Don’t Skip Thanksgiving

The world wants to skip from Halloween to Christmas bouncing from horror themed self-indulgence to tinsel tossed materialism. The church can empathize with the sentiment. The social unrest, contentious elections, and COVID19 pandemic have cast a long, misty shadow of anxiety over most every part of the globe. The idea of stopping at grandma’s for Thanksgiving turkey seems to be an ironic exercise in American cultural futility. Why give thanks for such a world?

Though the world despairs, the people of God have every reason to give thanks in such a world. They understand the sovereign love of God. The church knows that all of today’s troubles are bound together by a golden thread of grace that culminates in the book of life. For the Christian, spiritual reality remains far more real than presidential elections, infection numbers, and GDP growth. What do those who see beyond the empirical world know?

Why Christians Give Thanks

They know that God will rescue his people and that Jesus will come again. To borrow the words of Micah 7:8b and 9b Christians are confident that, “when I fall, I shall rise…[and] in that day the boundary shall be far extended.” Though the believer may watch his political candidate go down in flames, get a pink slip, or receive a terminal diagnosis, he knows God will not let him be crushed. God will vindicate his people. Admittedly, God may not vindicate his people’s political candidates, business plans, or medical strategies. Our causes may flounder, but our faith will remain unmoved. We will prove to be more than conquers because God has pleaded our cause and has executed “justice (Micah 7:10).” Jesus died that we might be freed from the curse. Death, sin, and sorrow have no right to dominate our soul for Jesus has swaddled us in his righteous love. Even if our day is filled with adversity, mistakes, and sinful failures, we know the darkness will not last because “the Lord will be a light to me (Micah 7:9.).” Even on the worst day, the believer can confidently boast, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).” Those whose names have been written in the book of life have every reason to be thankful. God will rescue from today’s trial.

God also promises to come again. The Christian’s future hope is not tied to suburban homes and white fences, large family gatherings, or exotic vacations. All these things can come and go and utterly disappoint our souls. Homes can flood, gatherings can descend into feuds, and vacations can prove to be a waste of time. The Christian hopes in something yet unseen but something far more secure, the new heavens and the new earth. When Christ returns the boundary of his kingdom shall be extended to cover all of humanity. All sin, disease, sorrow, anxiety, hurt, and injustices will be forced outside the walls of God’s kingdom and crushed. Inside the walls, Jesus will shepherd his people placing them under the shade of his blessed comfort and filling their hearts with the abundance of his riches. Because the believer knows her destination is secure, she has every reason to be thankful today. The new heavens and the new earth are coming.

Give Thanks!

Though the world maybe ready to skip from Halloween to Christmas, the church should embrace the cultural moment and give thanks. God promises to see us through today and to come again. The two things that fuel our anxiety, today’s problems and tomorrow’s possibilities, have been solved by Jesus on the cross. The baby born in Bethlehem on Christmas morn has conquered this world of goblins and vampires. Nothing can separate us from him. Give Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Baby Dedications vs. Church Covenants: A Lesson From Baptist History

Who doesn’t love a baby dedication service? Cute babies wiggle, cry, and coo while their parents self-consciously attempt to maintain a level of decorum. After the parents utter a brief vow filled with biblical language, they all scurry back to the nursery. Though mom and dad appreciate the communal recognition, most parents would confess that the blue Bibles, pink flowers, and paper certificates that mark the day lacked transformational power. So why do Baptists do the dedications?

A Quick History of Baby Dedications

Baptists drifted into parent-child dedications to keep pace with their Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran friends who practice infant baptism. Paedobaptists sprinkle their infants because they think the sacrament enables the children of believers to experiences “some benefit” of God’s blessing. The waters do not save or guarantee salvation, but they do make the salvation of the child more probable. John Calvin believed infant baptism placed a “tiny spark” into the heart of the young soul which could lead the child to “future repentance and faith.”

Baptists desire to grant their children access to their tradition’s deposit of spiritual blessing. But Baptist cannot baptize their infants. They believe that baptism has been reserved for souls who willingly and knowingly affirm that they have repented of their sins and believed on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. Though Baptists like Spurgeon may concur with Calvin’s and Martin Luther’s assessment that God can and does save children who die in infancy, Baptists cannot baptize these little ones because they cannot testify of their experiences.

To find alternative way to bless their children, Baptist churches embrace baby dedications, pulling from the Old Testament Law which required parents to dedicate their “firstborn” child to the Lord (Ex. 13:2). Despite this biblical justification, Baptist’s dedications still borrow both language and symbolism from the Reformed peodobaptist tradition. Following Calvin’s order of baptism, Baptists pastors ask the infant’s parents and then the congregation to affirm the child’s, the parents’, and the church’s commitment to the gospel, incorporating the ceremony into the church’s liturgical experience. In short, parent-baby dedications often amount to causal, waterless infant baptisms that fail to achieve the spiritual and emotional significance of paedobaptism.

Why Church Covenants?

Baptists pastors should not feel compelled to mimic their pedobaptist friends. According to the Scriptures, baptism and by extension baby dedications provide no saving benefit to the lost. Salvation comes not through church sacraments, sprinkling, or dedication certificates. Salvation comes through the preaching of the Word. Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The children of believers do not get fast tracked to heaven because they took part in a ceremony. Parents who desire to point their children towards Christ need to expose their children to the Bible. As the Word flows over young hearts, children gain the opportunity to repent and believe. The Holy Spirit saves souls through the Word. Baptists need to diligently teach their children that the Jesus saves sinners.

