Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Some Updates

  • I am back home from my travels, but not for long. This Friday I leave for Pittsburgh (just for the weekend.) Later in the month I will be going to Virginia. Then in August it’s Alabama and probably San Diego. And somewhere in that mess I also need to get to Washington D.C.

  • Blogging, then, will be intermittent all summer. When fall rolls around, there will be a new Sunday School to teach which will result in fairly regular substantive blogging. I am looking for topics—any suggestions? So far I am considering either (a) The history of the church or (b) Heresies (expounding upon, not advocating) or (c) The Reformation or (d) The book of Romans.

  • Speaking of Sunday school, I never posted my last few classes on Amillennialism. I just became sick of end-times talk. However, if anyone is interested, just drop me a line and I’ll send the Microsoft Word file of my notes for the entire class. They are unedited with lots of typos, but all the material and references are there.

  • I have rewritten a great deal of my novel—I now like the beginning, which was the part I really disliked. Instead of looking for an agent, I am now trying a few small publishers that accept manuscript submissions. We’ll see how it goes. I have an idea for a next novel, something completely different, but I don’t want to start until “something happens” with the first one.

  • I’ll leave you with a little theological content, a quote from B. B. Warfield:
    The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His Church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances. Among these ordinances is baptism, which standing in similar place in the New Dispensation to circumcision in the Old, is like it to be given to children.
    I agree but do not find the argument compelling. It is an argument based on what is not in scripture, namely an instruction that children (infants) are no longer covenant members, rather on what is in scripture. In that sense it is the same quality of argument as the one made by proponents of believer’s baptism, i.e., the absence in scripture of an explicit infant baptism proves that it is not proper.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Once Again...

On travel this week, doing my part to keep the world safe for democracy. Back next week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Believe AND be baptized?

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16.
This is one troublesome passage.

Now it is not particularly relevant (although it is sometimes brought up in that context) for the infant baptism debate. For, as I have written many times, "whoever believes" and similar phrases cannot exclude infants (including those in the womb), if you expect that at least some infants are saved.

No, the trouble with Mark 16:16 is that the first phrase implies that baptism is absolutely required. Contrary to the gospel, it adds baptism to faith as necessary for salvation. The second half of the verse seems to step back from that position, but not necessarily, logically speaking. For if whoever believes AND is baptized is saved means, as it sure looks like, that both faith and baptism are required, then it is still true that that whoever doesn’t believe is lost—although you would expect the writer to add a similar warning for the non-baptized.

There is really no other way to interpret whoever believes AND is baptized will be saved. The reference to baptism can not be incidental. It simply can not be assumed that there is an omitted parenthetical qualifier: whoever believes and is baptized (although that is not necessary) will be saved. That makes no sense and carries no more content than saying whoever believes and eats a Big Mac will be saved. True enough, but obviously not worth mentioning.

This passage teaches that you must be baptized, contrary to the rest of scripture, which is more along the lines of: you had better be baptized, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The answer, of course, is that Mark 16:16 (in fact Mark 16:9-20) is most likely not inspired and does not belong in the canon.

For those of you not familiar with this position, I will tell you that it has a wealth of scholarly support—and many bibles point out that the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 is disputed.

Some of the reasons are: 1
  • The earliest complete gospel manuscripts Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus do not contain the passage.

  • While many early (but later than the two above) manuscripts contain the passage, almost all "asterisk" it as under dispute.

  • Early manuscripts in other languages omit the passage.

  • Eusebius and Jerome both doubted the authenticity.

  • Early theologians such as Clement of Alaxandria and Cyril of Jeusalem (and others) never refer to the passage.

  • Other early manuscripts agree up to Mark 16:8, but then have different endings.

  • Scholars detect a difference in style and word-use when compared with the rest of Mark's gospel.
Can we ever be sure that Matt. 16:16 does not belong in the bible? Probably not. However, given that it is contested by serious conservative scholars, and given that it is seemingly at odds with other undisputed scripture, it would seem to prudent to avoid building or even supporting any theology on the basis of Mark 16:16.

