The Necessity of the Local Church (or why college, et al. isn’t an excuse to skip out)

I constantly hear sentiments about not needing the local church to be a Christian. Have you heard these too? I am sure you have. Maybe you’ve even used them.

Well, a few months ago I gave a lecture at my church on this idea—the necessity of church membership. In my studies I began searching for those who were fundamentally against formal church membership/formally gathered church worship.

It wasn’t hard to find examples. At least American examples.

I found a great one in Kelly Bean. She wrote a book called “How to be a Christian without going to Church.” I have no idea who she is but her thoughts are certainly paradigmatic of our culture. We have people like Donald Miller parading around saying that we can worship God better alone in the woods without the institutional church.

But is this true? Is the institutional church necessary for Christians? Do we really need to be a member of a physical local church to be considered a Christian?

Kelly Bean opens her book by saying, “Here I am on a bright Sunday morning curled up in my cushy orange chair, sipping tea and loving Jesus. It’s been quite some time since Sunday morning meant getting the whole family spruced up for a church service.” Let me cut to the chase. Her thesis is: “The great news is that it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church but by being the church remain true to the call of Christ.”

People seem to love this organic talk. But is she right? Need I “go” to church? Need I become a member at said church? Can I sit in my millennial fashioned orange chair with my Western cup of tea and be a faithful Christian? Because, after all, I’m part of the universal church! I can be faithful without the local church. I am a member of the invisible church and the visible church is either unnecessary or so unimportant that I can survive, even thrive, without it.

Before doling out my argument, I want to look at one more example. But this one is in the opposite direction. It might even make many American Protestants squirm with its dogmatic statements. But feeling awkward tension inside is good. It means you are being stretched and having your ideas tested. And by golly, we need a lot of testing of our ideas outside this wonderful Facebook internet echo chamber each of us has created.

In Augustine’s Confessions, he answers the question of the necessity of the local church in a roundabout way. Listen as he narrates: “Simplicianus said Victorinus read holy scripture, and all the Christian books he investigated with special care. After examining he said to Simplicianus, not openly but in the privacy of friendship, ‘Did you know that I am already a Christian?’ Simplicianus replied: ‘I shall not believe that or count you among the Christians unless I see you in the Church of Christ.’ Victorinus laughed and said: ‘Then do walls make Christians?’ He used frequently to say: ‘I am a Christian already,’ and Simplicianus would give the same answer, to which he equally often repeated his joke about walls. He was afraid to offend his friends, proud devil-worshipers…. But after his reading, he began to feel a longing and drank in courage…. Suddenly and unexpectedly he said to Simplicianus: ‘Let us go to the Church, I want to become a Christian.’”

Are Augustine and Victorinus right? Need we join the walls to be made a Christian? Most Americans will scoff, like Simplicianus, at the idea. They like Kelly Bean and Donald Miller’s idea of church much better. The local church is a mere option. But I think Augustine, Victorinus, and the converted Simplicianus are right. The church is a necessity. And I intend to defend this idea.

More, I think the idea that the local church is optional is uniquely American. And evangelical. And modern. And wealthy.

I don’t see these same sentiments elsewhere.

The impoverished hunger for the Lord (see the Beatitudes).

Africans are being killed for their allegiance to the church of Christ (see the news).

Before the advent of modernity, no orthodox believer that I know of was parading around saying they could be a Christian while staying home in their orange chair on Sunday.

To be clear, I believe that the church is a gathered and marked out community. Therefore, belonging to Christ requires an institutional manifestation. The true Christian, therefore, must join a local church.[1]

Why am I such a proponent of the visible manifestation of the church in time and space? I argue so passionately because Jesus established it, authorized it, and commanded us to love it. And he continues to sustain it as he has done for thousands of years. More than that, the means of grace are linked to the physical church. To depart from the church is to lose out on joy.

Before I begin, hear a few of my friends and their thoughts:

“Saying you belong to *the* church without belonging to *a* church is like saying you’re married without having a wife.” – Thabiti Anyabwile

“He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” – Cyprian

“When you become a Christian the church is no longer “voluntary.” You obtain the husband (Jesus) and the wife (the church). When you’re adopted you will have dinner with new brothers and sisters.” – Jonathan Leeman

Now that you’ve heard from three others, I will share what I have to say. In the spirit of Threeness, I think there are three good and persuasive reasons that the local church is necessary.

Reason #1 for Necessary Church Membership: The Bible is impossible and confusing without it

Take out the mandate of church membership and you take out the lifeblood of Christianity. Take out the visible church and you take away the visible body of the church’s soul. When someone removes the necessity of the local church they are eliminating our ability to obey a myriad of commands and practices from the Bible. To put it bluntly, when we say the local church is optional, we are saying most of the biblical commands and practices are optional as well. Even more, they are impossible to obey. The commands and practices are bound up with the church. It would be like me asking you to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but taking all of the jelly and peanut butter.

Remember Kelly Bean from earlier? Maybe you’ve forgotten. She said: “The great news is that it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church but by being the church remain true to the call of Christ.” I think this statement is utter hogwash. How can you be without doing? Am I a major league baseball player if I don’t play baseball? Am I a husband if I never see or care for my wife? Am I a Walmart greeter if I never show up to Walmart or greet? Put simply, I can’t be something if I don’t also do something. How can I be a Christian without obeying as a Christian?

Don’t believe me? Let my cumulative case convince you. I’ll rifle off 10 of the best reasons the Bible is impossible to obey without church membership. Could I simplify it to 2 or 3? Maybe. But I think part of the power in my argument is the overwhelming flood of examples. Most people who think the church is optional would be able to create loopholes for 1 or 2. Maybe even 3 or 4. But 10? I think not. Well. I at least intend to convince you to think not.

And most people I know like lists. 10 reasons the Bible is impossible to obey without church membership is better than two reasons. Sounds like a great click bait title, huh? I digress…

  1. OT Membership

In order to properly understand church membership, we need to think back to the Old Testament and its own categories. The “church” membership of the OT is national and automatic via physical birth. It is citizenship in the people of God. You’re born and you’re automatically a member of Israel.

What if you want to join but aren’t born there? You can follow a process of citizenship.

Why does this matter?

It tells us that membership is a physical reality. While it may have a spiritual component, it also has a corresponding physical reality.

  1. The NT Letters

How can Paul write to the church at Rome or the church at Corinth without them being an observable body that is marked out? If the invisible church is the only reality, the letters of the New Testament have no real grounding in said reality. He should’ve written to “the invisible church at large.”

But he writes to the church at Rome. A physical place. A physical group of people. They are discernable. They are members of the First Baptist Church of Rome.

  1. Gathering as a Body (1 Corinthians 14:23; Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:42-47)

1 Corinthians 14:23 tells us that the whole church gathers. Paul says this kind of thing frequently throughout his letters. But how can you gather as a whole unit if you don’t have membership in the local church in a visible way? Are you supposed to invisibly join together at an invisible building with invisible spirits you’ve never met and will never meet? Can you watch a videotaped service where you comment back and forth with anonymous other watchers and call it “gathering?”

Hebrews 10:25 is the classic command to attend a church. Do not neglect meeting together. But, again, how can you obey this command without meeting in a physical manifestation of the local church? Further, can we truly disobey this command our entire lives and consider ourselves believers in the Lord Jesus who are obeying all that he has commanded?

Acts 2 is only possible with the visible church. It mentions Christians who devoted themselves to fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers, sharing all that they had with each other, attending the temple together, breaking bread in their homes, etc. How, I ask, can you do this without a physical church? How can you follow the example of the early church without joining an actual church? Such activities are impossible for Donald Miller types who are alone in the woods. Such activities are impossible for Kelly Bean types who are curled up in their orange chair at home by themselves. Which leads me to the same question I posed in relation to Hebrews 10: How can we call ourselves Christians and not act like the Christians of the Bible?

  1. Growing Membership (Acts 2:41)

These people are added… to the church… a visible reality for all to see. An entity that has a physical manifestation in time and space.

  1. Worshiping Membership

I first pose this question: how can you worship without the body on the Lord’s Day? The Bible is full of reverence for the OT Sabbath and the NT Sabbath, which I believe requires assembling for public worship… which obviously cannot be done from your living room or computer. (Sorry cool church people with your internet “church.”)

My point is this: If you don’t gather to worship in a physical place, you can’t follow the pattern of the New Testament Christians who gathered in a public physical place to worship. Therefore, not only are you not observing the Lord’s Day but you aren’t worshiping.

Let me go a little deeper.

Without giving a full orbed explanation of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath, I will pose a few questions and then assume agreement. First, do you believe that one of the Ten Commandments was wholly revoked and done away with (Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy)? Even as it is fulfilled in Christ, it certainly is a manifestation of the character of God and continues to have importance, right? Besides, the Sabbath was instituted in creation itself, before the Covenant with Moses. God rested on the seventh day. Seems like that would be a pattern for all of creation. Even in Exodus 20 it is said that God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy because of his pattern in creation. Second, 1 Corinthians 16:2 says that the churches are to gather their giving on the first day of every week (a.k.a. Sunday). Revelation 1:10 says that John was caught up in the Spirit “on the Lord’s Day.” So, I ask this: how can there be an assumed reality such as the “Lord’s Day” without any explanation of the concept? How can John throw out this term and not give us any clarification as to what it is? Reason: because the Sabbath is assumed. Christ does transform it. But it is not unrecognizable. John doesn’t need to drop what he is doing and explain the concept of the Lord’s Day because it is already present in the minds of all of the Christians. Duh. I take one day a week and dedicate it to the Lord. That’s what God has been calling his people to do for centuries. Why would that change?

That long winded excurses for this reason: The Lord’s Day matters. It can’t be rightfully observed without gathering as a public entity to proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection. Sipping tea in your house by yourself cannot fulfill the glory of the day.

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 speaks to this matter of public worship. It says: “Those thus called, he commands to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requires of them in the world.”

The Second London believes that the command to walk together in real life local church is partly required in order to worship. We can’t practice public worship without a physical church. And we can’t observe the Lord’s Day without public worship.

Let’s take a test case. How do I worship through singing with my brothers and sisters in Christ without the local church? Colossians 3:16 commands me to teach and admonish others through singing. How can I do this without public worship in a real church?

I can’t. That’s why it’s necessary.

  1. Reducing Membership (1 Corinthians 5)

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul speaks of insiders and outsiders. Removing the erring “member” from their group. But how can you have the ability to remove someone from inside if there is no formal membership? No formal and visible local church with guidelines for what constitutes a true member? Hint: You can’t.

  1. Electing Officers (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1)

Quite simply, how can you obey the commands to elect officers without having a local expression of the church? And how can you know who gets to be privy to this election without a church membership?

Must we simply suppress 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Must we think God gave these commands as superfluous because we do not need a local church? Or are we to vaguely be members of the universal church and follow whoever the loudest and most popular voice is? Look for the platform?

  1. Shepherding Members (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:17)

Building on the officers question… imagine you somehow have church leaders without the visible church. Who do they shepherd in this invisible church? How can they know who to shepherd without membership? Without a real church in time and space and formal membership, obedience to these commands is all but impossible. It is a nice fairy tale.

It is like me giving you a list of anonymous authors and telling you to be their writing mentor and you will be held accountable for how your particular mentee progresses. I wish you luck in your endeavor.

  1. Partaking of the Sacraments

How can we benefit from Baptism and the Lord’s Supper without the local church in time and space? How can we benefit from their empowering grace without the means to partake of them?

We can’t. It is impossible to truly take the Supper without the members of the church. 1 Corinthians 11 is clear. The ordinance is only to be taken when the whole church is gathered. Not fragments. If all we have is the universal invisible church, then we really need to institute a yearly pilgrimage in order to allow us to take communion.

As far as baptism goes, it is certainly impossible to baptize yourself. I don’t know anyone who has tried that. And who has the authority to baptize you apart from the local church? Can I ask my neighbor?

  1. Submitting Members (Hebrews 13:17)

Similar to the shepherding question, how can you as a Christian obey Hebrews 13:17 without being a member of a real church? How could you do this if you simply follow Donald Miller into the woods and make that your “church?” Do you submit to the trees? Or some really vague internal feeling? Are you simultaneously elder, deacon, and member?

And who do these leaders give account for without church membership and the local church? Do they give account for every Christian in existence? Every Christian who is a member of the invisible church? Seems a tall order. If so, I think I will politely decline pursuing church leadership. And I would advise everyone else to do the same.

Reason #2 for Necessary Church Membership: Jesus established it and requires it

Now for the nitty gritty. If I’ve convinced you this far that the Bible is impossible without the visible church, I now want to convince you of the bigger theological reasoning. Or in smaller words: the foundation. I think Jesus establishes the church and promises to sustain it. Let’s dig in.

