Baptism is Warfare

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“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is one of the questions that commonly shows up in baptismal liturgies of the early church. This was asked when new converts would come up for baptism. Baptism is no light matter.

“The subjects of baptism are all the covenanted, whether they are truly such or are regarded as probably on account of external calling and profession of faith and communion with the believers, without any distinction of  sex, nation and age.” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 383) In light of this, then would this baptismal vow apply to those who are baptized in infancy? Turretin also writes about baptism with regards to repentance: “Baptism is called the sacrament of repentance; not because it requires that beforehand in everyone to be baptized, but because it binds the baptized to the desire of it, whether in the present (when they are capable of it) or in the future” (Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3, 419).

I have heard a number of people tell me that it would be helpful if all young people in Reformed churches could see the baptism of a new convert to Christianity just so that they can understand the full weight of what their baptism calls them too. To see a new Christian make a drastic change from past ways, to defy the works of darkness, to renounce the kingdom of darkness, is an important reminder that Christ has brought us from out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). This involves a necessary rejection of the patterns of sin. Baptism is warfare.

Of course, no matter what the age, nation, or sex of the one being baptized, the call is to fight. John the Baptist was a man of God, and it seems that he had already undergone a transformation already in his mother’s womb, seeing as he leapt for joy when he heard Mary’s greeting (Lk. 1:41). The Apostle Paul calls on young children in the Church of Ephesus to be faithful in how they honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3), just as he calls on the young children in the church of Colossae to obey their parents (Col. 3:20). More broadly, they were included in the exhortations to the Christian communities in the New Testament. Indeed, children are called upon to renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh.

How often do we conceive of baptism in this dynamic language? Even Reformed people can fall into the trap of waiting for children in the covenant community to come to a moment of decision or a drastic conversion. But life is conversion. Consider the language of Canons of Dort 3.11:

But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them and powerfully illuminates their mind by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

The weightiness of this black and white difference between living in the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Christ must be impressed upon children as well from the youngest age. When they see other little girls and boys being baptized and ask what it means, they must be reminded who they are and who Christ is. They must also rest in the work of Christ and His Spirit in transforming dirty hearts. They must ask for the Spirit to resist the temptations of the kingdom of darkness. This baptism then really does bind them to repentance.

“Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all sinful lusts of the flesh?” This is an important question to ask. Not only for the one who is preparing for baptism, but also for the one who is already baptized. Not only does the call of the gospel and knowing Christ go out to them, but they are in fact bound to respond in faith and trust. To reject such a serious call that goes out in the baptism of a Christian is then to incur a greater judgement (Heb. 10:26-31).

The answer of every Christian child, the answer of every Christian adult should be: “Yes! I renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” Or as we confess in LD 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism when explaining what it means to pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one”:

That is: In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment. Moreover, our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, 3 and our own flesh 4 – do not cease to attack us. Will you, therefore, uphold and strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that in this spiritual war we may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies, until we finally obtain the complete victory.

Baptism is a call to warfare.

 

An Argument for Singing Hymns in Worship

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There have been times where I have almost been convinced of the argument for exclusive psalm-singing in public worship. The argument is generally connected to a strict reading of the regulative principle. This is essentially: that which is not commanded is forbidden.

Ephesians 5:19 reads: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” Many Protestants think this refers to the modern distinction between Psalms (from Book of Psalms) and hymns (modern and historic songs of praise to God). But groups like the Reformed Presbyterians (RPCNA) will respond that this is a technical term for the Book of Psalms in Scripture. It definitely seems that they are probably right in their understanding of this verse in Ephesians.

But does this mean that we should scrap the use of the hymnal in worship and only sing the Psalter with the potential addition of songs taken directly out of Scripture (like the song of Moses and Zechariah)?

Danny Hyde defines the Regulative Principle here:

“The Regulative Principle of Worship holds that we worship God in the manner He has commanded us in His Word. As the Westminster Confession says, ‘But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture’ (21.1)..”

