Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Promise is a Promise

The Pilgrim commented in defense of our Presbyterian friends, and I am grateful. For starters, I want to look at the verse that he quoted in defense of infant baptism. Here it is:

For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (Acts 2:39).

This verse comes at the end of Peter's great sermon at Pentecost. The question that this verse naturally raises is this: What is the promise? And secondly: How does it apply to the children of those who listened to Peter's sermon and believed?

Without quoting the sermon in its entirety, let me try to hit upon what I see at the 'highlights' of the sermon as far as the promise is concerned.

Peter says:

For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day (2:15).

Peter said this because those in the upper room had just been filled with the Holy Spirit and were now speaking in tongues to the congregation of Israel present in Jerusalem that day. Some men claimed that they were "full of sweet wine", that is, they accused them of drunkenness. This was not the case, so Peter begins with a defense of their behavior. That is, the followers of Jesus Christ are acting strangely because they are filled with the Holy Spirit in a way that has been promised to Israel from the days of old. He proceeds to quote for Joel to explain this heavenly phenomenon (cf. 17-21).

From this explanation, Peter moves on to explain that Jesus is the promised seed of David, the promised Messiah of Israel. He ends this section by saying:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified (vs. 36).

At these words, the people of Israel are pierced with conviction and ask Peter what they must do since they have murdered the promised Messiah. Peter replies by telling them:

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself (2:38-39).

Hopefully now that we have taken a cursory look at this passage, I can make a claim as to what the promise to Israel and those far off actually is.

First, the promise that they are to look for is the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the climax of the New Covenant is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the heart of the believer to the praise and glory of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Himself is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He Himself is the focus of our worship and adoration, yet it is by the power and witness of the Holy Spirit that we are able to become the children of God. Christ bought our salvation; the Holy Spirit regenerates and applies that salvation to our hearts. Peter was excited on Pentecost because the coming of the Holy Spirit meant the ushering in of the Last Days.

The promise is for you who believe, and it is for your children. But the promise is neither guaranteed for you or your children apart from the saving faith which the Holy Spirit must impart. Do you believe that the promise of which Peter spoke was for every Jew in Jerusalem who heard this sermon? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that the promise was made in earnest to all, but not all would believe. No in the sense that the promise is not for those who would not/will not believe because belief is a condition of ratifying the promise.

Peter actually makes this easier for us. He specifically names who the promise is definitely for, that is, I believe he qualifies his earlier statement. He says, "as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." Is the promise for me? Yes, because he has called me to Himself. Is it for my son...yes, if the Lord calls him to Himself. I do not believe that Peter is using double-talk here; I believe that this is an important theological point. Let me clarify.

The promise of the Messiah and the Holy Spirit is for the whole world; I have no doubt of this. However, I have no doubt that only the elect will be saved by God. Does that mean that Jesus was not sent for the whole world? No. Does it mean that the whole world will be saved? No. Only those who believe will be saved, and only those whom God effectually calls will believe. There were elect people present that day, at least 3,000. And the promise was for their children as much as it was for the whole world, or as Peter says, "those who are far off." Ultimately, however, only the elect will really have the promise in reality.

So what does all this have to do with infant baptism? The theory is that baptizing infants makes a child a member of the covenant community and heir to the promise of God. Yet, they must admit that not every child of believers is saved. This means that God's promise is what...not coming true in certain instances? I do not believe that this is how a promise of God operates. Rather, I believe that Peter is promising that salvation is for those who believe, and for the children of those who believe, and for the pagan in Khazakstan, if they believe like the elect who were in Peter's original audience.

Is that simple or what?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

So I Got Bored and Thought I'd Ramble...

My random thought fo the moment is that I miss old school Christmas songs. As a kid, I listened to Perry Como and Bing Crosby. By the way, I listened to actual records. Static filled, skippy, records. I miss the static and the skip and the crackling sound that a record makes when it finishes. I miss Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Christmas music is now Perry Como!

I know that this is probably anathema to admit, but I can not find any "Christian" artist who has a decent Christmas album. I don't know if it is because I'm hooked on old school or what. It bothers me, honestly, because I know that Bing and Perry may not have been Christians at all. It seems like Steven Curtis Chapman or somebody could come up with something to rival the classics that those guys churned out. But in my estimation the modern generation couldn't touch those guys with a ten foot pole.

While I am grousing about music, you may have noted that I live in musical limbo anyway. That does not mean that I am anti-music. It means that the music of today seems to lack the depth, harmony, and beauty of generations gone by. The Christian music of today is, for the most part, lack-luster. This is probably primarily due to the proliferation of artists and the ability to make money. The medicore garbage doesn't get weeded out so well. Kind of like blogging...

Pretty much, this entire post is medicore, boring drivel. A lot like the contemporary Christmas music. It's familiar, not terrible, but decidedly ho-hum. I'm still waiting for a galliant presby to come to the defense of paedo-baptism so I can move on to the Lord's Supper.

Prayer Request

My wife had to undergo major surgery today. It went well, but please pray for her continued recovery.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: What's in Symbol? Part 2 1/2

The ever capable Centuri0n left a comment that I want to deal with for moment. He wrote this:

I also think you mis-characterize the (viable) paedo position about baptism here, btw. They do not administer baptism to infants for the sake of what might happen: they administer the sacrament on the basis of God's promise to the children of believers.

I may be true that I was unfair to some in the paedo baptist camp, and that is not what I am going for here. I want to criticize, and hopefully demolish, your position, but I want to do it with the true position that you hold. Or else I want to be persuaded and join your church.

