Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Biblical Mandate for Apologetics

Set for the Defense of the Gospel

What is Christian apologetics? A better and more precise question is, “What is a biblical, Christian apologetic?” One does not have to go far in order to find answers to this question. If you enter “apologetics” in Google, you return almost 7 million hits. There seems to be about as many definitions for apologetics as there are Google results. Should Christians engage in apologetics? This is another good question. What does Scripture say about “apologetics?” Finally, if Christians should engage in apologetics, how should they go about it?

 Some would define Christian apologetics as the practice of showing Christianity to be true. Others may define it as defending the truth claims of Christianity against all other opposing truth claims. In answer this question, it is best that we turn to the only source that can help us truly acquire a working knowledge the art and practice Christian apologetics: the Bible.

 First of all the words apologeomai (defend oneself) and apologia (defense) appear 10x and 8x respective in the Greek New Testament. In order to understand the meaning of a word, it is always a best practice to see how it is used throughout Scripture. Once you establish the broad range of meanings for the word, and how it is used, you can then narrow the meaning down to how it is used in the specific passage under study.

The word is first used by Luke as he records the words of Jesus concerning the persecutions and trials that His disciples will be forced to endure. Jesus said, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say (Lu. 12:11).” Then again, Jesus said, “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves” (Lu. 21:14). Here, the use of apologeomai is clearly in the context of a formal trial with formal indictments. In this case Jesus specifically instructed His disciples not to prepare a defense.

The next time we see this word, it is in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. This incident occurred in Ephesus after the merchants created a mob that eventually ended up gathered in the Ephesian theatre. The setting was an impromptu sort of court. The gospel was threatening the livelihood of the idolatrous merchants and the question of what to do about it had to be answered. In the midst of the chaos, after everyone was gathered, Luke writes, “Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.” Here again Luke uses the Greek word apologeomai. Once more the word appears in a setting that involves a formal hearing or legal inquiry. The use of the word so far clearly conveys the idea of putting up a formal defense.

After the events at Ephesus, Paul continues his push to Jerusalem. In Acts 21, he arrives in Jerusalem. The Jews who opposed Paul is Asia saw him in the temple and the crowd seized him. The Roman authorities intervened and Paul was given a chance to stand before the crowd in order to defend himself. Luke writes, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you (Acts 22:1).” Once more, apologia is used in the legal sense of offering a defense against formal charges. The word is used in this same context, with Paul under arrest, in Acts 24:10 in Paul’s defense before Felix, in Acts 25:8 when he appears before Festus, and once more when Festus briefs King Agrippa on the matter in Acts 25:16, then twice in Acts 26:1-2 as Paul appears before Agrippa, and then finally toward the end of his defense before Agrippa in Acts 26:24. Of the 18 times these words occur in the NT, 7 times it appears during Paul’s arrest at Jerusalem. That accounts for nearly 50% of the word’s occurrences in the NT.

We now shift gears from Luke’s usage of the term to Paul’s usage of it. The Corinthian correspondences contain the use of these words three times. In a response to criticism of his ministry and apostleship, Paul said, “My defense to those who examine me is this 1 Cor. 9:3).” It is beyond dispute that Paul was defending himself against contradictory statements about his character, his ministry, and even his authority. The common denominator in each instance for apologetics is the attacking opponent. The attack has been legal and religious up to this point. In this case, it is ecclesiastical. It relates to Paul’s role and function in the Church. In 2 Cor. 7:11, we see a much different use of the word, apologia, in the sense of vindication, having clearly shown one’s innocence or proven one’s character. The response of the Corinthians to Paul’s rebuke vindicates their faith, defends its genuineness. “All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved (2 Cor. 12:19). Once more the word is used in the sense of responding to attacks.

Romans 2:15 is the next pericope we want examine. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. Here apologeomai is used to illustrate the law of God written on the human conscience. Human conscience serves to praise our behavior, judge our behavior, and defend our behavior. Human conscience defends our behavior when that behavior accords with the law of God written on the conscience. The idea of defense against attack remains present In Paul’s writings despite the fact that there is no formal legal or ceremonial court involved.