So then, does the singing of hymns in worship break this principle? Has God commanded that we only sing the Psalms in worship? I might add to this the questions: (1) Has God commanded that we only read Scripture in worship and not explain the Scriptures through the preaching of the Word? (2) Has God commanded that we have no creed but Christ, and that we should avoid reciting creeds and confessions in worship? (3) Should we only pray the prayers of Scripture in worship or can ministers call out to God before the congregation on behalf of the concerns and struggles in the congregation?

One of the principles for worship which is broadly agreed upon in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, is that worship is a dialogue or a conversation between man and God. We recognize that God speaks and we respond. This could be called covenant renewal worship, but the principle is that when God speaks He demands a response.

When God speaks, He speaks through His Word. Of course the two primary pictures of the Gospel are Baptism and Lord’s Supper. So in Christian worship, the Scriptures must be the basis for the preaching, the singing, the prayers, our confession. It is the Word that regenerates men and women (I Peter 1) and so everything must be tested in accordance with the Scriptures in the Old Testament and the New Testament (whether songs, prayers, preaching, use of the sacraments, or confessions/creeds).

Being Scripture and divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Psalms should definitely hold a high place of priority in worship. The language of our praise should be shaped by the language of the Psalms. But we must also respond to the Word with the hymns and confessions of the Church. We must sing about the triumphs of God in the Scriptures, but we should also sing about the continuing triumphs of God in the history of the Church, as the Gospel spreads to the ends of the earth..

Along with the Theses of Bern, the Christian argument is that: “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, abides in the same, and does not listen to the voice of a stranger.” And so Psalm-singing gives birth to the songs of the Church. In obedience to Christ and in faithfulness to His Word, we respond to the Word of God. We do this by singing the great hymns of the Church, and the songs of His ever expanding Kingdom.


 

The Public Nature of Christian Preaching: These Things Were Not Done in a Corner

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The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the pulpits in church buildings are not our pulpits, but they are the pulpits of Jesus Christ. Throughout His time on earth, Jesus lead a very public ministry, his death was a national matter, and his resurrection made folly of the Roman guards who were stationed outside His tomb. His ascension into heaven means that He is ruling there. As such, any ambassador who steps up onto the pulpit to declare the Word of the Lord is not doing this in a corner, but before all men under heaven and earth.


We want our language in the public square to be fitting for public discourse. Yes, Christians should be in the public square. But if you think about it, the pulpit is in the public square. From the Christian pulpit, the summons of God to all men to repent and believe goes out. We must not draw a line between the pulpit and the public square. This would be a fictional line.


Acts 1 and Matthew 28 set out the Christian Church as witnesses to the Name of Jesus Christ. We have been sent out by Jesus Christ to witness to the world. On the confession that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is building His Church, and against that Church the gates of Hell will not prevail (Matt. 16:13-21).


Reformed Christians confess in Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism that “the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified…” The Son of God accomplishes three actions through His Church: “gathers, defends, and preserves for himself.” (LD 21) We also pray: “Preserve and increase your church.” (LD 48). You can find all of these references in this catechism.


When the Apostle Paul brought his testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26, he affirms that this was not done in a corner: “that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:23). The Apostle Paul writes: “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26)


If the death and resurrection of Jesus did not happen in a corner, then the Word of God declared on the pulpit is also message that takes place in the public square. This is no private message.

A Summary of Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

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Machen rarely calls out particular names in this book. On page 10, he makes reference to Mr. H. G. Wells in writing “Outline of History.” In this book, he maintains theological objectivity by focusing on ideas being promoted in the church at large. It also was not Machen’s aim to be in conflict a particular denomination. Instead, his target is what he refers to as the “Liberal Church” which he regards as another church. It is interesting that in his section on Christian doctrine, Machen even writes positively concerning the Roman Catholic Church: “The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.”1

