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Monday, August 18, 2014

Plead the Cause: A Response to Professor Jon-Michael Brown Concerning the Mike Brown Killing.

Over the past several days, I have practiced an uncharacteristic amount of self-control by refusing to talk openly about the ongoing case of eighteen year old Mike Brown and his death at the hands of a police office in Ferguson, Missouri.

That ends today. (But I made a good run at it!)

After the national debacle that was the Trayvon Martin case and watching as some of my own relationships strained under the pressure to take sides and argue for this or that view of race and justice, I decided to sit this one out.

That was until I read a blog post written by current professor of youth ministry at St. Louis Christian College and St. Louis area youth pastor, Jon-Michael Brown (not to be confused with the slain young man "Mike Brown"), and knew I was ready to speak out.

Professor Brown narrates his own story of growing up in a mixed race family (something I can relate to) and of achieving the feat of being one of only two black men in his high school's honors program.

The professor also tells this story:

And I remember Anthony, too. He embodied for me a choice. I once asked Anthony, an intelligent black male who later turned to crime, why he did not seek the honors program. He replied, “I don’t want to be no nerd!”

Anthony succumbed to the stereotypes and pressures of our environment, when he could have taken a different path. From what I have learned about Michael Brown, he is no different.

The title of Professor Brown's blog post is “I Will Not March for Michael Brown”, the reason for which being closely related to the aforementioned anecdote.

For the professor, Michael Brown failed to live up to the exalted image crafted of him by his parents and others.

He was not a good kid or a “gentle giant”, but “a cool, calm and calculated criminal” and a “source” of “racism and brutality”, according to the professor.

This biting characterization of a recently dead teenager find its justification in a video surveillance tape released days after the shooting that showed Mike Brown strong-arming a convenience store clerk and stealing some cigars.

From this, the good professor apparently feels he is able to make an informed summation of the totality of Michael Brown's eighteen years, saying “he did not stand for justice and truth”, “did not choose the right path”, and was a “criminal”.

It is the last two sentences of his post, however, that really take the cake. He says,

For me, marching in Michael Brown’s name dishonors the struggle and sacrifice of every just and honorable minority before us. Michael Brown’s death is tragic, but it will not be my cause.

I will stand for truth and justice.

Where to begin.

First of all, I reject the blanket judgment against Mike Brown's person based on one act.

Mike Brown had no previous adult criminal record up to this point and, call me jaded, but I live in a community with plenty of crime, so when I see a video of an unarmed guy going into a store and stealing something without so much as even punching the clerk, what I don't see is the “source of brutality and racism”, nor someone's life story.

Secondly, and more important, since when do "truth and justice" only apply to certain categories of people based on their prior history?

I mean, if justice was only given to the just, wouldn't that empty the word of all meaning?

The professor says “Michael Brown's death...will not be my cause”, but is that his choice to make?

Such verses of Scripture like Isaiah 1:17 (“learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause”) and Micah 6:8 (“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”) don't have footnotes telling us which people are the proper recipients of such justice.

How then can we as Christians put people into categories like “just and honorable” or good enough or not good enough and then decide who deserves to be defended accordingly?

  It seems to me that a natural, though difficult, part of loving your enemy means sticking up for him even if he's a crummy person.

Yes, Jon-Michael Brown, Mike Brown's death IS your cause, assuming he was the victim of injustice, because biblical justice doesn't doesn't discriminate based on who's sinned what sins.

Professor Brown's type of argumentation advances the thinking that acts of abuse and sin are okay or at least overlook-able as long as they are perpetrated against the right kind of people.

“Oh, it happened to *that* kid? NEXT!”.

Must we really wait until a "good" black kid is shot dead before we begin our marches?

I want to add, finally, that the facts of the case are not out and I don't know who is innocent or guilty.

However, I do know that Professor Jon-Michael Brown's reasoning for why he won't plead the cause of Mike Brown is unbiblical and harmful to the Christian witness.

I call on my dear brother to re-think his position with an open heart and Bible, and leave us all the oft-quoted words from Jesus in the Gospel of John:

"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her".

For if we're being honest, who among us is truly worthy?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Not My Work: Spiritual Reflections on My First Month in Mexico

It is surreal to think I am already a month into my internship at the Ninos de Mexico children's home in San Vicente/Texcoco, Mexico.

