Friday, May 25, 2018

Becoming un-Baptist Part 7: Becoming Orthodox

Becoming un-Baptist Part 7: Becoming Orthodox

At the end of my theological journey, I found myself facing two choices: Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy.  I bumbled around and found myself listening to Ancient Faith Radio and Scott Hahn.  I admit that Scott Hahn had some compelling arguments for Roman Catholicism.  However, his most compelling arguments did not lead me to Rome.  My study of Church History showed me that Rome had made some moves away from Biblical and Early Christian thought and practice.[1]  This then left me with one valid option: go to an Orthodox church.

So, I went to an Orthodox Church and shocked the local priest by telling him that my wife and I had come for the purpose of becoming Orthodox.  The priest replied that we should start by coming to liturgy first for a few weeks, which we did.  I had already reasoned my way to the conclusion that Orthodoxy was true and I needed to be a part of it.

The first thing I noticed was how much Scripture I encountered in the Liturgy.  Not only that, but some exegetical work I had done in my earlier studies actually showed up in the liturgy, translated into English just as I had earlier argued that it should be translated.[2]  I was stunned.  At the same, I found that reading the Fathers became less and less like I was reading a foreign text and more like I was reading someone who shared in the same things in which I was sharing.  I did not feel the need to read the Fathers with an implicit distrust of their conclusions and methods as I once had done.

After my initial impressions, I realized something quite important; becoming Orthodox was not a mere rearranging of my mental assent about various points of doctrine or practice.  It was an entrance into a way of life that was quite distinct from what I had experienced as a Protestant.  I found myself with set fasting, which we practiced as a community.  I entered into a worship that did not cater to my feelings, but was centered upon the worship of God. 

Becoming Orthodox was also a significant shift in my world-view.  One example of this is how I lost my Baptist Salvation Calculus Formula that allowed me to determine the state of another person’s salvation, and I found myself praying for God’s mercy upon others and upon myself.  I began to practically understand that God is the Judge and that I will be judged along with everyone else.

I would like to say that since becoming Orthodox, I have purged myself from all sin and am a resplendent example of how all others should be.  Such is decidedly not the case.  I managed to maintain all my personal flaws.  However, I have entered into an ancient (yet new to me) way of living as a Christian with a set and proven pattern for spiritual growth.

[1] The first thing that comes to my mind are the liturgical deviations which have come to pass since Vatican 2.  To these I would add the addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed, forced clerical celibacy, the ability to merit God’s grace, and Papal Supremacy.
[2] In particular the passage from James 1:17.  The ESV reads “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” I argued that the text ought to be translated as: “All good giving and every perfect gift…”  Then to my amazement, the priest comes out and states exactly what the Greek actually states!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Becoming un-Baptist 6: When Protestant Theology Crumbles Or, How Gerry Breshears Helped Me Become an Orthodox Christian

Becoming un-Baptist 6: When Protestant Theology Crumbles
Or, How Gerry Breshears Helped Me Become an Orthodox Christian

In my previous series of posts entitled “Becoming un-Baptist,”[1] I recounted how I went from being a confessional Baptist to no longer even being baptistic in my theology.  The crumbling of my Baptist theology was not the end of my reconsideration and shifting of my theological views.  Indeed, it was part of a larger shift in my theological paradigm.

I consider myself to have been privileged to have studied at Western Seminary.  One of the professors there who helped me become a better thinker was Gerry Breshears.[2]  Sometimes this came through my own disagreement with some of his positions.  However, this came primarily through his practice of Sola Scriptura (even though he would likely be displeased by my use of a Latin phrase instead of the English “Scripture Alone”).  Gerry constantly and helpfully pressed me and others to support our beliefs and opinions directly from Scripture. 

