Us vs. Them

This year our theme verse is Romans 12:2a and our motto is “Don’t conform! Be transformed!”

This focus on being apart from the world could logically lead, quite dangerously, to some very harmful and unbiblical positions (superiority, seclusion, hate and a lack of evangelism to name a few). There is an “us vs.” them mentality in the Bible, but lest the existence of this lead us into any hazard allow me to offer some ballast that should keep the ship stable and on course (lest we end up embracing aspects of the Amish or the Exclusive Brethren who pervert John 17:16 to be in but not of the world).

The Church is to be an inclusive yet exclusive community.

The Church is an Exclusive Community:

A constant drum beat throughout the Old and New Testaments is that the people of God (the elect) form an exclusive community, special to Him, with certain blessings and responsibilities unique to them in their relationship with the Lord.

Consider verses on the special nature of His people, both Old Covenant and in the New:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Bible also speaks about two ways: the wicked and the righteous (Ps 1); the wise and the foolish (Prov 9); those who are spiritually dead and those made alive in Christ (Eph 2); and those destined for hell or heaven (Mt 25:46).

The Bible also places restrictions such as limiting baptism and communion to believer’s, and likewise “marrying in the Lord.”

All of this centres around one’s response to Jesus and His Gospel: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12).

These are just the tip of the iceberg for as one scans the pages of Scripture one will find these sorts of texts at every turn. The Bible does not just teach this exclusivity, it shouts it!

The Church is exclusively made up of the redeemed in Christ. If you are not in Christ you are outside the benefits of His body, the Church. In this sense the Church is exclusive.

The Church is an Inclusive Community:

HOWEVER, the Church is also inclusive! There are plenty verses to demonstrate this too!

First of all for the truly regenerate grace is humbling and never encourages pride: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:4–5). Grace is of a humbling nature.

God’s general will is that: all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) and He calls Christians to extend the Gospel call to all nations (Great Commission Mt 28). If the Lord has had compassion on Christians (Mt 9:36) then we ought also willingly be obedient and extend that same offer to others, treating them not with disdain but remembering such were we (1 Cor 6: 11a) and loving our enemies as Christ loved us (Mt 5:44).

Therefore, whilst the benefits of the Gospel are limited to believers its invitation is universal (or inclusive, meaning open to any who would believe).

Whilst we journey under this year’s theme bearing this healthy tension between exclusivity and inclusivity—the us & them— in mind, we will not go astray.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Miracle of Christmas

The Virgin Birth is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith. Like the Resurrection, if it is true the Gospel is true and ought to be believed. If it is not true then Christians are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).

The Apostle’s Creed summarises the clear New Testament teaching on the Christmas story:

I believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

“Hail the incarnate deity,” the carol Hark the Herald Angels says; fancy words to say that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit and so both fully God and fully man, yet without sin. The Bible says “he tabernacled” [pitched His tent] or dwelt among us (John 1:14) enfleshing Himself, taking on human form to become one of us (Phil 2), so as to live the perfect life, die the perfect death, rise from the dead and bodily ascend into heaven, all to become the Saviour of those who’d call upon Him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The Incarnation was God’s rescue plan.

Most dismiss Jesus as simply a good moral teacher and not God’s Son and a saviour. As only ¼ of Brits[1] believe in the Virgin Birth[2] here are three answers to common objections and also three reasons to seriously consider the incarnation, Common objections include

  1. It’s unnatural (or biologically impossible)
    1. Objection: Because the virgin birth cannot occur according to the laws of nature it is impossible.
    2. Response: This naturalistic view is blind for it discounts that as part of creation there is a spiritual reality and also that Creation is a closed system unable to be interacted with by the Creator who is sovereign to engage with His creation. In fact it is deistic and thinks such a God could not engage with a world and laws He made, rather than seeing God as the personally involved and the sustainer of His creation (see my sermon on miracles in our Jonah series here from October 8, 2017).
  2. The simplistic view (the NT is simply a primitive religion)
    1. Objection: Primitive religions may have believed such things but they were naïve.
    2. Response (from C.S. Lewis): “A moment’s thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.
    3. “No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that” (Miracles, New York, Macmillan Pub. Co. Inc., p. 48).
  3. A personal God, come on!
    1. Objection: What kind of God, if there is a God, would stoop so low as to be born in a manger and die on a cross?
    2. Response: A personal God and God of love (again see Phil 2). Consider the evidence of the New Testament, the most trustworthy ancient document in the world!