The time has flown by and I feel like I have settled into my "home away from home" for the summer.

I am excited to have made so many lasting connections here, both with the kids in Ninos's homes and among the 5 mission trip groups that have traveled down to Ninos to work this summer, and to have rekindled old friendships from my previous trips two years ago. 

During my stay, I have improved my Spanish, cooked in a Mexican kitchen, played copious amounts futbol, broken bread at church with my Mexican brethren, had fruitful Gospel conversations with some of the kids in my house, seen many of Mexico City's beautiful sites, and been the hands and feet of Christ in a country not my own (all unto and by God's glory and goodness).

It has been an amazing experience thus far, but not totally without difficulties. 

Emotionally and spiritually I have experienced exhaustion and have hit some walls.

Petty conflicts here and there, insecurities exposed, doubts raised--it all started to pile up.

Though I knew it had to happen eventually, I felt taken out at the knees.

What am I doing here? I'm too spiritually immature to help anyone. I'm just too tired. If only... Maybe I should just... 

And on it went, a cacophony of doubts in my head, threatening to undermine all the preparation, prayers, and God-incidences that had gotten me to Mexico in the first place.

However, His power is made perfect in my weakness.

At the beginning of my trip, God put it in my heart to memorize Philippians 2, unbeknownst to me, for such a time as this.

The first eighteen verses read as follows: 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, (2.) then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. (3.) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (4.) not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

(5.) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

(6.) Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
(7.) rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
(8.) And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

(9.) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
(10.) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
(11.) and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(12.) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13.) for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

(14.) Do everything without grumbling or arguing, (15.) so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky (16.) as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (17.) But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. (18.) So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

I was struck by the obvious implications of the words I was reading: this work wasn't about me.

None of it was about me, in the ultimate sense. 

It wasn't about my strength (or lack thereof); it wasn't about my feelings; it wasn't about my fears, my wants, my doubts, my insecurities--this work wasn't about me.

It is about God.

It is about God and His love for the world.

If Jesus did not consider himself when he took on flesh and made himself obedient unto crucifixion, I thought, can I not, by the power of Him who lives within me, look past Eric to see the purpose God working in and through me?

Is it possible to say no to grumbling and complaining and worrying and instead joyfully and prayerfully participate in the work God has prepared for me?

The answer is yes!

This is because I can say with Paul that it is God who is working in me to accomplish the things He has for me to do. 

Will this deepened awareness be easily or immediately affected?

Probably not. 

However, I know, regardless, that He who began a good work in me will see it unto completion.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Defense of SB 1062: Clearing Away the Deception

  When I survey the outrage surrounding Arizona's SB 1062 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), I am reminded of the oft-repeated phrase "perception is reality".

  However, in this case, is it seems that deception has become our new reality.

  When reading any of the flurry of news articles and opinion pieces on this piece of legislation, you would think the bill was crafted specifically to protect bigoted business owners desiring to discriminate against gay people, safeguarding their right to deny homosexuals service at their establishments. 

  As Daily Beast columnist Kirsten Powers has said, a new Jim Crow for gays.

  Rachel Held Evans, a popular Evangelical Christian commentator and author, threw more gasoline on the fire of misinformation, lumping the Arizona legislation in with foreign bills that criminalize homosexuality and claiming that.. 

Here in the U.S., several states—most recently Kansas and Arizona— have been considering bills that would ensure the protection of businesses that refuse service to gay and lesbian people. 

  This is, of course, false. 

  The key parts of the proposed amendment to the existing RFRA are twofold: expanding the term "persons" to include individuals, associations, partnerships, corporations, churches, religious assemblies and institutions, estates, trusts, foundations and other legal entities, and ensuring that such "persons" would be able to invoke a violation of their religious beliefs as a defense if they were sued thereof. 

  For example, if a faith-based bed and breakfast denied a single room to an unmarried couple, or a Christian owned hotel allowed Bibles in dresser drawers, or a Christian photographer said no to photographing a same-sex wedding and was sued because of this, the defendant could invoke a violation of his right to free exercise of religion and have his day in court.  

  That's it. That's what all the clamor is about.

  No one is talking about keeping gay people from religious owned businesses. 

  We are talking about business owners being allowed operate in a manner that comports with their faith.

This is not, I repeat, not a license to do whatever you want in the name of your faith principles or a guarantee that the person invoking the violation of the First Amendment will win in court.

