If you’ve followed my blog or any of my social media platforms over the last few years or if you’ve spent much time around me during that time, you’ve probably noticed a difference.
I’m no longer protesting.
Here’s what I mean.
I grew up in a religious home. I grew up in a Protestant home. I grew up in a home that routinely criticized and even called into question the faith of people who were not Protestant, specifically those who were part of the Catholic Church. I want to be clear here. I’m not bashing my Protestant parents or relatives. I merely want to relate my experiences and perhaps it will resonate with you as well.
My “faith” meant almost nothing to me as a child and teenager. I didn’t understand most of what was talked about. I was “saved” at some point around the age of 8 because I said some prayer one Sunday morning, the “sinner’s prayer.” I have no memory of it but know I said it and made a “public profession of faith” and was baptized at some point soon thereafter.
It was not until many years later that I actually came to a saving faith in the person of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Since my conversion and re-birth, I have walked a bit of a winding road. It has taken me through seminary (at a Baptist seminary), church planting, leaving the Baptist practice and becoming Reformed (Presbyterian), re-planting a church (tried to), completing the ordination process in the Anglican Church of North America to where I am today.
What has led me here is what I’d like to talk briefly about before launching into a series of posts about the beliefs and practices of the Church catholic.
I came out of Baptist seminary knowing beyond a doubt that I was not Baptist. It was a bit ironic to me that my professors encouraged us to love and read and study the Bible. But when I began to do the very thing my Baptist professors encouraged me to do, it led me away from the Baptist practice. There were things in the Scriptures that my Baptist friends simply could not answer for me or, if they did, I found their answers to be unsatisfying or explained away.
I’ll give you an example; actually I’ll give you two. The first was baptism. Baptists, of course, believe that baptism is only for those who have made a “public profession” of faith in Jesus. Nothing wrong with making a public profession of faith and being baptized but that didn’t seem to square (at least in my mind and reading) with most of the accounts of baptisms of converts in the book of Acts. Those accounts almost all involved household baptisms. Hmm….that seemed odd to me that members of the family of a professing Christian should be baptized without making a “public profession of faith” in Jesus. So as I dug deeper, I found myself in previously uncharted waters. I was developing what I believe is a more robust and biblical view of covenants and how those play out in the life of God’s people. Thus I became “reformed.”
The second example was the offices of the Church. I began an in-depth study of 1 Timothy in preparation for a sermon series I was going to preach at our church in Nashville (I was the lead pastor of a re-planting effort). As I began my exegetical work, I was a bit surprised to find that Paul uses three distinct Greek words for offices of the Church. He used the word ‘episkopos’ which is best translated ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer.’ He also used the word ‘presbuteros’ which is best translated ‘elder.’ And he used the word ‘diakonos’ which is best translated ‘deacon.’ I found that to be shocking to my formerly Baptist sensibilities. You mean Paul was advocating for three offices, not two?!
That led me to doing some study on the early Church. I thought, ‘Okay, these terms have been hotly contested for many years now. So, how did the earliest leaders of the Church after the Apostles take the meaning of these words?’ I was supremely surprised to find that they all, and I mean all, took it as three offices; bishop, presbyter and deacon. That was jarring for me.
You have to understand…actually, if you’re Protestant, you probably do understand. I was taught from a very young age that anything that looked or smelled or sounded remotely Catholic was evil. Not just, ‘Hey, this is how they do but we do it differently and that’s okay.’ No, I was taught that anything connected to Catholicism was evil.
This discovery about the practice of the early Church shook me to my core. I could not reconcile what I had been taught with either what the Bible said or with the practice of the Church. I didn’t know what to do. So I made a decision that has forever changed my life and the practice of the faith that has been handed down to us.
I went back to the beginning.
I wanted to know what else I had always been taught was contrary to the teaching of the early Church. I had to know how deep it went for me. So I went back to the beginning. I began to study the early Church and her writings. I began to read what we call the Fathers; mostly the Fathers of the early Church, i.e. the first 6 centuries of the Church. What I found shocked me and shook me.
I want to encourage my Protestant friends. Some of you have found modern Protestantism to be lacking in some things. I mean, when churches are dressing people up in movie costumes and having concerts that they call “worship” we’ve drifted a wee bit from a biblical practice so I get it. I want my discouraged Protestant friends to know that there are deeper wells out there. The wisdom of the Church in her reverent worship practices is out there for you. The water is warm.
I want to encourage my catholic friends, both Roman and otherwise. Some of you may not know why you do some of the things you do in worship or what it means or where it came from. You may not understand exactly what’s happening with all the symbolism and ritual. I want my catholic friends to know that those same deep wells are for you also. Go back and read and study as to why we do the things we do. Test what you do and say and believe in the teachings as they have been handed down from the beginning.
My prayer is that we may all be one again.
I fear we may not see that day until our Lord returns.
But we can all strive for it; for His glory and our good.
Soli Deo Gloria!
So we’ve talked about baptism in general by defining it. We’ve talked about baptism in the Old Testament period. We’ve also talked about John’s baptism and why Jesus was baptized. The topic I’d like to delve into in this post is baptism in the New Testament. I probably won’t have time to give it the full treatment I would like but here’s where we‘re going. First, I want to address how baptism relates to circumcision. There are multiple texts addressing this but we’re going to look specifically at three of them. Then we’ll talk about the Gentile baptisms we see in the early church that have been recorded in the book of Acts. If there is space left, I may briefly talk about mode. Cool? Let’s jump in.
