of grace and forgiveness in the worship service. We learn together. We grow together. Christ is present for us, and we want you to have those good gifts of God. We want to pray with you. We want to praise God with you. We want to be at the font and the altar with you. We want to hear from the pulpit with you. And we want all of this for your good. We’re already getting the goods. We want you to have them also.
2. We are not better than you. However, we do have the same struggles as you do. Namely, we struggle with sin. We have the same inclinations toward pride, jealousy, selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement that you do. We like things a certain way. We like our carpets certain colors. We like people to dress certain ways because those ways make us feel comfortable. We can be hypocritical, judgmental and prejudiced without cause. We are all of these things because we are sinners. No, dear culture, we are not better than you. But that is why we are here every Sunday. We do not seek to be confirmed in those things that divide us. We seek to be forgiven for the times when we do not act like Christ. And we are. We are forgiven and renewed by Christ, and that makes all the difference. You do not want us to judge you by your checkered-past of sins? Why would you judge us by ours?
3. The church is for sinners of whom we are the worst. The church is the place where God has ordained the forgiveness of sins to take place. The church exists to proclaim the Gospel. It exists to proclaim that you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner when repentant. Why would you exclude yourself from that because you are surrounded by other sinners? Are you differentiating sins and making one sin worse than another? Judging, by chance? Hmmm. Interesting. Please forgive the snark, but this is the point that is made time and time again by the historical Christian Church. We are sinners and we are saints! We are forgiven only by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is for us. The blood of Christ is for you. We beg you, come–for your sake, not ours.
4. The church is bigger than you. This is the part that you might not like to hear, but it is the truth. The church is not about you, your preferences or your tastes. The church is about Jesus. It is about the Son of God who came down to earth in humility as part of His creation. It is about this same God-man who dies willingly on the cross bearing the sins of the whole world–bearing your sins. It is about Jesus who left your sins in the tomb and rose victorious to reign for you. It is about the victorious Christ who will come again, who will create a new heaven and a new earth, who will restore these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that allows Him to subdue all things to Himself. This is the church in which uncounted saints have had their uncounted sins forgiven. Uncounted souls have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism, taught through countless hours of instruction, bowed at numerous altars and received the infinite body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and strength for their lives in Him. This church is the voice of ages of martyrs who have not recanted the faith that we make to appear so malleable. This church has a language, an order, a life that is bigger than you. It is a life that includes 90-year-old Uncle Bud and 9-day-old Stryker. It is a life that is big enough to include you also. So if you want to be part of this church, show some initiative. Learn the language. Learn the story of the church that spans all time and space in the promises and words of Jesus. This. brings us to point number 5.
5. We will always be here . . . and so will Christ. For you. Thank you for your concern about our demise. However, throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, the Lord has promised that the pure preaching and teaching of His Word will not vanish from the earth. There will always be a remnant who live in and proclaim the forgiveness of Christ. It might not always look the same or be the same size. But it will always exist. So when you realize that the forgiveness of Christ is more than the trifles of interpersonal relationships, we will be here . . . and so will Christ. When you want to stop poking holes in the very institution that was created to give you comfort of sins forgiven and the certainty of salvation, we will be here . . . and so will Christ. He will always be here for you with all you need and more.
Please understand that we do want you, because Christ wants you. My snarkiness and righteous indignation is not really aimed at those who are legitimately searching. They are aimed at those who wish to co-opt the church for their own agendas. Their agendas and straw-man portrayals of the church are not what the church is. If you are legitimately searching, I pray you find a biblical, confessional, Lutheran congregation in which to abide. For in that place you will find the true and pure preaching and teaching of the Word of God. You also find Christ who gives Himself for you every time you come. Please, come, not for our sake, but for yours.
The Lutheran Witness — Providing Missouri Synod laypeople with stories and information that complement congregational life, foster personal growth in faith, and help interpret the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Karen Swallows Prior gives a concise introduction to an important idea to consider:
The Benedict Option—a proposal for how Christians might live in a post-Christian culture—has proven to be a Rorschach test: everyone seems to see something different in it. Perhaps these variations owe, in part, to the development of the idea over several years under public scrutiny, accompanied by spirited discussion. The idea is finally put forward in full with the March 14 publication of the book by Rod Dreher, writer and columnist for The American Conservative. Because of the ample criticism and commentary that have been offered along the book’s way, it might be most helpful simply to look closely at what The Benedict Option is—and isn’t—proposing.
Understanding the title goes a long way toward understanding the concept. “Benedict” refers, of course, to the sixth century founder of a monastic order established during the swirling cultural chaos of the falling Roman Empire. Dreher turns to Benedict to pick up on a suggestion made by moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his 1981 book, After Virtue. MacIntyre points to Benedict as a model from the past for our current culture, which no longer sees virtue as essential to a flourishing civilization. “Option” is a twist on Rule, the name of the guidelines Benedict developed for godly and communal living in the monastery. Dreher’s use of “option” is an implicit acknowledgment that everything in modernity is a matter of choice, right down to the very attempt to resist modernity.
The Benedict Option’s vision is not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians. Nor does it propose a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore. Nor is the turn to Benedict a quixotic attempt to recapture a romanticized past.
To the contrary, The Benedict Option calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that reflect the understanding that Christians, who are not citizens of this world, need not “prop up the current order” (18). While the monastery that birthed the Benedict Rule was literal, the monastery invoked in The Benedict Option is metaphorical. It is not a place, but a way.
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You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
― Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation
From Russell Moore: How Do You Explain the Trinity to Children?
Some time ago a journalist friend emailed to ask a question I think many Christian parents have asked. How does one explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to children?
I think the reason this question resonates with so many parents is precisely because we adults can’t adequately explain the doctrine ourselves. We can teach children the inerrancy of Scripture by simply saying, “The Bible Is True.” We can explain something of the atonement by saying, “Jesus paid for our sins and is alive forever.” The Trinity, though, is another matter.
I think much of our fear and stumbling here comes with a misunderstanding of what the Christian gospel is all about. Yes, Christianity is reasonable and intelligible (Carl Henry stands affirmed). But Christianity is not merely about reason and intelligence. The gospel points to a different kind of wisdom, one that silences human mouths (Isa. 55:8; Jer. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:19-20).
God is one God, and God is three persons in an everlasting relationship with one another, a relationship into which we are invited. That’s not contradictory. God is not one in the same way he is three, or vice-versa. But who can reduce this to some sort of formula or easy analogy?
Sometimes we seek a quick analogy for children because we want to put our kids out of their mystery. If the Trinity is an easy explanation (it’s like a shamrock; it’s like water, ice, and steam), we can “move on.” We’re afraid if we say that the Trinity is in some ways beyond comprehension that our kids won’t trust us to tell them with confidence about the truth of the gospel.
But Jesus tells us there’s something about a child’s way of believing that ought to be true of all of us. We must, he tells us, become like them if we’re going to enter the kingdom of God at all. In one sense, it’s true, children are often hyper-literal. I remember thinking as a child that a “soul” was a little version of myself located in one of the chambers of my heart (and wearing a soldier’s uniform, for some reason).
But, in the more important ways, children are open to mystery and paradox in ways adults often aren’t. Children explore the world around them with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. They don’t comprehend it all, and they know they don’t comprehend it all.That’s the kind of blessed ignorance I believe Jesus commends. In order to believe, you must trust everything God has said to you, but you must also see him, not your own comprehension, as Lord. To see at all we must know that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).
With that the case, we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. But we’ve got several trillion years and beyond to explore the depths of the Trinitarian reality. A start is what we need.
And learning of God’s oneness and threeness in terms of wonder and awe is a good place, I think, to start vaccinating our children from the kind of sterile rationalism, Christian or atheist, that can lead to a boring, despairing, tragically normal sort of life.
When you hear the words “church government,” what do you think? Members’ meetings? Elder board rooms? Fights over the budget or the color of the carpet? Too often it can seem that way.
Yet church government should involve so much more. In fact, it should tie into the everyday life of the church. And everyone has a role to play.
Did you know, ordinary church member, that Jesus has given you a job? Your elders have a special office, to be sure, but so do you. And Jesus has given you elders in order to train you to do your job.
So if Jesus’s discipleship program gives every single member a job, what responsibilities come with this job? There are at least seven.
1. Attend Church Regularly
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible to attend church regularly. Scripture could not be clearer about this fundamental responsibility so that you can give yourself to love and good works and encouragement.
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24–25)
The author threatens final judgment if you do not attend (vv. 26–27). The stakes are high indeed. After all, if you do not attend, you cannot fulfill the next six responsibilities. Attendance makes everything else possible.
2. Help Preserve the Gospel
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting and preserving the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church.
Think about Paul’s “amazement” in Galatians 1: “I am amazed that you are so quickly . . . turning to a different gospel” (v. 6). He upbraids not the pastors, but the members, and tells them to reject even apostles or angels who teach a false gospel.
What this means, Christian, is that you are responsible to study the gospel and know it. Can you summarize the gospel in 60 seconds or less? Can you explain the relationship between faith and works? Can a Christian live in unrepentant sin? Why or why not? Why is it important for a Christian to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity? What role do good deeds, fellowship, and hospitality play in promoting a church’s gospel ministry? Why should a church never let its identity and ministry be subverted by a political party?
