Tag Archives: church life

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.

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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?

13 Trust Building Behaviors – Applied to Church Life

In my secular job I am part of a “Trust Team.” Our job is to identify behaviors which increase and decrease trust within the department – and then take steps to reduce the former and encourage the latter. Part of the exercise of this group has been to read through The Speed of Trust by Stephen R. Covey. Covey identifies 13 Behaviors which, when consistently done, increase trust in an organization or any social unit. In this post, I will attempt to see how these behaviors apply to church life, particularly to church leadership. The best I can do is sketch them out. I would be interested in your own experiences and insights in the comments below, or on Facebook.

#1 Talk Straight: “Tell the truth and leave the right impression” and balance it all with tact. Like many of the behaviors on the list, there’s a direct correlation to Scripture here: Speak the truth in love. This one easily applies to every personal interaction. Don’t be a jerk, but usually there’s no reason to beat around the bush. We build trust when we consistently talk straight. We undermine it when we code our words and force people to read between the lines.

#2 Demonstrate Respect: In other words, apply the Golden Rule. Christians have an additional theological basis for this. All people are created in the image of God. And, all believers have been equipped to build up the church. We respect others because of who they are, who they are in Christ, and because they have been gifted by God.

#3 Create Transparency: In regards to our finances– our books are open. In regards to our child protection policy – never a secret. If you want to know something that is going on at church, we’ll be as open as we can be.

#4 Right Wrongs: This means acknowledging failures, apologizing for them, and then making it right. There’s a powerful story told in our church. In the past – well before I arrived – the church was marred by conflict, particularly directed at a string of pastors with very short tenures. Then there was a season of healing wherein the remaining church members sought to make things right with those pastors with whom they had had conflict. This humility laid a foundation for greater love and unity.

#5 Show Loyalty: Covey gives two examples of showing loyalty: 1) Give credit to others whenever you can. 2) Speak about others as if they were present. This reminds me of the biblical model of conflict resolution in the church. In the case of conflict, go directly to the person with whom you have conflict. To smear them behind their back undermines trust not only with that person, but also with the person you’re smearing them to.

#6 Deliver Results: The first five behaviors focused on character – the foundation of trust – but Covey also argues the capabilities are necessary for there to be trust. The best way to prove that you have the capabilities to be trusted is to deliver results, to do what you say you are going to do, to accomplish your goal. It’s possible to be too results driven, but sometimes we forget that results still matter. We have a task to do and we should aim to be effective at that task.

#7 Get Better: I would submit that there’s a certain level of “godly discontent” that comes with leadership, even church leadership. Those who serve in the church should strive to hone their skills and their character. And the church as a whole can consistently ask the question – how can we better love God and our neighbors? It’s OK to acknowledge a gap between where you are and where you want to be.

#8 Confront Reality: Sometimes realities are hard to confront, but we need to do it. As a preacher, this means acknowledging head on hard passages of Scripture. Other times it may mean acknowledging difficult budgets or systemic sin. Christianity has all the tools necessary to handle the most difficult of realities. Jesus conquered sin and death!

#9 Clarify Expectations: I see a failure to clarify expectations consistently lead to failures in my engineering job, but this one applies to church work, too. It’s especially important when working with volunteers. Let them know what is expected of them, don’t leave them guessing. The same clarity is needed when constructing a shared vision, or giving applications in a sermon.

#10 Practice Accountability: Accountability is an important part of discipleship. Some people even have “accountability partners” or “accountability groups.” In regards to building trust, Covey stresses we need to hold ourselves and others accountable to poor results. We need to take responsibility for our actions, and hold people accountable for theirs.

#11 Listen First: Stephen Covey (the author’s father) is famous for saying – “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” In relationships, being understood is essential for trust, it’s also essential for giving good counsel (in church life, giving spiritual counsel). Failure to listen – either by not asking questions, or asking only to reply – will undermine trust.

#12 Keep Commitments: Covey refers to this as the “Big Kahuna” of all the trust behaviors. I agree. Failure to keep commitment undermines trust and consistently keeping them builds trust. We need to be careful about what commitments we make, and then stick to them. As an aside, this applies to more than just leaders. If you want your leadership to trust you as a member, keep your commitments in the small things and watch how you get opportunities for the bigger things. If you consistently fail to keep commitments, don’t be surprised when more opportunities don’t come your way.

#13 Extend Trust: Extending trust to others – when it is wise to do – is a good way to build trust. Trust those who are in charge of the ministries you’re not in charge of are doing their best. To some degree, this is founded on the same principles as “demonstrate respect.”

A low trust church will be ineffective for the gospel, it will be too marred by internal conflict, or too busy managing the costs of the low trust environment. A high trust church will be freed up to work on the tasks at hand. Lord, help us pursue relationships based on trust, and foster that trust for your glory!

Book Recommendation
The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything

Connecting the dots between service and spiritual growth

The focus in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (and the focus of tomorrow’s sermon) is the spiritual growth – the “edification” – of the congregation; not necessarily the spiritual growth of the individual. But it’s worth asking, how does using your spiritual gifts contribute to your own spiritual growth? Here are a few answers:

Understanding that all gifts have a source in God (12:4-6) – and not in ourselves – enables us to have the sort of humility necessary to kill our pride and follow God. That truth also enables us to respond in worship and gratitude, the hallmarks of Christian obedience.

By using our gifts for the purpose for which they are intended – the common good (12:7) – in a community where others are doing the same, we can be built up far more than we ever could be on our own. The sorts of gifts described here are not lost when they are used, but are multiplied. You are able to benefit not only from the gifts God has given you, but from the gifts God has given others.

By seeing that every gift has a role to play, and that the diversity within the body is essential to its proper working, we can move from the immature mindset of dependence, and the arrogant mindset of complete independence, to the mature mindset of interdependence. This mindset is essential because it corresponds both with the world in which we actually live, and the community in which God intends us to live. We can only truly recognize this reality when we actively participate by using our gifts.

Most importantly, though, the use of gifts to serve other people is how we put action to the command to love God and love our neighbor. Following Jesus in this way is the best way to grow into spiritual maturity and become more like Christ.