Friday, December 16, 2005

Merry Christmas!

After today I will be away from my office through the holidays and may not have the chance to post any. I might get the chance, but in case I do not I wanted to go ahead and wish all of you a blessed Christmas from me and my family.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quotes from B. H. Carroll

B. H. Carroll was one of the giants in the earlier days of SBC life, serving as a pastor and then as the founding president of Southwestern Seminary. He is fun to read and to read about. He was a colorful, thoughtful, profound and passionate man. I have recently come across some old copies of his Interpretation of the English Bible in our library, and they are worth reading. You can find them in reprints and in electronic format.

Here I simply want to pass along two quotes from his ‘Sermons to Preachers’ (1892):

“My brother, if you would magnify your office, make the Word of God your life study. Let down your buckets into the well of salvation; lengthen your cords and let them down deep, and draw up the water fresh and sparkling every day, and give it out freely to your thirsty congregations.”

“how can a man magnify his office who is too lazy to study that Word which it is his business to preach? Who lives year after year in ignorance of the rudiments of Bible teaching? Who has not studied that sacred library, book by book, and chapter by chapter?”

Amen! May we exemplify these truths.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tozer Audio on Web

Over the summer Brian Denker brought to my attention, an online collection of thousands of sermons in audio. The range is very broad, but there are some very interesting and useful preachers included. For example, I recommend this sermon by A. W. Tozer on Jude. Jude, being one of the short letters, is often overlooked so it is good to have a sermon on it by one like Tozer. I assigned this sermon for listening in my New Testament class this semester, and it was much appreciated. The sound quality is not great, but it is worth a listen (and not real long).
Along the way, Tozer makes this statement: “I recommend some of you who are so nice you’re no good, read the book of Jude.” Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Trueman Review of Noll's Is the Reformation Over?

I want to keep the discussion on baptism going (from the two earlier posts), but I have also just come across a really good article that deserves the attention of pastors and church leaders (as well as many others). Mark Noll’s latest book, Is the Reformation Over?, raises important questions about the continuing validity of the Reformation, and the difference or lack thereof between Evangelicalism and Catholicism. I have not read the book but have read an excerpt in Books and Culture and been in a number of conversations concerning the book. I have ended up concerned with what appears to be the thesis of the book. Thus, I was excited to see that my friend Carl Trueman had written a review of the book. The review is not short, but it deserves reading. Trueman is a careful scholar (church historian), sound theologian and a churchman (i.e. one who thinks all of this must be lived out in the local church and loves the church). Thus, his thoughts are significant to me.

Trueman, while conceding a number of strengths in the book, finds himself in disagreement with the basic argument of the book. I appreciated the discussion because I find myself increasingly uneasy with how many evangelicals seem to embrace Rome. While I appreciate the conservative Catholic affirmation of absolutes in the arena of truth and morality (e.g. abortion), significant problems remain with official teachings like purgatory, penance, indulgences, mass, etc. which reveal deep seated differences in how we understand the gospel.

Here is the concluding paragraph. I hope the heart of the matter comes across from this passage:

It Ain't Over 'Till the Fat Lady Sings A Review by Carl Trueman

When I finished reading the book, I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part. For such, the Reformation is over; for me, the fat lady has yet to sing; in fact, I am not sure at this time that she has even left her dressing room.

His point is well taken, that, in fact, the Reformation is over in many churches. But, this is something to be mourned rather than celebrated. He argues at various places that one reason why there is sometimes more agreement today between evangelicals and Rome is that Rome knows her clearly defined positions but evangelicals often lack such definitions and have forgotten their history.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Prayer for Ministers

Here is another poem by John Newton concerning the pastorate. It was included in the Olney Hymns- pretty good accountability for pastors to sing this song with their congregations! I came across this poem in Worthy is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of the Savior (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). May it encourage and challenge you as it has me.

"Prayer for Ministers"

Chief Shepherd of thy chosen sheep,
From death and sin set free;
May every under–shepherd keep
His eye, intent on thee!

With plenteous grace their hearts prepare,
To execute thy will
Compassion, patience, love and care,
And faithfulness and skill

Inflame their minds with holy zeal
Their flocks to feed and teach;
And let them live, and let them feel
The sacred truths they preach.

Oh, never let the sheep complain
That toys, which fools amuse;
Ambition, pleasure, praise or gain,
Debase the shepherd’s views.

He, that for these, forbears to feed
The souls whom JESUS loves;
Whate’er he may profess, or plead,
An idle shepherd proves.

The sword of God shall break his arm,
A blast shall blind his eye
His word shall have no pow’r to warm,
His gifts shall all grow dry.

O LORD, avert this heavy woe,
Let all thy shepherds say!
And grace, and strength, on each bestow,
To labor while ’tis day.

- John Newton

Monday, December 05, 2005

Baptism responses

I wanted to respond here to some of the responses to the previous baptism post, because some good points were made by the two Barry’s. Barry J. raised the issue of whether baptism fit more in ecclesiology or soteriology. I think one problem is that we have made too strong of a distinction between soteriology and ecclesiology in general. Of course the two can be wrongly connected (e.g., "I'm a Christian because I go to church"), but we often also too strongly divide them ("As long as you are a Christian it does not matter if you go to church," or “Being a Christian has nothing to do with going to church”). There really is no biblical category for non-church attending believers. Though it may occur as an aberration from time to time, followers of Christ are obligated to obey the commands of Scripture and Hebrews 10:24-25 are pretty clear. We need to be clear to people that church is not optional for those who profess faith.

