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Posts Tagged ‘Baptism’


Do you have questions about baptism? Most new converts do. People raiseBaptism: Answers to Common Questionsd in faith often have questions about why other parts of Christ’s church practice baptism differently than they do. Questions are a good thing. A bad thing is ignoring those questions and yet being dogmatic you are right.

I grew up Catholic and was converted when I was 20. I began to attend a Baptist church. I survived seminary at a  Reformed seminary as a Baptist. I had struggled with some of the questions. I would later discover that what tripped me up was differing definitions. I had defined some things erroneously and that kept me as a Baptist. All the while I was convinced I was right. My conviction now is different. I think I understand the biblical data better and have delved into those pesky questions.

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy Richard is a book for those who are still wrestling with questions. They either know they haven’t figured it out, or don’t know why others haven’t. It is not a very long book. His goal is to succinctly get to the heart of those questions. He is honest about the times we can’t be sure, and how that is a problem for both sides of the discussion.

He’s grappling with questions that persist between the Reformed and most Baptistic groups. You won’t find him engaging Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Lutheran views. He mentions them at times but isn’t addressing the questions that separate them from the Reformed heritage. In a sense, this is more of an in-house book. Those bodies have very different vocabulary that drive some of their views. People don’t usually move freely between those churches. But many Reformed churches have people holding baptistic views in them. This seems to be the audience, not a Lutheran brother with whom I have disagreements on baptism.

Guy Richard writes as a conservative Presbyterian pastor who teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary (thank you, RTS, for the gift of this book at General Assembly). This book is born of the questions he regularly receives from people wrestling with these issues.

In his introduction he mentions Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is a mind that prefers action over complex thinking. People tend to want to proof-text issues rather than think through sometimes complicated arguments. We struggle to love God, whose thoughts are far more complex than ours, with our minds. We reject the advice of Paul to Timothy to “think on these things and God will give you understanding” (2 Tim. 2:7). God gives understanding as we think on difficult things. Baptism is no different.

“We need to search the Scriptures and to do our best, using all the tools at our disposal, to understand what the Bible teaches regarding the proper recipients of baptism.”

Richards points to Jesus’ debates with the Sadducees to show that important doctrines like the resurrection should have been known to and believed in by them based on the implicit teaching of the Old Testament. We are fools to only rely on explicit arguments. Especially in the questions of baptism.

“It is not that one side in the baptism debate is appealing to explicit passages of Scripture to support it views while the other is appealing only to its implications. Both sides are appealing to the implicit teaching of Scripture, because, as we have indicated, the Bible is not explicit on many of the common questions that we have about baptism.”

The first question is “What is Baptism?“. Often there is a different understanding of baptism itself that drives the other differences we have about baptism. The New Testament understanding of baptism seems to be familiar in some ways to Matthew’s Jewish audience. It is built on the OT use of baptism, but not identical with it. Jesus does not explain what He means by baptism (until He does so thru Paul and Peter to largely Gentile audiences). In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) we see baptism used in a variety of contexts. These inform our meaning and practice as we take them together. He looks to the account of Naaman “baptizing” himself in the Jordan 7 times. It is used in parallel with “wash”. He washed or baptized himself. It was a ritual bath or washing. Sometimes it was only the hands and sometimes the whole body.

In the Great Commission, Jesus uses baptism to mark His disciples. It functions in a way similar to circumcision. Paul speaks of circumcision as a sign and seal of righteousness by faith (Rom. 4). Abraham had that faith when he was circumcised, and his sons we called to that faith after being circumcised.

I was tripped up by “seal” for quite some time. I took it subjectively, that God was sealing my faith instead of authenticating His promise. This changed everything for me. Baptism points us to God’s promise of righteousness by faith in Christ, and is the seal of God’s promise because God initiated it. Baptism is primarily (not exclusively) about what God does, not what I do. As we look at the biblical data most passages are about what God does, and only a few  (one) about our pledge of a good conscience.

The next question is “Does Baptism Mean Immersion?” The fact of the matter is that there are times in the OT and NT when it cannot mean immersion, and one of those is the baptism of the Holy Spirit predicted by Jesus in Acts 1 and described in Acts 2 as the Spirit being poured out. He points out other examples like Leviticus 14. This means that mode of baptism is not as important as some would believe based on how the Bible (you know, that sola Scriptura thing) uses the term. Our emphasis, therefore, should not be on mode to decide if a baptism is “legitimate” or proper. Richard also looks at some other texts frequently used to defend immersion, like Acts 8:38, to show how they are not properly understood as applying to mode of baptism but place of baptism.

“If this prepositional phrase is indicative of immersion, then, in this case, both Philip and the eunuch were immersed, because we are told that both went down into the water.”