These are the kinds of questions, Christian, that you are responsible to answer in order to help guard the gospel. I am not telling you to find answers independently of your elders. They should equip you to answer such questions. If they aren’t, you might not be in the best church.
Know the gospel, and what the gospel requires in the church’s and a Christian’s life.
3. Help Affirm Gospel Citizens
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by affirming and disaffirming gospel citizens.
In a matter of discipline Paul doesn’t address the Corinthian elders, but the Corinthian church itself (1 Cor. 5:1–13; 2 Cor. 2:6–8). Likewise, it is your responsibility, Christian, to receive and dismiss members. Jesus has given it to you. For you to neglect this work only cultivates complacency, nominalism, and eventually theological liberalism.
Of course, the job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. It involves working to know and be known by your fellow members seven days a week. You cannot affirm and give oversight to a people you don’t know, not with integrity anyhow. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible to know personally every member of your church. We do this work collectively. But look for ways to start including more of your fellow members into the regular rhythm of your life. Paul offers a useful checklist for doing this:
Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Rom. 12:10–13)
How are you doing on this list?
4. Attend Members’ Meetings
So how do you preserve the gospel and affirm gospel citizens? By showing up consistently for members’ meetings.
Different churches make decisions in different ways, which is fine. But whatever venue your church uses for making the decisions concerning the gospel “what” (the doctrine of the gospel) and the gospel “who” (the people of the gospel), you should be there.
You cannot do your job if you don’t show up to the office.
Admittedly, members’ meetings have a bad rap. I understand. So many are unhealthy cauldrons of dispute and insurgency. But don’t let bad marriages cause you to give up on marriage. By God’s grace, I’ve been a part of several churches now where the members’ meetings feel like warm, encouraging, and engaging family gatherings. Part of that depends on the leadership of the pastors in those meetings and how they plan it. Part of that depends on you.
5. Disciple Other Church Members
You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by discipling other church members.
Remember Ephesians 4:15–16. The church builds itself up in love as each part does its work. You have work to do to build up the church. And part of that includes the ministry of words. A few verses later, Paul says, “Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another” (v. 25). Speak truth to them, and help them to grow. Our words should be “good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Also, make yourself available to be spoken to. Are you willing to listen?
Basic Christianity involves building up other believers. It is a part of fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples. Speaking of . . .
6. Share the Gospel with Outsiders
If through union with the second Adam God has reinstated you as a priest-king, your whole life should reflect the gospel in word and deed. You are an ambassador. Paul’s charge and example is worth repeating here:
He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19b–20)
Every Christian has been reconciled, and thus every Christian has received this message of reconciliation. Therefore, we plead and we pray for sinners to be reconciled to God.
This, too, is a part of your job. The command to “Go and make disciples” belongs to you (Matt. 28:19).
7. Follow Your Leaders
It’s the job of the pastors or elders to equip the saints for the work of ministry: for these previous six responsibilities (Eph. 4:12). If elders aren’t teaching the gospel, catechizing the church in the gospel, teaching them their responsibility for one another, then they’re ill-equipping the church for the job Jesus has given them.
Christian, this means that you’re responsible to avail yourself of the elders’ instruction and counsel. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you’ve learned from them (2 Tim. 1:13). Follow their teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, love, and endurance, along with their persecutions and sufferings (2 Tim. 3:10–11).
Be the wise son or daughter in Proverbs who takes the path of wisdom, prosperity, and life by fearing the Lord and heeding instruction. It is better than jewels and gold.
Authority Brings Responsibility
The Bible gives final authority and therefore responsibility to the gathered congregation. With authority comes responsibility. By joining a church, you become responsible for what your church teaches and for every single member’s discipleship.
You are responsible to act if Pastor Ed begins to teach a false gospel.
You are responsible to help ensure Member Candidate Chris adequately understands the gospel.
You are responsible for Sister Sue’s discipleship to Christ, and that she’s being cared for and nurtured toward Christlikeness.
You are responsible to ensure Member Max is excluded from the fellowship of the church if his life and profession no longer agree.
Who trains you for all this work? Your elders. Add your responsibilities together with theirs and you have Jesus’s discipleship program.
More than 75 Minutes
When people come to join my church, they are asked to do an interview with an elder, where they are asked to share their testimony and to explain the gospel. At the conclusion of any interviews I personally conduct, assuming I’m going to recommend the person for membership to the whole congregation, I will say something like the following:
Friend, by joining this church, you will become jointly responsible for whether or not this congregation continues to faithfully proclaim the gospel. That means you will become jointly responsible both for what this church teaches, as well as whether or not its members’ lives remain faithful. And one day you will stand before God and give an account for how you used this authority. Will you sit back and stay anonymous, doing little more than passively showing up for 75 minutes on Sundays? Or will you jump in with the hard and rewarding work of studying the gospel, building relationships, and making disciples? We need more hands for the harvest, so we hope you’ll join us in that work.
How about you? Have you undertaken this work?
Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Jonathan Leeman’s new book, Understanding the Congregation’s Authority. Copyright 2016 by B&H Publishing Group.
Jonathan Leeman is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., editorial director of 9Marks, and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Reverberation, Church Membership, and Church Discipline. His PhD work is in the area of political theology. You can follow him on Twitter.
By Jason Hsieh at the Grace and Truth Blog
As biblical counselors, we’re always looking to suggest practical ways of living out what we believe. How often do we hear from friends and counselees (herein just “friends”) that they know what the Bible says, but are unsure what to do or how to connect doctrine with their struggles? In response, we typically remind them to remember God’s purposes for trials, to trust, to pray, and to fill themselves with God’s Word. All of which should be done. But most of us forget about Peter’s prescription of hospitality to a suffering people (1 Peter 4:9) as a way to demonstrate faith even in the midst of persecution and hardship.
Hospitality offers a vital prescription for growth, because it touches so many aspects of how we live our lives. According to the New Testament we need to consider the needs of others, to share the gospel, to love, and to be intentional with our resources; hospitality provides a tangible way to practice all of that. This post aims to encourage counselors to understand hospitality biblically and to prescribe it as one way to help friends grow in Christ-likeness and connect belief with action.
What Biblical Hospitality Entails
When prescribing hospitality to friends, a natural question will arise: what is biblical hospitality? Scripture shows that biblical hospitality consists of:
- Love for strangers and not just friends
- An offer of care for those who cannot repay you in any fashion
- Assistance to those who are truly gospel workers while closing doors to false teachers
In others words, hospitality need not be elaborate, nor even financially costly. It doesn’t even have to revolve around a meal. But it does require discernment and a willingness to forego your comfort, your convenience, and possibly even your safety and reputation. For example: Jesus tells the Pharisees to host the socially outcast, not the popular people; Onesiphorus traveled far to tend to an imprisoned Paul; and David cared for a crippled man related to Saul, the very man who tried to kill him.
Who needs to practice hospitality? Everyone does, but consider the impact practicing hospitality would have on these individuals:
- Drug addicts seeking a euphoric experience – serving others enables them to become more Christ-like – the very type of “transcendent” experience they are seeking
- Control freaks – anything can and does happen in hospitality, and control freaks can learn how to be okay when things do not go perfectly since the focus is not on them, but in serving others
- Slothful people – hospitality trains and requires them to be intentional with their thought, time, and resources
- People who want to matter – they are reminded that nothing could be more significant than telling someone the gospel or helping those who do share the gospel
However, just like with evangelism, many excuses exist for not being hospitable, including a perceived lack of gifting or thinking others will do it. At its core though, a lack of hospitality may demonstrate a lack of understanding about the gospel of grace and a lack of love for others, so you would serve others well to help them break through such excuses. As always, bring them back to the core elements of the gospel and its implications.
Next, you might need to help your friend think through how to go about this. Review what biblical hospitality entails and then walk through a specific hospitality opportunity. Remember, hospitality does not need to be and should not be limited to just a meal; consider some other ways that you can help someone spiritually, practically, and physically. Below are a few questions you could use to spark your thoughts.
1. Who is in need in my relationships?
- Who is new to church?
- Which of my friends or family members have not heard the gospel?
- Who has been in the church for some time, but has had friends move on?
- Who is on the fringes of the church?
2. How can I love those in need?
- What kind of questions and conversations will be most edifying?
- What specifically are people in need of and when are they in need of it?
- What would help my guest(s) feel welcome and well served?
- What would be appropriate and fruitful for engaging non-Christian friends and family?
3. What kind of hospitality can I do as often as possible?
- What in my schedule could shift or change to allow for more hospitality, and what cannot?
- Who can I partner with?
- For what reason has God given me time and possessions?
- How can my family participate in practicing hospitality?
- What will be realistic given my budget?
Your friend may also need you to pray, offer further encouragement, and address some fears or doubts. Just because something is biblical or commanded does not make it easy to do!
Lastly, follow-up with your friends. Talk about how the hospitality opportunity went and what impact it had on them as they served others with their time and resources. Continue to encourage hospitality and troubleshoot any challenges they may have. You can do so by reminding your friends why hospitality is so important, helping them find others to partner with, discussing the results of selflessness versus selfishness, and encouraging them to pray as they prepare and practice the glorious task of loving strangers for Christ’s sake.
