Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The fact that numbers are brought up at all is very telling. It points to pragmatism rather than a trust in Christ's promises despite all the objections to the contrary. Tertullian was the first to question the practice of infant baptism. He did not question the validity of infant baptism but he thought it was better to wait because he did not believe that infants were sinful and thought it put a heavy burden on baptismal sponsors. Zwingli makes a similar objection. Zwingli doesn't deny the validity of infant baptism but he does think it's better to wait until someone has shown that they are truly committed to being a Christian. The Scriptures don't say to wait. The Scriptures don't specifically say to baptize babies but they don't specifically say to baptize ninety year olds either. Jesus told the Apostles to disciple the nations by baptizing them.
If a Baptist knows that you believe in baptismal regeneration he may also bring up people like Hitler and many others who were baptized as infants but left the Christian faith. This is because he believes that if a person is given faith they will never fall away from the faith. However, the Scriptures tell us differently. We often read of those who have faith but fall away and Paul gives warnings that would be completely unnecessary if people never fell away. The Baptist promises greater assurance by saying that those who fall away never "really" had faith to begin with but this provides no assurance at all. Those who fell away thought that they had faith, so you can never really know if you are just fooling yourself into thinking you have faith.
Aside from the theological problems already mentioned with the statistical argument, the statistical argument also fails by its own standards. Depending on whose numbers you use, only somewhere between 3-9% of people who "make a decision for Christ" at an evangelistic crusade are living Christian lives a year later. Keep in mind that the vast majority of those who attend evangelism crusades regarded themselves as Christians prior to going to the crusade. What the crusade does is seek to emotionally manipulate people into thinking they were not Christians before and to associate being a Christian with an emotional response. When these people stop having emotional responses then they conclude they might as well not bother going to church anymore. Just before the first so-called Great Awakening church attendance was at an all-time high in the regions it took place in. After the Great Awakening attendance was at an all-time low in the same regions. The Second Great Awakening did the same thing. There was short burst of excitement followed by an emptying of the churches. People have developed all kinds of methodology with loose ties to Scripture in attempts to weed out the "false" converts and establish a pure church but none of this keeps people from falling away. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says that when the Gospel is preached some will believe for a time but eventually reject it. It's a sad reality that we can't do anything about. We are not wiser than Jesus. Introducing other things to emotionally manipulate people will only make things worse. Jesus told the Apostles to disciple the nations by baptizing them, He didn't say to disciple the nations by emotionally manipulating them. Introducing random rules to determine the "real" Christians from the "false" ones does not keep people from falling away. All that it does is lead people to either self-righteousness or despair.
The fact of the matter is that people fall away if they "make a decision" after becoming an adult just as they fall away after being baptized as an infant. The vast majority of Christians today (around 90%) were baptized as infants. Even if you take the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox out of the equation the majority of Christians were baptized as infants. Even among Baptists, a large percentage were baptized as infants in some other tradition. There are very, very few people today in America who are joining Christian churches as adults who grew up outside of the church. When a church is growing it usually means people are coming in from a different church.
Rather than doubt Christ's Word we should cling to it. Rather than putting our trust in some methodology or a tradition that disguises itself as Scripture, cling to Christ's promises. The Bible says that baptism now saves you and is for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said that we are born again through water and the Spirit. Baptism does what it says because it is not just plain water but water joined with God's Word. Baptism is not our work but God's work. Sure, He uses sinful human instruments to bring it about but He does this with preaching as well. It's still God's Word. The fact that it is God's work and not man's work that saves us is seen most clearly in the baby who doesn't have any crazy ideas about being able to save himself. Denial of infant baptism always ends up denying what the Scriptures say about baptism and turns it into something we do for God.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 12:50 PM
Friday, October 19, 2012
Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story by Lowell C. Green. The title made me a little suspicious that this was some kind of sensationalist revisionist history but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually very well-researched and honest. Green honestly discusses the strengths and weaknesses of confessional Lutherans who took a stand against Hitler and provides lots of support from both primary sources and personal interviews. Green does not make sweeping generalizations but instead provides an incredibly detailed account that manages to stay interesting throughout. Green's work doesn't concentrate on well-known Lutherans like Bonhoeffer. Instead his work provides information on the less well known confessional Lutherans. He does a good job of explaining how Hitler managed to gain the support of so many churches and the theological issues that kept Lutherans and the Reformed from taking a united stand against Hitler. He shows the similarities between the bad eschatology of Karl Barth and Hitler. He also shows how Karl Barth's theology which denied the distinction between Law and Gospel and also denied general revelation removed the necessary tools to oppose Hitler. The book is mostly descriptive rather than prescriptive but much can be learned that has current application. It shows us what can happen when doctrine is set aside and we unite based on national identity and generic god-talk.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 2:09 PM