In introducing this work, Machen opens up with an appeal to the necessity of controversy in the sphere of religion. He begins with definitions of both liberalism and naturalism. Liberalism and modernism are also partners. He uses the full term “modern naturalistic liberalism.” ‘Liberal’ refers to the open-mindedness of the position, which as he points out, is only used by the friends of liberals. Liberalism is an attack on the Christian faith while using traditional terminology. It comes accompanied by naturalism which focuses on the processes of nature as opposed to “the entrance of the creative power of God.”2 This modern naturalistic liberalism is characterized by a questioning of historical claims. It is also characterized by the promotion of modern scientific methods which are then regarded as separate from religion. He argues that two lines of criticism can be promoted against this modern naturalistic liberalism: first, that it is un-Christian; second, that it is unscientific.3 He proves these two lines of criticism in various ways throughout the book. It should be stated that one of his primary critiques of his opponents is their disregard for history. After all, science is done in history, and so the two studies should not be divorced from one another. Above all, his goal in this book is not only to show what Christianity is not but also what Christianity is.4

In the following chapter on doctrine, Machen begins by arguing that this debate over liberalism is no longer an intellectual debate but that it has entered the Sunday School class as well. Liberals will argue first that teaching is unimportant in the Church because Christian creeds are always changing anyways. And so liberals say that even though their teachings are different than historical Christianity, they are essentially the same as Christianity. Second, they argue that Christianity is about life, not doctrine. Third, they promote a toleration of other doctrines. Fourth, they first try to appeal to Paul and then to Jesus to prove their points. And last, Machen considers the carelessness to theological difference in liberalism. Machen points out the skepticism of the first comment. The second is internally incoherent because to say that “Christianity is a life” is a doctrinal statement. The third is related to the fifth and Machen distinguishes between recognizing error while still accepting someone as Christian as opposed to tolerating differences as if they don’t matter. Machen proves from the life and doctrine of both Jesus and Paul the incoherence of appealing to them to diminish the importance of doctrine.

Machen then turns to the issue of how liberals and Christians view the topic of “God and Man.” With regards to God, liberalism says that it is unnecessary to have a conception of God. This of course, messes with the divinity of Jesus, because without a conception of God, to say that “Jesus is God” is meaningless. He then mentions that liberalism speaks of the fatherhood of God, but its meaning is hard to discern. Similarly, in reference to man, liberalism struggles with the meaning of sin. Machen responds to their claims by pushing the importance of the doctrine of God and man again, and pushing the claims of Scripture itself. In the fog of liberal definitions, he speaks with clarity and conciseness.

Having disposed of the Christian conception of a sovereign God and the fact of sin, the Bible also is under attack. Here, Machen is not only concerned with defending the historical account of Scripture, but also its necessity for us living today. In particular, he responds to the attack on plenary inspiration by those who want to depict it as a mechanical process. He responds by arguing for the individuality of the Biblical writers. He also realizes that many who deny the doctrine of plenary inspiration are true Christians because they still accept the Bible “as a true message on which Christianity depends.”5 As such, they are not liberals. Modern liberalism rejects not only plenary inspiration, but they also attack Scripture’s authority by bringing up questions about the historical Jesus, etc. Thus, Machen’s challenge is that they base Christianity not on the Bible, but on their own feelings and intellect.

Machen then writes a large chapter on the topic of Christ. He affirms the Christian teaching that Jesus is no mere teacher, but as a Saviour in whom men can trust. But the liberal teacher regards Jesus “as an example for faith, not the object of faith.”6 In their studies of the historic Jesus, they claim that his Messianic consciousness arose late in life. But Machen claims that the liberals find themselves in a quandary when it comes to the lack of consciousness of sin in Jesus and more importantly the fact that he is continually dealing with the problem of sin. This then creates a massive difference between the experience of Jesus and our experience. Machen claims: “Jesus is an example, moreover, not merely for the relations of man to man but also for the relation of man to God.”7 In order to approach Jesus as a Christian we must not simply see Him as an exemplary man, but as supernatural. This does not deny His humanity, but it means He is the Saviour of the world. Of course, the teachings of Paul also lead us to this view of Jesus Christ. This means that we must also defend the miracles of Jesus against the claims of scientific naturalism: “Without the miracles we should have a teacher; with the miracles we have a Saviour.”8 But liberalism rejects miracles, and thus they reject the divinity of Christ and the sovereignty of God in nature. Machen then poses the question: “Shall we accept the Jesus of the New Testament as our Saviour, or shall we reject Him with the liberal Church?”9 Machen then deals with the problem of honesty among liberal preachers. They might still say “Jesus is God” but they mean something different by the term “God”. Thus that man is lying when he uses this phrase in front of old-fashioned Christians. In the end, we must reject the liberal Jesus as a manufactured figment of the imagination, and not as the Jesus who is the Christ and the Son of the Living God.

