Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Owen's Syllogism and the Limited Atonement

The classic book defending the doctrine of the Limited Atonement is John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The book is lengthy but his argument is summarized in the following way:

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
1. All the sins of all men.
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, “Because of unbelief.” I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!
Owen concludes that if the first is true, then Jesus did not die for the sin of unbelief. The problem with this reasoning is that the Scriptures say that damnation is the result of unbelief. So, Owen's argument is really with the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures never say that the damnation is the result of Jesus not dying for anyone. In fact, we have examples in Scripture of people whom the Scriptures say Jesus bought but that end up denying Christ and end up perishing. No matter how much Owen tries to make these texts say something different, it's pretty clear that anyone who held to a limited atonement would not say the things that Scripture says. There's a reason why you don't really find anyone teaching a doctrine of limited atonement until the medieval scholastic period.

The Scriptures use a variety of language to speak of Christ's atonement. Sometimes they speak of the atonement as a ransom. Some of the church fathers concluded that since in a human ransom one party must be paid for another that in the atonement Christ is paying the Devil. The Scriptures never say that Christ is paying the Devil but these church fathers pushed the picture further than Scripture does. Owen and the Calvinists essentially do the same thing with the legal language used in Scripture. In an ordinary legal setting if one person takes the place of another for punishment, the guilty person cannot be punished for the crime. But the Scriptures never teach us that if Christ suffered for someone that person will be saved on the last Day and that it would be unjust to punish that person. In Romans 5 we learn that all who died in Adam are justified in Christ and yet we learn elsewhere that this justification is received through faith which itself is a gift of God. The only way to say that someone was not justified upon the cross according to Romans 5 is to say that they did not die in Adam. The only reason given in Scripture for why someone who was justified on the cross does not receive that justification is because of unbelief.

Even Owen's argument just by itself leads to absurdity because if Christ did not die for someone it would be hard to explain how unbelief could be a sin. In the Gospel we are called to believe that Christ died for our sins. If Jesus didn't die for that person then it would be sinful for the person to believe that Jesus died for him. The doctrine of the limited atonement has the wrong starting point for doing theology. It starts from the glory of God. But Paul said he preached nothing but Christ-crucified. Christ-crucified is the central teaching of the Scriptures. If you begin with Christ-crucified you don't have to explain away what the Scriptures clearly teach and you can have confidence that Jesus really did die for you and pay for your sins. If Jesus only died for some you can never be certain you are among those for whom Jesus died because if you fall away from the faith you will just have to conclude that you never had faith to begin with.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Faith and Despair

The Christian world tends to view despair and unbelief as things which cannot exist in someone who has true faith. But in The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Melanchthon says that the true worship of God is faith struggling against despair. Luther's own accounts of his own Anfechtungen are well known and have led many to conclude that he was mentally ill and that his theology should not be trusted. But what do the Scriptures say?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us of his own despair. In Mark 9, a father who had a demon-possessed son confesses both his belief and unbelief. The Psalms were given as a prayer-book for the ancient Israelites and for the Christian church and the majority of them are lamentations in which we confess our despair and even cry out in anger toward God for His failure to act.

The most shocking and paradoxical cry of despair in all of Scripture is Jesus' use of the Psalms on the cross, especially when He cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In this cry we can see both  unimaginable faith and unimaginable despair exhibited in the most profound way. Truly Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We truly have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and who has felt our despair. God uses this despair to drive us to prayer just as it drove Christ to prayer and it's foolish to try to be polite and hide our despair from God. Instead, we are invited in the Psalms to cry out in our despair to God. By being honest about our own despair we are able to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ in their despair and bear one another's burdens. We need not be afraid of those who question or doubt.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the Preaching of Law-Gospel-Law and the Epistles

In the land of the Lutheran interweb in the last few years there has been on-going debate on whether pastors should stick with a Law-Gospel format or preach some form of Law-Gospel-Law (the last "Law is sometimes replaced with instruction/Mystical-Union/Third Use of the Law/Exhortation, etc.). This debate is closely tied to Lutheran debate over the doctrine of sanctification. I think both sides have some legitimate concerns.

