Thursday, December 21, 2006

discussions on baptism

after my previous post, i enjoyed one of the best exchanges of dialogue on this blog since it started.

to give a reply, i am posting a position paper i had to write for a class a year or so ago. it is not a comprehensive exploration and explanation, but rather it is a short essay on which method of baptism i hold to and why.

perhaps this will clarify a bit of where i am coming from, and maybe even foster more discussion in the "comments" section.

although it is a "short essay", it is longer than a typical blog post, but hopefully you will find it helpful. the citations are all listed at the bottom with the bibliography, in case there are some sources you would like to check out on your own.

one final note... please forgive the capitalization, i am simply cutting and pasting from an assignment for class where they *make* me capitalize.


The Issue
Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been countless
discussions, examinations, conversations, books, and other various
avenues of interaction with many issues pertaining to the Christian faith.
Within orthodox Christianity, there are many different groupings and
denominations, which are in agreement on many aspects of the faith,
but are divided on others. Some groups are more similar than others, separated by what may seem to some as insignificant details, or simply matters of opinion.

Among the areas of belief that many, otherwise very
similar churches may differ is in the area of baptism. Even
among evangelical believers who disagree with teachings
of the Roman Catholic Church and others, that the act of baptism
is salvific, or that there is a transfer of grace in the act, there are
still disagreements about what the bible teaches regarding the
mode of baptism and the subject of baptism. This discussion
will focus on the two views concerning the proper subject of
baptism, paedobaptism and credobaptism

Summary of the Two Views

“Baptism is a sign of our forgiveness, of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and also in his blessings”[1]
Before discussing where paedobaptists and credobaptists differ, it is important that we emphasize where both parties agree, in so far as we are discussing the views of baptism within the confines of Evangelical Christianity. For the purpose of clarification, we will discuss paedobaptism as taught by Presbyterians, and credobaptism by Baptists.
The Heidelberg Catechism, highly regarded as one of the most foundational creeds of the Reformation and widely used by paedobaptists asks, “How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant or testament?” The answer is “Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.”[2] A few questions later, the all-important question is asked, “Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sin?” The answer, “No, for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.”[3] The Westminster Confession, another standard of paedobaptists states: “Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”[4]
Similarly, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, a credobaptist document states
“Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.”[5]
Thus both Paedobaptists and Credobaptists are in agreement that the view of baptismal regeneration as held by the Roman Catholic Church is an unbiblical belief, and a false doctrine. True biblical baptism, though ordained by Christ and as such should be carried out in obedience, does not in and of itself produce saving faith, or salvation. Paedobaptist R.C. Sproul, writing a short summary on baptism, articulates this view held by paedobaptists and credobaptists alike;
“The outward sign [of baptism] does not automatically or magically convey the realities that are signified. For example, though baptism signifies regeneration or rebirth, it does not automatically convey rebirth. The power of baptism is not in the water [or in the one administering the baptism], but in the power of God.[6]
It is not only right and fair to point out where paedobaptists and credobaptists agree, it is also important to know where each party is in agreement before discussing where the two differ, as not to make assumptions about the other when attempting to present one’s own view of the proper candidate of baptism.
It is after knowing where the two parties agree that we can move forward to discuss the differences while affirming that both sides are not completely at odds on the subject of baptism entirely.

Paedobaptism (Infant Baptism)
Paedobaptism, commonly referred to as “infant baptism”, is the view that the children of believers are to be baptized as infants, as a sign of their (the child’s) belonging to a covenant family. Louis Berkhof writes: “baptism is intended only for properly qualified rational beings, namely, believers and their children…[there] are two classes to which it should be applied, namely, adults and infants.”[7] The Westminster Catechism states “.”[8] The Heidelberg Catechism agrees saying
“… [Infants] as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.[9]

Paedobaptists have and will admit that there is no example in scripture of infants being baptized. Berkhof writes at the beginning of his section on infant baptism that “[It] may be said at the outset that there is no explicit command in the bible to baptize children, and that there is not a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized.” However, it would be a mistake to believe that the argument is lost already. Paedobaptists do not believe that the practice is not a biblical practice, or that it is un-biblical to practice it. Berkhof continues, “But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-biblical.”
Paedobaptists argue that the Bible does not forbid the practice of baptizing infants. When the question is raised “Why would the first Christians baptize infants if they were not instructed to (in as far as we are told in scripture)”, the answer comes in the form of discussion of the covenant God made with Abraham.
“God, then, did enter into covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, he promised that Abraham, although nearly a hundred years old, should have a son. He promised… the patriarch that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed… {The} blessing promised, therefore, was the blessing of the redemption through Christ.”[10]