The next question he addresses seems very similar to the first, “What Does Baptism Mean?” He identifies 4 main things signified by baptism: “washing or cleansing from sin”, “Spirit baptism”, “union with Christ” and lastly “union with other believers.” He spends this chapter explaining these. He briefly discusses which of these is dominant. John Murray, he notes, thought union with Christ to be the primary meaning. While this is a dominant theme in Paul’s letters, it doesn’t seem to be the emphasis in baptism (though it shows up in places like Romans 6). Richard believes the primary meaning is washing or cleansing. I can’t decide if it is that or Spirit baptism.

Next he moves on to “Why Do We Baptize, and How Should We Do It?” He focuses on the command to baptize as part of the Great Commission. This moves us into a separate but related question of whether it is necessary for salvation.

When I was converted, the Boston Church of Christ (a cult that arose from the Church of Christ) was big on campus. As a young Christian I began to attend one of their studies unaware. I later met some people who refused to be baptized because the BCC required it for salvation. They went from one error to another. It is not necessary for salvation, but neither should it be neglected because Jesus did command it.

Who Should be Baptized?” is the next main question. Here he drills down deeper into infant baptism. The earlier chapters have brought us to this, laying a biblical foundation for answering this question. He notes that “household baptisms” don’t really answer the question for us either way. The argument from silence cuts both ways. He includes Jesus’ covenantal attitude toward children. To understand them both he brings us back to Genesis 17 and the institution of the sign and seal of circumcision. He explains that this was much more than a “national covenant” or “ethnic sign”. It was about salvation; a spiritual covenant with spiritual blessings! To show this he goes to Hebrews 11:8-10. Abraham was looking for the city whose builder and architect was God, not simply an earthly city. Later we see he was looking for a better country. Richard also brings us to Romans 4 again to see that Abraham, specifically in the relationship between faith and circumcision, is connected to the New Covenant. Abraham was justified by faith just like us, and he was circumcised and also circumcised his sons on the basis of God’s command. A sign & seal of righteousness placed on people who didn’t yet believe by God’s command. Later, in Galatians, Paul explores how the covenant with Abraham is about spiritual offspring and faith in Christ makes us children of Abraham.

Circumcision in the flesh pointed to circumcision of the heart, that which is not done by human hands. Richard brings us to Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6 and Jeremiah 9:25-26 to see this connection. This helps us to see that there is in fact a connection between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2. Baptism, pointing to Spirit baptism, functions in a way similar to how circumcision points to circumcision of the heart. Paul essentially tells them they don’t need to be circumcised because they’ve been baptized (just don’t confuse the sign with the reality).

This shifts us back to household baptisms with “What Do the ‘Household’ Baptisms Teach Us?“. We do see that only one person, explicitly, believed and yet households were baptized. The head of the household believed (like Abram) and the whole household was baptized (like Abram’s). They received the sign on the basis of the head’s faith and not their own, though they are also called to believe to receive the spiritual benefits promised. Guy brings us back to Noah as another example of this. We see language reflecting Genesis 17 in Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:38).

The next question is “Why Do Our Baptist Brothers and Sisters Disagree?“. He spells out the areas of disagreement. He references David Kingdon’s book Children of Abraham for many of these. This was the standard “covenantal” defense of believer’s baptism, and one I kept returning to while in seminary. Kingdon stresses discontinuity between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. His main text for this is Jeremiah 31. This passage is the one many Baptists return to in debate and discussion. They also see a discontinuity between circumcision and baptism, seeing the former as an ethnic or national covenant instead of a spiritual one. They also note the presence of conversion baptisms in the NT, which makes sense since these were all conversions. The other main objection is the doctrine of the church that has only believers as members in keeping with their understanding or interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (and the texts in Hebrews that depend upon it).

He doesn’t respond to these challenges in that chapter, but the next: “How Do We Respond to the Baptist Arguments?“. There is a fundamental flaw to Kingdon’s argument. This flaw is exposed in the context of Genesis 12 and 15 as well as Galatians. God offered spiritual promises to spiritual offspring. The Abrahamic covenant is not about a nation but about salvation. It is part of the covenant of grace and Matthew 1:1 notes Jesus fulfills this covenant for our salvation.

Kingdon seems to argue about circumcision from how Jews would later practice it than what we see in Scripture. Paul was frequently correcting that erroneous view put forth by the Judaizers. We shouldn’t confuse their view with God’s instruction to Abraham, and subsequently to Israel as Moses conveyed it to them in Scripture. In terms of the church we need to understand that while Paul upholds election and the idea of the invisible and imperishable church, he also uphold a visible church of professing believers and their children as we see with Israel. This dynamic remains as we see teaching about the impurity of the church alongside with Paul calling them all saints and instructing children as part of the church w/out differentiating them from unbelieving or not yet believing children who may be present.

Richard then gets to the heart of the matter with “What About Jeremiah 31?“. Keep in mind, our Baptist brothers and sisters see discontinuity between this promised New Covenant and the previous covenants. Yet, as Richard presses in we see continuity in many ways. Both indicate “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” This is the same promise as in Genesis 17:7. This language is also used for Israel in Exodus 6:7, which obviously refers to a “mixed” community or the external, visible, covenant community. We see essential, not incidental, continuity!

