The Church as Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, and as we think about what gifts to get our mothers and wives, who are mothers, let’s pause to reflect on the Church as Mother, with the help of John Calvin:

The heavenly Jerusalem, which derives its origin from heaven and dwells above by faith, is the mother of believers. For she has the incorruptible seed of life deposited in her by which she forms us, cherishes us in her womb and brings us to light. She has the milk and the food by which she continually nourishes her offspring. This is why the Church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, he who refuses to be a son of the Church desires in vain to have God as his Father. For it is only through the ministry of the Church that God begets sons for Himself and brings them up until they pass through adolescence and reach manhood. This is a title of wonderful and the highest honor.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (Eerdmans, 1974), 87-8).

Now let’s parse all this: (1) it is within the womb of the church God’s people are conceived through the Spirit and the Word.  (2) it is within the church context that God’s people are birthed to new life through the Holy Spirit.  (3) it is within the church that God’s people receive spiritual nourishment.  And (4), it is within the church God’s people receive care and guidance.

Church as mother is a fitting metaphor indeed.  Perhaps it will go a long way to helping us develop a more healthy and robust ecclesiology.  So no need to go on rejecting Cyprian of Carthage, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.”

Posted in John Calvin, Miscellanies | Tagged , | Leave a comment

John Piper transcends Baptists’ Dualism in What Happens at the Lord’s Table

Why-and-How-We-Celebrate-the-Lord's-SupperWhy-and-How-We-Celebrate-the-Lords-Supper.pngTraditionally, Baptists tend to be memorialist when it comes to what happens in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper, despite the rich understanding of the Lord’s Supper in the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 (Reformed Baptists, at least).

However, it was so refreshing to read John Piper’s own understanding of what happens when a believer partakes of the Supper by faith (commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:16-17):

So I take verse 16 and 17 to mean that when believers eat the bread and drink the cup physically we do another kind of eating and drinking spiritually. We eat and drink—that is, we take into our lives—what happened on the cross. By faith—by trusting in all that God is for us in Jesus—we nourish ourselves with the benefits that Jesus obtained for us when he bled and died on the cross.

This is why we lead you in various focuses at the Lord’s table from month to month (peace with God, joy in Christ, hope for the future, freedom from fear, security in adversity, guidance in perplexity, healing from sickness, victory in temptation, etc.). Because when Jesus died, his shed blood and broken body, offered up in his death on our behalf, purchased all the promises of God. Paul says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Every gift of God, and all our joyful fellowship with God, was obtained by the blood of Jesus. When Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” he means: Do we not at the Lord’s table feast spiritually by faith on every spiritual blessing bought by the body and blood of Christ? No unbeliever can do that. The devil can’t do it. It is a gift for the family. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we feast spiritually by faith on all the promises of God bought by the blood of Jesus.

This is good stuff coming from a leading Reformed Baptist thinker and writer.  I pray that this understanding of the Lord’s Supper be the norm among Baptists.

It’s not only a richer understanding of what happens at the Lord’s Table, but it goes beyond the dualistic understanding of the Lord’s Supper that most Baptist churches are known for.

Piper is correct, “When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we feast spiritually by faith on all the promises of God bought by the blood of Jesus.”  This, I believe, is the witness of Scripture.

Posted in 1689 Baptist Confession, Baptists, John Piper, Lord's Supper, Lord's Table, Miscellanies, Reformed Baptist | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism

Young, Restless, and Reformed pastor, author, and blogger Kevin DeYoung begins his post, “In the conservative evangelical circles I mainly inhabit, there is almost no controversy about whether the Bible allows for women to be ordained as pastors and elders. The people I talk to and listen to are firmly convinced complementarians. That is, they (we) believe that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity but with different roles in the home and in the church.”

DeYoung continues, “At least very least, this means the office of pastor or elder is to be filled by qualified men. The core of complementarianism is not up for discussion.”

DeYoung then offers  what he considers nine important marks of complementarianism:

1. Creation not accommodation. The differences between men and women are rooted in divine design. This is clear from 1 Timothy 2 and from Genesis 1-2. Complementarianism is not about Paul accommodating to a patriarchal first century culture, let alone about us accommodating the expectations of our cultures inside or outside the church. God has something to say about manhood and womanhood. And what God has to say is rooted in what he designed.

