Monday, August 13, 2007
A High View of Baptism Leads to a Man's Conversion
Dear Courteous Reader,
The International Mission Board/Wade Burleson crisis of late 2005 and early 2006 drove many of us back to the books for study of the ordinances. During several months of intense reading and discussion, I learned a higher view of baptism than what I had formerly held. This Sunday, God used that high view of baptism to convict a man of sin and convert him to faith in Christ!
As a Baptist, I had always been repulsed by the various iterations of "baptismal regeneration." The Church of Christ and the Catholic Church both hold that a person is "born again" or regenerated in the act of baptism. We Baptists rightly reject this position, which is based primarily on a wrong interpretation of John 3:5
Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The correct meaning of "born of water" is "born naturally" or "born physically." But these two groups, as well as some others, take "born of water" to mean "baptized in water."
As a reaction against this wrong belief, however, many Baptists too strongly de-emphasize baptism. We act as if "walking the aisle" is the profession of faith, and baptism is something to be done later, at our convenience, if at all. (Please see Dr. VanNeste's excellent article, p.4.) This was the position I held.
In study of the issue, however, I came to understand that baptism, although not regenerative, should always accompany faith in Christ, and should be performed immediately upon conversion. The command is "believe and be baptized." The practice is to be baptized right away. (Consider the experience of the three thousand, the Ethiopian, the Philippian jailer, and Saul/Paul himself.) A person who has come to faith in Christ, and made this known to other believers, should not remain unbaptized for more than a few hours. Certainly there are difficult cases, where physical infirmity or lack of a suitable body of water is an obstacle, but in almost all cases, the new convert should be baptized the same day.
Understanding this biblical truth, I began to reconsider my idea of who should be allowed to share in The Lord's Supper. As a young adult, in ignorant zeal, I had believed that anyone at all could share the Supper. As my understanding matured, I had held that any Christian could take the Supper, even if he had not been baptized. But through study and prayer in 2006, I came to realize that the old Baptist position is right: A man who has refused baptism should not be welcomed into the communion of the church, especially around The Lord's Supper. (See any of the old Baptist confessions of faith, or any of the three versions of The Baptist Faith and Message, found here.)
Although I have held this position for roughly a year, my fellow elder and I had not yet brought ourselves to state this quite so baldly in our worship services. We have been saying that a person who has not "made a good and credible profession of faith" should not take the Supper. Our intention has been not to drive away inquirers with too harsh a position.
Yesterday, however, it was my turn to lead the communion, and I was convicted that I must state the truth. I instructed the congregation (there were first-time visitors present) that anyone who had supposedly believed in Christ, but had not been baptized should not take The Lord's Supper on the grounds that he might be taking it in an "unworthy manner."
As the worshipers came forward to take the elements and form a circle, one man, a first-time visitor, remained in his place near the back, and bent down his head. When the worship service closed, he was still there, crying. I went to him and asked what he was thinking about, but he only shook his head and continued crying. I prayed over him and offered my help when he was ready.
In a few minutes, he spoke to me outside, and told that in those moments, while the rest of the church was sharing The Lord's Supper, he was being converted to Christ! He had attended church off-and-on for years, known most of the facts, and believed in God. But he said that when he realized he was being excluded from The Lord's Supper, he became strongly convicted of sin, and began asking Jesus to forgive him. He testified that he was overwhelmed with emotion "in a good way" and began to cry out to God. Afterward, he felt a kind of peace that he had never felt before. He said that although he had made deals with God before, and promised to quit sinning in this way or that, it had never worked. This time, however, he did not ask God to do anything for him, and did not make any promises to shape up, but just asked God to forgive him of his sins.
I read to him from Peter's Pentecost sermon, that he should be baptized, and he agreed. I told him that he should be baptized the same day, and he agreed to that, too! So, I had the great pleasure of baptizing him in a the pleasant, warm waters of our local lake yesterday evening, praise God!
I offer this account as an encouragement to my brothers. If you are concerned that a high view of baptism, or a hard line on The Lord's Supper will be anti-evangelistic, perhaps that should not be such a concern after all.
Love in Christ,
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Knowing Christ Jesus-Reprise
Some time when I was a teenager, my father, a men's Sunday School teacher, said to me, "Everybody wants to study Revelation. But they don't even know their Bibles! If they don't know the prophets and the gospels, how are they going to understand Revelation?" Evidently God filed that away in my memory banks, to retrieve it later when it was needed. It was finally needed when I became a preacher in 2002.
In my first year and a half of preaching, I waded through Nehemiah and 1 Corinthians, which had great practical lessons for the church and for me as a new preacher. As I neared the end of 1 Corinthians, I wanted to dive into Romans, which had fascinated me for years. But, thinking of Dad's advice, I considered what material from the scriptures I should study first. I listened to Dr. Tom Nelson (Denton Bible Church) introducing Romans to a Bible study class. He said that to understand Romans, we have to understand the material in Genesis. Agreeing with that concept, in 2004 I studied and preached through the first half of Genesis, up to the death of Abraham. It was very rewarding, and has helped my understanding of original sin, marriage, and a number of other doctrines.
Near the end of that study, I realized that I did not have a very good understanding of Jesus Himself. So, in the Fall of 2004, I embarked on a sermon series called "Knowing Christ Jesus," in which I intended to cover a few highlights of the life of Jesus, lasting a few months. Once into the study, however, I realized that I could not skip anything! What is not important from the life and sayings of Jesus?!
So, I changed my preaching plan, and determined to study and preach on every event and saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. As a guide, I had A.T. Robertson's classic harmony of the gospels. Over the course of two years, I preached almost every Sunday morning on the life and sayings of Jesus. How rich! How convicting! How compelling! I had never before known the Savior like I was learning to know Him during these years.
In the late summer of 2006, I reached what I think of as the half-way mark---Peter's great confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Just a few weeks later, I had to make an abrupt exit from that church, and began a six-month sojourn, which God used as a sabbatical for me. He led me to study the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation, the reformed view of The Ten Commandments (especially the sabbath), and the first three chapters of Romans.
Since I have been preaching here at Grace Community Bible Church, I have been neck-deep in The Ten Commandments. (As I mentioned in a previous article, if you have not yet studied and/or preached the commandments, get hold of A.W. Pink's book, and the appropriate section of Calvin's Institutes, along with just about any old commentaries, and be ready for a life-changing experience.) But this past Sunday was the end. In God's grace, I was able to preach on "You shall not covet your neighbor's house," and it was over.
I have wondered for quite a while, but now am certain that I will endeavor to preach the rest of the way through all the life and sayings of Jesus. God willing, I will return to Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi and declare to all listening that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." I will then teach that the Son of Man had to be crucified, and to rise from the dead. I will teach that to be His disciple, you must take up your cross and follow Him. If the Lord allows, I will spend roughly the next two years unfolding before the eyes of men, women, and children the great righteousness, teachings, sacrifice, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Here is the key passage that drives me to this goal:
Philippians 3:7-11 NKJV But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (8) Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; (10) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, (11) if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Father, please help me to know Christ Jesus, and to preach Him in Your church, of which He is the glorious head. Amen.
Love in Christ,
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