There are apparent differences. One is where the law is written. This is a contrast, not with the Abrahamic covenant, but the Mosaic covenant. The law is no longer on tablets of stone but on people’s hearts. That is a difference of form, not in substance. The same is true for all the points of “discontinuity”. We don’t have a different or better gospel than they did. We have the same gospel because all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ Jesus. We have a clearer one to be sure. We no longer bring sacrifices for forgiveness but now have it in Christ’s once for all time sacrifice (see Hebrews). We still have teachers to help us understand the Word, but we no longer have teachers who reveal God’s will to us apart from the Word. We see an expansion of God’s promises in Jeremiah 31, not a contraction of them. This expansion should inform our practice of baptism. We include women. We don’t remove our children.

Guy Richards then expresses the contrary question: “What Objections Do We Have to Baptizing Believers Only?“. As mentioned before, the silence cuts both ways. One area of silence it that these early Jewish believers didn’t object to a shift to believers only baptism. There was clear debate about the role circumcision would or wouldn’t play. Surely if there had been a shift in the place or attitude of covenant children. For the children of Jewish believers to be removed from the covenant community would have been a big shift in thinking and practice that would prompted some response. We have none.

Believers only baptism is a complete contradiction to how God was working through the entirety of the Old Testament. We see expansion in the NT, in many places. Richard notes Revelation 5:9. Believers only baptism is contrary to this “you and your seed” principle.

In “What Can We Take Away from All This?” he addresses some of the practical issues that arise. One is when parents refuse to baptize their children when they belong to a church that practices infant baptism. This is a thorny issue because of what God said in Genesis 17 and how it was applied in Exodus 4. The child who did not receive the sign was to be cut off. In Exodus 4, because Moses was heading to Egypt as God’s mediator, the Angel of the Lord came to put Gershom to death because he was not circumcised. Moses’ previous neglect had to end. We aren’t sure how to handle the epochal shift in terms of application. Some argue for church discipline, others don’t.

RNo photo description available.ichard brings up how baptism “establishes the family as he primary community for Christian discipleship.” It begins with baptism and we treat our kids as disciples. We call them to faith and obedience. We speak to them “as if” instead of calling them to obey if and when they believe.

Infant baptism points us to the fact that “salvation if from the Lord” and not of ourselves. It rests on God’s choice and God’s work. Our choices are secondary and dependent on His. Baptism, likewise, does not necessarily rest upon our choice but God’s work. We see the covenant at work more clearly in the case of infant baptism.

While kids may not remember their baptism, that doesn’t mean it has “no effect”. We remind our kids they have been baptized. I frequently remind the baptized children (and adults) that they are to believe to receive the benefits put forth in the baptism they received.

Guy Richards has put together a good book addressing these issues in a concise fashion. He engages Scripture building arguments. He keeps it as simple as possible. This is a helpful pastoral resource for people who are working through these issues.

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The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover imageI was on vacation for most of July, so as a result I got a late start on volume 3 of the Works of John Newton. I tried to read more than my normal 10 pages a day (50/week) but still ended about 3 weeks late.

Volume 3 begins with a series of 50 sermons on Handel’s Messiah. He preached on the texts of Scripture that Handel used in his famous piece of music. The Messiah has recently been released and was being performed to great crowds throughout London.

Newton was not happy about this development. He saw this as something of a trivialization of the Scripture by using it as entertainment. His point was that many unbelievers, mesmerized by the music, would cheer though they had no interest in the words. This critical aspect pops up in many of the sermons from those texts.

I’George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner.jpgm reminded of the sermons and books that we critical of Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code. These sermons should not be thought of like those misled sermons we may have heard. He actually does interpret and apply the text rather than grind his ax in eisigetical mish-mosh. They are edifying despite the occasional annoying (to me) criticism of The Messiah.

More annoying to me was the many typographical errors in this section of the volume. For instance, on page 281 I found 3 errors. No editor is perfect. As a wannabe author it is hard to find all my mistakes. There just seemed to be more than usual, and I found it distracting.

“…determined in. and laughed…

… who did ail things well?

… name it retains .the same spirit …”

After 437 pages of sermons on the texts used in The Messiah, there is a shift to some tracts. The first is a series of 4 letters to the pastor of an independent church. Newton is defending his decision to serve in the established church. This is interesting to see how the issues shifted over time and how Newton thought through it issues. I found it interesting since at times there are pastors quite dissatisfied with our denomination. He addresses issues of liturgy and worship. For instance, he notes that many independent churches used pre-written prayers and hymns in their worship. They also plan their worship ahead of time. The Book of Common Prayer is not as far off as the Independents may have argued. In terms of doctrine he notes that there was a diversity of doctrinal views among the Independents, like on baptism. They also differed on who may be admitted to the Table. Similar diversity in doctrine among Church of England pastors should not have been as big an issue as they made it.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgThis reminds me that we often see other people’s sins more readily than ours. We see other people’s inconsistencies more readily than our own. We see other people’s typos more readily than our own. People magnify differences and minimize agreement as they argue their way of (worship, methods of ministry, theology etc.) is far superior to justify splitting.

Next he proposes A Plan of Academical Preparation for the Ministry in a Letter to a Friend. There is some interesting material in there. It would be difficult to practice at this point. He wanted to move ministerial preparation out of the colleges and into the churches. He wants to see that tutors are “gospel men” not simply academics. While he preferred Calvinists, he didn’t want men with a party spirit. They are to major in the Scriptures and theology, and minor in the classics.

Pupils are to live with the tutor. They must “have an awakened experimental sense of the truth and goodness of the gospel.” They must have a capacity for ministry; gifts as well as grace.

It is nearly like a monastery. They would limit their acquaintances outside their studies and service. They were to avoid “love and courtship” while being pupils.

Next is a treatise upon the death of his niece Eliza upon her death. The Newtons took her in after the death of her parents and siblings. He much sings her praises in how she approached death in faith.

The volume closes with a series of occasional sermons. This section begins with The Subject and Temper of the Gospel Ministry, his first sermon at the parish of Saint Mary Woolnoth in 1779. The next was from Jeremiah on an appointed fast day during the American Revolution called The Guilt and Danger of Such a Nation as This. He explores the national sins, made greater in light of the gospel blessings they have experienced. Many of these sins may sound familiar to us in the United States.

This is followed by a funeral sermon for Rector Richard Conyers in 1786. He focused on the gospel hope that Conyers preached to them and which he now enjoyed. Then a sermon on the best wisdom, the winning of souls, delivered to the meeting of the Society for the Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor.

IFull-length portrait in oils of a clean-shaven young George in eighteenth century dress: gold jacket and breeches, ermine cloak, powdered wig, white stockings, and buckled shoes.n 1789 there was a day of national thanksgiving for the restoration of King George III’s (mental) health. Newton preaches on the second advent of Christ from 1 Thessalonians 4. The joy of the people seeing their apparently beloved King (who was hated on the other side of the ocean) pales in comparison to Jesus’ people beholding their eternal King.

Then there is another national fast day sermon from 1794 as France has been waging war throughout Europe after its revolution. He explores the possibility of God relenting if the people repented in Jonah. In this sermon he explores the sins of the slave trade as a stain upon England. He encourages repentance that God may relent and restrain France’s aggression.

The final sermon is from a day of thanksgiving in 1797 due to a series of naval victories. He preaches on motivations to humiliation and praise from Hosea 11.

This final section is highly interesting to me due to the historical aspects of many of these sermons. Unfortunately, as times he speaks as if Britain was a new Israel and particularly favored. This is a sentiment that, sadly, has been adopted by many American pastors as well. Yet, here we also see the grace-oriented Newton hammering home the sins of his audience and home country. I wish we would have national days of fasting or thanksgiving- times when our nation seeks to humble itself in times of emergency.

This rather diverse volume is well-worth reading as have been the others so far. Now I try to finish volume 4, and the set, prior to the end of this year.

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As a former Particular Baptist, as they used to be called, I had an appreciation for Charles Spurgeon. While in seminary I did a paper in one of my history classes examining his sermons during the revival of 1859 to see how the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) were prominent and therefore consistent with revival.

I’ve found Michael Reeves’ books, Delighting in the Trinity and Rejoicing in Christ, to be engaging and informative. The former helped (re)shape my grasp of missions (including a critique/weakness of Christopher Wright’s tome, in other words, where is the love?).

So, imagine my pleasure in seeing that Reeves wrote the new book Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ. I decided I would read it during my vacation ritual this summer.

Reeves had no easy task in trying to put this together. The vast majority of Spurgeon’s writing are the transcriptions of his sermons. Not quite something you can easily read and grasp a comprehensive understanding of how he understood the Christian life. He is an unenviable position as he writes this book.

One of the interesting things about this series is that often the volume is written by someone outside of the subject’s tradition. Trueman, a Presbyterian, wrote the volume on Luther. Here Reeves, an Anglican, writes about the Calvinistic Baptist.

The sections cover the themes of Christ the Center, The New Birth and The New Life. As you might imagine, regeneration seems to be the central motif in Spurgeon’s view of the Christian life as understood by Reeves. We must become new people with new passions and all of that happens in Christ. Or thru Christ since the focus is not quite union with Christ. Explicitly, anyway.

He begins with a very brief biography of Spurgeon. He was a man of great passion, who felt greatly. He was known for a great sense of humor. While he used some humor in the pulpit, he was not a comedian as some pastors seem to think of themselves. Like Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon loved creation and allusions and illustration to trees, flowers, animals and more filled his sermons. Spurgeon also grew up reading the books in his grandfather’s library. Many of these were Puritan books, and he developed a great fondness for Bunyan, particularly Pilgrim’s Progress.