As the Christian Post notes: 

A RFRA law, either state or federal, does not give anyone the license to do anything they want based upon their religious beliefs. Rather, it says what needs to happen for the government to take away someone's religious freedom. RFRA provides citizens with religious freedom protections, but that does not mean that everyone who claims their religious freedom is violated will win a court case using RFRA as their defense.

 No business has ever successfully used RFRA, either a state RFRA or the federal RFRA, to defend their right to not serve gays. In fact, no business has even been before a court claiming to have that right.

Furthermore, a bipartisan group of law professors from across the country have testified that the bill has been "egregiously misrepresented".

This letter must be read by anyone who wants to make an informed opinion on the law, so I've reproduced the most relevant portions:

SB1062, which amends Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is on your desk for signature. The bill has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics. We write because we believe that you should make your decision on the basis of accurate information. 
Some of us are Republicans; some of us are Democrats. Some of us are religious; some of us are not. Some of us oppose same-sex marriage; some of us support it. Nine of the eleven signers of this letter believe that you should sign the bill; two are unsure. But all of us believe that many criticisms of the Arizona bill are deeply misleading. 

SB1062 would amend the Arizona RFRA to address two ambiguities that have been the subject of litigation under other RFRAs. It would provide that people are covered when state or local government requires them to violate their religion in the conduct of their business, and it would provide that people are covered when sued by a private citizen invoking state or local law to demand that they violate their religion.

But nothing in the amendment would say who wins in either of these cases...

...So, to be clear: SB1062 does not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons. It says that business people can assert a claim or defense under RFRA, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision.

  This could not be any clearer.

  There is no provision for arbitrary discrimination under this amendment.

  One wonders, then, how much, if any, of the hysteria surrounding the bill is based in reality.

  In spite of the truth, I fully expect the bill to be vetoed.

  The political cost for Jan Brewer would be far too high otherwise. 

  The Left, along with some Republicans, businesses, celebrities, and the NFL have "encouraged" the governor to veto the bill or face the consequences. 

  I, however, am relieved to see this amendment possibly become law as it is exactly what our country needs to restore the balance of power between the gay rights movements and people of Christian conscience. 

  If we are going to prevent our country from being torn apart at the seams, we need to see legislation like SB 1062 on the books.

  Please encourage Governor Brewer via social media to sign the bill and, more importantly, do your part to fight the propaganda that makes it impossible to have an honest discussion about these important issues.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

To be Undivided: Reflections on Christan Singlehood.

There are some things you anticipate about growing up.

You anticipate graduating from high school. You anticipate working a job. You anticipate paying for all those things you thought were free as a kid (okay, maybe not that one).

Something I did not anticipate was how surreal it would be seeing people I grew up with getting engaged and committing themselves in marriage.

Not long ago, I thought I wanted to enter the relationship arena, but after suffering a debilitating K.O. and doing some soul-searching, I began to reflect on my vocation as a single Christian.

I don't mean to be critical, but sometimes the advice given to single Christians is simply patronizing.

In fact, if I ever hear the term "gift of singleness" again (a gift conspicuously absent from Scripture) it will be too soon.

Some well-meaning people have suggested Jesus as a stand-in boyfriend for single Christian women until they find a guy, but even if that is theologically sound advice, it still leaves us men out to dry.

Furthermore, some equally well-meaning Christians who are in romantic relationships treat us single people as though it were immaturity, spiritual or otherwise, keeping us from being where they are.

As I pondered this issue, God provided wise counsel in the form of a woman from my church who explained to me that there were certain things I was doing for the Lord that simply would not be possible if I was married or had kids or was in a serious relationship, at least to the degree I was currently engaged in them.

It was like a light bulb went on and I was immediately reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (vv. 32-35)

As far as I'm concerned, this is the joy of being a single Christian: to be completely devoted to Jesus in body and spirit, undivided in will.

To be Christian and single isn't to be defined by the absence of something, but the presence of an undivided will geared toward the Lord.

Paul isn't dissing marriage (this is the guy who wrote Ephesians 5 for crying out loud!), he is being realistic.

Marriage, engagement, dating--they all change things.

Time is divided, resources are divided, emotions are divided (and necessarily so).

When Paul talks of the "affairs of this world" he's not talking about the carnal or sinful, but the temporal and non-spiritual.

