Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hitting the Bull's Eye in the Baptism Debate

  When  I was about 20, I realized not all Baptists were Arminians as I was told for many year. Some Baptists were Calvinists. I felt that I was lied to and this made me search for answers that eventually led some 6 years later to me rejecting infant baptism. It took me years of study to understand what lies at the heart of the differences between infant baptism and believer's baptism. It was often very confusing and frustrating. Part of the problem is some people don't understand the other side or they set up a straw man argument. Anyone can destroy a straw man. A straw man doesn't fight back. He can't defend himself.  Too often in theological debates, we make straw men of the other side's position. We make their position look simplistic or we misrepresent it and so make our position seem more logical or biblical. Then we seek to do battle with the theological straw man. We cut and hack that idea to pieces. Then we raise our hands in triumph and celebrate our glorious victory. Surely we have won, haven't we?

 In the baptism debate, I have seen straw men made on both sides. Unfortunately when this happens real understanding of the issue is lost. In this blog post I want to mention the straw men often used by paedobaptists and then I want to show where the bulls eye in the baptism debate is. I hope this will benefit both sides of the debate from wasting time and energy on the secondary issues.

This debate over baptism is not about Calvinism vs Arminianism. It is not about God choosing you or you choosing God. Too often I have read people saying that believer's baptism is a testimony to a person's faith. It is about the individual choosing God rather than God choosing you. Or it is said that believer's baptism is  a sign of your faith. On the other hand, it is stated, infant baptism is all about God choosing you. But this debate has nothing to do with Calvinism. Anyone who says otherwise doesn't understand the Baptist's position. This debate is not about Old Testament vs New Testament. Paedobaptists believe the Old and New Testaments and Baptists believe only the New Testament, or so I was told. People have said that Baptists believe they can obtain a perfect believer's only church. This also is not true. This debate is not about the salvation of our children. Baptism doesn't save anyone. There are likely other ideas not mentioned. But let us get to the very heart of the issue, the bull's eye.

Covenant. Baptism is all about how we understand the covenants. This is the key that unlocks the door to really understanding this debate. Infant baptism is based on an understanding of the covenants.  The Baptist's understanding of the covenants differs. Both these understandings of the covenants lead to different conclusions on who should and should not be baptized. Before we debate on baptism, we need to remember to start at this crucial issue. You need to look at the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants and then move on to discuss the New Covenant. In fact we don't even need to go to the New Testament in this debate. For when we understand the covenants rightly, all the other pieces will fall into place. There will be no need to discuss the household baptisms, 1 Cor 7:14, or any of the other texts. The debate over infants being baptized  needs to start here at the covenants.  This is the bulls eye that we need to aim for. 

In the next week or two, we hope to put on our blog a revised article by my wife which critiques infant baptism. The truth matters, even on a secondary issue like infant baptism.

Note: The infant baptism that I am referring to is that which is held by most Reformed/Presbyterians. Catholics, Lutherans and some others baptize infants for other reasons.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

God's Message For Us In Song Of Solomon

  I recently began studying the book of Song of Solomon. I find many of the details difficult. It is a very poetic book and it is a challenge to interpret the flow of the book and its very beautiful language. But one thing that is not a challenge to understand is God's purpose and message in this book, although many in church history have confused the purpose of this book. Many have understood Song of Solomon as an allegory with the young woman as the church or the believer and the young man as Christ. While there is some merit in this approach, as I will explain later, I think this way of looking at this booked is flawed. There is a simpler and more logical way of understanding God's purpose for us in Song of Solomon.

God gave us the Song of Solomon to honour marriage and sexual intimacy in marriage. God wants us to see what wonderful gifts love, marriage, and sex are.  God wants us to enjoy marriage. Sexual intimacy in marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Such a book calls us to honour marriage too in our words, deeds, and thoughts. It calls us to love our wives or husbands more. Song of Solomon should lead us to worship such a good God who gives such wonderful gifts to His creatures.

Sadly, marriage is dishonoured among so many, even in the church. The early church thought low of marriage. They had a high estimate of celibacy, which was to be perfered over marriage. The truly holy were those who were celibate. Marriage was often thought to simply be a way to protect a person from lust and fornication. Later this turned into forcing all the clergy to be celibate. The Catholic church even controlled the sexual activity of its people in the Middle Ages. There were many special days where people were forced to abstain from sex. Sex was considered carnal and fleshly, only to be done to produce children, not to be enjoyed. Song of Solomon corrects these wrong ideas about marriage and sex. Song of Solomon honours marriage and sex. Both are to be enjoyed as gifts of God, so long as they are used as He prescribes.

Another problem that can be corrected by understanding Song of Solomon is talking about sex in a coarse and crude manner. So many make dirty jokes, disgusting innuendo, and vulgar remarks. These have no place in the Christian's speech. Song of Solomon uses poetic language to veil the private and sacred nature of sexual intercourse. It speaks of these things in a discreet and respectful way. God wants us to do so as well.