“Such being the nature of the covenant made with Abraham, it is plain that so far as its main element is concerned, it is still in force. It is the covenant of grace under which we know live, and upon which the Church is now founded.”[11]

God made a covenant with Abraham concerning his offspring-his family. Those under the Abrahamic covenant included not only the off spring of Abraham, but also their offspring, and their offspring, and their offspring, etc. The paedobaptists look at this design of the covenant and emphasize the “family” nature of it. Michael S. Horton writes, “God does not work with individuals primarily, but with families.”[12] Berkhof makes these points in drawing a continuous line connecting those under the Abrahamic covenant to those who are to be baptized today. He concludes,
The covenant made with Abraham was primarily a spiritual covenant… and of this spiritual covenant, circumcision was the sign and seal…this covenant is still in force and is essentially identical with the “new covenant” of the present dispensation… By the appointment of God infants shared in the benefits of the covenant, and therefore received circumcision as a sign and seal… the covenant is clearly an organic concept… and moves across organic and historical lines… constituted by families. The national idea…did not disappear when the nation of Israel had served its purpose. It was spiritualized and thus carried over into the New Testament so that the New Testament people of God are also represented as a nation…. [of which] children were considered…an integral part.[13]

The sign of this covenant was the circumcision of the male child (Gen.17: 10-11). Paedobaptists argue that baptism is the New Testament sign of the covenant, or the new circumcision. Infants of believers are baptized as a sign of being born into a covenant family.[14] Horton, following this thought, concludes,
“…God still wants to save families. When Peter addressed his evangelistic sermon on the temple steps in Jerusalem, he did not announce a radical departure from this covenantal family model. In fact, after telling his hearers to repent and be baptized he proclaimed,: The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.”(Acts2: 39)[15]

Credobaptism(Believer's baptism)

Credobaptism is the view that those who have repented of their sins, and placed their faith in Christ alone for their salvation are the only proper subjects of baptism. The 1689 London Confession states of baptism, “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.”[16] Likewise, the Baptist Faith and Message says that baptism is “…an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead.[17]
As can be seen, credobaptists believe that baptism is reserved for believers alone, and as such, infants who have not the ability, nor children or adults who have not confessed of their sins and placed their faith in Christ, are not to be baptized.
While credobaptists do not deny that God has and does work in and through covenants, they assert that baptism is not the New Testament equivalent of circumcision, and that the sign and seal of the New Covenant is a circumcised heart, as spoken of in Jeremiah 31.
Support for Credobaptism
It is my belief and conviction that the proper candidate for baptism, is the person who has confessed their sins as an offense to God, repented of those sins, and who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, who through by His death, burial, and resurrection, paid for their sins, appeased God’s holy wrath, imputing His own righteousness to them, justifying them in the eyes of God. (Rom. 3:23ff; 4:1-8; 5:1 - 9; 8: 22-33; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:16) In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ commands the disciples that as they are on their way, that they should 1.) make disciples and 2.) baptize them. As readily admitted by paedobaptists, there are no instances of or commands to infant baptism. What there is plenty of, is the call by the early Church to repent, believe, and be baptized. Mark Dever, in his book, A Display of God’s Glory” lists some of the reasons for his belief that the baptism of infants is an erroneous doctrine.
1.) Nobody disagrees with believer baptism. The debated point is infant baptism. [That is to say that the baptizing of an adult who professes faith is not only accepted, but recognized as a scriptural normative] 2) There are no clear examples in the New Testament of infant baptism. 3.) There is no clear teaching on infant baptism in the New Testament …[18]

