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Not That Bright

Mar 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I had read John 1 hundreds of times before. But this time I got stuck on verse 8: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

“Huh,” I thought, sitting up straight and staring at nothing in particular for a minute or two, “that’s a word I need to hear as a pastor.” More than that, it’s a word I need to hear as a Christian. Here’s John the Baptist–pretty important guy, wildly popular prophet, forerunner of the Messiah, just about the greatest person ever born of a woman (Mt. 11:11). And when the Holy Spirit takes a moment to introduce him in John’s prologue, He wants to make clear: John the Baptist was not the light.

Hey pastor, have you forgotten that this whole church thing isn’t about you? Have I forgotten that it’s not about the size of my church, the number of compliments I receive, or the reach of some nebulous social media platform? I am not the light. Never have been. Praise God, I don’t have to be.

Hey mom, do you remember whose perfect example your kids need to see? It’s not yours. It’s Christ’s. Do you remember who alone can save their souls? Same deal.

Hey ministry entrepreneur, have you forgotten what really matters? It’s not what you can build. If you know how to be a ministry success without bearing witness to Christ, rethink your definition of success.

Hey missionary, have you lost sight of why you left home in the first place? You didn’t choose this life for the weather or the traffic. You knew you were not promised great results. You just wanted to bear witness to the light where there was too much darkness.

Hey social justice crusader, do you know that it doesn’t depend on you? That city, that slum, that injustice–they won’t be helped by sacrifice alone. They need to know the sacrifice that only a Savior can provide.

At first John 1:8 stung a bit. A healthy sting. I didn’t get into the ministry for me. I became a pastor because I felt the word of God like a fire in my bones. I chose this path because, on my best days, I love Christ and love his people. But for all of us, our best days are not our only days. We can be tempted to self-pity, tempted to prided, tempted to impatience, tempted to think we are the point instead of just pointers. So yeah, a good kind of sting.

But then I thought, what good news we have in this little verse. What good news for pastors and presidents and moms and missionaries and elders and deacons and teachers and teenagers. What good news for anyone who loves Jesus and feels like their spiritual wattage is a bit dimmer than they’d like.

You don’t have to bear the burdens of the planet, just bear witness to the one who can.

You don’t have die for the sins of the world, just introduce people to the one who has.

You are not the light.

Ouch, and hallelujah!

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Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Holy God, We Praise Your Name

Mar 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This is the first installment of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.

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A few people reading this post can remember World War II. The rest of us know about it from movies, books, and television. The war ended 65 years ago, which seems like the distant past if you’ve used email your whole life. But it’s recent history compared to the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), which feels like yesterday compared to British Civil War nearly four centuries ago (1641-1651). Think of how the world has changed in 400 years. The growth of cities, the car, the plane, the computer, indoor plumbing, the rise of democratic capitalism, the transformation of agriculture, the first European settlers in America—400 years was a long time ago.

And yet, you have to go back another 400 years to get to the Fifth Crusade (1215-1221) and another 400 years from that to witness the death of Charlemagne (814). Now we are in the so-called Dark Ages (which actually weren’t so dark), worlds away from life as we know it.

But we still haven’t gone back far enough to get to this particular hymn.

Holy God, We Praise Your Name is based on the fourth century Latin hymn Te Deum Laudamus (“You, God, we praise”), often known simply as the Te Deum. The author is unknown, though church tradition ascribes the hymn to Ambrose and Augustine, on the occasion of Augustine’s baptism by Ambrose in 387. The Te Deum, used in all branches of the Christian church and often used as a setting for large choral arrangements, worships the Triune God by exulting in a mighty symphony of praise streaming forth from all creation, the saints on earth and the saints in heaven, angel choirs, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and the worldwide church. Look up the Te Deum and read the whole thing. It’s a beautiful work that deserves to be read 1600 years later.

Our English translation, which covers only the first half of the Latin hymn, comes from Clarence Walworth, a nineteenth century Catholic priest from New York. The Te Deum can be accompanied by many different tunes. The Trinity Hymnal uses GROSSER GOTT, an eighteenth century German tune whose simple and stately melody serves to accentuate the high-sounding doxology of the text.