Those in support of the Law-Gospel-Law paradigm direct us to Paul's letters where Paul seems to use this paradigm as well as to selections from the Book of Concord, sermons of Luther, and elsewhere. They perceive an antinomianism among the strict Law-Gospel advocates.

Those in the strict Law-Gospel camp are concerned that Law-Gospel-Law will lead to an unlawful use of the Law. They perceive a legalism among the Law-Gospel-Law advocates and regard the charges of antinomianism against the strict Law-Gospel law defenders as proof. They claim that if you have already preached the Law to convict people of their sins, people already know what they should be doing and don't need you to circle back around with the Law again. Those in the strict Law-Gospel camp believe that those in the Law-Gospel-Law camp are trying to preach a specific third use of the Law which those in the Law-Gospel camp say is impossible to do. They believe that those in the Law-Gospel-Law camp are looking to the Law for their sanctification (and some in the Law-Gospel-Law camp have made some contradictory statements regarding this issue).

The letters of Paul were originally written to be read as entire sermons and it's difficult to escape the fact that they don't follow a strict Law-Gospel paradigm. However, they also don't quite do what at least some of the Law-Gospel-Law advocates are doing. Some of the Law-Gospel-Law advocates breeze through the Law in a generic way, quickly mention that Jesus died for your sins, and then spend the rest of the sermon instructing in "holy living." Paul doesn't do this. Paul hammers us with the Law, gives us the wonderful sweetness of Jesus in the Gospel, and then exhorts us in a Christocentric way. I think Will Weedon actually does a good job of this with his Law-Gospel-Mystical Union model. In some other examples I've seen, the Law is weakened, the Gospel is weakened, and even the exhortations are weakened as people turn Paul's imperatives into subjunctives.

I've heard some pastors who do good job of preaching the Law-Gospel paradigm when preaching the Gospels but then attempt to switch to Law-Gospel-Law when preaching on a section of the Epistles and often the Law, Gospel, and exhortation all get softened and lack the force found in the original text. I think at least part of this may be due to the difficulties in preaching on a section of the Epistles. The Epistles were originally written as whole sermons and so if you break them up into smaller sections and you are preaching on a section of exhortations the temptation is to put all the force behind the exhortations. My suggestion as an armchair sermon hearer is to follow the general outline for your sermon structure of the entire Epistle even if you are only preaching a section that has exhortations. The exhortations can still be preached as Law and Gospel. I think this would even work more naturally on a Gospel reading where you are not preaching on one section of someone else's sermon.

But rather than the continuous debate, I really think that actual examples and critiques from each party would be the most beneficial. It often seems that people are talking past one another and creating caricatures of one another. I think pointing to specific examples of both good and bad preaching would be less divisive.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lutheran Church: What is Wrong With You?

Over the past couple of years I've been contacted by people from some other church body that are interested in Lutheranism. They want the liturgy and Lutheran preaching. Unfortunately, although there are often LCMS churches located in close proximity to them, they often don't have the historic liturgy and the preaching is not Lutheran. Why put Lutheran on your sign if you don't want to be Lutheran? Nobody would start a group to support the Republian party and then get all their teachings materials from the Democrats. If you agree with the teachings of Max Lucado, maybe you're really a Campbellite. If you agree with the teachings of Rick Warren and Beth Moore, maybe you're really Southern Baptist. If you don't agree with them, why would you let them teach through Bible studies in your church? Christ washes you in the waters of Holy Baptism and gives you His body and blood to drink, why would you trade that for a bowl of evangelical pottage?

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Judaizing Calvin by Aegidius Hunnius