The Virgin Birth is theologically necessary for a number of reasons (not limited to):

  1. It shows salvation is of God and not of man.
  2. It produced the full deity and humanity of Christ, necessary for Him to sympathise with us, relate to us, be an example to us of the perfect man, and live the perfect life we could never live. His deity was necessary that God the Son might die to save us (again so salvation would be of God), so Jesus would be the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin.
  3. It fulfilled Bible prophecies like the one to Abraham (i.e. “seed” or “offspring,” Gen 12), etc.

The Virgin birth is a mystery but a mystery need not be incoherent or illogical, it simply means we cannot know everything about it, but that does not make belief in it unreasonable. If we trust that God has spoken to us through the Bible we must believe in the Virgin Birth. In fact, belief in the Virgin Birth is a sort of test of belief (of orthodoxy), yet not the only one. Ultimately, have you bowed your knee in awe to the God-man Jesus Christ, recognizing Him for who He is, accepting Him as Saviour and submitting to Him as Lord?

We showed the following video, a modern parable on the Incarnation, at one of our Christmas carol services. It helps impress the key points of this blog post:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] It is not simply modern atheists and liberals who don’t believe in the Virgin Birth, many people throughout history have denied it including the Greeks and the Gnostics.

[2] In 2008 it was 1/3 and I presume this has dipped since this time.

A Question from the Philippines

A friend of mine who is a pastor was contacted by a man in the Philippines who was seeking discipleship. As the two have developed a relationship the following question arose. This was my initial answer to assist my friend’s response.

If the Bible teaches that only men are to be pastors, why then do ministries under women often prosper?

Why do unorthodox churches seem to prosper from a worldly perspective?

Why does the church down the road that does preach the Gospel but whose form of church government is not Biblical become flooded with people?

How is it that someone is converted under an unregenerate minister who happens to state the Gospel?

How can it be that a Gospel-centred church that appears to abide by New Testament principles not grow, or even perhaps shrink under persecution?

Some of these questions relate to God’s providence, which can sometimes be mysterious.

Returning to the original question, I would say that because complementarianism[1] vs. egalitarianism[2] is a secondary matter and that above all else the Lord desires people to be saved (primary issue) the Lord at times works through unorthodox means. Complementarians must also remember that some female pastors are sisters in Christ (just like some female [and male!] pastors are not). I think the best example to answer this questions is found in Judges.

Formal positions of leadership in Israel were always male. The case of Deborah (Judges 4:4) appears to be an unusual exception.[3] It appears to be an exception until one sees that Old Covenant prophetess does not equal New Covenant pastor. It appears an exception until “to judge” (which literally means defend) is coupled with her role as prophetess (a woman, in this case, who spoke the word of God, often to people in formal positions of power). In summoning Barak she shows she is not indeed the formal leader in the sense that he is, otherwise she would not have told him to gather the troops (v. 6b). We further see their mutual-leadership in the song of Judges 5. Though Barak ultimately went out into battle he did not get the glory, not because he relied on a woman (the Lord spoke through her![4]) but because he did not assume the role of faith and leadership that he should have (v. 9). As a result the glory of the victory was given to Jael who the Lord used to kill the enemy leader Sisera. The Lord used two faithful women (in this case) who stepped up in the absence of a faithful man, instead of the faithless man, because the Lord’s ultimate aim was deliverance from Israel’s enemies.

This question and the story of Deborah and Barak reminds me of Ezk 20:30, “And I sought for a man among them, that should build up the wall, and stand in the gap [of the wall] before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.” The Lord is using many sisters in Christ today to accomplish salvation because Christian men are not standing up to the positions of leadership in the home, church and society that God calls them to.

Correct gender roles are not about capability but faithfulness to design. When this is not heeded, it doesn’t mean the Lord won’t use a woman when she steps up into the role of a man, even if this is not the Lord’s ultimate design. Why? Ultimately men and women are called to be faithful to the Lord’s purposes in gender, but because salvation is His ultimate end, He will not stop at this even if this means using a woman and giving the glory to her instead of the man to whom (in this case) it would normally rightfully belong.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] That men and women are equal before God but created for complementary roles.

[2] That men and women are equal in ALL things.

[3] See: http://www.adfontes.ca/posts/post/article/deborah-and-the-defeater-verses/index.php. I believe Paul is spot on here.

[4] Godly men would do well to listen to the counsel of godly and respectful women. I have listened and am the wiser for it. They have spoken and have contributed to the work of the body (in my case part of the head).

Are Christians Bigots?

This is a common accusation of Christians, but is it warranted?