2. Function not simply ordination. The first point may seem obvious, like Complementarianism 101, but it’s an important foundation for this second point. If men and women are different by creational design, then we can’t simply quarantine “ordination” and say that manhood and womanhood have no bearing on church ministry or church roles so long as the pastors and elders are men. The issue is not mainly titles or labels or the laying on of hands. The issue is about function. To be sure, complementarians may not agree on where to draw all the lines concerning home groups and Sunday school classes and public worship, but as a starting place for these discussions we have to remember we are talking about the flourishing of divine design, not adhering to a set of narrow and seemingly arbitrary rules.

3. Warmly embraced not quickly checked off. There’s a difference between affirming complementarianism as an act of intellectual throat clearing—“Look, I don’t think women should be pastors either, but…”—and joyfully affirming the vision as good and beautiful and best.

4. Convictional not merely traditional. There’s also a difference between a thoughtful complementarianism based on the exegesis and application of Scripture and a clumsy complementarianism that is little more than the default position of an overly prescriptive cultural traditionalism.

5. Tender not triumphalistic. No doubt, sometimes the troops need to be rallied. In the sexual insanity of our day, the call to courage is surely appropriate. But we need to realize that all kinds of people can be listening in as we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood. Some of those listening are wavering and some are wolves, but some are hurt and some resonate with broken hearts more than with raised banners. We need to be on guard against rhetoric that is all caps all the time. Let us be persuaders, not just pugilists.

6. Principial not personal. It’s human nature: we personalize when we listen and universalize when we speak. Because we’ve gone toe to toe with liberals, we think battle mode is the way to go, always. Or because we’ve had a bad pastor or a brutish boyfriend, we are always slamming the complementarianism we say we believe in. Don’t size up the whole complementarian universe based on a couple of your most painful experiences.

7. Bible and theology affirming not wife and motherhood belittling. We want the women in our churches to read the Bible, study the Bible, and help others understand the Bible. I love that the women at URC are eager to go deep, get good theology, and challenge their hearts and minds. Yes and Amen to women who study the Scriptures. Go ahead and talk about Deuteronomy as well as diapers. And yet, let’s not ridicule the women for talking about diapers! For most women, at some point in their lives, and often for most of their lives, their identity (after being a child of God created in God’s image) will be bound up in being a wife and especially a mother. Moving deeper into the word does not mean moving away from Titus 2.

8. Careful with words not careless. We all use labels. It’s hard to speak of our immeasurably complicated world without them. But if we use negative sounding isms, let’s explain what we mean by them. Let’s not casually label others as “feminist,” “liberal,” “patriarchal,” or “hierarchical,” unless the situation clearly calls for it and we make clear what we mean. A church that has women read the sermon text (a practice I’m not in favor of) is not automatically wed to the spirit of the age, nor is a church which only allows men to teach classes and lead small groups necessarily oppressive and Neanderthal.

9. Leaning against the culture instead of into the culture. The core convictions of complementarianism will not magically seep into our children or into our churches. The cultural breeze is blowing too stiffly against us. Biblical manhood and womanhood must be taught as well as caught. When it comes to the goodness of God’s divine design for men and women, unless we are pushing forward against the forces of sports and media and politics and business and entertainment, we will end up drifting in wrong direction.

I, too, remain a complementarian.  DeYoung’s first two marks are essentially where I lay my head on the matter.

Over the years, on this blog, I’ve put my position on women on ministry to the test, and I’ve always returned to a complementarian position.

 

Posted in Complementarian, Kevin DeYoung, Miscellanies, Women in Ministry | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

New Resource on Hermeneutics: Seeing Christ in All of Scripture

9780998005102Book Detail:

87 Pages
Publisher: Westminster Seminary Press
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN 13: 9780998005102

This introduction calls attention to the consistency of biblical interpretation that exists today at Westminster Theological Seminary. The harmony among the theological disciplines at Westminster is due to a shared method of interpreting Scripture, a shared hermeneutic, that is drawn from Westminster’s confessional standards. Although expressed in distinctive ways, Westminster’s hermeneutic remains cohesive and compatible throughout the theological curriculum. It is my privilege, then, to introduce this collection of brief essays written by four of Westminster’s leading scholars. Herein, you will find a witness to the hermeneutical unity at Westminster through the perspectives of Dr. Vern Poythress, Dr. Iain Duguid, Dr. Greg Beale, and Dr. Richard Gaffin. Their reflections span the whole of Scripture and express the deep continuity that courses through the diverse fields of biblical interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Perhaps this little work is not for all readers.  It’s really a intramural work.  However, an outsider may benefit from it.  May be purchased here.