Holy God, we praise your name; Lord of all, we bow before you;
all on earth your scepter claim, all in heav’n above adore you.
Infinite your vast domain, everlasting is your reign.

Hark, the loud celestial hymn angel choirs above are raising;
cherubim and seraphim in unceasing chorus praising,
fill the heav’ns with sweet accord: “Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Lo! the apostolic train join your sacred name to hallow;
prophets swell the glad refrain, and the white-robed martyrs follow;
and from morn to set of sun, through the church the song goes on.

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
while in essence only One, undivided God we claim you,
and adoring bend the knee, while we sing this mystery.

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RCA Approves University Reformed Church’s Transfer to the PCA

Mar 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

On Saturday afternoon the Great Lakes City Classis (formerly the South Grand Rapids Classis), one of forty-five classes in the Reformed Church in America (RCA), approved University Reformed Church’s request to transfer to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). As a condition of its transfer, together with all its real and personal property, University Reformed Church (URC) must pay its annual assessment for 2015 and 2016 (roughly $80,000 total) and pay an additional $200,000 so that the classis can plant another church in the area.

I’ve written before about how URC voted to leave the RCA–first as an internal “discerning the mind of the congregation” vote and second as an official part of the transfer process. There was some confusion after these earlier votes that URC had actually left the RCA and joined the PCA. But in RCA polity a church’s departure is not a unilateral decision. We needed approval from the classis (the regional governing body in the RCA) in order to transfer into the PCA, especially if we wanted to transfer in an orderly way with our church building and without any legal wrangling.

The classis committee investigating our petition recommended that our request be denied and we not be able to leave the RCA. The classis, however, approved a substitute motion which granted URC and its pastors a transfer into the PCA. A proposed amendment to strike the $200,000 requirement from the substitute motion failed. The final vote to approve the substitute motion, with the conditions mentioned above, passed with little opposition.

We still have to work out some procedural details with the classis executive committee and then make plans for our examination and formal reception in the PCA. We hope to complete this process in the next several months. The monies we owe to the classis do not have to be paid in full before the transfer can be finalized.

The point of this update is to provide information, not commentary. Consequently, I’ve closed the comments on this post. The discussion that mattered did not take place online but in a church basement in Detroit on Saturday morning. I am grateful to the brothers and sisters in the classis for granting our transfer into the PCA. I am grateful for their hard work in what was at times a painful and difficult process. I do not wish the RCA or our classis any harm. This is the classis I grew up in, the classis I was ordained in, and the classis I’ve been a part of in one way or another for more than twenty years. I’ve known some of the pastors in the classis for almost my entire life. On the day I become a pastor in the PCA it will be the first day I’ve been a member of any church other than the Reformed Church in America. I will always be grateful for the gospel I received from RCA pastors, RCA churches, RCA colleges, RCA camps, and RCA ministries.

Together with our entire congregation I pray for God’s blessing and protection on the denomination we are leaving. At the same time, we also pray with thanksgiving and eager expectation for the denomination we are about to join. We have no illusions that we are entering a perfect church communion (none exist on earth), but we are excited to be a part of the Great Lakes Presbytery and serve alongside like-minded congregations and like-minded brothers and sisters in the PCA for decades to come. We are eager to make friends, find our way, and follow Christ in our new denominational home.

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Concerning the True Care of Souls

Mar 20, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I think it was in college when I realized that I could actually read the famous authors that I was used to just read about. To read Calvin or Augustine or the Didache on my own was a thrilling discovery. Primary sources are sometimes harder, but almost always better. So I always enjoy reading old, dead saints.