. By using the word “prescribe,” I do not mean to dull the command of hospitality to something that is optional, but rather aim to encourage counselors to suggest in gracious and gentle ways to their friends to practice hospitality. Any “softness” in using the term “prescribe” and its variances should therefore be inferred to using it in counseling someone rather than how it is portrayed in Scripture.
. Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Timothy 3:2
. Luke 14:1-14, Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 2 Samuel 9: 7-13
. Romans 16:1-2 and 3 John: 7-8
. 2 John 10-11
 Acts 17:5-9
 Luke 14:1-14
 2 Timothy 1:16-18
 2 Samuel 9:7-13
Permissions: You are welcome to freely share this material, provided that you include the following statement: “This article (Prescribing Hospitality for Growth in the Christian Life by Jason Hsieh) originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.”
Perhaps the biggest barrier to regular family worship is getting started. Many families, convinced that worshiping together in their home would strengthen the spiritual maturity of their family, don’t know how to take the initial plunge.
Hopefully this post will help! Before we begin let me mention that, as is probably obvious, I am assuming that those reading are already convinced of the importance of doing family worship in their homes. However, if that isn’t the case let me suggest taking a moment to read the following articles at Desiring God and Radical Experiment (PDF). When you’re done come on back here and carry on with this post.
A few points before we get started: Please keep these in mind (repeat them to yourself quietly if necessary):
A. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. We should assume that new ventures don’t always go as planned or desired initially. That is okay. Getting through your first time of family worship makes each subsequent gathering easier so this first run, even if bumpy, is well worth doing. And even if you stumble a bit the first time (or the first several times) keep in mind, like batting practice, you are getting your reps in and will get steadily more comfortable having your family together for worship at home.
B. Keep it simple. We’ll talk in just a moment about the elements to include in family worship. However, you don’t have to go whole-hog the first time. Pick the most essential and easily available elements and add in others as you go along. Really. That’s fine.
C. Family Worship Supplements Corporate Worship. As I’ve alluded to above, there are a number of benefits to practicing family worship in your home. However, as beneficial as family worship is, it is no substitute for regularly gathering with your local church for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. Build your family’s worship around what you do when gathered with the body – sing the songs you sing with your church, read and discuss passages from the book your pastor is preaching from, etc.
D. Ideally, Dads will Lead. If They Can’t, See Point A Above. Dads have the primary privilege and responsibility to lead their family in worship of the Lord. However, for various reasons, dad-led family worship can’t always happen. In those cases please remember that it is beneficial for mom, grandpa, grandma, uncles, foster parents, etc. to lead those in their care – even if visiting for the weekend – in worship. Don’t delay beginning family worship just because you think there is someone more qualified to initiate. Invite them in but don’t let their lack of initiative or involvement stop you.
Furthermore, don’t consider family worship limited to nuclear or extended families with children. Christian roomates? Empty nest married couples? These things apply to you as well.
E. The Younger the Children the Lower the Expectation. People who know me will realize how odd it is for me to write that. I’m certainly not for dumbing down our worship. What I mean is this: younger kids, particularly those not used to gathering for family worship, will have shorter attention spans. Plan for this – and plan too for helping them grow in their ability to participate for longer stretches. Also, younger kids are more fidgety. Don’t worry if it is hard to keep their attention and certainly don’t worry if they want to move around. This freedom of movement is one of the unique opportunities of family worship and shouldn’t be seen as a negative. Knowing this up front and taking a gradual approach to helping them grow in their ability to simply stay and listen pushes back against discouragement about how your worship times go.
What Should You Do?
I suggest Acts 2:42-47 as a guide to what Christian worship looks like. Yes, it more directly speaks to corporate worship in the local church. Nonetheless, it addresses elements of Christian worship and is thus useful for our purposes here. If you want to discuss that point we can do so but for now let’s look at what the text identifies as consistent with Christian worship and then what can be done in our homes.
The Apostles’ Teaching
The Breaking of Bread
There is some debate about what fellowship entailed but, considering it is distinct from the breaking of bread, it appears we’re supposed to understand fellowship as some Christian communion and breaking of bread as taking the Lord’s Supper.
As a Baptist, I understand the Lord’s Supper to be a local church ordinance, meaning that it should be taken within the context of a gathered local body. As a result I cannot recommend taking the Lord’s Supper at home. With that one off the table (no pun intended) lets take a look at the other elements.
I. The Apostles’ Teaching
The early church had the unique and very desirable opportunity to hear the Apostles preach and teach. As much as we would like to have that experience ourselves we must remember that we are at no disadvantage compared to the early church because we have the complete text of Scripture. This is the teaching of the Apostles as much as their verbal declaration and, more importantly, is the perfect Word of God. Thus availing ourselves of hearing and taking the Word into our minds and hearts should be a primary goal of our spiritual lives and family worship.
This can be done during family worship in a number of ways.
Read the Bible Aloud – This simple act brings us under the authority of the Word and creates space useful to the Spirit’s work. One note for those with younger kids – sticking to stories is a good idea and can be your main reading diet while the children are particularly young.
Give the Meaning of the Text – If there is someone available who can do so, have that person give some insight into the text. Here too, with younger kids, keep it simple and short. If no one there feels confident about explaining the text this time then make your Bible reading something connected to your pastor’s last sermon and use his points. Even if you’ve heard it before it is always a good idea to be reminded and refreshed.
Memorize Scripture – As your family’s abilities grow, add in Bible memorization to your time of hearing Scripture. Don’t, however, turn this into a laborious chore. Aim to help everyone enjoy taking God’s Word into their minds rather than checking off verses on a list.
Practice Catechesis – Memorizing what Scripture teaches is an important supplement to memorizing what Scripture says and catechesis is a proven method of discipling believers. This too can be added in as you grow in your practice of family worhsip. For adults I recommend Hercules Collins’ Orthodox Catechism, a Baptist version of the beloved Heidleberg Catechism and for children I recommend A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Tom Nettles.
Work on one question and answer at a time. When that section is memorized move on to the next and keep the memorized sections fresh with review.
Also, feel free to start very young; my 2 year old has done well with questions 1 and 2; he’ll pick up more as he goes along and, more helpfully, as he hears his older siblings answering later questions.
It is here that I recommend some singing. I’m not, in doing so, arguing that what the early believers did that Acts describes as fellowship is reduced to singing but I do believe it was an important aspect of their gatherings and one that can – nay, should – be replicated in our homes.
Consider how important good singing is to Christians. It has been said that we sing the truth of God’s Word into our hearts through singing together. Consider two texts:
Ephesians 5:18-21 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
We serve one another when we sing together. Serve each other well! I suggest picking simple and well-known songs to sing together – songs like Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace because their familiarity and simplicity help overcome fear of singing together in a new setting and, as a bonus, young children can memorize them comparatively quickly.
If there is no musician in the family be thankful you live in the era of Youtube, where versions of most every spiritual song your family knows can be found with both music and lyrics (see the links above). Use the computer you are reading this on and let those versions lead you. Of course, the versions I linked to might not suit you – or be easy to sing with – so make do if this is your first time and spend some time later finding preferable versions.
One note for those with small children – one song, sung [relatively] together is a good goal. As mentioned previously, plan to grow in that ability but one time through Holy, Holy, Holy together is spiritually profitable. Don’t be dissatisfied if that is what your group can do.
Prayer, too, is an important act of Christian worship. The person leading family worship can pray on behalf of the group or, if each participant is able, you can take turns. One warning for those with young children – this is a tempting moment for children to become particularly silly. Give some forethought to how you will have them participate – ask them for requests, help them think of who and what to pray for, or simply ask them to slow and quiet themselves while the leader prays.
Now Get Started!
There you have it – a simple three-part guide to family worship. Pretty painless, no? I’ve even provided links to your first song.
So what are you waiting for? Pick a time, gather everyone, and give it a shot. I’m confident you will be glad you did.
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I appreciate the work of Seeds Family Worship in their efforts to provide churches and families with resources to encourage and grow in the practice of family worship. I also receive via email D6 Family’s Splink which provides very practical and specific guides to leading your family in worship.
“A young man should ask himself not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The command is so plain: ‘Go.’” – Lottie Moon, Nov. 1, 1873, Tungchow District, Beijing, China
I first heard the story of Lottie Moon from a dead man.
Specifically, it was a recording of W.A. Criswell’s Whether We Live or Die which was recorded from his delivery to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention , that year (6/10/85) being held in Dallas, TX.
Largely Dr. Criswell told of Moon’s erstwhile fiance, Crawford Howell Toy. Toy was a scholar virtually without peer and a man from conservative Baptist stock but one who, sadly, consigned himself to the role of apostate.
What stuck out about Moon in Dr. Criswell’s telling, however, was that Lottie Moon was a woman who loved Christ, His gospel, and the men and women of China created in His image who yet knew nothing of His saving work. She was a pioneer in women’s missions and, perhaps even more importantly, was used of God to drive forward the funding of international missions in a way rarely seen in church history. This is why, if you are Southern Baptist, you will see her name so often at Christmas time (more on that below).
I was pleased to find today that Dr. Criswell had told Lottie’s story more fully in another sermon of his. You’ll find his account below and I assure you that, if you love Christ, it will be well worth your time to read.