Now, that was not Barry J.’s question, but it raised the opportunity to speak to that issue. I am not sure where exactly the rest of your question goes, Barry J.- but you are certainly not a heretical idiot! I do think there is need for more careful thinking about the role of baptism in church life.

Then, Barry (in MO), I am fine with calling baptism a means of grace so long as we mean in the way the Reformers did and not the way Catholics do. In fact Wayne Grudem, a Baptist, in his Systematic Theology has a chapter on Means of Grace (Chapter 48) where he lists baptism, communion, and at least 9 other things. In this sense typically ‘means of grace’ refers to God-ordained means for receiving grace (to be edified). So, I agree that it would be useful to use this term once we teach it clearly to our people. God has given to the church ordained ways for us to receive grace to help in time of need.

May the conversation on baptism continue! I hope before too long to comment on Communion.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Baptism: Why Do We Not Value It More?

Yesterday I spoke to a group of ‘ministerial’ students here at Union and my assigned topic was baptism. I chose to frame my comments with the question, “Why is baptism so unimportant in our Baptist churches?” (I am here writing clearly from my baptist perspective, though I realize non-Baptists may read this blog as well). It is a concern to me that though we, Baptists, take our name from this ordinance, we treat it with little concern. So, I argued for four reasons why baptism is so little appreciated in our Baptist churches.

1. We have bought our culture’s line that ritual is bad. We don’t tend to have the ability to see the value and beauty of traditional practices. Instead we tend to think that spontaneity and change are always best. But we should examine critically this assumption. Why do we assume that having a regular pattern to our worship is necessarily bad and that ‘changing things up’ is necessarily good? Probably part of the reason is that generations before us failed to think through for themselves and thus to teach to us why we did what we did, so that we saw empty tradition and ritual. However we must not let a bad example turn us away from the real thing. As you search the Scriptures you find that God is pretty big on tradition and ritual- properly done. Jesus and Paul will warn us not to let our man-made traditions obscure Scripture (Mt 15:1-9; Col 2:8); but, Paul also praises the church for holding firmly to apostolic tradition (1 Cor 11:2), exhorts the church to hold fast to apostolic tradition (2 Thess 2:15), and calls for the discipline of those who do not live according to apostolic tradition (2 Thess 3:6). This is pretty high commendation for tradition. The distinction between good and bad tradition is whether it is something God has commanded or whether it is something we have dreamed up. Baptism, and communion for that mater, are traditions Christ has commanded. If we appreciate the place of history and tradition, baptism becomes all the more meaningful as we join with the church through the ages in administering the sign of Christ.

2. This leads to a second and related point. Our culture has largely lost its ability to appreciate symbolism. In short we have lost our poetry and as a result have little appreciation for the symbolic. As people are realizing this many try all sorts of way to integrate the use of the symbolic and dramatic into our worship all the while missing that Christ Himself has instituted for us two symbolic practices which are dramatic portrayals of the gospel.
Our general failure to appreciate symbols is seen in the language used when baptism or communion is described as a ‘mere’ symbol. ‘Mere’?! Why ‘mere’? Not ‘mere’, but Christ-ordained, holy, precious symbols which portray for us the gospel.

3. A third problem is that baptism does not fit well in entertainment driven worship services. Things like baptism (and communion as well) take up too much time and get in the way of our show. They don’t make for good television. It should be a cause for pause when we feel that events commanded by Christ ‘get in the way’ of things desired by us.

4. Lastly, I think we have removed baptism from its proper place as the public profession of faith. We have created new ordinances which are not mentioned in the Scriptures (e.g. walking the aisle, praying the prayer) which have pushed aside the divinely ordained ones. In the New Testament baptism functioned as the public profession of faith (which is expected in Rom 10:9-10) as the new believer publicly identified himself with the Church by taking on himself the ritual sign of this group typically in the public square rather than inside a church building. Notice this with the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, the Philippian jailer, etc. We tend to make ‘walking an aisle’ the public profession rather than baptism thus robbing the act of baptism of some of its significance.

This connection of baptism with the public profession also helps us to make sense of the texts which could seem to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. Acts 2:38 is an example when Peter calls upon the people to “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Baptists too often see this as a text to explain away. Having successfully argued that it does not mean baptism saves we contentedly move on without addressing what it does actually mean! It is not enough to be sure what a passage does not mean if we have not wrestled what it does then mean. The typical apostolic call is to repent and believe. Baptism here takes the place of ‘believe’ because it is the expected way of professing this faith. If we would reclaim baptism’s place as the profession of faith, I think we would more readily see its significance.

More could be said on each of these points (esp. more exegetical defense of point 4), but this is long enough already. Perhaps there is enough here to stir some conversation. I am very interested in response and conversation on these points and the basic idea in general.