Cowboys Don't Baptize Babies

I now know the real reason why we evangelicals don’t baptize babies. It’s because we’re cowboys and our doctrine was formed in frontier America. That’s pretty much the core of it, according to an article sent to me in response to my hat tip to the evangelism and disciple-making work of Church of the Violet Crown in Austin. The article says evangelicals really like rugged individualism, frontier camp meetings and fire-and-brimstone preaching. So Yee-haw! and Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and all that cowboy, spittoon-spit stuff. Check out an uber-caricature of so-called us at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo-pApe1Kd0. But that is not us.

On the contrary, our conviction that only believers should be baptized is rooted in thoughtful exegesis of many Scriptures. Some who baptize babies believe the act of baptism forgives sin and grants eternal salvation. Some believe that baptism is not salvific, but is akin to circumcision in the Old Testament.

canstockphoto590861.jpg

It is disturbing, though, that those who largely disagree with believers-only baptism are not-so-rarely condescending in their arguments. Instead of addressing and discerning the issues in relevant Scriptures, there’s often a dismissive sarcasm in the discussion that does not appeal to understanding the meaning of the Scriptures.

We can easily discuss conversion and whether Christian parents urge children to embrace the faith or whether the faith is inculcated from infancy, as the article states. Certainly, the faith should be taught as a pattern of life in Christian families, but individual faith is not genuine until it is personally embraced and proven over time by the fruit of belief.

It's a valid criticism that evangelicals tend to hyper-emphasize the moment of conversion rather than the fruit of a life in relationship with Christ. We know that some genuine followers of Christ cannot state an exact date of conversion, sometimes recalling a season of life as their turning point to faith. Even so, that fact in no way validates infant baptism. The two are separate issues. We argue from the Scriptures that no ritual act brings anyone into saving relationship with Christ.

What of the criticism that evangelicals typically claim repeated conversion in countless altar-calls, hoping that this time faith in Christ takes root? That argument makes a mockery of those who endure seasons of doubt and genuinely examine themselves to discern if they truly are in the faith. In fact, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes each person to do this work of self-examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). Although I have never known even one person who has repeatedly claimed conversion and then has been repeatedly baptized, several of my pastor friends tell me they have known a small number who have claimed that experience. But the bottom line is that this experience is not normative and should not be mocked as if it were.

Lastly, does teaching your children a song such as Jesus Loves Me or the Lord’s Prayer, (known as the Our Father in my Roman Catholic upbringing), mean I really don’t believe children need regeneration? Obviously not. Teaching our children the Lord’s Prayer and singing songs about Jesus’ goodness and love simply teaches children about the character of God and how to approach Him. It’s a silly non-sequitur to conclude that our convictions about innate human depravity are insincere because we teach our children to pray and we teach them songs about Jesus.

The article The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies concludes that evangelicals come to a Yahoo! moment when they begin to understand that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their conversions . . . and that evangelicals impose a system that was designed for first-generation converts. Yeah, well, I’d be interested to read a biblical defense of those deeply spurious conclusions, because I don't think you'd get them from a thoughtful and careful exegesis of the Scriptures. And, apart from all of that, Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay! and Yee-haw! is not us.

Is God a Jerk . . . or What?

Published in The Blackbird Press, a discussion of God's goodness in the midst of pain, suffering and loss:

http://blackbirdpress.org/philosophy-2/is-god-a-jerk-or-what

Live the Resurrection

I started writing an article about church discipline, but then realized that it would be published on Easter. So we have a most excellent topic change.

What is Easter to the person who doesn’t love Jesus as the Christ? Not much. Maybe candy, eggs, a bunny and an excuse to gather with family and friends. Maybe that person goes to church. But to the believer in Christ, the resurrection is everything. It’s the Lord’s awesome defeat of sin and death on my behalf. I get to share in His victory over this world. Whatever the problems and whatever the pleasures in this life, there’s incomparable joy in pondering His sacrifice and His triumph.