As single Christians we are able to throw ourselves into the service of God in way that we couldn't if we weren't single (see Jesus and Paul as pertinent examples).

And I don't know about you, but this makes me really excited!

Think of the all the possibilities available to us!

So put away "The Notebook", step away from the Ben and Jerry's, and don't even think about another video game marathon night.

Instead of being depressed about not having a significant other, why not lose yourself in the service of others out of love for God?

I fully believe I will one day have a wife and 19 wonderful children (give or take a few), but right now I am focused on serving God with an undivided heart. 

And if my wedding day never comes, what have I lost devoting my whole self in loving service to a God whose love means everything world to me? 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let the Little Children Come: On The Arguments for Infant Baptism.

Not yet thirty years old, Felix, a young Christian preacher, was going to die.

More specifically, he was going to be drowned.

To his enemies it was sweet, poetic justice, a fitting sentence given the charges levied against him.

Felix was a “re-baptizer”, a heretic by both Catholic and Protestant standards who had been immersed after previously being sprinkled as a baby and who had re-baptized others and spread the “heresy” of re-baptism.

And on January 5th of 1527, Felix Manz became the first of many martyrs in the quest to recover the biblical form of baptism.

This budding pioneer of a new movement was bound hands and feet, weighted with a pole, and surrendered to the cruel waters of Lake Zürich in Switzerland.

Manz and the other Anabaptists (as they were called by their enemies) refused to be bullied or intimidated.

They had searched the Scriptures and found in it no justification for the administration of baptism to those children who had not yet professed faith in Jesus.

And it is those justifications offered by paedobaptists (literally “child baptizers”) in defense of infant baptism that I want to critically examine in this post.

One such reason offered is that we humans are born spiritually dead and in need of the regeneration that comes in baptism:

Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1250)

This view is common among Protestant and Catholic faiths, but is it an accurate description of the spiritual state which humans are born into?

Paul the apostle in Romans 7:7-11 writes the following:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

According to Paul, in order for sin to take effect it must work in tandem with the law.

And not just the existence of the law, but the knowledge of the law on the part of the sinner.

While some would have us believe Paul was born spiritually dead, Paul pinpoints the exact time he died in sin, namely, “when the commandment came”.

Paul died when he became cognizant of his relationship to God under the law, not before, because sin is powerless apart from such knowledge.

Have you ever wondered why the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden wasn't called the “tree of good and evil”, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

The Bible never says that Adam and Eve were sinless before the fall (Romans 5:13), but by virtue of their denied access to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were in some way ignorant of their sin in such a way that kept them in the cocoon of God’s grace until their ignorance was removed and they died in their sin.

This ties directly in to the doctrine of the age of accountability which we can formulate thusly:

1.      The Bible teaches there is a time before people truly understand right and wrong (Deut. 1:39; Isaiah 7:15-16; also Romans 7:9),
2.      The Bible also teaches that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17),
3.       Therefore, we cannot charge the mentally handicap and young children with accountability for sin because they do not know right and wrong.

 As Jesus says in John 9:41, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains”.

One last passage we may examine is in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law… But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!...Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (12-13, 15, 18-19)

There is so much that could be unpacked here, but I just want to hit on some keys points.

Firstly, the switch between “many” and “all” may trip some people up, but as most commentators note, the “many” is not in contrast to the “all”, but to the “one man” Jesus.

Secondly, we see again that where there is no knowledge of the law, sin is not taken into account.

Thirdly, we read that “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people”.

I appreciate what Jack Cottrell has to say on this point:

According to Romans 5:15-19, the consequences of Adam’s sin (however interpreted) are completely canceled out for the whole human race (and have been since the beginning, with Adam’s children) by Christ’s “one act of righteousness” (5:18), i.e., his atoning death on the cross. Although through Adam’s sin “the many died,” this was counteracted by “the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ” (5:15). Whereas from Adam we received judgment and condemnation, Christ’s free gift “brought justification” (5:16, ESV). Although through Adam “death reigned,” the “abundance of grace” and the “gift of righteousness” enable us to “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (5:17). “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (5:18). Yes, through Adam’s disobedience “the many were made sinners,” but “through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (5:19).

When we take all of this together, we may conclude that humans are born not into sin, but God’s grace, and are not in need of the washing of regeneration that is baptism before they reach the (undefined) age of accountability.