Let me examine the most important line of the Centuri0n's statement:

they administer the sacrament on the basis of God's promise to the children of believers.

Okay, what promise is it that they are hoping for? Did God promise that the children of believers would be saved? Is that why they baptize them? Does paedo-baptism help to accomplish this? Certainly the 'viable' position would not argue that He promised to regenerate them at baptism. So what are they hoping for?

Once that question is answered, I want to know what this makes baptism a symbol of. Is it a symbol of the parents' faith or the baptized baby's faith? Is it a symbol of promise hoped for or a promise fulfilled? (By that, I mean salvation.) Does it symbolize dying with Christ, being buried with Christ, and being resurrected with Christ, or does it symbolize preparation for that event?

Here is the heart of the matter: What is paedo-baptism symbolizing or doing? If it is administered on the basis of a promise that will (may?) come true, then they are doing something different in baptism than I am when I baptize. I hope that some of you out there will give some input to keep this discussion going.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: What's in a Symbol? Part 2

You know that you are dealing with a difficult subject when you get tired before you even write the post. It is hard work doing theology, and if it isn't, then you probably aren't doing very good theology.

I said in my last post that the sign of the New Covenant is not baptism. I believe that's true; I believe that a cursory study of the Lord's Supper will reveal this. The question then becomes how baptism ties in with the New Covenant. That is what I will attempt to explore here in this post. Where we come out on this issue will largely determine how we view the nature of the Church, so pay attention and keep me honest.

I have argued that baptism symbolizes the fact that a believer has had an inward resurrection from the dead. The old nature has been put away, and the new nature has been brought out to life. Let me quote something from Paul that most who read this will be familiar with:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrectionRomans 6:3-5

I believe that baptism also symbolizes the fact that the believer is washed clean from sin. I further believer that this baptism is a symbol that a believer has been made a member of the body of Christ. This section of Romans implicitly contains all of these aspects about the new birth. However, paedo-baptism does not contain the most important aspect that baptism symbolizes: the death of the old man.

Look closely at what Paul says:
"we were buried with Him."

How is an infant buried with Jesus Christ? How does sprinkling convey the image of burial? (Not the main issue here, but as a rabid Baptist I must point out the obvious.) Also, does it follow that an infant who has been buried with Jesus should now walk in newness of life? It seems clear from this section that those who are buried with Jesus Christ will, without doubt, share in the likeness of His resurrection. This poses two problems for the infant baptizer:

1. Does baptism bring regeneration?
2. Does baptism guarantee rebirth?

The first is rejected by most anyone who has read thus far, and rightly so. The second is more tricky. And it is precisely here that the paedo-baptist tries to turn the tables on the credo-baptist because they cannot answer question 2. If I say that baptism is forbidden from infants because they are not reborn, they rejoin that I baptize people who are not reborn. I will grant this, but it does not pose the same problem for me theologically that it does for them, and here is why I believe that's true.

I believe that for baptism to be a valid expression, it has to symbolize something that has objectively taken place in the heart of a believer. Since baptism is a sign of spiritual rebirth, the sign is void if the reality behind it is non-existent. It would be as if I bought a family coat of arms for the Wallace family and paraded it around saying, "Look, Wallace's are strong, hardy, reliable, kilt-wearing, Scottish descendent folks. That makes me cool." Someone would well say, "Yes, if only you were a Wallace." Or, if I found your lost wedding band on the side of the road and said, "Boy, marriage is great. See my ring?" You would answer, "Yes, but a ring a marriage does not make." No rebirth; no baptism. To take the rebirth out of baptism is to take away the symbol of baptism altogether.

If you have not been reborn, you have not been washed. If you have not been reborn, you have not been united with Christ Jesus. If you have not been reborn, you have no portion in the Church. If you were baptized and you were not reborn, you put on a ring before the wedding.

This does not mean that an infant baptized person is not regenerate nor does it mean he isn't a member of the Church. It does mean that his baptism was no real baptism, and that it completely missed what baptism is a sign of in the first place. Next, I will try to tie this in with my view on the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Baptism and the Lord's Supper: What's in a Symbol? Part 1

Perhaps some of you have noted that I have recently become obsessed with the topic of baptism. You would be only partially right. It is not a recent obsession. It goes back a few years, actually around five. It was then that I first read what the Baptist Faith and Message states about baptism and the Lord's Supper. Recent events have only brought my old objections back to mind. Let me begin by giving you the quote of what the BFM states:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

That is the sum total of what the BFM has to say about baptism and the Lord's Supper. The obsession that I have with the ordinances was provoked because of the second paragraph. I cannot believe that the Lord's Supper is only given one sentence in the BFM. One sentence of the Lord's Supper! Our theology about the Lord's Supper is about as deep as the thimble from which we drink our grape juice.

When I think of a symbol, I think of something that represents something else. Something like the American flag. No, the American flag is not the United States, but it does represent us, and when someone mistreats one, it is a grand insult to Americans. At least, it is a grand insult to Americans who love this country and are proud of its heritage. A wedding ring is also symbolic. It is symbolic of the covenant made between a man and a woman who have vowed to love, honor, and cherish one another until death seperates them.

Without the symbolic attachment, the American flag is just some pretty cloth. It means nothing, and no one would care if you burned one like an oily rag. If you found a wedding ring on the roadside, it would be worth the going rate for gold to you, but that would be all.