The fact that infant baptism is noticeably absent from scripture should give us great pause. I do not downplay the fact that for centuries this debate has raged on. Indeed, on a cold January night in 1525, George Blaurock was baptized by Conrad Grebel, and then preceded to baptize the others in attendance.[19] This act was a radical call away from the traditions of the Roman Church, further than where Reformers such as Luther and Calvin had gone, and called believers to embrace the biblical record of the baptism of believers alone.
In the book of Acts, the call for baptism follows the call for repentance and faith.
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized 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 your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

It is clear in this passage that when asked what their response should be, Peter answers that they should repent, which entails a knowledge of sin and offense to God, and a need for repentance and redemption, and then baptism follows.
A paedobaptist might point out that Peter also says “…the promise is for you and your household…” but I would simply point to verse 41, which states clearly that the ones who were baptized were the ones who had “received his word.” Repentance and faith in Christ are necessary requirements in order to become a believer, as evidenced in Acts 3 and with Paul and the jailer in chapter 16. In these two instances, when asked what must be done to be saved, no mention of baptism is made!
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14)

Though scripture states that Lydia’s “household” was baptized, notice that no mention of who makes up her household is made. But what is mentioned is that when Lydia became a believer, it was because the Lord opened her heart up to “respond”.
“And after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 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 together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. (Acts 16:31-33)
Notice again, that the condition for salvation was belief, something that requires a conscious action. And as in the case before, we have nothing stating that the jailer’s house contained infants. It is an unnecessary and unmerited view that assumes all households mentioned “probably” or “very likely” contained infants. Are we to believe that of the few households that are mentioned, that each one happened to have a child under a reasonable age of understanding? We have no clue as to the age of the jailer or Lydia, or others. Just as they “might” have an infant, they very well “might” be middle aged with only teenaged or adult children. It is unreasonable to ask of the reader to assume information that is neither alluded to nor spoken directly to in scripture.
Credobaptists do not deny that the Lord has worked through covenants throughout the history of time, but they deny that baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision. Millard Erickson writes,” It is significant here that the New Testament tends to depreciate the external act of circumcision. It argues that circumcision is to be replaced, not by another external act (e.g. baptism), but by an inward act of the heart.”[20] Paul even states in Romans 2:29 that true circumcision is circumcision “of the heart, not by the written code.” Mark Dever writes, “The New Testament nowhere teaches a parallel of physical circumcision with physical baptism.”[21]
In Colossians 2: 11 Paul writes “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” This circumcision is made without hands. It is not a physical aspect; it is a spiritual one, just as Jeremiah foretold when he said,
“Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:31-33)
This new covenant will not be like the old, and there will be no members of the covenant who are not believers, unlike those under the old who were circumcised, but did not remain faithful.