  1. Affirming True Confessions of Confessors (Matthew 16:13-20)

Building the Church on the Rock

*A warning in advance is proper. I ripped off a lot of my ideas for this particular section from 9marks. Especially Jonathan Leeman. I’ve adjusted it at points and repackaged it, but a lot is from him. My wife also has been tremendously helpful in thinking through the nature of the rock in Matthew 16.*

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

This portion of Scripture was always really confusing to me as a kid. I thought it was part of the Catholic Bible or something. Doesn’t this mean Peter is the Pope? Not quite… but this passage is gargantuan for our understanding of the church—especially its visible manifestation.

Jesus will build his church. That much is sure. But on what? What is this “rock?”

Is it on the confessor (Peter)? Is it on Peter’s confession (You are the Christ)? What is it?

I think we need to make sure to attend to the context. Jesus has just given a beautiful Trinitarian explanation for this correct confession. The Father revealed the truth of the Son through the Spirit to Peter.

This, therefore, is the rock.

God.

If we know our rocks in the Bible, we know the rock is Christ.

It echoes Matthew 7:24 and the wise man building his house on the rock of Christ’s words.

It is like the rock of Romans 9:33, causing stumbling, which is Christ.

It is like the spiritual rock of the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:4, which is Christ.

The church is built not on words and not on people but on Christ. He is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). It is the Trinitarian rock that builds his church on himself by revealing himself to true confessors to give right confessions of who this rock is.

He is not Elijah or John the Baptist but the living Christ. And only through the work of the Holy Trinity is this revealed.

This leads us to the second part of the text…

The Keys of the Kingdom

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now we get to the fun part. The church is built on the rock that is Christ. Cool. What does that mean for church membership? It means that Jesus established a real entity in time and space that is to have an actual authority to bind and loose on earth, in the physical reality of this world, what is true in the spiritual reality of heaven.

This is big time stuff.

Jesus gives the power of the keys.

What is the power and what are the keys? And who does he give them to?

The power of the keys is to bind and loose. It is the authority to make a public recognition of the citizens of the church. On earth and in heaven. A public declaration of the forgiven citizens of heaven. The keys are given to the church—the official representative for affirming true gospel confessions and confessors. The church will affirm the truth of the confession “You are the Christ!”

1 Timothy 3:15 concurs. The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth. It is the church who guards the good deposit and affirms true gospel confessions and confessors. The what and who of the gospel. Which is built on the rock of Christ.

Jesus establishes the church to be a public, earthly (and heavenly) institution that marks out, affirms, and oversees those who profess to believe in him. Therefore, the church is established for the purpose of publically declaring those who are followers of Jesus in order to give the world a display of the truth about him.

Jesus intends his church to proclaim to a watching world who belongs to him and who doesn’t. For those who intend to reject this physical church in time and space, claiming privilege to the universal or invisible church, they reject the very plan of Jesus which began to take shape here in Matthew 16. His creation of the church is meant to be a marked out people that gathers together. A visible and public group that images him.

Jonathan Leeman says it well: “The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”

Historic Baptists agree. The Second London Confession of Faith says: “To each of these churches thus gathered, according to his mind declared in his word, he hath given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power.”

Authority has been given to the church by Jesus. And this is a physical reality in time and space realized in the local church. Christians are to become members of these local bodies and so fulfill his plan of the church. But in the churches authority, more than merely declaring who is a citizen of the kingdom, they also provide spiritual care and oversight. Therefore, membership is both about declaring and caring.

  1. Disciplining False Confessors (Matthew 18:15-20)

Matthew 18 gives us further clarity on binding and loosing and who has the authority. In order for us to understand chapter 16 rightly, we must know chapter 18. They are to be read together and interpret each other.

First, who has the authority? The church. Matthew 18:17 commands us to bring unrepentant sinners before the church who will finally excommunicate them if unrepentance continues.

Not the church leaders.

Not the Pope.

The church.

Second, after explaining church discipline and excommunicating the false confessors of Christ, Jesus explains that such discipline is binding and loosing. The practice of church discipline is exercising the keys of the kingdom to bind and loose. To define who is inside the community and represents the king. Therefore, this earthly institution of the church has the responsibility to mark out all who follow Christ, to affirm or reject their confession, and to oversee their confession throughout their life.

  1. Defining the Church

Now let’s put these two puzzle pieces together. What is Jesus telling us?

At its core, church means assembly. A gathering of people.

Before attaching any other meaning to the church, an assembly of people must be seen as foundational.

Therefore, no person should claim to be a member of the universal church if they do not regularly assemble as the church. How can you make sense of the Christian life without actually doing the fundamental reality of the church? Gathering?

Watching something online is not assembling in one place at one time like the church. It requires being physically present in time and space at an appointed location with other gospel confessors.

A deeper definition could be as follows: The Church is a gathered institution having government, officers, members, discipline, doctrine, and sacraments.

Said differently, the Church is a gathering of members governed by officers, both of whom regularly worship, partake of the sacraments, and practice discipline.

Jonathan Leeman says it this way: “a local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christs name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.”

What does this mean? It means what I presented in the first reason with 10 reasons inside itself: The Bible requires a corporate and public reality of the church. We need our fellow saints in real life.

Now, I know it’s a bit theological and technical to wade (briefly!!) into the pool of anthropology here… but I think this theological datum is important.

Most everyone can agree that people are made up of two main parts: the material and immaterial. However you break that up is not important. The importance is this: there is a physical substance and non-physical substance.

If you were to remove one of them, the person would no longer be a full person but part of a person.

Let me apply this to the church: Jesus gives spiritual and physical substance in the church. Like our being as soul and body. Immaterial and material. There is a deep disunity and incompleteness if one is missing. When we become Christians we are united to Christ immaterially as members of the universal church. BUT we also are given a material and corresponding reality: the local church.

Those who refuse the material church are out of step with the gift that God has given them. Both immaterial and material. Soul and body.

Reason #3 for Necessary Church Membership: The Means of Grace are bound to the local Church

Finally! My last reason. And this should be short (I hear the collective sigh of relief!).

I believe God has ordained particularly means by which he gives grace to his people. These means are providentially attached to the church. To depart from the church is to depart from the means.

This means that if you want the most grace. The most joy. You have to be a member of a real local church in time and space.

But what do you mean by means of grace? I am confused, you say?

The Baptist Catechism, patterned after the Westminster Catechism says it as follows:

Q 95: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:5; Acts 14:1; 2:41,42).

The Second London Confession agrees in 14.1 when it says: The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.

God has appointed things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper to encourage our faith in him. To strengthen us along our path. We can only obtain these in a physical church. To neglect the visible church is to neglect the means of the Christian life!

John Calvin says: Believers have no greater help than public worship, for by it God raises his own folk upward step by step.

Who wants to survive without the main gifts Christ has given to his church?

And truly, who can survive without the gifts of Christ to his church? Deuteronomy 8:3 teaches us that we live not by bread alone but by the true bread of Christ. If the church is the central location of giving the bread… how can we survive without it? Some who are richly fed may last for a month, maybe even two, but years? Decades? Without food, we die. Without the church, we die.

So, after all of this… Is the institutional church really all that necessary for Christians? Do we really need to be a member of a physical local church to be considered a Christian?

Yes.

You can’t make sense of the Bible, much less obey it, without it.

You can’t agree with the definition and calling set out by Jesus without it.

You can’t enjoy the means of grace tied to it without it.

What good reason would there be to depart from the call of Christ to join a local church? I could throw out 25 different ones I’ve heard but none stand up to the truth of Scripture.

So go join a church if you haven’t! Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But this is where God is doing his work and showing forth his glory (Ephesians 3:10). I want in on that.

[1]I need to give two quick caveats to my thesis here. First: Yes. I am defending the necessity of local church membership for the Christian. However, this does not mean that God cannot work outside of its walls. God can do whatever he wants. But he has made plain that he wants to work through the church. And I am trying to be polemical in this piece. I’m not trying to win friends and influence people. I am trying to convince you to become obedient to the Lord Jesus for his glory and your good. Hear Herman Bavinck when he says: “And it is really a Reformed doctrine that, though God ordinarily grants the benefits of Christ by means of Word and sacraments, he is not bound to this method and, be it very rarely, also grants salvation outside the institution of the church.” Second: I will use terminology like church membership, the visible church, the institutional church, and the local church in synonymous fashions. My arguments for church membership are the same as my arguments for the visible or local church.

Some Thoughts on Baptism from Westminster and London

Forewarning: This post will be long. Nearly 8,000 words. Google tells me this is 33 pages in Times New Roman double-spaced research paper style. But what else did you expect by coming to my blog?

Confession: I am a confessional Reformed Baptist. Therefore, my thoughts will come from that angle. But what does that even mean? Well. First, I am confessional in that I prefer to let the confession of faith be the guide for doctrine to some degree. I am Reformed and most all that goes with it. What does that mean? Well… start by reading the Reformers and Puritans, the five solas, and the canons of Dort for an idea on this. Third, I am Baptist which primarily expresses itself in regenerate church membership. Despite my position, I have more in common with most conservative Presbyterian churches than I do with Baptist churches. So, despite my coming critique, I find them to be valuable members of the Kingdom!

Purpose: I intend to make the case for covenantal confessor Baptism. Covenantal meaning the referent of Baptism is the covenant of grace and confessor meaning the lawful subjects of baptism are confessors alone. Therefore, I will be refuting common Baptist arguments and assumptions while also refuting Presbyterian and Reformed assumptions. This means Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox practice will not be a subject for me here. I hear the collective gasp of sadness. It’s that audible. I apologize.

Thesis: Baptism is fundamentally a sign of the work of God. It is a sign of the Word and the Spirit. The baptism Christ underwent of death and resurrection (Mark 10:39) and the baptism of the Spirit which is regeneration (1 Cor. 12:13). In simple terms, it is about union with God. God makes a promise and portrays it in Baptism—we believe the promise in Baptism. The faith of the believer is not the primary referent in Baptism but a confession of faith is a prerequisite for proper subjects of Baptism.

Method: I intend to compare the confessional positions of historic Presbyterianism and historic Baptist belief. I am thus ignoring Lutheran, Catholic, etc. And I do not intend to answer all questions. After comparing, I will make use of the three most pertinent texts on the issue in my opinion followed by addressing the many of the most persuasive arguments and questions in no particular order.

Reminder: The Second London Confession is based on the Westminster Confession. So, when they look similar, it’s on purpose. When they differ, it’s on purpose.

 

PART 1: The most important sections to compare are the following:

Covenant: The key difference between the Baptist and Presbyterian understanding of covenant is encapsulated in the words: Revealed vs. Administered.

The Baptist’s understand the Covenant of Grace (the New Covenant only in their view) to be actualized with the coming of Christ and not before. So, they fundamentally see two major epochs. First, the covenant of works in the OT (Adam and then the Mosaic). Second, the covenant of grace (Christ) in the NT which is actualized (where it was only foreshadowed and revealed in the OT).

The Presbyterians, on the other hand, see one covenant of grace under two differing outward administrations. Thus, post-Genesis 3:15, all covenants are grace and are simply administered in differing outward ways.

The understanding of the covenant of grace is what drives the entire discussion on baptism and who receives the sign. If you follow the Baptist understanding—that the covenant of grace is only promised in the OT and then finally instituted in the NT—then the OT is not *necessarily* determinative for covenant membership. If you follow the Presbyterian understanding—that the covenant of grace is substantially in both the OT and NT, only administered differently—then the OT is strongly *determinative* for covenant membership. So, for the Presbyterian, the OT promise to you and your children is still active in the NT because nothing has substantially changed.

Second London Westminster
Covenant 7.3: This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. 7.5: This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,[ by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

 

Mediator: The reason for noting the section on Christ as mediator side-by-side is to show the inconsistency of the Presbyterian scheme. Both London and Westminster see the role of mediator as the same. The covenant of Christ is with the elect alone—the members of the invisible church. Yet, the Presbyterians see the expression of the covenant as mixed in the visible church. They believe that some can rightly continue as members of the external visible church—considering them members of the covenant of grace and affirming them as members of the local expression of the church—despite not being regenerate.

The question is not if both accidently admit false believers into the external expression of the local church but if they are willingly admitted. The Baptist’s attempt to prevent false believers from the local expression while Presbyterian’s accept them as long as they are physically born of a believer.

Why is this a problem? It is inconsistent to say Christ mediates the covenant perfectly with the elect alone and then turn around and say children of believers (whether regenerate or not) are members of the local church and covenant of grace. If it sounds confusing for the Presbyterian to admit that the covenant is with the elect alone and yet say the covenant is with the elect and their children (some of whom are not elect) it is because it is confusing.

Second London Westminster
Mediator 8.1, 6: It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

 

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.

8.1, 6: It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

 

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

 

Calling: Noting this section on calling is important to show that both the Baptists and Presbyterians understand the means of salvation to be the same across redemptive history. God does not change means. He saves by his Word and Spirit at all times—in the Old and New. A second important point is that both understand elect infants as regenerated.