A bigot is: a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions. It also has the connotation of religious hypocrisy.[1]

There are 4 different points that are worth considering to paint a response to this question:

  • It all depends whether the person in question is an authentic Christian or a nominal Christian. This is a distinction many non-Christians often do not make because they do not understand the spiritual change that takes place when someone actually becomes a Christian. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 7:21a). All nominal Christians are by nature hypocrites and often can be bigoted.
  • It also needs to be remembered that whilst every true Christian is perfect in the Father’s sight because Jesus’ perfection has been applied to their account, they are not actually perfect but are being made perfect through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As a result there is not a righteous man [or woman] on earth who does good and never sins. (Eccl 7:20).
  • The Bible calls true Christians to cloth yourself with humility and to think less of yourself than others and especially God (Phil 2:5–8). Similarly Christians are told to put away all…hypocrisy. (1 Pet 2:1). This doesn’t sound like bigotry!
  • If real Christians are bigots then it is because God is a bigot. Jesus himself said, I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:6). Post-modernism (and the world through history past) despises the exclusive nature of Jesus, the Gospel, the Bible, Christianity and Christians because it is a constant reminder of the truth that they presently reject.

One might say that true bigots are those who are intolerant toward God himself.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bigot

Culture meets the Church

We live in an interesting time culturally speaking. In fact there are elements of modern culture that are downright disconcerting. Consumerism, materialism, narcissism along with a whole host of other “isms” plague us. Today seems to be all about me, the ultimate sign of how far society has moved away from God (the first sin was pride, Gen 3:5, see also Ro 1:25). What is perhaps even more troubling is the way culture is leaking into the Church. Whilst we as the Church are not supposed to be conformed but be transformed (Ro 12:2) sadly in many areas believers allow culture to lead them rather than the Gospel of Truth. One area this has become apparent is in “church hopping,” switching churches frequently whenever they cease to meet your needs or try to hold you accountable. In speaking with our missionaries recently who serve in South Korea this is even a problem there! Instead of continuing on I thought it would be worth re-blogging a couple of different articles and a video by an American Christian comedian (the discerning Brit will be able to read between the lines):

What if the church doesn’t meet my needs?

7 bad reasons to leave a church (and while we’re on it, what might be 7 good Biblical reasons to leave a church?)

And finally, check our an comedic episode of “Church Hunters”:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Half-way evangelism

I recently played host to some family member tourists from Canada. As part of the usual trail of places we took them too, it included some historic churches, cathedrals and abbeys. Often people treat these religious sites as merely sites of historic and architectural interest, no different from a National Trust Property or museum. So, I always value it when the community that represents the building has hourly prayers and asks people to pause to remember it is a Christian place of worship, or when they put up panels explaining the essence of who Jesus is and what Christianity is about.

If you had to write such a panel or explain this to a friend what would you say? Perhaps you might try writing something down yourself, looking up a couple Bible verses to include, it would be a helpful exercise to prepare you for evangelism.

Sadly, some of these panels or leaflets, while beginning with good intentions, end up being a form of half-way evangelism. Consider the following example I came across. There is lots a Christian could say “amen” to, but also much that remains to be said and a few questionable statements. Have a scan to see what you think:

leaflet

Your thoughts?

Allow me to share mine…

1st Paragraph: Amen and amen!

2nd Paragraph: This begins well but in the list of extraordinary things the main reason he came (to defeat sin and death) is not mentioned? The last sentence is also somewhat fuzzy, not necessarily wrong just a bit fuzzy. Perhaps something better would have been to say, “He lived the perfect life we cannot live to show us what it means to live uprightly before God and others” or something to that effect.

3rd Paragraph:

  • 1st sentence: yes
  • 2nd sentence: add…”and for who He claimed to be”
  • 3rd sentence: somewhat vague and universalist (meaning because He died we are all okay without personal faith in Him). How about, “But through His life and death He knew he would atone for the sins of all who would believe in Him, reconciling them to God.” (1 Jn 2:2, 2 Cor 5:18)
  • 4th and 5th sentences: hurray, back on track. Amen!
  • Last sentence: fine

4th Paragraph:

  • 1st sentence: “…are Christians” should read “claim to be Christians” for many who identify as Christian are only nominally so (Mt 7:21). Perhaps they were trying to point to the giant wake Jesus left behind Him as a tool to encourage others to think about following Him?
  • 2nd sentence: Wait a minute! How about, “Through Jesus death and life changing and life giving gift of the Holy Spirit believers are given life to the full, starting now and for eternity.” (John 10:10)
  • 3rd sentence: great

We certainly do not want to be automatically confrontational when we encounter such leaflets (remembering 1 Pet 3:15b), however, we do need to be zealous for truth (Jude 3) and as we are we will be sharpened in our knowledge of Jesus and His Gospel, help others to be so, and together more able to effectively spot error and proclaim with purity the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Are there different ranks of Christians?