Possible Objections
1.) The credobaptist view is often mischaracterized as “baptizing adults only”, but this is a misrepresentation. Credobaptists simply believe that Scripture teaches that when someone is baptized, it is after repentance and a confession of Christ as Lord and Savior. For instance, a child of six years old, who makes it clear that they have knowingly repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ will be joyfully baptized into the Church. The young age may give those ministering to her a slight pause to evaluate and assess an appropriate understanding of what is being confessed, but the child’s age does not prevent her from being baptized. Baptist history and currently many Baptist churches are full of members who were baptized as children. The 2001 Southern Baptist Convention Annual report shows that in that year alone, Southern Baptist Churches baptized 67,226 children who were under twelve years old.[22] The issue is not whether or not a person is an adult, it is “have you confessed your sins and professed faith in Christ as your Savior and Lord?” If the answer to that question is yes, then that person is baptized.
2.) Another objection that is raised is, “what are we to do with the history of the Church?” It is true, for a large part of the history of the Christian Church; infant baptism has been the default mode. But let us not so easily concede this argument. We will do well to examine carefully the history of the early church and not ignore the first crucial years in favor of skipping to a prolonged length of time in which one practice dominated.
This is a larger task than may be first expected, many, including Michael S. Horton espouse that history is on the side of the paedobaptists with out much controversy. In his fantastic book on grace, he makes such an assertion.
“…[T]his was the practice of the early church.. The earliest apostolic documents demonstrated an unchallenged practice of infant baptism. If that is true, the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of those who deny the practice [of infant baptism].”[23]
One would think, with such damning evidence that there would at least be a footnote or a source provided, but there is none.
Included in Mark Dever’s support of believers baptism, he also includes the following, “ Historically, infant baptism is not in the New Testament…. there is no record of it in the first century, or even in the second century”[24] To be fair, Horton does not provide a source for his information either, but fortunately others do.
Fred Malone, who was an ordained Presbyterian minister who embraced Paedobaptism, only to turn away from it back to a credo view writes in his treatment of the discussion a lengthy, yet helpful review of early Christian witness to the subjects of baptism. In it he writes, “…the very earliest explicit mention we have of infant baptism in the didactic writings of the early church is from Tertullian. In this passage he urges the delay of baptism, especially of little children, so that it’s significance might be fully realized.”[25] This is important; because as Malone writes, Tertullian was a major proponent of apostolic tradition, and if infant baptism was a part of that tradition, why does he speak against it? Historian J.N.D. Kelly writes that the practice of infant baptism was not common until the third century[26]. This is hardly close enough to the time of the apostles to warrant it an apostolic mandate. From the evidence of the Didache (early 2nd century), what we do have is instruction for baptism of those who were professed disciples[27]. If infant baptism was in practice at this time, passed down and regarded as an apostolic practice no less, why the silence?
The Regulative Principle states that in as far as we operate as a Church, and perform those things that make us a Church, we are to do those things that scripture commands, the way scripture commands us to do them. Seeing as there is no explicit command in scripture to baptize the children of believers who have not professed faith in Christ, nor is there any instance recorded of this happening, I am compelled to believe that the evidences of baptism as given to us in scripture are a mandate for the baptism of the believer alone. This compelling is furthered by the fact that every instance of the proclamation of the gospel, when resulting in baptism, was always proceeded by an active and purposeful repentance and profession of faith. This being the standard put forth by scripture, I assert that Credobaptism is the only proper administration of the ordinance of baptism.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1932.
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, Ky. Westminster John Knox Press,

Dever, Mark E. A Display of God’s Glory. Washington D.C.: IX Marks Ministries, 2001
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2nd ed. 1998.
Estep, William R. The Anabaptist Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 3rd ed., 1996

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. U.S.A.: Hendrickson, reprint 1999.
Horton, Michael. Putting Amazing Back into Grace. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978.
Malone, Fred. The Baptism of Disciples Alone. Cape Coral, Fl.: Founder’s Press, 2003.
Sproul, R.C. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992

The 1689 London Baptist ConfessionThe Westminster CatechismThe Heidelberg Catechism
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000
S.B.C. Annual Report: April 22, 2002. Strategic Information & Planning Section. Nashville, TN: Lifeway, 2002
[1] John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, Ky. Westminster John Knox Press, 1303
[2] The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) question 68
[3] Ibid, q. 72
[4] The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
[5] The 1689 London Confession ch. XXVIIII
[6]R.C. Sproul Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992, 225
[7] Louis Berkhof. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1932 p. 631
[8] Westminster Catechism ch. 8:5
[9] Heidelberg Catechism question 74
[10]Charles Hodge. Systematic Theology. U.S.A.: Hendrickson, reprint 1999, 550
[11] Ibid.
[12] Michael S. Horton. Putting Amazing Back into Grace. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002, 184
[13] Berkhof, 632-633
[14] Heidelberg Catch. question.74
[15] Horton, 186
[16] 1689 London Confession ch. 29 article 2
[17] The Baptist Faith and Message, 2000
[18] Mark Dever . A Display of God’s Glory, Washington D.C.: IX Marks Ministries, 2001, 51-52
[19] William R. Estep. The Anabaptist Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 3rd ed., 1996, 13-14
[20] Millard Erickson. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2nd ed. 1998, 1109
[21] Dever 52
[22] Strategic Information & Planning Section, , Nashville, Tn: Lifeway, April 22, 2002

[23] Horton 187
[24] Dever , 52
[25] Fred Malone. The Baptism of Disciples Alone. Cape Coral, Fl.: Founder’s Press, 2003, 188-189
[26] J.N.D. Kelly. Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978, 207
[27] Malone 189-190

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

can i get an "amen"???