The reason that the baptismal symbol is so special is not just for the sake of the act itself. Yes, the Lord is present. Yes, it is a special experience. But it is only special because of the meaning that our Lord put to it. Otherwise, it is no more special than when the bully down the block dunked you at the third grade swimming party.

Here is my point on baptism: It is the sign that regeneration has taken place in the heart of the believer; that he has been brought from death to life by the triumphant power of our Lord's resurrection. In fact, it is the same power that brought light into darkness that called our Lord from death to life. Paul prays that we will know "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saint, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power twoard us who believe, according to the mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:18-20). Then Paul writes, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1). See the parallel? Jesus was dead, and by the mighty power of God He was made alive. He was resurrected. You were dead also, and by the mighty power of God, you were made alive. Jesus was raised and put over all things. You were raised and sit together with Christ in the heavenlies. Jesus was raised to display His glory; you were raised that He might show His glory in you. This is what baptism symbolizes.

The reason, dear reader, that baptism fails to be special is because the thing that it symbolizes is taken lightly. If you see a American flag burned, it may not stir your heart. If your wife has walked out the door after three years of marriage, you may toss your ring out the window. But if you love your country it should move you to see the symbol of your nation desecrated. If you love your wife then you will not only not toss your ring, but you would search and search until it was found if you lost it. The value of the ring far exceeds the cost of the metal that forms it.

I confess that my baptism did not mean as much to me when I was baptized as it does now that I have been walking with my Lord for several years. In truth, I did not love my wife on the day that I said my vows like I do today or I will in ten years, God willing. With every passing day I see more of her splendidness and the blessing that God has given me in her. Every day I see the miracle of the new birth more clearly, and I understand its grace with more pride-killing clarity.

This is why I wrangle over paedo-baptism. The symbol they have attached to it is wrong. It symbolizes what has happened, not what may happen. Is this mere sentimental attachment? In part. Just as I am "sentimentally' attached to grace. The sign of the new covenant, dear friends, is not baptism. The sign of the new covenant is the Lord's Supper. And that will require a post of its own.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Why Preachers Use Scare Tactics for Conversions

Though the point of my last post was that lost people are not truly church members, my lampooning of a certain type of hellfire and brimstone preaching struck a chord in some folks. I hate to see a preacher do that type of thing, but I completely understand why he does it. Let me share a few thoughts on why this sort of preaching goes on and why it is harmful.

Let me begin by saying that I do not think that preachers do this because they are sadistic, though some may be. I believe that it stems from a genuine concern for the souls of others. Pastors get into the pulpit week after week knowing that some of the people who attend every week are as lost as a ball in high weeds. (That's a good preacher saying, isn't it?) It is frustrating and it is burdensome. He has spoken to them about the gospel and the things of the Lord, and they have no real testimony, no desire for God, and are in over their head in the things of the world.

He feels responsible for these people, and maybe even just a little bit angry at them. They won't listen, and they are surely lost and going to hell. So, he preaches to them because he knows their out there. The tares will always grow up with the wheat, right? The wolves will prowl among the sheep. The only natural thing to do is for him to call them out. To preach hell so hot and scary that they'll come running down the aisle with fear and trembling. The scarier and the more awful he makes it, the better the affect.

The problem with this is at least two-fold. One is that it's like firing a shotgun haphazardly into a crowded room. He's not just hitting the reprobate; he's nailing the flock also. He shooting Christians who struggle with God's love; he's blasting Christians who struggle with guilt and law and faith and quiet time and unworthiness. They start feeling like they are the ones he is talking to. After all, they want to be good Christians. They wind up walking the aisle again and again, wracked with grief and doubt that they have "done" what it takes to be saved. Here is the check list:

1. Walk the aisle.
2. Ask Jesus into your heart.
3. Pray often is often?
4. Read your Bible every day.
5. Get baptized.

The real problem behind this preaching is rotten theology. It is putrid and stinky and awful theology. It is ruinous to the listeners and it is murder on the heart of the pastor. The problem? He thinks that his description of hell and his power of persuasion is what gets the sinner down the aisle. Further, wrong preaching on hell is filthy pride at its core. The command to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling is equally applicable to the man delivering the message.

Can you imagine feeling responsible for someone's soul? That is, can you imagine that where someone spends eternity rests on your ability to make them understand their sinful condition? I would go mad if such were the case. I believe with all of my being that God is sovereign over the affairs of the heart. No man convinced me that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. I had heard the wildest hellfire and brimstone preaching you can imagine growing up. I got baptized as a scared little boy of around seven. I went to church, read my Bible, prayed every day, and I still did not know if the Bible was true. What happened? Did some scary evangelist get me? I happened to be sitting in my apartment at 2am when the Holy Spirit spoke life into my heart, when God caused the light to shine out of darkness in the face of Jesus Christ. I testify that this was a far more frightening experience than any evangelist, preacher, or pastor could dream of conjuring up.

This frees me to preach the truth without vindictiveness or pride. The gospel is God's gospel and salvation is from the Lord. The elect will be drawn like iron to a magnet under the preaching of God's Word, and the tares will sit obstinately and stubbornly by and not harken to the call of God. My call is the preach the Word; I preach it with passion and pleading and begging and exhortation and exultation, but I do not bring it thinking that the power of God comes through my wisdom or vain words. I preach for the love of God and the glory of the gospel. It is worship to my soul. To think that I would use to gospel to manipulate numbers and conversions is anathema! Abomination!

Those are my two cents on such prideful preaching. God save the pastor who believes he can affect the heart when only the Holy Spirit can.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lost People in the Church: Absurd and Undiscerning?

