Tag Archives: sacraments

A Little Progress On The Lord’s Table

I can’t say I’m all there yet on Calvin’s perception of the Lord’s Table, but I think I’m getting along. Reading Horton’s Systematic Theology has helped a bit. I read this part:

In our Western (Greek) intellectual heritage, “remembering” means “recollecting”: recalling to mind something that is no longer a present reality. Nothing could be further from a Jewish conception.

It brought to mind an English (British) turn of phrase,” Remember me to your mother” (or whatever person to be visited) and what that really means to me, though I’m apparently not entirely correct in my definition. I read this to mean something more than just greeting someone. It’s more like re-vitalizing or reuniting through a person (or thing) a distant relationship. If I get this rightly, I think I can understand the Supper in this way:

The Spirit is, through the Supper, remembering us to Christ and Christ to us in the sense of unifying and revitalizing us. At least this is an incomplete way of describing the whole thing.

What is important here is that I’m searching to understand the teaching that there is more to Communion than just a commemoration or “memory.” I’ve been working to meditate on this concept from whatever angles I can digest. And this thread has a spark of inspiration.

The memory thing drives home the point. How in the world does one “remember” the crucifixion or Christ by eating and drinking. We weren’t there, we only have a book. So the prevalent belief of communion as memorial supper, where there is a bunch of doing on the part of the believer and none on the part of God is just unacceptable. God must be acting in order for us to “remember.” And isn’t it a little difficult to chew (no pun intended) on God just giving us enough to bring up the past? Nah, I don’t buy it. There is more acting on God’s part going on here, and it just can’t be some sort of visitation that gives us visions of the cross.

We are united to Christ; Us in Him and He in us. So Paul gets it when he talks about remembering, proclaiming and discerning all together. Discerning is a big one. And it doesn’t have to mean head-knowledge. Knowing Christ, knowing the Body of Christ is knowing, you know? Intimately, understanding, as in that sort of knowing that is only achieved by abiding in.

Wrapping it around: We abide in Christ through the Spirit. The God uses the Supper through the Spirit to sort of invigorate or bring vitality, literally the vitality – aliveness – Christ-ness of Christ to us. It still doesn’t make sense in any way, to me, to eat his flesh and drink his blood unless this is figurative (which Reformed and Lutheran theology do not support). But I can get it if it’s figurative. If by eating and drinking we mean that Christ is sustaining us through the Spirit because of and through His death on the cross – pierced flesh and bleeding body. It wraps up fairly nicely in my view, anyway.

It’s a sign of a thing signified. I’m sure I have a relatively unsophisticated, or primitive grasp of the concept, but I don’t think I’m wrong. When we are given a sign, especially a participatory sort of sign, we are actively identifying or identified with the thing signified. In this case, we’re eating a covenant meal. As a unified group (church), not as individuals. And we are more than just making a declaration. The language in the N.T. (and O.T.) doesn’t permit us to say we’re solely testifying or proclaiming. We’re really, really identified with Christ here, which is like ratification of being. Not just being and then talking about it, but being something and assenting, acting like it, being it in the process of acting. God is literally conveying what He intends in the Supper, which is Christ. No way round it as far as I can tell.

So this was rambling and probably not much truly intelligible, but here we are.

Facts I accept about the Supper:

  • It is not only commemoration.
  • It is not literally the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • It is a sustaining and refreshing meal graciously provided through the Spirit by Christ.
  • It is literally essential to healthy living as a Christian in that it unites us to Christ and his Church.
  • It is aberrant to neglect or minimalize the supper to the extent of never practicing or “monthly/quarterly” service.
  • It is an integral part of the Lord’s Day, and should be incorporated in each one (weekly).
  • It is not flippantly or carelessly attended. As bad as eating and drinking without discerning the Body is to serve it without discerning. A minister is the one, for he presides over, presents the other means of grace (Word, Baptism, Prayer). All of these are “Holy Stuff” and it is tragic and dangerous to treat them otherwise.

 


Baptism Last Call

Cover for Item ReviewedContinuing from Sunday’s Baptism Retread, I want to demonstrate this from my own past and that of my kids. My oldest, was “baptized” into a pagan family. She was born to witches and dedicated in accordance with her family’s beliefs. No choice there.

Now we were more honest than Christians at the time as well. We, as parents, determined to raise our daughter with freedom to choose her beliefs by not explicitly indoctrinating her into witchcraft’s creeds or practices. Credo-baptist Christians do not do this with their own – they create a half-way dilemma for their kids in which the dedication and upbringing are Christian, but do not provide for inclusion in the covenant family of God. Essentially, this creates pagans being accepted into the family and church. Does the term Christian-in-name-only come to mind?