I still remember one comment he made on a doctrinal statement I submitted.  Gerry’s
brief comment was, “Do you have a Bible verse for this?”  The fact was, that I did not have a Bible verse.  I had reached a point where I could not find a passage of Scripture that would clearly support limited atonement.  While I know it is very dangerous to speculate about another’s feelings and thoughts, I strongly suspect that Gerry took no small satisfaction in compelling his students to completely reevaluate their theological positions in light of the biblical texts.  He set me upon a trajectory of critically examining every doctrine I had held in light of Scripture.  Ideally, I suppose that I should have figured this all out during my 5½ years that I was a student at Western Seminary.  This was decidedly not the case. 

I found that reading the Bible continued to crumble my doctrinal views.  At the same time as this process was ongoing, I entered into a journey of studying the Church Fathers.  This resulted in even further problems for my doctrinal positions.  The Fathers were quoting verses and interpreting them in ways that were often utterly foreign to my doctrines.  This led me to reread the Bible and find that those verses which I had overlooked (or interpreted around) suddenly came to bear upon my understanding of doctrine. 

I went through a theological crisis.  As one doctrine crumbled after another, I found that I was less certain of more and more things which led me to question ever further and find even yet more questions.  This was a ridiculous time in my life.  I found that simply reading the Bible became difficult because I was constantly beset with the problem of a shifting paradigm.  Passages which once made sense, suddenly did not; and passages which were once overlooked gave answers which were not compatible with what I had believed.

Being beset with questions, I decided to find answers.  The answers I found were significantly unsettling.  It was my journey to find answers that led to the collapse of my Protestant theology.  At first my questions and answers in no way threatened my Protestant beliefs.  I should note that none of my questions arose from any sort of perniciousness.  These were sincere questions as I was attempting to discern the Truth which I should believe.

The first issue that I had was imputed righteousness.  I could find no textual support for this understanding of righteousness.  The answer I was given was that if righteousness is not imputed, than it must be imparted, and that view is clearly wrong.  Meanwhile I was thinking that perhaps both were wrong.

There were several other fairly significant theological questions that I had.  However, the most important came when I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the New Testament in the Greek, and I realized that I could not support Sola Scriptura from Scripture alone.  This was troubling, and doubly so, because I realized I could make a better argument for tradition from the New Testament (especially when I was reading the Greek) than I had previously thought possible.  In fact, by following Scripture, I ended up realizing that Paul taught that He had handed down an unwritten tradition.  This can be seen in:

2nd Thessalonians 2:15 “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
1st Corinthians 11:2 “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.”

I looked at these and other verses and I realized that the Bible taught that that unwritten traditions handed down from the Apostles were to be kept. This then was the moment when it all imploded.  The very exegetical method I had been taught led me to a point where it killed itself and thrust me into the arms of Tradition.  I found myself pondering the probability that there was an Apostolic Tradition beyond the books of the New Testament and I began reading the writings from the Early Christians with an eye towards discerning what these unwritten Apostolis Traditions were.

This was all happening while I was almost Anglican.  However, as I was entering into the Apostolic Tradition, Anglicanism seemed less and less like a valid option, I was left with two real choices: Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. 

[2] There were several others, but this post is about the formative effect that Gerry’s methodology had upon my own way of thinking about theology.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Becoming un-Baptist Part 5: Almost Anglican

Becoming un-Baptist Part 5: Almost Anglican

In my previous posts, I discussed how I had ceased to be a Baptist (church leadership, theology of baptism, and the practice of baptism).  As I was departing the Baptist fold, I nearly became an Anglican.  In the Anglican Church, I found a more ancient from of liturgy than is practiced among Baptists.  The worship was centered upon the Eucharist.  There was a prayer book that provided a vocabulary and a direction for my prayers.  I also had (and still have) friends who are Anglican.  Even more important for me, I found pieces of the Fathers in the worship service and was able to feel something of a connection with the Christian Tradition.

My wife and I enjoyed our fellowship within the Anglican churches we attended.  However, we never quite became Anglicans (for which I am thankful).  At the same time that we were attending Anglican churches, I was continuing to undergo some significant doctrinal disruptions.  Not only was I finding myself being un-Baptist, but in some ways, I was becoming un-Protestant.  This can be problematic when attending a Protestant church.