Okay, I got a little carried away there in the last sentence of the last post. It happens sometimes when you are arguing with yourself and feel that you are clearly winning. (If you don't understand that, then you haven't lived in my head long enough.;p) So, that is a little strong. I'm backing off a bit.

Some of you reading this blog are baptists, and others of you aren't. Regardless of your association, you have probably heard this type of thing said in a sermon before:

"Are you sure that you're saved? Are you sure that you're sure? Are you really sure? You could be a tare! You could be a weed in God's beautiful garden! You know what happens to weeds and tares, don't you? That's right, they get pulled up and burned. Roasted forever over the hot coals of God's wrath! So you'd better be sure. You better not be one of those people who just walk down to the front and shook the preachers hand and repeated a prayer. You may have been a member of Sleepy Baptist for 50 years, but that don't mean you're saved! You'd better remember a time when you accepted Jesus or you'll probably burn in hell. Yep, I'm talking to people tonight who are going to burn because they think they are saved but aren't really saved."

Now, it is good for a preacher to exhort the people to make their calling and election sure. But that is not the hellfire and brimstone type of preaching that I want to do. (I have done some hellfire and brimstone preaching, you can check the sermon log at, but it's different than this.) What I don't want this church discussion to turn into is a witch hunt for 'fake' members.

I have no doubt in my mind that there are people who are 'members' of my local church, over which God has called me as overseer, who are lost. They don't attend; they bare no fruit; they are Easter/Christmas members. They aren't really members at all.

As a person who holds to the eternal security of the believer (or better yet, the perseverance of the saints), I have often been asked this question:

"You mean that if somebody gets saved then they can just go out and do whatever they want to and they'll still go to heaven?"

My typical response:

"No, if they live like that it indicates that they were never saved in the first place. You see, following Jesus Christ means that a person is changed..."

I would never say, "Yeah, they were saved, but they lost it."

That, to me, is analogous to saying, "Yeah, they were church members, but they weren't in the real church."

I have no problem saying that there are folks on our roll and folks who say they are saved and that say they are 'members' of our fellowship. It would seem that they are. But they aren't really members, are they?

I think the next baptism talk will revolve around how one becomes a member of the church. This is really where the rubber meets the road. And Pilgrim, if you are still reading, thanks for coming over. We need some Presbyterians around here to keep us straight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Baptism Part 1: Are Unregenerate People "Members" of the Church?

Over at Centuri0n's the topic of baptism is raging on again. I, for one, am exceedingly glad for this, and if you have time, I suggest that you check some of it out. As many of you know, the topic of baptism is something that I have expressed concern over before.

How we understand baptism has great effect on how we understand the church, salvation, and discipleship. Recently, at least two prominent organizations have made decisions that have caused the ordinance of baptism to be front and center in discussion. One is the decision by Bethelehem Baptist, where John Piper is the pastor, to admit people into fellowship who have never been baptized. (Actually, they are letting people join who were baptized as infants, and if they believe that baptism to have been valid, then they need not be baptized again to join. As long as the baptism is not believed to be regenerative.) The second is the recent decision by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to deny appointment to missionaries who were not baptized in a church who believes in the eternal security of the believer.

The first question that I want to deal with is the nature of the church itself. I hope that you will see that where we land on the ordinance of baptism will ultimately reflect the nature and make-up of our churches.

Baptism is the "initiation" into the fellowship of the Church. It is a sign that a person has been buried with Christ, and is now resurrected to walk as a new person. There are three criteria for New Testament baptism that we never see exception to:

1. Baptism is by immersion.
2. Baptism must be proceeded by a confession of faith.
3. Baptism is administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Any baptism that does not live up to these criteria is not a New Testament baptism.

One of the problems that enters in is when point number two is denied. This point is denied by paedo-baptists, those who baptize infants. In a Presbyterian church, you have "church members" who are not born-again, regenerate Christians. They are not 'saved'. They have no profession of faith. And yet, it is insisted that they are somehow 'church members'.

Baptists have always believed in a regenerate church membership. Let me be clear in this: If you do not believe in a regenerate church membership, you are no baptist. That has been the hallmark of baptists from the beginning. We believe in a regenerate, baptized membership. And baptism is only valid post-conversion. This is the requisite for sitting at the Lord's table and enjoying communion, contra John Bunyan who denied this but lost the argument.

This, by no means, makes the local baptist church perfect. We baptize people all the time who violate the second criteria. That is, we baptize people who confess Jesus Christ with their lips but are not truly regenerate people. However, we do not do this on purpose, and if we detect wolves among the sheep they are placed under discipline. Even in this event we do not "kick them out" of the church, they simply cannot enjoy the benefits of Communion. We are not disciplining them because we know them to be unregenerate. They are still 'members', but not members in good standing.

We have some people in our churches in good standing who are lost, and there may be disciplined members who are saved. The former is no real member; the latter is. I have no way of knowing which is which, but that doesn't change the fact that one is truly a member of the church of God and one is not.

I do not believe that a person who makes a false profession, or no profession, is any more a member of the church than an illegal alien who sneaks into our country is an American. He may enjoy the benefits of our roads, educational system, our tax dollars, etc.; he may speak English and drive an automobile and love Mickey Mouse and football and apple pie, but he is no American. He is an infiltrator, and if discovered, he should be expelled.