Others may take a different route, arguing that children are members of the New Covenant and therefore ought not to be denied baptism:

Baptism is a sign and seal of entering the community of Christ, the community bought with Jesus' blood and given life by his Holy Spirit.” This view sees baptism as replacing circumcision in the New Covenant. (ChristianReformed Church of North America statement on infant baptism.)

The primary question here is does baptism replace circumcision?

While I find the whole system that is “covenant theology” theologically wrongheaded and biblically unjustifiable, such a topic would surely lead us outside the scope our discussion.

Furthermore, even if we assume the truth of covenant theology, I still argue there is no biblical basis for identifying baptism and circumcision.

The key passage in this discussion is Colossians 2:11-12:

 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.

 The argument is that just as circumcision was available to children as initiation into the Old Covenant, so baptism is available to children as initiation into the New Covenant.

The glaring problem with this view, a problem I have not seen addressed by any of the major commentators promoting it, is that baptism is not being paralleled with physical circumcision, but spiritual circumcision.

There are two types of circumcision in the Bible, the physical type and the spiritual type often spoken in the Old Testament:

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-- burn with no one to quench it. (Jer. 4:4)

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deut. 30:6)

I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity (Lev 26:41)

Nothing in any of these passages has anything to do with the cutting off a foreskin (which is only used for the sake of a helpful analogy), rather they speak to a condition of the heart changed or yet to be changed by God.

And it is this category that baptism falls into, meaning there is no intrinsic or direct connection being drawn between baptism and circumcision of the flesh.

Covenant theology, then, has a covenant in need of a covenant sign.

Finally, let’s look at the question of household baptisms.

These are four cases in Scripture said to show whole households, presumably containing at least one child/infant, that were baptized.

Before looking at the specifics, I want to question whether we can infer children from household in these texts.

Speaking of the initiation of entire households into the community of faith, Robert J. banks says:

Infants, however, were probably not involved in view of the distinction generally drawn in the ancient world between children and household, the close association between faith and baptism in both Acts and Paul, and the special status accorded to children simply by birth into a family where one member is a Christian (1 Cor 7:14). (Paul's Idea of Community, 79)

So even before we get off the ground, the paedo-baptist must show that no distinction between infants and the household being made in the “household baptism” passages, a distinction such as we see in the relevant citations (1 Tim 3:4,12, Gen 18:19, 36:6,47:12, 50:7;1 Sam 1:21).

However, we can go one step further and show that the immediate context of each of these passages precludes the involvement of infants in the baptism process.

In the example of the Philippian Jailer, (Acts 16:33-34) we are told Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” and that the jailer “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God”.

Paul and Silas surely would not have spoken God’s word to babies and children who could not have understood what such words meant and, even more certain, the infants would not rejoiced at the Jailer’s faith in God.

Al this shows that infants are not in view here.

With respect to the household of Stephanas, (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15-18) we read that they had “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” upon the conversion, again excluding infants from view.

About the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14) Alexander Campbell explains it best:

Who was Cornelius, and what was his house or family previous to hearing Peter preach? Cornelius, a proselyte of the Jews' religion, was a Roman Centurion — "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house." This looks like infants in the first place!! Peter was sent to preach to him, and convince him that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ or Messiah of the Jews. "Cornelius called together his kinsmen and near friends." — Peter" preached to them all — "The Holy Ghost fell upon them all which heard the word' v. 44. Then Peter commanded them all to be baptized. What now comes of the supposed infants of Cornelius' household? They all feared God, they all heard the word of the Lord, "the holy spirit fell on them all," "they spoke with tongues," "they magnified God" "and they were all baptized." The imaginary infants of the household of Cornelius when the 10th chap, of the Acts is read, come out distinguished believers and notable saints. (Debate on Christian Baptism, 70)

 Lastly, we have Lydia’s household (Acts 16:15).

This instance requires the briefest sketch as it is often admitted by paedobaptists that this passage is too obscure to draw any conclusions about infant baptism from it, but in verse 40 we read that Paul and Silas has stopped by Lydia’s house before leaving the region and they “encouraged” the “brothers”.

Again, from Campbell: So that these supposed infants were brethren in the faith, capable of receiving comfort from the words of the apostle. (DCB, 71).

Obviously that is not a tenable position. 

So much more could be said about all this as I haven’t even touched on the positive support for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but I want to end with a quick word about the Early Church.