Christ the Center

He viewed the Bible as the Word of Christ about Christ. As a result, the Bible did not compete with Christ for our affections, but is the revelation of Christ for us to know Christ. To not love the Bible is to not love Christ. The Bible is living and active as a result. Jesus changes lives through the Bible.

In terms of translations, he held the KJV in high esteem, but not without criticism. There were times the translation frustrated him (as happens with me concerning other translations at times).

Spurgeon affirmed that not only did the OT point us toward Christ, but that OT saints are our brothers and sisters. We shared the same faith. We just know more of the faith. Christ is the center of our faith, and all doctrines find their proper orbit around Christ.

“A Christless gospel is no gospel and a Christless discourse is the cause of merriment to devils.”

He was fully Trinitarian. But we must remember that Christ alone is the Mediator between God and man. It was Christ who became human, obeyed, died and was raised for our salvation. We come to the Father thru the Son, so Spurgeon preached Christ.

As I mentioned before, he grew up reading Puritans. His theology was Puritan. Aside from the issue of baptism (and the ecclesiology that flowed from that)he was “Reformed”. He had a great appreciation for Calvin and understood Calvinism to be a shorthand for the gospel. He understood them as they were intended to be: Christ-centered.

Though he was a Baptist, he affirmed (and perhaps exceeded) the WCF concerning elect infants dying in infancy being saved by the work of Christ. In one place he extended this to all infants dying in infancy. I’m not sure we have biblical warrant for this extension, though I’d like it to be true.

Spurgeon was not dogmatic about Calvinism however (not a Gnostic Calvinist). He would affirm other preachers as long as they preached Christ. Reeves noted a sermon Spurgeon heard by a priest in Belgium. The priest preached Christ, much to Spurgeon’s delight.

Preaching was more than informing people about Christ. He saw his goal to draw people to Christ. While you have content, the target is the heart. This, in some strange way I’d love to talk to him about, was why he discourage sermon series. I was scratching my head. Sermon series can’t be used by God to transform lives?

The New Birth

Spurgeon was baptized as an infant. Like many new converts today, he read the Bible and believed he should be baptized after he believed. Spurgeon held on to his baptistic convictions despite the fact that many of the theologians he loved and respected practiced infant baptism. Reeves places this within the context of baptismal regeneration and a return to Roman Catholicism. Reformed paedobaptists don’t hold to baptismal regeneration. But it seems the fear of Roman Catholicism was strong in Spurgeon (I once was there too).

We see there the disconnect, or at least I do. He held that we are brothers and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and the rest. The covenantal principle seen in the sign of circumcision is that children receive the sign and seal of “righteousness by faith” (Rom. 4). Abraham had the faith, and the sign called his children to the faith. But Spurgeon breaks faith, so to speak, on this principle. He viewed baptism as a sign of our faith, not God’s promise. At times he warned of the baptismal font being a rival of Christ’s for paedobaptists. The same could be said for many of the credobaptists I’ve heard. So there seems to be another inconsistency.

I mentioned about the covenantal principle of visible and invisible church in the OT (and NT). Rather, he holds to the impossible prospect of the “pure church”. Credobaptism doesn’t create a regenerate church, as the rolls of many baptist churches indicate. Baptism doesn’t mean one possesses the reality to which the sign points, whether one holds to paedobaptism or credobaptism. The promise of the new covenant is isolated from how the NT actually speaks about the church (wheat & tares, for instance).

The new birth is necessitated by human sinfulness. We are not merely weakened by sin, but dead in sin and trespasses. We are hostile to Christ and the law in the unregenerate state. People are not neutral. God must grant new life for people to believe. Regeneration is a grace we receive, not because we’ve met any conditions but in order that we may believe. The Spirit uses the Word to give us this new life. He enlightens our minds; He shines His light into our hearts.

Without the cross, there is no regeneration. There is no salvation apart from atonement, by Christ. His focus on Christ’s death meant that he advocated for weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The message that saves is Christ crucified. It is also about the mortification of our sin in the present. Jesus aims to mortify our sin and give life to graces.

The New Life

The new birth necessarily creates a new life. The Spirit doesn’t give us new life and walk away. We are increasingly drawn to Christ and away from the sin that so easily entangles.

Another aspect of our new life is prayer as an expression of our union with Christ. Our communion with Christ doesn’t pull us out of the world but calls us into the world just as Christ went into the world.

“… nobody mixed with sinners more than our Lord.”

Reeves then returns to sanctification. Spurgeon held to the blood of Christ as the “double cure”: free from sin’s guilt and power. Christ’s blood removes our guilt, but in Christ we also died to sin. Saved by grace thru faith, we also begin to walk in the good works prepared for us. This new life is a gift, but we live it. The Spirit isn’t living for us.

Spurgeon made much of joy. It reveals that we serve a great Savior. It is the strength for our service to Him. Complaining and despondency rob us of joy, strength and vitality. But Spurgeon knew this first hand, as Reeves points out later.