Machen summarizes: “Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of ‘salvation’) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God.”10 When we have considered all the above – Jesus as Saviour, the problem of sin, the truth of Scripture, the sovereignty of God – the reader can imagine where liberalism and Christianity diverge at this point. Machen challenges liberal doctrine on the atonement, and then defends its necessity. Because of their minimizing of the atonement, they then attack the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But the biggest problem that liberals have with the cross and salvation is that it is dependent on history, and they lack confidence in the authentic history of Scripture. Christianity is “dependent upon history.”11 Without the cross, there is no good news, because then there is no way to deal with sin. Thus, the liberals seek to create an entirely inoffensive gospel that negates sin and the necessity of the cross in dealing with sin. Liberal preachers get sick of an angry God. But the Bible speaks of this fact. As opposed to the soft God of modern liberals, Christianity holds to a God who is alive and sovereign. And so we must see that “at the beginning of every Christian life, there stands, not a process, but a definite act of God.”12 Again, Christianity and liberalism diverge at the topic of faith: Christianity is based on faith, liberalism is based on legalism. While liberalism pits spiritual religion against ceremonialism, Paul pits God’s free grace against human merit.13 Machen then responds to the issue of social gospel and responds with the fact that the Christian gospel first deals with the problem of sin rather than dealing with the problems in society first. He focuses on the fact that Christianity focuses on the act of God in history while liberalism tells men to be good.

In this final section, Machen explains the liberal and Christian conception of Church. Here he contrasts the importance of social institutions in liberalism and the social institution of the Church. The Church is the only place where we experience true brotherhood. While the liberals erase creed, Machen maintains that human society can only be truly built by redeemed men and that central institution is the Church. Here he gets into matters of trying to remove liberalism from the church. Even though they don’t hold to a creed, real Christianity does hold to a creed. He then focuses on challenging pastors and makes a clear distinction to really hold the teachers in the church to account. He then challenges those who seek the ministry in order to promote their liberalism. He urges preachers to speak the Word with power and concludes with a call to unity with integrity.


This is part of a paper that I wrote on Christianity & Liberalism for Church History class at CRTs.



1 Machen, 52.

2 Ibid., 2.

3 Ibid., 7.

4 Ibid., 16.

5 Ibid., 75.

6 Ibid., 84.

7 Ibid., 93.

8 Ibid., 104.

9 Ibid., 109.

10 Ibid., 117.

11 Ibid., 121.

12 Ibid., 140.

13 Ibid., 144.

What is Liberalism in the Church?

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I am realizing that I am somewhat confused on what exactly a liberal is. And this confusion is not in regards to political liberalism. There is a difference between political liberalism and Church liberalism. This is from a young brain trying to process all the tribes in Christianity. References to liberalism are something that I have heard many times in my lifetime. It is a part of being part of North American Church culture.

I spent a lot of time with Baptist friends as well as Reformed friends in my younger years. I was well aware of what Christianity was as opposed to unbelief because I also had run into a huge variety of religious beliefs outside of Christianity including darker representations such as witches. My parents taught me faithfully and taught me to love the Church and the Reformed exposition of Scripture. So what were these liberal and conservative churches that were in the lingo of the United Reformed Churches? Was it primarily a doctrinal matter? Was it primarily a matter of practice? My Baptist friend was a conservative Christian, his parents also faithfully taught him the way of salvation and the authenticity of God’s Word. So what distinguished a Baptist Church from a Reformed Church other than infant baptism? And yes, I am a hardcore proponent of infant baptism. Infant baptism matters.