[Lottie Moon] died Christmas Eve in 1912 in a ship riding at anchor in Kobe, Japan. Kobe is a city, as with so many of the cities in Japan, built on the side of a mountain that rises out of the sea. And as you go up the side of the mountain, up there is a missionary’s home. And I was a guest in the missionary’s home. I wanted to be left alone for a while, as I sat there and looked out over the beautiful harbor of Kobe. And I just reviewed in my mind the life of this great, godly emissary of Jesus. Could I review it for you, as I did there in Kobe, looking out over the spacious harbor of blue water below me?
She was born in 1840, in Albemarle County, in the heart of Virginia, not very far from Monticello, the home of Jefferson Davis. . .Thomas Jefferson—I’m a good Confederate still, I tell you—the home of Thomas Jefferson. She was born into an affluent, aristocratic Virginia family. The county seat of Albemarle County is Charlottesville, where Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. And in that day, so long ago, the school for girls, which was a new development then, a school for girls had been founded in Charlottesville. This affluent family sent their daughter, Lottie Charlotte Moon, to the school in Charlottesville.
There was a teacher there by the name of John A. Broadus. He was also the pastor of the Baptist church. Dr. John A. Broadus was the most gifted scholar our Southern Baptist people have ever produced. He later became president of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Broadus, in 1859, won this gifted, brilliant young girl to the saving faith we know in our blessed Lord Jesus, and he baptized her into the fellowship of the Baptist church at Charlottesville, Virginia.
She became a teacher and was with Miss Safford, the two of them, teachers in a girls school founded in Cartersville, Georgia. In February of 1873, the pastor of the church in Cartersville, Georgia, Dr. R. B. Heddon, attended a Baptist association, at which a flaming missionary sermon was preached. And when the message was delivered, Dr. Heddon stood up and proposed a covenant of prayer in behalf of all the deacons and pastors there, and the following Sunday that each preacher deliver a missionary sermon at his church and make an appeal for Christ and the foreign field. Dr. Heddon stood in his pulpit the following Sunday and preached on the text, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields: they are white unto the harvest” [John 4:35]. “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers” [Matthew 9:38]. And when he preached his sermon and gave the appeal, to the amazement of the citizens of Cartersville, their two teachers in the girls school walked down the aisle, Miss Moon and Miss Safford, and gave themselves to God to be missionaries in China.
Christmas that year of 1873, she began her work in Shan Tung, a province of north China, in Ting Chou, an ancient Chinese city with a wall around it; and for forty years, in Ting Chou, as a teacher, and in Ping Tu, an area about a hundred fifteen miles away, as an evangelist, in which field our Southern Baptist people reap our greatest harvest of souls in evangelism; in those two fields she devoted her life for forty years.
There is a devotion in this missionary, Lottie Moon, that has moved my heart to gratitude, to admiration for these years since I first was introduced to her life. She lived, she died, a single woman, alone. She was never married. Why? When she was in school in Charlottesville, there was a brilliant young student and professor who fell in love with her, and her heart responded to him. When she went away to be a missionary to the Orient, she continued to write to him and he to her. And they set a wedding date. And Miss Lottie Moon wrote to her family: she was returning to America to be married, after which both of them would return to the Orient, and either in Japan or in China, live their lives as a missionary couple.
This young man was, I suppose, the most brilliant, the most scholarly intellectual of all of the young men of his generation. As a young man he was invited to be professor of Hebrew on the faculty of our oldest seminary, the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In his education he went to Germany; and in Germany he was introduced to German rationalism and German higher criticism. That is a study of the authenticity of the books in the Word of God. And as you would know by the characterization of German rationalism, it looks upon the Bible as anyone would look upon any other antique document: no more of God than Homer; and the stories told in the Bible, no more likely to have happened than the stories of Greek mythology, Jason and the Golden Fleece, the exploits of Agamemnon, or Pericles, or Paris and Achilles of the war in Troy; that’s German rationalism. And this young man opened his heart to that repudiation of the Word of God; and he began to teach it in the seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky.
Dr. James P. Boyce, who was president of the seminary, Dr. John A. Broadus, who succeeded him, those two men talked to the brilliant young professor, “You cannot teach in our seminary believing that the stories in the Old Testament are myths and legends and spiritual parables.” What a far cry from the day when God blessed our Southern Baptist people, and this day, when He is beginning to take away His favor. “You cannot teach,” said Dr. Boyce and Dr. Broadus, “You cannot teach in this Baptist seminary and believe that the Word of God is myth and legend and parable, with no substance in reality; that there’s no Adam and Eve, that there was no garden of Eden, that the laws of Moses in his books are concoctions by a list of unknown authors that they documentize until it becomes a foolish fragment,” on and on.
Dr. Broadus, Dr. Boyce accompanied this brilliant professor, Crawford H. Toy—if you are a theologian, the author of the book on Proverbs, in the International Critical Commentary—they accompanied Dr. Toy to the railroad station in Louisville. Dr. Boyce put his arm around him, and raising his right hand to heaven, said, “Crawford, I would give this right arm if you were as you were when you came to us at the Southern Seminary here in Louisville.” He left, he became a professor of Hebrew at the Unitarian Harvard Divinity School, the Harvard Divinity School that the Unitarians captured. He joined the Unitarian church. Finally he didn’t bother to go to church at all. That’s the man.
Lottie Moon and Dr. Crawford H. Toy set a date to be married. But in those days, as the letters crossed the Pacific Ocean, she learned of Dr. Toy’s German rational acceptance; the repudiation of the Word of God. And in her missionary life, she had come to feed upon the Holy Scriptures, to believe in them as veritably the inspired message of the living Lord. And finding the repudiation of the Holy Scriptures by the brilliant young professor Dr. Toy, she wrote him and said, “I cannot find it in my heart to marry someone to whom the Bible is not the Word of God.”
She broke off the engagement. She lived her life, forty years a missionary, alone. One time wrote, when she drew out of her bank the last savings she had to buy bread for starving Chinese, she wrote across the little book of deposit, “I pray that no missionary shall ever be as lonely as I.” I salute the memory of Lottie Moon.
As I mentioned above, Lottie Moon’s name adorns the Christmas-season offering taking by Southern Baptist churches across the globe. It is fitting, considering Lottie’s own push to see some of the material bounty distributed during this season aimed at spreading the fame of the Lord’s name. In her own words,
Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth? (Sept. 15, 1887, Tungchow District, Beijing, China).
Stephen J. WellumAnyone who is familiar with the history of Christian thought knows that the question of baptism has raised and still does raise a lot of debates and disagreements, rooted not only in ecclesiastical tradition and theological systems,1 but also in the vagaries of church history.2 To think that a resolution of the baptismal debate is possible within the confines of this chapter is to expect the impossible. Instead, my goal in the following pages is much more modest; in fact, it is threefold.
First, in keeping with the theme and purpose of this book, I want to highlight a baptismal crisis that I see in many evangelical churches today, namely a low baptismal consciousness3 among many Christians. Second, I want to contrast these present attitudes toward baptism with that of the New Testament by briefly reminding ourselves of the meaning and significance of Christian baptism. Finally, I want to give some concluding reflections regarding the urgent need to recover and embrace the importance of baptism for the life, health, and mission of the church.
LOW BAPTISMAL CONSCIOUSNESS WITHIN THE CHURCHAs heirs of the Reformation, evangelicals of various traditions have viewed baptism as vitally important for the life, health, and practice of the church. No doubt, after this basic agreement, there is a lot of disagreement and debate regarding the mode and the proper subjects of baptism. However, with that admitted, evangelicals for the most part have viewed baptism as extremely significant—indeed, a beautiful, visible declaration of the Gospel, bound up with the mission of the church.4 The reason for this attitude is quite simple, yet one that must not be overlooked or ignored: baptism is one of the two ordinances or sacraments5 that the Lord of the church has instituted and ordained for the life and health of the church, until the end of the age; and as such, it is to be practiced in our day in obedience to the Lord.
Of course, this divine institution of Christian baptism6 is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, in what has been called “The Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20). Here we are presented with the risen Lord, who not only has all authority by virtue of who He is (John 1:1-4; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 1:3), but now has been given all authority from the Father by virtue of what He has done in His triumphant cross-work at Calvary. At this major turning point in redemptive history, Jesus the Christ, who inaugurated His Kingdom in His coming, has now won victory over all of his enemies, and as a result He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth as God’s sovereign, mediatorial King. And it is now from this posture of authority that He commands and impels His followers forward, to go and make disciples of all the nations, a task that must be characterized by nothing less than instruction in and the proclamation of God’s Word and baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.7
This Great Commission is significant for at least two reasons. First, as many have noted, baptism “in” (NIV) or better; “into” (eis) the name of the Triune God strongly suggests “a coming-into-relationship-with or a coming-under-the-Lordship-of.”8 Thus, it would seem from our Lord’s institution of baptism that it serves at least a twofold purpose: a Sign of initiation and entrance into Messiah’s community, and a graphic declaration of faith and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.9 This certainly implies, among other things, that from the perspective of the New Testament, we “can scarcely conceive of a disciple who is not baptized or is not instructed.”10 Baptism, in other words, is not a “take it or leave it” issue for the church or a Christian disciple.
Second, and underscoring what has already been stated, the authority of baptism rests on the command of the risen Lord. As Beasley-Murray reminds us, “Such a charge is too imperious to be ignored or modified. It behooves us to adhere to it and conform to it as God gives grace.”11
When we look at the book of Acts, it seems that the attitude and practice of the early church was just that—they obeyed the command of the risen Lord to His church. Thus, we read that on Pentecost all those who repented and believed were baptized, which numbered about 3,000 Jews (Acts 2:41). And as the church continued to proclaim the Gospel, we read that this same pattern continued. Consider the converts at Samaria (Acts 8:12-13), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36-39), Saul (Acts 9:17-18), the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:4748), the household of Lydia (Acts 16:1-15), the household of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31-33), the household of Crispus and many other Corinthians (Acts 18:8), and the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:5).
Now it is quite evident that when we compare this first-century situation to our own day, one must sadly conclude that, generally speaking, there is a low baptismal consciousness within the church today, no matter what side of the baptismal divide you find yourself on. David Wright, in a very candid article, laments this fact as he reflects upon the state of baptism in the evangelical church.
On the one hand, Wright admits that those in his tradition (paedobaptist) can come forward to be admitted to the Lord’s Table without even being aware whether they have been baptized or not.12 Even worse, he argues that the practice of indiscriminate infant baptism has done a terrible harm. In fact, that is one of the reasons why, he believes, so many treat baptism so lightly, since “where baptism is so easily given and received, with so little effect, it cannot—so many biblical Christians would reason — amount to very much.”13 On the other hand, Wright points out that the believers’ baptism tradition does not escape a low baptismal consciousness either. Either conversion eclipses baptism as “the moment constitutive of Christian identity” or one finds as a result of mass evangelism that people can become Christians without being related to any specific church—a concept Wright correctly points out “would have been almost incomprehensible to the church of most earlier centuries.”14
I think you can state the problem in even starker terms—terms that would have been unthinkable to New Testament Christianity: in today’s evangelical church there are many who profess faith in and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, but they have either not been baptized or they see no need to be baptized.
Why is there such a low baptismal consciousness in the church, especially given our Lord’s command and New Testament practice? No doubt there are many reasons that could be given, and it is very difficult to reduce the problem to one or two factors. However; I am convinced that a large part of our problem is due to the pervasive loss of the Gospel and sound theology in the church, which is ultimately rooted in our capitulation to a culture that is becoming increasingly pluralistic. What do I mean by this? Here I am following D. A. Carson’s analysis in his important work, The Gagging of God.15 Carson rightly argues that the great battle we face at the end of the twentieth century is the battle for truth—a battle against what he calls “philosophical pluralism,” i.e., the notion that a “particular ideological or religious claim is intrinsically superior to another is necessarily wrong. The only absolute creed is the creed of pluralism.”16
Carson’s analysis shows that philosophical pluralism has impacted not only society, but sadly, also the church.17 For example, in the religious realm it has brought about at least two debilitating effects: a growing biblical and theological illiteracy (and along with it an increasing denial of biblical authority), as well as an inclusivist attitude toward world religions.18 That is one of the reasons why the weekly exposition of Scripture has fallen on hard times, and with it the knowledge of God and His Word. In the area of culture, which has also impacted the church, a corollary of pluralism is that of secularization—a process, experts tell us, that does not necessarily lead to the abolition of God, but rather to His marginalization in all aspects of our lives. Thus, what is no longer central to us and what no longer drives us to our knees and out to the world is the glory of God and the Gospel. Theological issues that used to captivate us no longer do—so much so that one rarely hears preached the great watershed doctrines such as union with Christ, election, justification, and sanctification. In addition, pragmatism and individualism have brought about a generation of church consumers who remain indifferent to the local church and cavalier about their participation in it.19
Given our present situation, is it any wonder that there is a low baptismal consciousness among us? Indeed, when the burning realities of the Gospel are far from us, when the glorious work of our Triune God to save us does not move us, when biblical authority does not captivate our minds and hearts and lead us to obedience, is it any wonder that baptism, along with many other things, fades in its importance and significance? For as we shall soon discover Christian baptism marks boundaries.20 It defines us, and it testifies to the Gospel. It speaks of a majestic Lord who has come to save us and our identification with Him and with His people, by sovereign grace. It speaks of a salvation and a Savior who is the only hope of the world, and it speaks of a believer who was once alienated and estranged from God but now, by grace through faith, has been brought nigh, and thus gladly acknowledges and confesses before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Is this the only reason for the low baptismal consciousness in our day? For me to answer yes, I think would be reductionistic. But I do think it is an important one, and something we must seriously address. With that in mind, let us now briefly contrast these present attitudes toward baptism with that of the New Testament.
THE MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISMThere is certainly much that could be written regarding the meaning and significance of baptism; indeed, the literature on it is abundant. Moreover it is at this point that major differences between baptismal positions begin to surface, and thus what one writes on these matters is never neutral. However with that in mind, it is my goal briefly to unpack four propositions regarding baptism, which I believe are consistent and true to the biblical data as we find it in the New Testament and necessary to affirm, especially given the baptismal crisis of our day.
First, baptism is one of the primary means God has given us to publicly declare our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Is this not part of what was going on at Pentecost in Peter’s exhortation to the people who cried from their hearts, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)? Peter had just demonstrated that the coming of the Spirit in power was nothing less than evidence that redemption had been accomplished, that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), and that the new age that the Old Testament longed for and anticipated (Joel 2:2 8ff; cf. Ezek. 36:25-27; Jer 31:29-34) had now finally arrived. Thus, Peter proclaimed that a response is necessary to these great, climactic, redemptive-historical events. And what should that response be? It is repentance and baptism, administered in the name of Jesus Christ, signifying a person’s submission to Him as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:38). Or as Beasley-Murray succinctly states it: “Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, whatever else it came to imply, was in the earliest time a baptism ‘for the sake of’ the Lord Jesus and therefore in submission to Him as Lord and King.”21
I think this basic point is important for us to remember in our day. In a time in which altar calls, confirmation, public rallies, and what not have taken the place of baptism in our confessing the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we need to be called back to the beauty and simplicity of this God-ordained rite. This “instrument of surrender”22 graphically and wonderfully portrays our submission to the Lord Jesus; that we were once separate from Christ, without hope and without God in the world, but now in Christ we have been brought near gladly acknowledging, by grace, Jesus as Lord. I think Beasley-Murray is right when he says, “Baptism is peculiarly appropriate to express such a meaning, especially when the Pauline depth of significance is added to it. No subsequent rite of the Church, such as confirmation, adequately replaces it. The loss of this element in baptism is grievous and it needs to be regained if baptism is to mean to the modern Church what it did to the earliest Church.”23
Second, and probably the most fundamental meaning of baptism, is that it signifies a believer’s union with Christ, by grace through faith, and all the benefits that are entailed by that union. It is for this reason that throughout the New Testament, baptism is regarded as an outward sign that a believer has entered into the realities of the New Covenant that Jesus sealed with His own blood on the cross.24 J. I. Packer captures this point well when he writes:
Christian baptism . . . is a sign from God that signifies inward cleansing and remission of sins (Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:25-27), Spirit-wrought regeneration and new life (Titus 3:5), and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s seal testifying and guaranteeing that one will be kept safe in Christ forever (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13-14). Baptism carries these meanings because first and fundamentally it signifies union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7; Colossians 2:11-12); and this union with Christ is the source of every element in our salvation (1 John 5:11-12). Receiving the sign in faith assures the persons baptized that God’s gift of new life in Christ is freely given to them.25 In fact, so close is the association between baptism and New Covenant blessings in Christ that many have argued that in the New Testament baptism “functions as shorthand for the conversion experience as a whole.”26 Evidence for this is quite apparent.
For example, in Galatians 3:26-27 Paul says: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” The language of being “clothed” with Christ most certainly refers to the fact of our union with Him.27 But what is interesting about Paul’s statement is how Paul can ascribe union with Christ both to faith (v.26) and to baptism (v.27). How can Paul do this? Does he have in mind an ex opere operato view of baptism? Of course, the answer is no. Paul is not referring to those who have been baptized but who have not repented or believed. That would go against the clear statement of verse 26. Rather he is referring to those who have been converted; all such have clothed themselves with Christ and have been united with Him through faith. Thus baptism, by metonymy, can stand for conversion and signify, as an outward sign, that a believer has entered into the realities of the New Covenant as a result of his union with Jesus Christ through faith.28
We find something similar in Romans 6:1-4, where Paul sees the initiation rite of baptism as uniting the believer to Jesus Christ in His redemptive acts—His death, burial, and resurrection. No doubt, in this text Paul is not primarily giving a theological explanation of the nature of baptism, but is rather unpacking its meaning for life. Paul is deeply concerned to rebut the charge that the believer can remain in sin in order to underscore grace. Accordingly he uses the language of “realm transfer”29 to show how inconceivable this suggestion really is. We Christians, Paul affirms, have “died to sin” (v. 2b). We have been transferred from the realm of Adam (sin) to the realm of Christ (life, resurrection, grace); therefore, it is quite impossible for us to still live in sin; its power in us has been decisively broken due to our union with Christ in His death.
Now it is quite legitimate to ask: when did this realm transfer take place, this death to sin? It is interesting that in verses 3-4 Paul connects death to sin with our baptism—when we were “baptized into Christ Jesus” we were “baptized into his death” (v.3). We have died to sin because we have become one with the Lord who died and rose for the conquest of sin and death. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead we too may live a new life” (v.4). In this sense, then, baptism serves as the instrument by which we are united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.30
Once again, how are we to understand this? Does the very practice of the rite of baptism unite us to Christ automatically? Certainly that is not Paul’s point. Rather, as in Galatians 3:26-27, baptism functions as shorthand for the whole conversion experience. Thus, Moo is right in concluding that “just as faith is always assumed to lead to baptism, so baptism always assumes faith for its validity. In verses 3-4, then, we can assume that baptism stands for the whole conversion-initiation experience, presupposing faith and the gift of the Spirit.”31 In truth, if we understand Paul’s argument, it is not baptism that is the primary focus at all; rather, it is the redemptive events themselves that Paul is stressing. Baptism is only introduced to demonstrate that we were united with Christ in His redemptive work, and now all the New Covenant blessings that our Lord has secured for us are ours by virtue of our relationship with Him. Beasley-Murray states it this way: “Through the faith expressed in baptism, what was done outside of us (extra nos) becomes effective faith within us. In Christ we are the reconciled children of God.”32
First Peter 3:21 is further evidence for the close relationship between baptism and New Covenant blessings in Christ. In fact, the relationship is so close that Peter can speak of “baptism that now saves you.” What does Peter mean by this? It is quite evident that Peter is not presenting baptism as a magical rite. He immediately points out that it is not the outward, physical act of baptism that saves, but it serves as an appeal to God for a clear conscience. In other words, we are not saved as a result of an outward, physical act or because we promise to live an obedient life. We are saved when we call upon the Lord for a “good conscience.” Yet, there is even more: “it [baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v. 21b). Not even a request to God for a clean conscience actually provides the basis for our salvation. Peter is emphatic that salvation has ultimately been earned for us by Christ and Him alone. Thus, as Grudem correctly states:
All that baptism represents comes to us not on the merits of any response from us, but through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His resurrection marked his once-and-for-all exit from the realm of death and judgment on sin, and our union with him in his resurrection is the means by which God gives us new life…. Our rising out of the waters of baptism is a picture of our being raised with Christ; by being brought safely through “these waters of judgment” through Christ’s resurrection we are indeed given a clear conscience by God.33 Why is this second point important to stress? For at least this reason: in contrast with the attitudes and practice of many contemporary evangelicals, the New Testament is clear—we cannot stand aloof and indifferent to baptism. Not only is the practice of baptism mandated by our Lord, but the rite is closely linked with the Gospel itself. Hence, in baptism God beautifully testifies in an outward, visible way that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone. In fact, since baptism and conversion are so closely associated in Scripture, it is not enough to say that baptism is a mere symbol or a declarative act. Instead, in the words of Beasley-Murray, it is also a “divine-human event.”34
Of course, one must be careful at this point not to move either in the direction of ex opere operato or of the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. The New Testament is clear: the benefits that come to us in baptism are bound up with faith. In other words, faith and baptism do not enjoy the same logical status of necessity. But with that said, it is significant that Scripture can link God’s gracious giving of all the believer’s benefits of being united to Christ to the context of water baptism. Surely, this New Testament teaching doesn’t make baptism a trivial matter! That so many Christians can stand as loose to baptism as they do can only reflect the current crisis of the loss of sound biblical theology in the church. That is why it should not surprise us that in a day in which we are consumed with so many secondary issues rather than the Gospel itself, we also find ourselves in a baptismal crisis, for the Gospel and baptism go hand in hand. And thus when the Gospel is recovered in all of its beauty and depth, and people once again seek to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, baptism will once again take its unique role as the initiating rite of the church.
Third, baptism very graphically signifies a believer’s entrance into the body of Christ, the church. Beasley-Murray bluntly states this reality when he writes: “Baptism to Christ is baptism to the Church; it cannot be otherwise, for the Church is soma Christou, the Body of Christ. “35 So, for example, in Galatians 3:27-28 Paul can immediately move from “putting on” Christ in baptism to the body of Christ in which we are all one. Or in Ephesians 4:22-25, Paul can use the baptismal imagery of “putting on” and “putting off” to speak of the kind of behavior we should have both as individuals and because “we are all members of one body” (v. 25), certainly a reference to the church. In this sense, baptism is similar to an “adoption certificate into the family of God.”36 It is the defining mark of belonging, as well as a demarcation from the world (cf. Acts 2:40-41). Thus, in the act of baptism, not only does the Lord of the church appropriate to Himself the one who is baptized in His name and incorporate him into His body, but the person who is baptized also openly identifies with the Lord and His people.37
Once again, this is something we need to recapture in our day. Not only do people stand loose to baptism, but also to the church. Indeed the two are intimately connected. Whether it is due to our rampant individualism or our lack of theological reflection (or both!), we live in a generation of Christians who remain loosely attached to the church. Little do we see ourselves as different from the world; little do we view baptism as a defining mark of belonging to God’s people. However, when we look beyond our borders to the church in other countries and discover what it means for a Christian to be baptized, for example, in a Jewish or Muslim context, the significance of baptism becomes much clearer to us. As Green reminds us: “It is extremely costly, and often involves the expulsion of a newly-baptized person from home and country. Sometimes the family holds a funeral service, to show that the baptized person no longer belongs to them in any way. He is, to all intents and purposes, dead.”38 Truly this aspect of baptism has much to say to us today, and if the truth be known, what needs to be recaptured more than anything else is the burning life and death realities of the Gospel, which baptism so beautifully signifies.
Fourth, baptism is a tremendous promise and anticipation of the fact that all things will be one day consummated through Jesus Christ our Lord. Even though there are a lot of questions surrounding the baptism of John, one thing is clear: John’s baptism was an eschatological ceremony, anticipating the coming of the Messiah, the Kingdom of God, and the whole New Covenant era. Christian baptism too is eschatological, but it distinguishes itself from John’s baptism in the sense that what John anticipated and longed for has now arrived in Jesus Christ; the age of fulfillment has dawned.
Thus, Christian baptism, as I have sought to argue, signifies nothing less than the fact that the believer has entered into the full realities of the New Covenant. Why? Because Christian baptism is bound up with our union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has ushered in the long-awaited Kingdom and has literally inaugurated a “new creation.” That is why Paul can joyfully say: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). However, it is also important to stress that Christian baptism not only looks back to the inauguration of the Kingdom and new creation in Jesus’ first coming, but it also looks forward to the not yet—the consummation of all things. We still await the return of our Lord, and as such, we groan with all of creation as we await our full redemption as sons and daughters of the King (cf. Rom. 8:l8ff.).
Truly, then, a Christian is one who is caught between the times. He looks back to the death and resurrection of Jesus by which the new age has come, and he looks forward in eager anticipation to the realities of the new heaven and the new earth. But in looking back, it is not as if he is a mere spectator. Rather, by baptism the believer participates in the event by which the Kingdom came. Likewise, looking forward is much more than a wishful longing for a place in the consummation. Rather, as Beasley-Murray so well puts it:
We have been united with the Christ who brought the Kingdom in His death and resurrection and shall complete it in his parousia, and we have received the Spirit who mediates the powers of the Kingdom and is the binding link between the two appearings. The forward look of baptism therefore, by reason of its participation in the event that inaugurated the Kingdom, is an anticipation with joyous confidence of the event that shall consummate it. It is a “strong encouragement” for those who have fled for refuge to “seize the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).39 Baptism, then, is an entry into the eschatological order of the new creation. This is what pervades the consciousness of the early church. Indeed, this is what pervades Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. As he seeks to proclaim the meaning of the coming Holy Spirit, he does so by proclaiming that the new age has dawned. Jesus, who has died, is now alive. And as a result of His exaltation, He has poured out the promised Holy Spirit, the down payment of the powers of the age to come. And we participate in that age through baptism, by which we are united with Jesus Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30).40
No doubt, here is an element in the meaning of baptism that desperately needs to be recovered today. In a day when so many in the church seem to flounder without direction, when there seems to be little urgency in the task of gospel proclamation, when moral and theological compromise is on every hand, we need to be reminded of these great realities. In fact, in them we need to renew our hope and confidence because in them we need to see a fresh sight of our glorious Savior-King. In this regard Beasley-Murray’s comments are wise:
Baptism means hope! . . . . Modern Christians would be strengthened by a fresh grasp of this aspect of the meaning of Christian baptism. For men still look for ground to hope and there is no secure basis for it but in Christ. When we know Him to be “our life” (Colossians 3:4) we need no other.41 Certainly more could be said regarding the meaning and significance of baptism, but that, in a summary fashion, highlights much of the New Testament’s teaching regarding it. While much of the biblical teaching above would meet with the agreement of many evangelicals across a wide spectrum of denominational affiliation, one basic point of division still remains. If, as the Scripture teaches, the sacrament is not effective apart from faith, on what grounds may infants who are not capable of faith be baptized? Of course, the debate and divide over this issue is vast, and I do not see a resolution in the near future, though open and candid discussion would help. Ultimately what is at dispute is not an isolated proof text, but whole theological structures. The main point of division centers on the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the amount of continuity and discontinuity between them.
Thus, for example, those who advocate a paedobaptist position admit that even though there is no explicit command in the New Testament to baptize infants, the practice is still legitimate due to the following:42 (1) There is an essential unity and continuity of the covenant of grace administered to Abraham, which came to fruition in the New Covenant. (2) Since infants were included in the Old Covenant through circumcision, which was an outward sign of entrance into the covenant community, and since circumcision has been replaced by baptism in the New Covenant, then believing parents are required to administer the New Covenant sign—baptism—to their children. (3) In the Old Covenant, it is quite evident that circumcision did not necessarily mean the child was one of the elect unto salvation; they still needed to exercise faith in order to know and experience God’s salvation. But it did demonstrate that God had ordered the sign before faith was present. So in the New Covenant, baptism does not guarantee that children are the elect unto salvation either; they still need to exercise repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But as in the Old Covenant, it is legitimate to give the child the sign of the New Covenant prior to faith.43(4) Further support for the practice of baptizing infants is found in the household baptisms reported in the New Testament.
On the other side, those who advocate that baptism should only be administered to believers argue the following:44 (1) In Scripture, baptism is only effectual as an expression of faith, and hence the New Testament pattern—proclamation of the Gospel, believing acceptance of it, and then baptism. (2) No doubt there is a fundamental and underlying continuity between the Old and New Covenants, but there is a lot of discontinuity as well. For example, under the Old Covenant there is necessarily a distinction between the locus of the covenant community and the locus of the elect, with circumcision being the sign of the former. However, under the New Covenant this distinction has been removed. By definition, the people of the New Covenant have the law of God written on their hearts, they have experienced forgiveness of sins, and thus the locus of the New Covenant community and the locus of the elect become one. That suggests, among other things, that baptism as the sign of the New Covenant is only to be applied to those who are in the New Covenant, i.e., believers.45 (3) The examples of household baptisms are arguments from silence. In fact, when we look at the actual examples more closely, we see that in a number of them there are indications of saving faith on the part of all those baptized 46
Where do we go from here? Let me summarize with three concluding thoughts.
CONCLUDING REFLECTIONSFirst, baptism is important, and as such, we need to be serious about it, again. For not only is it bound up with our Lord’s instruction and command to the church, but it is part and parcel of gospel proclamation—a beautiful outward portrayal of the Gospel itself. We neglect it to our peril.
Second, in all of our disagreements over baptism, we must never forget what unites us. Most of us are quite content to acknowledge that Christians should be baptized in obedience to God; that baptism is the sign of the great gospel realities of union with Christ and all the glorious benefits of New Covenant blessings; that baptism is related to our incorporation into the church; and that baptism, in contrast to the ex opere operato view of Roman Catholicism, has no magical power, but it is by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone that we are made right with God. No doubt, there are profound differences among us. I admit that paedo- and believer’s baptism views cannot simultaneously be right. I would even argue that due to the significance of our differences we have the right to establish local congregations that emphasize one of the views to the exclusion of the other.
However, with that said, we must never lose sight of what unites us. And what is that? The Gospel. Baptism, though it is important, is not the decisive issue of our day, or any day for that matter. And as such, even though we disagree on some very important points, we need to find our commonality in that to which baptism points—the glories of Jesus the Christ and the full realities of the Gospel of sovereign grace. That, more than anything, must captivate our thinking, our hearts, our churches, our very lives, or else all is for naught.
Third, we need to recover once again the emphasis that baptism, as the initiating rite of the church, is one of God’s means of grace that He has given to His people.47 What this implies, of course, is that in the practice of baptism there is the blessing of God. In our obedience to Christ and our public act of confessing Him, the Lord of the church pours His love and joy into our hearts. When baptism is practiced, as a sign of the believer’s union with Christ, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and encourages us to press on. In our celebration of this sacrament in the presence of the body of Christ, the people of God are encouraged in their commitment to the Lord and to each other. Indeed, in the practice of baptism, the full eschatological realities of the Gospel are impressed upon our minds and hearts by the Spirit of God, so that we are challenged once again to view our lives from the perspective of eternity, and thus to live aright as those who have tasted the powers of the age to come. No doubt, even though baptism in and of itself does not bring us into a state of grace, it has been ordained by God as a proper means of grace that we ignore, distort, or downplay to the loss of our spiritual health, life, and mission.
- There are many points of disagreement between the two views of believer’s baptism and paedobaptism, such as the status of households in Scripture (e.g., Acts 11:14; 16:15, 33; 18:8) and Jesus’ blessing of the little children (Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). But the heart of the disagreement between the two views is theological; i.e., the main dispute centers on the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the amount of continuity and discontinuity between them. On this important issue and the arguments given by both sides see the following: Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941), pp. 622-643; Edmund Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), pp. 276-284; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Children of Promise: The Case for Baptizing Infants (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979); Robert R. Booth, Children of Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995); John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol.2 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), pp. 1303-1359; Donald Bridge and David Phypers, The Water That Divides: The Baptism Debate (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977), pp. 33-70; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), pp. 334-344; Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978); Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Vol.3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985), pp. 1089-1105; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 966-984.
- See Bridge and Phypers, The Water That Divides, pp. 73-150 for a helpful and concise summary of the historical data surrounding the baptism debate.
- The term “low baptismal consciousness” is taken from David F. Wright’s article, “Recovering Baptism for a New Age of Mission,” in Doing Theology for the People of God: Studies in Honor of J. L Packer, eds. Donald Lewis and Alister McGrath (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 54.
- Murray J. Harris, in his article “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” in In God’s Community: The Church and Its Ministry, eds. David J. Ellis and W. Ward Gasque (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1978), p.14 nicely contrasts baptism with the proclamation of the Word of God as the Gospel presented to the eye-gate versus the Gospel proclaimed to the ear-gate. Thus Harris states:
- “The submersion of the Christian in water is an acted parable of the death and burial of Christ, while his emergence from the water graphically dramatizes Christ’s rising from death and entrance into new life.”
- Historically, evangelicals have differed over whether to apply the term sacrament to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some evangelicals, especially Baptists, have refused to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments. Instead, they have preferred the word ordinances, primarily for two reasons: (1) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were ordained by our Lord (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 11:24); (2) They have wanted to distinguish their view from Roman Catholicism, which has historically viewed baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments (along with confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage), which in themselves actually convey grace to people without necessarily requiring faith from the persons participating in them. This is the notion behind the Latin phrase ex opere operato; that is, by virtue of the work done, grace is actually given, so that it can be said that the sacraments actually confer grace in an efficacious sense, without the need for faith in the recipients. On the other hand, other evangelicals, especially those in the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions, have been willing to speak of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments, though still in contrast to the Roman Catholic view, in the sense that they are outward and visible signs of an inward grace. If one understands sacrament in the latter sense, it does not seem that any momentous point is at issue here. Since evangelicals clearly distinguish their view from the ex opere operato view of Roman Catholicism, it is legitimate to refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper as either sacraments or ordinances, and thus I will use the words interchangeably. On one specific Baptist objection to the use of the term sacrament see A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Vol.3 (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1909), p.930. On the Roman Catholic use of the term sacrament see Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980), pp. 731-745 and Thomas Bokenkotter, Essential Catholicism (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1986), pp. 170-186. On the topic of sacraments in general see Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 2nd edition (Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 494-520.
- There is much discussion in the literature on the origin of Christian baptism and its relationship to Qumran, Jewish proselyte baptism, John’s baptism, and the baptism of Jesus. It is certainly not the purpose of this chapter to wrestle with these issues, but they are important ones in ultimately coming to grips with the meaning and significance of Christian baptism. It seems safe to say that Christian baptism emerged out of the ministry of John the Baptist. John administered a one-time “repentance-baptism” for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) in anticipation of Messiah’s baptism of Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11). Jesus submitted to John’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11) to demonstrate His identification and solidarity with sinful humanity and the inauguration of His ministry as the Messiah. But once Jesus’ cross-work was complete, the provisional nature of John’s baptism reached its full and final significance in Christian baptism, bound up with the ushering in of the New Covenant age. Many have noted that due to the close connection between John’s baptism and Christian baptism, one should expect to find the same stress upon personal repentance and faith in Christian baptism that we find in John. In fact, I would argue that attempts to circumvent this connection in order to find a justifiable reason to baptize those who lack personal repentance and faith put John and Jesus (and later the apostles) at odds with one another and disrupt the unique forerunner-Messiah relationship that exists between them in the New Testament. For more on these issues see D. S. Dockery, “Baptism,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pp. 55-58; Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 1-92; Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” NIDNTT, ed. Cohn Brown, Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), pp. 143-150; George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 31-41; Harris, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” pp. 16-17; Bridge and Phypers, The Water That Divides, pp. 15-32.
- On the grammatical construction of this verse and issues surrounding it, see D. A. Carson, Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, Vol.8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), pp. 594-599; and Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 77-92.
- Carson, Matthew, p.597. See also Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 90-92; G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” in New Dictionary of Theology, eds. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.70.
- This is why Paul Jewett, in his article “Baptism (Baptist View),” in Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney, Vol. I (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan, 1975), p. 466 defines Christian baptism as “that initiatory washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which the risen Lord commissioned His apostles to administer to all His followers as a mark of their discipleship.”
- Carson, Matthew, p. 597. Beasley-Murray makes the same point, though from the perspective of the apostle Paul, in his article “Baptism,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.60. Beasley-Murray rightly notes that Paul’s argument in Rom 6:lff. would be groundless unless Paul assumes that he and all his readers have been baptized.
- Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p. 92. Also see the strong emphasis on the place of divine authority in the institution and continuing practice of baptism in Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 624; John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1962), pp. 4-8.
- Wright, “Recovering Baptism for a New Age of Mission,” p. 54.
- Ibid., p.55.
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).
- Ibid., p. 19. Carson’s observation is very similar to Francis Schaeffer’s assessment that the vital and crucial issue facing the evangelical church at the end of the twentieth century is the battle over truth. See Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1984).
- One remembers the often quoted statement of Allan Bloom as he began his work The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p.25: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
- Inclusivism is the view that all who are saved are saved on account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but that conscious faith in Jesus Christ is not absolutely necessary. Some may be saved, even though they have never heard about Jesus, by responding to the knowledge that they have around them, i.e., responding to general revelation. Others may be saved by responding to Jesus after death, i.e., post-mortem salvation. Exclusivism, in contrast to inclusivism, argues that only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are saved. Exclusivism has been the historic position of the church. Inclusivism, which has been popular in Roman Catholic circles, especially since Vatican II, has increasingly become popular in evangelical circles: e.g., Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. For more on these issues see Carson, The Gagging of God; Ronald Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994); John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation Into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992); Clark H. Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan, 1992).
- For a more in-depth treatment of these issues, refer to Carson, The Gagging of God. Also see David F. Wells, No Place For Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993); Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994); David S. Dockery, ed. The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1995); and, on a more popular level, the essays in John Armstrong, ed. The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996).
- See Wright, “Recovering Baptism for a New Age of Mission,” pp. 56-57. In this regard Wright states the following: “We should not imagine, however, that as the church increasingly finds itself, in Europe at least, in a primary mission field, this recovery of baptism will be straightforward. For inclusiveness is a prominent element in the religious psyche of the ex-Christian West, and baptism always marks boundaries. It is the rite whereby persons are included in the family of Christ, but only by drawing lines between church and nonchurch, between Christian and non-Christian. A baptismal ministry which seeks to be faithful to the New Testament’s presentation of baptism cannot fail to run athwart the inclusivist spirit of the age. In a number of ways the pre-Constantinian experience of the church becomes more and more pertinent at the end of the second millennium. Not least is this the case for baptism.”
- Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p. 101. Murray Harris, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” pp. 19-21 makes the same point when he emphasizes that “In baptism there is a transference of the rights of possession (‘into the name, eis to onoma, Acts 8:16; 19:5)…. As he submits to baptism in obedience to Christ’s command, the believer gives outward evidence, by an oral and public confession, of his inward belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and his intent to show lifelong devotion and loyalty to his Master with whom he has died, been buried, and raised (Romans 6:1-11).” Also see F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 75-78; Richard N. Longenecker, Acts, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 79-81; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 624-626.
- The term is taken from Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p. 102.
- One of the important side-issues in the baptism debate is the proper mode of baptism. Even though the purpose of this chapter is not to deal with this issue, it is significant that those who argue for the believer’s baptism position generally argue that immersion is the most adequate way to symbolize our union with Christ. On this see Jewett, “Baptism,” p. 466; and Grudem,Systematic Theology, pp. 967-968. Of course, this is not the only factor in the discussion regarding the proper mode. Much discussion also centers around the word baptize and its meaning. On this see BAGD, pp. 131-132; Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” NIDNTT, pp. 144-146; cf. A. Oepke, “Baptize,” TDNT, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 529-546. For a contrary view see Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 629-631 and Murray, Christian Baptism, pp. 9-33.
- J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), p.212.
- Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI:
- Eerdmans, 1996), p. 355. Moo picks up the suggestion of James Dunn that the early church conceived of faith, the gift of the Spirit, and water baptism as components of one unified experience, what Dunn calls “conversion-initiation.” This is an important observation, and it is crucial to maintain against the ex opere operato view of Roman Catholicism. It is not as if baptism effects regeneration, but it is assumed that faith leads to baptism, and baptism always assumes faith for its validity. Once again, this observation underscores the importance the New Testament places on baptism, without denying the priority of salvation by grace through faith. See James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1970), pp. 139-146; Moo, Romans, p. 366; Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” NIDNTT, pp. 146-148.
- See Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 170-175; Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 146-151; Clowney, The Church, p. 280.
- See Fung, Galatians, pp. 173-174. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p. 62, states it this way: “The two statements in Galatians 3:26 and 27 are complementary: verse 26 declares that believers are God’s children ‘through faith,’ and verse 27 associates entry into God’s family upon union with Christ, and Christ sharing His sonship with the baptized. It is an example of Paul’s linking faith and baptism in such a way that the theological understanding of faith that turns to the Lord for salvation, and of baptism wherein faith is declared, is one and the same.” On this same point also see Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.41 (Dallas: Word, 1990), pp. 154-156.
- Moo, Romans, p.354. Paul often speaks of two realms: that of sin and death, founded by Adam; and that of life and righteousness, founded by Christ. As Moo states, “All people belong in one of these realms or the other; and they are now in the one or the other because God has viewed them as participating in the founding acts of these realms: the sin of Adam and the ‘obedience’ of Christ. Since, in terms of salvation history, the realm of Christ has been instituted after that of Adam, we can also speak in temporal categories and call the realm of Adam the ‘old age’ or ‘aeon’ and that of Christ the ‘new age’ or ‘aeon”‘ (Romans, pp. 351-352). In Romans 6 and elsewhere, Paul often speaks of believers as being “transferred” from the one realm to the other by virtue of being united to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Thus a Christian is one who has moved from the reign of sin and death to that of Christ-righteousness and life. As Moo, Romans, p.352, concludes: “By using this imagery of a transfer of realms, or ‘dominions,’ with its associations of power and rulership, Paul makes clear that the new status enjoyed by the believer (justification) brings with it a new influence and power that both has led and must lead to a new way of life (sanctification).” For a similar view see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. de Witt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 44-181.
- Ibid., pp. 353-367. This still raises the question of the “time” of our burial with Christ. Was it at the time of His burial, or did it occur at the time of our conversion? Moo argues that the text does not allow us to focus on the cross or our own experience as the “time” of our being buried with Christ, but rather it is both. Thus, as Moo states: “We are dealing with a category that transcends time. Our dying, being buried, and being resurrected with Christ are experiences that transfer us from the old age to the new. But the transition from old age to new, while applied to individuals at their conversion, has been accomplished through the redemptive work of Christ on Good Friday and Easter. Paul’s syn refers to a ‘redemptive-historical’ ‘withness’ whose locus is both the cross and resurrection and Christ—where the ‘shift’ in ages took place historically—and the conversion of every believer—when this ‘shift’ in ages becomes applicable to the individual” (Romans, pp. 364-365).
- Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, p.62. Colossians 2:11-12 is another text that is parallel to Romans 6:1-4. On this text see P. T. O’Brien, Colossians and Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.44 (Waco, ~D(: Word, 1982), pp. 114-121.
- Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, TNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 164-165.
- Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” NIDNTT, p.148.
- Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p.279. No doubt, in this context the question is often raised: “To which church does baptism give entry—to the local or universal church, to the visible or the invisible church?” Even though these questions are legitimate to ask, one wonders if this kind of question would have been conceivable to the New Testament. On this see the article by P. T. O’Brien, “The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity,” in The Church in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), pp. 88-119; and D. A. Carson, “Evangelicals, Ecumenism and the Church,” in Evangelical Affirmations, eds. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 347-385.
- Michael Green, Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice, and Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p.51.
- See Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 279-284.
- Green, Baptism, p.52.
- Beasley-Murray, Baptism, p. 292.
- For the close connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit, see Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit; Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, pp. 63-64. Once again the connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit is bound up with conversion. As Beasley-Murray states, “Conversion is not only the result of human decision, but it is enabled by the Spirit. He is not only the fruit of conversion-baptism; he is the real baptizer, the agent who makes baptism what it was meant to be: entry upon life in Christ” (pp. 63-64).
- Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 295-296.
- For more on these specific arguments, consult the works found in footnote 1. In addition, other helpful resources are: J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, pp. 212-216; R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), pp. 225-229; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “Baptism,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. G. W. Bromiley, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 410-415.
- There is some dispute over this within the paedobaptist community, especially over the notion of whether infant baptism leads to a kind of presumptive regeneration and the whole nature of the conditional covenant. For an interesting and important discussion of these issues, see David J. Engelsma’s seven articles entitled, “A Candid Confession of the Character of a Conditional Covenant,” in The Standard Bearer (January 1-April 1, 1997).
- This is the position that the author takes. Consult the resources in footnote 1 for more specific data regarding the specific arguments presented here for the believer’s baptism view.
- See D. A. Carson, “Evangelicals, Ecumenism, and the Church,” pp. 347-385 for the exegetical underpinnings of this argument. Much of the debate surrounds the nature of the New Covenant and its relationship to the Old. For a very helpful article that explores some of these same issues and turns the burden of proof onto the shoulders of the paedobaptist, see R. Fowler White, “The Last Adam and His Seed: An Exercise in Theological Preemption,” Trinity Journal 6:1 (1985), pp. 60-73.
- On this see Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 976-978; Beasley-Murray, Baptism, pp. 312-320.
- For a helpful discussion of the means of grace, see Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 950-965.