 Song of Solomon shows us how God views marriage and how we should view it as well. In an age of  failing marriages and divorce, people are cynical about marriage. It is so bad now that people don't even get married because they know it will fail. The marital state is mocked and belittled. But the problem is not a defect in God's design of marriage, but a defect in people. The fall into sin has corrupted us. Sin has ruined us. Sin destroys relationships. Sin abuses marriage. Sinful people have taken God's gift of marriage and sex and dragged them though the manure or devalued them. Marriages don't work, because people don't work. How sad God must be to see this broken world. But God has given us hope that marriages can be fixed.

Thankfully we can be fixed since there is hope in Christ. In Christ, God can forgive us and change us by causing us to be born again. We can become new creatures in Christ. Through His power and sanctifying work in our lives, our marriages can be restored to what God intended them to be. The more a couple grows in holiness, the better marriage they will have. The most important thing we need in our marriages is more holiness. We can't realize the delight of marriage on our own. We need the power of the gospel in our lives. As we read Song of Solomon, keep this in mind.

Marriage is to be a picture that illustrates the love of Christ and His church. We can understand this from Ephesians 5 verse 23-33. There the relationship between Christ and the church is the pattern and model for how a husband and wife are to live together in marriage. This connection between Christ and the church and marriage is called a mystery. In the New Testament a mystery is something that was hidden in the Old Testament but now revealed in the New Covenant. So in the Old Testament they would not have understood that marriage was to be a picture of the future relationship with Christ and His Church. Since marriage is to reflect Christ and the church, the love of this couple in Song of Solomon can give us a picture of the love of Christ for His church and the love the church is to have for their Lord. It is in this way that we can apply Song of Solomon to Christ and only this way. The book is not a allegory or a parable. To read it this way is to confuse and ignore the reason God gave us this beautiful book.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Why I am not a Pacifist

    We often hold opinions and beliefs that we never have examined by the rule of scripture. Then someone or something comes along that challenges what we have long held. These incidents should make us turn to the Bible once again to find out the mind of God on such an issue. The issue of pacifism has come up a number of times. Some of my good friends hold to this position. I write this post with respect to those who hold this position. But I also disagree with them and want to show why a right understanding of scripture does not lead to pacifism.

 A pacifist is one who is opposed to the use of violence and war.  What I plan to write is not a critique of their position. I am going to explain why I believe God permits the Christian to use force as a soldier or police officer in certain situations. I do not plan to deal with self defense or the use of force to defend others in a non-war setting, although I do believe that at times this is permissible.

War was allowed for Old Testament believers.
I think most would agree with me that in the Old Testament times, God allowed believers to go to war as these examples illustrate. Abraham, who lived before the Mosaic covenant, went off to war with his servants to rescue Lot and others who were taken captive by a group of kings. God included rules for warfare in the Mosaic covenant. See Deut. 20 Sometimes God called Israel to be His means of executing His judgement on a nation by attacking that nation or nations, like the Canaanites and Amalekites. Moses and Joshua led the people in battle as they brought God's judgment to the wicked nations of Canaan. But most of the time Israel went to war to defend themselves from various enemy nations. David was a great warrior, who fought many battles that were simply to defend Israel. Solomon, whose reign was one of peace, wrote that there is "a time for war and a time for peace." Ecc 3:8 War was part of reality for all the kings of Judah and Israel. Nehemiah and the rest of the builders armed themselves to defend Jerusalem which was being rebuilt. Throughout the OT, wars were fought by God's people. Nowhere do we find a prohibition for believers to not go to war or use force.

Both the Old and New Testaments call for believers to love their enemies.
People will say that in the New Testament God calls us to a higher standard of love and often point to passages like Matt 5 39-44, which say for example: "But do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." and "But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This passage is part of Jesus' sermon on the mount, in which Jesus contrasts the teaching of the rabbis of the day with His teaching. This is not a contrast between the OT and the NT. In fact nothing Jesus says in this sermon is really different from what was taught in the OT. The law of Moses taught that you should love your neighbor as yourself, which included your enemies. Proverbs 24:17 said, 'Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." Proverbs 25:21-22 says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." This verse is used by Paul in Romans 12:20 to reinforce his instructions to love our enemies by doing good to them and leaving vengeance in the hands of God. Leaving vengeance in the hands of God was an OT teaching as well. Deut 31:35 says that "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." This verse is also quoted by Paul in this passage. I fail to see how there is any difference from the OT to the NT in regard to how we should treat our enemies. Both halves of scripture teach the same thing. So if going to war was allowed for believers in the OT, then why would it not be allowed in the NT? 

