Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Brief Answers to Baptist Objections

In earlier posts I have written about the doctrine of the covenant and how this doctrine informs our practice of baptism. In discussing baptism, I argued for the practice of infant baptism, that is, that believers and their children ought to be baptized. Here I want to briefly address a few common Baptist objections to this practice.

Objection: There is no command or example in the Bible of the baptism of the infants of believers.

1. The inclusion of infants was the default expectation of the Jews, and even the Gentiles, due to the order of nature, the way God had worked in the past, and God’s earlier commands regarding circumcision. It would be the exclusion of infants that would have required a more explicit statement or example.

2. While infants are not explicitly mentioned, in principle they would be included when the Bible speaks of the believer’s “household” which was baptized (Acts 16:15, 31-34). The inclusion of households also demonstrates continuity with Old Testament practice. 

3. There is an explicit example of infants being baptized. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, all Israel is described as being “baptized.”

4. It teaches it by deduction, as I have observed in my prior post. It can be deduced in several ways. For example: (premise 1) the disciples of Christ ought to be baptized (Matt. 28:28-20); (premise 2) the children of believers are disciples of Christ, being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4); (conclusion) therefore they ought to be baptized. Similar deductions can be made based on their inclusion in the covenant and in the visible church. 

Objection: Baptism is a person’s testimony of their choice to believe, and infants are incapable of doing this. 

Baptism is a sign of God’s promise and our engagement to be God’s. Scripture does not say that it is a testimony of our faith to the world. It is a sign and seal of God’s promise, of his grace through Christ, of washing and regeneration. It is a sign to us, to be received by us all our lives. 

Objection: Baptism is no good without faith, therefore only professing believers ought to be baptized. The pattern is repent, believe, and be baptized. 

This is the same with circumcision: Abraham repented by turning form idols to follow God, believed, and then was given circumcision in chapter 17. Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness he had by faith (Rom. 4:11). But it did not follow that the sign could not be applied to the believer’s offspring. The same is true of baptism. The pattern is repent, believe, and be baptized for adult converts, but then the same sign should be applied to their children even through they cannot yet make a profession of faith. 

Objection: Baptism must be by immersion, and infants can’t be immersed, so therefore it must be for those who are older. 

1. Infants can be immersed. Eastern Orthodox churches practice baptism by immersion and baptize infants in that manner. See here. Even if immersion was required, it wouldn't be an argument against infant baptism.

2. Scripture does not teach that baptism must be by immersion. It must simply be washing with water. The word baptism means “washing” and can refer to immersion, sprinkling, or pouring (Mark 7:4, Heb. 9:10). Sprinkling is used as a symbol of God’s cleansing and regenerating work in Ezek. 36:25, Is. 52:15, Heb. 10:22, and the Spirit is described as being “poured out” on God’s people in a way connected with baptism (Acts 2, 10, Titus 3:5-6).

3. The earliest record of the mode of baptism we have outside the Bible is found in the Didache, which allows for both immersion and pouring. “…baptize…in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (7.1-3).

Objection: The new covenant only includes the regenerate, as Jeremiah 31:31-34 says. 

1. This still does not help us determine who to baptize, since we cannot see infallibly who is regenerate. 

2. The New Testament sees the threat of apostasy by (unregenerate) visible saints, who were sanctified by the blood of the covenant, as a reality in the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament (Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:15-17, 1 Cor. 10). 

3. Jeremiah 31:31-34 does not say that the new covenant will achieve pervasive regeneration among God’s people by setting new standards for entrance. Rather, it says it will achieve this by God writing the law on their hearts. In a parallel passage in Ezekiel 36:25-27, it is said this is done by the Spirit. It is a promise of greater blessings, not of greater restrictions. 

4. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 describes the same idea as Jeremiah 31:31-34, that God will internally renewing his people following captivity, and there God explicitly includes the children, promising to “circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.” 

Objection: People who are baptized as infants don’t take seriously the need to repent and believe. 

Sadly, this is sometimes true. I have found this objection especially from those with a Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant background, but nominalism is a threat in every church. It was true in the Old Testament, and it was true in the New Testament. But presumption was not addressed in the Bible by restricting circumcision or baptism to mature believers. The prophets and apostles addressed it by exhorting all the church to repent and believe, to be circumcised in the heart, not merely in the flesh. In fact, baptism ought to give more reason to earnestly train our children in the faith and call them to embrace the covenant, to live up to their baptismal identity. But the best way to address this practical objection is by example. May we who practice infant baptism not separate it from the duty to raise up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, encouraging them to embrace Christ and calling upon God to grant the reality symbolized in baptism.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Five Points of Calvinism

On Sunday afternoons, I have been teaching a series on what have been called the "five points of Calvinism." This Sunday I will conclude the series with the fifth point. You can watch them at the YouTube playlist below.

