The Grace of Baptism

The Grace of Baptism

The question of baptism and its recipients is truly a matter of grace and not of works. It was my Calvinism that led me away from credo-baptism. I knew–though it took me a while to act on it–that grace was more than a mere soteriological category. Grace was everything and in every act of God for us. The question of an infant’s ability never crossed my mind as a barrier to accepting covenant baptism. The question of God’s grace was the key that unlocked the baptismal font.

Baptism is a heavenly Pentecost. The Spirit is poured, not we who pour ourselves. Everything is of grace; Gratia sunt omnia. God identifies us as His own from the beginning as He did with creation and then He christens us with His spirit. Baptism is the divine hovering. Baptism is gracious because through it God re-enacts the creation of the world. In baptism we are a new creation. a God has copyrighted the world. He labels, gifts, and graces. Man does not have that capacity; man does not create in and of himself, therefore man cannot change his own identity.  We are imitators, but yet only capable of imitating because God graces us with His artistic gifts.

In the beginning, the world is first identified by the Triune God (Gen. 1) and then it is called to praise that God (Ps. 19). We are first identity-less (dark and void), and then God fills us with His Spirit (light and life). Baptism is all of grace. We were void and empty. God looked at us (Ezk. 16) and washed us and clothed us with fine clothing (Ps. 45).

Infant baptism is of grace because it is the re-enacting of creation. Creation begins in darkness– as in a womb– and is washed. It is like our God to destroy nations with fire and to create new ones with a few drops of water.

  1. Thanks to Jonathan Bonomo for this last comment  (back)
Darkness is my Closest Friend

Darkness is my Closest Friend

I have been reading my former seminary professor’s work Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. It’s a journey. A long one. The basic thesis is that we prefer to taste the luxury of food offered to idols than the bread of heaven. We have forgotten to long for the Promised Land. We prefer the Egyptian culture.

Chuck DeGroat really brings to life this paradox of our journeys from real counseling sessions and personal life-stories. I will be interviewing Chuck at a later Trinity Talk episode, but one clear message from the book is how much we underestimate suffering. Suffering is usually cheapened with even cheaper slogans.

Psalm 88, that psalm of abandonment, is full of realness. In the realness, there is constant suffering.  The Psalmist writes:

You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.

The Psalmist feels abandoned in Job-like manner; so abandoned that darkness becomes his closest ally in grief. The pain is real. As Chuck DeGroat observes:

As much as we believe that God can redeem our journey through the wilderness, we should never underestimate its destructive force.

We cannot trivialize suffering and its force. The pain is not to be taken lightly and neither is the journey. The journey brings rough winds and those winds push us around with remarkable ease. The weaker we are the more damage it does to us.

I have just returned from preaching a funeral of a parishioner who committed his life to abandoning God. In his brief time in our congregation he sought death vociferously. But while he sought death he was confronted with the message of life many times. I believe he accepted that message though his garments were stained with fire, as Jude says. This is not the life we have been called to live. We were not created to live in Egyptian bondage. Our bondage was meant as a prelude to glory. In desiring Egypt we become addicted to more suffering and forget that God is preparing us to “flourish in the land flowing with milk and honey. a

Death waits with open arms. Suffering is real. We should not trivialize its force. But at the same time we should desire new companions (Ps. 1). Darkness is the friend of abandonment. At times these are genuine Christian laments. But in lamenting we also remember that God is still the God of our salvation. The Psalmist who laments is the Psalmist who trusts in his God.

  1. DeGroat, 82  (back)
The Power of Labels

The Power of Labels

There is tremendous power in labels. We often are tempted to look at our neighbor and within a few minutes come up with some label about such a person. There is nothing wrong with labels. They can be used wisely. They can help identify certain people. It can help us minister to some in wiser ways. But our tendency is to label people too quickly. The How and When of labeling is a very important tool in our day-to-day interactions. Label sometimes becomes a cheap substitute for loving.

In labeling, timeliness is everything. When we label others we view all their actions through them. And if we have the tendency to belittle others our labels will often not be a very attractive portrait of certain individuals.

The Pharisees in the Bible were quick to label things as authentically Jewish or not. Though Jesus had a few labels of his own for the Pharisees, his primary concern was not so much in what category certain people fell under, His concern was in connecting with these people no matter their economic or social status.

Here is an important lesson for us: Do not label too quickly. Be slow to assume and quick to learn.

God labels us as “children” and “saints.” When Adam’s fall had labeled us forever as “sinners,” God did not cease to meet with us, but He sent His Son to speak to us and to give His life.

There is tremendous power in labels. Be slow to assess. Be gracious in your assessment, for in the manner you label so will others do unto you.

We worship as those marked by the gracious imprint of God. We should be grateful that God did not label us according to what He saw, but that He sought us and called us into His presence.

Al Mohler and the Centrality of the Worship

Al Mohler and the Centrality of the Worship

In a recent article, Al Mohler castigates modern worship. He observes that if evangelicals would agree with the idea that worship is central to the Christian life (a big IF), then the next question is, “What is central to Christian worship?” Mohler observes that the worship wars have led to different conclusions. Some elevate music as the center part of worship. Others advocate an evangelistic-shaped service to draw outsiders to the Gospel. More liturgical churches look at the sacraments as central to worship.

Mohler argues rightly that “many evangelical churches seem intensely concerned to replicate studio-quality musical presentations.” He criticizes the enormous amount of time and money involved in presenting a high quality musical experience on Sunday morning. This builds a society where Christians “shop for churches that offer the worship style and experience that fits their expectation.” The consumerist churches create ecclesiastical consumerist parishioners.

I second and third this criticism; always have and always will. However, Mohler misses a significant portion of the conversation on biblical worship. Mohler, attempting to rescue a Reformed view of worship, writes that “the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the word of God.” But is Mohler accurate in his assessment? Wright, who according to many is very un-Reformed, a observed that “Christian worship is a response of the whole human being and the whole human community to God’s grace and love for the world.” It is the whole human being that worship is re-orienting; not just his intellect, but the whole person. Worship then needs to be centered not only on words, but also in the Christian response to the word. God’s words brought the world into existence, but those words created something; that something was not abstract, but tangible and taste-worthy. b.

When Mohler centralizes the Word preached, he misses what came from those words. Indeed he misses the story of God who created and watched us eat from His creation.

Word and Sacrament are central in worship. Indeed the whole worship service is composed of these two aspects. The Word (includes confession and singing) prepares us to consume bread and wine. c The same Luther who spoke highly of the preached Word observed in his small catechism:

Our preaching should… be such that of their own accord and without our command, people will desire the sacrament and, as it were, press us pastors to administer it to them… For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc.

There was a certain urgency in Luther’s mind about not separating Word and Sacrament. Luther not only argued for weekly communion, but he saw that the Word was incomplete without the sacrament. He argued that when the Word is proclaimed, the Supper must follow. d

According to Mohler, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper each have a place in worship, but the preaching of the Word ought to be supreme. The position of the Reformers was not the one advocated by Mohler. The Reformation–anabaptist excluded–argued that though the Word plays a monumental role in the worship service (Heb. 4:12) it must not be separated from the Sacrament. e The argument the Reformers made, in my estimation, was not for the supremacy of the Word preached, but the inseparability of the Word preached from the Word eaten. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder!

  1. I dispute that statement  (back)
  2. As an advocate of Covenant Renewal Worship, I argue that the entire service is central, though the service can be summarized in Word and Sacrament  (back)
  3. Incidentally, this is one reason for why Word must come before the Sacraments  (back)
  4. Calvin argued that to avoid the Lord’s Supper is a form of devilish theology  (back)
  5. The Supper was, for Calvin, mutual:  Christ “is made completely one with us and we with him.”  (back)
It’s all about table manners!

It’s all about table manners!

What differentiates us from the beasts of the field? I would say one distinguishing feature is table manners. There is a certain etiquette at the table that we as baptized humans are expected to have that animals are not. Even our little ones are expected to develop their table manners. Our little ones move from a high chair to a table chair when they are able to eat without smearing tomato sauce in their hair. Learning table manners is part of learning the language of the body.

This table– though open to all baptized adults and infants– is not a buffet where you can grab and eat whatever you want whenever you want; this table is a civilized table. It is a table with manners. Here we eat and drink with other image-bearers. This means we are patient, gentle, kind, and loving toward our neighbor. The wine that spills from the shaky hands of our little ones is a sign that God is growing our congregation and teaching us table manners. This is our Lord’s table and Jesus loves to see little ones learning to eat and drink. We must be reminded this morning that in so many ways we are like them. Though our outward manners reveal stable hands when we grab our forks, inside we can at times be clumsy; overly confident; self-assured; pursuing selfish ambitions.

If you come to the table too certain of your table manners, then you might be the type of people that Paul constantly criticizes. But if you come to this table too certain of the Christ who died for you, then you come as those found worthy to eat with the Master of the house. And what is the basis of good table manners: Christ. Is Christ gain for you in life or in death, as it was for Paul? If he is, then prepare your lips to taste bread and wine, and prepare to share a meal with fellow brothers and sisters who are learning day by day what good table manners look like.

What Does Baptism Do? A Baptismal Exhortation

What Does Baptism Do? A Baptismal Exhortation

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.

What do we mean by baptism? I can think of no greater description than Yahweh’s in Ezekiel 16. The way God delivered and cared for his people, even amidst sin, is a model for how he deals with us individually from birth. God is a God who richly bestows favor on his people. And these favors begin from the earliest days of life if the biblical narrative is to be taken seriously. So what is God doing to this child at this ceremony we call baptism? We can be certain of at least three promises:

One, we can say that God shows love to this child. According to Ezekiel he is at “the age of love.” At this stage of life the world is a gigantic place filled with gigantic people. For the infant, the world is most like a fairy tale right now. Everything is out of proportion. They are completely dependent. They are ready to be loved. They are ready to trust. The Psalmist puts confidence in his God very early, according to Psalm 22: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother‘s breasts.” The infant is prepared to trust, be loved and nourished.  And it is precisely at this stage that God acts on behalf of the child. The text says that Yahweh “spread the wing of his garments over the child and covered his nakedness.” God is acting here with motherly affection. As Ruth was protected by the covering of Boaz, the child is protected by the covering of Yahweh.

Second, in baptism we can say that God makes a vow toward his own, and enters into a covenant with his own. He declares, “You are mine.” Baptism is the marking of the child with the name of God. Baptism is the fulfillment of the third commandment. Wherever Rhett Hoffman goes, there he carries the Name of His God. And because God is his God, he should not take his name in vain. It was not Rhett who moved towards God, it was God who moved towards Rhett, because baptism is all by grace and grace alone.

Finally, God says, “Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.” The language here could be developed in a thousand sermons, but simply put, “baptism is the clothing of God put on the child.” The nakedness of Adam cannot be exposed. The Covenant covers. And with what does God cover his own? He covers them with embroidered cloth and fine linen. Is there a more glorious picture of baptism? The God of heaven and earth interferes into time and space to clothe this child this morning in holy baptism.

In baptism, new life is given; a new community is inherited; a new name is bestowed. Though the nations are thrown down, God is planting a new one this morning with a few drops of water.

Mike and Ashley, happy is the family whose trust is in God. You have trusted and continue to trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This morning I urge you to remind little Rhett daily of the God who claimed him as his own; when he sins remind him; the God who clothed him with royal clothing; when he sins remind him; the God who entered into covenant with him; when he sins remind me that he may walk in the ways of God, his father, Jesus his Savior, and the Spirit his comforter all his days. Amen.

Rare Video Footage of G.K. Chesterton

Rare Video Footage of G.K. Chesterton

Here is some rare footage of Chesterton being made an honorary Holy Cross Crusader by Worcester College on May 1st, 1931. a

  1. H:T:  (back)
A Society of Friends

A Society of Friends

The Church is a society of friends. It’s a community of love. In this community of love we strive to have peace with all men. We call one another to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. We call brothers and sisters to turn from their sin to righteousness. As Abraham Kuyper once wrote, “He is your friend who pushes you nearer to God.” The society we call the Church is a society that is near to God. And when a fellow member of that body is distant from God, we call him back, because no one can live far from God without enduring the harsh consequences of sin.

A true friend sticks closer than a brother; a true friend edifies. What makes our society different than all other societies is that we have a friend that has already shown us what life together looks like. We have friend who has drawn us to himself when we were yet sinners. We have a friend who draws us nearer to himself, because he is the God/Man, a friend of sinners.

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)

Children and Worship

Children and Worship

Children in worship is an important theme in sacred scriptures. Children are an assumed part of the covenant worship of God.  a Their absence in worship would be a form of re-building the walls of partition. The wall erected to keep people out was torn down to bring people in. The absence of children in worship service revives the old cursed wall (Gal. 3:28).

The Christian faith has always been genealogical. It has always been about blood. Both major testaments function with this hermeneutical principle. But there is a fine qualification to keep in mind. This genealogy traces back to the first church formed in the Garden of Eden. The Church, which began in seed form, and which became pentecostalized b in Acts two, is a true family. Her blood is divine. Jesus bled for her and the Spirit bled drops of fire into that Church, and from that blood formed one holy, catholic, and apostolic body. This newly formed community comes together as one when she worships. She ceases to be a collection of families, but one family. She receives a new identity.

Children enter into this body through the same door that everyone else enters through: baptism. In baptism, children receive the ritualized mark of the Spirit. The Spirit bleeds red drops of fire on her head and empowers the infant to grow in grace and truth. The child is then educated in the ethics of Yahweh (Deut. 6). He shares the same heritage (Ps. 127-128) and the same blood (Acts 2). He becomes a qualified member of this new creation. He does not wait to be qualified, but becomes qualified through fire. Pentecost, then, is the coming together of water and fire.

Children become a necessary furniture piece in the new house of God. She is a little temple joined with many temples forming one holy temple wherein the Spirit dwells. She becomes a warrior; a warrior who depends heavily on more experienced warriors, but a warrior nevertheless. She is ready to follow in the train of the apostles without ever being able to utter her first word. God, the Spirit, gives her speech. God makes the dumb to speak, and He makes babes to cry out (Ps. 8). God’s noble army of men and boys, matron and maid is not composed of polished servants, but of servants that are being polished by the grace of the gospel in the community of faith.

Why children in worship? Because little pebbles become great stones. Because little seeds become great trees. Because little voices still frighten the enemies of God. God is perfectly capable of translating any language in the world. But when he translates the language of nursing infants into praise, He says, “this is very good.”

  1. One might even say assumed furniture in the household structure  (back)
  2. Spirit-sealed  (back)