As we grow into Christ, we increasingly hate our sin. And increasingly see our sinfulness. We become more sensitive to sin and recognize our sinful motives and not simply actions.

“As the man loves God more, and becomes more like Christ, he takes greater delight in prayer.”

Reeves then returns to prayer with its own chapter. Spurgeon saw prayer as essential, not only to the Christian life, but to ministry. The Monday Prayer meeting was attended by over a thousand people each week. He saw it as the engine of the ministry. It is the battlefield between faith and unbelief. Spurgeon, who didn’t like planned out sermon series, also didn’t like planned out prayers either. He preferred spontaneity. I think this is a more a matter of preference and personality instead of principle.

Reeves then shifts to Bunyan’s influence. We are pilgrims. But we are not solitary pilgrims. We are a community of pilgrims. But we are engaged in warfare- an army of pilgrims. The warfare motif wasn’t reserved for sermons, but Reeves shows that it influenced his private prayer journals. His was an active faith. Spurgeon oversaw “the Pastor’s College, the Stockwell Orphanage, seventeen almshouses for poor and elderly women, the Colportage Association, and a day school for children.” This was just the tip of the iceberg. He didn’t expect the government to solve his society’s problems. He expected the church engage them, and led the charge.

But life is not all flowers and sunshine. Afflictions come and spirits falter. Depression can come home to roost whether by circumstance or medical conditions. Spurgeon fought with depression. The incident in Surrey Gardens, a “joke” that panicked the crowd resulting in 7 dead and 28 severely injured, resulted in clinical depression. Spurgeon also suffered from “a burning kidney inflammation called Bright’s Disease, as well as gout, rheumatism, and neuritis.” At times he would be unable to preach for extended periods of time.

One reason we suffer is that Jesus suffered. The cross comes before the crown for us too, according to Paul. It is a sign of our adoption and union with Christ. We also learn to depend on Christ rather than ourselves. God also prepares us for greater ministry thru humility and empathy.

He wraps up with the hope of glory. This is not our best life now. Spurgeon likely was a premillenialist, but clearly not a dispensationalist. He was not into speculation. He was into focusing on Christ.

Summing Up

Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I finished the book thinking “That’s it?”. At no point was I stopping to ponder something more fully. This is the first volume in the series that disappointed me. This is not a volume I would be inclined to recommend to anyone (my favorite remains the volume on John Newton). This was more theoretical and geared toward the pastor, in my opinion. It also seemed to skim the surface.

As I mentioned above, the source material is so vast but due to his habit of not systematically preaching through the Scriptures. It is seemingly impossible to sort through and “systemize” the material. This is still unfortunate.

 

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I’m doing my sermon preparation for a sermon on Luke 11:37-52. There is a key phrase there about the events that prompts Jesus to make 2 3-fold “woes” on the Pharisees and Scribes.

38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

The word translated as wash, regarding the ceremonial hand washing is baptizo. Jesus didn’t baptize His hands prior to eating.

The Pharisees had implemented this ceremonial hand washing. It was not commanded in the Scriptures. The interesting thing is that Luke calls it, essentially, a baptism.

As a former Baptist, I heard that baptizo refers to immersion, dipping. It may make sense to dip one’s hands in the water to wash them.

Except that is not what happened. Ceremonial hand washing is covered in the Mishna, particularly Yadayim 1. There the water is poured from a vessel over the hands. Not dipped. Not immersed. Poured.

The Mishna talks at length about the type of vessels that can be used, even those made of hardened dung. But the water was poured. This is important (while not Scripture and therefore authoritative) because it is how the Pharisees understood and practiced this hand washing. They were following the Mishna, and the word Luke used to describe it which would have been understood by other is baptizo.

The amount of water was about 6 oz. which isn’t much water. It is not the hand washing technique I learned while working at the hospital. This amount of water was sufficient for one or two people’s hands. The purpose was not to get you physically clean but ceremonially clean.

This is another instance in Scripture where baptizo is not used for immersion or dipping but for pouring (baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1) described as the Spirit being poured out (Acts 2)).

The implication is that we should not demand that baptism be by immersion. Pouring water is an acceptable mode of baptism if we let Scripture interpret Scripture.

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“A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” A.A. Hodge

I came across this years ago when reading Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Note: he wrote this in a commentary on a confession of faith.

Since I’m currently putting together SS material on the Westminster Standards I saw the red ink underlining and exclamation points in the margin. John Calvin expresses similar sentiments in his chapter on The Power of the Church in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541). I decided to run an experiment. I put it on my FB page, and in a closed group I belong to connected to Calvinism. I was curious if there would be any difference in responses.

On my FB page, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few questions, but no big deal.

In the group, it was overwhelmingly negative. There were a number of misinterpretations of the quote. People were fairly unreasonable. I know, shocking conduct on the internet.