This question was asked of me by a boy who heard a Christian leader infer that they were a better or higher ranked Christian than so and so. It is a very good question and I’ll attempt to answer it straightforwardly.

Short answer, NO!

Medium answer, read on…

This has been a common misconception amongst Christians for ages. Consider how the following three groups each opt into this view:

Roman Catholicism: There is the laity, deacons, priests, bishops, etc. Priests for example are believed to actually change (ontologically) when they become a priest as a higher level of holiness is required to handle the sacraments (like communion). This is not to mention the canonisation of people as saints and RC’s worship of them.

Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement: There are unbelievers, Christians (those who have been forgiven of their sin by believing the Gospel), and then super-Christians (those baptized by the Holy Spirit as a separate event subsequent to salvation, usually evidenced by speaking in tongues).

Works/Legalism: There are those who believe Christians are saved by works. Even many legalists, who think they believe the gospel but deny it by living as if it is in obedience to the Law that we are saved (the Law is good and points us to our duty but it cannot save).

Popularity/ Skill: Some buy into our cultural viewpoint that if you are a popular Christian, have published lots of books, or have incredible skills, that makes you a better Christian.

These perspectives are all wrong. Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingomd of heaven?” And calling a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:1–4).

Jesus was not saying all children are automatically innocent (their first word is often “no!”). He was saying they are a prime example of being dependent upon another (their parents). What is required of someone to become great in the Lord’s eyes is to humble themselves and trust/believe/follow Jesus. Because salvation is of grace (Eph 2) and from start to finish it is rooted in faith (Ro 1:17) all Christians are equal in value before the Lord. Though some receive more gifts and high callings and authority (1 Cor 12:11) and some might be more mature in the faith (further along in the process of sanctification), they are all nonetheless equal in the strictest sense for all of this is of grace. The attitude of more mature Christians should never be to “pull rank” or boast as the disciples did but to have the spirit of Christ, which is humility. Humility is the true mark of a maturing Christian.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

How endorsing homosexuality crosses the Rubicon

I would much rather write today about the wonders of authentic Christian faith but in the day and age in which we are living in often find it necessary to equip us against the tossing seas of error that threaten the truth (Jude 1:3).

Since homosexual marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013 many in the church have entered into great discussion on the subject, jostling between the direction culture is heading and what the Bible says (don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind [Ro 12:2]). Trying to make the church relevant by giving into culture in certain matters will only make it less potent and relevant. Given that I am from Canada, the fourth western nation (after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain) to make such unions legal in 2005, I have had even more time to reflect on the subject and write today to briefly demonstrate how endorsing homosexuality as a church or Christian crosses the Rubicon.

Firstly, what is the Rubicon? It is a figure of speech, quite similar to the phrase “past the point of no return.” It refers to a river in north-eastern Italy that the general Julius Caesar crossed heading south in 49 B.C. The significance? It was illegal under Roman law for a legion to enter Italy and by crossing he effectively declared war on the Senate and eventually brought about the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. Caesar was intentionally doing something that he knew would have far reaching consequences that could not be [easily] undone. In a nutshell to cross the Rubicon means “to commit oneself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action.” Endorsing homosexuality is a departure from the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

History_Ask_History_Crossing_the_Rubicon_SF_HD_1104x622-16x9

How does endorsing homosexuality cross the Rubicon in ways which other authentic Christians may disagree yet still enjoy varying degrees of fellowship and cooperation? Many Christians disagree over the place of women in ministry, the subject and mode of Baptism, predestination, forms of church government, pacifism/ just war, and divorce.

The answer to the above question is that those are all secondary issues, which whilst very important (and an improper view will produce negative effects on personal and corporate Christian life), are not primary issues. Divorce is an interesting comparison to homosexuality. The reason why it does not cross the Rubicon is because while condemning divorce the Bible does make some exceptions, unlike homosexuality. The greater the theological agreement between Christians the greater the level of missional cooperation (Amos 3:3) and this begins with primary theological matters related to the Gospel (what it means to be saved and know and please God through Jesus Christ). The issue of homosexuality crosses at least three primary lines of Christian beliefs: Scripture, the Gospel, and sexuality.