in this post from july of this year, i posted some figures from a study that shows that despite the southern baptists convention's claim of over 16 million members, less than 40% of those actually come to church.
this begs the question "what does it mean to be a member of a southern baptist church?"
the short version is, to become a member of a southern baptist church, you must have professed christ as your savior, and been baptized as a believer in christ.
so , every time a person is baptized in a baptist church, they are added to the membership roll. (in most cases... of *that* church)

nathan finn, faculty member and adjunct professor at southeast college, in addressing the issue of baptizing children makes a point i wish would be made to every christian parent and teacher in the world...(note that in the body of the post, he does ***not**say that a child cannot be baptized... but that we should exercise more discernment in what is such an important matter)

"avoid turning the gospel into moralism when teaching children.
David and Goliath is not about defeating the giants in your life.
Noah and the Ark is not (only) about obedience to God.
Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish is not about sharing.
Teach children that all of Scripture is ultimately a testimony
to Christ and his gospel. Teach them God is holy. Teach
them they are sinners by birth and by choice. Teach them
that God punishes sin, and that they deserve eternal punishment.
Teach them that Jesus Christ never sinned yet he paid the penalty
for sin. Teach them that he really died then he really came back to
life, all so that we can forever be in the presence of God.

And if they cannot grasp the gist of what I have just written
(which is simply Gospel 101), then DO NOT BAPTIZE THEM
no matter how much they say the love Jesus, and Mommy,
and puppies, and Rice Krispies, and Kool-Aid."

and concerning adult baptisms...

"There are so many churches that baptize lots of
people but have no or minimal growth in their
membership (and sometimes loss). Now I realize
that people die, move away, go into nursing homes, etc.
I also realize that sometimes churches split and/or plant
new congregations that result in a loss of attendance
/membership. Those situations are not what I am talking about.
I am talking about baptizing multitudes of people
we never see again. We chalk this up to poor follow-up,
and no doubt that is a problem. But I think the bigger
problem is baptizing people who are not genuine believers
but who we have coaxed into praying a prayer at some point."

and ....

"We have got to make the gospel clear when we are
evangelizing or preaching. Pastors, “decision counselors,”
youth ministers, parents, evangelists, and other Christians
have to be diligent in making sure that what people are
believing in is the finished work of Christ and not the quality
of our programs, or their hopeful escape from Hell, or relief
of their guilty conscience, or their inclusion in a safe environment,
or whatever else that may be genuinely good but
can take the place of the gospel."

amen and amen brother finn.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

more from "behold..."

if you havent read the post below, then read it first, then come back and read this interview with andrew peterson in which he talks about his album and christmas show "behold the lamb of god"

some excerpts...

"...instead of containing arrangements of traditional carols,
this album is full of new original songs which attempt to
tell the Gospel story in a new way. The entire first half
of the album dwells on the Old Testament (which often
gets overlooked nowadays, but is really just as much about
Christ as the New Testament). It paints a picture of
Israel through the stories of Moses, the Passover Feast,
the kings like David, and the prophets – all of which
point to the coming of Jesus. And it’s such a depressing
picture. After doing the first half of the show each night,
when we finally get to the song that bridges the gap
between the Old and New Testaments, I feel so tired
from singing about all the Old Testament stuff.
The album really tries to convey how Israel must have felt.
All the songs are minor and dark. We often forget about how
long Israel waited and yearned for a Messiah. "

regarding the song "labor of love"...
"I try not to write songs that have already been written.
So, in this case, the song “Labor of Love” is about Mary,
but not the peaceful Mary we see in nativity sets holding
Baby Jesus. I have three kids, and I was there when my
wife gave birth to each of them. Now, if my wife had given
birth in a barn, in the dark, in the middle of the night,
there is no way she would have looked as nice as Mary
looked in these scenes. Childbirth is violent and painful,
and so the first line of this song is “It was not a silent night.
/ There was blood on the ground.” I think there’s significance
in the fact that God chose to come into the world
that way – bathed in blood and pain. "

"Christmas is not just a holiday. It’s an amazing story,
and because of Christ, it’s not just a story that resonates
deep within us, but we are all a part of the story. We’re
wrapped up in the history that God is writing."

read the whole thing here

you may still be able to catch this amazing show on tour (through dec. 15th)
. check here for dates and locations

not a silent night....