The Centuri0n seems to be arguing that baptized false professors and infants belonging to paedo-baptists are somehow members of the visible or local church. I deny this. I believe that our fascination with church numbers and baptist rolls has contributed to this notion, but it is a fallacy. There are no tares in the church of God. If you are a tare, you are not in the church at all. One may be on the roll, and they may participate by driving the church van, cooking a green bean casserole, eating at the Lord's Supper, and even be baptized. But they are an infiltrator, a wolf among the sheep, a blemish on our love feasts.

I currently cannot except any definition of the church that allows lost people to be members. It is absurd, and it is undiscerning.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Together for the Gospel?

Out of curiousity, is anyone going to the Together for the Gospel in Louisville this year? I am making plans to attend, along with the Student Pastor of the church and our wives. It would be neat to meet a few folks who might be up that way.

Anger is a Faith Issue

On Sunday mornings I am preaching through Paul's letter to the Ephesian Church. (He did write it to the Ephesian church and not to ______ church, right scholars?) Last week we dealt with this verse:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).

It is an unusual verse. In the construction, it appears that Paul commands us to be angry. Anger is normally portrayed as a destructive and bad thing throughout the Scriptures. James tells us that "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires" (James 1:20). Paul himself warns us of anger in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and in Galatians 5:20. Even here he tells us not to "let the sun go down" on our anger.

Surprisingly to some, not all anger is wicked. Some of it is good. Anger against injustice, slander, debauchery, pride, and etc. and not only good, they are healthy. Jesus Christ Himself was provoked to anger by obstinate behavior (cf. Mark 3:5). Many times in the Bible God is described as angry (cf. Deut. 9:20; 1 Kings 11:9; Joshua 7:10). So we cannot conclude that anger is always bad. However, I believe that we can conclude that anger is always dangerous.

When God gets angry, it is not safe for those against whom He directs His wrath. When God gets angry, He brings justice and grinds out wickedness. He punishes, and He delights to punish evil. But God is a perfect judge, and God knows when justice is served. He does not err in His anger. He does not hold grudges. We reflect God in that we have the capacity to be angry, but we do not have his perfect discernment, self-control, and everlasting love to temper our rage.

Anger is a gift to us. It is a gift given to incite us to act immediately against injustice. When we feel angry we are supposed to act righteously against what we perceive as an evil, and we are to proceed in humility, fearing our own culpability and our lack of love, justice, and ability to rightly judge.

It is also dangerous because when we are angry and ignore the injustice, we turn bitter. Anger is like a fire that consumes. It seethes to correct. If it is not properly channeled to evil, it will consume us with bitterness and hate. These are abominable evils that we must fight against. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. That means deal with it, one way or the other, before the end of the day. You are not allowed to let even "good" anger remain. Do not go to bed angry.

So how is anger dealt with? How do we keep it from corrupting us and defiling us? Faith in God as judge is how we let go of our anger. The first way to deal with anger is to deal with the situation through wisdom and grace and faith. If the situation is one that we cannot change, then we must throw ourselves on the justice of the all-seeing, all-knowing judge. Here is what I mean, and this is how I deal with anger.

There are those who have been horribly sinned against. You may be one of those. Someone has wronged you or a loved one. They may have stolen from you, falsely accused you, slandered your name, harmed a loved one...the list of ways for men and women to sin against one another is endless. You may be angry, and rightly so. But the ability to bring justice and peace to the situation is beyond your control. Here is your solution: Take it to the judge.

Here is where your faith must triumph, Christian. Do you honestly believe that God will punish sin completely, swiftly, fairly, and justly? I do. It is the only thing that keeps me sane. There are one of two ways that He does this:

1. The sinner will pay for their sin in this life and in the life to come.

I have counseled people who have been grievously harmed by the wickedness of others. I have counseled those who have been molested as children. People who have been slandered for doing right. I have counseled people whose reputations have literally been ruined by false accusation. It angers me. It makes my blood boil, and my heart cries out for justice. This is not wrong. It is right.

I take my case before the judge, and I counsel them to do so as well. I believe that no matter how terrible the sin, in the day of the Lord's visitation He will punish in such a way that even the one who is molested will be satisfied and say, "Justice is done." I believe that, and so my anger melts away. The judge will do what is right. He will punish the sinner.

2. He has poured out His wrath against that sin that angers you on His Son.

This opens the door for the ability to forgive even the most horrific crimes. Just as I have faith that God will punish the unrepentant wicked to the satisfaction of all who love truth, I believe that Jesus suffered terribly on behalf of the wicked who have believed. Can Jesus have suffered enough to satisfy a victim of abuse? Will they know the suffering of Messiah on behalf of a sinner to the extent that they will say, "It is enough! Justice is satisfied!" I believe that we will. That is why Paul goes on to say this to believers:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

There is freedom in knowing God the Just and Justifier. It is a freedom from bitterness and anger and frustration and worry and pain. It is freedom to sleep well, knowing that we are watched and cared for by a just and loving judge. He never sleeps or slumbers, and He will not overlook iniquity, and He will not rest until "justice roll(s) down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). How good and sweet that is to me; I pray that those of you today who have suffered at the hands of wickedness can find peace in the bosom of the Just God of Heaven.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reformer or Pastor?

The Doxoblogger, Jeremy Weaver, asked me a wonderful question in the comment section of "Why the Church Needs a Plurality of Elders." It is a question that I had never thought of before, and I have rather enjoyed turning it around and around in my head. So, I thought I'd share. After all, what are blogs for?

His question is "Do you see yourself more as a Reformer or Pastoral?" I love this question, and I would be interested to see how other pastors of the reformed persuasion would answer it.