If you want to see something funny, I have a few helpers on the second lesson. I should have expected that putting a couple children in front of a screen where they could see themselves would lead to a few funny faces, but it took me about ten minutes to realize what they were doing...

As I have mentioned in the series, these five points do not summarize Calvinism or Reformed theology. Rather, they summarize the main points on which a Calvinist understanding of salvation differs from an Arminian understanding. And the point of these points is not to score points against Arminians - rather, they are important because they exalt the grace of God, humble the pride of man, provide comfort for believers, and promote gratitude to God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Thoughts on Christian Culture and Christendom

As a Christian, I desire to see the dominion of Christ over every area of life. Not content to see Christianity restricted to a private religious realm, with others I seek an entire way of life and thought which is subject to Christ and his word, a culture which is shaped by a Christian worldview.

We seek to develop Christian culture, but not as if there is only one cultural expression of Christianity, or as if it is something to be created out of thin air. We seek to develop Christian cultures, to put Christ at the heart of every culture. Christendom has been composed of various Christian cultures united by a common commitment to Christ and the Bible. This approach affirms national, cultural, and familial identities and loyalties as we express our faith and obedience as unique nations, cultures, and families. These distinctions are not obliterated in a single Christian monoculture, though they may be radically transformed by Christ just like the individual Christian. The commandment to honor father and mother teaches us to honor, receive, and build upon what is good in our cultural inheritance. 

Yet this approach also affirms the unity of the peoples and cultures of the world as they submit to Christ. It remind us that any particular Christian culture is one variation on a theme which it shares with others. Not only do we identify with our particular culture, but also with Christendom.

The primary instrument of Christendom’s growth, and the institutional expression of Christ’s kingdom, is the visible church of Jesus Christ and its ordinances (such as the word of God, sacraments, prayer, pastoral care and discipline, and worship). Christ has given his church a commission as well as the means to carry it out and his presence to make them effective. As Isaiah prophesied, the house of God and its instruction is central to the discipleship and transformation of the nations (Is. 2:1-5). Cultures become Christian as the gospel of Jesus Christ produces repentance and obedience in the hearts of men, changing the way they live their lives.

While human sin will continue to mar this process - all Christian cultures are in the process of being discipled - the goal of this process is not something ugly, barren, or harsh, which is how many imagine a Christian social order to be. Rather, a Christian way of life is a restoration of humanity and its culture, infusing it with renewed justice, wisdom, peace, and joy. When God’s ways are faithfully taught and demonstrated, they are capable of attracting admiration and imitation from unbelievers because these ways are inherently wise, beautiful, good, and true. It is for us to avoid obscuring their goodness by our sins and follies, to defend them from slander, and to put them on display in our lives.

Satan and the sin of man resists Christ, and we should be prepared to experience hostility and hinderances to our efforts to follow Christ in all our ways. Sinful habits are woven into the heart of man - ours included. So remember to rest on the power of Christ to subdue the raging of the nations. Ground your hopes on his gospel. And begin reformation with your own ways and the ways of your house. Be humble about your abilities and faithful in your particular calling - this is a vast project shared by the whole church from generation to generation. And even if others despise or slander you, remember your goal is to love them and to seek the good of your people and culture. And do so with hope. Though the church endures difficulty and trials, it shall be an instrument used by Christ to advance his reign, extend his blessings, and restore human culture in its diversity to the service of God.

Friday, April 17, 2020

An Outline of the Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is one of the doctrinal standards of our church and for centuries it has served as a faithful instrument for training Christians in the basics of the faith. You can read it at this link. In 107 questions and answers, it lays out the faith in a very orderly manner, and understanding this order can help understand the significance of each question and answer. So here is my outline of the catechism to help you gain an understanding of the catechism as a whole:

Introduction (1-3): The Word of God is the rule given to direct us how to fulfill our chief end, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, by teaching us:

I. What man is to believe concerning God (4-38)
    A. The nature of God (4-6)
     B. The decrees of God (7-38)
          Definition (7-8)
           1. Creation (9-10)
           2. Providence (11)
            3. Special Providence, i.e. God’s Covenant with Man (12-38)
               i. Covenant of life/works (12-19)
                    Definition (12)
                      a. Sin of Adam (13-16)
                    b. Estate of sin and misery (17-19)
                ii. Covenant of grace (20-38)
                         Definition (20)
                        a. Redemption Accomplished (21-28)
                          1. Christ's person (21-22)
                            2. Christ's work (23-28)
                      b. Redemption Applied (29-38)
                         1. Union with Christ (29-31)
                           2. Benefits of redemption (32-38)