It is routinely claimed with the most egregious kind of historical broad-brushing that the early church baptized infants.

Of course, even if this is true in the way many claim it is, the earliest Christians are witnesses to the truth, not determiners of it, and if we cannot find infant baptism in the Scripture that “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”, then we are not justified in making it a dogma or overturning the Scriptural witness against it.

However, Everett Ferguson in his baptism book to end all baptism books finds the following:

There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century. This fact does not mean that id did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. Many replace the historical silence by appeal to theological or sociological considerations. . . . The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about its propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries. (Baptism a Biblical study 856, 857)

That’s all I’ll say on this point.

In conclusion, the Bible teaches that children are born without knowing good from evil and are spiritually alive by virtue of God’s grace, meaning they do not need to be baptized.

Let me end with some practical considerations:

A.    If you have had a young child die, you can have confidence (like David in 2 Samuel 12:15-23) that he or she is with God forever in heaven.
B.     If you have been baptized as an infant, I encourage you to thank God for whatever saving work he has already done in your life and submit yourself to him in baptism as a penitent believer. And if you are not at that point yet, I hope you will continue to study this issue and give it its due diligence.

Helpful resources:

Infant baptism debate between Alexander Campbell and John Walker:
Baptism in the Early Church by Everett Ferguson

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Adventures in Odyssey" and Lessons Learned

There's something special about a story that doesn't simply engage your mind as one might engage a stranger in conversation, that is, long enough not to be rude, but not too long because you have stuff to do.

No, a good story overwhelms your mind, blurring the lines between fiction and reality and taking you to a place you never knew you wanted to go but feels just like home.

In these kinds of stories characters become friends (or enemies), their triumphs are your triumphs, their losses are your losses, and each time you revisit the story you invest a part of yourself in it.

By now I've lost some of you with this kind of talk, though I know not a few of my readers will understand exactly what I'm saying.

There's just something special about these kinds of stories and I have had the pleasure of reading many thereof.

However, there is one children's radio drama that can contend with the best of them: Adventures in Odyssey.

Since 1987, kids and adults of all ages have found their home away from home in the fictional town of Odyssey, USA.

The stories portrayed in the Adventures in Odyssey are innocent without being innocuous and they play on drama and fantasy without devolving into immaturity, making "growing out" of Odyssey impossible.

But Odyssey's greatest strength lies in the spiritual truth it impresses upon the hearts of its listeners.

I remember with fondness journeying with God's prophet Elijah in the Imagination Station where through repeated "trips" I memorized what became one of my favorite passages of Scripture:

And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again. -- 1 Kings 18:36-37

In "First Hand Experience" I learned with Eugene the pointlessness of doing things just for the sake of raking in "experiences" and committed myself to have a clear purpose in mind for whatever it was I did.

"60's Something" reminded a wide-eyed, naïve, let's-everybody-hold-hands-and-save-the-world, would-be humanitarian that man cannot create a perfect world of peace and love by himself, and that only by and through the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) will men finally beat their swords into plowshares.

My genuine fear of driving was overcome not in small part due to "License to Drive", and to this day, every time I get in the car I hear Connie's hilariously patronizing voice in my head ("to start the car, you turn the key awaaay from you").

In more serious moments when I felt far from God and overcome by sin, I'd listen to "Harlow Doyle, Private Eye" and remember that I hadn't lost my faith, I'd just lost sight of it, and could, with God's help, see it again.

And sometimes the enjoyment of Odyssey was just in having an "Odyssey night" with family.

Around Christmas time, my brother and sister and I would gather around our home intercom system and listen to "The Gift of Madge and Guy", stretching the thirty minute episode due to frequent stops just so we could laugh at all the dumb jokes.

I treasure that memory.

Finally, in "The Impossible" I came to believe--really and truly believe--that with God, nothing is impossible, and that whatever He called me to do--no matter how crazy or scary or impossible it may seem--I could trust that He would see it through to its completion.

It wasn't even so much that Odyssey taught my spiritual truths I didn't know, but that seeing them played out in the lives of the characters made them come alive for me in a new way. 

Now it has been some time since I listened to an Odyssey episode and I haven't received a new album in years, but just like home, no amount of time spent apart can dull the impact Odyssey had on my life and spiritual growth.

It really is a special kind of story.