As we make our way through Paul’s use of this word, we now move a little closer to Luke’s usage. In Phil. 1:7, Paul writes, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” Paul describes his imprisonment in terms of his legal defense he describes as the defense and confirmation of the gospel. I am tempted to chase bebaiosei, the Greek word translated confirmation, but space will not permit it. That word means to confirm, verify, to prove to be true and certain. If you are have an apologetic orientation, you may want to spend some time on the use of this word and it’s meaning to include the two semantic domains in which it either is classed, or has very close connections. Clearly, Paul’s reference here is to his formal legal defense as the connection with his imprisonment demonstrates.

A few verses later, in Phil. 1:16, Paul writes, “the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” The language is straightforward here. Paul sees himself as appointed for the defense of the gospel. What exactly is Paul getting at when he describes this behavior as the “defense” of the gospel? The use of this word appears in the context of proclaiming the gospel. In v. 14, he refers to those who are speaking the word of God without fear, and in verse 15 he mentions some who are preaching Christ. In v. 17, again, Paul uses the phrase “proclaim Christ.” The context makes it obvious that defending the gospel is bound up in proclaiming the gospel. That is to say that preaching the gospel, publishing the gospel, is also defending the gospel. The word literally means, “to speak on behalf of oneself, or others.” Anytime we publish truth, we speak for something and against something else, namely, falsity. To truly preach Christ is to denounce everything opposed or contradictory to Christ.

In 2 Tim. 4:16, Paul is clearly referring to his formal trial. Hence, the word apologia here indicates a defense in the sense of a legal setting. Scholars are not in agreement on which trial this referred to in Paul’s life. That point is irrelevant. The broader historical fact is that the word is used once more to reference a formal legal hearing of some sort.

We finally come to Peter’s use of the word, apologia. We conclude then that the word was used by Luke on 10 occasions, Paul on 7 occasions, and Peter only on one occasion. It is Peter’s use that most apologists point to in order to frame up an argument for apologetics. Peter wrote, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Here, Peter is dealing with Christians who are obviously under a degree of threat. He encourages the believers not to be intimidated by the threats of the unbelieving culture. He then issues the mandate that Christians are to be ready to provide a defense to everyone who demands that we give a reason of hope that is in us. The apologetic thrust of this verse is located, not only in the word apologia, but in conjunction with the term, aitounti. This word, in this context, means to ask with urgency or to demand.

What does this it look like when Christians are actually defending the gospel? Some would argue that it means going around debating the same person about the same issue repeatedly. Others would say that we should spend years debating specific atheists, engaging all the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of objections they can come up with for why they don’t believe the gospel. Some apologists will rudely accuse fellow believers of anti-intellectualism if they ever draw a line in the sand and refuse to be carried away with complex philosophical schemes designed to produce as many roadblocks to Christian faith as there are days in one’s lifetime. Jesus Himself commanded us not to cast our perils before the swine. He told us that if they don’t receive us, that we are to shake the dust off our feet and move on. Paul left off debating the Jews and turned to the Gentiles because they rejected His gospel.

What have we learned? We have learned that Christians absolutely must be prepared in some circumstances to provide a defense to those who demand that we give an account for the hope that is in us. In other circumstances, Christ has told us NOT to prepare because HE will give us the argument. We ought to be able to articulate the gospel when asked to do so. Contrary to what some apologists claim, this is not a command for Christians to go out and spend hundreds of hours studying ungodly philosophy and the intricacies of logic so that they can deal with every conceivable objection to the faith imaginable. The only reasonable defense of the gospel is a reasoned defense from the gospel. I do believe Christians must be better critical thinkers. We have work to do in terms of how we think. God created us to think excellently. He did not intend for us to be slothful in any area of our lives. We should not be physically, mentally, or spiritually lazy. We should apply ourselves to the word and we should at least understand some of the more basic arguments against the truths of Scripture so that we can address them when we encounter them. The next time you think about criticizing those who bother to learn, to know, to understand, think about this: “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing. And fools hate knowledge (Prov. 1:22)?

On the one hand, it is wrong to imply that Christians must be acquainted with every, or even most of the philosophical objections that contradict the Christian worldview. It is simply not possible, not practical, and not biblical to expect people with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities to do this. On the other hand, it is also wrong to simply ignore the need for educating and preparing believers in the art and skill of articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the reason for the hope that is in us. We should be able to articulate it. It is equally unacceptable not to teach believers something about opposing views so that they can intelligently engage in these discussions when they are fulfilling their duty in practical evangelism. This also applies to false versions of Christianity, and any doctrine that contradicts the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Apologetics is actually, practical evangelism. It is not going on the internet and arguing ad nauseam, ad infinitum with atheists and skeptics. These websites and forums are more often about who has the best argument, who has the superior intellect, and who is the most logical than they are about the loving proclamation of the truth. If you don’t believe me, go visit a few and dare to disagree, on even the smallest issue and see what happens. These “apologists” will turn their intellectual guns on you and there will hardly be a charitable response to be found. It is a blight on Christianity that seems beyond the Church’s ability to govern. We are commanded to be ready to give a defense to anyone who demands an account of the hope that is us. Such an account is located in the gospel and how God regenerated our own heart. I will blog about how we are to give this response in my next blog.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).”









Friday, February 22, 2013

Abolish Human Abortion – Biblical Ministry or Radical Moralism

I recently stumbled onto this website and think it is right to say a few things about this coalition and the arguments they make about how Christians should respond to abortion. The site states:

“We seek to instigate discussion centered on whether or not the legally sanctioned system of human abortion-on-demand is just (and we think it is not…), to inspire pro-life individuals to become more assertive and actively involved in the adherence to and expression of a way of life that is truly in favor of life.”

Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) is a coalition, or a movement whose stated purpose is not necessarily to abolish all human abortion, but rather to “instigate,” and to “inspire” pro-life individuals to become more “assertive” and “actively” involved in abolishing abortion. There is no necessary connection between this coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ other than the fact that the Church condemns abortion as murder and so too does AHA. If you visit the site here you will learn more about this coalition movement.

Under the “Who We Are” section of their website, they link their movement with the anti-slavery movement. It is telling that the gospel is not referenced until you scroll down nearly to the end of this page. In fact, just reading the page, I was not sure if this was a Christian website so-called, or a religiously moral website or a politically and socially conservative website. To be honest, I am somewhat thankful that the link with Christianity is less pronounced than it is. I have referenced the aim of this coalition above, and now I want to mention a few remarks from the “Gospel” section of the website and then list the “Five principle tenets of Evangelical Abolitionism.”

This coalition claims to be a gospel centered society. I am not sure what “gospel-centered society” means. Does the AHA coalition claim to be the Church? They claim they are a “gospel driven” movement. The site then says, “We are abolitionists because we have been adopted by God.” There are many people who are abolitionists who have not been adopted by God. And there are some who have been adopted by God who may be abolitionists differently than the AHA’s definition of an abolitionist. I deal with the fallacy of this implication below. The group claims, “Our work has been biblically mandated and sovereignly ordained.” I cannot argue with the latter, but I take serious exception with the former and I also deal with that statement below. The site implies that their anti-abortion activities should be viewed in the vein of being salt and light and in the command of caring for the fatherless and bringing justice to the oppressed. The group makes several other references to social causes before ending its section on the gospel with this familiar proposition, “True social justice begins and ends with the Gospel of God.”
The five principle tenets of Evangelical Abolitionism are:

1. The work of abolition is Biblically Rooted and Theologically Orthodox. (We are theological)
2. Abolition is work of the Body and Bride of Christ; it proceeds out from the Church. (We are a work of the Church)
3. Abolitionism is “Salt and Light”: It is the visible expression of Truth, Love, and Justice in a darkened and depraved culture. (We are evangelical)
4. Abolition is Urgent and Consistent: We reject Incremental Abolition and the gradual regulation of social evils. (We are immediatist)
5. Abolition Relies upon the Providence and Sovereignty God: All we must seek to do is be faithful and follow Him as we leave the results in His hands. (We walk in line with Providence)

If it is true that AHA walks in line with providence, then it follows that all we need to do is examine if their method for objecting to and denouncing abortion can rightly be understood to follow from a historical-grammatical exegesis of Scripture. Given that these are the five principle tenets, I will examine the arguments in search of exegetical support for their propositions.
Here are the two theological propositions that I presume supports the five propositions (conclusions?) aka the five principle tenets.

(1)    Human beings are created in the image of God and created to reflect that image.

(2)    The Creator himself became a man in order to rescue mankind from self-destruction, death, and eternal separation from his Maker, himself, and his own kind.
First of all, the only society in Christianity is the Church. A society is not a movement and a movement is not a society. A society is a culture, a people. There are people who could be involved in AHA who are not even in the body of Christ and I would consider this a high probability given the size of the movement.

Second, the movement claims to be AHA because they have been adopted by God. Does this mean that anyone who is not AHA is also not adopted by God? If it is possible for someone to be adopted by God and not be a member of AHA, or share their views, then the cause of AHA is not adoption by God, it must be something else. I am adopted by God and I am not a member of the AHA, nor would I consider membership in the movement.
Third, the group claims to be “biblically mandated and sovereignly ordained.” Well, for starters, everything that is, is sovereignly ordained. We can toss that one out. However, the claim that AHA is biblically mandated is a very disturbing claim. This infers that the coalition is a requirement of Scripture. Moreover, this means that participation is not an option. If it is a biblical mandate to be AHA, then it is a sin not to be AHA. This practice would fall well within the realm of legalism. There is no exegetical warrant for the existence of AHA. In addition, I searched the website and could find no guiding authority for the movement’s existence. It appears that someone with a passion to denounce and end abortion went out and just started this movement. Where are the Church, the pastor, and the elders responsible for AHA? Where is their statement of faith? I would like to know what else they believe about eliminating social evils. After all, I am kind of fond of country music. AHA might think that country music contributes to abortion and, therefore it should be eliminated.

The movement claims that the work of abolition is biblically rooted and theologically orthodox. This depends on what that work entails. Some Christians believe the best way to counter abortion is to preach the gospel, all of it; To engage in evangelism and to be a light by living out the values of the Christian life before the unbelieving community. Does one have to carry a sign in front of an abortion clinic to be a Christian against abortion? I hope not, because I have never done that and it is very unlikely that I ever will. Does this mean I don’t care about abortion? No more than my choice not to carry a sign in front of pornography shops and strip clubs means that I don’t care about those issues. I have not written the first letter regarding human trafficking or the sex trade that goes on here in our own country. Does that mean I don’t care about it? It does not. To argue along these lines is fallacious because it assumes that there is only one way to show that you care about an issue. That is just silly.
Next, the movement claims that this is the work of the body of Christ. I could not disagree more. The work of the body of Christ is located in the great commission. The Church is commanded by her One Lord and Master to preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize converts, and let her light shine before the world. This does not require participation in AHA. To imply that it does is overt legalism. AHA takes a text, applies a faulty interpretation of that text, and then creates a command from that faulty interpretation. The religious Jews of Christ’s day did the very same thing. We must be very careful about imposing our personal convictions around how we to respond to moral evil on others.

The coalition claims to be salt and light. Is this what Jesus meant when He said you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world? We turn to Matthew for this answer. Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The command to let our light shine comes within the immediate context of keeping the commandments. In other words, the good works referenced by Christ do not emphasize social works. They mean living out the Christian ethic before the world. Peter says as much when he quotes Christ, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:9-12

 Notice that Peter was speaking to the Church in the very same context of Christ’s command. He is pointing out the role of the Church before a world in which it exists as strangers and pilgrims. He clearly connects good deeds with avoiding lusts which war against the soul. If we expand Peter’s context we discover that he is very concerned with holy conduct. Hence, the light and salt argument that AHA puts forth is based on a misunderstanding of Christ’s command. While it may extend to caring for widows and orphans because this is indeed Christian love, it is entirely unrelated to the cause of exterminating social evils such as abortion.

 AHA claims that it is both urgent and consistent. The implication is that if a person believes that abortion may be moral in cases where the wife of the mother is in danger, then they are being inconsistent. This is a very complex issue and beyond the scope of this blog. However, if one could begin with the elimination of 95% of abortions now and move to eliminate the rest later, does this indicate that such a person is inconsistent. Of course not. Let me think about this for a second. I could save 950,000 babies this year and move closer to saving the remaining 50,000 per year in a year or two, but I won’t because that is being inconsistent. I think that a very bad way to look at it.

 Human abortion is a very wicked social evil. There is no question about it. It is the law we live with in America. Is it going away? I don’t think it is. What should the Church do? The Church should preach the gospel, condemning abortion along the way without getting distracted by it. The gospel is not “abortion is murder, Jesus died for sinners, place your faith in Christ.” That is not the gospel. More than ever, the Church must distance itself from even the appearance of being a political movement. We are not a wing of the conservative party. We are the Church of Jesus Christ. We are not called to end social evils! Let me say that again: The Church of Jesus Christ is not called to put an end to social evils. We are not called to end abortion. We are not called to end poverty. We are not called to end human trafficking. We are not called to end adultery. That is NOT the calling of the Christian community. We are called to make disciples! We are called to preach the word! We are called to live holy and to let the word see that holiness because it is the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We may or may not influence the culture through our sanctified preaching and our sanctified living. That is God’s business. The work of the kingdom is spiritual, supernatural, not social, not temporal. It is only in the sense that we make disciples that we are called to end social evil. It is a by-product of disciple-making.