II. What duty God requires of man (39-107)
     Definition (39)
     A. Duty to obey God's moral law (40-84)
           Definition (40)
            1. The Ten Commandments (41-81)
           2. Breaking the Ten Commandments (82-84)
      B. Duty to escape God's wrath and curse (85-107)
           Definition (85)
            1. Faith in Jesus Christ (86)
            2. Repentance unto life (87)
            3. Use of the means whereby Christ gives us the benefits of redemption (88-107)
                  Definition (88)
                  i. Word (89-90)
                  ii. Sacrements (91-97)
                  iii. Prayer (98-107)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Communicating with Wisdom: Part Three

In this three-part series on communicating with wisdom, we have seen what Proverbs 15 says about communicating with God and what it says about listening to other people. Here I want to address what it says about speaking to other people. As with the other two posts, the key principle here is humility rooted in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:33). Humility leads the wise person to speak carefully.

3. Speak to others with humility by speaking carefully.

Christians are called to be peacemakers, to reconcile with their adversary, to live peaceably with all as far as it depends on them. You have a duty to seek peace with your words. You also have a responsibility to edify one another with your words, speaking the truth in love. What that looks like depends on your place in life - when you speak out of place, it is called meddling rather than edification.

Men, this instruction has special relevance for you. As heads of the home, you have a greater responsibility to instruct and reprove, so be especially careful how you do it. In Colossians and Ephesians the apostle Paul specifically tells you to not be harsh with your wives, to not provoke your children to anger, and to stop threatening your servants. Do you see a theme?

Everyone - especially those who are in authority, who speak authoritatively, who have a greater responsibility to instruct and reprove - should be very careful to instruct and reprove wisely, in a way that promotes peace and growth, not anger and destruction.
"A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
(Proverbs 15:1)
Wrath can be turned away by the way you answer an angry person. Likewise, wrath can be stirred up by your words where no conflict yet existed. Words can put out the fire as well as spark the flame, depending on whether they are soft or harsh. A soft answer is when you speak with gentleness, in a conciliatory manner. The point is not weakness, but persuasiveness and restraint. For example, see Gideon's words in Judges 8:1-3. A harsh word is a “painful” word, an attack word, a cutting word, an insulting word. It provokes a defensive response rather than a receptive one. Jesus took harsh words very seriously (Matt. 5:21-22).
"A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit."
(Proverbs 15:4)
"Gentle" here literally means "healing." A "tree of life" refers to a "life-giving tree." Words can give healing and vitality, or they can also crush and destroy. Good reproof is like disinfectant on a wound - it might sting, but it designed to cleanse and heal, and the sting is kept to a minimum. Good reproof gives assurances of love in the midst of correction. But there is also bad reproof, which uses excessive pain and does not heal. It leaves one insecure and discouraged. There is life-giving reproof and there is life-crushing reproof. The tongue can be perverted by deceit, ulterior motives, pride, and anger.
"To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!"
(Proverbs 15:23)
The same words can be beautiful when said in one situation but ugly in another, similar to how the color orange can be beautiful or ugly depending on where you put it. When the words fit the occasion, how good it is! What a joy it is to hear an apt answer! On the other hand, words out of place can be jarring. Even truth - even Bible verses - can be ugly when said on the wrong occasion. Consider the counselors of Job who said many true things, but without a good understanding of the occasion, and so caused pain rather than healing. It is not enough to study the Bible. It is also important to study the situation, both the broader context and the particular situation. Fitting the words to the occasion is a skill, like painting or matching clothes, and it can be learned with diligence and practice. It also leads us to the next proverb:
"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things."
(Proverbs 15:28)
The heart of the righteous considers what it should send to the mouth, while the mouth of the wicked merely needs to open and the contents of the heart spill out. The righteous show discrimination, restraint, and forethought. The mind of the righteous is active, even before it comes time to speak. The righteous are humble, realizing that not everything they might say is good. They are careful because they fear the Lord. The wicked, though, are impulsive and do not show discretion.

So humility shows itself in our speech by the care that is taken. Specifically, to speak wisely, you should aim to speak in a way that (1) promotes peace, (2) promotes healing and growth, (3) is apt for the occasion, and (4) shows forethought.

This applies in our relationships in our families, in our church, as well as the broader society. Think of how we talk as parents, spouses, siblings, pastors, friends, politicians, reporters, journalists, talk show hosts, managers, trainers, coaches - so many occasions to use our words promote harmony, growth, and maturity, or to stir up strife, destroy others, and pour out evil things.