Could there have been room for me in the Anglican Communion?  Probably, if I had found a conservative Anglo-Catholic parish and remained there for the rest of my life.  However what I found was a Professor of Church History at an Anglo-Catholic Seminary talking about how we should reconsider the conclusions of Chalcedon (the fourth ecumenical council) and the remainder of the ecumenical councils.  In the parishes I attended, I found Anglicanism to be a rather low church affair because the worship was tailored to have people feel comfortable.  The doctrine seemed more like the Reformers than it did the Fathers.  Luther’s Law Gospel hermeneutic (this hermeneutic is prone to divide Scripture into the categories of Law, which condemns, and Gospel, which gives life.  Luther even opined that the Epistle of James: “was a right strawy epistle…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”) was on display along with a dash of Calvinism (this was probably more to a living out of the 39 articles than anything else).  These points grew a little troubling for me.  I was becoming less and less convinced of the Reformation and the Anglican world is decidedly part of the Reformation.

Coming from Southern Baptist land, I liked the Anglican Church in North America.  They were conservatives starting a Church with true doctrine and practice as opposed to the Episcopal Church which well… um… would allow anyone to believe anything and remain a bishop.  As I spent more time, I began to feel as though the ACNA was simply resetting the theological capitulation to culture clock back to the 1970’s and doing so through a functional schism.  As a Baptist, schism is not a negative.  However, for an un-Baptist, schism is troubling, and it gave me a little more pause.

The breaking point for me was listening to Anglican Unscripted and hearing Kevin and George talk about how the Anglican Church followed the canons of Nicaea.  Then on Sunday I went to church and saw a deaconess pushing around an old priest at the altar because he was moving too slowly for her.  As I was sitting there, I realized that this deaconess would be ordained as a priestess and that the canons of Nicaea were not followed when they were inconvenient or at odds with modern sensibilities.

The very things that I loved about the Anglican Communion was the very thing that they were doing their best to down play or ignore.  I loved the pre-Reformation streams of thought.  However, as I encountered it, these came through a Reformation grid and a further American evangelical grid.  There was a liturgy that at times was strikingly beautiful, yet was also divorcing itself from the shared worship practices of the Old Testament and the Early Church.  This was not the place I was looking for.  However, during my time there, I began to appreciate the formative nature of liturgy and written prayers.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

On Becoming un-Baptist Part 4: Why I am glad to have been a Baptist

On Becoming un-Baptist Part 4:
Why I am glad to have been a Baptist

In my previous posts, I have explained how I ceased to be a Baptist (ecclesiology, theology of baptism, and practice of baptism).  I do not want to give anyone an impression that I have nothing but stones to hurl.  I am very grateful for many things that I learned and experienced in baptistic circles.  There are virtues and practices I observed in others which I continue to admire and aspire to attain.

Knowledge of the Bible
While I may differ on how I interpret and understand the Bible, Baptists (at least most the ones I was exposed to) placed a great emphasis on knowing and reading the Bible.  I often find myself whispering along with Bible readings in church because I have the entire passage nearly memorized from repeated encounters in my youth.

Love of God and neighbor
I met many people who loved God and their neighbors far better than I did or do now. 

This may sound strange to some, but it was quite a culture shock when I was in church and we were given pledge forms for how much we were going to give in the calendar year (this has happened in more than one non-baptistic church I have attended).  From my youth I had learned and practiced that I ought to give 10 percent.  That is tithing 101, which I heard explained from the pulpit on several occasions.

Importance of owning one’s faith
Baptistic circles stress the importance of owning your faith.  I was taught that it was important to know what I believed, make it my own, and live it out.