As for myself, I definitely see myself as Pastoral. There are several reasons for this, and most of it relates to my conception of who the Reformers were, their personalities, and what they did. Of course, this simply begs the question, doesn't it? Notice how I referred to the Reformers in the past tense, as if they are all gone. The Apostles, I believe, have passed away to their reward. But have all the Reformers gone as well? Is the gift of Reformer still alive today?

Let me explain first why I see myself as pastoral, then I will move on to what I think a Reformer is. First of all, I owe everything that I am to someone else. That is, I rarely have an original thought in my head. I read and read and read. I have read , Calvinists, Armenians, Church Fathers, Apostles, Prophets, Charismatics, Landmark Baptists, and heretics of every stripe. I've read parts of the Koran (in Arabic, even!), the Mormon scriptures, and I've done my Greek homework with the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation. That's what I mean by saying that everything that I know I have learned from others.

In the midst of all that reading, thinking, and soul searching, I found my home in the Reformed faith. That is, the Reformed Baptist teaching. But it was and is a grueling process. I did not come to it immediately, and at times I am still uncomfortable. I continue daily to struggle and test my theology.

As I read over the past two paragraphs, I have found a glaring contradiction. It was my goal in those paragraphs to explain why I see myself as pastoral. But what I find there is what I understand a Reformer to be. So, I believe that this is the answer to the question: To myself, I am a Reformer. To others, I am a pastor.

Here is what self-Reformation has done and continues to do for me: It has made me more patient with the struggles of others. Theology is hard work. It is hard on the mind, heart, and soul. Scripture constantly challenges me. It pushes me to know that my God is greater than my 6 - 8 pound brain can handle. I am totally serious about that. It is not pious speech. I am bewildered and enraptured by the mystery of God.

Here is what I mean: I believe that before the world began God chose for Himself a people to be saved by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. I believe that this people will come to Him without fail and that they will be saved to the uttermost. I believe that those who were not elected by God will continue in their sins and die in them. They will die in their sins because God has not chosen them, and yet I believe that they are completely and totally culpable for not coming when He calls. This absolutely blows my mind and frightens me. It is one of the scariest things I have ever known to be true.

I believe that God is Trinity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet God is One God, and there is no other. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Yet the Son is fully God and has been forever and forever will be.

I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and was fully man and fully God. I believe that the eternal Son of God wet his diaper and cried and grew hungry. I believe that He went through puberty and acne and the awkwardness of youth. And yet I believe that by His will He held the universe together. I believe that He went up on a mountainside with three disciples and the glory of God, His glory, burst forth from His mortal garb and terrified His disciples. And even more incredibly, I believe that He hid it and came back down the mountain.

There are many such things that I believe, and these beliefs are precious to me. They are more precious to me than life and home and money. They burn me up, confound me, confuse me, and delight me.

Every week I step into the pulpit to share such truths with people beloved of God. I share these truths knowing that they will break and hurt and confuse and save. Does this make me a Reformer or a Pastor? I am struggling now to answer the question.

When I think of a Reformer, I think of someone who has it together. Someone who is brilliant. Someone who is confidently systematic like Calvin or fearless like Luther. But would Calvin have preferred the title of "Reformer" over Pastor? Would Luther? Is it fair for me to assume that they were without doubt and struggle and fear? No apostle was exempt from these things. Why should I believe the Reformers were spared such trials?

In the end, I believe that I am a Reforming Pastor. But my goal is not to Reform the Church, though I wish it would reform. My goal is to reform myself. My goal is to teach, with patience, the glorious gospel of Christ. It alone has the power to reform the Church. It alone will prevail over carnality, banality, selfishness and folly. I have that confidence because it has and is reforming me, and I am as hard and callous as anyone to whom I preach.

This may have been a rambling post, but it was extremely helpful to me. I'm glad the Doxoblogist asked. So what say you, friend? Does this make me a Pastor or a Reformer?

Friday, December 09, 2005

More Discussion on the IMB and Baptism

I am thankful that Joe over at the The Joseph Kennedy Experiment took me up on my offer to give me his two cents on this IMB decision. I want to publicly apologize for my tone in my original post. It was unduly snarky and it didn't give him the benefit of the doubt. I regret my tone. It was unfair.

Joe and I basically agree on the tongues issue in that we believe that it should be taken before the SBC as a convention. They should not have made this decision without a precident, and I do not believe that they have the support for this that they think they have. I know many open but cautious types in the SBC, and I myself am one of them. (I should say paranoid-like cautious.)

Joe challenged me to read this statement again, and the more I read this, the more I dislike it. You already know what I think about the tongues decision. Now I am finding the last line of the statement particularly vexing. Here it is:

Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative

This is where we need to examine what they are saying. Up until this line, I am in the Amen Corner. What, exactly, do they mean by this? Do they mean that the person must not currently view baptism as sacramental or regenerative? Or do they mean that they could not have been administered a immersive baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit after a profession of faith if they believed at that time it was a sacrament? Does that make it an illegitimate baptism? Does it make them non-Christian? And what do they mean by sacrament? Are we going to have to have the Donatist/Augustinian debate again? What did the Reformers think coming out of Roman Catholicism?

