Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The happy, sappy, belly-button gazing mind that seeks an easy way says, "what do I want today, what makes me happy, and how can I get it?"
The life of Jan Comenius illustrates a life of faith in tragedy, devotion to duty, and commitment to a life of covenantal faithfulness. This is not unlike the lives of the multitudes of faithful covenant folks who have gone before him (eg., Heb. 11).
You gotta check out "Dr. G's" blog (as my son Thomas calls him) on this. See the link to George Grant's blog, on the left, below.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
My family and I are members of a Bible-believing, confessionally orthodox congregation that is in the tradition of "Covenantal theology" and therefore baptizes babies as a mark of covenant membership.
This morning, as is frequently the case in this congregation, there was the baptism of an infant. While I cannot remember the last time I disagreed with anything said at a baptism in our congregation, I found myself reflecting on what was left unsaid. The question posed by one of the elders was this, "what are we saying and doing by baptizing this child?"
Let me offer my own answer to it, citing things not mentioned at the baptism this morning that, in my judgment, ought to have been.
1) Baptism declares that there is an antithesis in time and history and this God imposed antithesis is made evident by baptism (Gen. 3:15). Like drawing a line in the sand, baptism declares that everybody on "this side" of the line belongs to the Triune God and is bound by the terms of His Covenant. This is nothing new. Paul refers to Jehovah's "baptism" of His covenant people in Exodus when he writes, "they were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea." (1 Cor. 10:1-2) The "line" God drew in the sands of the Egyptian desert was baptism and everyone who made it to the other side of the (antithesis) Red Sea, were bound to Him and commanded to be faithful.
2) Baptism declares an objective status for the one baptized (1 Cor. 7:14). Children are "sanctified" (objectively set apart) by the faith of one believing parent. Baptism formalizes this reality by declaring that this child (or teen or adult) stands on "this side" of the antithesis. They have been claimed by God and His covenant people as Christians. This is why vows are a part of the typical baptism. Like marriage vows, baptismal vows objectivly identify the creation of a covenantal relationship (status) and like marriage vows, baptismal vows can be broken. If a spouse commits adultery, they do not, at that point, become "unmarried" just unfaithful to their vows. The husband or wife who sin in this way do not eradicate the status they are covenantally bound too, they simply declare themselves to be unfaithful to that status and vows and under God's judgment (Ecc. 5). Baptism creates an objective status (i.e., member of God's Covenant people) that now requires certain things (e.g., Micah 6:8). Baptism does not speak to the inward state of the receiver but it does declare the objective and subjective reality exists (the sign and the seal - WCF). One can never be unbaptized, anymore than one can be unborn. One can only be faithful or unfaithful to the terms and requirements laid upon the receiver by the baptism. This means faithfulness.
3) Baptism declares the ongoing fulfillment of the Abraham Covenant t (and promise, Galatians 3:29). Baptism declares that Gentiles were grafted into "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16; Romans 11) and are now the inheritors of the generational promises God made to Abraham and His Son Christ. This is often the most difficult thing for modern day Protestants to grasp, having grown up breathing the insidious air of influence of Scofieldian Dispensationalist (and its variants) in the Christian Church. Hal Lindsey, Tim Lahaye, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and their eschatological crowd, will continue to have a significant influence upon Christian congregations. Combined with the fact that so few Christians regularly read or study their Bibles, it may take many generations for God's people to regain this biblical and Abrahamic "consciousness."
4) Baptism declares the victory of the Gospel in history. Because baptism is a covenantal act, it brings with it sanctions: blessings and cursings. This is an inescapable core value of the Christian/Biblical worldview, that there are blessings and cursing for faithfulness and unfaithfulness (Proverbs 11:31)in history as well as eternity. The Scripture and baptism declare that faithfulness, not unfaithfulness, is the path to victory and reward (blessings). Unlike the pessimistic view of history held by many (most?) Christians, e.g., "things will only get worse and worse until Jesus comes back," (which, as an aside is a denial of the words of Jesus and the significance of the coming of the Holy Spirit because it implicitly asserts that the coming of the Holy Spirit guarantees defeat for His Covenant people, and victory for Satan, and that the Holy Spirit is not enough to fulfill the promise that "the gates of hell cannot prevail" against God's covenant people's faithfulness brought about by the greater presence of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit). This pessism implies that "the gates of hell WILL prevail against the onslaught of the faithful covenant people and the kingdom of God. This pessimistic view makes the petition our Lord taught us to pray for, "...Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...," meaningless.
In opposition to this pessimism, baptism declares that the promise of Genesis 3:15 and Matthew 28:19 will be fulfilled. That the words of Isaiah will come to pass: "... the Word of the LORD will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" and that God's covenant people can have the confidence of knowing that the Great Commisssion (Matt. 28:18-20) will be fullfilled in history, prior to the second coming of our Lord. Which is to say that Psalm 110:1, the most quoted OT verse in the NT, is actually being fulfilled right now.
5) Baptism declares that we have an obligation to ask, as Micah taught us in 6:8, "what does the LORD my God require of me?" Baptism declares the objectively reality of corporate antithesis (are you "in or out" of the covenant people?) and the subjective reality (have your sins been forgiven for the sake of Christ alone?) but it goes on to declare more, much more. This is what is so often neglected: now, do your duty!
Imagine a family who adopts a child and for the entirety of that child's growing up only hears about his status as an adopted child: over and over again, ad infinitum. Imagine he never hears about what is expected of him AS a member of the family but only that he ought to be grateful he was adopted. He can never be prepared for maturity, and the rest of his life, hearing only about his status as an adopted child. There is little wisdom to be had for him in this. But the wise parent will spend countless hours instructing in the ways of wisdom so that when the day comes for him to leave the family and start a new one, he will be secure in both his status and preparation for life. Yet, the Christian congregations of our day give so little attention to answering Micah’s question and showing what it looks it to "do mercy, love justice, and walk humbly before your God..." and either drones on and on about our status as adopted sons (if your in a reformed church) or "gettin' saved" (if your in a fundamentalist congregation). Baptism declares that we spend our lives learning how to be faithful and confessing it when we're not and then again seeking to BE faithful.
6) Baptism declares the obligation of the entire congregation to assist in "...the Christian nurture of this child" and the vow made by the congregation affirms it. again, with all the attendant sanctions that vows bring (Ecc. 5: 1-7). But what does this vow look like when it's being kept? We know something of what marital fidelity looks like, but what about baptismal fidelity? I cannot remember the last time a minister of the gospel taught on this in my hearing, yet we make vows affirming it! Membership in a Christian congregation is not a social club. It is being boundnd, by vow, to the Triune God, His Law, and His people (we do pray "Our Father who art in heaven").
We are commanded to "submit to one another in the fear of the God" (Eph. 5:21), yet what does this look like on a personal and individual level? Presbyterianism teaches us what it looks like in an institutional context (i.e., courts and trials) but what does this mutual obligation that baptism brings look like (Eph. 6)? Shall we warn parents not to send their children to the officially agnostic government (public) school and that they have an obligation, by vow, to raise their children "...in the nuture and admonition of the LORD.." Monday through Friday, 8 am to 3pm, September through May?
7) Baptism declares that God will sustain His people with all they need to be faithful. Entrance into the covenant community is God's guarantee of sustenance. Baptism is the one-time sacrament of entrance while Communion is the ongoing sacrament continuance. It is a "means of grace" just as surely as the preaching of the Word is to us. Sadly, the baptism of infants and children, as practiced in PCA/OPC type churches, declares that while a child has the "status" as a member of God's covenant people conferred upon him/her, the child has no access to the sacrament of Communion.
Consider this analogy. A child is born into a family, and then, from the day of its birth is never allowed to eat, until and ONLY until he or she can give "a credible profession" about being a member of the family, some expressed understanding of the meals and food, and can demonstrate the ability to "examine" himself/herself in order to make sure that he or she is a "worthy partaker" of the food they enjoy AS A MEMBER OF THE FAMILY! This is precisely the attitude we take toward young child: welcome them into the family - now STARVE! We acknowledge your status among us but we refuse to give you the food our Lord offered for our sustenance, growth, and strength, to the youngest and weakest among us: His body and blood (which terribly minimizes the importance of the Supper!). Is it any wonder so many of our children fall away from faithfulness when we exhibit such a conflicting message to them? As the song says, "we are fa-mu-lee" but you must starve!