my wife and i, along with two of our good friends drove to nashville wednesday night to the ryman auditorium to see andrew peterson's christmas show, "behold the lamb of god" . this was the third time i had been, the second for christi, and the first for our friends.
the first half of the show is an "artists in the round" setting, where various artists such as derek webb, sandra mccracken, andrew osenga, as well as peterson himself and others perform one of their own songs, and then take a seat and watch the others do the same. that is always a great way to start the evenings, and often introduces those unfamiliar with their music to a taste of what they are about.
the second half of the evening is the actual "christmas show", with all of the performers from the first half, as well as others. sometimes there will be special guest performers. past guests have included, nickel creek, alison krauss, and phil keaggy.

now, remove any thoughts of singing christmas trees, young boys in their father's bathrobes, and extravagant sets. this is not that kind of christmas show.

there are no sets, no scene changes, no narration or dialouge. it is simply the singing and playing of songs (all written by peterson) by andrew peterson and friends of "the true tall tale" of christmas, telling the christmas story from a historical redemption standpoint. his christmas show actually starts with moses and the israelites before the exodus, and traces the history of god redeeming his people from the bondage of pharaoh, rebellion, and sin; from egypt, the wilderness, and a divided kingdom; from the leadership of moses, joshua, king saul and david, and all of the prophets. the actual "manger" song doesnt occur until more than halfway through.

this is important, because we often fail to contemplate the entire relevance of the christmas story. we tend to think from the manger forward, when in fact, all of history has revolved around the coming of the messiah, the redeemer of mankind.

we forget that from the garden on, god's people were repeatedly making sacrifices because there was no final sacrifice for sin. we forget that the people of israel, after demanding to have a king like other nations, had been waiting on the final king who would set up a kingdom that would not be thwarted. we forget that throughout most of the old testament, god's people were waiting for the messiah. we forget that through the period between the old testament and new testament that there was a silence from god, and his people were crying out "how long oh lord!!!"
there was anticipation.

so that night at the manger was not simply a little secret that eventually had significance. up until that point in time, that moment was the culmination, that moment that all of time had been holding its breath waiting on.

and it happened in a dirty stable.

one of the most poignant songs in peterson's musical is called "labor of love"

it was not a silent night
there was blood on the ground
you could hear a woman cry
in the ally way that night
in the streets of david's town

and the manger was not clean
and the cobblestones were cold
and little mary full of grace
with tears upon her face
had no mother's hand to hold

it was a labor of pain
it was a cold sky above
but for the girl on the ground in the dark
every beat of her beautiful heart
it was a laborof love

noble joseph at her side
calloused hands and weary eyes
there were no midwives to be found
in the streets of david's town
in the middle of the night

so he held her and he prayed
shafts of moonlight on his face
but the baby in her womb
he was the maker of the moon
he was the author of the faith
that could make the mountains move

it was a labor of pain
it was a cold sky above
but for the girl on the ground in the dark
with every beat of her beautiful heart
it was a labor of love

the line that always gets me is "but the baby in her womb, he was the maker of the moon, he was the author of the faith, that could make the mountains move"

amazing. that god the son, who paul tells us in colossians 1:
16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

he humbled himself, left the glory of the presence of the father and the splendor of heaven where he was constantly being worshipped by all of the hosts of heaven, and became a baby, born to a peasant family in a dirty barn.

the maker of the moon and the author of our faith did that.
and it was not a silent night. mary, probably a teenager, had to give birth, a terrifying and painful experience, without her mother there. she had never even experienced an intimate physical relationship, yet there she was, with joseph, tired, exhausted, bloody, and scared, giving birth in a barn.

this christmas, when we set out or see nativity sets, we can smile and admire the craftsmanship, but fight that clean and sterile image with the truth that our lord came into the world in circumstances that were anything but silent, neat, and clean.

neither was the birth of christ a detail whose importance was unanticipated and went unrecognized until thirty years later.
it was the fulfillment of a promise that our faithful god had given his people.
christmas is not simply "celebrating jesus' birthday", as if it would hurt his feelings if we didn't remember.
it is remembering and celebrating the event that was promised (god's faithfulness), and as the culmination of history, when the savior for a sinful and fallen world entered into his own creation.(his grace and mercy)

so this christmas, when it is suggested that we remember "the reason for the season", remember that the reason is almighty and holy god, creator god, unobligated to do anything for a rebellious people, came and dwelled among us in order that whoever would believe in him would be saved.