The day I received Christ, I was wondering what people would think of my new faith. I had been a flaming pagan. But a series of circumstances led me into a three-year search for the truth of God. In those years, I practiced yoga and pondered eastern meditation. I read about Buddhism and considered the Mormonism of a friend. And I studied Christianity. I sought answers from Roman Catholic priests, Methodist ministers and Bible teachers.

After three years of this, I was completely confused. I remained that way until I called out to God and pleaded with Him to help me. I still remember my earnest prayer of that day in the winter of 1985: God, I’m so confused. Please help me. I don’t care whether you’re a god in Hinduism, or the god of Mormonism or Christianity. Or some kind of force. Please help me. I want to know you. All of these religions can’t be right. Who are you? Show me who you are. Please help me.

Nothing happened for about two weeks. But on a Saturday afternoon I received Christ as my Savior and Lord. On that day, I was thinking about the reaction of family and friends. They had known me as an irreligious young man who enjoyed mocking Christians. What would I say?

You don’t need to argue with them, a pastor told me. You don’t know enough yet. Just tell them you were blind and now you see. Like the blind man Jesus healed.

That's the second half of John 9:25: One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

That was enough, even though very few of those in my circle had a clue what had happened to me. Several of them were more than ticked off. But it was my beginning. I have a hard time remembering what my life was like without Christ. And, of course, there's no going back. Someone told me in those early days: Whatever happens in this life, you'll never regret coming to Christ. That's precisely true.

Let the world think we’re fools . . . or worse. Enjoy with Him the victory of Easter. Philippians 3:10-14.

Bike Path

Whoever rode the bike path near my home that day had a fine and sunny cool morning. I’ve ridden that same section of that bike path dozens of times over the years . . . alone, with my sons, with my daughters, with my wife. But on that day, I was driving my car to get new tires. Two police cars blocked my way on the wide street that intersects the bike path, so I couldn’t get to the main street. I was annoyed. I turned around and took another road, eventually making my way to the same location but on the main road. I approached the bike path intersection and saw why the police had blocked my way. A bicycle, with a crumpled front tire, laid on its side in the middle of the car lane closest to the bike path. Officers were measuring the distance between a pool of blood on the street and the bicycle. As I slowly passed the scene, I noted that the bicycle didn’t look like a child’s bike. A man’s bike, I said. The blood pool was big, maybe three feet wide. Several police were examining the scene. I drove on . . . with a sickening sense of sudden and surprising death.

Psalm 93 warns that the Lord returns man to dust. Verses five through seven warn that He sweeps away the years as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed, in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.

I was dismayed. My wife and I passed the scene several times that day as we ran typical Saturday errands. The side street was blocked for hours. I watched the Saturday news and looked through the Sunday newspaper, but couldn’t find anything about a bicycle accident. What had happened there? Why did it happen? The police picked up their measuring tapes and washed away the blood so that, by late afternoon, there was nothing to show that something happened there. Then the daily duties of life again occupied my mind and the wonder of what happened faded. But, whenever I passed that intersection, I wondered what happened there. I wondered about the people and their stories and their losses.

A few days ago, while reading Psalm 90, I penciled a few comments in the column: Lives blighted by sin, inescapably answerable to the sin-hating God. What prompted the thought? It was verse 10: The years of our life are seventy or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. I had scribbled a few short words in the column next to verses 12 to 15: Wow. Life is hard. The psalmist’s longing for the Lord’s return and his plea for mercy in verse 13 are followed by the comfort of verse 14: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Yet verse 15 kicked me back again: Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

I know we deserve nothing from the Lord and I know He owes us nothing. My mere life is a gift of His grace and any day without devastating trouble is a gift of His mercy. I regret the many days spent out of touch with the sentiments of Psalm 90’s admonition to be satisfied in Him, when I’ve failed to live as a child of the Great King and have been bound up in petty cares and perceived offenses. The close of Psalm 90—verses 16 and 17—display the writer’s right life focus. Let your work be known to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us.

It was October 26 and I was running an errand in my car. I drove to the intersection on that side street and the bike path. Someone placed a memorial at the corner. I parked my car—with its new tires—and examined the tall mylar Superman balloon, the round mylar Happy Birthday balloon, the many candles, the white cross. He was Christopher Miller, born on an October 26 that was 19 years ago.

The crash was  September 30. He was in a coma for 20 days after the crash. Must have been a head injury. Matthew, my son, was eight months old when Christopher was born. My mind ran: Oh, how terrible. Such a loss. Today’s his 20th birthday. I wonder about his dad, his mom. So incredibly sad.

I pictured Christopher out for a bike ride on that gorgeous, crisp Saturday morning, with all of the vigor and invincibility of his 19 years. He turned the corner on the bike path, crossed the intersection, and was gone.

I will soon be gone. You will soon be gone . . . and will fly away. So teach me to number my days, oh Lord, and give me a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:10, 12). Let your work be shown in me, and your glorious power to my children (Psalm 90:16).

At a Table with My Enemies

I have asked the Lord over the years about people who together have served as my antagonists, some even as my enemies. They come in and go out of my life. Their faces change, but the role they play remains the same. Some have caused me deep, vast, personal and family harm.

They are nice people. They pay their taxes and have respectable careers, maybe even esteemed careers. They take care of their houses and are thoughtful neighbors. They give healthy snacks on Halloween. They’re gracious and generous on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They dress well and vote Republican. They love their children and their children love them. Some of them go to church. And I know that many of them disdain the Lord.

I remember one set of enemies . . . and I recall hearing one of them, immediately after enjoying a fine dinner, deny the existence of God. I heard racist and anti-Semitic talk. And, at other times, I heard whispers of sexual lust and veiled adultery. All of that troubled me, even before I became a follower of Christ. But when I received Christ, I felt the sting of their persistent and hateful rejection. They became my firm and consistent enemies and caused my family and me immense pain over quite a few years. And I despised them for it.

On my worst days, I asked the Lord to hurt them and punish their smug satisfaction. (The imprecatory psalms served me well on those days.) But He didn’t hurt them. Instead, they prospered. Money and ease flowed into more money and ease. Even when they were sick, they carried on and bounced back, no problem.

And I was reading Psalm 35. David pleads with the Lord to contend with those who contend with him and fight those who fight against him . . . that was pleasing to me. Actually, the first 12 verses are pleasing, as David complains against those who wrongly seek his life and those who devise evil plans against him. He asks the Lord to Draw your spear and javelin and Let them be put to shame and dishonor and Let their way be dark and slippery and Let destruction come upon them. David says in Psalm 35:9 that his soul will rejoice in the Lord and exult in His salvation when that day comes.

I’m embarrassed that I’ve read that psalm countless times without considering verses 13 and 14. But I, when they were sick—I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.

Before truly pondering this psalm, I had never prayed for my enemies. Not even once. And I had rarely prayed for my antagonists. I was disciplined to plead with the Lord about the never-ending and immense hurt they were causing me and those I love. Year upon year, I asked the Lord why He let it continue, but I didn’t get an answer.

Even after David prayed so fervently for his enemies, he notes in Psalm 35:15-16 that they rejoiced when he stumbled, conspired against him and mocked him. That’s just the way it is with some people. It’s not right. It hurts and it makes me mad. And then I came to my senses.

The Lord will judge rightly. His judgment is certain. It will come, whether in this life or in the next. I must trust Him. I must see my antagonists, even my enemies, as  the Lord’s gift to me to refine my heart, mind and soul. He uses, allows and sometimes causes my pain to make me more useful to Him. Not that I must be a doormat to aggression. But I must set my face like flint to be a man of God in the face of their disdain, whether the disdain is directed toward me or toward the Lord. Sometimes their disdain is a mixture of both.

Those who are the Lord’s enemies are pathetic rebels, as I was before my own conversion to Christ. They face a horrific punishment unless they repent. Even if they do not repent, I must not rejoice in their destruction. I must pray for their repentance.