Here is a sampling:

“I disagree. attendance and membership are two different things. …theology is as important as doxology.. we are there to preserve both.. as a group we draw lines in the sand.. as an open group we do not.

“…maybe we should eliminate membership and just gather together without running church like a business. … If you expect the rent/mortgage on your church’s building to be paid, your pastor to be paid, the facility clean and in good repair, and your favorite ministries to be funded, then yeah, church needs to have a business component to it. Some churches take that too far and forget they’re a church, but churches have to run like a business to some degree.”

I also disagree. The elders are responsible to guard the flock, and you can’t keep the wolves out if you just admit members indiscriminately. Membership lists also have a use in determining who is eligible for church discipline. Just because a person sits in the pews doesn’t mean the church has authority to discipline them.

I would not expect a Pentecostal to accept me as a member since I do not accept their core beliefs about how the Spirit works and manifests itself. There should be some basic doctrinal agreement and some kind of pledge to serve to be a member.

“In order to worship in unity you need to agree on some things that aren’t salvation essentials. I don’t doubt the salvation of my Presbyterian brethren even though I doubt the legitimacy of their baptizing infants. They don’t doubt my salvation either but they would view my refusal to baptize my kids before conversion as disobedience to Christ’s command. Baptism is definitely not an essential doctrine but is practically speaking pretty important in fellowship and worship. …Messianic Christians and seventh day Adventists worship on Saturday, and think we’re misinterpreting the New Covenant when we worship on Sunday. They probably don’t doubt our salvation and in many cases we don’t doubt theirs, but it’d be pretty difficult to worship together weekly because they wouldn’t want to gather on our day nor we on theirs.”

“Nobody has to attend our church regularly in order to be saved, nobody has to agree to our church’s confession and member’s covenant to be saved, even baptism is not a requirement in order to be saved. So obviously this statement as it appears is false. But I wonder if it is explained in context in a way that might show it to have a true meaning.

We see an avalanche of erroneous assumptions, worse-case scenarios and oddities marshaled to reject Hodge’s premise.

What does Hodge mean? What doesn’t he mean?

These words begin that paragraph:

“In all Churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling.”

Hodge is writing a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. He believes in the use of Confessions and Creeds. He believes churches should have and use a Confession of Faith. He held to the Westminster Confession.

So, Hodge is NOT arguing that churches shouldn’t have a confession.

Hodge recognizes the distinction between members and officers. Members are held to a higher standard. He is speaking of the Confession, not extra-biblical conditions (keep reading). The Confession must be accepted, and taught, by the leadership of the church.

What the quote is saying, in part, is that holding to (subscription) the Confession (or any confession) should not be a requirement of membership. There are some denominations, wanting to limit doctrinal controversy. I used to be a pastor in the ARP and the membership questions included: “Do you accept the doctrines and principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”  A confusing qualifier to be sure. The URC requires membership subscribe to the Three Forms of Membership. I was surprised upon joining the PCA that there was no similar vow. Many wish there was one, but I tend to think there shouldn’t be.

This does not mean that Hodge didn’t think members didn’t have to believe anything. They had to believe anything necessary for saving faith. The Westminster Confession includes things necessary for saving faith, but has far more in there. The additional topics are for our well-being rather than our salvation. We should require faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate & part of the Trinity, who died and rose again. We should also require repentance as well. And baptism as included in the Great Commission. In other words, as far as we can tell, comunicate members should be Christians.

The other thing Hodge is (may be) saying is that membership should not bind the conscience in any way not required for salvation. Some church membership vows include abstinence from alcohol, smoking or dancing. These are not requirements for salvation (or sanctification).

In speaking about “church constitutions” Calvin argues in this way:

“So we must rapidly conclude as we argued earlier that, where God is concerned, our consciences are in no way compelled or obligated by any such constitutions. Their aim is to bind our souls before Go and to lay duties upon us, as if the things which they commanded were essential for salvation. Such today are all those constitutions called ‘church constitutions which they say are necessary if God is to be truly honored and served. They are countless in number, and make for equally countless bonds which keep souls imprisoned.”

If you think it wise not to drink alcohol, or dance or have the occasional cigar, you are able and free to make that decision for yourself. What you are not free to do is to bind the conscience of others to the same extra-biblical command. No church is free to so bind the conscience of its members. The doctrine of Christian Freedom needs to be taught in churches so members won’t fight over these matters (like the discussions I’d had as a young Christian with people who hated Christian rock, or secular music). You don’t resolve the argument biblically by binding consciences. “So you won’t fight about a beer with your pizza, we’ll just prohibit drinking altogether.” Too many churches take this very route and sin against God and their members.

Back to Confessions. Church members should know that the church has a confession, and that the teaching of the church will conform to that confession. I cover this in our membership class. I give them a copy of the Westminster Standards.