(you can purchase peterson's "behold the lamb of god" c.d. or buy the dvd at his website)
(you can view a *really good* "making of/story behind" documentary of "behold the lamb of god" here i highly recommend this)
(or you can listen to the entire album and read the lyrics here)

Monday, December 04, 2006

grace in the tabloids

2 posts in one day. i am obviously done with class for the semester.

some events have occurred recently that spent my mind spinning in regards to who teenage (and younger) as well as adult women are exposed to as "successful".

obviously, the ones i am about to mention are not at all representative of the whole, but rather women who are frequently in the news, and from my experience, frequently the topic of conversation where i am.

britney spears , recently divorced has been having a good ol time lately, apparently so much that she is getting forgetful.
this one time spokesperson for abstinence and former self proclaimed southern baptist seems to be spinning out of control.

speaking of one time "good girls", jessica simpson has gone from "i am saving myself for marriage" to commercials, videos and movies where she wears next to nothing, and flaunts her sexuality. on a recent appearance on a late night talk show, my wife and i were appalled at her behavior and the possibility that her dress might soon suffer a 'wardrobe malfunction" any second.

from songbirds to talk shows, oprah winfrey and rosie odonnell are often topics of conversation in the media and in the breakroom.

with anything oprah endorses quickly becoming the next big thing, and anyone she blacklists being fodder for public scrutiny, oprah's one woman empire obviously wields a lot of power.

oprah is often touted for being so giving and trying so hard to empower people to change their lives. on the surface, this seems great. but what about when generosity produces the inability to believe in absolutes. watch this brief video, that if you havent seen, is very eye opening. "how can there possibly be only one way??"

rosie o'donnell, who was formerly " america's friendliest talk show host" recently caused an uproar with her remarks that "radical christianity is just as dangerous as radical islam". the most shocking point was the roar of applause after she said this. are we turning into a culture who applauds anything our celebrities say, because they are celebrities? read the story, view clip here.

now, some of you may be saying, "whoa, wait a minute. you *just * wrote a post earlier today about not speaking against non christian things because they are non christian!"

well, that is not my point here. my point here is that women like these are greatly influencing our culture. i have seen women try very hard to justify the actions or statements of some of these women and others because they enjoy what they do, and do not want to have to admit that they might be wrong.
am i saying that no one should listen to their music or watch their shows? no, not at all. i cannot make that judgement for anyone not in my family.
what i am suggesting is that we be people who defend the gospel of christ more than we defend our favorite celebrity.
rather than defending oprah, maybe we should say " while i enjoy her show, she has got it completely wrong in this area..." rather than buying every magazine with a picture of britney or jessica, maybe we could save our money and spend the time we would have read the news/gossip about them praying for them.
these celebrities are people too. they get tired. they get frustrated. they make mistakes - just like we do. but instead of ignoring those mistakes, or downplaying them so we can use their lives to entertain ours, why dont we pray for them?
how amazing would it be if when one of these or other celebrities are brought up, that instead of trying to figure out whether or not they are pregnant, dating some one, or getting a divorce, we change the conversation to..

" you know, its actually none of my buisness, but i do pray for her because i know no matter how much money or fame she gets, no matter how many magazines she is on the cover of, she needs the gospel,just like i do. so i pray for her."

this is not meant to be a rebuke, but rather an encouragement. do not be molded by the culture that dictates that the lives of other people should be our gossip. but rather pray that the grace of christ would change their lives, just as ours need changing.

my inner heretic

i have been thinking a lot lately about people and things i am interested in. the books i am reading, music i listen to, people i am interested in, etc.
so, i have added a couple of boxes to the side of this site to show what i am currently listening to and reading.

some of these might be shocking to some. for instance, "blue like jazz" has a huge following in two ways.

one group has read it and has taken miller's self-deprecating thoughts on his own spiritual pilgrimage to be the new orthodoxy, and they want to do a way with anything "fundamental", "conservative", or "doctrinal".

the other group may or may not have read the book, but they are convinced that it is venom from satan himself.

rather than being lumped into the second group, i bought it (on sale, half price) and read it.

my conclusion? for the genre of the book , personal narrative, its not bad. in fact, i actually enjoyed it.