J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism has helped me to understand the whole conservative/liberal dilemma more. According to Machen, liberalism is a term used only by the friends of the liberals, because to those who contend with it, liberalism is a “narrow ignoring of many relevant facts.” Thus, a conservative should also be a liberal thinker, but not in the way that liberalism operated. Liberalism in the 1920s was impacted by modern trends of the day. Particularly by the propagation of science. This science was not “theistic” science because it was science done with a focus on natural processes. It was “naturalistic” science. It involved a denial of the hand of God working in nature. Essentially it was a type of scientism that was leading Christians to reject important Christian truths. I am working with Machen’s definition below:

Liberalism is movement within the church that is un-Christian and unscientific. It involves a questioning of a variety of core Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the nature of sin, the sovereignty of God, the importance of doctrine, the hand of God in human salvation, etc.

I did not understand the full implications of this definition, although I knew that the debate between the United Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Churches had to do with the tolerance of a reading of the Bible that was challenging certain matters like women in office and matters of homosexuality. Many Biblical norms were beginning to be considered by some as culturally bound. The question became: well which principles are culturally bound and which are not? As such, the Word began to lose its authority. There were matters of Christianity & Liberalism at play there and there. How many years until we are engaged in similar debates again within our own “conservative” denominations?

At one time, I began to create a structure of more conservative and less conservative churches in my mind. But I was confused about whether to regard this in terms of practice or doctrine. And where. And how to be more Biblical as compared to conservative. And how sometimes very conservative churches could be hotbeds of liberalism. And then I went to New Saint Andrew’s College and had fellow students who were conservative with a different picture of liberalism in mind. I had heard people say that having one worship service on a Sunday was liberal. I had heard others say that if you don’t read Exodus 20:1-17 or its counterpart in Deuteronomy every Sunday morning in worship, then you are liberal. I had to wrap my mind around the various expressions of “conservative” Christianity in North America including the RPCNA, OPC, CanRC, CREC, ARP, PCA, and even “conservative” Anglicans. And I couldn’t really call any of them “liberal” even though many “conservative” churches down in the States come together for worship once a Sunday. And yet, that coming together  in worship is a beautiful and Biblical matter as well.

In my travels through Reformed Churches, I have often heard the statement that all the differences don’t matter. That could potentially be a statement of liberalism. But the differences do matter, maybe just not in the way that we make them matter. Infant baptism matters big time. But is it a matter of Christianity & Liberalism? Yes, many liberals say it doesn’t matter. But we can still be co-beligerents with Reformed Baptists when we consider all the deviant forms of Christianity in North America that are attacking integral points of Christian doctrine.

The goal of the church is never compromise. In fact, we should fight compromise with all our might. Instead, the goal of the church is further maturity in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13). There will always be different practices, and many of those practices will be bad and un-Biblical and they should be regarded as such. When seeing them, ministers should rebuke with all authority (II Tim. 4:2, Titus 2:15). But we should be ready to give a hit and take a hit when we realize that we also have not been faithful at all times. Repentance is part of the path to renewal. We must always go back to the Word of God in structuring church life and worship. The Word of God is the objective standard. The practice of the Church throughout history in submission to the Word of God is a good place to go to learn faithfulness.

There is a diversity in practice as we recognize in seeking unity through projects such as NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Committee). Truth is not relative and so we cannot say that there will be a diversity of doctrine, this is indeed a major problem of liberalism. But because we recognize sin and its effects on the mind, we also must humbly work together alongside Christians with whom we disagree as we speak the truth in love and grow into our one head, that is Christ (Eph. 4:15). Of course, one aspect of this unity project is: “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph. 4:14) The goal is to live by sound doctrine and so give glory to God. The path there is speaking the truth in love.