All of these things can be avoided by omitting that one part of the sentence. Or, at least by clarifying it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baptism and the IMB

The trustees of the IMB have recently made a couple of decisions that have really hacked some people off. One of the decisions was that if any missionary applying for candidacy with the IMB who practices a "personal prayer language" need not apply. They will not be allowed to go on the field with the IMB. If you are spoiling for a fuss about that, you've come to the wrong place. I do not like that ruling; I think that it is unprecedented, and I do not think the board has the authority to make that decision. There you have it. I am not condoning tongues; I am uneasy about the ability to make this decision based on no national precedent. (I.E. No ruling by the SBC at large.)

But I am so ready to discuss baptism. Go and ask the Centurion if you don't believe me. I have basically been cruising around waiting for this sort of thing to pop up. But before I get to all that, let me post what the board said about baptism:

Regarding a candidate's baptism, trustees voted by a 2-1 margin to establish a guideline that specifies (1) believer's baptism by immersion; (2) baptism follows salvation; (3) baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer's death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ; (4) baptism does not regenerate; and (5) baptism is a church ordinance.

The guideline establishes that candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer's baptism by immersion alone. Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative, and the church must embrace the doctrine of the security of the believer.

Over at The Joseph Kennedy Experiment you will find a post about this, and also this quote:

"This clearly overrides the autonomy of the local church, suggesting that a baptism accepted by a local church may or may not be accepted by the IMB and could result in a missionary candidate being returned to his or her church to be re-baptized. This is clearly on overstep of authority."

Really, Joseph? Does it clearly overstep the bounds of the IMB to make this baptistic statement? Let's check our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 on this, shall we?

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith...being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.

The problem is not with the section on baptism. The problem is that it seems that Joseph and others have no idea what the national convention is or how Southern Baptists cooperate. I'll begin by saying that the IMB should not accept anyone as a missionary candidate who does not adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message. Period. Southern Baptists are funding them. You don't like believer's baptism and refuse to submit to it? That's okay. Go and preach on someone else's nickel. May I also add that if you do not believe in a regenerate church membership and believer's baptism you may feel free to join the Presbyterian church and go with them. Godspeed. Au revior.

Here are a couple folks who are kicking this idea around here for further reference:
Missional Baptist

The List of Sevens

I actually got tagged twice to do this list. That makes me feel loved and I hate to disappoint. However, I also got tagged late. Everyone in the blogosphere has already done this. That means that people were desperate to tag someone who hadn't already done it. Basically, that makes me the guy who gets picked last in gym class. Oh well, at least they threw me the ball.

Seven Things I Want to Do Before I Die

1. Write a good book.
2. Kill a huge buck.
3. Own a few acres of land.
4. Master Koine Greek.
5. Raise my son in the admonition of the Lord.
6. Take my wife to Europe.
7. See the young people in our Church called to missions and ministry.

Seven Things I Cannot Do

1. I cannot afford a few acres of land.
2. I cannot figure out computers.
3. I cannot stand lazy theology.
4. I cannot abide church apathy.
5. I cannot stop beating the dead horse.
6. I cannot stand it when pastors church hop.
7. I cannot quit the ministry.

Seven Things that Attract Me to My Wife
1. She is the most organized individual I know.
2. She is a hard worker.
3. She does not procrastinate.
4. Several things that are none of your business.
5. She has good fashion sense. (She picks out most of my clothes.)
6. She is a wonderful mother.
7. Her input and observations help me tremendously.
8. That she makes a seven list inadequate and easy.

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. Dude.
2. I don't know.
3. You've got to be kidding me!
4. Are you serious?
5. Have you seen my...?
6. Ethan, what is that in your mouth?
7. It's your turn to change the diaper.

Seven Books/Series I Love

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien
2. The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
3. Grudem's, Erickson's, Reymond's, Berkhof's Systematic Theologies
4. Calvin's Commentaries and Institutes.
5. Luther's Three Treatises, Martin Luther
6. The Pleasures of God, John Piper
7. Outdoor Life Magazine

Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Three Most Beautiful Movies Ever Made. Period.)
2. Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns
3. Star Wars Movies
4. The Princess Bride
5. Probably The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
6. The Bourne Identity
7. Saving Private Ryan

So that's it. I hope that helps you know me a little better...and that you keep coming back anyway. I'm not tagging anyone because I'm the last one to do it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Why the Local Church Needs a Plurality of Elders

While theological in content, this post will not be an exegetical argument. Those have been made elsewhere and in greater detail. In my understanding, the case for a plurality of elders in the local church is so clear that I cannot imagine an argument to the contrary holding much weight. If you wish to read something informative on this matter, let me recommend Elders in Congregational Life by Phil A Newton and Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. Both are excellent books on the subject. If you are short on time and new to the idea, Newton's book is short, easy to read, and very concise. It is a great place to begin.

Now let me make a few observations concerning elders and what happens when a church fails to recognize men in their midst who have been called to this noble task of shepherding.

The first problem that I see with neglecting the call to shepherd (I believe that Elder, Pastor, and Overseer are all the same office) is not only detrimental to those called, but also to the congregation at large. Let me explain how this breaks down.

A man who is called to shepherd cannot help but shepherd. It is an overwhelming desire and the pinnacle of joyful worship for him to serve in this capacity. So if he is called, he will do this in some capacity.

The problem is that when men have this gift, and are employed in gainful, God-honoring "secular" employment, they often fail to live up to the potential of their gift because it goes unrecognized. Am I suggesting that they should quit their day jobs? Quite the contrary! That is the first problem. It is the assumption that a man called to pastor must necessarily go to seminary and be a "full-time" pastor that I particularly abhor! He must be trained. He must be guided. He must be learned in the Scriptures. But he need not quit his job or get "paid" to do this. Not if there is a group of qualified men already present in the local church who are qualified to equip a man called to this task.