Why are these two factors important? 1) Some who refute infant baptism refute it on grounds that believers were saved differently between the OT and NT or that the Spirit somehow worked differently. This is shown to be patently false according to both Baptists and Presbyterians. 2) Presbyterians often found some of their doctrine for infant baptism on the fact that some infants are regenerated and thus could technically receive the sign properly. Yet. Baptists agree that infants can be regenerated. So, there is a disconnect in the argument for Presbyterians. Those who use this argument assume that the belief in infants as regenerate precludes their conclusion. But the Baptist confession agrees.

Second London Westminster
Calling 10.1, 3: Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

 

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.

10.1, 3: All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace

 

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word

 

Worship: Why mention worship? Because both have the same view. It is regulated by the revealed command of God.

Yet. Presbyterians willingly admit that baptism of infants is absent from the NT. It is an inference and necessary consequence from the OT practice of circumcision. But such a theological argument requires one to break with the regulative principle of worship. The Presbyterian must either disagree with their confessional position on worship or on their position of Baptism. They cannot have both.

Second London Westminster
Worship 22.1: The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. 21.1: The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

 

Sacrament: The section on the Sacraments/Ordinances is mentioned mostly because the Baptists appear to have ignored it for the most part. Their description is quite bare.

Why? I don’t really know. But I think this is an unfortunate move by the Baptists that has been the reason for much of the confusion between the two groups. Presbyterians win over many Baptists simply because they have a far more robust definition of Baptism.

Second London Westminster
Sacrament 28.1: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. 27.1-2: Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

 

Baptism: Here we find the major section under dispute. Baptism itself. Both agree that baptism is about ingrafting into Christ, remission of sins, newness of life. Both agree that it is a sign. The Baptists say it is a sign of fellowship in Christ’s work. The Presbyterians say it is a sign AND seal of the covenant of grace.

The difference here is significant in that the Baptists lack the word “seal” and they are further specific on the details of the covenant of grace—it is the work of Christ—before him, the covenant of grace was only promised. A further difference is that the Baptists do not mention Baptism relating to regeneration, which is curious. Finally, they disagree fundamentally on the parties.

So, what does this mean? It means, first, that they fundamentally agree on the nature of Baptism—so the dispute for parties must be found elsewhere (the nature of the New Covenant). It also means that the Baptists think Baptism is only a sign and NOT a seal (they think the Holy Spirit is the seal).

Second London Westminster
Baptism 29.1-2: Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

28.1, 4: Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

 

Gospel: This is an important section for the Baptists (obvi since the Presbys don’t have it) to explain the role of the covenant of works and covenant of grace. I add it to explain further the Baptist position.

Second London Westminster
Gospel 20.1: The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.

 

PART 2:

  • Galatians 4:21-31: I think this is the make or break text, right here. Galatians 4:24 tells us: “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants…” He goes on to say that Hagar is Mount Sinai and the Old Covenant of Works while Sarah is Jerusalem and the Covenant of Promise.

So, Paul understands there to be two fundamentally differing covenants. Hagar and Sarah.

He does not say: One covenant differently administered in the Old and then the New. He says: *two covenants.*

Now that Christ has officially come, the time of the covenant of works has expired since he has fulfilled it and inaugurated the covenant of promise—the covenant of grace—the new covenant. This means that the covenantal system that the Presbyterians rely on to ground the baptism of infants is false because it has been done away with. They are fusing the covenant of works and the covenant of grace together where Paul keeps them separate. As we saw before, Baptists and Presbyterians agree on the definition of Baptism but disagree on the parties due to their understanding of the covenants. Here, we have a straightforward teaching that the Presbyterian system of ONE covenant is patently false. It is hard for me to consider how you can avoid this conclusion.

  • John 4:1-2: Why is this text important? Well. It is massively important for one main reason.

It shows that Jesus was baptizing more “disciples.” Not disciples and their family members but disciples alone. Disciples in John are those who have committed to following Jesus (John 8:31; 15:8). No one else.

It appears that the practice of Jesus (who is connected to the baptism and practice of John which many Presbyterians attempt to deny) is to baptize believers/disciples/confessors alone.

  • 1 Peter 3:21: This may be the nearest textbook “definition” of Baptism we find in the NT.

Peter says Baptism is like Noah and the flood. God saved Noah and his family in the ark through the water. So, Peter says Baptism is similar. Jesus saves us in his resurrection through the water.

The water event is the picture of salvation.

The physical wetness gives us a real empirical glimpse into the spiritual reality. Your senses are overwhelmed with the insensible reality.

Thus, water baptism in the New Covenant is to picture the salvation that Christ brings through his resurrection.

But it saves not as a special removal of dirt (a la Roman Catholicism and the like) but saves as a type of confession. This tells us that Baptism corresponds to a confession. Which I believe means that only those who can make such a confession are proper subjects of the rite. Doesn’t this correspond to the pattern of Acts, as well? Acts 2:41 tells us that as many as “received the word” were Baptized. Not as many as received and their households, but those who believed and made confession.

This does not mean I boil regeneration and faith down to a cognitive only understanding of Christ. But it does mean that the proper subject of the rite is the confessor. It is true that some will be in the New Heavens and New Earth who were never baptized because they did not have the physical capacity for confession. But the same people will lack the Lord’s Supper due to the same deficiency. While it is a tension, I do not see warrant for bending it. I must only work from the revealed premises of God. And he has given me no warrant for baptizing those without a confession.

 

PART 3:

Infant Regeneration: Presbyterians rely heavily on this to support their argument for infant baptism (as noted earlier in part 1). Psalm 22:9 tells us “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.” Luke 1:15 tells us of John the Baptist “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” and later tells us in 1:41 that John as a baby leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when he was near the infant in womb Jesus.

Now, according to the confessions above, Baptists and Presbyterians agree on this. Elect infants can be regenerated whenever the Spirit of God desires. This is obviously not the normal circumstance, but both confessions make provisions for this reality. Therefore, it seems odd that the Presbyterians use this as their grounds when the Baptists also affirm.

Why bring this up? To show that simply proving the regeneration of infants does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they should be baptized.

Regeneration: It is the same in the OT and NT. The confessions, here, agree (as noted above). But many Baptists seem to botch this by saying that God saves differently in the OT than NT. They say the Spirit did not indwell in the OT. But how were OT saints saved? The only answer I can conjure is that the Spirit worked in the same way. Psalm 40:8; 119:11; Isaiah 51:7; Deut. 10:6; 30:6 all teach us. Circumcision of the heart. Baptism of the Spirit. Both refer to the truth of regeneration which is the same across redemptive history.

The quibbling with this comes from texts like John 7:39. The idea that the Spirit had not yet come. But we all agree the Spirit had come and worked before Pentecost… so what exactly did change? Access. We now have greater and new access to God. No longer must we go to a temple. No longer must we stay outside the holy of holies. More on this when we touch on Hebrews 8.

Circumcision –> Baptism: One major argument for the Presbyterians is the linking of circumcision and Baptism. They say that Baptism replaces circumcision. I am okay with this to some degree. Colossians 2:11-12 appears to witness to it. The problem, as I see it, is that when they say circumcision is the same as baptism. This, I am not okay with. One only has to note that water baptism is not physical circumcision. They cannot be 100% the same by simple empirical observance.

This is what causes a breach in our understanding of the proper subjects of Baptism.

I think, while Baptism signifies the same reality as circumcision, it is the greater sign and is assigned only to confessors in the NT. Baptism is a fuller sign than circumcision. It is more robust. Paul Jewett, in his seminal work on Baptism likens Baptism and Circumcision to two circles. Baptism is the inner circle and the outer one is Circumcision. Therefore, Baptism, while being the same is also different. It is analogous but not identical. Hence, the New Covenant and not the Old.

Holy but not regenerated: What about 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 and Hebrews 10:29? These are two of the main fortresses of the Presbyterian kingdom.

1 Corinthians 7 tells us that if a believing spouse has an unbelieving spouse that they are not to divorce them, because the believing spouse makes the unbelieving spouse, along with the children, holy. Presbyterians tell us that this means they are baptized. What else would holy but not saved mean at this juncture?

I believe there is an answer to this. And I also believe there is a problem with the overall argument.

First, the point is about being clean or unclean. Think about the OT categories. And Paul is finishing his discussion on who can divorce. Therefore, Paul is explaining that simply because you are married to an unbeliever does not give you warrant for divorce. The unbelieving spouse will not make you unclean despite the Israelite practice. This does not relate to baptism.

Second, think about the implications for the Presbyterian argument. If the believing spouse makes the unbelieving spouse holy, the unbelieving spouse should be baptized. Despite their refusal to proselytize to Christianity. Further, what about grandparents and grandchildren? Why not baptize children based on the faith of grandparents or of great grandparents? If Paul is referencing Genesis 17 and the perpetual command to circumcise, it is only right to be *fully* continuous and allow children to be baptized based on ancestors faith as well.

You simply can’t argue based on continuity and not be fully continuous. It is inconsistent at best. The Presbyterian must explain why the genealogical principle of Abraham is suddenly smaller in the NT where only children of believing parents can be baptized. This is why terrible ideas like the Half-Way Covenant have materialized in later church history.

It is Hebrews 10:29 which is the most challenging. It speaks of a person who has “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified…”

The importance of this is having a category for a person who can profane the blood by rejecting Christ and yet be sanctified by this blood in some sense. This is no problem for the Arminian or the Presbyterian. The Arminian simply tells us we can spurn his blood and lose our salvation. The Presbyterian tells us Baptism of infants makes them holy in some way and members of the covenant in some way. So when they are not regenerate and reject Christ later in life, while never losing their salvation because they never had it, they can be considered sanctified by the covenant.

Well then. How does the Reformed Baptist respond to this? He holds to a definite atonement and perseverance of the saints, so he cannot follow the Arminian. But he refuses to allow for the baptism of infants that makes them holy and members of the covenant of grace.

Two options.

First: The Greek. The Second London followers of this day usually note that “sanctified” actually modifies the word covenant and not the one doing the spurning of the son. If so, the problem vanishes.

Second: Tom Schreiner and his understanding of the warning passages in Hebrews. His basic argument is that the warnings in Hebrews are true (as an Arminian would believe)… BUT… that no one ever actually is disciplined finally by those warnings since they are fully effective means at keeping believers.

Presumptive Regeneration: Many Presbyterians (not all, or maybe even most depending on who you ask) believe in presumptive regeneration meaning they assume their children are Christians unless proven otherwise. This seems dangerous to me in light of Ephesians 2:1-3 which does not say all were dead in sin except those born into believing households.

Acts 2:39: Here we find another major text that Presbyterians build their understanding on. Acts 2:39 echoes the Abrahamic Covenant. But a problem arises when Peter adds multiple parties not present in the promise to Abraham and his children. Peter appears to be making a statement of universal access which the Abrahamic foreshadowed rather than intentional retrieval of the genealogical principle alone.

What is a closer referent in Peter’s mind could also be Matthew 27:25. It is just as likely that he is extending the promise to their children to remind them that despite their claim that they desired guilt for themselves and their progeny that the promise was for all of them.

Matthew 19 and Children: Here we find Jesus rebuking his disciples for refusing children. Luke 18 says that infants came too. Jesus, even more, says that the kingdom belongs to them. Further, if membership in the kingdom is membership in the church (how could you be a member of one and not the other?), how can you deny that infants should be baptized and considered members of the church?

Great questions. A few responses.

First, for sake of argument, let us grant the premise of the Presbyterian.

Presbyterian Premise 1: Infants are members of the Kingdom per Matthew 19:14

Presbyterian Premise 2: The Church = the Kingdom

Presbyterian Conclusion 1: Infants are members of the church. Thus, infant baptism.

While, that may follow. Let’s look at the Baptist argument.

Baptist Premise 1: The Kingdom is made of believers alone per Matthew 19:24 (cf. 5:20; 7:21; 13:11, 19; 38, 41; 21:43)

Baptist Premise 2: The Church = the Kingdom

Baptist Conclusion 1: Believers alone are members of the church. Thus credo baptism.

Do you see the difference? It resides in premise 1 of each argument. I argue that Presbyterian premise 1 is wrong next. Don’t get too excited. And if Baptist premise 1 is true, their biblical reasoning appears unassailable.

Second, Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to people “such as these.” The Kingdom is not irreversibly tied to children. To follow the Presbyterian logic would mean all children without distinction in the world are members of the kingdom… No one will follow the logic that far, though. Remaining even more literal would require that once children became adults, the kingdom no longer belonged to them.

Third, Jesus does not proceed to baptize the children. I think this is the most important point. If the practice of the disciples was to baptize infants (since they were already practicing baptism in John 4:1-2), why would they forbid them from coming to Jesus since they already knew they needed it? And if Jesus practiced it, why wouldn’t he mention it or do it?

The Presbyterian rebuts by saying Jesus assumed his Hebrew worldview. In that worldview, all would know children deserved the sign.

Yet the silence for this remains deafening.

A further point at this juncture is necessary. I do believe that Matthew 19 provides warrant for the Baptist practice of infant dedication. Jesus blesses these children. What exactly that means, I do not know. It is not Baptism but it is something worthy of repeating if Jesus practiced it. So, my Baptist friends, dedicate away! And let our Presbyterian brothers continue in their wet infant dedications. And, finally, church: pray for and instruct these children.

Matthew 3:13-17: The Baptism of Jesus is a major problem for the Baptist who says Baptism only refers to the repentance of a believer because Jesus never needed to repent. What was his baptism about?

It is a baptism of anointing for the ministry of the New Covenant. Entrance into it. Presbyterians rejoice with this definition and use it to include infants since repentance is not necessary for this baptism.

But the Second London Baptist agrees! Baptism is a sign of God’s promise. But that need not mean infants are now required to receive the sign.

More, the baptism of Jesus shows the open heaven of justification, the descent of the Spirit, and the declaration of loving sonship—items given at our baptism but only linked to believers in the New Testament.

Matthew 13 and Mixed Community: An oft heard argument in favor of paedobaptism (baptism of infants) is the nature of the church. The Presbyterian argues that because the visible church is a mixed community (Matthew 13:24-30) and the sorting does not occur until the final judgment, the Baptist argument for regenerate church membership does not follow.

But the Baptist also maintains a mixed community to a degree. The Baptist also baptizes those who are not truly regenerate. And the Baptist also does not seek to peer into the heart but bases their baptism on outward profession/fruit. On confession. Thus, the Baptist says to let the child come who professes. And while the church will remain mixed to an extent, it is to be purer than the Old.

Exodus 12 and the Passover: Here Moses commands “all the congregation of Israel” and mentions in verses 26-27 that parents are to teach their children this practice. Why is this a big deal? Because if the Passover à the Lord’s Supper… and we maintain the principle of continuity unless abrogated… all children whose parents are members of the church must partake of the Lord’s Supper regardless of age and regardless of salvific status. Granted some may quibble over the mention of “when the children ask” in this text but… the only consistent paedobaptist is a paedocommunion follower. The sacraments go together. To split them is to misunderstand them. You can’t be eligible for one and not the other. More so, to allow baptism but refuse communion is to create an incomplete baptism in needs of a mythical confirmation that correlates to credobaptism.

The Seal of the NT: What is the sign and seal of the NT? The OT sign and seal, according to Romans 4:11 is circumcision. It is a sign and seal of righteousness by faith. But in the NT, the outward/external washing of baptism is only a sign and not a seal—the Spirit’s internal baptism is the seal. See 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30.

History: It is a strong argument that the Presbyterian makes from church history. The majority of the church has baptized their infants. Why would God allow one of the main sacraments of the church to go so corrupted for so many years?

But the early church appears mixed on this. Justin Martyr nods in his First Apology Section 61 toward confessor baptism.

And the late patristic and medieval and renaissance practice was mostly infant baptism because it brought salvation. So, even then the Presbyterian leaves the historical teaching of the church. Also, the Supper was corrupted for many years and yet this is not grounds to understand it differently.

Baptism Meaning for Adults vs. Infants: The Presbyterian must admit to having two different understandings of Baptism. One for the children of believers and one for the proselyte. The Baptism of the proselyte is a referent of his faith and his profession in the Presbyterian scheme. But if they say Baptism is only a promise of God’s work and that is why the Baptist argument is incoherent… well… I think you see where I am going.

Both the London and Westminster confessions define the nature of Baptism the same. So, if proselyte Baptism must be based on confession for the Presbyterian scheme, their charge that the definition of Baptism allows for infants to be Baptized is not exactly logical gold.

Less Gracious Lord’s Supper: A common argument against Baptists is that they make the New Covenant sacrament of Baptism LESS gracious than the Old sacrament of circumcision.

How can the new and greater covenant be less gracious? Well. It is nearly universally agreed upon that the Supper is more restrictive in the NT than the Passover was in the OT. Does this not debunk the common argument for infant baptism that to block such a practice is less gracious?

The Supper is less gracious in such an argument! But none make this argument.

Granted this is not a problem for those who practice paedocommunion. Good on them for consistency.

But my question back to the one giving communion to their children would be: “Is not the new and greater covenant more pure?”

Acts 21:17-25: Why is this text important? Because here we find Paul and the Church allowing circumcision to continue. But wouldn’t that be extremely confusing? To allow the OT sign of circumcision to continue alongside the NT sign of Baptism? It seems Paul and the Church would have been very quick to explain that Baptism simply replaced Circumcision so to not worry about it.

Household Servants: The household baptism texts tell us the entire household was baptized. Baptists rejoice and say all the house believed and was baptized. Presbyterians rejoice and say some believed and some were too young but were baptized anyway. But what about the slaves of the household? The Presbyterian must say they were baptized under their argument. If so… would that mean slaves should be baptized if their master was a believer today? Are they willing to follow the logic? Some may. Some may not.

Apostate Israel: It is important to note texts like Joshua 5. All had the right of circumcision. Not just those who had believing parents. But all physical descendants. This reminds of a previous argument. If we baptize based on physical descent, belief no longer can be the rightful grounds. We then cannot baptize only children of believers but grandchildren of believers and great grand children, etc.

Galatians 3:16: Here we see that Paul understands the everlasting promise of Genesis 17:7 to refer not to every single physical descendent of Abraham.

None can be members of both covenants from Galatians 4. You are either Hagar or Sarah, Adam or Christ. The promise was never univocally to include all physical offspring. God can raise up physical children from stones.

Therefore, to baptize an infant who is unregenerate is to attempt to place them in two covenants simultaneously. Logic forbids this. As does Paul.

Nineveh and Circumcision: Jonah 3 tells us that Nineveh repented… but they are not circumcised despite their conversion. Melchizedek also is uncircumcised. This is because circumcision is a sign and seal of the land of Canaan. It is a physical promise of the physical covenant with Hagar.

Therefore, to base ones argument for Baptism on the practice of Circumcision is to look to Moses and Adam to find the grace that is only in Christ and his infallible new covenant.

Ezekiel 44:9: Purity is the coming reality of the New Covenant. The mixed church is becoming less mixed. The church is being purified. Romans 2:25-29… the reality is coming true. Hence, regenerate church membership is not some form of over-realized eschatology.

Re-baptism: Should we re-baptize? Presbyterians say no—the referent of baptism is the promise of God. Baptists generally say yes. Infant baptism is just a nice bath and not truly baptism.

But the disciples never were re-baptized… John’s baptism that prefigured Christian baptism is counted. Granted it was still confessional baptism.

What do we do?

There appear to be two opposing views here:

First: Ex opera operawtis = The legitimacy of the baptism is based on the character of the one giving the ordinance or receiving it

Second: Ex opera operato = The legitimacy of the baptism is based upon the doing of the ordinance

Baptists seem to follow the first and Presbyterians the second. The sacrament is only effective if the receiver is worthy or it is always effective no matter the receiver.

What really makes Baptism effective? The act or the act+recipient.

If we take the Lord’s Supper as an example/test-case, we know that the condition of the receiver matters. While my Reformed hermeneutic meter doesn’t exactly like the idea of ex opera operato, I think that is probably the biblical understanding of Baptism despite its chief meaning not being the participant.

Baptism simply cant be “Baptism” without particular factors at play. “Baptizing” a Mormon or Islamic adherent into the New Covenant promise does not mean the Christian Baptism is valid. There must be certain factors in view. What makes the rite the rite? Such Mormon or Muslim baptism is rejected. But baptism by a Baptist pastor who later becomes Mormon is accepted? The rite is only truly the rite in particular contexts. More to be said here…

For instance, something to be considered when it comes to “re-baptism” is those who are baptized after a profession of faith—but a false profession of faith. For example, you walked down an aisle when you were 8 years old. Went through the motions. Prayed the sinners prayer. Were baptized the next week. But when you were 18 you realized you were never actually a believer and, therefore, you “re-commit” your life to Christ, but you never get re-baptized because you were baptized on your profession previously. In other words, you were never a believer the first time and yet you were baptized. And your Baptist church counts you as a member despite not re-baptizing you. In my mind, this is fundamentally the same thing as accepting a person who was baptized as an infant but became a believer later. Something must give.

What is the protocol for this situation? There is no way we can peer into hearts and guarantee that the 8 year old “faith” wasn’t true faith or false faith. In fact, many people today struggle with when they were actually converted. Early in life or “when they really started living it.” Jonathan Leeman over at 9marks has given counsel on these scenarios. He essentially says to trust your conscience. If you think you actually weren’t a believer, then get re-baptized. If you aren’t sure, don’t worry about it.

But isn’t that counsel a little illogical considering his hard line stance on never accepting a person’s infant baptism? It is fundamentally the same principle. You are accepting some who weren’t believers before their baptism but not others. And what about the scenario of John the Baptist who was regenerated before he was born? If he were baptized as an infant, technically speaking, it would be baptism after his regeneration.

All of this to say… I’m not really sure what to do. I think many of us have not worked hard on hammering out the details of this. Often times Baptists simply don’t spend the requisite amount of time thinking about all of the implications they have for their belief.

Acts 21:4-5: This is important because Luke is a good historian with details. He mentions women and children here. He mentions infants coming to Jesus in Luke 18. He would’ve mentioned infants like he does elsewhere had they been baptized in the household baptisms.

His lack of mentioning infants is quite condemning.

1 Corinthians 10: Here we find Paul saying that all of Israel was “baptized into Moses.” Paul is connecting baptism not to circumcision… despite going to connect the Lord’s Supper with Passover. Baptism is connected with the Exodus which prefigures the New Exodus of regeneration and conversion.

Baptism is a greater sign than circumcision.

John 1:12-13: Covenant members have the right to covenant inheritance. No longer are covenant members based on physical birth but on spiritual birth from God.

Mark 3:35 and the redemption of the family: Presbyterians often accuse Baptists of not having a place for the family in the NT. It is a fair charge, usually. But Jesus says that his redemption of the family is much bigger—for he has created a new family—the church. This doesn’t mean to neglect the physical family. God has given physical families for a reason and they do not cease to exist and flourish in the New Covenant. But the redemption of the family is much bigger than a small physical unit.

Hebrews 8: The locus of the covenant debate mostly centers here. What is so new about this New Covenant? Does this mean that all without distinction will know the Lord and that the old is gone? I think so.

But the Presbyterian says three things. 1) The Baptist over-realizes this text and assumes a reality that will only be final in the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s obvious ALL don’t know yet. Because Hebrews 8:13 claims that the Old is *still* passing away. To claim that the New Covenant requires ONLY the regenerate to be members is to over realize the eschatology of the passage and assume the final judgment has taken place and we are in the New Heavens and New Earth. The Kingdom remains mixed until the harvest. All do not salvifically know the Lord in full until the end. The New Covenant has been inaugurated and consummated but not completed. It is already but not yet. 2) The text claims that the least to the greatest will know in a particular way without the need of a prophet teacher and priestly mediator like the OT. As in the fulfillment of Joel 2, all people will have full access to God. As in Ephesians 2:11-22, all now have boldness to come before the throne—from the least peasant to the greatest prophet. This is a point about our access to God and not our salvation before God. We have better access now. 3) The old covenant it references is the Mosaic and NOT the Abrahamic.

Further, if you continue to read Jeremiah 31 to verse 36-37, immediately after the promise of the New Covenant, you find that the children will be discontinued from the promise as soon as the sun stops rising. More, in the following chapter, 32, when Jeremiah again speaks of the New Covenant. In verses 39-40 he clearly states that children are participants.

But the London Baptist agrees at all three points. 1) Baptists do not claim to have a fully unmixed society yet. And for the Presbyterian to realize that the goal of the New Covenant *is* total purity based on belief is quite the concession. For there is no *newer* covenant to come. If this covenant is supposed to be wholly pure in the future… that creates dangerous implications for the present if you are a Presbyterian. 2) Access is the emphasis but salvation is also present. All will know… FOR I will be merciful and forgive… the mercy and forgiveness seem to reference salvation and not just access. 3) The Baptist would claim that the Presbyterian misunderstands the Abrahamic Covenant and its physical link to the Mosaic. As seen in Galatians 4. 4) Right before this passage, in Jeremiah 31:29-30 we see the familial headship principle coming to an end. No longer will generational headship set the tone but the headship of Christ.

Further, Jeremiah 31:36 references Israel as a nation, which I think we all agree has no referent to the New Covenant *necessarily.* Israel is still a physical people. Jeremiah 32:39 seems to say that this coming covenant will be unbreakable—so if children were auto placed in, infant baptism secures salvation… it also appears that salvation is for their good as children… does not mean they are covenant members.

Confession as Grounds: See Luke 7:29-30. Here Luke grounds Baptism in the confession of the goodness of the gospel and that God is just—the tax collectors and sinners did and were baptized—the Pharisees and lawyers didn’t and were therefore not baptized.

True. The loophole for the Presbyterian is to say this is Jewish Proselyte Baptism. But one can’t help but see the constant emphasis of Baptism as one of confession in the plan of God.

Doesn’t that negate from the ultimate sign of Baptism being God’s covenant?

Good Segway to my conclusion.