The first text I want us to look at is found in Mark 10:13-16. Again, I’m not going to quote the whole passage at length. Rather, I’ll leave it up to you to read this with your Bible open. So there are some important things here. First, the word for children used here is literally “infants.” And we can see from the text that they were young enough to have to be brought by their parents. I don’t know about you but my 3 year old doesn’t want to be brought anywhere by me and certainly doesn’t want me to carry her!
There are two specific things I’d like to consider in this text. The first we find in verse 14 where Jesus says, “do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Now we could certainly read this allegorically and say that Jesus is making some sort of statement about how their innocence means they belong in the kingdom. What I think is important, as we consider this in the light of covenant solidarity, is the language Jesus uses. He is expressing the very idea and notion of OT covenant solidarity. The children belong in the kingdom is what He’s saying. Why? Certainly not because of their faith initially but because of the faith of their parents. I think we can also see that they are showing what true believers know; we have nothing to bring to God and everything to receive.
Then in verse 16 of this text we see something else very important. Jesus takes the children in His arms, lays His hands on them and blesses them. To receive God’s blessings, at least in the OT, means to be called by His name (see Gen. 48:16 and Num. 6:22-27). To receive God’s blessings and be called by His name also includes you in the blessings and promises of the covenant (see Gen. 22:16-18 and Deut. 7:13).
Let me say that again. To receive God’s blessings, in the OT, meant to be called by His name and to be included in the blessings and promises of the covenant. That does not mean that the children had faith. Don’t hear me saying they were “saved” but rather that they were included in the covenant promises. This is a crucial difference to understand when it comes to baptism.
The next text I’d like to consider is 1 Corinthians 7:14. Take a moment to read that. I don’t know, if you’re not a covenant theology person, how you get around this text without acknowledging that at least Paul believed that there was some correlation between the faith of the parents and the covenant standing of their children. Made holy here speaks to the nature of the home where at least one parent is a believer. In the OT, the whole family was in a covenantal relationship with God. We can also see this in Acts 2:39, 16:15 and 16:33-34. We’ll get to these texts later.
The last text I’d like to consider is Colossians 2:11-12. Again, take a moment to read that text. The correlation between baptism and circumcision is quite clear here. In fact I don’t see a way around the correlation. So, if baptism and circumcision are related as far as signs of the covenant, then now the children of believers must receive the sign, just as children of Israel were to be circumcised with or without “saving faith” in Christ. Again, if we understand what the signs are and are not, according to the covenant, this all becomes quite clear.
Let’s turn to the book of Acts to look at the record of baptism during the birth of the early Christian Church. I want to jump right in at the beginning at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Acts 2 records Peter’s sermon for us. Notice, if you will, verse 39. Peter again echoes the OT covenantal notion of the inclusion of the children of believers when he says, “the promise is for you (who have just heard the gospel preached and have believed) and for your children and for all who are far off…” Did you see that?
Peter preaches to what apparently is a crowd of men. When they heard the gospel, they ask what they should do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins then tells them that the gift of salvation is not just for them but for their children. Peter is simply affirming the covenantal understanding of the OT by saying that God has included their children in His promises.
Let’s turn to the Gentile conversions we see in Acts. Let’s start in chapter 10 of Acts. We see the conversion of Cornelius. At the beginning of the chapter, in verse 2, the text states quite clearly that Cornelius feared God “and all his household” and in verse 24 we see Cornelius calling together his “relatives and close friends.” These are members of his household and I think it is very safe to say that this included children. At the end of chapter 10 we see Cornelius and others receive the gospel and the Holy Spirit and what does Peter say? Baptize them.
In Acts 16 we see the conversion and baptism of Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Take the time now to read these texts if you will. What does verse 15 say? Lydia was baptized and her household as well. Then, in the same chapter verses 25-34, we have the account of the jailer. Look at what verse 31 says. Did you see that? Paul says to the jailer that his belief could save his entire household! Then verse 33 explicitly says that the jailer and all his family were baptized.
Now I’m not the brightest guy around. But I can read. So can you. What does the text say?! It expressly says that those who believed were baptized…and their families. I really don’t see how anyone could read this any other way. If the apostles themselves were baptizing whole families because of the faith of one of the parents, why aren’t we?! These are the apostles, ya’ll. Not some JV team. These were the men who walked with and learned from Jesus Himself and they clearly understood the outworking of the covenant to include children…even under the New Covenant.
Ok, I’ve beat that horse enough for now and it seems pretty clear to me. A quick word about mode. I know all my Baptist brothers get really wrapped around the axle about immersion. And that’s fine. I’m a fan of immersion. But I’m not going to dunk my baby under the water or a little old lady who’s wheelchair bound and hooked up to oxygen or something like that. I think pouring or sprinkling would be just fine in some cases.
What if you lived in a desert climate where there is no water? Could you use sand or something else to baptize? Just a little food for thought there.
I think the important thing here is that we can all agree that baptism is important and commanded in Scripture. Can we also all agree that we have differences of opinion and still love each other? We are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ and should disagree without disunity.
Ok, for our last post on baptism, we’ll be looking at the covenant with Abraham and how it still stands today and how that affects what we believe and practice in baptism.
Soli Deo Gloria!