What we have helped to create by neglecting the Scriptural principle of eldership is a divide between the "laity" and the "clergy", between the "called" and the "uncalled". (What in the world is an "uncalled", anyway?) It may not be spoken aloud, but the fact of the matter is that a church without a plurality of shepherds, especially a small church, assumes that they only have one pastor. This is tragic in the extreme. I know for certain that several men in my own congregation are apt to teach and qualified to guide the flock of God. I need their help, and they need to be recognized as the gifts to the church that they are (Ephesians 4:11).

Another problem that arises is that a church without a plurality of elders inadvertently places their lone pastor, especially in a smaller church, in a peculiar situation. In an older congregation, there will be leaders and shepherds in place. They will have administrated well, led the church, and gone through the "wars" that must come to the church. They have poured out their time, money, sweat, tears, and prayers on behalf of the local church, and the congregation rightly recognizes them as honorable leaders. Most of the time, these men serve as deacons. The problem comes with the new pastor. He is immediately placed in a position of being an "outsider" that is twofold. One is that he has no history with the church or possibly even the town in which he is serving. Secondly, he is not a deacon. Instead of being one voice among the rest of the elders, he is regulated to an "advisory" capacity to the deacons of the church. This is unfortunate for them and for him. For one thing, the deacons know the church better than he does, they probably have the same gifting that he has, and they ought to be treated in every way as equal in voice, capability, and standing as the hired "pastor". The paid pastor may have a greater gift of exhortation, divine unction, and etc., but that does not mean that he excels every man in the church in every area. He is unique, but he is not superior.

I am afraid that what begins to happen is that an unwise pastor starts to take offense at the status of his "deacons". Instead of trying to join them, he begins to try to "put them in their place." He will pull out all the Scriptures about the role of deacon to demonstrate that deacons do not have "authority" but that authority is reserved for the elder/pastor. Instead of joining them, he tries to leapfrog them. This causes considerable heartache to the flock, and it is hurtful for the called men who are serving as deacons. It causes heartache to the flock because they know these men to be worthy men. (If indeed they are worthy.) The flock knows them to be dependable and good and they cannot understand why they are fighting with the pastor for control. The flock also knows that the pastor is the pastor. He is the recognized "Man of God." So some will take his side because of the virtue of his office. Others will side with the established men of the congregation. Ugliness ensues. You get the picture. You have probably seen it.

In my opinion, it is disgraceful for a pastor to behave in such a way. He is neglecting the gifted men around him, and he is belittling the work and the call that these men have from God. It is indeed the job of the pastor to "put people in their place", not by putting them down, but by lifting them up. He should seek to join these men, not put them under thumb. He should invite them to join him as fellow-shepherds, not by lording over them and demanding place.

If they meet as equals, I believe this creates an environment of peace and mentorship that enables real ministry. It keeps the "pastor" from becoming a dictator, and it allows him the authority that Scripture grants. I believe the reason that so many smaller churches go through so many pastors is due, in part, to a failure to recognize these things. It is also why we have so many contemporary churches neglecting the elderly in worship style and format. It is tragic when pastoral voices are silenced.

I have more to say on this, but I would like some feedback on this. This post is already too long for the average blog reader, but I hope that it will at least generate enough discussion to minds to thinking.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Oh By the Way, There is No Such Thing as Santa Claus

I am going to go ahead and get some of my Christmas pet peeve out early. After all, the radio stations are already going over to 24 hour a day "Christmas" music. I'm in the spirit, the soap box spirit that is.

Let me just get it out in the open from the get go: I can't stand Santa Claus. To me, he's the fat man that has burgled Christmas. That's right, he has burgled it. What are you supposed to do as a God-fearing redneck when a fat man in a suit goes sneaking around your house at night with a burglar's bag over his back? You club him to death with a frozen slab of meat, that's what you do. That's what this metaphoric, red suit wearing, jelly stomached elf has done: He snuck in and stole Christmas. Oh yeah, on the surface he seems harmless, but underneath he's a green skinned Grinch devil. Sometimes, he even has the gall to show up at a nativity scene. No doubt there are horns under that stupid hat of his.

Before you start howling in protest, let me say that I like the story of Saint Nicholas. The real one, that is. I will tell it, as the legend that it is, to my children to explain about how Santa Claus started out...before the world took him and perverted him into an elf from the North Pole.

Why, you might ask, am I so miffed at the Rosy Cheeked Hoodlum? Let me count the ways:

1. He takes the focus away from Jesus Christ.
2. Parents routinely tell ridiculous lies to their children on his behalf and to keep the silly ruse going.
3. As a child, I never believed it. It was too absurd for me. And guess what...I still got presents every Christmas.
4. Christian families get their children more excited about Santa than Jesus.
5. Santa Claus encourages a works based system of reward that is antithetical to Grace based salvation.
6. The only good thing about reindeer? Venison. The good thing about a red-nosed reindeer? Easy target.
7. He is in league with the Easter Bunny.

So there you have it. I am out before the whole world as a Santa hater. I guess that makes me an anti-Santite. I only like one aspect of our commercial Santa Claus: I will laugh when parents get angry because my son spills the beans to all their children. Bah humbug and merry Christmas!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Birthdays and Family

This weekend we will be celebrating my 31st birthday and my son's FIRST birthday. The family is all in town. It should be a hoot. The hillbillies have come to the bayou.