The fact that virtually every bible contains at least two familiar passages (Mark 16:9-20) and the beloved John 7:53-8:11 that are probably not inspired is fascinating, and it points out that our Protestant rallying cry of Sola Scriptura is not as trivial as both Protestants and Catholics make it out to be. It is not synonymous with stating that we Protestants have no traditions—or even stating that we have only "unimportant" traditions. Our canon –the sixty six books of the bible—is a tradition. I have hope that the Sprit guided the process, but the difference between that hope and the hope of Catholics, which sounds identical—that the Spirit guides the Catholics church in areas such as Marian doctrine—is not to be cavalierly side-stepped.

1 Summarized from The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, Gregg Strawbridge ed., P&R Publishing, pp. 44-48, 2003.

Monday, June 14, 2004

National Review Online Revisted

Because of the death of President Reagan, I decided to place a moratorium on my self-imposed ban on visiting one of the most popular sites of my fellow bloggers: National Review Online.

I boycotted NRO for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the writing is not up to the standards of the previous generation of NR contributors. I am also convinced that the new generation at NRO, as a whole, represents the worst form of conservatism: what I would call scientific or pragmatic conservatism. That is, they support conservatism, actually economic conservatism, merely because it works. The moral underpinnings of conservatism are not, by this crowd, considered particularly relevant. My gut feeling is that many NRO contributors are just a stone's throw away from secular humanism.

I always had the impression that they viewed evangelicals as useful idiots. My favorite example of this mindset was this article from a couple of years back describing evangelical support for Israel. The writer characterizes their support:
It's clear, then, that Evangelicals, as a whole, are devoted not to the people of Israel but to the concept of Israel, in the cosmic context of the Book of Revelations [sic].

And later in the same article:
Many pro-Israel Evangelicals with a taste for eschatology or End Times theories — of the sort described in the bestselling Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins — may not even be aware of the origins of the Israel they devotedly support.

Here the writer made an ill-informed equating of evangelical and dispensationalist. Even if that were not so, I would still resent the elitist attitude taken toward my dispensational friends, that "many" may not even be aware of the origins of Israel. (I can bust on dispensationalists for faulty theology, but you leave them alone!) Presumably the NRO staff supports Israel for unimpeachable, intellectual reasons. Evangelicals only because of bumpkinish eschatological zeal.

Well, as I said, I decided to visit NRO to see if it was more of the same. I discovered that I like Goldberg's writing a lot more. Before it seemed to me that his technique mostly involved trying to be funny through wisecracks and sarcasm— I could almost see him smirking as he penned his articles. I would say that he has matured significantly.

On the other hand, Derbyshire still writes about himself in third person, with headings such as "Derb cries in his beer." That is more than mildly annoying. Note to "Derb": writing about oneself in third person is a privilege reserved for intellectual titans, although they tend not to indulge themselves in such petty narcissism.

Dreher, it seems to me, is still the overall best writer.

A writer with whom I was not familiar, Andrew Stuttaford, had some interesting posts but also exhibited what I most dislike about NRO: their elitist tolerance for religion:
Trust me, there is no contradiction at all in being profoundly skeptical about the existence of any deity while being quite happy to recognize that God is part of the warp and woof of America's culture, history and heritage. Throwing the old fellow out of such national ceremonies would be nothing more than vandalism, and vindictive at that. As for the pledge, the dollar bill, and so on, I am at a loss to understand why the religious elements in these symbols seem to worry so many secular sorts. In an age of rising fundamentalism, ever more crass superstition (and don't even get me started on creation 'science') there are a lot more important matters to consider - and, of course, we only have one life in which to do so.

NRO, in general, goes no further than to admit that God (the "old fellow") is part of our culture, so deal with it.

I don't know what comprises the "rising fundamentalism" and "crass superstition" that Stuttaford is so worried about.

I was left with the same overall impression. Evangelicals are paid lip service because we tend to vote Republican. Were that not so, I believe NRO's lukewarm support for social conservatism would degenerate into simple ambivalence. I’ll check back in another year. For now, I'm re-imposing my boycott.