A few years ago I was working through Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer. Kudos to Banner of Truth and translator Peter Beale for giving us this never-before-in-English treatise from the great Strasbourg Reformer (with a fine historical introduction from the late David F. Wright I might add). Bucer (pronounced Butzer), is best known nowadays as a mentor and formative influence for John Calvin, but he was an important Reformer in his own right. Born in 1491, Bucer spent most of his ministry in Strasbourg, Germany and finished his life teaching at Cambridge. His passion as a Reformer comes through in the (very) full title (aren’t you glad we have dust jackets today?) of this 1538 work:

Concerning the true care of souls and genuine pastoral ministry, and how the latter is to be ordered and carried out in the church of Christ: Here you will find the essential means whereby we can escape from the present so deplorable and pernicious state of religious schism and division and return to true unity and good Christian order in the churches. Knowledge which is useful not only to the congregations of Christ, but also to pastors and rulers.

This book was Bucer’s effort to reintroduce church disipline, establish multiple-elder rule, and maintain the practice of evangelical penance in Strasbourg. Not everything in the book is especially helpful. Bucer doesn’t write particularly well (lacking the passion of Luther and the precision of Calvin) and the place he gives to magistrates in the affairs of the church marks him as a man of his times. But Bucer’s concern for the church and his conception of pastoral ministry are historically important and personally challenging.

This paragraph captures the spirit of the book.

From this it is evident that there are five main tasks required in the pastoral office and true care of souls.

First: to lead to Christ our Lord and into his communion those who are still estranged from him, whether through carnal excess or false worship.

Secondly: to restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into his church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.

Thirdly: to assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously fallen and sinned.

Fourthly: to re-establish in true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.

Fifthly: to protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay within the flock and in Christ’s sheep-pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk (70).

I find several things noteworthy in this paragraph.

1. Bucer’s emphasis on evangelism. He comes back to this time after time in the book: the work of the pastor is to seek the lost. Sometimes we are led to believe that no one thought about evangelism in Christendom, but Bucer clearly did.

2. Bucer’s five-fold description of those under our charge. The pastor (and anyone engaged in pastoral ministry Bucer would say) must seek the lost, bring back the wandering, restore the fallen, strengthen the weak, and encourage the strong. Let me suggest this is a mighty helpful way to look at your congregation before you preach, or your kids as you parent, or your “flock” (whatever it might be).

3. Bucer’s focus on people. I’m struck by the fact that his definition of pastoral ministry is all about the people to whom we minister. The focus is not on administration (though I’m sure he did some of that), nor on programs (though I’m not against them), nor on meetings (though we all have them), but on the people that need our help.

Concerning the True Care of Souls is not a difficult read. The layout is nice and there are plenty of headings to keep you on track. Elders and pastors will especially benefit from Bucer’s heart and wisdom. Nothing earth-shattering here, but solid.

So let me say it one more time: read old books.

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Why Did Christianity Grow?

Mar 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

monogram-of-christ384x389vaticanIf you’ve never read anything by Rodney Stark you are missing out on a lot of educated provocation. Stark’s arguments are always intriguing. I don’t agree with everything he says and I wish he would do more to allow for supernatural explanations, but on the whole I find him full of good sense and delightfully iconoclastic.

A few years ago I made my way through one of his best known books, The Rise of Christianity. Stark, in debunking a number of historical myths, tries to explain from a sociological perspective “how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries.”

Here are thirteen ways, drawn from Stark’s arguments, how we might answer that question:

1. Christianity drew from the worldly, accommodated religious communities of the time. It is hardest to find converts among the serious religious, easiest to get them from those who are most secular or nominal in their commitment.

2. Christianity probably drew its converts, in large part, from the upper class. Privileged classes tend to be the most skeptical about God and most unaffiliated. Thus there are more of them to be won to new religions. If, that is, they are dissatisfied with what they have found in the world.

3. Christianity spread because the Christians cared for each other in times of sickness and disease. Their communal compassion both staved off death and served as an example to outsiders of the transforming power of the Christian faith.

4. The first Christians also cared for outsiders, which won them a hearing with unbelievers.

5. Women were honored in Christianity. Baby girls were not killed. Females of all ages were to be protected. Husbands, not just wives, were expected to be chaste.

6. Christians had more babies than non-Christians, and abortions were considered anathema. The early Christians simply out-birthed the pagans.