Aegidius Hunnius (1550-1603) was a Lutheran theologian in the scholastic tradition. In The Judaizing Calvin, he goes through Calvin's commentaries and gives various examples in which Calvin departs from the historic Christian understanding of the Old Testament and instead adopts Jewish interpretations. In some cases, Calvin even seems to call into question the Apostles' interpretation of Old Testament passages. Hunnius's rhetoric can get pretty harsh at times. At one point he accuses Calvin of giving the middle finger to Jesus and the Apostles and at times the reader might doubt some of what seems to be a hyper-rectilinear reading of the Old Testament when he claims that certain prophecies only apply to Christ. It would seem better to me to see Jesus as literally fulfilling what often was fulfilled in a metaphorical way with the prophet's lifetime. I would agree with Hunnius for instance that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of these passages but I think we can also find a metaphorical fulfillment in  Israel, and the church. But if Hunnius misses some of the trees in the forest, Calvin seems to miss the forest. There's quite a few examples where Calvin dismisses the Christo-centric interpretation of the church fathers and there's a few cases where he does this even when the Apostles endorse this interpretation. Sometimes he says that the Apostles were metaphorically applying something to Christ that was literally fulfilled at some previous time and sometimes he even says that the Apostles basically lifted something out of context from the Old Testament and that the surrounding context has nothing to do with Christ.

If you read the Ancient Christian Commentary series, you'll find that the church fathers actually read the Scriptures in a way very similar to the way the Apostles did. The Apostles would often select not only prophecies but what would appear to be declarative statements or descriptors about Israel and God in the Old Testament and apply them as prophecies of Christ even though a strict reading of the Old Testament passage wouldn't lead you to conclude that you were reading any kind of prophecy. The church fathers did much the same thing. They both took Jesus' words seriously that all of Scripture is about Him. But Calvin only considered some Psalms and some portions of the Old Testament to be about Christ even in to the point of disagreeing with the plain words of the Apostles. I think we can see the fruit of Calvin's method in many modern commentaries, whether they are conservative or liberal. Modern commentaries in general often have a hard time finding Christ in the Old Testament. Dispensationalists often even have a more difficult time finding Jesus in the Old Testament and in a similar way to Calvin seem to discount the commentary given by the Apostles.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Lord's Supper in the New Testament

There is a great deal of confusion today over what the Lord's Supper is and what it is for but the Scriptures are actually pretty clear. Here's what they say:

Mat 26:26-29 ESV - Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

Mar 14:22-25 ESV - And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

Luk 22:19-20 ESV - And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luk 24:30-31, 35 ESV - When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. ... Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jhn 6:48-58 ESV - I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."

Act 2:42 ESV - And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Act 2:46 ESV - And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

Act 20:7 ESV - On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

1Cr 10:16-21 ESV - The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

1Cr 11:23-30 ESV - For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Baptism in the New Testament

Below, I have attempted to list all passages dealing with baptism without commentary. Today, there are various teachings on who should receive baptism and what baptism does but this was not always the case. If you read the texts carefully they are very clear on what baptism does and they do not contain the prohibitions against baptizing certain classes of people that some denominations impose upon the texts. For the sake of completeness, I have included passages that deal with John's baptism and baptisms practiced by the Pharisees even though there are differences between these baptisms and Christian baptism.

Mat 3:1-17 ESV - In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Mat 21:25 ESV - The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?" And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?'

Mat 28:19 ESV - Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mar 1:4-10 ESV - John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Mar 10:38-40 ESV - Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

Mar 7:4 ESV - and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. )

Mar 10:38-39 ESV - Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,

Mar 11:30 ESV - Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me."

Mar 16:16 ESV - Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luk 3:3 ESV - And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luk 3:7 ESV - He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Luk 3:12 ESV - Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"

Luk 3:16 ESV - John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Luk 3:21-22 ESV - Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Luk 7:29-30 ESV - (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

Luk 11:38 ESV - The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

Luk 12:50 ESV - I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!

Luk 20:4 ESV - was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?"

Jhn 1:25-33 ESV - They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'

Jhn 3:5-34 ESV - Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease." He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

Jhn 4:1-2 ESV - Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),

Jhn 10:40 ESV - He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained.

Jhn 19:34-35 ESV - But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth--that you also may believe.

Act 1:4-5 ESV - And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

Act 1:22 ESV - beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."

Act 2:38-41 ESV - And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Act 8:12-17 ESV - But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Act 8:35-38 ESV - Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

Act 9:17-18 ESV - So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;

Act 10:37 ESV - you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:

Act 10:47-48 ESV - "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Act 11:16 ESV - And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'

Act 13:24 ESV - Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

Act 16:15 ESV - And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.

Act 16:33 ESV - And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

Act 18:8 ESV - Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Act 18:25 ESV - He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.

Act 19:1-6 ESV - And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism." And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

Act 22:16 ESV - And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'

Rom 6:3-5 ESV - Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

1Cr 1:13-17 ESV - Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1Cr 10:1-4 ESV - For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

1Cr 12:13 ESV - For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1Cr 15:29 ESV - Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

Gal 3:27 ESV - For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Eph 4:4-6 ESV - There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Eph 5:25-26 ESV - Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

Col 2:11-12 ESV - In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Tts 3:5 ESV - he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Hbr 6:1-2 ESV - Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Hbr 9:8-10 ESV - By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

1Pe 3:20-21 ESV - because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

1Jo 5:6-8 ESV - This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

Rev 1:5 ESV - and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood

Rev 7:14 ESV - I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can the Authority of Scripture be Affirmed While the Words are Denied?

There are all kinds of churches and denominations that teach very different things and yet all claim to have the same source of authority. In some of these groups, I've noticed that although the authority of Scripture is claimed, the actual language is not used. In mainline liberal Protestant churches baptisms are sometimes done in the name of the "Mother, Child, and Womb," or "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier." Most "conservatives" would agree that the shift in language away from the Scriptural language also means that they are teaching something completely different from what the Scriptures teach.

When I was a Calvinist, I noticed that when I was in forums debating with Arminians, some would actually get quite angry if you just posted a passage of Scripture. The very posting of the Scriptures would send them into attack mode. I started noticing this even within Calvinism. There would be disputes within Calvinism and one group would simply quote the Scriptures and the other group would attack them for not adopting the confessional language but merely quoting the Scriptures.

After becoming a Lutheran, I started noticing this even more. The Bible would say, "baptism now saves you" or "baptism is for the forgiveness of sins" and if I said these things among Baptists and other groups that deny that baptism is salvific they would say, "Baptism doesn't save you," and "Baptism doesn't forgive sins." I wasn't adding my own commentary or explanation, all I did was repeat the words of Scripture and they would be angry. But how in any real sense can Scripture be considered authoritative if its very words get you accused of heresy?

There are times when theological controversy necessitates the use of non-Biblical words. The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible but it doesn't contradict the plain teachings of Scripture either. You would never hear someone say, "The Bible doesn't teach that we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches we are baptized in the name of the Trinity." That would be absurd. But various theological traditions have in fact adopted terms and phrases that have taken the place of the Scriptural phrases in such a way that the Scriptural phrases are only used if they are read from the pulpit and the pastor spends half the sermon explaining why those words don't mean what they sound like they mean. Phrases such as "sign and seal of the covenant of grace" or "outward sign of an inward reality" or "the believer's first act of obedience" are not used to summarize what the Scriptures say but used to deny what the Scriptures say. Anyone who tells you that baptism is the believer's first act of obedience is going to deny that "baptism is for the forgiveness of sins" and "baptism now saves you." The use of the words that come out of the theological tradition actually surplant the Scriptural words and phrases. If you go to a liturgical Christian church that confesses the Trinity you are going to hear "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" far more often than you are going to hear the word "Trinity" used but if you go to a church that denies that baptism is salvific you will never hear them say that baptism now saves you but you will hear them tell you the opposite. The Biblical authors speak differently because their theology is completely different. Peter would never speak like the Baptist and the Baptist would never speak like Peter. Rome speaks differently than Paul on justification because Paul's theology is different from Rome's.

When the Nicene Creed says "We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ" it would be foolish for someone to confess this if they do not believe in Jesus. In the same way it is ridiculous to claim to subscribe to the Nicene Creed and deny that there is "one baptism for the remission of sins." If you read the church fathers who composed the creed, it's pretty clear that they saw no separation between water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptural passages that stand behind the creed see no division either. Yet, I've attended Reformed baptisms at churches that claimed to subscribe to the Nicene Creed where it was made very clear during the sermon that baptism does not save you. Does the Nicene Creed have any real authority in such a church?

Man-made traditions that are contrary to Scripture are most difficult to break when people are convinced that these are not man-made traditions but what the Scriptures teach. After hearing enough times that Romans 6 teaches that we merely identify ourselves with the death and resurrection of Christ in baptism, people really think that's what it says even though the passage clearly states that we were buried with Christ in baptism. After hearing enough times that "Baptism now saves us" means "Baptism doesn't save you" people believe it. No church body is immune from mistaking traditions which are contrary to Scripture for the very Word of Scripture. But if you interpret "is" as "isn't" and "saves" as "doesn't save" then you can't claim to have the same Gospel as Jesus as the Apostles no matter how much you may claim to be a "bible-believing" church. The Scriptures are not a puzzle to be deciphered and interpreted as teaching the opposite of what its words say. The Words of Christ are to be clung to and believed or they have no authority at all.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Begotten of Water and Spirit

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be begotten from above. Nicodemus asks how he's supposed to get back inside of his mommy's tummy. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he doesn't have to have some sort of strange surgical operation to be inserted back inside of his poor mommy's tummy but instead must be begotten of water and Spirit. Up until relatively recently this has been understood by all Christians as a reference to baptism. On many issues you can find a diversity of teaching among the church fathers but on this issue there is what appears to be a unanimous consensus--Jesus is talking about baptism. The Shepherd of Hermas was regarded by many early Christians as sacred Scripture and says:

 ...to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5), except by putting away the mortality of their former life...they go down into the water dead, and come out alive." (9, 16, 2).
Among modern commentators the dominant position is still that Jesus is talking about baptism here. But there are some dissenters in recent years who say that we should not read water baptism into the text. There is no strong consensus as to the actual meaning of the text among the dissenters but they are united in their belief that it's not talking about baptism.

But if you keep in mind that the Gospel of John was not originally divided into chapters and verses the meaning of the text seems pretty clear. In John 1:26, John the Baptizer says he baptizes with water but a greater one is coming. In 1:29-34, John the Baptizer says that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at the baptism of Jesus and that this indicates that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. In John 2 Jesus changes water into wine. Then in John 3, Jesus says you must be begotten of water and the Spirit. It's really difficult to escape the idea that Jesus' is speaking of a baptism of water and Spirit. The Greek itself suggests that the water and Spirit are tied to a singular event. In Greek, if they were separate it would more likely say "the water and the Spirit" rather than just "water and Spirit."

John 3:6 says that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Jesus is saying that Nicodemus does not need to go back inside of his mommy's tummy but rather needs to receive this water baptism which through Christ's Words is joined with the Holy Spirit.

There are a variety of ways that people try to get around the plain and traditional meaning of these words. Some will refuse to give a positive explanation but just insist that it cannot mean baptism. The most common explanation that I've come across recently is that "water" refers to the amniotic fluid and birthing process--that which is born of the flesh, while the Spirit refers to the spiritual rebirth. This is problematic and actually rather silly when you start thinking about it. First of all, there is no evidence that Jews thought of the birthing process in terms of water. Second of all, this would seem to imply that Nicodemus was right and he really did need to crawl back inside of his mommy's tummy. The question is about how to be born again. Nicodemus had already gone through physical birth, so if this is part of what needs to happen in order for Nicodemus to be born again then he has to go back inside his mommy's tummy. If Jesus had said, "You do not need to be born of water, you need to be born of the Spirit" there might be a possibility that this interpretation is correct but that's the opposite of what Jesus says. Trying to create an artificial parallelism between verses 5 and six just isn't very helpful.

Right after the conversation with Nicodemus, we learn that Jesus is baptizing people (3:22-30). We know from the other Gospel narratives that Jesus Himself did not baptize but baptized people through His disciples. If what Jesus said to Nicodemus had nothing to do with baptism, why would he then start baptizing people?

Lastly, I don't think anyone who believes that baptism is just some symbolic act would ever say what Jesus says when someone asks about what it means to be born again. They wouldn't mention water at all. I think we should be suspicious of anyone who explains a text in such a way that you know that that person would never say what the Biblical authors said.

Baptismal regeneration is not some doctrine of demons. To confess baptismal regeneration is to cling to Christ's very Words. If clinging to Christ's words is Satanic, what does that make Christ? Those who deny Christ's words are not "bible-believing" Christians, they are following the traditions of men. Christ promises the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit in baptism. He promises to make us begotten from above. What wonderful news!