Sometimes parent-baby dedications facilitate the advancement of the gospel, encouraging parents to disciple their children. But pastors often commit pastoral malpractice when they attempt to remind parents of their duty to teach their children the gospel while the new moms and dads struggle to change diapers, follow bottle feeding schedules, and lose weeks of sleep. Pastors will better serve young parents when they locate their church’s family discipleship instructions in the church’s covenant and new members class.

Baptist churches until the 1900’s typically required their members to sign a church covenant which touched upon many doctrinal issues including family discipleship. To join a local Baptist church, men and women had to promise to teach their families the gospel. One covenant from a 1783 North Carolina Church required members “To live orderly in our families in keeping up the worship of God.” Another covenant from 1790 reads, “We who are heads of families will maintain the duty of Worship of God in our houses, and endeavor to instruct those under our care, both by our words and actions.” The New Hampshire Convention of 1833 required its member to promise that, “we will not omit closet and family religion at home; nor to allow ourselves in the too common neglect of the great duty of religiously training up our children.” Historically, Baptist pastors and churches have used covenants to ensure that family discipleship became part of their church’s culture.

If Baptists want to expose their infants to the blessings of the gospel, they should follow the example their forefathers in the faith and make family discipleship part of their membership process. If pastors place family discipleship at the church’s front door, children will be more likely to be exposed to the Word. Every member from the teenager, to the senior adult, to the newlyweds, to the established parents will know they are called to teach the next generation the truth. They can freely discuss their failures and their successes. Moreover, they will be more likely to disciple, praying with their children, singing with their parents, and reading the Scriptures with their spouses. As discipleship moves forward through the church’s culture, children reap the benefits of gospel exposure. The great Baptist Benjamin Keach summed up the sentiment of his day which should also be the sentiment of our day writing, “O neglect not Prayer, Reading, and Meditation! Take care also to Educate and Catechize your Children.”

To bless our kids, we do not need to sprinkle them or dedicate them. We need to equip parents and church members with the tools they need to teach the gospel to the next generation. How are we doing?

Why Exorcists are Animals

exorcismChristians seldom talk about “blaspheming angels.” But they should be familiar with the practice because Jude closely associates the action with false teaching. To keep the church pure, those who have walked up the hill of calvary believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ must contend with those who “blaspheme the glorious ones.” To ensure his readers grasp the point he is making, Jude goes onto recount the battle between Michael and Satan over body of Moses.

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” – Jude 9

New Testament scholars believe Jude lifted this story form the book of Moses, The other historical mention of Moses’s death occurs in Deuteronomy 34:6; the passage does not include this story. Sadly, the section of the Book of Moses that contained this heavenly battle has been destroyed by arid conditions and the unlovingly sands of time. Though we do not have the original text from which this story came, we can be confident of its trustworthiness for it has found its way into the Bible. In addition to drawing from their own experiences, biblical writes frequently pulled from other historical sources and documents. Examine the books of Luke, Acts, and the Old Testament books such as 1 and 2 Samuel.

What does all this crazy story mean?

Jude includes the story to illustrate the folly of the false teachers of his day. When Satan comes for the body of Moses accusing the great prophet of his heinous sins of murder and rebellion against God, the archangel, Michael comes charging to Moses’s defense. Michael had every right to battle Satan for God had appointed him commander over his angels armies, instructing him to defend the nation of Israel (Dan 12:1; Enoc 20:5). But despite his high ranking, Michael did not presume to battle Satan in his own power. He appealed to Jesus saying, “The Lord rebuke you.”

The false teachers blasphemed angles when they assumed they had the internal power to rebuke the spiritual world.

Christians should not fear the demonic. Colossians 1:13-14 reports that we have been freed from Satan’s power:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Christians do not have to walk in fear. And they do not have to fear spiritual encounters with the demonic for they have access to the power of Christ. They can evangelize demon controlled persons, trusting in the unwavering power of Jesus to conquer sin. Paul modeled such dependence upon Christ when he confronted a demon saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” The text goes on to report, “And it came out that very hour (Acts16:18b).”Christians should not fear the demons and angels.

But they should not presume they can control them. Those who prance about rebuking demons in their own authority run afoul of God. They offend God when they assert that they can cast out demons who cause sickness, who dwell in houses, and who control people’s minds. Jude labels the exorcism practices that dominate much of Christendom as being nothing more than the unholy “blaspheming of angels.”

The idea of man-based exorcism does not descend from heaven. It ascends from the dark depths of human nature. Peter reminds us, “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves to corruption.” Those who claim to be the most spiritual among us are truly the earthliest among us. Jude concludes,

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

Those who claim power over the demonic reveal themselves to be spiritual charlatans, peddling spiritual elixirs from their broken theological wagons. Lacking wisdom, they run madly about like deer in heat slapping people with crosses and Bible. They know nothing of the life changing power of Christ. The power they do know is the power from within which feeds the flesh’s passion for greed, pride, and sensuality. Ultimately,  the fate of these exorcists parallels the fate of the dumb deer unrestrained by reason; the false teachers become spiritual roadkill. They are destroyed by what they understand, their sin.
To experience the divine, men and women do not need to look within for the power to overcome demons. They need to look without to the hill of Calvary and to the cross of Jesus Christ which rolls away sin. Have you looked without?