Posted in Christ in Scripture, Hermeneutics, Miscellanies | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Book Review: Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson

baptismProduct Details

  • Series: Church Basics
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Books (January 15, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433688875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433688874
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.2 x 7 inches

B&H Publishing Group sent me a review copy of Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson.  Many thanks.  This little book is based on Mr. Jamieson’s heftier work Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership (B&H Academic, 2015).

An Overview

The book is written with three kinds of readers in mind: (1) the person who believes in Jesus but hasn’t yet been baptized. (2) Christians who are simply interested in learning more about  baptism.  And (3) church leaders and pastors.  This little work contains an introduction and six chapters: 1. What Is Baptism? 2. Who Should Be Baptized? 3. What about Infant Baptism? 4. Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership? 5. When Is “Baptism” Not Baptism?  6. How Should Churches Practice Baptism?

A Critique

Mr. Jamieson is a Baptist and writes decidedly from this position. (1) What is baptism?  Baptism is a church’s act of affirming and portraying a believer’s union with Christ by immersing him or her in water, and a believer’s act of publicly committing him or herself to Christ and his people, thereby uniting a believer to the church and marking off him or her from the world.

In Mr. Jamieson’s definition of baptism, which he says is a biblical understanding of baptism, baptism is all about what the individual does.  I’m an ex-Baptist.  I would have loved this definition.  But I find it lacking: what about what God does?  Is baptism only to be understood as immersion? What about pouring and sprinkling?  According to Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, baptism is properly understood as ceremonial cleansing, with OT ritual sprinklings as examples.

In chapter 3, What About Infant Baptism? I do not believe Mr. Jamieson understands how a Presbyterian (or someone like that) argues for infant baptism.  Mr. Jamieson offers six reasons why he is against infant baptism.  Let’s just look at the first one: Paedobaptism applies the sign of union with Christ to those who are not united to Christ.  It divorces the sign from the reality.

His first reason against infant baptism is quite faulty: (1) the sign of circumcision, the sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, was applied to infants who did not even believe (Genesis 17:7-14).  But they were expected to profess faith and have their hearts circumcised (Deut. 10:12-17; cf. Romans 2:29 and 9:6-8).  The physical sign in the flesh was a constant remind that they needed to circumcise their hearts.  They received the sign before the reality (cf. Romans 4:11).  (2) Baptism has replaced circumcision as the new covenant sign (Colossians 2:11-12).  Those who object to the administration of baptism, the new covenant sign, to the infants of believers should also object to the administration of circumcision, the old covenant sign.

In chapter 4, Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership? Mr. Jamieson makes some good points.  For example, Baptism is the initiating oath-sign of the new covenant.  In chapter 5, When Is “Baptism” Not Baptism? Mr. Jamieson surveys four of the most common scenarios in which “baptism” isn’t actually baptism (remember, he is writing decidedly as a Baptist).  According to Mr. Jamieson, if you were “baptized” as an infant, then your baptism isn’t valid and  you will need to be baptized–for the first time.  Those who have been baptized in infancy have experienced invalid baptisms and are in need of valid baptism–their first baptisms.  In chapter 6, How Should Churches Practice Baptism? Mr. Jamieson surveys the mode, administrator, result, context, and timing.  Regarding mode, Jamieson argues only for immersion as the only proper mode of baptism.  Sprinkling and pouring are outright rejected.

Mr. Jamieson grounds his argument for immersion in Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 2:11-12.  As an ex-Baptist I’m all too familiar with these lines of arguments.  Mr. Jamieson says that in the above Pauline references, Paul takes for granted that baptism signifies this union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  But how should a believer mimic Christ’s death, on a cross–under water?  For sure, plunging under water and rising from water is both dramatic and powerful.  Is this, however, the import of Paul’s words in Romans 6:1-4?  But wait!  Doesn’t baptism also picture putting on Christ like a garment in Galatians 3:27?

 

Conclusion

As a Baptist, arguing only for believer’s baptism, Mr. Jamieson makes some good points.  But I find his presentation of paedobaptism (baptizing infants) quite weak.  He could have done a better job of representing this position, as noted above.  Perhaps the strength of this work is chapter 4, Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership?

Posted in Baptism, Baptists, Believer's Baptism, Infant Baptism, Miscellanies, Paedobaptism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment