Monday 24 September 2012

Baptism Continued

Does Baptism have to be by Immersion or Dipping?

Some sections of the professing church insist that baptism must be by immersion. However, does this suggestion carry biblical weight? One of the common appeals is to the supposed meaning of the Greek word "to baptise", but does this assertion demonstrate that baptism must be by immersion to be valid?

The plea is made by some, from the meaning of the Greek word “baptise” (baptiz┼Ź). Proponents of this view insist that it is to be understood exclusively as “to immerse, plunge or dip”. Greek scholars concur that this meaning is included, but the context of each usage of this word in the NT does not fit such a constrained jacket of meaning (Mark 7:4, Col. 2:12, Heb. 6:2, 9:10).

Frederick Danker responsibly includes the idea of “ritual or ceremonial washing” (Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009, 67). John Owen refuses to yield to this singular insistence of dipping. He writes “I must say, and will make it good, that no honest man who understands the Greek tongue can deny the word to signify ‘to wash,’as well as ‘to dip’ ”. (John Owen, “Of Dipping” in The Works of John Owen: The Church and the Bible, Volume 16, ed William H. Goold, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968, repr., 2006, 266-67).

Owen prefers the rendering “to wash” and this has implications of cleansing which is spiritually significant. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Eph. 1:7, Titus 3:5-6, Heb.12:24).

The Westminster Confession of Faith is affirmed: “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary: but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person” (28:3). Dipping is not excluded, but it is not exclusively necessary for Christian baptism.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Marks of the Church (Baptism)

Christian Baptism is in urgent need of being re-visited by the evangelical church. The biblical teaching of the sacraments is that they are 'signs and seals' of God's covenant grace (Romans 4:11). The fore-runner of baptism in the Old Testament was circumcision which God instituted in Genesis Chapter 17. God commanded Abraham: 'And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you' Genesis 17:9-11. Note the connection between covenant and circumcision.

There is a connection between God's covenant's and God's sign's of the covenant, which in the New Testament are baptism and the Lord's Supper. The shadow of baptism in the Old Testament was circumcision: Whereas circumcision involved the shedding of blood and therefore it pointed forwards to the future shed blood of Christ, baptism points backwards to the shed blood of Christ and Christ's completed atonement. Baptism in the new covenant is to be administered using water and the new covenant name of God, 'the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit'; it is to be applied to adults and the children of believing parents.

As with the sign of the covenant, circumcision in the Old Testament, in the new covenant this sign is also to be applied not only to believers, but also to the children of believers. The exclusion of children in baptism by evangelicals is a mistake. A sincere question remains. In which direction does the sign of baptism point? Baptists would argue that it points to our faith in Jesus and our obedience to Him. However, the signs of the covenant do not point to man but instead to God. This is why the inclusion of children in baptism is such a stumbling block to baptists, because they argue 'how can a child have faith?'.

However, baptism is not connected to the timing of it's ordinance for it's efficacy. The same is true of the Lord's Supper. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3: 5-6 '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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life'.

Baptism declares the priority of grace over faith. We are not saved by faith. We are saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 'For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast'.

It is important that we recover the biblical doctrine of baptism to ensure that God is glorified, and declared to be the alone saviour of sinners, which is by His grace alone.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Marks of the Church (The Sacraments)

The Sacraments are the Second Mark of a True Church

For a host of reasons, much of British evangelicalism is often only primarily concerned about one mark of the church; that is preaching. However, the Lord Jesus Christ instituted two new covenant ordinances, which are baptism and the Lord's Supper. There are only two sacraments and this is contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church who teach that there are seven.

In many ways, I think that the way that baptism and the Lord's Supper are administered in a church is a very good 'litmus test' for the theology of that church. For example baptism, which for all the reformers included the baptism of infants of believers. Today, many churches would refuse to baptise infants, on the basis of their accepting a different doctrine called 'believer's baptism'. However, the reformers would have contended that this doctrine does not administer the sacrament correctly. It is time for the baptistic doctrine of baptism to be challenged, especially in England and Wales.

What about the Lord's Supper? I have been in churches where it was hastily bolted on to the end of the service and the richness of this spiritual feast was not captured. Such a low view of the Lord's Supper is commonly held and practiced. Evangelical churches need to revisit this doctrine and evaluate whether they are administering it in a way that is true to the Bible and true to feeding the flock of God.

The sacraments are the second mark of a true church, can that be said to be true in your mind? Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ and the words of institution of the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

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.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 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.” (Mt 26:26–29).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18–20).

Monday 3 September 2012

The Marks of the Church (Part Four)

Preaching Must Give a Sense of the Presence of God!

There is so much to say about the preaching of pure doctrine that it is hard to know how much to include on this blog series. Recently, someone spoke to me about their search for a good church. They explained that they visited one church which has a good evangelical reputation and yet this person remarked to me something interesting. They said that "There was nothing wrong with the church, everything was sound, and yet there was something missing".

Over the recent months I have been thinking very much about what that "something" could be. I discussed this with one of my fellow Presbyterian ministers and he suggested that what was missing was a 'sense of the presence of God'. He went on to explain that if we do not understand what worship is, an activity that is to be conducted before a holy God, and not simply as a good Christian habit or for evangelism, then a 'sense of God' will be missing.

A number of years ago I heard Professor Ted Donnelly preach for the first time. I came home and told my wife that as I heard him preach, it seemed as if I was being brought before the very throne of God. Now that is preaching! In conclusion, we want sound doctrine to be preached, but preaching that is believed to be the 'high point of Christian worship'. This needs to be understood by the elders and the congregation. Understanding this can transform the worship of a church.

John Calvin made these statements several centuries ago:

‘God governs his church by the external preaching of the Word’.

‘Why is the preaching of the gospel so often styled the kingdom of God, but because it is the sceptre by which the heavenly King rules his people?’.

‘The preaching of the gospel, which is committed to [the church], is the spiritual sceptre of Christ, by which he displays his power’.

The Book of Hebrews teaches: Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28–29). If preaching is the high point of worship then it must be conducted with reverence, otherwise it is not being conducted in a way that is 'acceptable' to Almighty God. Let us think much on these things!