Monthly Archives: July 2017

Six observations from my silent retreat

slow down

I spent Thursday morning through Friday morning at The Hermitage, a retreat center just north of Three Rivers, MI. My days are filled with constant inputs and I wanted step back and spend time devoted to silence and prayer. My head is filled with content, but I need the help of the Lord – and time – to process that content in a meaningful way. I had no major insights, but the time was refreshing, relaxing, and instructive. Here are six observations from my retreat:

  1. The rule of the community is silence. I found it refreshing and relaxing. It provided a distraction free environment for me to quietly reflect and pray. However, meal times were hard. I have a hard time imagining a meal without conversation. I wanted to learn the stories of those who sat around the table with me, and I wanted to share mine. I love to leave space for silence, but a meal is made for conversation. I did love the way the director opened the meals: “Food is God’s love made edible.”
  2. I might have been the recipient of a minor miracle. I took a few hikes along the grounds. Foolishly, I really didn’t think about ticks. As I was walking through a field I had the sudden thought to check for ticks. I immediately looked down and there was a tick crawling up my bare leg. It had not bit down so I quickly brushed it off, none the worse. It’s possible I felt something or that something else triggered in my mind, but there had been lots of other bugs around me, so that seems unlikely. I’m inclined to interpret this event as God’s protection.
  3. I was deeply affected by Ephesians 2:10, particularly the idea that God has prepared good works in advance for us to do. It filled me with the anticipation that God has already gone ahead of me and prepared good works for me. This means that I can look for those opportunities and then act in obedience to God.
  4. Choice is not always freeing. As I reflected on possible futures, I discovered that I would gladly accept them if I were, by circumstances, thrust into them. But when I “get” to choose between possibilities, I feel paralyzed, or I feel like I’m being presumptuous. I’m not quite sure what to do with this realization yet.
  5. I spent time imagining “envisioning” a desired future – What would our church look like if it were thriving (more than it already is)? What would Sunday morning look like? What would a board meeting look like? What would it look like for members throughout the week? I tried hard not to just think in abstract, but to picture it with my mind’s eye. I found this to be a fruitful practice.
  6. Regardless of where the future leads, I need to continue to work on my inner life. That means a more robust prayer life marked by praise and confession. By God’s grace I have seen a resurgence in this area over the past month or so. And, while I’m now even more aware of the ways in which I am broken, inadequate, and guilty, I can also see steady improvement and growth.

Thank you all for prayed for me on this short retreat, especially to my wife Marj. I’m glad to be home.

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I was baptized as a baby, should I be re-baptized as an adult?

Given that our little baptist church is in predominately Reformed West Michigan, it is not uncommon for people to come to our church from a Reformed background where infant baptism is the norm. As people get more involved, or begin to consider membership, we are inevitably asked about our view of baptism. Specifically, we get this question: “I was baptized as a baby, should I be re-baptized as an adult?”

Sometimes, though not always, this question is intensely personal. For some it feels like an unnecessary step. For others, it can feel like a rejection of one’s tradition, or of one’s parents.

Whether or not someone decides to be re-baptized as an adult, to participate in what we call “believer’s baptism,” depends entirely on what they come to believe about baptism. This post isn’t a defense of the baptist position (I have a longer post on that subject here.) Instead, I will only briefly discuss what we believe, not why.

Baptism is first and foremost a response of obedience to Jesus to his gift of salvation. Since salvation occurs when one puts their faith in Jesus. Pre-conversion baptism may serve some function (like a parental baby dedication) but it’s not the same thing – or doesn’t serve the same function – as post-conversion baptism. For that reason alone I would recommend pursuing adult baptism as a response of joyful obedience.

Second, baptism is an outward symbol of an internal reality. More than a symbol, baptism is a re-enactment. It is accompanied by a public confession, and a public confession is a critical component of baptism, but it is not only public confession. It’s more that just what we say but something we do. In baptism by immersion, the believer being baptized is lowered down into the water. This act symbolizes being buried with Christ. It symbolizes the reality that our sins are nailed to the cross with Jesus and that we have consciously decided to daily die to sin. Then the person baptized is raised up out of the water. This symbolizes being raised with Christ. It symbolizes new birth – both objectively performed by God – and subjectively lived as we live by the power of the resurrection.

Some of the push back we’ve gotten to our form of baptism has not come from the Reformed tradition, but from the hyper-dispensational perspective of nearby Grace Bible College. They believe that what matters is merely what is symbolized but that the symbol itself (e.g., baptism) is of secondary importance. For that reason, baptism becomes optional, one of multiple ways of expressing the inward reality. (As optional, a person must be specifically “led” to baptism by the Holy Spirit.) We believe that the action itself matters. The same is true for the Lord’s Supper. It is true that one of the main reasons we regularly participate in the Lord’s Supper is to remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but that doesn’t mean we could just replace the Lord’s Supper with a time of quiet and reflection. For some reason, by God’s grace, God has given us these two communal practices which we get to participate in, and that help us to grow in our relationship with him. It is fitting to receive these gifts with joy.

So, if you were only baptized before you were saved, should you be re-baptized now as a believer? That depends on your view of baptism. If you come to the conclusion expressed above, then Yes, first as a response of obedience to Jesus, and then as a way to symbolize the inward reality of salvation in a public and confessional way. But I’m also sensitive to the fact that this is a position on which many good Christians disagree. I would not want to pressure someone into baptism. Without the beliefs in place, re-baptism can actually be a form of disobedience, as a way to please man instead of pleasing God. To someone considering baptism I say this: Consider what the Scripture teaches on baptism, and then act accordingly, without compulsion.

Pastoral addendum: Is my adult baptism a rejection of by infant baptism? I would say it doesn’t have to be, though it will likely be a re-interpretation of the infant baptism. It is possible to view the infant baptism as an act of good faith by the parents to dedicate their child to the Lord. If viewed in this way, then the believer’s baptism can actually function as a re-affirmation of that first baptism. You would then be saying: “Just as my parents dedicated me to the Lord as a baby, so now, as an adult, I personally reaffirm what they taught and show to the rest of the watching world that I have decided to follow Jesus.”

The best case against re-baptism (from a baptist perspective): Historically, re-baptism was seen as a repudiation of the church which performed the initial baptism. That is, it was a way of saying that the first church to perform that baptism was sub-Christian, heretical. If the same were true today, then re-baptism would be an offense to the fundamental unity all Christians have in Jesus. However, I do not think the practice today has the same meaning that it has had in other historical contexts. And I would counsel against such an interpretation from my Reformed brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, if I were to make a case against re-baptism, I would do so on these historical grounds, for the sake of the unity of the universal Church.

The time I counseled against re-baptism: Once a woman in our church approached me about being re-baptized. She had been baptized as a teenager after she was saved. Since that time, she had drifted away from the Lord, but had recently “returned” to following him. Her re-baptism would have served as marking a re-dedication to Jesus. In this case, I suggested she simply share her public testimony before the church without the act of baptism. Baptism in this context would have been performed purely for experiential and public testimony purposes. She had already symbolized new birth in her initial baptism. That new birth happens only once, and so the symbol should only be performed once. In other words, I would counsel against using re-baptism as a form of re-dedication.

9 Marks of a Healthy Church: Book Review

 

41Be-zFOs6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Summary:

 

In Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (3rd Edition) (9Marks)Mark Dever “describes some marks that distinguish” healthy churches from unhealthy one. His book is less like an “anatomy of the body” (an exhaustive list of what a church is/should do) but a prescription (how a church can be/become healthy.)

The Marks:

#1: Expositional Preaching: It is the Word of God that forms and gives life to the people of God. Therefore, the purpose of preaching should be to faithfully explain and apply that Word to the congregation. For Dever, this is “far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all the others should follow.”

#2: Biblical Theology: Closely related to the first, this one particularly relates to correctly understanding the character of God, namely that God is the creator, He is holy, He is loving, and He is sovereign.

#3: The Gospel: A right understanding of the Good News flows out of our understanding of God. Healthy churches understand what the gospel is (and is not) and call people to faith and repentance.

#4: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion: A right response to the gospel – faith and repentance – leads to conversion, a radical change in the new believer’s life. Dever argues that this sort of change is necessary, possible, involves further reliance on Christ, and comes about through God-given faith.

#5: A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism: Dever promotes evangelism that is undertaken by the whole community of the church and not just left to the “experts.” Evangelism shouldn’t be done out of a desire to win an argument, but out of love for God and neighbor.

The first five marks are standard fare for evangelical Christians and churches, if not in execution, at least in philosophy. Marks six through nine cut against the grain of (at least older) church growth books.

#6: A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership: Dever argues for a making church membership more of a priority and of having there be a higher bar for membership. Against the trend to deemphasize membership Dever says, “membership in a local church is intended to be a testimony to our membership in the universal church. Church membership does not save, but it is a reflection of salvation.” Members commit to the church and have certain obligations to the church, to the pastor, and to fellow members. A high view of church membership makes the remaining marks more intelligible.

#7: Biblical Church Discipline: For many this is a scary one (and in a later Appendix Dever argues that in churches where discipline has not been exercised, that it should only be eased into slowly.) For those unfamiliar with this concept, church discipline occurs when a member falls into unrepentant sin. The end result is either repentance and reconciliation, or exclusion from membership. The goals of church discipline are restoration of the person being discipline, to serve as a warning to other believers to see the danger of sin, to promote the overall health of the church, to serve as a corporate witness, and to reflect the holiness of God. Mark number 7 relies heavily on mark number 6.

#8: A Concern for Discipleship and Growth: Here finally Dever explains more of what he means by a “healthy church.” Healthy churches are concerned about individuals “growing” and “bearing fruit” as disciples of Jesus. By “growth” he doesn’t mean numerical growth, but spiritual growth. A church should be concerned to see “people who are growing up, maturing, and deepening in their faith.” He then goes on to show how each of the other marks contributes to this kind of growth.

#9: Biblical Church Leadership: Dever’s Baptist distinctives come through in this chapter. He argues for congregational rule, with leadership work delegated to a plurality of male elders. The task of those elders is to exercise authority, lead by example, equip the church for ministry, and serve the congregation. Dever acknowledges that often authority is abused, but that God gives authority as a gift, and when exercised in a godly way, it is ultimately life-giving.

Review:

The goal of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church is to lay a biblical foundation for healthy churches. It doesn’t get into a whole lot of particulars. That’s helpful to know going in. I found myself skimming through some of the material because I take so much of it for granted already.

For church leaders, pastors or elders, this will serve as a good rubric by which to examine the health of your church. In reviewing this list, I see some areas where we could improve. Though, I would supplement this book with other, more practical ones.

For those who attend church, I recommend reading chapter six on the importance of church membership, and if not a member of a church, to consider it, or if a member of a church, to consider how you can better serve your church.

For discussion: If you were to add a “mark” to this list, what would it be?