The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom. It leads you to listen attentively to God’s word and to humbly admit your sins and your need for instruction. Those who humble themselves before God will be exalted, and their prayers will be heard. They will also learn to communicate with others wisely. Those who are humbled by the fear of the Lord will be earnest to find wisdom from the wise. Those who are humbled by the fear of the Lord will also be careful how they speak.

So let us humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and clothe ourselves with humility towards one another, so that our tongues may be instruments of blessing, bringing peace and life to our neighbors and offering acceptable praise to our Lord and Savior, to whom be all glory and honor forever. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Communicating with Wisdom: Part Two

This is the second post in a series of three on the topic of communicating with wisdom, drawing from Proverbs 15. The key principle is humility rooted in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:33). In the first post, available here, I wrote on how humility governs our communication with God. In the third post I will get to how it governs how we speak to other people. But in this second post, I turn to the matter of how we ought to listen to other people.

2. Listen to others with humility by seeking wisdom from them. 
"A fool despises his father's instruction,
but whoever heeds reproof is prudent."
(Proverbs 15:5)
Listen to your father. It is foolish to despise the instruction and reproof given by your father (or mother, see verse 20). For a time, you have your parents as personal instructors whose calling is to instruct you. Treasure this gift and use it while you have access to it, that you might be prepared for time to come. Fathers will vary in wisdom, but focus on what you can learn.
"There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
whoever hates reproof will die."
(Proverbs 15:10)
The longer you ignore instruction and the further you go astray, the harsher the consequences get. First there is instruction, then reproof, then human correction, then the destructive results of folly, and then death and judgement. To stay on the good way, give ear to instruction and be responsive to it, repenting early when your sin or folly is exposed by it.
"A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
he will not go to the wise."
(Proverbs 15:12)
Look out for signs of being a scoffer. If you do not like to be reproved, if you do not go to the wise for instruction, then you might be a scoffer. Scoffers are those who proudly scorn wisdom and stubbornly remain in their folly. Put a high price on reproof. Incline your ears to the wise.
"The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence."
(Proverbs 15:31–32)
There are many talkers that seek to get your ear. What you listen to will shape the person you become. If you listen to reproof and instruction, it will be to you a source of vitality and intelligence and an entrance into the ranks of the wise.

In summary, there are two ways to listen: the way of the wise and the way of the scoffer. The wise person seeks and heeds instruction and reproof. The scoffer hates being challenged and despises parents and other sources of wisdom.

The wise person is so earnest in the pursuit of wisdom that he is willing to be corrected and instructed. He is humble, willing to look weak for the moment so that he might improve. It takes humility to grow. The scoffer is not willing to be corrected or admit his need for instruction. He might look stronger in the moment, but he actually neglects the source of strength and endurance. As verse 10 says, he may escape minor embarrassments at first, only to face more severe consequences in the future - and in the end, death. It is dangerous to ignore instruction.

So learn early when opportunities to learn are many and future opportunities to use wisdom are many. Those who invest early get the biggest return on their investment, and the same with wisdom. Do not wait until a crisis to gain instruction and character. And for all your life, continue drawing on what you have been taught and adding to it - do not cast away what you have gained, including your ability to learn.

To listen wisely, take care what you listen to. Give ear to the wise, rather than fools or false teachers. Prize wise words and give weight to what wise people say, even if it is humbling. Give ear to life-giving reproof, rather than destructive words of flattery, error, cruelty, or folly. Sometimes this means avoiding foolish words, while other times it means not giving them much weight. We should show patience with others when they fail to speak wisely, knowing that we all speak foolish words from time to time. As we grow in wisdom, we will be able more and more to disagree with others with patience, knowing what words are important.

To listen wisely, take care how you listen to instruction. Listen with an eagerness to learn wisdom and a readiness to put it into practice. The humble will benefit from instruction. God gives wisdom freely to those who ask for it and seek it from him in the ways he has appointed. Even if reproof is not directly given, use what is taught as reproof - reprove and correct yourself based on what you learn.

Continued in part three:
Communicating with Wisdom: Part Three

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Communicating with Wisdom: Part One

At this time, with the combination of increased stress, increased time at home, and increased distance from others, many of us may be more tempted to sin in the way we speak to each other. Communication is normally an area of great potential and great danger, and this is even more true in our current situation. The book of Proverbs gives a lot of instruction on this area of life. Building on one of my recent sermons (available here), I want to note a few points from Proverbs 15 on speaking and listening wisely.

This post is the first of three parts: (1) how to communicate with God, (2) how to listen to other people, (3) how to speak to other people. The governing principle in all three cases is humility. As Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” God exalts the humble. Humility, rooted in the fear of the Lord, is the way of wisdom. Humility should govern our ears and tongues.

1. Humility teaches us to unite prayer with reverent attention to God's words
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but he loves him who pursues righteousness."
(Proverbs 15:8–9) 
"The LORD is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous."
(Proverbs 15:29)
God does not listen to all prayers. His blessing is not automatic. Prayer without repentance is vain. Prayer without the fear of the Lord is repugnant to the Lord. To expect God to listen to you while refusing to listen to him is a perversion of prayer.

It is hypocritical to honor God with your words, but not with your life. It is disrespectful to expect things from God without listening to his word. It is selfish to pervert this relationship from one of love to one of mere gain. God desires obedience more than sacrifice and prayer (1 Sam. 15:22).

Wisdom warns in Proverbs 1 that those who ignore wisdom will be ignored by wisdom when calamity comes upon them, “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me” (Proverbs 1:28). God said much the same thing through the prophets to the unrepentant who yet offered sacrifice and prayer. “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). Several times in his first epistle, the apostle Peter even warned Christians that their prayers could be hindered by sin, such as the sins of reviling others and of mistreating one’s wife (1 Peter 3:7, 9-12; 4:7).

Acceptable prayer is united with the fear of the Lord in the heart. Acceptable prayer is united with careful attention to God’s written word and a pursuit of righteousness. Acceptable prayer is humble, with acknowledge of sin and gratitude for mercy.

Humility comes before honor. The Lord hears those who repent, that is, those who confess their sins, who seek pardon through Jesus Christ, and who pursue righteousness. Repentance does not atone for your sins, but God grants forgiveness for Christ’s sake to those who believe and repent.

So be reconciled with God through Jesus so that you and your prayers may be accepted. These proverbs contain a warning against presumption, but they also contain comfort to those who by God’s grace are the righteous. God looks to the humble and contrite in spirit. He is close to them and hears them. Their sacrifice of praise and prayers are acceptable to him through the intercession of Jesus Christ the righteous. God loves you and hears you!

Even if our whole country called out for God’s protection, if it was done without the fear of God, it would be an abomination to him. We all should call out for God’s protection, personally and corporately, but let us seek it with hearts that are responsive to his word, with humility, repentance, and renewed obedience.

Continued in parts two and three:
Communicating with Wisdom: Part Two
Communicating with Wisdom: Part Three

Why Did Jesus Die and Rise?

Why did Jesus die and rise? The Bible says a lot about the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection, but here I give a short answer taken from Paul's epistle to the Romans (specifically, from Romans 4:20-5:1, 6:1-14, 8:8-25).

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Resources on the Westminster Confession and Catechisms

The Westminster doctrinal standards (a confession of faith and two catechisms) were written in the 1640s at the Westminster Assembly. This assembly was charged to reform the English church according to Scripture and to bring it into greater unity with the more fully reformed Church of Scotland. It was composed primarily by English Puritan ministers who worked with significant input from Presbyterian commissioners from the Scottish church. While these doctrinal statements did not last long in the Church of England, they were maintained by the Church of Scotland and have been adopted by Presbyterian churches wherever they have been established around the world.

These documents are rich statements of biblical truth and time-tested summaries of the Christian faith. The documents themselves are easily available online. Here they are as originally written, and here they are as adopted by our denomination (incorporating some minor revisions which you can view here). Since they have been used to teach people the faith for hundreds of years, there are many resources to help explain them and to flesh out and apply their theology. Here are some that I have found most helpful:

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Westminster Shorter Catechism Project
This is a valuable online compilation of a number of older commentaries on the catechism. Most of these commentaries have been republished in modern times and can be purchased in book form. Two of them in particular I have found very good:

The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture by Thomas Vincent
This is a short and simple explanation of the catechism from Scripture, available for purchase here.

A Body of Practical Divinity by Thomas Watson
This is a longer exposition of the theology of the shorter catechism, given with practical application, now republished in three volumes, available for purchase here.

The Westminster Larger Catechism

Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology and Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism by Dr. Joseph C. Morecraft
For deeper study or as a reference work, this is a great resource. It is available to purchase here. It is based on Dr. Morecraft's 364 lectures on the larger catechism, which are available online here.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Lectures on the Westminster Confession by Dr. John R. DeWitt

The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession by Robert Shaw
Originally published in 1845, it has been republished by Christian Focus Publications (2008). It is available to read online here and to order here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Singing Hymns in Quarantine

"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them..." (Acts 16:25)