Sincere people and good friends
I met many people of simple and pious sincerity.  I made friends that will last a lifetime.  Even if I disagree with them on many points, I know that they come to their views honestly and without any maliciousness. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Becoming un-Baptist Part 3: Baptism Continued

Becoming un-Baptist Part 3: Baptism Continued
In my previous posts on becoming un-Baptist, I wrote about how my ecclesiology shifted, and then how my theology of baptism shifted.  In this post I provide a sketch of how my understanding of the practice of baptism shifted.

Valid Baptism
On my journey out of a baptistic understanding of baptism, I reflected on the practice of baptism as well as the theology of baptism.  I was asking questions about what made a valid baptism, who ought to be baptized, and when they ought to be baptized.  What I found in Scripture ended up having more correspondence to the practices of the Early Church than I had expected.

The question of what made a valid baptism came up for me when I was considering doing missionary work (theological education overseas) through the International Missions Board (the Southern Baptist missionary agency).  Technically, I would have had to have my baptism regularized, which means that I would have to be (re)baptized because I was not baptized in a church that was Southern Baptist and also did not affirm the “perseverance of the saints.”  I was adamant that my baptism was valid; I was baptized by immersion in water, by a believing Christian, after a confession of personal faith, and in the name of the Trinity.[1]

As I dug into this, I found that often times Baptists would leave out any statement about the person doing the baptism.  Even when Grudem wrote about baptism in his Systematic Theology, he did not state that a baptism needed to be administered by a believer for it to be valid.  Instead he states, “Scripture simply does not specify any restriction on who can perform the baptism ceremony.”[2]  The problem I found here is that this does not comport with the way I had been taught to reason from the Bible.

I had been taught that since there was no (overt) example of an infant ever being baptized in Scripture, then the practice is unbiblical.  Using that same logic, I found that every example of Christian baptism in the Bible had an already baptized person performing the baptism.  This means that, logically, it takes a baptized person to baptize biblically (i.e. validly) another person.  If I had left it at this point, I may very well have remained a Baptist.  However, I connected the dots:

1.      Biblical baptism requires a baptized person to baptize.
2.      Only someone who is baptized after coming to faith has a valid baptism (from a Baptist perspective).
3.      For at least 1,400 years of Church History (likely longer), only converts would be baptized after a profession of faith (the practice was to baptize infants and at times delaying baptism until the deathbed).

These points led to a problem.  Unless one can trace a line of baptized converts baptizing other converts (which cannot be done),[3] then there is no one, at the present, who can validly baptize another person.[4]  This lack of a succession of "biblically" baptized people means that Baptist churches are unchurched (along with every other denomination of Christians).  However, if infant baptism is valid, then there are valid baptisms at the present, but this would also mean that I (and all other Baptists) was wrong about who can be properly baptized.  This left me with either affirming infant baptism is true and right, or affirming that no one at the present is validly baptized.

Mode of Baptism
Growing up, I remember my dad (a Baptist pastor) had baptized people on a couple of occasions by means other than full immersion because of the particular needs of that moment.  This is in contrast with many Baptists who would hold such baptisms to be invalid because the baptized were not fully immersed in the water.  My position was cemented when I took a trip to Greece with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  We stopped at the place in ancient Philippi where Paul (probably) baptized Lydia.  There as I listened to a lecture on baptism and how it always meant full immersion I was looking at the creek where Paul did his baptizing.  It was nearly full to its banks and maybe would come up to my knees in the deepest location.  And what should there be but an icon showing Lydia kneeling in the water as Paul scooped water and poured it on her head.  One of these views comported with reality.  The other did not comport with reality.[5]

I still agree with my dad.  The meaning and symbolism of baptism is best captured through immersion.  However, immersion is not necessary for a baptism (done in the name of Trinity with water) to be valid.

Household Baptisms
The Apostles did things which no clear thinking Baptist would do.  They baptized entire households.  And following the text of Scripture, these households were not entirely composed of believers!  This practice of household baptisms did not appear to be an outlier but is a fairly common theme in the New Testament (at least when speaking about who was baptized).