Conclusion: The revealed teaching of God on Baptism in the New Covenant in the New Testament is in favor of covenantal confessor Baptism. Covenantal meaning the referent of Baptism is the covenant of grace and confessor meaning the lawful subjects of baptism are confessors alone. This Baptism is a sign of the Word and the Spirit. The baptism Christ underwent of death and resurrection (Mark 10:39) and the baptism of the Spirit which is regeneration (1 Cor. 12:13). God makes a promise and portrays it in Baptism—we believe the promise in Baptism. We trust that God is/has united us to himself, that he is/has forgiven our sins, that he has regenerated us and is giving us a new life.

Baptism is about ingrafting into Christ, remission of sins, newness of life. It is a sign of fellowship with Christ. It is given to those who confess the goodness of God.

With the French Confession of 1559, I say we are baptized “so that we have an enduring testimony that Jesus Christ will be our justification and sanctification forever.”

God saves the same way in all of history but creates a new sign for his new covenant of grace that is inaugurated by Christ: Baptism. This baptism is a greater sign than any in the past. It was prefigured in the Old Covenant of Works but is finally inaugurated in the New Covenant of Grace. It signifies the many realities of Word and Spirit. It does not symbolize possible or probable or certain regeneration. It signifies promised regeneration that is based on confession (Romans 10:9-10). For Baptism corresponds to confession.

And this Baptism doesn’t seal us to anything. Circumcision sealed you to the Mosaic Covenant. Baptism does not seal us to the New. The Holy Spirit does that. It is a purer covenant. A more effective covenant.

 

A lot of arguments have been presented here… so… a few final thoughts/questions for Presbyterianism that I think are particularly strong:

  • It seems inconsistent to argue that children can have baptism but not the table/supper. Children of the OT had access to the table (Ex. 12:24).
  • If we follow the logic of the OT, we should baptize children based on grandparents faith and beyond. Where does the arbitrary restriction of parents faith only come from?
  • The OT did not require a believing parent in order to give the sign. So the Presbyterian is guilty of narrowing the covenant as well.
  • Christ’s New Covenant per Romans 5:12-21 seems to show that all whom Christ federally represents in his covenant, he saves. None can fall from his redemption. You cannot be a member of Adam and a member of Christ simultaneously. Luke 22:20. So you say that children are members of the covenant of grace. I must ask what it means to be a member of the covenant? Is not the covenant unconditional and fulfilled by Christ? Does not saying that covenant breakers are members of the covenant of grace mean that Christ is not a fully efficient federal head (does not Romans 5:19 witness to the reality of Christ’s federal headship resulting in guaranteed salvation as he merited its blessings?)? If so, the covenant of grace is effective grace in name but not power, yes?
  • According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made? A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Does this not mean that the covenant of grace is ONLY with the elect?
  • John 18:36 teaches a spiritual kingdom which cannot be physically generated. Why would the a spiritual kingdom be physical?

 

I will probably update this in the coming weeks. Most would probably post something this large in segments. Maybe get more clicks. But I don’t really care about clicks. I’m not about that life. Therefore, I wanted to finally post it since I likely would keep tinkering with things for months if I didn’t. I am still pondering, thinking, meditating. It is a rich topic!

A Few Lectures

I have been slacking on uploading my most recent lectures/messages/sermons (whatever you want to call them).

Here are the most recent from 2016:

1) The (Misunderstood!) Ethical Theory of John Calvin (ETS Regional Presentation)

2) A Theology of Communion

3) 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 – The Aroma of Cosmic Triumph (Go to 5/29/16)

4) Psalm 50 – A Glorious All Sufficiency

The Empty Plea of Self-Love (feat. Edwards, Calvin, and Augustine)

Should I focus on loving myself? Peter Scazzero, author of multiple popular books and a major player in much of trendy evangelicalism, would tend to agree. He says, “The extent to which we love and respect ourselves is the extent to which we will be able to love and respect others.”

Is such a statement, on its own, compatible with the Bible?

I have seen more than a few friends latch on to such an idea. It is generally attended with the usage of Mark 12:31/Matt 22:39. You know. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I have heard it said, “Until we can find a true love for ourselves we will never be able to love others the way Jesus would want us to love.”

So. Is this legit? Can this actually hold the weight of the Bible? Should I make it my goal to love myself?

Much of the counseling movement of our day certainly agrees. Christian or not. And much of evangelicalism has followed suit.

Don’t believe me? Simply peruse your local bookstores “Christian” section. You will quickly be overwhelmed by the Pink study Bibles and the millions of self-help spin offs. Each titled with a trendy adjective or some other cool word—“audacious,” “unqualified,” “fervent,” “if,” and “frequency.”

My conclusion up front (thesis for you nerdy types): Loving yourself is not a biblical doctrine and steals your joy.

Can I prove that? Why don’t we find out. [For the faint of heart, used to reading the mini-blog posts of the world, I give you permission to skip to my final critiques at the end labeled as: “But. A few more push backs, you have?” I say this only because I think it will whet your appetite for the rest. *Fingers crossed*]

First, how is loving myself not biblical?

  1. What about Mark 12:31, et. al.? –> “Love your neighbor as yourself

Doesn’t that appear to mean I should be working on loving myself so that I can best love others? Seems like my conclusion is wrong!

Wait.

Do you see where you are commanded to love yourself? Is that ever an explicit statement?

No.

But it’s implied, you say?

I think we should go ahead and think through the syntax of this sentence. And don’t let the word “syntax” scare you. Syntax is actually very nice. He is kind and generous. Trust me.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” The key is what we do with “as yourself.” It appears to me that this is being used for the purpose of comparison and not command. Consider Luke 6:31: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” The order is reversed in this instance. But the syntax is the same. Why is the “as ____” section there? Is it to command to do well to yourself? Or is it a motivating comparison?

How about an illustration.

Imagine with me. Especially you non-sporty people. I say to you, “Be passionate about Jesus and the Church as you are with football and basketball games, where you paint up, tailgate, create fantasy leagues, and let your emotional well being be destroyed when your team loses.” Do I intend to command you to love football and basketball? No. It is a means of comparison. I, in fact, might rather you not love them at all. It may be a negative comparison. It is true that I do imply your love for football and basketball. But, I never command you to actually love either. It is an assumption that you already possess this passion. The point is to create a comparison and, thus, illustrate the great amount of love you should devote elsewhere.

The point is comparison. That is how the word “as” functions in Mark 12. It is not functioning as a command to love yourself. Thomas Schreiner says, “The text does not suggest that human beings need to learn to love themselves before they can love others. Instead, it assumes that we love ourselves, in that we invariably seek our interests.” Herman Ridderbos (more preferably known as Herman RidderBOSS) echoes Schreiner when he says, “Basic to this thought is not the notion that we must love ourselves also, but rather the thought that self-love is natural, instinctive, to man. Just as directly and unhesitatingly as he loves himself, one must love his neighbor.” Even men with foreign accents that make you sound 100x smarter agree. Exhibit A: Alistair Begg says, “There is no substantiation in this phrase either for self-love, that’s been taught over the last two and half decades; you are supposed to love yourself, then if you love yourself and so on, as if somehow or another that’s the real problem: the absence of self-love. The biggest problem I have is the presence of self-love.”

So it really comes down to how the word “as” functions. Does it function as a command in any of these instances? I think not. The presence of self-love in these texts is an assumed reality, rather than a requested potentiality.

  1. Does a lesson on language really deflect the possibility of self-love?

I think so.

But let’s go further and define love.

Love is, according to Merriam-Webster: (1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion (4) unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.[1]

Love is, according to the Bible: To put it bluntly, God. Not to get all philosophical, but God is the very definition of all attributes such as love and goodness. God is love. 1 John 4:7-12 is helpful here. So, God being love, in his grace has given us an image of true love in the incarnation—sending the Son to die on behalf of his sinful people. Such love is sacrificial. It is like 1 John 3:16 and 1 Cor. 13:5—not insisting on self.

Now, let’s define self-love.

Self-love is, according to Meriam-Webster: (1) conceit (2) regard for one’s own happiness or advantage

Self-love is, according to the Bible: Selfishness. Seeing others need and choosing self. Loving myself more than others. See 1 John 3:17; Phil. 2:3-4.

Jonathan Edwards goes further. He eviscerates self-love when he says:

Self-love is a principle entirely natural, and as much in the hearts of devils as angels; and therefore surely nothing that is the mere result of it, can be supernatural and divine…. Christ plainly speaks of this kind of love, as what is nothing beyond the love of wicked men….

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46

Now some may quibble with my definition of self-love. Maybe you would say I’m misrepresenting the self-love movement. Point taken. And to Scazzero’s credit, he lumps love of God and others into the mixing bowl alongside love of self in the context of his quote. Each matter to him. It is like a threefold cord. His position is more nuanced than the proof-text shows. But do not words mean things? When you define emotional health as partly self-love, does that not promote rampant narcissism? And if you do not like how the dictionary since 1828 defines it or how the Bible defines it, may I suggest simply using different terminology to convey your point? Words matter. And choosing to use self-love conveys a clear meaning. If you intend to mean something else, you must use the words that appropriately signify that meaning lest your meaning be mistaken for the praise of hubris.

  1. What does full-orbed biblical love look like?

Others-Centered Love: The Call to Self-Denial

Luke 6:32: If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

Luke 14:27: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

The love of the Bible is wholly others-centered. First, centered on God. Second, centered on neighbor. Third, …. *uh,* *erm,* *um,* *silence….* There is no third.

The Foundation and Fountain of Love

Spoiler: the foundation and fountain of love is God. Love itself is dependent on God, for God is love. Without God, love does not exist.

Jonathan Edwards, better than I could, contrasts the nature of true love and self-love. He says:

The saint’s affections begin with God; and self-love has a hand in these affections consequentially, and secondarily only. On the contrary, those false affections begin with self, and an acknowledgment of an excellency in God, and an affectedness with it, is only consequential and dependent. In the love of the true saint God is the lowest foundation; the love of the excellency of his nature is the foundation of all the affections which come afterwards, wherein self-love is concerned as an handmaid: on the contrary, the hypocrite lays himself at the bottom of all, as the first foundation, and lays on God as the superstructure; and even his acknowledgment of God’s glory itself, depends on his regard to his private interest.

Edwards acknowledges the role of self-love but only as a secondary companion in fanning the fires of God-centered love. It is not at the bottom of the pyramid, nor the top of the mountain.

But if God is the center of love, why love my neighbor? Would that not detract from love of God?

Listen to John Calvin who grounds love of neighbor in the image of God. He says:

[man should] look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.

Again. It is God. Even love of neighbor is love of God.

Second, how does loving myself steal my joy?

Again, we find that Jonathan Edwards has much to teach us on this front. He says:

And as it is with the love of the saints, so it is with their joy, and spiritual delight and pleasure: the first foundation of it, is not any consideration or conception of their interest in divine things; but it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view or contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves. And this is indeed the very main difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege, and the happiness which he supposes he has attained, or shall attain. True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures; ’tis the joy of their joy. This sweet and ravishing entertainment, they have in the view of the beautiful and delightful nature of divine things, is the foundation of the joy that they have afterwards, in the consideration of their being theirs. But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice, and are elevated with it, that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them.

So, in order to have maximal joy. In order to have “the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures” at their highest degree, only God can satisfy. Loving self will not bring lasting joy. It will not bring depth of joy. It will be fleeting. Offering an empty plea. The search for more will always remain.

So. In conclusion. Should I focus on loving myself? No.

Focus on God.

Love of self robs God and robs you. God of glory and you of joy.

Sounds like a Christian answer to me. I even hear the echo of Westminster. Does that give me bonus points?

But. A few more push backs, you have?

  1. What about self-esteem?

You say that many actually have *negative* self-worth today. They actually need to learn to love themselves in order to have health. That’s fair, right?

Well.

First, I would distinguish between “self-worth” and “self-love” to some degree. They are different concepts. But that’s not my main response.

Second, and mainly, I would say that when you have a negative self-image, if you choose simply to do prolonged introspection and shower yourself with positive affirmations, you will never truly have any solid ground for worth. Only in God do we find a correct understanding of ourselves. When you focus on God, a mature understanding of self is a natural byproduct. Focus on self and you get a distorted and unstable view of self. In addition, you miss out on the delights of God.

Sadness, fear, anxiety, shame, depression, and the like are real. But you need not spend time attempting to achieve some sort of twisted self-love by your own efforts. The longing to be loved is not wrong. But thinking that love from yourself will satisfy such a longing is a sham Christianity devoid of the gospel and its redeeming grace—otherworldly and unmerited—even demerited—grace from your Creator.

Esteeming ourselves does nothing but lower our overall esteem for God. And our ultimate ground of worth. Is not your worth grounded in the image of God? And is not that worth only worthy because it actually images God and not yourself? Is not your identity hidden in Christ? Is not such an identity out of the reach of self? Self-esteem is opposed to God-esteem. Grace—not self—is the chief worth inspiring subject.

Augustine surely agrees when he says:

God does not choose anyone who is worthy, but in choosing him, renders him worthy.

  1. But isn’t it just about emotional health and maturity? How can you deny that?

Self-love has nothing to do with maturity. The only maturity I am familiar with is centered in Christ and produced by him. And not once does that maturity require love of self.

I am unfamiliar with the passage where Paul explains at length the need to consider self as more important than others in order to become healthy—in order to love others best.

“Just give yourself some time.”

“Just take a few days away and focus on yourself—you need it—you deserve it.”

“Just relax and fill yourself up for the next few years while you are in college—while you are getting married—while you are having children—you can only give out of abundance and without time for yourself in these busy seasons, you will falter.”

“Just read your Bible all alone without anyone else and listen to your inner spirit and one day you will be mature enough to care for others.”

Yeah. I didn’t read those either.

But mainstream and “Christian” counseling—and the endless supply of self-help books—have told me differently. They have told me that I need to think about myself in order to find final freedom and satisfaction. True. They have said this. But, you see, the 21st century counseling movement feeds on self-love like sharks when they smell blood or like the office employees when they see the email about free donuts in the break room. It is what drives them. But they need theological help. They need theological moorings. How does change happen? How does one come by maturity? By following 10 step methods? By attending conferences? By repeating phrases of affirmation to yourself each day? The biblical witness is void of such suggestions. It is the Spirit of God through his Word that produces change. It is through the gathering of the church and its sacraments that grace is given to encourage the Christian faith. It is not through programs. We may like the concreteness of such self-help methods but they will only leave us dry, hallow, exhausted, and searching for more.

So, you’re right in one sense. Loving yourself is much easier than actually doing the hard work of loving others. But loving self is not the way of Christ.

  1. But what about Calvin? Doesn’t he actually promote self-love? Doesn’t he say something about the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God being both necessary? Could it not be construed in this light?

There is a profound difference between knowledge and love. The Bible is full of revealing knowledge about our true state—sinful and selfish. But it is void of love for self. As is Calvin.

So, in sum, Scazzero would have been better saying: “The extent to which we love and respect God is the extent to which we will be able to love and respect others.”

My central love must be for another.

But really. Who else but God could deserve such love? Me? Absolutely not.

You will gain the best perspective of yourself when you are engulfed in God. Not when you are engulfed with self-love and its partner egotism.

And guess what is so amazing about God? When I love him, I end up receiving joy for myself. I get rewarded for loving the only one worthy of true love. Glorious.

[1]Yes, I cut out number 3—its repetitive.

My Wife is Awesome with a Capital A and Other Cool Stuff

I’ve never been a big fan of those who seek to give advice on something they’ve done for only a short time. It annoys me. I’ve been even less of a fan of most things I read on marriage—especially from those closer to my age. And that is exactly why I plan to achieve both of these goals in what follows.

Kidding.

That sounded pretty arrogant after such a humble beginning, didn’t it? Heh. Well. Attempted humble beginning. It’s humble if I describe it as such, right? I hope you laughed when reading that. Then again. My online attempts at humor generally fall flat. Alas.

Now. Honestly? I agree fully with my first two opening sentences. And that is why I will actually attempt to do neither. I’d personally prefer to just do the whole example thing for about three decades before attempting to impart any wisdom beyond the lines of the Bible. But. In honor of my amazing wife’s birthday, I do want to mention a few brief things I have personally loved and learned about being married to her. Emphasis on few things… if I listed more, my three devoted readers would never finish this post. These two areas may blur a bit because I love what I’ve learned too. But please don’t ruin my euphoria over having two “L” things to talk about. And these aren’t commands. Not steps to a better marriage. Just observations (hopefully). And for what it’s worth… I hate most list blogging (i.e. “10 things that…” “9 reasons for…” etc.) and yet I will partake here against my better judgment. Lists just sound way too “click-baity” to me. So maybe if I make two lists in one post, it won’t count? Anyway…

What I’ve Loved

  1. Sarah loves planning trips to different places—even if it’s a mere 10 minutes away. I have always liked going to new places but I often have the tendency to get wrapped up in other things and therefore never actually act on those thoughts. But now, because of Sarah, she ensures that I actually act on many of those impulses to go somewhere new or try something new. More joy.
  2. Sarah makes me have difficult conversations. She is the anti-stuffer type personality. Which is awesome for a guy like me who can find it more “economical” to ignore certain issues. She wants relational health. She wants godliness in all areas. I’ve learned much from her because of her seriousness for reconciliation. And I love it. More joy.
  3. Sarah decorates awesome. She has one million different ideas for how to make our home more “cozy” or whatever the tagline is at the moment. I’ve learned to love natural light. I’ve learned to be okay with a “quick trip to Target”—which obviously means a two hour time cap. I’ve learned how every detail matters in order for something to really come together and be “cute.” Why do I like this? It forces me to activate the dormant creative side of my brain. Maybe even get in touch with my “feelings” or something weird like that. More joy.
  4. Sarah loves God. And not a cursory love—a real one. She actually cares about becoming more like Christ and learning more about him. She longs for more of God. Visibly. She longs for an unmoved faith in Christ. She longs for a sweeter communion with the Spirit. For instance. She is currently reading a systematic theology book. When she reads she can’t help but tell me all her thoughts and she asks all sorts of excellent questions. We then get to ponder how good and great our God is. I like that. More joy.
  5. Sarah has an excellent perspective on people… and my stuff. First, she is excellent at identifying people’s pain and troubles and encouraging and confronting them. This is a spiritual gift from God. It will and does serve the church well. Second, she tells me what portions of my stuff need to finally be thrown out after 9 years of wear. Painful but freeing. Goodbye beloved polo. More joy.
  6. Sarah is ferociously loyal. This woman would stick by my side if I said it was a good idea to walk barefoot in a blizzard for 10 miles. She would stick by my side if I said it was a good idea to become an insectarian (my made up word for eating insects only… haven’t you heard? It’s all the rage for the hipsters out there). This woman speaks highly of me to every person she knows about my life and character—constantly. She gives glowing reports to her friends right after I was ignorant and uncaring toward her. She embodies loyalty toward me. What did I do to deserve such a devoted and loving wife? Nothing. God is good. More joy.

What I’ve Learned

  1. Leadership matters. I’ll be honest. I tried the whole egalitarian thing to some extent functionally. I thought I could inject some of its principles into my practical life while maintaining a different view. I tried to not allow for distinct roles between male and female. I tried to be a complementarian (i.e. distinct role gifting’s between gender) in thought and only somewhat in practice depending on the circumstance. Not only is that practice not biblical, it simply doesn’t work. Maybe you are the exception. Maybe God is pretty gracious and blesses you in spite of it. But from my own personal experience… it’s an utter failure waiting to happen. The man must assume the leadership role and lead well. This obviously is not a domineering or flat out obnoxious leadership—the kind you normally see and most react so violently against. Leadership that matters is gracious, humble, gentle, and serving—yet it is still strong and convictional. I think if every man learned to be the tough and tender leader that Jesus portrays for us, we would all be able to leave behind a lot of problems. More joy.
  2. Sarah cares deeply for certain people and endeavors and desires to give sacrificially to them. She learned this tremendous trait from her Dad (shout out to Mr. Johnston). I have the tendency to want to hold my money tight. To hold my time tight. I want to hold my stuff in general. I want to clench my fists around my things and be selfish. But Sarah pushes to give. To value. To love. Generosity is at the core of Christianity. Through watching Sarah I have been convicted and know this is one area I must continue to grow in. More joy.
  3. I can be patient sometimes. Most times, even if my face screams: “wow, that guy is really patient!” deep down, I am actually the opposite. I am the curmudgeon. I am plotting every possible way to bypass patience. My blood pressure is close to volcanic proportions. But, because of Sarah, I have been pressed to relax and become far more patient. More joy.
  4. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. I generally think I can do things better than everyone else on the planet. At the minimum I like doing things my way better. But with Sarah I have learned to let go of weird personal preferences. Most of my idiosyncrasies have now been placed where they belong: the garbage dump. Sarah also has taken her theology of God and his complete care for us in all aspects and put it into practice. When she came down with some serious sickness this past year she trusted God—that nothing was outside of his will. She clung tightly to his utter sovereignty. I learned to trust more by watching her trust. More joy.
  5. I know I mentioned this in the love section but it has been such a profound learning aspect for me I had to mention it twice. Sarah deeply cares about reconciling relationships. She takes seriously the Bible when it commands to not let the sun go down on your anger. I have learned so much in this because of her and her commitment to reconciliation. More joy.
  6. Eye contact. Sarah not only has a love language, she also has a hate language. And at the top of her hate language is poor eye contact. Example: If she begins to talk to me and I pick up my phone when it vibrates to check a text or if I begin to look around for something—even if it is pertinent to the conversation—she doesn’t like it. Why is this good? It teaches me to value the other person. I shouldn’t be only giving someone half of my attention. I know our culture doesn’t teach this. But I should give my whole attention to anyone… especially my wife. More joy.

I hope you noticed a common theme. More joy. Jonathan Edwards says “they that have much grace will be likely to have much communion with God, and so consequently will have much joy.” My marriage to Sarah has brought forth grace, communion with God, and the resultant joy. Because of her, I have experienced grace as I have had to repent of many sins. I have experienced communion with God as I have learned the Trinitarian shaped nature of all things. I have experienced more joy as God has shown me love and fatherly discipline. How good and gracious is God to allow me to have a covenant commitment to another image bearer and journey with her toward greater submission to him and greater joy. God has placed shadows of himself and his Trinitarian love and joy in all things. Marriage is one of them. Through Sarah, God has allowed me to participate in knowing his love and joy to a greater degree—yet still dimly. How exciting is that? Marriage, while one of the greatest earthly pleasures, is but a shadow to the joy of union with Christ? Excitement.

Before I end, let me answer a burning question for some of you readers. What about the singles? Does this mean they get less joy? In a word: no. In more words: no, because. No, because the Bible says so. No, because there can be great joy in the shadow of particular sacrifices only singles can make for the kingdom. God uniquely blesses the single with joy that the married do not experience. The single life should not be downplayed due to the joys of the married life. Both glorify God. Both are unique. Both should be treasured. I am thankful to participate in marriage. But others are thankful to participate in singleness. Both should be upheld and lived to the glory of God. Both experience joy when lived within the pleasures of God.

To end. You’re right. I have much more to learn. I have a long way to go. So. Tune in next decade with the treasure trove of loves and learnings that will surely be gleaned. Until then, know that God is good. He has given me the greatest of all wives. She loves me. She challenges me. She cares for me. She is a blessing from God.

So. In a nutshell: I love my wife and love being married to her. God is awesome. Thankful.

A Preachers Reformed Epistemology

Thanks to one of my good friends, I’ve been immersed in the world of philosophy for some time now. Philosophy, huh? Woof. Sounds like a good way to replace sleeping pills to me. *Yawn* Yet I’ve actually come to value philosophy… in service of theology of course. I guess you could say Colossians 2:8 is no longer my favorite verse to snidely quote to my friend. Now, most of my philosophical reading relates to the philosophy of religion and epistemology. Two big concepts that were essentially meaningless to me before being pushed into reading the likes of Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff and beyond (my apologies to those who will remain nameless). Two big concepts that might be meaningless to you. If that’s the case, begin where I was told to start. Here. Read that 3 times. Like I did in order to understand it – some of us are slow. Now you’re up to speed. Somewhat.

But what does all of this have to do with anything? Why am I bringing it up? Why am I subjecting you to such torturous reading? Because. While the two aforementioned heavyweights are generally credited with what is termed “Reformed Epistemology” – a.k.a. the theory of knowing that is supposed to fall in line with Calvin – this topic is easily undesirable to learn or read about for the common person. Make the P1 + P2 logic STOP!!! But there is good news. I believe there is a “preacher’s” version of Reformed Epistemology that pre-dates the contemporary renaissance. Someone who made the claims of these top notch philosophers in normal people terminology and intended to practice it. But who would make such a claim? This guy is certainly not known as a philosopher. Hooray for us normal people! But he certainly is in the Reformed tradition. Who might that be? Charles Haddon Spurgeon. That’s not the first guy that came to your mind, is it? I didn’t think so. But let’s take a gander anyway to see what he says and how it might modify and make sense of contemporary “Reformed Epistemology.” Go ahead and put your thinking caps on.

In his Lectures to My Students, he goes on at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and personal experience that shapes knowledge. Here is a lengthy quote:

Unbelievers ask for phenomena. The old business doctrine of Gradgrind has entered into religion, and the skeptic cries, “What I want is facts.” These are our facts: let us not forget to use them. A skeptic challenges me with this remark, “I cannot pin my faith to a book or a history; I want to see present facts.” My reply is, “You cannot see them, because your eyes are blinded; but the facts are there nonetheless. Those of us who have eyes see marvelous things, though you do not.” If he ridicules my assertion, I am not astonished. I expected him to do so, and should have been very much surprised if he had not done so; but I demand respect to my own position as a witness to facts, and I turn upon the objector with the enquiry – “What right have you to deny my evidence? If I were a blind man, and were told by you that you possessed a faculty called sight, I should be unreasonable if I railed at you as a conceited enthusiast. All you have a right to say is – that you know nothing about it, but you are not authorized to call us all liars or dupes. You may join with revilers of old and declare the spiritual man is mad, but that does not disprove his statements.

This. This is Reformed Epistemology in a nutshell (at least according to my limited knowledge). It may be somewhat simplistic and underdeveloped but it is contains the core principles of Reformed Epistemology. Spurgeon essentially claims two major things. First, he claims that the unbeliever lacks the ability to have knowledge of God – only God can provide that. It is the standard Reformed argument that some do not believe because God must reveal himself for anyone to be able to actually know – they are all dead in sin first. Second, he claims that the unbeliever has no right to deny his personal evidence – his existential experience with the Holy Spirit – his facts. He has no basis to destroy the claim of belief in God because he has no evidence to the contrary. Spurgeon, therefore, places the role of the Holy Spirit as central to knowing. He is the grounding principle for all our knowing and we need not look elsewhere to find support or justification for our beliefs. He does not deny the potential positive benefit of other arguments but finds the existential work of the Holy Spirit to be primary and not “defeatable” by the skeptic. He does not claim that faith and reason conflict, either. Faith could be seen as the gateway to a renewed understanding.

This shapes our evangelism and apologetics a great deal. Gone is the traditional necessity of arguments. In is the centrality of the Holy Spirit and his work. The believer need not reason from various proofs but can stand firmly on the internal testimony of the Spirit in his own life. The Spirit counts as a properly basic epistemic right and the unbeliever cannot know spiritual things without the Spirit. Therefore, when evangelizing, we should primarily center on the gospel and pray for God to work – trusting him to bring faith – rather than constructing vast arguments or using deceptive manipulation techniques. We need not place the burden of conversion on our own shoulders – we are mere messengers.

Philosophy isn’t so bad after all, is it? Maybe it does serve some use in the normal Christian life.

Sight for the Old and Bleary Eyed

I was a wee little lad long ago when I graced the halls of my elementary school. I had my fair share of physical… “underdevelopments” you might say… at that time, but one thing I never struggled with was eyesight. Even to this day I’m thankful to have great eyes but this wasn’t the case for everyone else.

There were always a few kids early on who got stuck with glasses by second grade. This was generally a death blow for their young aspiring hopes to climb the social ladder. It was in these olden days that if a kid had to wear glasses you naturally would make fun of him by calling him “four-eyes.” Ostracize him for his lack of sight. I actually fell prey to such an attack after a few of my friends began to harass one of these glasses donning chaps – blasted gravitational pull of peer pressure! Alas. We did get caught and confronted by our teacher later. Sweet justice for the blurry eyed! My friends quickly attempted the denial trick, hoping that would save them, but it was no match for my waterfall of tears that came through when I sobbingly confessed for us all.

I felt so ashamed in that moment. I had nothing against glasses or those who wore them. Besides. I didn’t have the slightest clue what it was like to try and see without them. From what I hear it is not only annoying but can be quite dangerous – just ask your friendly neighborhood grandpa about his latest driving adventure. Not being able to see clearly can go from frustrating to flat out murderous at times.

Now, you see (see what I did there? Oh! Double! Nerd level 3,000 unlocked!), this is not only the case physically but also spiritually. When it comes to knowing – or better yet, seeing – God, we need something to help us out with our blindness (don’t think we are blind? Just take a gander at something like 2 Cor. 4:4). And when it comes to God, none of us are born with good eyesight – we are all in need of some high powered, gold rimmed, bifocals. We could use some Lasik for our blindness. But where in the world are we to get these dorky and yet sight-giving glasses at? Take a quick listen to Calvin, why don’t we? (Yes! It’s true! Calvin doesn’t only talk about predestination! In fact, he talks about other things a whole lot more! But straw men are kind of fun to bash sometimes…)

“Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our mind, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.” The Institutes 1.6.1

Ah! Now we see! Sure, general revelation alone could potentially give us a blurry understanding that there might be a God but it wont be enough to know the “true God” until we get some spectacles on and can really see what is going on. This, Calvin shows us, is the Bible! Before the Spirit gives us a new heart and some new stylish glasses we are like an old man who is legally blind in all respects and yet thinks he still has his sight. He walks around with an aura of security and yet – in reality – he is helpless. He is blind. Even if you gave him a gift, say, of eyesight – glasses! – he still wouldn’t have the slightest clue he had it if they weren’t put on him. The problem isn’t so much that he cant intellectually grasp what is in front of him but that he cant even see what is in front of him! He needs some gospel glasses (don’t you like the g/g combo there?) to be given to him so he can see what is really true.

Nowadays, it is quite popular to talk of “worldviews” or “stories” when it relates to our understanding of the world. I think the metaphor of glasses or lenses might fit right in. When we are given these glasses, suddenly everything is made clear. Suddenly we are able to comprehend what is going. Suddenly, when we couldn’t make out a sign just 10 feet in front of us, it is now crystal clear and the world begins to make sense. It is this way with knowledge of God. Before we come to Scripture we are unable to comprehend what is true about him but when the spectacles of scripture are thrust upon us by the Spirit we can finally see who God is and what he is like. Now we have a way to understand God.

Thank God for such glasses! Now. To get back to wearing them. If you’ll excuse me. Off to Leviticus I go.

The He-Man Woman Haters Club?

One of the hotter topics in the broader realm of the church today revolves around the nature and role of women in the church. Just take a quick scan across the internet and you will find the likes of Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey who have extremely influential followings and strong desires to establish women as worthy of leadership in the church. Most recently, a church I was previously highly invested in during my undergraduate years took this same question head on, asking “Are women allowed to teach and preach in the church?”

Spoiler alert: I disagreed with their conclusion. I therefore wanted to offer a brief critique (okay, lets be honest, I’m almost never brief… better: a brief treatise) and mini constructive alternative.

Now that sounds pretty negative, right off doesn’t it? Sounds like I am some hyper critical theology guy who is dry and arid and is not really concerned for people, right? I must agree. It naturally sounds mean to disagree and sometimes seems a little idiosyncratic to make a big deal out of something that is secondary… But this is a secondary issue that will rob God of glory and rob people of joy and flourishing, so I think it’s worth engaging with in charity. I don’t often engage publically in such types of discussions anymore but this is an area where many simply have not heard the other “side” on the issue. I talked to multiple people on this issue in the past few weeks and none knew of any legitimate reasoning for either side – chalking it up to being “unclear” without actually doing the work to find out if that was true or not. Therefore an interaction would do quite a bit of good to further the discussion and to increase the understanding of each position which would allow for better engagement and more flourishing. Trust me. I debated on whether to post this for a while (I am no obnoxious discernment blogger – I’d rather just post constructive things) but thought it would be for the edifying of the church if written well enough and in the right tone (so let’s hope I accomplish that goal – at least slightly!). And the reality is that people today simply have no idea how to disagree well – and honestly. So I hope this is a fair model.

As a quick disclaimer, I did listen to the entire message and took copious notes. I also have discussed this with multiple members of the church, as I am friends with them.

The method: I will basically just summarize each portion of the message and then respond. I may sound “salty” or quite rigid at times but that’s probably the medium talking (i.e. online communication makes everyone seem like they are raging from the roids). I also don’t want to have a 5,000 word post, so it may sound a little swift and harsh at times (and I certainly wont answer everything). If you want the copy of the audio or want to talk more about this, please email me. If you live by me, I am more than happy to meet in person! Dialogue is good. I know that this format and method will primarily look negative but please know that my main reason for deconstruction is to construct for the greater joy and flourishing of people.

Now. ENOUGH PROLEGOMENA. Lets move to the actual work at hand.

So. The introduction and meat of the message was very good at emotionally convincing people of what is called the egalitarian position (the view that men and women have no differences in role or function). The Pastor spent time showing the inconsistencies he saw growing up in the church and being educated at a Christian school for his undergraduate work. He wondered how people could read the same Bible in such different ways. If one group thought women couldn’t teach, he was confused as to how they could become missionaries in that same group and suddenly they were allowed to plant and pastor a church there or how they could teach men but only until they turned the magical age of 15. He explained how throughout history and culture, “men have at best marginalized and at worst oppressed women.”

Sounds like some pretty solid opening comments, right? Well… I’m not so sure… First, it is true people understand the same text differently. That does not, however, allow for the claim of a “gray area.” Simply because there has been some disagreement does not mean there isn’t a clear answer (just ask the Sadducees whom Jesus chastised harshly about the resurrection, claiming they didn’t understand the Bible). So his initial set up is to cast doubt on the clarity of Scripture on this issue, which I think is a poor tactic and can undermine trust in the Bible. It also simply isn’t true in regards to this topic. Second, his missionary example is flawed. How? I know of no complementarian (the view that thinks God has placed innate creational designed differences in role and function between men and women) that would have a woman pastor — even if she were a missionary. The Pastor constantly blurs the lines between informal evangelism and formal teaching throughout the entirety of this message which is the source of many of his problems. Third, just because there are inconsistencies in the practice of the church does not necessitate that there is not a right practice – inconsistencies shows that people are sinful and do not carry out the Scriptures rightly (e.g. just because you find hypocrites in the church does not mean salvation is messed up and needs to be adjusted). Fourth, while it may be true that men have not cared for women appropriately, often using their power to harm rather than to protect – being abusers of their God given role – this does not necessitate the conclusion that there is not a God-given hierarchy when it comes to function.

Now let’s get to the real meat of his arguments. He wants to see how “Jesus, the gospel, and the church” answer differently on the question of women than does culture and history. He claims that during the intertestamental period there came along a new expression of Israel called “Judaism” and that it was heavily oppressive to women who had no rights or value according to them (this was far different than during the reign of David). He cites a Rabbi named “Eliezer” who said he would rather have the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman. He then moves to the New Testament, saying that Jesus protected women (John 8), befriended women (John 11; Luke 11), and empowered women (John 4, where you find the first woman evangelist). He then mentions how women were the first to be told of the resurrection and they shared the gospel first.

Before I continue, this sounds pretty convincing so far, right? Once again, I have to say he is stacking the deck and isn’t playing fairly. First, I’m pretty clueless as to what he is trying to do by attempting to describe the intertestamental period. But when it comes to historical background work, those who are not deeply immersed in the actual literature often have a tendency of cherry picking from the quote they saw from the book that promoted their position and thus end up missing the bigger picture. For example, quoting this mysterious “Eliezer” as a rabid hater of women sounds really convincing… except for the part where this same guy wasn’t even born until 15 years after Jesus had died/raised and was later charged by this same “Judaism” as being a heretic. While a quote like this is great red meat for a crowd that wants it, it simply is irrelevant. Second, I know of no complementarian that would dispute the fact that Jesus protected, befriended, or empowered women. Can you stack the deck in your favor any more than that? Complementarians value women as the co-heirs of grace just like egalitarians, so to attempt to indirectly say that they don’t is ignorant at best and slanderous at worst. Third, he slides in the “evangelist” card while mentioning John 4 which is really a slight of hand trick more than actual meaty teaching. This woman had her life radically altered by Jesus and she went and told everyone she knew about it – this is not a formal teaching/preaching role but rather an informal action that Christ commands all to partake in, sharing the gospel! No complementarian would ever restrict someone from sharing the gospel with others – that is simply ludicrous. But the Pastor tries to paint in broad brush strokes rather than use the needed nuance to understand the distinctions.

Okay. Continuing on with the points given in the message (bear with me! I know this is longer than “brief” in essentially everyone’s mind… but trust me… I could be much more exhaustive if I wanted…). His “bottom line” in all of this is: “Jesus does not call and qualify people by gender but by the Holy Spirit.” He says that the same power and strength of the Spirit is in both men and women. He claims at this point that men are simply intimidated by women’s potential and gifting and that men would rather have women “chained up like a dog” because of their fear.

I need to stop here again and make a few comments. First, I don’t think I necessarily have any qualms with the wording of the bottom line, but I do take issue with how he intends to use it. His intention is clearly to say that gender does not allow for role distinction as he shows with his follow up statement. But this claim is simply one of ignoring the whole counsel of God. If we smear the role distinction implanted in us from the beginning, we can no longer obey the teachings of the Bible and will be out of step with our God designed roles which will lead to pain, suffering, and a giant black hole of joy suckage. Sure, God is really gracious and his common grace allows for things to often work in spite of us but following the pattern of God always leads to more joy and flourishing. Second, the major issue at this point is his sarcastic comment relating to the fear of men in relation to women, as if complementarians have no biblical conviction but are simply terrified of losing power (Isn’t this always the claim? If someone has power they must be wrong?). But this simply isn’t the case (for the regenerate believer, anyway). Complementarians believe that God in his self-revelation through Scripture has explained the way to ensure the greatest flourishing and empowerment for men and women. True, the church has struggled with how to rightly treat and empower women through much abuse of power but this simply does not mean we can ignore what God commands and designs since we fail to properly carry it out.

Moving on… He quickly cites Galatians 3:28 and then shows how Paul placed women in leadership positions in the churches, citing Lydia in Acts 16:14-15, Phoebe in Romans 16, Junia in Romans 16, Prisca as a founding member of the church in Corinth, Philippians 4, and Deaconesses in 1 Timothy 3. He shows how the church protects, befriends, and empowers women. He says that “your gender does not make you superior in the kingdom of God. He does not silence women or make them second rate in the kingdom of God.”

Finally, we have some information regarding what he actually thinks from a biblical standpoint and therefore I will touch on each statement. First, Galatians 3:28 does not wipe out role distinctions any more than it wipes out racial distinctions or parent-children relations. True, we are all equal in Christ! Praise God! But that does not make us one homogenous blob of sameness that no longer has differences. Second, there is nothing in Acts 16:14-15 with Lydia that would show her as one who was leading the church and teaching… All that we know is that God sovereignly opened her heart to believe the gospel. Third, Phoebe is shown to be a servant of the church in Romans 16 which in no way conflicts with the complementarian position–even if it is taken that she is a deaconess (which will be addressed shortly). This mysterious “Junia” is then mentioned from Romans 16:7. The major question is twofold here, first, is this a man or woman and second, is this person well known to the apostles are actually an apostle? I think the evidence is fairly clear to oppose his understanding –just do the necessary study. Fourth, the mention of Philippians 4 shows women who were hard at work laboring with Clement and the rest of Paul’s fellow workers. But again… laboring does not mean teaching or exercising authority over men. What it does show is men laboring as they should alongside women for the edification of the church! Fifth, Prisca and Aquila have a church in their house and work together but never is it shown that Prisca is the teacher or the one exercising authority. Sixth, once again the ad hominin argument must be addressed. No complementarian disagrees with his statement that gender does not make you superior or that no one is a second rate citizen of heaven. Finally, what about the 1 Timothy 3 deaconesses? While I am not convinced that it actually refers to deaconesses (most translations say “wives”), regardless, deacons do not teach or exercise authority in the church –they are servants! Thus, women have freedom to serve in this role alongside men.

The pastor does not stop his argument here, but rather continues, by addressing “the smoking gun” which he proudly states would not be ignored by him. The crux of his argument begins with noting that there are three restrictive passages that are all addressed to Greek churches. He spends a good amount of time explaining how inconsistent that seems and how confused we are since we have seen the opposite (women in leadership roles) take place throughout. He thus says that “this means we must go beyond the text to find out what was going on…” Therefore, he spends a good portion of time creating an elaborate background narrative behind 1 Corinthians 14 particularly. He explains how in Greek culture women were worshiped and that in Corinth these women were interrupting the worship and teaching which came across as dishonoring and arrogant and therefore Paul told them to be quiet and respect. He then states, “Now, do we take Jesus’ model and add that up to these three restrictive passages and say for all kingdom come, women keep your mouth shut because you are a disgrace when you talk. I’ve never heard of a church that has lived that out and practice it. Why would we?” He continues by showing that 1 Corinthians 11 says women should prophesy and says that “prophesy is another word for preach.” He claims the difference between men and women is not role but physical strength and aggression. He says, “How do we look at the restrictive passages against all that? You can choose to interpret it one way but you must be consistent. If you say a woman can’t teach you must put a head covering on her and keep her silent. If you do that I don’t think you’re sinning, I think you’re limiting women.” He is then very clear that he wants “women leading, teaching, preaching” and that his church currently has that.

At last, the end is in sight! This is the final section I will discuss… I guess this might be seen as a little treatise with how long it is now! First, I want to note again how strongly he shapes his words to make it look like the opposing side is inconsistent and misogynistic. Second, his idea that we must go beyond the text is extremely dangerous (see 1 Cor. 4:6 for the prohibition of this method) and his reconstruction is unreliable at best (it is also fairly inconsistent to say that Greeks worshiped women and had trouble with them and thus Paul said they had to submit and be quiet and then use examples from Greek churches where Paul is placing them in “leadership positions” is it not?). The reason he even wants to create an elaborate background plot is because his presupposition drives his reading of the texts which do not fit with his narrative. This is an example of intending to rule over the Scriptures rather than allowing them to rule us. Third, he constructs this narrative behind the text only to ignore the very comment in verse 33 that nullifies the help of such a unique scenario when Paul says that this is the rule for all the churches of the saints. Fourth, his final conclusion regarding these three texts (despite only mentioning one) boils down to a charge against complementarians that they would not hold. Complementarians do not tell women to shut up because they are a disgrace, nor do they think that. It may be fun and easy to build straw men and attack them, but it simply isn’t right. Fifth, obviously the charge that Jesus has a differing model than Paul has in these passages is something that is an incredible claim. Jesus sure would have made it easier on the egalitarians had he chosen a woman disciple, alas… Sixth, he mentions prophesy and equates it to preaching which not only is wrong but ignores the fact that the main prohibition against women says nothing of preaching but rather of teaching and exercising authority. Finally, he makes a cry for consistency yet drives a wedge between Jesus and Paul’s apparent “He-man woman haters club” despite Paul’s schizophrenic situation where he actually goes against what he says elsewhere.

This leads me to my biggest contention. No mention of 1 Timothy 2 (or Titus 2 as a positive example either). How can you honestly intend to answer this question without touching the primary text on this issue? This text says that women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man. This command is then grounded not in a cultural or historical situation but rather creation itself. This was the design of God from the beginning and is the very design that will bring the most joy to all people. This text alone slices through the idea that this could be a “gray area,” for it is as clear as can be, right? There were no restrictions on this and it was not tied to a historical occurrence. At this point we are left with a choice. We can either submit ourselves to the divine word of God and trust him on this one or we can construct elaborate background plots in an attempt to erase the plain meaning of the text. It’s like a child after his mom told him to clean his room. He doesn’t want to clean his room so he finds every possible way to create a way where “clean your room” actually means “don’t clean your room and just have fun and play video games.” While this approach is enjoyable in the meantime, it will come under harsh judgment later. James 3:1 calls teachers to a higher standard of judgment, therefore we must be wary and careful to submit to God in all things. The Bible by defining roles does not restrict women but frees them to flourish in the role designed for them. This does not put women in a lesser place–in reality it is one of the most beautiful pictures of the gospel and to attempt to take that away from the church and society at large is a terrible mistake. Restricting the formal teaching and leading role to men does not eradicate the opportunity for women to teach or lead but postures them to follow further commands in areas such as Titus 2 to teach younger women. This is a divine calling and cannot be ignored simply because it is not culturally cool or because you have a personal bias against it.

I know. This all sounds terribly limiting to some. It sounds like a mans bias. And it really sounds difficult to practically assimilate since we don’t have a hard and fast line. When do boys become men? Etc. It is true. There is trouble in the system since it is not a clear set of rules but rather of principles and guidelines which renders specificity quite difficult. But this is an opportunity to explore with wisdom the design of God and find what honors him best and allows for the most flourishing which is partly forcing men to love and lead well–even if it requires bleeding–and partly for women to respect and submit well –even it if requires not having the desired role.

Unfortunately, the enlightenment continues to wreak havoc on the church today with its idolization of freedom from all authority or tradition. Authority is not bad, neither is male headship which the Bible clearly commands. It is true that bad authority is wrong and ultimately lies about God but misuse does not give reason for disobedience and creation of an alternative to the plan of God. Following the commands of God will ultimately unleash men and women to flourish. Following the command of God regarding church order will also ultimately unleash a torrent of joy, greater than any other strategy created by man, upon both men and women.

“Joy is indeed being sought by the modern liberal church. But it is being sought in ways that are false.” – J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 132

Psalm 1 and the Imagination

I like to read a lot. I know this comes as a shock to those who know me. I can hear the force of their metaphorical jaw dropping. I also like to think a lot. This thinking often takes the shape of imagining. I often think I could be a professional dreamer. From early childhood I developed a vivid imagination that ranged from exotic explorations in other worlds to exaggerated dangerous missions to find the light switch at night. My mind explodes with potential world realities at all times.

Then, college. My imagination remained as vibrant as ever. Yet my imagination which roamed free in regards to all of life suddenly found a straight-jacket that would place it in submission. This anti-imagination brigade was unable to fully extinguish the flame, but try it did. The main culprit? Modern critical Bible study. Hold the phone! (who actually says that anymore? Alas…) I can hear the mental brakes screeching from all of you readers (okay, maybe *you* singular reader – I shouldn’t overestimate my readership). This seems quite out-of-character for the Jordan I know. In fact, it might even seem contrary to the Jordan you talked to 15 minutes ago. Let me explain. Briefly (my famous last words, right?).

I’m still a monstrous pillar in support of theological thought – deep thought. Who wouldn’t want to think long and hard about the greatest of things (cf. Phil. 4:8)? But let me clarify – this modern study of the Bible began to implement in me a purely “scientific” approach to God and his revelation. This scientific approach by itself stirred great pride and security within my evil heart. This scientific approach of understanding the Bible taught me that if I just plugged in the right things in the right place, I could use an unfailing method *cough* grammatical-historical exegesis *cough* and I would receive the 100% unfailing answer. Well. Let’s just say I bought in to the modernistic lie of objectivism. This proven formula began to close in upon my fledging imagination like the dumpster walls upon the Death Star did to Luke Skywalker and his crew. The giant beam that began to break this constrictive (but partially true and helpful!!!) approach began in the form of a book from Jonathan Pennington (Reading the Gospels Wisely). He compellingly and gently brought me from my Platonic cave into the light, where I found that I had potentially narrowed the entrance to truth to an *eye-of-a-needle.*

He has been a major catalyst in the revival of my imagination in all areas of life – including Scripture. This does not mean I now read freely with no bounds as if anything could be true – as if a blue dress could be both white and blue. It is not a free-for-all Black Friday raid of the Bible. *Shiver.* Even the mere thought of that sends chills down my spine. Rather, it means that “the most powerful and effective readers are those who build on a skill set and learn to read creatively and expansively.”[1] This option to read and think with my imagination has taken *root* (pun intended, my friends), especially with Psalm 1 as I have meditated upon it for several weeks now. I have taken the plunge into fruitful theological wondering that is wise and deep with reference to Psalm 1, which by its very nature of Poetry is *ripe* (go ahead, add another pun to the list) for imaginative understanding.

The picture of the flourishing tree. Not unlike many trees you have encountered in your day. But very unlike the young tree in your yard that you can never seem to help grow – whether it be ice, disease, or lack of nutrition that destroys it. This tree. This thriving tree. This tree is the tree that reflects the Christian.

This tree is planted, fruitful, and anti-withering. In short, this tree is prosperous.

This tree is founded in the Scriptures. This tree is fruitful from the Scriptures. This tree is unmovable from the Scriptures.

Boy. I can hear the allusions to Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount flooding my ears. Can’t you?

This tree is supposed to be a picture worth emulating. So. Let’s consider together. What would that look like for you? This Psalm is programmatic for the entire Psalter as it stands at the very head – on purpose! This Psalm should be the grounding for all right reading of the Psalms – really, for all right reading of the Bible!

This tree is utterly dependent upon the nutrients that are constantly provided by the stream. There is a clear link between this dependence on the stream and the flourishing man and his dependence and meditation upon God and his word. A continual contemplation. You know. Daily. Hourly. Marinating for hours-on-end on the only thoughts capable of holding our attention for such incessant meditation. Yet. These are the things that usually escape our thoughts for days and weeks at a time. That makes you go “hmm,” doesn’t it? These are the things we wish would be available at Red Box rather than in some dusty old book. We think such daily dependence should be called legalism. Yet this is the very dependence depicted as that which flourishes with fruit and joy and commendation from the Lord.

This tree is fruitful *in season.*

This tree could be teased out in much further and greater detail… but I think it might be better for you to think for yourself on this one… to dream up some ideas. Within reason, of course.

I *imagine* there are quite a few interesting links that could be found between Jesus and his agricultural teaching (especially Matthew 13 and the sower) that are yet to be explored. What? Were you expecting me to detail this for you? Go, now. Explore. Think. Wonder. Drink deeply of the never-ending well. For yourself. Experience the joyous journey for yourself. There is a great, big world outside the Shire. Don’t remain content living through the story-telling of others. Find some for yourself.

((These were some reflections and thoughts I had from a few months ago now. Thought I’d share. I rarely write in this format anymore. Should I do so more?))

[1]Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 119.

Lessons in Hebrews

I was given the privilege of teaching an Equipping Seminar at my church this past semester (the Fall) and uploaded them below. There is dead time (unless you turn the volume up!) at points when discussion occurs. Hope you enjoy.

1) Christology and Paraenesis
2) Christ the Divine King
3) Christ the Second Adam
4) The Church as New Wilderness Generation
5) Christ the Priest
6) The Obsolete Old Covenant
7) Christ the Sacrifice
8) Faith and Obedience

I also was able to teach in Tennessee on a Sunday morning about Hebrews. Here is the audio for that.

The Brotherhood of Christ