Rejects the doctrine of Scripture

Central to the Christian faith is that the Lord has spoken light into our darkness by revealing Himself in the Bible. While we must remember context when studying the Bible (literary, theological, historical) the book in question is no ordinary human book but “sacred writings” inspired by God, because “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful…” (2 Tim 3:15­–16) and “every word of God proves true” (Prov 30:5).

Therefore Scripture is trustworthy, authoritative and sufficient. Because God is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8) the truths He has spoken to us remain the same today just as they were 2000 years ago, from eternity past, and into eternity future. If the Bible is from God we listen and obey, if it isn’t we can do what we want, but that is not Christianity.

The problem with endorsing homosexuality is it forces one to crop out significant portions of Scripture as uninspired (under the guise they are culturally bound texts) such as Gen 19; Lev 18:22, 20:10–16; Rom 1:23-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Jude 7. The problem is that not only is the cultural argument untenable, but that in dismissing these passages one dismisses a consistent teaching of the Bible that is intricately interrelated to other key texts and teachings of the Bible. To affirm homosexuality is to dismiss Scripture, including Gospel passages.

Rejects the Gospel

The Gospel message begins with the bad news of sin and ends with the good news of forgiveness from sin through faith in Jesus Christ and [eternal] life in His name. To reject homosexuality as sin is also to reject the Gospel. In 1 Cor 6 (cited above) verse 11 reminds the Corinthian believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” When we know we fall short of God’s perfect standard (Mt 5:48) and that faith in Jesus offers us not only forgiveness but the power to change, that is good news in light of our present circumstances. Homosexuality, similar to other sins, separates us from God. The good news is that—whatever our sin(s) or past— we can be restored to God through faith and repentance in Christ and transformed by His Spirit into new creations (2 Cor 5:17). If sin is not sin and the Gospel does not have the power to change it is not a message of good news.

Rejects God’s design for marriage, sexuality and gender

To endorse homosexuality is not simply a different Christian view on human sexuality, it is an entirely different worldview. All Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and gender (including Jesus and Paul) trace their roots to Gen 1:26–28 and 2:22–24. This is further filtered through the lens of God’s moral standard in the Law such that when in the NT Jesus and Paul quote Genesis and the Law they are showing continuity and agreement with God’s original design consistent throughout Scripture. When Jesus warns the “sexually immoral” that includes homosexuality because it is a stock phrase used by Jesus to refer to the moral standard for sexuality expressed in the Law.

People can dismiss what the Bible clearly teaches on the subject, they are free in matters of conscience to do that, however, it is misguided to say the Biblical worldview for marriage, sexuality and gender is in anyway compatible with those views that endorse homosexuality.

Many objections have and will be made to similar lines of thought as those presented here. I would refer such people to 2 Tim 4:1–5. If we degrade Christ (His Word, Gospel and designs), He will surely degrade us. Recent studies show that generally those churches that remain true to orthodox Christian teachings (such as marriage and sexuality) grow, whilst those who go ahead of such teachings (2 John 1:9) are in general state of decline. Unlike many divisive issues within the church in the past this issue is a Rubicon that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Many churches and individuals have already or are considering crossing the Rubicon. To the former I would exhort you with the aforementioned words, to the latter I would say the following. While Caesar crossed the point of no return, whilst endorsing homosexuality does depart from orthodox Christianity, unlike the Rubicon, through repentance in Jesus Christ, a turning back to Him, restoration is graciously possible.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

From Baptism and Back Again

hobbitThere and back again is the subtitle to the children’s book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937). It is the journey of a small hobbit named Biblo who travels from Hobbiton in the Shire to the Lonely Mountain on the other side of Middle Earth to help a host of dwarves recapture their treasure from a dragon.  I cannot tell you more than that in case you’ve never read it, but he makes it there and back again in the end.

There is another epic story that could bear a similar name, though we’d have to call it something like From Baptism and Back Again: A True Story of Biblical Baptism. It is a story of the loss and then the subsequent rediscovering of the practice Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19–20.

I am utterly convinced, as a man swayed by credible evidence, that what is often called believer’s baptism by immersion or credobaptism (clarifying the only proper subject, mode and imagery) is the only type of baptism and that all of the extra-Biblical evidence (first century history, early Jewish practices, the meaning of the word baptizo, biblical context and theology, archaeology, and early Christian history, liturgy and literature) is conclusive to this end.[1]

Allow me to recount how Christianity went away from true baptism and developed other human practices and traditions (wrongly called baptism) and then came back again through the rediscovery of credobaptism during the Reformation.