With household baptisms recorded in the Bible, it is not possible to prove that infants or toddlers were present in the households who were baptized.  It is probable, but not demonstrable.  At the same time, it appears that not everyone in the household necessarily believed prior to their baptism. 

In Acts 18:8 there is an example of an entire household believing and being baptized:
“Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”
This demonstrates that Luke can speak of an entire household believing and being baptized.  So, when he does not mention it, we can either read into the silence that the household believed and Luke just failed to mention it, or we can read the silence as intentional (but authorial intent is so passé these days). 

There are two instances in which the text states the household was baptized, but does not state that the entire household believed.  There is the example of Lydia in Acts 16:14–15.[6]  The text does not say anything about her household believing, only that they were baptized with her.  A more explicit example is found in Acts 16 with the baptism of the Philippian jailer.  Paul and Silas used a singular imperative “believe” when they said “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).  There is no apostolic command for his household to believe only for the jailer.  We read that the jailer was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:33).  Then the singular faith of the jailer is again revealed in 16:34, where we are told that the jailer “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”  Luke was quite capable of saying “that they had believed in God.”  However, Luke did not record that they believed, only that the jailer believed, yet he and his household were baptized.  It does not appear that personal faith is necessary for each person baptized in a household.[7] 

I cannot prove that there were infants/toddlers in these households that were baptized.  However, slaves were baptized as part of the household (for Lydia to have a household, she would have had to have slaves).  This leads to the question of how would a slave (who had not made a profession of faith) would receive baptism as part of the household and an infant would not?  Slaves were considered part of the household in both Roman and Hebrew society (In fact, according to Torah, the slaves of a priest could eat the food that the laity were forbidden to eat because it was reserved for the priests[8]).  Slaves were culturally considered part of the household, but the children were considered a significantly more important part of the household.  It does not make sense that a slave (as part of the household) would receive baptism and an infant would not receive baptism (as part of the household).

Evangelism Separated from Baptism
Baptism was not always immediate.  Paul appears to have made this very clear in 1st Corinthians 1:14–18:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

If baptism was something that was consistently practiced upon belief, then we would expect Paul to have baptized a lot of people.  Paul was in Corinth for a year and a half,[9] but he only baptized 3 (households).  Yet he has the audacity to refer to himself as the father of the Corinthian Christians,[10] when he (if we were to follow the expectation of immediate baptism upon belief) left Corinth with only three baptized households constituting the church in Corinth.  Further, Paul understands his call to proclaim the Gospel (even for one and a half years in the same place) to be a separate thing from the call to baptize.  This runs into a significant problem in that if baptism was supposed to immediately follow a profession of faith, then Paul should have been a baptizing machine because it would have been a necessary fruit of preaching the Gospel.

That Paul did not view Gospel proclamation as requiring him to be involved in baptisms is an important point.  I am certain that someone could explain it away (with varying degrees of success).  I think that it is best understood as the basis for the practice of the catechumenate (the period of learning about the faith before one was baptized and became and Christian) in the early Church.  The only individual who was immediately baptized that we do not know for certain had been spiritually formed by Judaism is the Philippian jailer.  Every other convert immediately baptized upon their belief, for lack of a better term, had a biblical worldview.[11]  There is no clear example of a rank polytheist converting and being immediately baptized in the entirety of the Biblical text (the Philippian jailer being a possibility, but not clearly stated as such).

These conclusions about the practice of baptism along with my theological conclusions (see my previous post here) led me to the point where I uncomfortably accepted the premise and validity of infant baptism.  This moved me from the periphery of baptistic circles to a camp outside in a land unknown to me.  In many ways, I had left my father’s house and set out for a land that I had not seen in a direction that I did not know.

[1] This experience was part of the catalyst for me to think carefully through the topic of baptism.
[2] Pages 983-984.  This was the standard Systematic text used at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The Baptist Faith and Message (as revised in 2000) likewise is silent on who can be the baptizer:
[3] A movement known as the Landmarkist movement who argued that Baptists were the true Church and were always a distinct entity from the Roman Catholic Church.  Here is a chart of their interpretation of Church History.
[4] Some Baptists, such as John Smyth (the first Baptist), argued that the local congregation has the full authority and autonomy to carry out the biblical commands as they saw fit.  In my estimation, such a practice removes that body of people from anything that could be considered a historical or ontological connection to the Church which Christ founded.
[5] The Greek word baptizo often means full immersion.  This does not necessitate that the Christian practice of baptism slavishly followed the technical meaning of a word they utilized for a distinctly religious action.  Thus is should not surprise anyone when the early Christian manual on Church practices, the Didache, provides both immersion and affusion as valid means of baptism (Didache 7).
[6] One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her 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).
[7] The baptism of households ought to be examined in light of Cicero’s De Domu 109 and De Officiis 1.54-55 to see how Roman culture understood how religion and the family unit worked.  Likewise, one could consult the Old Testament.  There is little doubt that a biblically faithful Jew would have the entire household following the prescriptions of Torah because that is what they were commanded to do (Regarding children there is Deuteronomy 4:10 and 11:19; regarding slaves there is Exodus 12:44 and importantly Leviticus 22:10–11).
[8] Leviticus 22:10-13:A lay person shall not eat of a holy thing; no foreign guest of the priest or hired servant shall eat of a holy thing, but if a priest buys a slave as his property for money, the slave may eat of it, and anyone born in his house may eat of his food. If a priest's daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the contribution of the holy things. But if a priest's daughter is widowed or divorced and has no child and returns to her father's house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father's food; yet no lay person shall eat of it.”
[9] Acts 18:11, “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
[10] 1st Corinthians 4:15, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
[11] Lists of those baptized in Acts:
Acts 2, practicing Jews; Acts 8, Samaritans; Acts 8 Ethiopian Eunuch; Acts 9, Saul; Acts 10, Cornelius the Centurion; Acts 19, the disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit;

Friday, March 23, 2018

On Becoming un-Baptist Part 2: Baptism

On Becoming un-Baptist Part 2: Baptism

I my previous post, I offered a quick sketch of how I conceptually left Baptist polity behind.  I was okay with bishops and councils because I could find such in the texts of the New Testament.  Yet I remained a Baptist because I affirmed believer’s baptism.  At least, until the day when that crumbled as well.  Believe what you will about how a body of Christians should lead and govern themselves, as long as you hold firmly to believer’s baptism (and are not a Pentecostal) you will remain in baptistic circles.

At the end of my Ph.D. at a Baptist seminary I found my understanding of baptism shifting.  What initially gave me some pause was the fact that there was not a controversy about infant baptism in the early Church.  Anytime something new arose in the early Church, there was a controversy and someone was writing against whatever the new thing may be (Gnosticism, modalism, etc…)

The only early Christian to write against infant baptism was Tertullian (early 200’s).[1]  The problem is that Tertullian did not argue for believer’s baptism, but a baptism after one had proven themself to be a steadfast Christian for many years.  He was against infant baptism (which he did not treat as a recently arrived practice) because he thought that there was no forgiveness for sin after baptism.  Therefore one should only be baptized after proving capable of living a Christian life without sin.

Needless to say, Tertullian was a lone voice on this point of baptism.  His contemporary Hippolytus, Bishop of Rome, wrote, “You are to baptize the little ones first.  All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak.  With regards to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents or someone who belongs to their family should speak.”[2]  Here is a clear example of infant baptism being practiced and having a pattern for practice around the year 200.  Fast forward to the year 253 when Cyprian of Carthage, writing on behalf of a council, affirmed that infants could be baptized before they were eight days old.[3]

These points amongst many others were in the back of my mind, but did not, in and of themselves, alter my beliefs.  I was still operating under the principle that the Bible and not tradition ought to determine my beliefs.[4]  The problem was the Bible.  I had texts that did not quite fit my theology of baptism.  My theology was telling me that I had to understand any passage, in which “baptism” is said to do something, as a non-physical/spiritual baptism. Since baptism is an act of Christian obedience, any passage that states otherwise must be using the term “baptism” as a metaphor.  But I started to develop the sneaking suspicion that my interpretation could be amiss.

As I reflected more and more, I came to the realization that spiritualizing baptism into a metaphor was not necessitated by the context of the passage but by my theological predispositions.  I did not have a truly good reason to say that 1st Peter 3:20–21 was talking about a non-physical baptism: “they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  The lack of a good reason for my interpretation was troubling to me.  In fact, this practice ran counter to what I had been (rightly in my opinion) taught to do when I interpreted Scripture.

When I began to read the “baptism” as referring to baptism, my theology of baptism began to change.  I remember articulating in one Ph.D. seminar that I understood baptism to have replaced circumcision as the mark of the covenant.  This was based upon my reading of Colossians chapter 2.[5] I still held that faith was how one entered into the new covenant community. 

Once I started down this path, I encountered the idea that baptism is the moment when one is joined to Christ: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).[6]  Likewise baptism is the means by which we enter into the Church: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  This means that baptism is not an act that we do solely out of obedience to God, but rather it is something that God does to us.

At this point, suddenly 1st Peter 3:21 made sense to me: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  If baptism unites a person to Christ and to His body (the Church), then it is not wrong to say that baptism saves.[7]  Once I reached this point, I had clearly moved into the pale thin land on the periphery of Baptist life.  I was moving into uncharted theological territory with great uncertainty.

[1] There is an entire website devoted to Tertullian with functional links to excellent resources. For the text of his work On Baptism in an English translation click here.
[2] On the Apostolic Tradition 21.4.
[3] Cyprian of Carthage Epistle 58.
For another view on the same subject see: Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright, Believer’s Baptism.  I have read this book. While disagree with the conclusions and many points used to arrive at those conclusions, I think it is the best representation and defense of believer’s baptism in publication.
[4] At the present, I would argue that the Bible still ought to determine my beliefs.  Where I have changed, is that I now hold that the Bible is only rightly interpreted when read through Tradition.  Practically speaking, everyone interprets the Bible through a tradition. 
[5] Colossians 2:11-13  1“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”  All quotations taken from the ESV.
[6] See also Romans 6:3-5: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
[7] Admittedly, this does start to shift one’s paradigm (from a baptist’s perspective) of how salvation works.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Russia Investigation (and why it is really important)

The Russia Investigation (and why it is really important)

The following is a post about Politics.  You have been warned.

For some (CNN) the Russia investigation is all about how to get rid of Donald Trump.  Meh.  They are missing out on the real impetus for investigating Russia.  Donald Trump is just a cover for the State Department and the CIA to figure out how The Russians interfered in our elections so affordably and without assassinating anyone. The Russians have achieved a feat that American ingenuity has failed to achieve for over 60 years!  A bloodless and affordable means of interfering in a sovereign nations internal affairs.

Let’s face it, America has been the preeminent meddler in other nations’ internal affairs and elections.  There was poor Diem the leader of South Vietnam who was killed in 1963 with the help of the CIA.  There is also the Shah of Iran, who was put into power by the U.S.A.  In all seriousness, the list goes on and on.  Who even knows or has kept track of our meddling in the continent of Africa!  Or, the Middle East… because meddling in elections is best done after subjugating a country and occupying it with several thousand soldiers.

I still chuckle a little when I hear “serious people” complain about Russia meddling in our elections.  This is not because I do not take such actions seriously, but because when former directors of the CIA lodge complaints: all I hear is the pot calling the kettle black.

Yes, the U.S.A. needs to work on securing our elections from foreign involvement.  At the same time, it would be nice if we returned the favor to the world.