Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Quotes from R. L. Dabney

I've been reading some of R. L. Dabney's Discussions and I thought I'd share two good quotes from him to whet your appetite for this very insightful man (he's not good on everything, but amazing when he's right).

From his essay The Standard of Ordination written in 1891, "In one word, if anything is made clear in the Bible concerning ministerial duty, this is clear: that Christ has appointed the pastors and evangelists of his church to be the teachers of religion to men, the appointed school-masters of the world in the one science of theology. But as Lord Bacon shows, this is the splendid apex of the whole pyramid of human knowledge. It is the mistress of all sciences to whom all the rest are tributary, history, ethnology, zoology, geology, literature, and especially philosophy, her nearest handmaid. The mistress must dominate all and rule all lest, becoming insurrectionary, they should use their hands to pull down the foundations of her throne. The teachers of the supreme science must not be ignorant of any other science. They ought to be strong enough to lead the leaders of all secular thought; for if they do not, the tendencies of the carnal mind will most assuredly prompt those secular leaders to array their followers against our King and his gospel.”

From his essay The Uses and Results of Church History written in 1854 (I'll probably use this sometime concerning food), "Those things which are the most operative elements of social, national and religious welfare are just the things which historians have been least careful to record. The knowledge of them has, in many cases, perished away for ever from our search. In secular history, battles, sieges, coronations, conquests, treaties; and in ecclesiastical history, councils and their canons, controversies and anathemas, have been the favorite themes of the story. But the food which nations ate, the clothing they wore, their domestic life, the state of domestic discipline, their arts, agriculture and amusements, the method of their devotions, their superstitions, the hymns they sang, the preaching to which they listened, the books they most read, the color of the national and social passions, the pecularities of the national spirit; all these every-day and homely influences are the causes which potentially form the character and compose that mighty current of the age on which kings, battles, conquests and conquerors are but the floating bubbles which indicate its motion. But all this historians have usually left to die with the passing time, as if it was unworthy of the dignity of their drama."

Monday, February 20, 2012


Now that I have been writing for a year and a half I think I can touch this controversial subject (not like I haven’t been controversial before). I don’t think the timing of baptism is a major issue by itself, although it is often a sign of larger problems in how we think of families and the church. This won’t be comprehensive, but hopefully it will be a good introduction to the subject. And hopefully this post will edify, not divide.

You might be a little confused by the title of this post. First, let me explain some terms. Paedo-baptism is the doctrine that children of believers should be baptized (paedo = child), while credo-baptism is the doctrine that only those who make a credible profession of faith should be baptized (credo = believe). I think paedo-baptists put themselves at a slight disadvantage with that name, as the primary point isn’t that children of believers should be baptized. The larger point is that children of believers should be baptized because they are members of households, the households of those with credible professions of faith, that should be baptized. This is why I would prefer to call myself an oikos-baptist (oikos = household) (you can call me a paedo-baptist, but I think oikos-baptist might be a more helpful term). Briefly stated, baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, and the covenant of grace is not only made with individuals, but with their families as well. In the Old Testament, whether it was Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:9), Abraham (Gen. 17:7, 11-13), Moses and the Israelites (Deut. 29:10-15), or David (2 Sam. 7:12, 29), the covenant not only included the individual, but his household and offspring. Then when we get into the New Testament we see this pattern continued with verses like,
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39, emphasis added)

The Lord opened her [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14-15, emphasis added)

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:30-34, emphasis added) (Notice “he had believed God”, but “all his family” was baptized.)
Credo-baptists will often point out that there are not explicit examples of infants being baptized in the New Testament. But using the Old Testament as a background, and knowing that the covenant of grace (and the covenant of works) had always been made with households before, it is the credo-baptists that need to supply the proof that a believer's family was purposefully excluded from baptism. And to my knowledge there isn’t an example or teaching of that.

As result of oikos-baptism and covenantal thinking we can have Christian families. The family becomes more unified, and receives a greater emphasis than it would otherwise. As baptism is the public initiation into the visible covenant community (the church), the whole family is regarded as part of the church. The church is then largely made up of households, and not merely individuals. Children of believers are accepted as Christians (even before baptism, thus they receive baptism), as members of the church, unless they apostatize (and it must be remembered that the covenant can work as a greater curse to those who apostatize, Malachi; Deut. 28:15-68; Acts 7:51-53).