The world has the concept of baptism down perfectly. Children born outside the church, to non-Christian families are “baptized” into the religion of their fathers by full acceptance as just what they are; no “of age” requirements or professions of faith required at any point in order to become part of the family or culture or nation.

Once again, it seems most natural to me to think that the position of “believer’s baptism” as the only acceptable view of baptism is backward and unfaithful to the Scripture and God’s revealed system.

For additional reference:

I find that the arguments against paedobaptism are similar to the arguments against paedocommunion. I think that the analyses of PC are fitting where they do not similarly suit PB. Analyses of PB included in these references point toward validating the baptism of infants and young children. So far, it appears that PC isn’t for minor children because of the complexity, obligation and depth of the Lord’s Supper as opposed to baptism.

OPC paedocommunion – a great layout of the scriptural and historical grounds concerning paedocommunion.

PCA paedocommunion – a collection of position papers and statements on the issue.


Baptism Retread

http://www.newlifelamesa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/hero-baptism.jpg

I have a few more thoughts on infant baptism. Stuff I didn’t mention here in three big arguments for covenant baptism.

Primarily, I’d like to discuss this in a way that demonstrates how God’s system permeates even our “godless” society and traditions. Children are remarkably claimed by everything into which they are born, except for One Big Thing which mystifies me to no end. A year ago I was unsettled and unwilling to commit to the idea of infant, or covenant, baptism. It was foreign to me, and didn’t make much sense. I was more than willing to at least explore the idea, being more than aware that my Christian education was lacking in most areas, especially in the Reformed ideas of covenants and sacraments. So I read. And read and read. And then I wrote. And wrote.

Denial of infant baptism actually breaks a pattern that has been running for millenia. I’ll keep it really brief. Children have had no choice in things like birth-parents, family name, Christian name, nationality, race, religion or what’s-for-dinner for as long as children have been around. Why in the world do we come up with the idea that they are not members of the church? The church is not a business that only “hires” people of legal working age. The church has never been a club that “cards” prospective patrons to see if they’re old enough to enter. The church has ever been considered an outpost, a consulate or embassy of God’s kingdom in the world. Therefore, I think it should make sense to baptize infants with the understanding that essentially is corroborated by practices of historical and modern custom and legal matters. Here are some references.

Birth abroadCitizenshipFamily Law Basics

Now, to quell the suspicion that I’m using the World to interpret the Bible in a Christian issue that needs to be resolved, I must refer back to my previous posts and the Word in general to make the claim that there’s no argument here. The Scriptures assume, just as they assume covenants in general, that children born to believing parents (or covenant families) are considered participants in the covenants. Isaac did not have to wait to be the covenant child until Genesis 24. Jacob and Esau did not have to wait until they were “of age” to begin the battle of who would be the continuation of the Promise. The firstborn children of Israel had no say in their survival on the day of the passover when the Lord’s angel came into Egypt and started the holocaust.

In every case of children I can think of, none had to prove themselves or hit a certain age before they were anointed or circumcised or sprinkled. Children were partakers of the covenants of God as soon as they entered into the world. The fact that there was this mysterious baptism thing in the New Testament really doesn’t come to bear on the children:

  1. They didn’t need to be included in the revision of being called out: They inherited whatever was going to happen, regardless, because they were children.
  2. Baptism was simply a modal shift from circumcision, not an entirely new practice that completely wiped out all past meaning and practices from the times of the Patriarchs. In fact, Baptism wasn’t even an entirely new idea in the first place. What people apparently are all worked up over was nothing more than the most obvious and poignant means of “setting apart” or “cutting off” seen in circumcision. Baptism, sprinkling, anointing and other means of marking the one who belonged to the covenant all made it into the omnibus version of applying God’s promises in word and touch – baptism.
  3. They weren’t the main actors! Those in the New Testament were primarily conversant adults because they were required to interact with Jesus and His apostles on the level at which the Scriptures speak. And those adults were automatically responsible for those children.
  4. Jesus gave it to them, without mention of their age or eligibility: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Finally, we who are believers in the doctrine of election, of God’s sovereignty, all should be convinced that it is God’s work and choice that we have become His children and that we were not really given the option to turn to Him for our salvation. He dragged us, kicking and screaming, from our place at the brink of hell into His courts where we may enjoy Him forever. What more could help us to understand that His children are as much in our place as we are? More so, for we were afar off, but our children, born into our Christian families and churches are not so far off, are they?

I hope that helps.


Rolled Back As A Scroll

The Clouds Rolled Back

 

There are moments when things click for us. Moments, short as a breath atop the mountain, that seem to clear the view can hit once in a long while. We learn to look forward to them; hope for them. But they’re not only brief but few. I think that’s good, since too much of a good thing ruins the impact. I wait impatiently for those glorious times when I’m absolutely in love with my wife. Those are the times when everything seems just right, the world is good and there’s nothing raging for our attention to fix, mediate or put down. They aren’t often predictable, and there’s not much I can do to increase the odds. It’s like God knows just when to make the peace happen.

Another is that split second when I grasp the depth of my sin. There are not enough moments like this wherein I really get as small as I know I am. Head knowledge is not the same as heart knowledge. Sometimes, maybe in church though not always, there’s this sudden snap-freeze in my soul that shows me how thoroughly I need my Savior. That’s a painful thing, but it’s like pressing my hand against something sharp when I need to focus or maintain control of myself – almost ecstatic to realize the Real Truth about me, if just for a heartbeat. It’s always fleeting, probably because if, like Isaiah, I’d be undone to actually pursue the depths of what I’ve only barely tasted.

The glorious value of my Savior is one that hits from time to time. I’d like to cultivate this appreciation, maybe of all these, most. It probably goes hand-in-hand with grasping my sinfulness, but if that’s the case, so be it. Sometimes we’re in church, we pray, confessing our sin and in the moments between confession and absolution the lights come on. Or at the Table, the bread comes down in the minister’s hands and I connect that with our Savior coming down, being broken for us, His church. It’s not really a “spiritual” sort of feeling, it’s like a concentrated realization of truth that’s in the head just breaking through to the heart.

I’ve recently hit the same “high” in studying on these ideas of God’s relationship, covenant and promises with His people. It’s rather overwhelming, if you think about it, to start to realize how far-reaching His faithfulness really is. I wish I could grasp the fullness of the plan of redemption made in eternity past. It’s connections to all that we’ve been told in the Scriptures is just plain awesome (I sure wish the skater crowd of yesteryear hadn’t ruined the meaning of awesome, it would sound more awesome right now).

Christ died for us because He was promised to us. Long before we came around and before He came around, He was on the way to us, the Rescuer of rescuers. When we hear the sirens coming that mean we’re to be saved from the fire, we just know it’s all going to be all right. Christ is a thousand times more than that. We have nothing to fight the blaze that is consuming our souls and spreading the destruction to every soul we touch. We’re all on fire and the Water of Life came to quench our destruction. This is what tastes best at the banquet of this religion. The realization that salvation has come, is coming, was always coming and is still to come. Our God is from everlasting to everlasting and so are His mercy and grace.


How To Get That Old Time Religion

Based on yesterday’s LONG post, here’s a shorter one.

Remember this part?

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Imagine their response to Peter. Here, I’ll help.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

But think about this. If I’m right and the Pharisees were deeply grieved in their awareness of the vast curse they’d brought upon their families, how much more the impact on their souls when Peter gave them the absolution they so needed to hear. They changed radically because the seeds were already planted. Their lineage (think Abraham and how important that theme means) was saved! That is, if you understand the covenantal undergirding of this exchange between Peter and the Jews.

Now,

Think about this: We can best understand how Christ saved us by this very same covenantal perspective. How can He save us if there is no such thing as the covenant that Adam broke, Abraham received, Moses continued, Prophets and Judges and Kings and Priests maintained and returned to year after year? It’s The One Thing that best explains all this. God imputed Christ’s righteousness to His Children! He has died for us and our children – all those God has chosen for His Son.

Now how do we deny the same thing for our children? They’re God’s to do with as He pleases. According to the Bible and its covenants He pleases to have them brought to the sacraments of our church and to be a part of the covenant community.

How did Moses think about the prediction God gave him at the end of his days?

Then the Lord appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

Maybe he was a covenant type? I wonder what he thought about the demise of Israel?


Let’s Presuppose A Few Things

Courthouse

Part 3. The first two in this line of thoughts on covenants, community and our relationships are here: Anti-Covenant and Individualism  and I Might Just Need To Be A We

At first, this may appear to be more of a formal apology for Covenant Theology, but bear with me. Also, I’m quite sure this has all been said before, so I can’t claim any originality here. That’s safer anyway since any time we deny the last 2,000 years of church history, we’re claiming that our current religion is the only one that is Christian throughout all history. Scary thought, eh? And what I’m about to discuss reaches back just a bit farther than Tertullian or Irenaeus or even Pentecost. Maybe a few thousand years past that. This is long, but I hope it has good returns. And I hope I’ve portrayed this accurately and understandably.

This doctrine of covenants is not pure theology. It’s not a tight, air-less doctrine that we can take or leave and not be deeply affected by the ramifications of the choice. It is hugely important. Once the barrier of modern presupposition is torn down, the other conflicts will start to resolve themselves fairly easily. That’s my own experience, at least.

Let me make the claim about this presupposition thing. There’s all sorts of discussion about presuppositional hermeneutics and theology. And it is absolutely correct to presuppose there are presuppositions required in the study of the Word. Which presupposition, or assumption if you will, is correct is vital, of course. And here’s the basic premise: The Bible is not speaking in the context of the 21st Century, modernity, the Reformation or even back in the days of Augustine. The Bible’s context is the Biblical eras. Get that and you’re on your way to 1st base.

Next, the Bible itself is filled with assumptions. Do you know the importance of Boaz heading out to the city gate when he’s checking on the status of Ruth’s availability? The Bible doesn’t add a footnote or aside comment to plumb the depths of this significant event. It assumes the reader knows what’s going on. The history and cultural importance of what’s going on at the city gate amongst the elders of the community is far more than what some consider just a civil affairs court setting.  Lot’s story was another one with that gate thing going on. But let’s put all that in the back of our minds. We’ve got to go deeper to make better sense of this.

The Bible assumes Covenant Theology. Really. No joke. It assumes the stuff I’ve been writing about in the last few days. We’ve heard all the debate over baptism, the Lord’s Table and Israel’s future so many times. There are conflicts that are so persistent they’ve lasted hundreds of years. I think they’re more heated today than ever. And it’s because, primarily, we have lost the sense of community and covenantal relationships that are assumed in the Bible.

Look at this language:

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.

When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

And then look at this list: And Your Children and Household

Everybody wonders or fights over these sorts of passages. The Covenant guys extrapolate a connection to things like baptism of infants and the Baptist guys extrapolate the non-existence of infants. All sorts of ideas come up to try to explain this. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the Covenant guys are just as disrespectful of the text as the Baptists when trying to explain their position through use of household and your children. Does the Bible explain what is meant by these sorts of terms? No, not any more than with the gate-court thing in Ruth or Genesis.

Here’s why it’s confusing in the New Testament: When these terms are used, they’re repetition of Old Testament Language. And no, that’s not to “bring” the Old Testament way of thinking back to these Jews of the first century. It was to remind them of the significance of events past that correlate to current events. In all that was changing around in the New Covenant, there was going to be some conflict. Pharisaical law, gentile inclusion, realized forgiveness and justification, missionary trips, diaspora – all these things were new and scary and confusing. People needed to, get this, hear that everything hadn’t just stopped or fundamentally altered!

Peter and his fellow apostles were using this language because the Jews understood it. This means that we cannot presuppose our own 21st century opinion, which is grounded not in the Scriptures but in modern, pagan, non-covenantal thinking. We must look at this language as the Jews did. That’s why we don’t get an explanation in the Bible about what gate-courts, households and your children mean. And that’s why we don’t get a greater development of what the Table and Baptism mean right out of the text. It’s in there, absolutely, but in a, wait for it… presupposition.

I’ll say it again. This is all so hard because we aren’t looking in the right place. The Bible started out its narrative in the context of covenants – relational, promise-keeping, life-sharing, trust-bearing covenants. We are the ones who have changed over the millennia, not the Bible and not at the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ whose birthday celebration we are fast approaching. We have lost the perspective the Jews had.

I’m not calling for a return to Judaism or tossing our technology so we can wear robes to tear each time we’re cut to the heart. I’m not interested in raking dust for a few measly rows of fava beans and wheat sheaves. I like my Pollo Loco too much and I’d much rather have easy access to the last 2,000 years of theology right here on my infernal machines. I’m calling for us to look at Scripture in the historical, cultural frame in which it’s set. No helicopters in Revelation. No civil affairs court for the young moabitess. No ditching of infants until they’re old enough to say they believe.

Side comment: Refusing baptism of our kids is telling them that they are no different from the other kids across the block (the ones who have Wiccan parents right over there). We’re destroying their identity in a Christian family! No sacraments = no sense of being in the family of God.

A few weeks ago, I put up a little bit about how painful it must have been to be one of the convicted Pharisees at Peters Big Sermon at Pentecost (I should rename the post “Cut To The Heart Thrice“). Think about this:

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Those Pharisees were almost certainly thinking of what they had done to their families! When Peter said this (emphasis mine):

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

We know what happened:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Now look again at Peter’s response:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

That’s reaching all the way back to things like:

They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.

The OT said this in Deuteronomy 12:

Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Here’s what changed when Christ fulfilled the Law, died in our place and rose again: I’ll grossly paraphrase this:

Be careful to believe this good news I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

Nowhere is the concept of covenants, community and our relationships altered in the New Testament. It’s ratified by simply not changing the language.

End of story? We have to look at the Bible and realize that our presuppositions that make us unwilling to include our children in sacraments, unwilling to include them in worship are modern insertions to the Scriptures. Also, equally important are the concepts of family solidarity, congregation solidarity, discipline, submission, faithfulness and loyalty to our heads, elders and rulers. These things are assumed to be normal in the Scripture even more than they are overtly commanded. Dropping the concept of covenantal theology kills more than just National Israel’s future and sprinkling babies. It can kill our faith, folks – by confusing the message and hiding the promises God has made to us (and our children).


I Might Just Need To Be A We

Calvin not Hobbes

In the last post, Anti-Covenant and Individualism, I was trying to start my line of though by expressing my impression of the extreme difficulty we have in communicating the idea of covenant baptism in general. I believe it is difficult because there is so little framework in our modern culture with which to understand it. We’ve lost the concept of covenants and commitments. Everything has to be spelled out on paper and even then there’s always somebody ready to weasel a way out of (or into) something in the relationship.

In fact, I was listening to Albert Mohler’s Thinking In Public today: Believing Without Belonging? A Conversation With Sociologist Grace Davie. The discussion ranged around quite a bit but hit on what I’m pondering here. I think it’s well worth a listen.

Yesterday, I was ultimately lamenting how our one-istic, individualist culture seems to have separated us from what God set up as the standard pattern for human relationship. That being family, church, Him. We’re so unrelated to each other nowadays that it’s really hard to come together under a single creed. I do believe that the confessional Reformed folk have the best understanding and therefore the closest stance on being united in relationship. I mean, we believe it, strive to inculcate it and act it out. But the culture, 7 days a week, fights tooth and nail for us to return (right after church on Sunday) to our covenantal relationship to computers, food, drink, cars, idle silliness, community service and everything else. We don’t look back, as we’re doing our mundane things, at our relationships with family, church and God to connect and assess value.

I certainly understand and embrace the beautiful assertion (I believe Calvin and others have said it too) that God is our Father and Church is our mother. It’s just that I don’t, in my own experience, value that hugely important pair of facts enough – and if I’m in sorry shape here, I’m willing to bet there are plenty of others as well. Not because we don’t want to, but in many ways because we can’t – the code has been obfuscated or even deleted to the extent that we just don’t get it. The concept is opposed from the start. Even the Biblical family is under attack (and in many cases demolished) as a valid relationship.

I think I begin to see the challenge our loving pastors face – they are fighting to reintroduce the concept of covenant relationships and rework our thinking so that our responses are in the right place. They know our belief is made deeper because of what we see, hear, touch and taste in preaching, the Table and baptism. They also know that to appreciate and embrace these things, we need to chew hard on the idea that we’re not just I, me, personally or “this is just me, but…”

Parting thought,

“If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything.” — Claude McKay

What if it’s more like: If a man is not faithful to his identity in Christ, he cannot be loyal to anything but himself?

We are saved by grace through faith and enter into a relationship with God as our Father, Christ as our Savior, brother, priest, king, prophet. But we are not alone. We are, individually, grafted into a group. A family. Into a whole that is our mother, the church. Thinking like a child would, our identity is there. I am a child of God and I belong in His church. I don’t do church or go to church. I am in it. With the others. Never alone. You’re never alone when you’re in Him.


Anti-Covenant and Individualism

Cuz it's all about me!Note: There’s a Part 2 after this: I Might Just Need To Be A We.
 
The pastor’s comments on Acts 16 last night resound in my mind. In my study toward accepting the doctrine of paedobaptism, I pretty much discarded paedo as the paradigm in preference for oikos. It makes more sense. Paedo may be clearer-cut for others to comprehend where we’re differing from non-paedo, but it’s way better and images our covenantal relationship so much more. Family, congregation, catholic church, history all have this covenant upon which we hang. Paedo doesn’t get us there. Oikos does. If you don’t know, Oikos means household, so I’m talking about the household baptism concept which is all over the N.T. and O.T. in both circumcision and baptism.
 
It also sure does say something about where modern culture has lost the concept of family hasn’t it? When would we ever baptize our household just because the daddy or the mommy or even the grandpa got dunked? There’s no way to understand what Genesis 17 says about Abraham and the circumcision party he held on his 99th year unless we look at this household thing.

So by “lost the concept of family” I mean we’re individuals even in our families. The dad is just the individual. He is not truly Dad-the-head-of-a-body-that-is-a-family. If a family today was entirely comprised of witches and the father converted to Christianity, the rest wouldn’t think twice about whether they should follow Dad’s lead. They wouldn’t. You can see it in just about any family. If Gospel truth comes from the leader’s mouth, the response is rarely positive affirmation or ponderance. If the mother decides something is best, the rest of the family won’t assume anything, but tend to ignore it unless it clearly serves self-interest. From the root, we are anti- or a-covenantal.

This is something I would dearly love to get conditioned right out of me ASAP. And following that, same for my family. I speak in extremes here: Attending church as a family? Unimportant. Missing out on Sunday or Sunday Communion? Forgiveable. Burning commitment of one family to another in the church? Not a chance.

What’s all this? Duh, individualism. We’ve isolated and isolated until “my responsibility is only to God” which really means “my responsibility is only to me” – a lie, of course. Now, I’m not down-playing individuality. The God we worship is a God of great diversity and colors. He created individuals and uniqueness, called it all good and then set all in motion. We individually contribute to a whole that is greater than the parts. We are hands and feet and eyes and mouths, some one and some many in their gifts and abilities. But we’ve overgrown the garden of plenty so much that the unity is gone for the sake of the individual branches and fruits.

One factor, a cause and a symptom is the idea of Individual Liberty. First off, I think that 200+ years ago the Liberty we had was not the same as it is today. Back then, there was a concept of unity that is missing now. So I don’t think (especially today’s) liberty is necessarily a good thing. There are so many out there who call our liberty a great blessing, but I’d rather lean toward it being just a thing, an event that is comprised of good and bad.

The bad is really bad – it allows me to interprete everything myself. Nobody can hold me to a covenant. That means my family is a group of 6 islands loosely connected by reefs of common ideas or dependency. We don’t cleave to each other and so cannot conceive of cleaving to the church. In modern day, our modern culture and nation, in my modern family, I can worship the way I want.

Doesn’t that just sound wrong? I’m free to choose New Life PCA and if the pastor says something from the pulpit that I don’t like. I’m leaving. No commitment. And though my family may follow me, they certainly don’t have to, and might not. The pastor preaches in and out on Sundays to a crowd of people who are saturated in “my way” Even if they’re born-n-bred old school uber-presby saints, it’s still lurking in there. The pulpit’s constant litany of covenants, corporate worship, community and family must continue – it’s fighting the insanity of Individual Liberty’s dark side.

Once upon a time, the wife, the son, the workers, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren belonged to the father. They served each other under his watchful care and their sins were his responsibility. He was accountable for his family. Today? I do not belong to my father, nor do my kids, or anything else. His responsibility is to love me in some distant way, and though as a God-fearing man I’m sure he cares for me, wishes the best for me and prays for my growth and godliness, I can’t look to him as the head of a covenant family. Who can? I know this is insanely silly for today, but I’m exaggerating the point on purpose. We’ve sacrificed our vital corporate identity for our excessive and decadent individual identity.

So excessive is the individual identity today that I begin to wonder how much of me is entirely false. How much have I been italicized and underlined and bolded and iconified and nicknamed and networked until what’s important about me is blown out of proportion. I’m purely the sum of me and no longer does belonging come easily. I don’t belong to my family, to my church, to Christ…! because I’m too much me. I wonder if that is part of the root of strife in the family. I wonder about a lot of my problems and if they’re because of the devilishly inflated selfishness of this age? Heck, I try to find me in the Bible – how does it apply to me is more important than God’s people most of the time.

Relevant Tangent: I find that when I’m at the Lord’s Table, awaiting the food and drink that we are taught is our sustenance, I must consciously break from me and think of the others. I watch the plates served to others, I pray for my girls or whoever in the congregation comes to my mind – that they would be sustained and gathered into the arms of the rest of us as Christ is gathering us at His Table. I perceive the Supper as a sharing, not an individual act. I’m not savoring the choicest gift of all time on my own, but participating in a toast, a communal sharing of life. I try to visualize this, or recite it, as breathing from the same air, just for the moments we are together. I’m not bragging on my piety or spirituality here, rather I’m lamenting the effort it requires! All of this is a force of will. It does not come to me naturally.

Don’t get me as if I’m going all mystical, though the word mystical is there in our words. I’m not talking about contemplative prayer and zoning out to the collective consciousness junk. I’m talking about how we are all united in Christ and that this means something more than just me and you and him and her across the room. Think about it – lift the bread so that the ones around you can see you lift it, and place it in your mouth with them. Ever see a real wedding where the husband and wife feed each other the cake? That’s it. That’s us. Same with the cup – it’s a toast, too! A toast to the love the father has for us that has given us His Son, the best gift ever given.

Now can we apply that to any other part of our lives? Can we see that He has fed us on Sunday as we are united and this does not change on Monday? We’re still one, just separated by different places. From space, from God’s perspective, we’re all right next to each other. And we’re all in the same time zone.


The Importance of Sacraments

RCC Baptism In Progress

Can the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper be overstressed? Of course they can. It’s apparent in the beliefs that center on Baptism being salvific or regenerative or in the Supper that implies the actual physical consumption of Christ’s blood and flesh. The list of extremes goes on a bit from there but I’ll hang my hat at this point. Also, I’m not going to go all through the details of baptism and the Supper – that’s not the point here, so when I speak on the importance and meaning of these two, I am not including all that is implied in the Reformed view of the sacraments.

On the other hand, is it just as possible to under stress them? And if so, which is worse? Overdoing it or minimizing the importance sacraments? I’m leaning toward thinking the greater of the two evils is putting  Baptism and the Supper down at the bottom of importance. I’ll qualify that by remembering Baptism doesn’t save, which hopefully isn’t easy to miss in previous posts here at LAH.

Take a look at this, from a church in Wichita, Kansas: Lord’s Supper Fallacies.

And this is from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Basic Beliefs:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. …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.

I think responses to the overdone Roman Catholic idea of baptism (as well as perhaps that of the Pentecostal idea that the H.S. indwells at baptism) have some responsibility for the loss of sacramental weight in the church. In addition to that, superficial study of the Scriptures certainly could lead to conclusions that make the sacraments to be little more than obedience and memorial. I’d rather deal with someone over-dosing on grace than to lose it altogether. Therefore (at risk of my own neck, theologically speaking), I’ll hazard that receiving the sacraments as a phased imparting of grace is safer than the dead works of cold obedience.

RCC Communion In Progress

Here are some references via Biblos, one of my favorite online resources: Baptism Occurrences.

I’d like to mention what convinced me of the inaccuracy concerning ordinances of my youth in the church.

  • The heavy weight of coming to terms with infant-baptism demanded much reading and thinking. 
  • My family and I were joining a church that greatly stressed the importance of the sacraments.
  • In reading through historical Christian works, I kept encountering well developed indications that there has always been more to baptism and the Supper than I’d been taught growing up.
  • It just seemed difficult to really accept that the two ceremonies instituted by Christ should mean so little to individual and corporate Christianity.

One big thing I’ve been thinking about lately is assurance. The sermon series in the evenings at our church is working through Acts. There is plenty about baptism in Acts and so plenty of opportunity to think about the point. Our pastor has banged away at this over and over again: we have these sacraments not just as memorials and rituals of obedience but as concrete assurances. We are certain that God is for us, loves us and cares for us by the promises in baptism and the Supper. We can look back to our baptism as God’s claim on us and look forward to the fulfilment of His claiming us at the End. We can put our trust in Him as He never fails to provide the Supper for us, a (weekly, in our case) meeting place where we commune with Christ.

There is hope and assurance in these ceremonies which, though they do not save or make us more holy, do serve to keep us – preserve us in our memories and hopes and present state.  To reduce baptism to a simple act of obedience makes nothing more than a new law and it is neither not redemptive nor representative of the Gospel. Conversely, if we switch views around and see that God, through His minister and the Church, is baptizing us into Christ’s Church and marking us with the promises (covenant) that He makes, is that not grace? The first version leaves the burden on us — we have gained nothing through baptism. In the latter, we have gained everything — the promises, place and hope of the Church and redemption.

The same situation goes for the Supper. If we deny everything but the tombstone memory of a Savior broken and slain for our sins, what does that for us? We don’t need a ceremony for that — there are hymns and Scriptures for that. Why not just read the crucifixion for 15 minutes every Sunday. If we switch views as with baptism, why not see God the Father, through His minister and the Church, bringing us to the Table with our Lord and Savior to fellowship in spirit (through the Spirit) over the grace and mercy we have in Him as Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father? Is that not grace when we are assured that we have a place waiting for us?

I believe that these themes are especially important in this age of electronic mist and passing information. The physical world is becoming less and less important to many (if not most) of us. Because of this, we show up in church on Sunday to consume data, regurgitate a few disposable MP3 songs together and then file it all away until next week. We go home no more confident in our God’s promises than 6 months ago or a decade ago. Unless the mind and spirit, the intangible realm are brought to us in the physical through some medium.


The End of the Sacraments?

If we miss the great importance of the centrality of the church and her proper administrations, we certainly can lose the value and validity of baptism (as well as the Supper). This makes it all too easy to classify the sacraments as ceased along with sign-gifts like healing and tongues. In fact one thing that stands out is that Christ didn’t tell the apostles, in the Great Commission to “baptize and heal” but just baptize. And so, healing as a sign-and-testament to the veracity of the preacher’s Gospel is gone.

It’s hard to see the similarity between the cessation of circumcision and baptism, much as I can’t make the end of feasts/ceremonial calendars jive with an end to the Lord’s Supper. That is, unless we dismiss the church as the Body of Christ, established and visible. It’s public and so not all that occurs is absolutely spiritual, invisible and experiential. There’s objectivity in the physical. Think Real Life (RL) versus Virtual Life (VL). You can hack one, misrepresent and manipulate it. But RL has objective concretes which (though moderns and relativists try otherwise) can’t be dismissed. So God works through His creation and through the Spirit to create a full-orbed reality.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

One argument is that there is “One Baptism” and that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, this can’t stand because Christ didn’t tell the apostles to (baptize with) administer the Holy Spirit. He told them to baptize (with water) disciples. This wasn’t even a revolutionary commandment since the practice had been in force in some form prior to Christ’s incarnation in the first place. Post-Acts lack of reference to water, whether sprinkling or immersion has no bearing in the discussion as it was normative to baptize. Baptism is assumed, if you will.

I’d like to refer to the two long-standing documents that helped me to most make sense of the lasting value and importance of baptism: Calvin’s Institutes “Of Baptism” and Westminster Confession “Of Baptism”. These make much more of baptism (in accordance with what sure seems to be solid Scriptural reference) than the idea that it is a plain profession or hoop to jump in the process of becoming officially-socially Christian.

I’m a convinced paedo, but I’m not greatly interested in the can-o-worms that pops when we get into the fight over which is correct. Mode is even less worth treatment as an important controversy. But a suggestion that water baptism is nulled just can’t work. The argument using “one” baptism seems to miss the fact that God is working through an outward sign of an inward reality. Baptism = entry into the visible, known church (temporal) wherein Spirit Baptism is entry into the Spiritual Kingdom (eternal).

I think, in the end, that the new ideas that hyper-dispensationalism adds to theology are just  more evidence of the precarious stand on the edge of the correct Gospel that dispensationalism, in general, maintains. The theology in many cases (NOT ALL) has ranged so far from historical agreement that even orthopraxy is becoming unrecognizeable. It’s becoming like the discussion of Roman Catholic Believers in which I’ve engaged many times – Yes, there are truly faithful believers, Elect, in the R.C.C. but they’re not the norm, but the exception and we can actually pray hard for those redeemed souls to flee for the safety of the real church.

Dispensational and mainstream Evangelical churches aren’t quite there, but I can’t be the only one who sees the dulled memorialistic-ordinance, personal-relationship, experience-oriented, pharisaical-teaching, church-demeaning symptoms of a religion slowly losing the life-changing Gospel.

That’s the end of the real talking

All this stems from a discussion wherein I couldn’t help but pipe up leads to this post regarding baptism. If I was wrong in my reading of the thread this came from, it’s one thing, but the problem still needs addressing whether specifically there or not. In further reading, apparently the issue is Hyper-Dispensationalism, which puts Paul in as a replacement for previous apostolic practices and teaching. That such a theory has any grab on protestants is indicative of how far we’ve gone from the center of truth. But I’m not here to argue that part, but the particulars of the Sacraments’ continuation.

If I tweak feathers, especially at the end, I humbly admit that I’m saddened to come to the conclusions I’ve reached, but it’s not something I’ll dismiss. Offense not intended, though my honest perception is intended. Nor is my thinking here merely a door for proclaiming the PCA or denomination-I-like spiffiness. I am sad to listen to Pirate Christian Radio or Albert Mohler and see time and again the depths of disparity between what the Bible says and what churches who claim to cleave to the Bible say.


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