7. Christianity grew when it remained an “open network” with connections into the lives of non-Christians.

8. Christians were over-represented in cities, which made them more influential than their numbers because culture tends to flow from cities to the countryside.

9. Christianity gave much needed dignity to human beings. They welcomed strangers, provided community, and offered a refuge from a brutal world.

10. Christian martyrs galvanized and inspired the faith of the early Christians.

11. Christianity in the first few centuries required great sacrifice and entailed a significant stigma. This process of sacrifice and stigma scared off free-riders and made Christianity a more virulent, vibrant faith.

12. Membership in the church was “expensive” and a “bargain” at the same time. That is, following Christ cost you something, but by becoming a Christian you also gained physical support, relational attachments, and shared emotional satisfaction with other believers.

13. Christianity promised rewards to its followers, the reward of being virtuous and the reward of eternal life.

Of course, the simple answer to the question about the rise of Christianity, and the one that Stark (as a sociologist) doesn’t talk about, is simply this: God caused the church to grow. He saved souls. He converted hearts. It was God’s will to cause the church to prosper.

That’s the first thing to say. But not he last. Provided our theological foundation is well established, careful historical and sociological investigation have their place, for their are a number of social factors God often uses, along with his word, to accomplish his good purposes.

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Who Was St. Patrick?

Mar 17, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

The question in the title of this post is worth asking for at least two reasons: (1) many Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today and (2) most of those Americans won’t have the foggiest idea of anything remotely historical about Patrick.

And he’s worth knowing something about.

The holiday also gives me the occasion to recommend one of my favorite history books. It’s not a page turner, but I learned something on every page. Actually, I learned something with almost every paragraph. The book is The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard Fletcher. For a readable, scholarly treatment on the long, slow, amazing transition in Europe from paganism to Christianity I’m not aware of a better book.

So what does Fletcher say about Patrick?

Well, first you need to know what Patrick did not do.

He did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose that wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate': its language postdates him by about three centuries. He did not drive a chariot three times over his sister Lupait to punish her unchastity. . . . He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did. (82)

Determining fact from fiction for Patrick is difficult, in part because his writings were not always passed along reliably. More important, Patrick wrote in particularly poor Latin. He received little education and did not handle Latin well. Fletcher says his Latin is “simple, awkward, laborious, sometimes ambiguous, occasionally unintelligible” (83). This makes it hard to know too much for certain.

But here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.” For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

Over decades, Patrick made “many thousands of converts.” He evangelized in cities and in the countryside. He encouraged the monastic way of life, ordained priests, and planted churches.

Patrick, says Fletcher, “was soaked in the Bible.” This was commendable, but not completely unusual. What was new was Patrick’s embrace of the missionary mandate to lead the nations to Christ.

Patrick’s originality was that no one within western Christendom had thought such thoughts as these before, had ever previously been possessed by such convictions. As far as our evidence goes, he was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally; to grasp that teaching all nations meant teaching even barbarians who lived beyond the border of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. (86)

Sounds like a man deserving of his own holiday. It’s too bad today the forefather of western missions is chiefly celebrated by drinking beer and dreaming of  leprechauns. We don’t know much for certain about Patrick. But what we know of his ambition and ministry should be enough to make all of us a little green with envy.

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Monday Morning Humor

Mar 16, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up tomorrow, I thought you’d allow me to post this oft-traveled clip one more time.

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Why Can’t the Church Just Agree to Disagree on Homosexuality?

Mar 13, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

wrong-way-truckIt is difficult to exaggerate how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sen­suality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testa­ment than sexual sin.

When the Bible uniformly and unequivocally says the same thing about a serious sin, it seems unwise to find a third way which allows for some people (in a church, in an organization, or in a denomination) to be for the sin and other people to be against the sin. History demonstrates that such half-way houses do not stand. Every doctrine central to the Christian faith and precious to you as a Christian has been hotly debated and disputed. If the “conversation” about the resurrection or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ contin­ued as long as smart people on both sides disagreed, we would have lost orthodoxy long ago.

All of these third ways regarding homosexuality end up the same way: a behavior the Bible does not accept is treated as acceptable. “Agree to disagree” sounds like a humble “meet you in the middle” com­promise, but it is a subtle way of telling conservative Christians that homosexuality is not a make-or-break issue and we are wrong to make it so. No one would think of proposing a third way if the sin were racism or human trafficking. To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy. Faithfulness to the Word of God compels us to view sexual immorality with the same seriousness. Living an ungodly life is contrary to the sound teaching that defines the Christian (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 1:16). Darkness must not be confused with light. Grace must not be confused with license. Unchecked sin must not be con­fused with the good news of justification apart from works of the law. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommuni­cation (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6:12-20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).

We cannot count same-sex behavior as an indifferent mat­ter. Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world, nor is it the most critical one to address in many church con­texts. But if 1 Corinthians 6 is right, it’s not an overstatement to say that approving same-sex sexual behavior—like sup­porting any form of sexual immorality—runs the risk of leading people to hell. Scripture often warns us—and in the severest terms—against finding our sexual identity apart from Christ and against pursuing sexual practice inconsistent with being in Christ (whether that’s homosexual sin or heterosexual sin). The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium or deciding which instruments to use in worship. When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God. This is hardly missional leadership or kingdom Christianity. According to Jesus, it’s repentance for sexual immorality, not tolerance of it, which leads to human flourishing (Rev. 2:20-23). Christians who get this fundamental point confused are not purveyors of a liberating third way, but of a deadly and dastardly wrong way.

For more on this and other related themes, see What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? The book releases in April.

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A Brief Defense of Infant Baptism

Mar 12, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It sounds like the beginning of a joke or a support group introduction, but it’s true: some of my best friends are Baptists. I speak at conferences with and to Baptists. I read books by Baptists (both the dead and the living). I love the Baptist brothers I know–near and far–who preach God’s word and minister faithfully in Christ’s church. I went to a Baptist church while in college and know that there are many folks of more credobaptist persuasion in my own church. I imagine the majority of my blog readers are Baptist. You get the picture. I have thousands of reasons to be thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe in baptizing infants.

And yet, I do. Gladly. Wholeheartedly. Because of what I see in Scripture.

One of the best things I get to do as a pastor is to administer the sacrament of infant baptism to the covenant children in my congregation. Before each baptism, I take a few minutes to explain why we practice infant baptism in our church. My explanation always includes some–but rarely is there time for all–of the following:

It our great privilege this morning to administer that sacrament of baptism to one of our little infants. We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate (though he may be), nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant.

In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was sealed with the sign of circumcision in Genesis 17. God promised to bless Abraham. For Abraham this meant two things in particular, offspring and land. But at the heart of the covenant was God’s promise that he would be a God to Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:7, 8).

Circumcision was not just a physical thing, marking out ethnic Jews. Circumcision was full of spiritual meaning. The circumcision of the flesh was always meant to correspond with circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). It pointed to humility, new birth, and a new way of life (Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25). In short, circumcision was a sign of justification. Paul says in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” God’s own interpretation of circumcision is that it was much more than just a physical sign for national Israel.

Remarkably, though, this deeply spiritual sign was given to Ishmael as well as Isaac, even though only Isaac was the continuation of the promised line. The spiritual sign was not just for those who already embraced the spiritual reality. It was to be administered to Abraham and his sons. Circumcision was not a simple equation. It didn’t automatically mean the recipient of the sign was in possession of the thing signified. Circumcision, like baptism, also pointed to belonging, discipleship, covenant obligations, and allowed for future faith that would take hold of the realities symbolized. Just as there were some in Paul’s day who were circumcised but not really circumcised (Rom. 2:25-29), some children of Abraham who were not truly children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8), so in our day there are some who are baptized who are not truly baptized. Children should be marked as belonging to the covenant, but unless they exercise saving faith, they will not grab hold of the covenant blessings.

Children today are baptized based on this same covenant with Abraham. Paul makes clear in Galatians 3 what Peter strongly suggests in Acts 2, namely that the Abrahamic covenant has not been annulled. It is still operational. In fact, we see the basic promise of the Abrahamic covenant running throughout the whole Bible, right up to the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.

Because sons were part of the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament and were circumcised, we see no reason why children should be excluded in the New Testament sign of baptism. Admittedly, there is no text that says “Hear ye, hear ye, circumcision replaces baptism.” But we know from Colossians 2:11-12 that baptism and circumcision carried the same spiritual import. The transition from one to the other was probably organic. As the Jews practiced proselyte baptism, that sign came to be seen as marking inclusion in the covenant people. For awhile circumcision existed along baptism, but as the early church became more Gentile, many of Jewish rites were rendered unnecessary, and sometimes even detrimental to the faith. Thus, baptism eclipsed circumcision as the sign renewal, rebirth, and covenant membership.

Although not conclusive all by themselves, there are several other arguments that corroborate a paedobaptist reading of the New Testament.

One, the burden of proof rests on those who would deny children a sign they had received for thousands of years. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, and were disallowed from receiving any “sacramental” sign, surely such a massive change, and the controversy that would have ensued, would been recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, it would be strange for children to be excluded from the covenant, when everything else moves in the direction of more inclusion from the Old Covenant to the New.

Two, the existence of household baptisms is evidence that God still deals with households as a unit and welcomes whole families into the church to come under the Lordship of Christ together (Acts 16:13-15; 32-34; 1 Cor. 1:16; cf. Joshua 24:15).

Three, children are told to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Children in the church are not treated as little pagans to be evangelized, but members of the covenant who owe their allegiance to Christ.

Four, within two centuries of the Apostles we have clear evidence that the church was practicing infant baptism. If this had been a change to long-standing tradition, we would have some record of the church arguing over this new practice. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

So we come to administer the sacrament of baptism to this child today with the weight of church history to encourage us and the example of redemptive history to confirm our practice. We baptize in obedience to Christ’s command. The sacrament we are about to administer is a sign of inclusion in the covenant community as circumcision was, and the water we are about to sprinkle is a sign of cleansing from sin as the sprinkled blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament was. We pray that this little one will take advantage of all his covenant privileges, acknowledge his Lord all the days of his life, and by faith make these promises his own.

*****

I doubt I’ve changed too many minds with this post, but maybe I’ve helped my Baptist friends understand what we mean (and don’t mean) by infant baptism. Maybe I’ve clarified a couple misunderstandings. Maybe I’ve strengthened the convictions of a few paedobaptists who weren’t sure why they believed what they said they believed. No matter where you fall on this issue, I encourage you think through the topic with an open Bible and some good resources in hand.

As a paedobaptist I recommend:

To understand how someone could come to embrace infant baptism, check out the “How I Changed My Mind” articles from:

We hand out Johnson’s 14-page letter to his daughter (who was struggling with the doctrine of infant baptism) in our new members class.

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9 Marks of an Unhealthy Church

Mar 10, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Thanks to Mark Dever, many of us have become well acquainted with the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. While these were never meant to be the last word on everything a church should be or do, the nine marks have been helpful in reminding Christians (and pastors especially) of the necessary substance we often forget in an age fixated on style.

In one sense the nine marks of an unhealthy church could simply be the opposite of all that makes for a healthy church, so that unhealthy churches ignore membership and discipline and expository preaching and all the rest. But the signs of church sickness are not always so obvious. It’s possible for your church to teach and understand all the right things and still be a terribly unhealthy place. No doubt, there are dozens of indicators that a church has become dysfunctional and diseased. But let’s limit ourselves to nine.

Here are nine marks that your church–even one that believes the Bible, preaches the gospel, and embraces good ecclesiology–may be unhealthy.

1. The more peripheral the sermon topic, the more excited the people become. One of the things I’ve always loved about University Reformed Church is that the sermons they love most are the ones that deal with the most central themes of the Bible. They love to hear about sin and salvation, about the glory of God, about providence, about Christ and the cross. It’s not that they never hear (or dislike) sermons on the end times or social issues or financial stewardship or marriage or parenting, but they seem most passionate about the messages that major on guilt, grace, and gratitude. I’m concerned when a congregation gets tired of hearing about the Trinity, the atonement, the new birth, or the resurrection and wants to hear another long series on handling stress or the 70 weeks in Daniel.