miller does have some ideas and thoughts that i disagree with, but as a whole, his book is refreshing. i am not going to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water, but hopefully i will seek to love people more after having read his book.

another book i have read recently is mark driscoll's "confessions of a reformission rev.".

driscoll is somewhat of a polarizing personality, and the pastor of a 4,000 member plus church in seattle. some of his methods are less than popular with the conservative resurgence crowd, and so he is villified bu them. other of his methods are seen as too archaic by the emergent church groups, so they dismiss him.
again, as i read his book, i disagreed with parts, laughed when he spoke plainly about certain ideas and attitudes, and was encouraged by a man who knows he has made and will continue to make mistakes. i probably wont change my overall ministry philosophy after reading this book, but i did gain insights and clarity that i would not have if i had not read his book.

on the music front, some people may be surprised that i often listen to "secular" music more than "christian".
by 'christian music" i mean the music that is only played on christian owned radio stations, produced and distributed by labels that only record artists that play in churches and christian festivals. you know, the stuff that if played on a "regular" radio station, people would change the station because compared to even some of the most mediocre music on those stations, "christian" music sounds oddly inadequate, like a high school drama department doing "macbeth" on broadway.

in my opinion, and on a sheerly technical level (production, originality, creativity, lyrically) "christian music" as a whole is awful.

so there.

because a person may or not be a professing christian does not dictate whether or not their music is good. i would venture to guess that most people dont buy all of their clothes at christian clothing stores, buy gas at only christian owned gas stations, or buy groceries at christian supermarkets. when you go to the dentist, ill bet your dentist does not engrave you fillings with a cross, and your plumber does have "john 3:16" written on his crescent wrench. so why do we demand that anything "worth hearing/viewing/etc." be christian?

i have no idea.

obviously this has its limits. we should never endorse that which is contrary to the teachings of scripture, especially if it is conceived and received in order to replace the truth of the gospel, or even to compromise it.
we should not be conformed to the image of the world, but by scripture.
but when a lost person sings about having a bad day, or being in love, it does not make jesus like me any less because it speaks to me more than a song by a christian artist who has never written a song about having ever had a day when he felt like he wasnt already in heaven.

but we can learn from and think through ideas and thoughts in light of what we know to be truth. when patty griffin sings her song about the suicide of a homsexual classmate, i think through the people in my life that i never asked " how are you".
we cannot be salt and light to world we have removed ourselves from. and god forbid that we become so arrogant as to think we cannot learn anything from people who are not christians. we may not get our theology from them, but we certainly can learn more about the human experience, and how it is lived without christ. and this should produce a reaction of love and empathy for them, and result in prayer for them. not exclusion.

now i am rambling, but i do have a point. we should not be so quick to judge by our predetermined categories.

back in february, i was present to hear a lecture given by a professor at my own seminary about miller's book, "blue like jazz". i hadnt yet read the book, but i had heard a lot of talk about it, some loving it and others hating it. so i went to hear what i thought would be a fare and balanced review and critique.
overall the seminar was negative, but seemed to be fair as far as i could tell.

then i read the book, and i question whether or not the one speaking ever actually read the book himself.

i do not doubt that he opened the book and flipped pages, but i seriously wonder if he read the book. if he did, i wonder if his mind was made up to hate it before he read it.

when i read the book, i was prepared to disagree with it. and while i did on many points, i was shocked at how it had been so greatly misrepresented in that lecture i had gone to.
i was embarrassed by how willing i was to accept someone else's negative reaction(even to the point of telling others not to read it) without having read it for myself.
and i lost some respect for that professor.

by most accounts and standards, i am as conservative as they come. my heros are mostly dead theologians. i believe that the bible is god's word handed down to us and provides us with what he wanted us to know.

some people would call me a fundamentalist (though i would ask for clarification o f the term)

yet i find it odd that many people i know who are also conservatives would label me as liberal for saying miller's book is "pretty good".

what are we so afriad of? that someone who doesn't vote for the same party that we do might actually have insight into something we could learn from?

let us not be the kind of christian who speaks loudly and often about things because we perceive they are not "christian" enough. before we speak against anything, we should at least have studied it, or examined it. we are not winning anyone to jesus because we condemn that which we do not know.