The government is given the sword by God
 God has given the government the authority and power to enforce the law of the land, even by lethal force. Romans 13:1 says "For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Along with this position of authority God has given the government the power to punish those who disobey the laws. Sometimes this means using force to do so. The government has been given the sword to accomplish this as Romans 13:4 says, "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries God's wrath on the wrongdoer."  The sword is a symbol of their authority, which gives them the right to punish those that break the law, even by capital punishment, that is the taking of someone's life. This agrees with the command by God in Genesis 9:6, where we are told that, "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." Killing someone is not always wrong, in fact it is wrong for a government not to kill those who murder another person. The government  must  kill those who have been thoroughly convicted of murder. Governments are allowed to use the sword to protect people from enemies inside the country and outside the country. This is the responsibility that God has given to them. When other countries attack, murder and pillage, then the government has the duty to protect its citizens from these external lawbreakers. This is God's call to those in authority, "Rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked." Psalm 82:4

Pacifism hinders the Divine task of the government
If we refuse to bear arms, we are hindering the government from doing its God given duty. Suppose if the majority of people in a country were Christians who refused to join the army when their country was attacked. How would the government be able to defend its people? Or what about enforcing the law inside the country with the police force, who may need to use lethal force to preserve the peace and uphold the law? Both these task are given to the government by God, so why should only unbelievers be allowed to help the government in their duty? No I believe it right for Christians to be police officers and soldiers. It is right because we are helping the God appointed authorities do their God given duties. It is also right because we show love to others by defending them against those who would seek to destroy them. Sometimes the only way to do that is by using lethal force since people are evil and often unreasonable.

Not all war is just
 This does not mean that every war is right. Governments and countries often go to war for wrong reasons like conquest, revenge or wealth. Christians need to be wise about going to war. The Christian who with prayer and careful thought will most often understand the need of the hour. Sometimes that may be that we have to say no I can't join this war since it is not just. Then we need to accept the consequences knowing that we have done what was right before God.
    War is a terrible and serious business. Killing anyone made in the image of God is a weighty act. An immortal soul is involved. As such we need to be very careful and wise before we take any action to take life. Taking life even when it is right and just should be done with sorrow and only when no other options present itself. But when it is our path of duty, we should do it with courage and conviction.

Lastly, we should long and pray for the return of Christ which will bring an end to war. When Christ shall reign upon the earth, "nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war." Isaiah 2:4b


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Frozen and Psalm 2

  The movie Frozen seems to be one of the most popular movies made. There is Frozen merchandise everywhere. Frozen books, cups, plates, stuffed animals, dresses and the list goes on. Almost every kid can sing the songs in the movie--even our own daughter, after watching it once has the words 'let it go' ingrained in her head. This post is not a review of the movie Frozen. I don't have time for that and I am sure that others have done a full review. I have only watched the movie once. There were some positive parts to the movie. But one thing I heard gave me the chills. It is the lyrics to the song "Let it go." Here is one stanza from that song.
It's funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I'm free!

Read more here.

The story that led up to this song helps explain things a bit more. Elsa is a princess with power in her hands to make snow and ice. This ability gets her into some trouble, so here parents tell her to hold this ability in and don't let others know. For most of Elsa's life she is locked in her room so no one will know or get hurt. Finally she becomes queen. At that time she can't hold her powers in and leaves her sister, position, and home behind. She sings as she leaves that now she is going to do things her way. She is going to determine how she lives her life. Her kingdom may be a frozen wasteland, but at least she is free to be herself and rule in her way. The old rules and restrictions are gone. Hello to a brand new world where she is free to live the way she wants.

This Disney song reminds me of another song. King David wrote this song. It is found in the book of Psalms; the second Psalm of that book. There it says, "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalm 2:1-2)

Here we have the rulers of the earth who represent all peoples seeking to free themselves from God's rule. They rage in anger against God. They seek to overthrow His rule. They consider His laws and rules to be like chains and ropes that bind them. They are rebelling against the Lord. They want to sit on God's throne. This is what Adam and Eve wanted when they fell. They wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. This is what the Devil wanted when he fell. "I will set my throne on high." (Isaiah 14:13) The king of Tyre wanted the same thing. "Because your heart is proud and you have said, 'I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods,'" (Ezekiel 28:2)

Our sinful natures are so corrupt and proud, that we want to kill God and take His place on the throne of the universe. This is how we naturally act. We want to live as we chose. We will decide what is right and wrong. We will follow our heart. We will not listen to others. We are the most important. We are worthy of the respect and servitude of others. We can see this in our own lives and the lives of every human being We see this in our culture as we seek to get rid of all the old remnants of the old and somewhat Christian past.  This desire to be god is seen in the movie Frozen. 

God laughs at the attempts of people to rule their lives in their own way. All their kingdoms will fail. Only His Anointed's kingdom will last. No one will keep Him from the throne. The only thing we should do is to kiss the Son, that is to bow our knees in reverence and submission before Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords who is our refuge. Otherwise, He will come in wrath against us, His enemies.