Essentially the story goes like this…

Early Christians (think Acts and beyond) clearly practiced credobaptism exclusively. However, as Christianity grew in numbers and acceptability (along with a growing fear for the souls of infants), many began to push to expand the envelop of who could be baptized. This process was accelerated with the legalisation of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire in c.312 AD and the beginning of Christendom (when Christianity became the official state religion in Europe). Hereafter these recent unbiblical developments increased at an unprecedented rate. Corresponding to the legalisation of Christianity came rampant nominalism (something those in this period of the Church lamented). If society had become Christian how could all be identified as such within society and find inclusion in it? The answer: baptize every individual, whether adult or child, believer or unbeliever. Baptism would be one’s passport in Christendom (btw- which is why groups like Anabaptists and Baptists were viewed with such suspicion by the state in the Reformation, they were rejecting their passports!). The origin of infant or paedo-baptism as a new phenomenon is well documented by Tertullian (150–225).[2] He provides the first literary evidence for the practice, not because he embraced it but because he opposed its introduction into the church and the rampant nominalism it helped to breed. Listen to what he said[3]:

tertullian

Sadly, however, the tide of nominalism was against people like Tertullian until paedo-baptism became embraced by the Church almost universally. Though Biblical baptism was still practiced at various points, unbiblical forms of baptism remained the norm until the Reformation began in the 1500s and groups like the Anabaptists and Baptists began to reject all other forms of baptism but the historic and Biblical form as unscriptural, nominal and “popish.”

One of the earliest Baptist confessions of faith, the First London Baptist Confession of 1644, states:

No. 39

That Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith, or that are Disciples, or taught, who upon a profession of faith, ought to be baptized. (Acts 2:37, 38; 8:36-38; 18:8).

No. 40

The way and manner of the(1) dispensing of this ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water: it being a sign, must answer the thing signified, which are these: first, the(2) washing the whole soul in the blood of Christ; secondly, that interest the saints have in(3) death, burial, and resurrection (of Christ) ; thirdly, together with a(4) confirmation of out faith, that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and rises again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints by raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ.

1) Mat. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38 2) Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Heb. 10:22 3) Rom. 6:3-5 4) 1 Cor. 15:28, 29

These believers were violently persecuted at first by other nominal and authentic Christians alike. Since the Reformation credobaptists have come to represent the largest bodies of Protestants in the world: Baptists, Pentecostals, Community Churches, Free Evangelicals, etc. Ironically, many anti-credobaptists still will practice credobaptism with adult converts (my local Anglican church once asked to use our space at the Baptist church for this very purpose).

Thus, though baptism has endured great trials, it has journeyed away from its Biblical origin and then back again so that—thankfully—credobaptism stands once more as a beautiful sign of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

[1] While convinced, I count other brothers and sisters in Christ who differ on this important secondary point (so long as they do not believe baptism has any saving value) as full heirs in the Gospel, however, as disobedient to Jesus’ command in this regard. While not primary this important secondary matter has many consequences when overlooked or neglected.

[2] Tertullian was an elder in the church in Carthage (North Africa). He was a prolific writer in early Christianity and an apologist for the faith.

[3] The quote is taken from Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009), 364.

No Surprise

It is no real surprise that those churches that believe the Bible is true tend to grow, whereas generally those that don’t are in a state of decline.

Such is a recent finding from a study conducted in my home province from Canada posted in this country through UK Christian Concern (sign up for their helpful newsletters and prayer list too). It is short and well worth a read.

The Bible itself urges us to not wander from the truth revealed to us by God in the Bible:

Jude 3b: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

2 John 1:9–10: “everyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God.”

Eph 4:14: do not be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Prov 3:5–6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

C.H. Spurgeon said that, “the coals of orthodoxy [correct belief] are necessary to fan the flames or revival [kingdom growth].”

This is especially important at Christmas. Thankfully at Cromhall Chapel when we talk about:

  • Prophecies fulfilled in Christ foretold in ages past,
  • Angels and choirs of heaven,
  • Dreams,
  • A young teenager becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit (the Virgin Birth),
  • God becoming man in the person of Jesus (the Incarnation),
  • And that He came to save us from our sins (SIN is real), and
  • That by believing who Jesus is and why He died you will be transformed into a new person and given eternal life [the ultimate personal testimony to the truth of the Bible’s message, the Gospel]…

we actually believe what the Bible says!

Happy Christmas—IT IS ALL TRUE!

Pastor Chris