2. The church staff does not enjoy coming to work. Every job has its ups and downs. Every office will have tension from time to time. But lay leaders should take note when staff members seem sullen, unhappy, and have to drag themselves to church every day. Do the members of your church staff like to be around each other? Do they ever talk to each other as friends in the fellowship hall? Do you ever see them laughing together? If no, there may be burn out afoot, or conflict, or something worse.

3. The pastor and his wife do not get along. I’m not talking about the regular tiffs and periodic tough times every couple endures. I’m talking about a marriage that has grown cold and loveless, a relationship that is perfunctory and lacking in passion. Every church should have some mechanism in place to ask the pastor and his wife how their marriage is going (or not). Churches can survive a lot of conflict, but rarely will they be healthy, happy places if the pastor and his wife are quietly (or loudly) unhealthy and unhappy.

4. Almost no one knows where the money goes. Churches handle their finances in different ways. As churches get bigger it can be harder, or even unwise, for everyone in the church to have a say in the allocation of every dollar. And yet, when it comes to finances, erring on the side of transparency is rarely a bad idea. At the very least, there must be more than a small group of people who know (and have a say) in where the money goes. Don’t make the pastor’s salary a matter of national security.

5. The leadership team never changes or always changes. Both are warning signs. On the one hand, churches become ingrown when there is never any new blood among the leaders. If your elders, deacons, trustees, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, VBS coordinators, and worship team members are the same now as they were during the Reagan administration, you have a problem. Maybe the old leaders are power hungry, maybe no one is being trained up, maybe no one new has come to your church in twenty years. All are big problems. On the other hand, if the elders are never interested in serving another term, and the staff members never stick around more than a couple years, and the volunteers only volunteer once, the culture of your church may be too confining, too full of conflict, or too unforgiving of honest mistakes.

6. No one is ever raised up from the church for pastoral ministry or sent from the church into missionary service. Good preaching inspires young men to preach. Clarity about the gospel stirs up men and women to share the gospel with those who have not heard. Smaller churches may not send our workers every year, but the congregation which almost never produces pastors and missionaries is almost never a healthy church.

7. There is a bottle neck in decision making. This may be the congregation’s fault. Some church members insist on approving every decision, from staff hiring to the time of the worship service to the proverbial color of the carpet. If everyone has to vote on every decision, your church will never be bigger than the number of people who can knowledgeably vote on every decision (which is pretty small). The bottle neck can all be the pastor’s fault. In some churches nothing happens without the pastor’s personal approval and direct oversight–a sure-fire recipe for turf wars, stunted growth, and the driving away of gifted leaders.

8. The preaching has become erratic. This may take on many forms. Maybe the pastor no longer shares the pulpit with other staff members and the occasional outside guest. Maybe the opposite is taking place and the pastor seems to be calling in the reserves more often than not. Maybe the preaching has become more vitriolic, or always hammers away at the same theme, or shows signs of little preparation. Maybe you’ve noticed that the preacher is relying more on video clips or prepackaged sermon outlines, or constantly re-uses sermon material from a few years ago. No one wants the preaching to be dull. Some variation is to be expected and welcomed. But take a closer look if the preachers seems doctrinally unstable, irritable, or exhausted.

9. There are issues everyone knows about but no one talks about openly. Unhealthy churches often have one major unwritten rule: the person who mentions our problems is the one with the problem. This could be a pastor who can’t preach, an organist who never sticks around for the sermon, an elder who is rumored to be in a compromised relationship, a youth director who doesn’t know how to talk to kids, a staff member who can’t get along with anyone, a leader who leads by fiat and intimidation. To be sure, many matters should be dealt with privately and quietly, but this is no excuse for turning a blind eye to what everyone can plainly see. Naming what everyone knows is often the first step in robbing the problem of its crippling power.

 

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