Some members will already agree with the Confession. That’s great! But I hope that many members are younger Christians. We are not a Reformed refuge where you need the secret password (John Calvin Owen & Newton). I see holding to the Confession as one of the goals of my teaching. I want people to move toward the Confession, understand it better and increasingly affirm it as a summary of Scripture. We can’t demand that as a condition of membership, however. We should never say to a Christian, you can’t be a member here. We may say, this is what we teach. If you are willing to discover more about this great. But if you fight about it, this may not be where your membership should be. Just as we offer Christ’s Table, this is Christ’s church. We may be Presbyterians, but can’t restrict membership to Presbyterians. I want people to grow in & into their faith in my congregation.

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Carl Trueman is an historian by trade (do you like the Anglicisation in his honour there?). After a chapter on the contemporary impulses against the uses of creeds and confessions and another on the foundations for using them, he returns to his trade. In the 3rd and 4th chapters of The Creedal Imperative Trueman looks at the early church and the Reformation & post-Reformation period respectively to trace the development and use of creeds and confessions at those times.

In the 3rd chapter most of the time is spent looking at what are commonly called the “ecumenical councils” and the documents they produced. But the use and development of creeds and confessions didn’t start there. As he mentions in the 2nd chapter, the New Testament has an expectation for “forms of doctrine”. We see some of those forms in places like Romans 10, Philippians 2 and others. Trueman forgot to include the OT shema from Deuteronomy 6. There is a long history among God’s people of using confessions of faith, one that pre-dates the creeds of Christendom by over a 1,000 years.

In the early church, Trueman shows the development of “the rule”. A number of authors talk about a rule known to the audience of their letters. We see said mention in the letters of Ignatius, Tertullian, Irenaeus and others. This Rule typically functioned as the method for catechizing converts prior to their baptism. The “spontaneous baptisms” that thrill Mark Driscoll did not happen in the early church. People were catechized before, not after baptism (I’m sure their instruction didn’t cease, you get my point, maybe).

Trueman notes, based on a letter from Ambrose who was Bishop of Milan, that by 389 the Apostles’ Creed was not only in use but seemed to have been in use for some time. He enters into a very brief discussion about “descended into hell” to instruct us that we should not abandon or criticize a creed too quickly. It may not mean what we initially think it means. In other words, beware the knee jerk reaction. Knee jerk reactions typically produce bad theology.

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Friday I had an interesting encounter with 4 Mormons on my doorstep. It reminded me of my previous encounters with Mormons. This would take me all the way back to college.

My freshman year room mate in college was named Mark. He was from Salt Lake City. If I remember correctly his father was a Muslim and living in Bahrain at the time. His American mom lived in SLC. He spent much of his freshman year seeking the truth. During the course of the year he professed faith in Christ. Being a nominal Catholic engaging in a variety of sins at the time, I didn’t really care. He would borrow my tiny Gideon’s NT (the “littlest Bible” he’d call it) that I received years early while in elementary school, during school time (yes, the Gideons visited our public school!).

In addition to a 4 Spiritual Laws tract that ending up just wasting away in my desk drawer, he gave me a 10-12 page handout comparing the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine. For some reason I didn’t throw it away.

Approximately a year after his conversion I was converted. As a new Christian I started taking some religion electives and one was about Religion in America. Our prof brought in some guest speakers to share with us and answer questions. When I knew the President of the Boston Mission was coming I dug up that handout and studied it.

I asked a lot of questions, most of which went unanswered. What I did get was an offer of the Book of Mormon if I would read it. I took it with the best of intentions, but fell asleep each time I started to read it. Let’s just say I never finished it. It was a frustrating encounter because I really didn’t get satisfying answers. He was one slippery kind of guy. If you ask me what I believe I’ll point you to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Mormons and Masons point you to obscure and confusing books and then when you summarize them they say “I don’t believe that.”

Fast forward about 15 years during my pastoral ministry in Winter Haven. I had a congregant named Tod who grew up in Wyoming and hasn’t met a Mormon ad he hasn’t responded to. One of his “ministries” is inviting them into his home to present them with the gospel. I think he’s been black listed so it might be time for him to move. Well one day he gave them my phone number. Thanks, Tod.

Mid-afternoon a sweet young lady called me as a result of Tod’s request. She may still remember he phone encounter with the Presbyterian pastor. What quickly became apparent to me was that she had never really read the Bible. While she encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon, I encouraged her to read the Bible to see what it really said and see if the BoM was consistent with it. Like the President of the Boston Mission, she pretty much avoiding giving me direct answers to questions. In her case it was not so much being slippery, but (I think) ignorance.  She was in way over her head but wouldn’t admit it. It ended with a “would you pray to God to see if the BoM is the Word of God?” My answer was that I knew it was not on the basis of what the Bible teaches. Tod was ever so delighted to learn that the Mormons had actually called me.

Fast forward another decade and another part of the country. For the first time they rang my doorbell. There were 4 of them so it must have been a training team. There was one woman, who was largely silent. One guy spoke most of the time, but the guy in the back seemed to be the trainer and evidenced some disapproving frowns at times.

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