Describing the construction of Solomon's temple:
And he made the Sea of cast bronze, ten cubits from one brim to the other; it was completely round. Its height was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. (1 Kings 7:23)

I wonder if dispensationalists insist that from this passage, which must be taken literally, the correct value for pi is really 3.0?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

No posts

for a few more days. Combination of being in a funk and traveling. See you soon.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Was Church Membership Made More Restrictive?

I think it is fair to say that we all agree that there was an old covenant between God and a people, the Jews. And that membership in the covenant, the "insiders", was restricted to Jews, their children (whose faith was not confirmed but assumed), and adult converts.

When we get to the new covenant, we have to ask ourselves some questions. Is there still a group of insiders and outsiders? Has God relaxed or tightened the membership requirements?

The Arminian, while never denying that there is a New Covenant, does deny any corporate covenantal dealings between God and a people. To the Arminian, the only ecclesiastical reality is an indeterminate number (potentially zero) of personal-Lord-and-Savior bonds between individual epiphanized decision-makers and God. The church is just a convenient gathering of those fortunate people for whom prevenient grace was adequate. Their children tag along, but are outsiders until such time as they experience their personal altar call.

The Reformed Baptist will acknowledge not only the New Covenant but also that God has a special relationship with His people: the elect. There is only the elect and everybody else. The Reformed Baptist has tightened membership into the covenant. After all, there were elect in Old Testament times as well, yet God had a special relationship with Jews, not just elect Jews.

But does New Testament scripture teach that membership in the covenant, which includes partaking of certain promises and participation in certain sacramental rites (in short: church membership) has been further restricted? No, it does not teach that. Is it silent on the matter? No it isn’t.

That leaves us with only one option. Scripture does not proclaim a tightening. Nor is it silent on the matter. So it must be that it explicitly teaches that membership has been relaxed. Once you look for it, it is not so hard to find.
27And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. 28Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. (Gal. 3:27-28)

The Baptist would have to respond that membership is expanded to include Greeks, women, etc., but has been tightened so as now to exclude some who were formally admitted: infants.

For the Baptist, the absence of an explicit command to continue including infants takes precedence over the absence of an explicit command to begin excluding them. A radical change, about which scripture is silent, is assumed.
Crispus was the leader of the meeting place. He and everyone in his family put their faith in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard the message, and all the people who had faith in the Lord were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

Here we have a favorite passage for the Baptist position. Clearly "everyone in his family" implies reasoned adults, otherwise how could the writer (Luke) be sure they "put their faith in the Lord?" But regardless of the ages of the family members, Luke can only be sure of the legitimacy of their faith for one reason: he is writing under the inspiration of the Spirit. The Spirit knows who has been given faith. Otherwise, Luke would have to write: it appeared that they put their faith in the Lord based on their credible testimony.

As I have written many times now, if you expect to see some who died as infants in heaven, then you are forced to acknowledge that infants can possess faith. The only alternative is to give up on the notions that we are saved by faith and are justified by faith alone.
14One of them was Lydia, who was from the city of Thyatira and sold expensive purple cloth. She was a worshiper of the Lord God, and he made her willing to accept what Paul was saying. 15Then after she and her family were baptized, she kept on begging us, "If you think I really do have faith in the Lord, come stay in my home." Finally, we accepted her invitation. (Acts 16:14-15)

This is perhaps a more significant baptismal account. While once again the entire family is baptized, here Luke writes nothing about the faith of the family members. The Baptist position is that we must assume they all were adults and all made a credible profession. Perhaps that is true. But it is not necessary. What the passage teaches is that when Lydia was admitted to the covenant. Then, as the head of her household, her family was welcomed as well.

Once again I am drawn to the singular passage that started me on this journey. For, apart from acknowledging that there are a covenantal people, a group larger than the elect but smaller than all humanity, whom, even those that will not be saved, are viewed differently by God, and a group that includes infants, there is simply no explanation for:
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:14)

Through a believing wife (call her Lydia) an unbelieving (and hence condemned) husband and her children are sanctified (set aside). How are they sanctified, even though they might be lost? What else can it mean other than they are admitted to the church?