Tag Archives: Doctrine

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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Earth Day

pollition

In honor of Earth Day I have decided to post a summary of Francis Schaeffer’s little book from 1970 Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. The book is only 93 pages long but is really an excellent summary of how Christians ought to relate to nature. If you have any interest in the topic of ecology, I highly recommend getting your hands on this gem.

The book was written in 1970 and so it feels a little dated. Schaeffer deals quite a bit with the ideas present in the hippie movement of the time, especially in its relation to pantheism. However, while the hippie movement has since lost its prominent place in American culture, many of the ideas of pantheism are still alive and well in the culture, and really make their presence known on Earth Day.

Is Pantheism the Answer?

“Pollution and the Death of Man” is a response of a sort to two articles. The first article, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White laid the blame for the modern ecological crisis on Christianity. White argues that “the Christian notion of a transcendent God, removed from nature and breaking into nature only through revelation, removed spirit from nature and allows, in an ideological sense, for an easy exploitation of nature.” Agreeing with White, Richard Means in “Why Worry About Nature?” makes the case that we as a society should instead turn to pantheism as the moral base for how we treat nature.

Schaeffer addresses both articles, though he focuses on the one by Means. His first criticism of Means’ article is that while he uses the term “moral basis” he really has no moral base. He is only using pantheism in a pragmatic way, as a means of motivating people to action. As a “modern man” Means really has no categories to speak about morality. He recognizes that there is a pragmatic problem and he discerns that the existing moral structure has led to an ecological crisis, but he himself does not really possess a moral base. Schaeffer rightly points at that he is “using science and religion for purely sociological ends” so that all he has left is “sociological manipulation.”

The question of Means’ method aside, one must still ask, does pantheism produce a moral basis with which to solve ecological problems? Schaeffer says “no.” “Pantheism,” says Schaeffer, “eventually gives no meaning to any particulars.” If we are all really one substance and one entity then we have meaning in unity, but we have no meaning in the particulars, in man as man, in tree as tree, or in stone as stone. Schaeffer notes that this is true both in Eastern pantheism and in Western scientism, which is its own kind of pantheism where everything is only energy particles.

This is a philosophical problem and also a practical problem. Schaeffer states that “any ‘results’ one does get from pantheism are obtained only by projecting man’s feelings into nature.” This is simply romanticism. When we project man’s feelings onto a chicken we “evade the reality of the chicken.” Secondly, this is a practical problem because, in pantheism, everything in nature must be “normal” but within nature there is a “benevolent face, but it may also be an enemy.” Schaeffer puts it this way: “If everything is one, and a part of one essence with no basic distinction, how does one explain nature when it is destructive?” Third, Schaeffer observes that pantheism, while aiming perhaps to elevate nature, instead only reduces man. “Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into the bog… man becomes no more than the grass.” In fact, in modern day, man is often seen as less than nature, as the enemy. This is the absurdity of those who go to great lengths to save the egg of an eagle on the one hand and promote abortion as population control on the other.

Platonic Dualism

But, Schaeffer argues, not every form of Christianity has an answer for ecology that is any better than the answer given by pantheism. Schaeffer specifically addresses Christianity influenced by platonic dualism of the natural vs the spiritual. This kind of Christianity is only interested in the “higher life” of the spiritual world. The physical world is at best unimportant and at worst a hindrance to following the “higher” spiritual life. Christians of this ilk may see nature as a kind of pointer to God (natural revelation) but they have no interest in nature as itself and thus have no interest in ecology. If the world is simply going to be burned up in the end, what reason do we have to find solutions to ecological problems?

The Christian View

Schaeffer believes the answer is found in Reformation theology. It is worth noting that at this point Schaeffer follows the same script as Mike Wittmer (see Becoming Worldly Saints). Both are fond of referencing Abraham Kuyper and both use the Creation-Fall-Redemption metanarrative to frame their arguments.

Creation

Schaffer’s solution to ecological problems is rooted in creation. The created world is not an extension of God’s essence, as in pantheism, but has an existence in itself. The created world has value, then, not only as a pointer to God (which it is) but because God made it. This gives meaning to the particulars, something which pantheism cannot do. God made the tree as a tree and so it has value as a tree and therefore we must value it as a tree.

The nature of creation also matters. Schaeffer makes two distinctions, between the infinite and the finite and between the impersonal and personal. On the one hand we have a distinction between the infinite and the finite. (I prefer the terminology created vs uncreated.) God alone is infinite. He alone is independent. Everything in creation is finite and dependent. On the other hand we have a distinction between the personal and impersonal. Because humans alone are made in God’s image we possess a “personality” not otherwise known in the created order. Humans, then, have a unique place in creation. On the one hand we can say, “Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended? No, I am made in the image of God.” And yet we can also say, “I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atoms are created.” The result is that we are both separated and united with all of creation. We are united in the sense that we are all part of the created order. But we are separated in the fact that we are uniquely created in the image of God.

The result of this worldview is that we learn to treat God’s creation with integrity. We treat a tree as a tree, a fish as a fish, a man as a man, etc. We love each according to its own order because we love the Creator. Schaeffer puts it well when he says: “Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing he has made.”

Fall-Redemption

Schaeffer next offers hope for what he calls “substantial healing.” This substantial healing is rooted in his view of both the Fall and Redemption. The Fall led to division throughout the created order. There was, first and foremost the division between God and man, but there was also a division between man and self, between man and man, and between man and nature. We can only heal this division through reconciliation and the only possible Reconciler between God and the created order is the God-man Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ as our Savior we are reconciled to God. In our spiritual lives we also look forward to the Day of Redemption and the complete healing of our relationship with God. In the meantime we must day-to-day seek God and fellowship with him.

The same principle applies to our other relationships (to self, man, and nature). It is the same gospel and the same Reconciler in all cases. In each case while we wait for complete redemption we continue to seek substantial healing. The gospel offers us internal peace, reconciliation with our brothers, and it provides hope for substantial healing in nature. Just like the consummation does not invalidate our search for daily healing with God it does not invalidate our search for healing with nature.

But what about our dominion over nature? Since this was one of the issues which White and Means saw as one of the causes of our ecological problem (they saw it as arrogance) Schaeffer addresses this issue next. He suggests that perhaps dominion is misunderstood. We do not exercise dominion in an autonomous way but as stewards. Schaeffer does not use the term “stewardship” but he draws the parallel to the parable of the talents. We exercise dominion, but in a way that acknowledges the fact that only God is sovereign and that it all belongs to Him. We have dominion over the fish and so we treat the fish as a fish. We can use it for food, but we don’t treat it as though it is a “nothing” or with contempt. Schaeffer states, “On the one hand it is wrong to treat the fish as though it were a human baby; on the other hand, neither is it merely a chip of wood.”

The “Pilot Plan”

Schaeffer concludes his book by calling the Church to be a “pilot plant” or a community of individuals who model what proper ecological stewardship looks like with the worldview of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. To this degree Schaeffer believes the church has failed.

Scienctism fails, but Christianity has not provided the ecological solution we have. “Science today treats man as less than man, and nature as less than nature. And the reason for this is that modern science has the wrong sense of origin, and having the wrong sense of origin it has no category sufficient to treat nature as nature any more than it has to treat man as man.” But Christians have not done much better, even though we have the philosophical and moral tools to properly care for God’s creation.

We succeed to the extent we exercise dominion over nature with self-constraint. It is this self-restraint that separates us as unique members of God’s creation. It sets us apart as human. A cow simply eats the grass, it can do no less. But as humans we have a self-limiting principle. Specifically Schaeffer calls us to practice self-restraint in the areas of greed and haste, which he sees as the primary causes of our ecological problems. If we, as Christian individuals, business people, consumers, etc. would give up on greed and would demonstrate patience, we really could seek substantial healing in God’s creation.

Ultimately, I think Schaeffer succeeds in presenting a robust biblical view of ecology. He roots his theology in the created order and, ultimately, in love for God. One of the best quotes of the book is this:

“If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made – in the area of man, in the area of nature – and really love it because He made it, do I really love the Lover at all?”

Like many Christians, ecology isn’t something I consider terribly often so this book was a convicting read. Perhaps we all need to be challenged in this area. On the off chance you’re reading this and ecology matters to you a lot I propose to you that it’s only in the worldview of Christianity (and ultimately the person of Christ) that our created world will finally find substantial healing – and in a way that does not lower man to mere grass.

A.W. Tozer on the Veil of Self

I can’t think of a more vivid description of the “crucifixion of the flesh” (Gal 5:24, Rom 6:6) than that provided by A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God.

In a chapter entitled Removing the Veil” Tozer offers an explanation for why the experience of God is so often hidden from us. For Tozer, what prevents us from knowing God’s presence is a “veil” of sin. Just as Christ’s death tore the veil in the temple, signifying that we have access to God’s presence through faith once-and-for-all, the experience of that presence is hindered when we fail to deal with sin in our lives.

Tozer describes the veil in this way:

“It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for those reasons we have never brought to the judgment of the cross.”

These “self-sins” are “self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them” which manifest themselves as “egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion.”

As an aside, it is striking to me that Tozer describes “self-confidence, self-love, and self-love” as sins of the flesh. In our society these are lifted up as the highest of virtues.

Tozer continues:

“Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us… We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us.” -Click to Tweet

So what does this “deadly work” look like?

“Let us remember: When we talk of the rending of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetic, almost pleasant; but there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experienced that veil is made of living spiritual tissue, it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole being consists, and to touch it is to touch where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die.”

Tozer concludes his chapter with this prayer, which I think is a fitting close to this post as well: “Lord, how excellent are Thy ways, and how devious and dark are the ways of man. Show us how to die, that we may rise again to newness of life.”

Book Recommendations
The Pursuit of God

The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life

Kingdom of God: Fulfillment without Consummation

Kingdom of God: Fulfillment without Consummation

Having seen the Old Testament hope we now move to the Gospels and fulfillment of that hope in Jesus.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist came preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:1-2). His message was one of immanent judgment (“the axe is already laid at the root of the trees” Mt 3:10 = Lk 3:9) which demanded an ethical response (“bear fruit in keeping with repentance” Mt 3:8 = Lk 3:8). Being a child of Abraham was of no advantage to you (Mt 3:9 = Lk 3:8). When the people asked how to escape the judgment John said that repentance, and the acts that accompany it, was necessary.

John’s message of the kingdom was also Messianic. While he was speaking the people were wondering whether he might be the one (Lk 3:15). He responded by pointing them to the Messiah: “One is coming who is mightier than I” (Lk 3:16). This Messiah would come as a judge to bring either salvation or judgment: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Lk 3:17).

Jesus

Jesus also came preaching the nearness of the Kingdom which also called for repentance (Mt 4:17, Mk 1:15) and was accompanied by healing (Mt 4:23, Mt 9:35). Jesus’ message, however, did not point to another Messiah. Jesus claimed that he himself was the one who fulfilled the Old Testament hope (Lk 4:16-20).

John the Baptist, meanwhile, had put in prison. John, who and leapt in his mother’s womb in anticipation of Jesus and who had witnessed the Spirit descending from heaven, accompanied by the voice out of heaven, now had some doubts. Upon hearing a report of what Jesus had been doing sent a question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:2) Jesus responded by pointing back to the same passage he had read in the synagogue and to the miracles which accompanied his message: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Mt 11:5).

John’s question raises an interesting question for us: What was John expecting from the Messiah? It appears, at least to some degree, that John was expecting Jesus to bring in the final judgment. That is, he probably thought the end of the age would come during his life time. He probably did not have a fully developed understanding of Jesus’ mission.

Does this cast aspersions on John’s preaching? I don’t believe it does. In fact, while Jesus did not bring about the final judgment he nevertheless inaugurated the coming of the Kingdom, as he demonstrated by giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, and proclaiming the good news (Mt 11:5).

John’s message of immanent judgment was still valid, even if it was not the final judgment. The coming of the Messiah only heightened the call for repentance. The prophets of the Old Testament had a singular hope: the God who brings salvation and judgment. The same is true for John. His hope was in the God who judges, and God had indeed visited the earth, which demanded a radical response from the people.

Awaiting Consummation

Though God had come in the person of Christ, the world did not see the ultimate consummation of the Kingdom. Jesus Himself preaching a coming Kingdom which he referred to as the “Age to Come” or the “End of the Age.” While explaining the parable of the weeds Jesus states, “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels” (Mt 13:40-41). Again, describing the parable of the net, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous” (Mt 13:49-50). Here, while Jesus is giving a parable on the kingdom, he points to a future judgment/separation that takes place at the end of the age.

Between two Ages

So here we are, between two ages. The Messiah has already come, but we are awaiting his return. How then should we live?

1)      Bear fruit it keeping with repentance. John’s warning is as valid today as it was for the people. The nearness of the kingdom demands a radical response.

2)      Submit yourself fully to God. In the story of the rich young ruler (Lk 18) Jesus placed an incredible demand on the young man – sell all that he had and give to the poor. This is not a universal command, but Jesus’ demands, and entrance into the Kingdom, requires submission to God, something which itself is only possible by a work of God (Lk 18:27).

3)      Prepare for judgment. The nearness of the Kingdom means the nearness of judgment. Even if Christ does not return in our lifetime, we will all one day face a final judgment (Heb 9:27). Preparing for judgment means humbling ourselves before God.

4)      Expect the good to grow up with the bad. Until the final judgment the weed and the wheat will grow together.

5)      Take heart that God has already fulfilled His promise of the Messiah. This gives us even more hope for Christ’s return.

Denying the cat

G.K. Chesterton (from Orthodoxy) on denying sin:

“[The ancient masters of religion] began with the fact of sin – a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no a man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. …

“The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions.

“He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.

“The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”

Incomplete Picture: Who has value?

What happens when we have an incomplete, incorrect, or inadequate understanding of the doctrine of Creation?

Let’s break down the story of Creation into a few short phrases:

  1. God created the Universe
  2. God created man and woman in His image
  3. God said that it was good

In the first two installations in this series I have dealt with #1. Denying that God created the universe leads to materialism and its associated implications. The last two will examine #3. Today, I want to examine the effects of denying #2. What happens when we deny (or just plain ignore) the reality that humans are created in God’s image?

No one, anywhere, has value, meaning, or purpose:

The most obvious and consistent consequence to a purely materialistic system is nihilism, the notion that life is without any objected meaning, purpose, or value. Nihilism may be logically consistent, but it’s not really possible to live it out.

Our value, meaning, and purpose is self-defined:

So, if we have no intrinsic value, as nihilism states, perhaps we have some kind of self-defined value. Since we are beings who actually do have value, we’ll look for it wherever we can, even if that means looking in the wrong place. Instead of saying, as the story of Creation says, that we are made in God’s image, with the value, meaning, and purpose that that entails, we look for meaning within ourselves or our subjective experiences. We attempt to answer the question – if my value doesn’t come from God, where does it come from? If we simply say, “from being human?” it just begs the question. What about being human gives value? Where does value come from? Does it come from being smart? Strong? Rich? Independent? Autonomous? Able to feel pain? Come from a “superior” race? What if someone else doesn’t fit that criteria?

Only some people have value, purpose, and meaning:

Perhaps a more insidious and subtle form of this is to believe (even subconsciously) that only some people have value and others (like the ones we don’t like or can’t see) don’t. Not really anyway. If they really did have value it would mean we would have to treat them like they have value. We don’t really want to do that, do we? But the reality is that we all do have value, meaning, and purpose.

Babies (including the unborn) have value.

Handicapped people have value.

The elderly have value.

Muslims have value.

Jews have value.

Christians have value.

Republicans have value.

Democrats have value.

Socialists have value.

Homosexuals have value.

My wealthy neighbor has value.

That impoverished child in the Third-World has value.

I have value.

You have value.

The ones that are hardest to write… Kermit Gosnell and Peter Singer have value – even though they deny it for other people.

And, this value, meaning, and purpose doesn’t come from some subjective experience, but because we are created in God’s image. He gives it to us, and that makes it all the more valuable.

Value not perfection:

Don’t misunderstand me. We have value but we aren’t perfect. In fact, we’re all deaply flawed, broken, and rebellious. If we stop at Creation and fail to consider our sin, we err. Most people are comfortable with saying we all have value, but conclude that that means we’re perfect, that we’re superstars, that all of our preferences and ideologies and behaviors are perfectly justified. But that is a discussion for another day.