This doctrine of household baptism and the covenantal doctrine that it flows out of has a great influence on our method of discipleship. Discipling your children is not so much like evangelizing heathen, as much as it is to teach them to, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Using my last post’s example, it is to grow the subjective communion of life with God in faith, of which the objective covenant relationship is a sign and seal. As children in the covenant, we learn to repent of our sins, and believe, love, and obey God as a way of life, not trusting in baptism, in obedience, not even in faith for salvation, but trusting and believing in the saving work of Christ alone for salvation. For some, this faith might come later in life, while for others it may happen at, and even before birth (Luke 1:41,44; 2 Sam. 12:23; Ps. 22:9-10; 71:5-6), but regardless, we are called to accept our covenant responsibilities now and always, to trust God and rely on His grace. Christian parents have hope in the promise of God to be their children’s God, and they have the responsibility to bring up their children to share in the life of the covenant. In fact, their efforts to disciple should be encouraged by this hope of it actually succeeding by the grace of God.

With all that said, I do recognize that we are not always consistent with our doctrine, and that some credobaptists have done a better job than some paedobaptists at integrating the family into the church, and teaching families to disciple their children in the faith. I have a number of good friends that are baptists, and even just looking at the followers of this blog it looks to be about a 50/50 split (I actually have much more in common with reformed baptists than with many 'paedobaptists', i.e. Roman Catholics, liberal protestant denominations like the PCUSA, etc...). But while there are other issues that are more important, I think it is good to bring this issue out every once and awhile, especially in the individualistic culture of today. As I said in my last post, I think covenantal thinking is vitally important for us today. While there is much more to covenantal thinking than baptism, it does play a part, and should not be ignored.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Covenantal Theology and Society

You might remember my post a while back on Rules and Relationships, or you might have seen my post on Centralization on my food website. Both of them were dealing with the idea of covenant. The two very interwoven aspects of covenant can be called rules and relationships, and objective and subjective. In the marriage covenant there is an objective vow, structure, and rings that connect the man and women and a married couple, but there is also the relationship and love between the them which is essential for them to be one. Without the structure and objective connection there is an undefined basis (i.e. no basis) for love, and it is not what we would call a marriage. But without the love and subjective relationship, the structure and objective reality is legalistic and artificial. My pastor, Kevin Swanson, has described our covenant with God with the example of a branch being grafted into a tree. There is both an objective connection by binding the the branch to the tree by the physical band, but there is also the actual interchange of nutrients, water, sap, which makes the branch a living part of the tree. Louis Berkhof explains this idea in his Manuel of Christian Doctrine, that in the Bible the covenant has both a legal and objective aspect, as well as a communion of life (i.e. faith, love) that the legal aspect is a means to. Using Old Testament terminology, there is an objective circumcision of the flesh, and a circumcision of the heart. In the New Testament there is the baptism by water, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Both are very important, and they work together.

We can see how we have drifted away from covenantal community and the disastrous consequences of doing so. In the civil sphere the state has grown more and more objective and legalistic, centralizing power away from the local and relational community. This has resulted in public schools, state-funded impersonal welfare, vast amounts of rules regulating every minute part of life, and many other tyrannies. In the ecclesiastical sphere the church has gone the other way, becoming more and more subjective and individualistic, focusing on saving your little soul and your emotional affection towards Jesus. The Bible is losing objective authority and often can mean whatever you want it to mean for you. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often regarded as mere memorials, which are nice things that should make you feel better (and, of course, should only be done after your personal emotional experience). The invisible church (the truly elect Christians, not necessarily those part of the institutional church) is really all that matters to the the average evangelical, and sometimes the institutional church is even seen as a negative thing that gets in the way of true spirituality. In the familial sphere, families have gone both ways. Often conservatives have had a tendency to be more objective and legalistic, while liberals have a tendency to be more subjective and carefree with regards to rules and discipline, but families can fall into either trap fairly easily.

Now I am not against rules or relationships. I want them both, and both of them will help form the other one when done properly in covenant. I love the truth and I love people (at least I aim to do both). I believe that covenantal thinking is vitally important to living and working properly in life. Without it, our relationships to people and to God will be messed up. That is a very serious matter.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Introduction to Missouri Folk Music

For your entertainment/edification/cultural enrichment here is a short introduction into the native folk music of my home state. 

First, a bit of old time fiddling. This is played at Ozark speed (which tends to be faster that the northern parts of the state) and is commonly played for square dances or contra dances. This tune is called Walk Along John.

Dave Para and Cathy Barton are an amazing husband and wife team that have been playing Missouri folk music for over 30 years. They generally play music more typical of "Little Dixie," in central Missouri. 

To be more complete I would need a video of bluegrass from Missouri, but I don't have the time to find a video. My mom played in a bluegrass band when we lived in Missouri, and we went to quite a few bluegrass festivals growing up. It is especially common near Branson area.

And just when you thought you had Missouri figured out, here comes a curve ball. Did you know that Missouri has had a French speaking population in its Old Mines district? The language is nearly dead now, although in the late 80s there were still about 1,000 native French speakers. They've been here since the 1700s. Here is a neat article about the French culture in Missouri:
This song was recorded in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, July 2007.  It is called "La Guillanee", and is a Illinois-Indiana-Missouri French New Year Song.