Still, I see David’s on-going prayer later in Psalm 35:19-22: Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes. . . . David’s plea is for his vindication as well as his personal closeness to his Lord. In the end of it all, David asks that the Lord be honored when he is vindicated. David longs not for vindication for his own glory, but for the glory of the Lord. The close—Psalm 35:27-28—reveals David’s more refined heart in his plea: Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of His servant!’ Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.

Whatever He does with my enemies, I determine to live in the certainty of the Lord's sovereign power and perfect righteousness. Remember David's soft heart in Psalm 73:21-28.

Remove any bitter seed from me, oh Lord, cast out a bitter root. Free me from the bondage that comes when I nurture my flesh and reject your ways. Comfort me. Protect me. Guide me. Teach me. Make me into a man of God.

Manifest Presence

The question rings in my mind: “What difference would it make if I saw the manifest presence of the Lord?” If I’m thinking rightly, the answer is obvious. All of my man-pleasing motivations and all of my self-focused pleasures would vaporize. The fear of certain men—whose faces have danced in my head over the years—would melt. Filling my heart and soul would be goodness, kindness, innocence, joy, winsomeness, devotion, endurance, courage, perseverance. All of that, flourishing in this life, would be the precise manifestation of the filling of the Lord’s Holy Spirit. And yet, I am stuck in this physical body in the world of men. Even the best of them, when compared to Christ, are pathetically sinful at their core. The difference between individual men is that their sinful core is in various gradations of large and small.

 

I’ve heard it said that if Christ came to the Earth today to live as a man, we would kill him, just as we did 2,000 years ago. And I’m convinced it would be so. He would be insufferably, annoyingly good and honest and true. And men would hate Him for it. The labels good and honest and true are not terribly troubling. It’s what those labels look like when they’re demonstrated in daily life.

 

That life looks like this: There’s an unspoken understanding that this man cannot be manipulated. He cannot be bought, sold, frightened, beguiled or seduced. He has nothing to hide, and men have nothing that he must have. He’s just too good for us. Everything he does is motivated by his relationship with his Father, and he does what the Father desires. He knows that men are furious that he is not in the game. But that does not move him. The game is about my power, my accomplishments, my position, my house, my money, my stuff . . . my display of me so that you will know that I am better than you. I win, you lose. Look at me . . . pretty bird in the tiny mirror.

 

And so they gnash their teeth at him because he’s not in the game. They hunt for a weakness to exploit or a fact to distort. They look for a statement to twist. But he is maddeningly free of the petty traits of men. And so they would kill him. And where would I be on that day? Would I be as the rich, young ruler who turned away from the challenge of Jesus, or would I be as the cowardly Pharisee who believed in Jesus but did not speak? Or maybe Pilate, the political hack of Rome who knew Jesus was innocent yet killed him anyway. Or maybe I’d join the fickle mob, who adored Jesus one day and demanded his blood on the next. Or maybe I’d be paralyzed by fear like Peter or scattered like sheep as were the other disciples.

 

Do I really want the Lord to shape me into the likeness of Jesus so that my heart is always about pleasing him? Do I want that, even in the face of the fury of men?    Well . . . no . . . not unless I’ve seen the manifest presence of the Lord.

 

I need more of Revelation 1:12-18. I need the awesome picture of the Logos of the Triune God. That picture is not often seen in today’s churches. Jesus is often portrayed as soft and mild, a very nice guy. He’s the one who rarely raises his voice. Even when he cleared the temple of money-changers, a Bible teacher once told my Sunday School class, Jesus certainly didn’t hit anyone. In my naiveté, I said, “How do you know that? The text doesn’t say that. Seems like he could have have hit someone with that whip he was swinging.” (Things did not go well for me that day.)

 

The Scriptures tell us that the Lord’s gentleness is a large part of his nature. But, at his core, he is dangerously holy. And his forbearance toward each of us is simply irresistible. I need more of the fear that the apostle John knew in Revelation 1:17. And I need his touch in verses 17 and 18: Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

 

With that touch, I will fear no man. And then I will move in the Lord’s ways.