Baptism (Cliff-note Version)

Two weeks ago, I posted my essay from a recent seminary research course here. Some dear friends commented that it was a bit heady, and difficult to digest (sorry!), so I wanted to do a quick “cliff-note” version here.

Well, what is baptism? It’s Jesus, at work in His church.

baptism is gospel It’s the Word of God, doing it’s work through a physical medium, or “means.” This is why you may hear some Christians call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “means of grace.” These are the two sacraments, or ordinances, by which Jesus works His saving grace in the church.

Now, these are not the only means of grace. Whenever and however God’s holy Word is communicated, it is a means of grace.

Be it by sound waves coming from vocal chords, striking your ear drums.

Be it by reading.

Be it by braille.

The Word of God is powerful because it is His Word by which He has promised to do His works of grace.

Baptism is the place where God’s Word is present and applied by means of water. The water itself does nothing, but only when it is combined with the Word of God (gospel promise), and faith, that then saving grace is imparted. In this sense, God can and does use baptism as a means of birthing, strengthening, and/or preserving saving faith.

About my seminary paper: my argument was that Baptists have an historical track record of fighting with anyone who comes from a paedobaptist denomination (and for good reason, I’m a Baptist too!) But my argument is that we Baptists have overreacted to Roman Catholicism as an institution, and have therefore also overreacted to Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed denominations (confessions) because of their infant baptism practices.

My argument was, therefore, that we ought to re-examine the Scriptures in light of the faithful, gospel-centered confessions of the Lutherans and Reformed churches, for if they have maintained both the gospel of the apostles AND infant baptism over 500 years, then we ought to recognize Jesus has not removed their lampstand in spite of an irregular administration of baptismal rites (to infants). Does that make sense? Babies should not be baptized, but once they are, we ought to recognize that God works through our mistakes, so long as we are not denying the gospel and twisting His Word to the point of heresy.

And so… I would argue that Baptists

1) Need to re-examine the delivery of saving grace in and through baptism (even though we administer baptism properly after a profession of faith – there is a mystery here working outside of time).

2) Need to recognize baptism as valid, though irregular when it has been done to an infant. Problems do arise when churches baptize infants, but even these issues are “fixable” when once the true, apostolic gospel is preached in those churches. (In other words, Baptists need to stop re-baptizing people, for in reality these second baptisms are not a baptism at all, but rather a traditional, ceremonial mimicking of baptism).

3) and finally, Baptists need to do some soul searching concerning our reactionary stances in a number of areas. This is difficult work, because we want to preserve our apostolic, first-century doctrines and practices that the other Reformation churches are missing out on, but on the other hand, we unnecessarily separate from fellow believers too readily.

This all calls for prayer, humility, and a deep trust in the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds… even if that calls for occasionally repenting of a bad practice or two.

In love for the church,

Adam Kane

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Binding the Christian with Law does not Produce Freedom

From part 4 of my friend Ed Trefzger’s series “Completed by the Spirit“, this is for the Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian brethren out there. Speaking about the use of the Law in the life of the Christian, Trefzger notes

Despite Paul’s warnings that the law arouses sin, many will point to the law as a prime mover in sanctification,  essen­tial to con­vict­ing us about our remain­ing sin and mea­sur­ing our growth in holi­ness. In doing so, they will attempt to draw a dis­tinc­tion between being “under the law” and fol­low­ing the law…

Yet for the Christian,

It is the Spirit that sanc­ti­fies, not the law in a fleshly exer­cise of behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. Des­per­a­tion and more sin­ful­ness are the results of a focus on law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion instead of avail­ing one’s self of the Holy Spirit and behold­ing with awe the per­son and work of Jesus Christ.

And commenting on Joel Beeke’s focus on law-based sanctification, Trefzger (before the Lance Armstrong scandal ruined him), puts it starkly:

Beeke [argues] that bind­ing users under the law actu­ally pro­duces free­dom. Per­haps an anal­ogy would be that keep­ing train­ing wheels on bicy­cles actu­ally pro­duces Lance Armstrong.

Ed Trefzger

Ed Trefzger is an elder at the Evangelical Church of Fairport, NY

Can you tell he has a passionate stance on this issue? I do too. Sanctification is summarized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 when he declares triumphantly

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Christian, you are free to be sanctified in freedom from legalism, for you are not under law, but under grace. Look to, gaze upon, and feast on the glorious Christ for all that is needed in this life…

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. – Jesus

Since I’m a novice in Koine Greek, I wouldn’t yet try my own posts concerning exegesis of the original New Testament, but I can recognize a home-run when I see it. Enjoy (great blog over at treyjasso.com).

Nil Nisi Verum

This is a popular text that I believe is a great starting point in the discussion of God’s effectual work. It is in the Gospel of John 6:44.

I was talking about this verse with someone last night. And I pointed to this verse to help this person understand why I held the view that man has no ability to come to God on his own. That is another way of saying that man possesses an “inability”. The person challenged my understanding of the verse so now I would respond at length to demonstrate that if you want to hold to a view of Prevenient Grace or that all humanity possess an ability, this isn’t the place to look.

First we look at this in the Greek: John 6:44  οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ 
αὐτόν,κἀγὼἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. 

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How to Kill Your Christian Joy and Assurance

Want to kill your Christian joy and assurance of salvation? Believe your Christian adverbs. (Adverbs modify verbs, e.g. “slowly running.”) Become a pietist.

When we use and believe our own adverbs to describe our response to the gospel, we are in for a terrible ride. Adverbs are the lazy man’s crutch in literature – like puffs of smoke blown in the eyes to obscure the embarrassing white bones of skeletal essays.

Think of it – instead of “Napolean won victories across Europe, stretching all the way around the Mediterranean into Africa,” now the student needs a bigger word count and writes “Napolean brutally won victories across Europe, vigorously stretching his armies all the way around…” you see the point. Adverbs embellish and spruce things up. They can also beguile us when we use them to strengthen the appearance of our actions before a holy God. 

In Christian piety, when we use (and believe in our use of) adverbs to describe things like repentance, worship, confession, obedience, and others, we set ourselves up for either a staggering heart of pride, or a desolate heart of doubt.

Danger! Keep Right of Yellow Line!

On Christian adverbs, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt of Concordia University in Irvine, California, in borrowing from fellow Lutheran Norman Nagel, described them as the great enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Indeed.

Look at the issue: when was the last time, Christian, that you repented of your sins? Hopefully today – even just now. But what if I asked you when the last time was you repented “sincerely” of your sins?

We’ve just split into two camps: some of you immediately began answering back that you repent “sincerely” as much as possible, that you are a heartfelt Christian, and that you are very serious about repentance from sin. At this the rest of us look on with jealousy and awe. We applaud your sincerity and piety. You’re steering into oncoming traffic.Head on collision

Danger! Keep Left of White Line!

The others of you, like me, would have to be honest in answering, “I’m not sure the last time I repented… “sincerely.” For us in this second group, we know something of our own hearts. We know the sneaky, slithering sinfulness nested deep within our hearts – that sinfulness which corrupts our repentance. It corrupts our prayers. It corrupts our good works. It corrupts everything. And we know this – we mourn over this (Matt. 5:4).

And we are called to know this. Knowing the laxity of our repentance is freedom from pride, and dependence on Christ the Savior for His mercy. We are called to know the half-heartedness of our worship. I mean, who in their right mind actually means it when they sing to God

I will give You all my worship, I will give You all my praise, You alone, I long to worship, You alone, are worthy of my praise!

Riiiiight. You’re the first one in history to reach those heights, compadre.

We must test ourselves before God,

and when we do, we must find that we have not kept up our end of the bargain with God. He created us, gave us this earth, all its blessings, and our lives. He gives us food, air, water, and for many of us, luxuries beyond the imagination of most of the rest of humankind.

And He gave us His Son Jesus. Not just as a distant, abstract concept, but in the flesh. Jesus became a Man for YOU. He became a Man to redeem us from our sin and enmity with God. He died in our place, under the wrath of God the Father… for YOU. In YOUR place. Out of love. And He rose from the dead on that Sunday, conquering death for YOU, dear Christian – delivering the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for ALL who merely trust in Him with repentant hearts.

And what have you done for HIM lately? (God help you if that’s a line you hear your pastor thunder out from the pulpit). Friends, the true answer is… not much. Or maybe, nothing. How does Jesus tell us to think of ourselves when we have obeyed Him?

…when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty. (Luke 17:10 HCSB)

It is pure fantasy to believe that our works of piety; our obedience to His commands, our “sincere” repentance, or any other act of response to God is anything like what it should be. God, in His infinite majesty and glory, is not actually bettered by the service of human hands!

The Smart Guys Fall for It!

The Westminster Confession of faith is a magnificent achievement of Protestant theology – forged in the academic heights of the Puritan glory days of the mid-seventeenth century. Yet look here at their language in describing the effects of election upon the saved person:

So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. [W.C.F. VII, 6.021]

Abundant consolation… to whom? “To all that sincerely obey the gospel.” So then, who gets consolation? Nobody. Nobody, that is, who knows their own heart.

And to be fair to the Reformed, the Lutherans are guilty too. I’ve visited a conservative Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) the last couple of weekends, and sure enough, the confession and absolution in the liturgy has us reciting

I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them… [L.S.B. 184]

Really now? Am I even able to know all my sins, let alone confess them heartily, and sincerely repent? The introspective Christian will soon fall into a fearful doubting of their salvation, for these adverbs describe someone whose piety is nothing short of miraculous.

But But, Doesn’t the Bible Say…

Now some of you know your Bibles, and are thinking of certain passages that speak of our “sincere love of the brethren” (1 Pet. 1:22), and even of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 18:35 that we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive our brother… “from the heart” – or as we say, “sincerely.”

I hear these passages too, and must wrestle them in my adverb-prone, wanna-be piety. Am I forgiving my brothers “from my heart?” Probably not, or at least not all the time, perfectly, without flaw. Yes, I forgive. Yes, I love the brethren – even sincerely – but the point of these and other passages is not to call our attention to our own degree of piety and perfection in our performance. These calls to inward sincerity and even perfection are there because God can command nothing less. His pure and perfect nature necessitates His commands to us be pure and perfect – even superfluously pure.

The Ultimate Standard

As Jesus was wrapping up section one of His Sermon on the Mount, He declares “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48 NKJV). How you doing on that? The reality for the Christian is that we live in tension, falling short of the Law of God and His holy perfection, and our full, complete acceptance by Him because of Christ. There is nothing of ourselves added into our plea before God. It is not “Jesus lived and died for me, and then I did everything I could to live for you” – can I say this? HELL NO. Pun intended.

Rather than that, it is “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

The Christian life is a massive struggle to rest. It’s a paradox, striving to rest… in the striving and works of Christ on our behalf. Striving to believe God’s Word about His Son and His gospel. The only way any of us will be counted as being perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect, is by having trusted in the gospel of Christ, and having therefore rested our adverb-prone piety at the foot of a bloody, splintered cross.

We are only able to begin to obey the Lord out of a place of sincere self-knowledge. I’m totally unable to forgive people sincerely – I need the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable this act, only made possible by having eyes on Jesus; His forgiveness of me, His pure love, His absolute graciousness to His people…

As go our adverbs, so go our trust and faith

The only adverbs we can believe in concerning this Christian life describe the fullness of our sinfulness and neediness, and on the other side, the perfection of God’s work on our behalf. I fully need the forgiveness of God. He sincerely forgives me for Christ’s sake.

If we begin to describe ourselves with adverbs of positive fullness (which should be reserved for describing God alone), our trust and faith is inadvertently placed in ourselves, and our assurance and joy will die with our realization of how insincere and half-hearted our repentance and faith truly are. WATCH OUT!

Repent of your adverbs describing yourself in positive fullness, friends. Trust in Christ alone for your needed standing before God. He justifies fully. He is enough.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin