Monthly Archives: October 2014

Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence in church life

According to Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), the process of maturity is a movement from dependence, to independence, to interdependence. When we are babies, we are completely dependent upon others. It is easy to see that dependence is a place of immaturity whether it is in the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual realms (see Hebrews 5:12).

The next stage we move to in the maturity process is independence. Here we are able to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. We make decisions on our own and take responsibility for our own actions. We are able to provide for our own basic needs. A lot of people believe that complete independence is the pinnacle of maturity but that’s not true. The problem is that a mental map of independence doesn’t match the reality of the interdependent world we live in. People who believe they are entirely independent are really dependent in many more ways than they would care to admit. For example, teenagers strive for independence but are much more fundamentally dependent than they realize.

The highest level of maturity, says Covey, is interdependence. When we are interdependent we take responsibility for our own spheres of influence and our own decisions. We live based on principles (what is right and wrong) not on political expediency (what will other people think of me). But we also acknowledge that we live in an interdependent world and that the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. We work together, working off of each other’s strengths to accomplish more than each of us could accomplish on our own.

This vision of maturity as interdependence wonderfully matches Paul’s description of the church as a body (see 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians). A body is a beautiful illustration of interdependence. Each part functions within its role, acknowledging its interdependence with the other parts. Each part takes responsibility for its own function – an eye sees, and ear hears, a foot moves – but doesn’t try to act as a complete body on its own. A church which practices interdependence grows up in maturity, love, and unity (see Ephesians 4).

In a “dependent” church, the individual members don’t do much of anything. They are consumers. They desire to be “fed” but won’t do any feeding. They live on the spiritual milk handed out by the preacher each Sunday. They are dependent on the human leader of the church and if that leader fails, their faith is lost. I don’t mean to blame the members. Leaders often foster this kind of thinking. Abusive leaders, or leaders with a Messiah complex, foster this kind of dependence, intentionally or unintentionally keeping their congregation in a state of dependence.

In an “independent” church, individuals take responsibility for their own spiritual growth but don’t work together as a team. Churches of this ilk may be marked by in-fighting or jealousy. Perhaps the church in Corinth was overly marked by a spirit of independence where everyone was clamoring for their own voice to be heard. It was a church marked by pride instead of humility and factions instead of unity. Christians with a completely independent mindset may check-out of church altogether. After all, if they have everything they need within the themselves, why go to church in the first place?

In an “interdependent” church members see themselves as parts of a whole. Members with an interdependent mindset often look for churches where they can work as part of a team and utilize their gifts as part of a greater mission. Here everyone is moving toward the same goal – love, maturity, discipleship, service, evangelism, etc – but each person plays a different part. An interdependent church is like an orchestra playing in harmony. It embraces both unity and diversity. Each person takes responsibility for playing their own instrument well and rejoices when others play their instruments well. Leaders in interdependent churches encourage spiritual growth and cooperation between the parts. They try to create systems where growth occurs naturally and where the Spirit is given room to build up the body.

Of course, in one sense, all churches are fundamentally dependent. We are dependent upon the Head, the Source, the Authority, and the Builder, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Book Recommendation

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

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Important, but Not Urgent

One of the most practical aspects of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is habit 3: Do the most important things first. In this section he describes the distinction between important and urgent tasks. Some tasks are neither urgent nor important, some are urgent but not important, some are important but not urgent, and some are urgent and important (See diagram below).

Stephen Covey: Important and Urgent

Stephen Covey: Important and Urgent

It makes sense that we should avoid and limit the unimportant tasks (quadrants 3 and 4) but the really interesting part is when it comes to the important tasks (quadrants 1 and 2). Spending too much time on the urgent and important tasks can be problematic. People that spend all their time managing crisis or “putting out fires” get burned out and end up reverting to quadrant 4 (not important, not urgent) tasks. It is better, says Covey, to spend our time in quadrant 2, in the important but not urgent tasks. These are tasks like preparation, planning, preparation, maintenance, or “sharpening the axe.” By setting aside time for the important but not urgent we reduce the time we have to spend managing crisis.

The problem is that we don’t do these important and not urgent tasks because they aren’t urgent. Urgent tasks get done more readily because they are immediately in front of our face. Important tasks get neglected because they are not. Doing important tasks require discipline and long-term thinking and we put off this hard work because it just doesn’t feel pressing.

I’ve been thinking through this concept over the past few days and have been presenting it to people in every area of my life. Here’s how it works out in my various spheres of life.

Spiritual Life

The spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer are quadrant 2 activities. They never feel urgent, but fostering them on a consistent basis will have long-term benefits for our spiritual well-being and will most certainly prevent, or at least reduce, spiritual crisis.

Family Life

Some quadrant 2 activities in family life are spending quality time with your kids and spouse. I think I succeed on the former but fail more often than not on the latter. I would also put family devotions as a quadrant 2 activity.

School Life

I’m not in school anymore but I had the opportunity to think through this recently with a student. In this setting the exam is the urgent (Cram! Cram! Cram!) and keeping up on homework and reading is the important.

Work Life

I am an engineer and we constantly face this challenge. Urgent tasks always arise – fixing bugs, answering customer questions, finalizing a software release before midnight. Often these urgent tasks drown out the important tasks – writing good requirements and good tests. Perhaps if we put as much urgency on getting the requirements and tests done as we do on getting the software release out the door our software releases would have fewer bugs.

Church Life

Crisis activities come up in church as well. I’ve been challenged recently to work on some quadrant 2 activities here such as more intentional discipleship, relationship building, and gift development of individuals within the congregation, leadership development, and long-term planning and goal setting.

I don’t think there’s any way to completely prevent a crisis from happening but you can be prepared for it when it comes. The best way to find out the important but not urgent tasks your missing is to ask and answer the question: What could I be doing (but am not) that would have a huge long-term impact?

What Quadrant 2 activities in your life do you need to be doing more of?

Book Recommendation

 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So (via TGC)

I highly recommend you read the linked book review of The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns.

Here’s a money quote from the conclusion of the review:

“In the end, The Bible Tells Me So is a book about contradictions. Enns intended it to be a book about contradictions in the Bible. But it becomes quickly apparent that the contradictions are really in Enns’s own worldview. He claims the Canaanite conquest is immoral, yet argues the Bible provides no clear guide for morality. He claims the Bible presents a diabolical genocidal God, yet insists we still “meet God in its pages” (3). He argues Scripture is filled with reworked stories, many of which are made up entirely, yet seems to know which ones really happened and which did not. He claims the Bible provides no clear moral instruction, yet says people are “disobedient” to God and in need of the cross. He claims he’s the one reading the Bible in an ancient manner when, in fact, people in the ancient world didn’t read it the way he does.”

Read the whole review over at TGC here.

Hungry Leaders

There are literally donuts 5 feet away from me right now, though that’s not the kind of hunger I’m talking about.

A friend loaned me his book Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward. As far as leadership books go, it’s good, but not great. The classic is still The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner) by Kouzes and Posner.

Launching a Leadership Revolution is still worth a read. It starts with some basic principles of leadership and then moves to the “5 Levels of Leadership”, the fifth level being the “leadership revolution” where the leader develops leaders who develops leaders. The Apostle Paul is given as the exemplary Fifth Level Leader.

I think the best material is actually at the front of the book. Brady and Woodward outline three fundamental character traits for leaders. They must be hungry, hone-able, and honorable. To be honorable means that leaders need to be of high character. To be hone-able means that leaders must be teachable.

To be hungry means that leaders need to be, to some degree, discontent with the way things are. Leaders “wage war” against the status quo and strive for change. Where does this discontent come from? It comes from being able to see the disconnect between the way things are and the way things need to be. The “way things need to be” is the leader’s vision.

I’ve been challenged by this because one of my weaknesses as a leader is in the area of “vision.” It takes a lot of work for me to sit down and think, “What can we do better?” “What would it look like for us to become better followers of Christ?” “How can we better fulfill our mission to make disciples?” and then communicate that vision to others.

For churches that vision, that hunger, comes from seeing the deep disconnect between where we are and where we need to be. I love my church but we’re not perfect. I need to allow myself to see our failings before I can admit a need for improvement. The Bible provides ample material for the “how things need to be” side of the equation. Perhaps a lack of vision comes from a lack of deep meditation on the Word of God.

I’m trying to grow. I’m going to start digging into Ephesians. I want to know – how does Ephesians describe the church, or how the church needs to be? Then I need to ask? Where do we fall short.

Research Paper on Baptism

Research Paper on Baptism (originally written November, 2009)

Author’s Note: One of my primary sources for this paper was the book Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Counterpoints: Church Life) and it continues to be a primary resource for continued study. If you’re interested in further study, I highly recommend the linked book. 

Introduction

Baptism is one of the most important steps in the life of the believer. It is the symbolic representation of the believer’s identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. In baptism God gives the believer an external seal of the promise of salvation and the believer, in turn, makes a confession before God and before the Church. Because this powerful drama is played out in the physical world with physical elements the mode of baptism as the immersion of the believer in water is important. Also, because baptism is a rehearsal of conversion, it should only be applied to believers. Baptism is a gracious gift from God which helps the believer individualize his or her experience of conversion. Nevertheless, the issues surround baptism present challenges for churches trying to be faithful to the meaning of baptism, the conscience of believers, and the unity of the universal Church, which baptism is intended to maintain. The final part of this essay, then, will examine the issues of eligibility of baptism and the question of rebaptism from a pastoral perspective.

Meaning

Baptism is clearly an essential initiatory rite of the Christian life. It is primarily an external representation of the internal reality of salvation. It symbolizes ones identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, baptism is the rite by which one is initiated into the visible church. Third, in baptism the believer identifies himself with the universal Church. Baptism is therefore a fundamental basis for unity in Christ. Fourth, baptism is a public confession of Christ. Fifth, baptism is an act of discipleship and obedience. Finally, baptism is the means of receiving gracious gifts from God, an idea which will be fully expanded later in this essay.

Symbolic Representation

Baptism is a symbolic representation to the believer and to the church of his or her identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. The internal reality of salvation is brought about by the grace of God, through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). This salvation is brought by ones union with Christ in his death and resurrection. In Christ’s death the believer finds atonement and justification. In Christ’s resurrection, the believer finds new life, brought about by the power of God. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

This internal reality is intimately tied to the external symbol of baptism. Paul seems to see repentance, baptism, and salvation as near concurrent events. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:2-3). Paul draws a similar connection in Colossians 2:12; “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Because of such an intimate connection one could read from these passages that baptism constitutes the saving event. It would be better, however, to view such a close connection because Paul could assume that the members of the church had already been baptized.[1] Baptism, then, servers as a “vivid reenactment” of our spiritual identification with the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection.[2]

Nevertheless some are inclined to see not only a symbol, but an existential reality. In this view, baptism plays an essential role in conversion. It leads to the remission of sin and the actual dying of the “old man.” “The outcome of baptism [is] a reality, the dying of the old and the living of the new life by the power of the Spirit of God.”[3] Here baptism is more than just a symbol of the reality but the reality itself. It is a “new condition for the salvation for salvation in the New Testament era.”[4] One cannot be saved unless he or she is also baptized and the baptism is the occasion, or embodiment, of salvation.[5]

In this view baptism is also the occasion for the granting of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit may be made evident in the baptized first by receiving certain “sign” gifts, such as speaking in tongues or prophecy. The Spirit is also manifested in the more permanent gifts which build up the church. Finally, the Spirit is evident in that He grants special power to the believer to overcome sin and live a holy life.[6]

This view of baptismal regeneration is not without biblical merit. Several texts draw a particularly close relationship between salvation and baptism. In Acts 2:38 in response to the question “what must I do to be saved” Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The first question here is a linguistic one, namely, what is the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” connected to? Should it be “repent for the forgiveness of sins” or “be baptized for the forgiveness of sins”? While the language here is somewhat ambiguous the pattern, “repent for the forgiveness of sins” is in continuity with Peter’s message.[7] In Acts 4:4, for instance, baptism is not part of the equation for those who joined the church.[8] Even if “forgiveness of sins” is linguistically tied to both repentance and baptism Peter’s pattern is still maintained. The primary is one of faith and repentance. Baptism serves as the external sign of repentance as in John’s baptism.[9]

Another text which connects baptism and salvation is Acts 22:16. Here, Ananias says to Paul, “get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Here again the essential nature of baptism is the outward expression based on the internal decision. It was the process by which Paul pledged allegiance to Christ by calling on his name in baptism. Here he was following the practice of proselyte baptism, dramatizing his decision to join the new community. However, this not only the expression of changing allegiance, but also the symbol of receiving one of the primary benefits of discipleship, namely the removal of sin. The “washing” of baptism is an ideal symbol for this internal reality since washing is used elsewhere in Scripture for the same purpose (Isaiah 1:16, Psalm 51:2).[10]

One final text which connects baptism and salvation is 1 Peter 3:21, “and this water symbolized baptism which now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Christ Jesus.” This is the only time in the New Testament where baptism is used as the subject of an action verb.[11] The phrase “baptism now saves” seems unambiguous so the key question must be “how does baptism worm in salvation?” The answer to this is given in the following clauses. Peter guards against the idea that it is the ritual of baptism which saves by specifying that the essence of baptism is a “pledge of good conscience toward God.” In other words, it is the declaration before God that saves. Brooks summarizes this line of argument saying, “baptism does save – it saves because it is a declaration – a decision – a pledge of contract.”[12] In other words, to the extent that baptism serves as the initial “cry of faith toward God” it serves as the means of salvation. This is essentially no different from Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord … you will be saved.”[13]

Finally, baptism is not the occasion for receiving the Holy Spirit. In Acts, the pattern simply does not hold. For instance, Cornelius receives the Spirit before baptism. In fact, it is his reception of the Holy Spirit which makes him a candidate for baptism.[14] When Peter and those who were with him recognized that the people had believed the message and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit he only then recommended water baptism.[15]

Again, in the case of the Ephesian believers (Acts 19:1-7) the occasion for receiving the Spirit was not baptism, but Paul laying his hands on them. Here, the Ephesians had heard an incomplete gospel since they were not told about the Holy Spirit. They therefore received an incomplete baptism since they were only given a baptism of repentance in the example of John the Baptist. It was only after Paul’s proclamation, their rebaptism, and Paul’s laying on of hands that they received the Holy Spirit. In other words, it was right belief which constituted the reception of the Holy Spirit, not the baptism itself.

Instead, the occasion for receiving the Holy Spirit, that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is the moment of salvation. Baptism of the Spirit has a parallel function of water baptism. Both are cleansing but the Spirit baptism results in “washing” away of sins in forgiveness. This is the baptism of the Spirit prefigured by John the Baptist in Mark 1:8. As Guelich remarks, “Those submitting to John’s baptism … prepare themselves for the Greater One’s baptism by the Holy Spirit who ultimately forgives their sins in the eschatological act of salvation.”[16]

Initiation into the visible church

Baptism is the initiation of the believer into the visible church. In Acts after Peter preached to the crowd those who heard and received his message were baptized. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). The implication is that baptism was an outward sign which demonstrated the growth of the church. Furthermore, Paul assumed his Christian readers were baptized when he wrote to the churches in Rome (Romans 6:3-4), Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 12:13), Ephesus (Ephesians 4:5), Colossae (Colossians 2:12), and the churches of Galatia (Galatians 3:27). Paul also uses baptism to remind the Church of those essential things it has in common (Ephesians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13). In baptism, the believer identifies himself as united with the Church and the Church (specifically, a local church) with the believer.[17]

Initiation into the universal church

It should also be noted that baptism is also an initiatory rite into the universal church. Ephesians makes it clear that “there is one body and one Spirit … one hope … one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is therefore as a basis of unity within the universal church (Ephesians 4:3). This unity is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul therefore denounced sectarianism based on baptism.[18] Some in Corinth were divided between church leaders, some following Apollos, others Paul, and others Cephas. Paul counters by asking “were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13) The answer to this rhetorical question is “no,” they were baptized into the name of Christ. Therefore, no one can say that they “belong” to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, instead, all must say they belong to Christ. What binds the church in unity, then, is that each person belongs to Christ, and this profession of belonging is made in baptism.[19]

Since part of the purpose of baptism is to bring unity to the universal church, divisive arguments based on baptism are antithetical to the spirit of baptism. For this reason, some have argued that the theology of unity ought to supersede arguments for modes and methods of baptism. Harper and Metzger, for instance, hold to believer’s baptism but admit they would not rebaptize those previously baptized only as infants for the sake of unity.[20] This will be analyzed further under “Pastoral Application.”

Public confession of Christ

Baptism also serves as the believer’s public confession of Christ.[21] It is public by nature. One cannot baptize oneself. Instead, one is baptized before and into a community. It is also a confession of Christ because it is an external identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. Of course it is not a confession of Christ only, but also of the Father and the Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

Act of discipleship

Baptism is also a decisive act of obedience in discipleship of Jesus. The call of the disciple is to follow and emulate the Master. Since Jesus was baptized, believers are also baptized. In Matthew, the reason Jesus gives for receiving baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Baptized believers are also called to fulfill righteousness by obedience to the Father in the model of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus’ baptism is a model for the disciples’ baptism.[22] Likewise, before Jesus ascends into heaven he commands his disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:19). The connection here between baptism and discipleship is clear. Baptism is an essential part of discipleship, right along with, and even before, obedience to the commands of Jesus.

Occasion for receiving gracious gifts from God

Finally, simply because baptism is a symbol it does not follow that it should be considered a “mere” symbol. Likewise, it is not only something which the believer performs before God but is also something in which God imparts his gifts to the believer. These gifts are not salvific nor regenerative nor do they represent a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, they are gifts from God not available through other means of obedience. The first gift of baptism is that it is a lasting symbol to our conscience of our decision before God. It is like a wedding ring.[23] A wedding ring is a gift imparted from one member of the covenant to the other. The ring reminds the spouse of the promises made on the wedding day. It symbolizes the actual commitment. Likewise, in baptism the believer receives the external symbol of the covenant made at the time of salvation.

The second gift which the believer receives in baptism is that of participation in a unique aspect of obedience and identification with Christ. Obedience to God in discipleship is one of the means of progressive sanctification.[24] Submission to God, for instance, is a means by which one can overcome temptation (James 4:7-8). Therefore, baptism provides a unique way by which the believer receives sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Recipients

Baptism is for believers only. This is seen first by observing the order given in the New Testament, second by observing that there are no unambiguous New Testament examples of infant baptism, and third by arguing that initiation into the covenant people of God comes through faith.

First, the order given to the disciples in the great commission is to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:19-20). This order is important and is seen in all the baptisms of the New Testament. Those who were baptized by John were those who had repented and confessed their sins (Mark 1:5). In Acts, after Peter preached, it was those who had accepted his message who were baptized (Acts 2:41). The result was the same when Philip preached. Those who believed were baptized (Acts 8:12, 13). Likewise, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized after hearing and responding to the message (Acts 8:38).

Second, there are no explicit examples of people who were baptized who had not already believed.[25] There are a few cases where “households” are baptized (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 16:32). In these cases one who have to assume that all the members of the household were baptized. In the case of the jailer (Acts 16:32 – 33) Luke explicitly states that Paul spoke to the jailer and all others in his house. This follows Luke’s pattern in Acts where baptism follows preaching and repentance.[26] Therefore, even in the few potential New Testament examples of infant baptism, it is more likely that only believing members of the household were baptized.

The primary reason given for infant baptism, however, is not based on any New Testament pattern but on an understanding of the covenant relationship between God and his people. Here, the key distinction between is between the continuity and discontinuity between Old and New Covenants. In the Old Covenant the covenant was passed from one generation to the next and the sign of the covenant was circumcision. Those in the Reformed tradition tend to see more continuity than discontinuity. For them, there is a direct line of connection between circumcision as a sign of the covenant in Israel and baptism as the sign of the covenant in the Church. While the Reformed view does not view children as the guaranteed heirs of the covenant it does stress that the covenant “gave special place to the progeny of believers as the expected … heirs of the promise.”[27]

The New Testament, however, puts forth a vision of a new covenant inherited through repentance and faith and not through family heritage. When John the Baptist came he chastised the Pharisees who, while claiming to be children of Abraham, did not show it through works coming from repentance. John’s baptism was one of repentance, which constituted the recipient as a true child of Abraham (Matthew 3:7-12).[28] Likewise, Paul reminds the Galatians that it is those who believe God who are true children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). It makes no difference if you are a Jew or a Greek, those who are in Christ are the recipients of the promise (Galatians 3:27). Circumcision, the outward sign of the Abrahamic covenant, made no difference in salvation, only “faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6) and “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). For John, baptism signified repentance. For Paul it demonstrated ones faith in Christ. In neither case did it demonstrate entry into the covenant by birthright. There is continuity, then, between baptism and circumcision. Both are an external sign of the covenant. However, in the New Covenant one becomes an heir to the promise through a spiritual rebirth occasioned by repentance and faith.[29]

One final note is that the Didache, one of the earliest pieces of Christian literature on baptism, only specifies believer baptism. Here, the candidate for baptism is required to undergo a period of fasting before baptism.[30] Certainly, infant baptism is not in view here.

Mode

The ideal mode of baptism is immersion. The Greek baptize means “plunge, dip, wash.”[31] Even after becoming a technical term it retained the idea of full immersion.[32] The examples of baptism in the New Testament also point to immersion.[33] For instance, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized only after finding some water along the road. Acts 8:38 then says that the eunuch when “down into” the water where Philip baptized him. Immersion was also the preferred mode of baptism for Luther and Calvin.[34]

Baptism by immersion is important because the symbol is important. In immersion the believer is “buried” in the water, symbolizing his identification with Jesus in his death. When the believer is raised out of the water he is symbolically raised to new life with Christ by the power of the resurrection. Like the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, the symbolism is important. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have power because they connect the actions with the message.[35] The baptized believer enters into the drama of his conversion in an individual and physical manner. Baptism by sprinkling simply does not have the same symbolic power.

Immersion, however, is not the only acceptable mode of baptism. Scripture does not specify how much water should be used or how wet the one baptized should become.[36] That baptism ought to be done in the name of the Trinity and that it is an important piece of discipleship for the believer is clear while the specifics concerning mode and method are less clear. Therefore, if there is not sufficient water for immersion present and the believer wants t be baptized another mode of water baptism may be appropriate.

Historically, baptism by immersion has been preferred but not demanded. In the Didache, for instance, running water was preferred. If running water could not be found, standing water was acceptable. If even standing water could not be found the teaching states “pour water thrice upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”[37]

Pastoral Application

Given what has been said concerning the meaning, mode, and recipients of baptism, what should be the practice of the local church? Here two questions arise. First, what are the qualifications for baptism? Second, under what conditions should a person be rebaptized?

A person is eligible for baptism if they have put their faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior of their souls and have turned to him in repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Acts, people were baptized immediately upon believing, often on the same day (Acts 2:40-41, 8:36). When the Ethiopian asked why he should not be baptized, Philip did not ask him to wait until he learned more about the faith but baptized him as soon as water was available. In other words, salvation is the only prerequisite for baptism.

The task of the church when approached by someone for baptism is to enquire about his or her beliefs. Because belief includes a basic level of understanding about the nature of God, the nature of sin, and the nature of salvation, the church should at least have a brief interview with the candidate. If the candidate is a child of one of the members of the church the parents can also testify concerning their child’s faith. If the candidate is a new believer who is considering joining the church through baptism some period of discipleship could be required, for instance, in the form of a “new members” class. Ideally, however, salvation and baptism should be closely linked in time in keeping with the New Testament pattern.

In general, rebaptism should be avoided. Baptism is a one-time event symbolizing a person’s identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. Since salvation only occurs once, so should baptism. However, there are a few instances where rebaptism is appropriate and even desirable.

There is only one instance of rebaptism in the New Testament. While Paul was in Ephesus he found some disciples who had only been baptized with John’s baptism. They had received an incomplete gospel which included the need for repentance but did not mention the Holy Spirit. Paul, on seeing that their faith was lacking, rebaptized them in “the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-7). This sets precedent for rebaptism if the initial baptism was invalid or incomplete.

Historically, baptism was considered a trait practiced only by schismatics, those who had formed a sect apart from the broader church.[38] That is not to say that rebaptism did not occur. It was permitted only if one was previously baptized into a heretical sect. In this case, the baptism was not considered rebaptism but the first and only true baptism.[39] Often, baptism was considered invalid if the confession made at baptism was not made in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is important to note here that believer’s baptism is in view here, since the question posed to those seeking to re-enter the Orthodox church who were coming from a heretical sect were question about their initial confession. Also, one of the primary reasons for why rebaptism was not allowed was that it was the decisive moment when the believer renounced Satan and could therefore not be repeated.[40] Again, this implies that believer’s baptism is in view when the early church was considering rebaptism.

So what should a church do if an adult was baptized as an infant and now wants to join the church? Should the believer be asked to be rebaptized or should the first baptism be accepted? There are pitfalls on both sides of the issue. If the church were to rebaptize the believer they would, in essence, be calling the initial baptism invalid. Even if the church really did believe the initial baptism was invalid would rebaptism unduly damage unity of the universal church that baptism was intended to secure? In other words, rebaptism of a believer who had only been baptized as an infant risks violating the principle that baptism should only be performed once and it risks violating unity in the body of Christ.

On the other hand, if the church does not rebaptize the believer it risks preventing him or her from receiving the benefits of believer’s baptism. Given the theological arguments above, a strong case can indeed be made that the initial infant baptism was not a valid baptism. Indeed, it lacks some of the essential elements of baptism, namely, the participati0on of the believer in the dramatization of conversion, the pledge before God of a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:21), and the confession of Christ before the church in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rebaptism for a believer who had previously been baptized as an infant is appropriate criteria for membership, especially if the candidate desires to be baptized.

If the candidate wants to join the church but does not wish to be rebaptized the issue of conscience comes into play. Now, baptism might not only risk disrupting unity, it also might risk disrupting the believer’s conscience. Even so, since the believer’s baptism is such an integral part of discipleship it would still be appropriate for the church to require baptism. However, there is an interesting third option. In the early church if someone were coming from another sect to join the true church they would first be asked about their baptism. If they were baptized in an orthodox manner, that is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and they confessed the creeds they would not be baptized. Instead, the elders would lay their hands on them and not perform a second baptism.[41] Perhaps a church could perform a ceremony or initiatory rite whereby the believer made a public confession of Christ before the church, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a way of owning the initial baptism. The benefit of this is that the believer still makes a confession of Christ without their conscience being violated. The power of the symbol of water baptism by immersion, however, is lost.

Baptism may also be appropriate if someone believes that he or she was not really a Christian at the time of the first baptism. Here, pastoral counsel is necessary. If a person approaches the church and declares that they want to be rebaptized the church should ask the person about their initial baptism. If the person responds that they simply did not know what they were doing, that is, understand the full consequences of their actions, but they were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the church should counsel them to continue in the faith and not be rebaptized. The argument here is that baptism can become nothing more than a means of rededication. A Christian journey has many ups and downs but only one beginning and that beginning is marked off by baptism.

However, if having counseled the candidate the church learned that the believer knowingly lied in order to be initially baptized, knows that the confession was false, and knows that at the time they were actively living in rebellion against God, then rebaptism would be appropriate. The initial baptism was invalid, not because of the words which were spoken, but because of the intent of the heart of the individual which was turned against God.

Conclusion

While baptism presents challenges for pastoral ministry it is an invaluable element of what it means to be a follow Jesus. It is a gift which God has given to believers in order to impress upon their minds the nature and certainty of their conversion. In repentance and faith the believer dies to their old self and is raised to life by the power of the resurrection. They are washed, cleansed from their sins. In baptism, the believer acts out this internal reality.

Afterward

It is has been nearly five years since I wrote this paper and I have had the privilege of serving in pastoral ministry over those years. As a church that requires believer’s baptism for membership we have struggled through some of the challenges stated above. However, in cases where believers have decided to follow God in baptism, either as an initial baptism or as a rebaptism, the event has proved meaningful for both the participant and the church.

We now face a new challenge. Our church has an After School program that reaches a lot of unchurched teenagers in our neighborhood. By the grace of God, several of these middle and high school students have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Some do so despite the fact that their families are either ambivalent, or even hostile, to the gospel. One student, a fourteen year old, decided to follow Christ and is interested in being baptized. However, her mother, with whom she lives, is strongly opposed to her being baptized. The question we face is this: Do we baptize this young believer based on her wishes or do we refuse baptism because of the opposition from her mother?

If we baptize, we risk enabling the student in breaking the commandment, “honor your father and your mother.” If we refuse baptism, we risk discouraging the student in her faith. If baptism were required for salvation, the answer would be simple: Get baptized! However, it is not. Also, while it may be ideal for baptism to immediately follow conversion, it does not necessarily need to be. Counseling the girl to wait to be baptized demonstrates to her the importance of obeying her parents, even when we disagree, and gives her opportunity to grow in her faith and knowledge so that when she is baptized, either with the consent of her parents or because that consent is no longer necessary because of her age or station in life, the baptism will have more significance in her life.

[1] James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1 – 8. (Dallas: Word, 1988), 311.

[2] Thomas J. Nettles, “Baptist View,” Baptism: Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 32.

[3] Stephen J. England, The One Baptism (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1960), 89.

[4] Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study (Joplin, MO.: College Press, 2002), 18).

[5] Cottrell, 18-20.

[6] England, 85-88.

[7] Oscar S. Brooks, The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1987), 67.

[8] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: Brazos, 2009), 140.

[9] Brooks, 52.

[10] Brooks, 59-60.

[11] Brooks, 139.

[12] Brooks, 141.

[13] John Piper, Brothers, We are not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman & Holdman, 2002), 131-132.

[14] England, 80. England later goes on to argue that baptism is the “normal” occasion for receiving the Spirit.

[15] Nettles, 33-34.

[16] Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 1 – 8:26 (Word: Dallas, 1989), 25.

[17] Nettles, 30.

[18] England, 90-95.

[19] Lars Hartman, “Baptism”, Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 1, Edited by David Noel Freedman (Doubleday: New York, 1992), 587.

[20] Harper and Metzger, 141.

[21] Nettles, 30.

[22] Hartman, 585.

[23] I first encountered this symbol from Pastor John Dubois of Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship, Grand Rapids, MI.

[24] Space does not allow a full explanation here, though McQuilkin has provided a nice encapsulation of the idea: “Ordinarily … emotional response and understanding – will follow the choice to obey.” J. Robertson McQuilkin, “The Keswick Perspective,” Five Views on Sanctification. Edited by Stanley L. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 170.

[25] Nettles, 29.

[26] Piper, 130.

[27] Richard L. Pratt, “Reformed View,” Baptism: Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 71.

[28] Nettles, 27.

[29] Piper, 134.

[30] J. Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church AD 337. Revised by W. H. C. Frend (London: SPCK, 1987), 10.

[31] BDAG – Third Edition, “baptizo”

[32] Nettles, 26.

[33] England, 77.

[34] Nettles, 26.

[35]England, 84.

[36] Pratt, 43.

[37] Stevenson, 9-10.

[38] Stuart G. Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (London: SPCK, 2005), 81.

[39] Hall, 92.

[40] Hall, 93.

[41] Hall, 117.

Why We’re Moving

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will close on the sale of our house in Hudsonville and the purchase of our new house in Wyoming, MI. This isn’t an especially far move (15-20 minutes) but it’s not an insignificant one. A lot of people asked why we’re moving.

One exchange went something like this:

“We’re moving to Wyoming”

“Is the house you’re moving to bigger?”

“No”

“Is it in a better neighborhood?”

“No”

“So, why are you moving?”

That’s a good question. It’s more common, admittedly, for people to move “up” but, by a lot of standard markers this is a move “down.” The house is smaller (though with a finished basement it would be just about even or perhaps a bit larger) and it is in a city with “worse” schools. Based on sale prices, our new house is worth about 75% of the value of the house we are moving from. Nevertheless, we’re moving because moving puts us more in line with our core values.

The first reason why we are moving is to be closer to the church where I am a pastor. We will essentially be within walking distance (a little over half a mile away). This will afford more opportunity for ministry, especially hospitality. Additionally, I think there’s something to be said for living in the same neighborhood where you minister. It’s not necessary but as our church has shifted from a primarily commuter church to a far more “neighborhood centered” church I have begun to see more and more the ministry advantages of being a closer neighbor. Being close to the church also gives the added benefit of more time at home. I’m at church a lot and with a 20 minute commute I lost 40 minutes just traveling to and from church. On days I’m at church (which is several days a week) I’m adding 30-40 extra minutes to my day – time I can spend with my family.

The second reason why we’re moving is to increase the strategic impact of our resources. First, I am referring the resource of our house. We have a nice house in Hudsonville but we don’t, and probably won’t, use it to its full potential. It’s bigger than we really need and it’s too far away from too many people for us to use it to its fullest. Second, I am referring to the use of our money. Since this house is cheaper this allows us to significantly reduce our overall debt load (we have no debt except our house) and our monthly payment. We can use the extra money to more rapidly pay off our house debt (a move toward financial freedom) or increase our capacity for generosity or pay for Christian education and the discipleship of our children. This will also allow us to reduce driving and car/gas expenses again increasing our overall financial freedom and capacity for eternal uses of our money.

Finally, this move reduces one of the potential barriers in my life to eventual full-time ministry – the financial hurdle. We have always attempted to live within our means but a move to full-time ministry would mean a reduction in means. To allow for that possibility we need to live not only within our means, but below our means. I have no short term plans, or even long term plans for full-time ministry. I am committed to bi-vocational ministry at this time. However, I want to be open to where God may lead in the future.

There are a slew of minor benefits as well. We’ll be living within walking distance of a park. We’ll be close to friends with whom we can swap baby-sitting duties. We’ll have sidewalks. There are some downsides we well, some things I had to get over. We love our current house and it will be sad to see it go. I’m not looking forward to have a detached garage this winter. I’ll miss the third bathroom. But all in all, when we as a family looked at this move objectively we realized that this was a move more in line with our core values. It brings both freedom and opportunity we don’t have at our current address. We’re excited to see where God might use this for his glory.

When giving criticism, focus on the form. When receiving, focus on the message.

When giving criticism, focus on the form. When receiving, focus on the message.

That’s the little maxim I’ve had rolling around my head for the past few weeks. Here’s what I mean:

When giving criticism, focus on the form. Sometimes it is necessary to pass along constructive criticism, correction, or even rebuke. Assuming your motives are pure, your message is true, and it’s really necessary to give the critique, you need to focus on the form of your critique. Give it with love. Include affirmations where they are appropriate. Be discrete and private when possible. Ensure you have the trust and social capital to offer the correction. You may need to speak the truth, but be sure to speak it in love.

When receiving criticism, focus on the message. Sometimes we need to receive criticism but we don’t have the luxury of choosing what form that criticism comes in. We simply can’t control how other people act. I’ve witnessed people receive criticism that was true and that they needed to hear but since it was packaged in a poor form, the criticism was ignored. An exchange that could have been constructive wound up being destructive. When receiving criticism, it is important that we get past the form and try to discern the underlying message. Ask yourself the question “Is any part of this criticism correct?” If so, even if you hate the way the correction was given, you can still take the message to heart and make the necessary adjustment. If someone’s criticism of you is correct, don’t excuse yourself from change because their form was less than ideal.