The only way to truly end social ills is through a changed heart, a regenerated mind. That comes from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every work, and every ministry should ultimately be the ministry of the local church, under the supervision and direction of the pastor and his elders. The Church cannot afford all these distractions. We have serious work to do that has eternal consequences. It is clear, not from the condition of the world, but from the condition of the Church that there is more than enough work to go around. We must get busy equipping ourselves to serve the body, proclaim and defend the truth, and be what God has called us to be.

Monday, February 18, 2013

James White vs Mike Brown on Predestination: What I Learned

The Contest
I was finally able to make it to a James White debate. I have followed Dr. White’s ministry for many years now. His ministry has been a tremendous blessing to me. Dr. White is one of the few smart guys out there who has not succumb to intellectual idolatry. He is a proficient and punctilious communicator. I enjoy Dr. White’s “matter-of-fact” style as much as I enjoy his arguments, almost. Besides his passionate expression for truth, it is one of his most endearing qualities. I admit I had some knowledge of his counterpart, Michael Brown, but apparently, not enough. For instance, I had no idea that this Mike Brown was the same Mike Brown who was the apologist for the “laughing revival,” aka “the Toronto blessing.” The Toronto Blessing was an aberrant heretical movement of radical charismatics caught up in an emotional frenzy that served to embarrass our Lord Jesus Christ and bring an affliction of reproach on the Church that few other spiritual plagues have. I will come back to this issue later, because, in my mind, it is the most significant point of the debate.

The Content
How did the debate go? It was a debate between a Charismatic, closet Arminian and one of the most skilled elocutionists of reformed theology in contemporary times. From my perspective, Michael Brown committed several fallacies (ad Misericordiam, The Red Herring, The Straw Man, etc.) throughout the debate. He quoted a lot of Scripture and I do mean a lot. I had my iPad Logos with me and there was still simply no way to keep up. In fact, his use of Scripture was highly inappropriate, given that he was in a debate, rather than preaching a Sunday morning sermon, which is actually what his presentation sounded like. Michael Brown began with the Americanized God, the soft gentle loving Father and then used one emotive example after another to make his case. And because he had several students from his “ministry of fire” school present, this approach resonated with many in the crowd. The gist of Brown’s argument was the same old “God’s predestination is essentially based on his foreknowledge” argument. Still, Brown refused to admit even the most reasonable truths. For example, Brown admitted that God knows everyone who will be saved. But when asked if the number was fixed, he said it was not. After I wiped up the liquid that squirted from me head due to the near explosion of my brain, I continued to listen intently to make sure I heard him right. I thought for certain I would end up in Rational Regional Emergency Room due to an over exposure of informal fallacies.

Brown, as so many non-reformed theologians do, made the “rape” argument that is so common in discussions on predestination. Are bad things ordained by God? For example, Brown asserted that God does not predetermine the rape of a woman. His God would never do such a thing. God does not ordain evil. However, one does not have to search Scripture long at all before they realize that Brown’s argument falls flat. When we are asked if God causes calamity, how should we answer?

Isa. 45:6 says God is the one who causes well-being and creates calamity! Isa. 14:24, 27 tells us that God does what He has planned to do. Eph. 1:11 says that God is working everything according to the good pleasure of His own plan. Romans 8:28 says that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him. What Isaiah is telling us is that God has planned everything that will happen and no one can stop God’s plan from actualization. Everything that happens was planned and God planned everything that happens. This would include every good thing and every evil thing. While God’s role in those things is not the same, nevertheless, ultimately God is bringing everything to past that comes to past.

The idea that Brown implied, perhaps unwittingly, is that humans are innocent. We do not deserve it when tragedy strikes. We are unfortunate, innocent victims who deserve good things to happen to us. God only wants good things to happen to us. That is the kind of God we serve. As Brown said, this is how God put it together. I am still trying to figure out exactly what that means. Let me be clear: human beings do not deserve a single solitary good thing from the hand of God. Moreover, whatever evil befalls us in this life, whatever tragedy we experience, because of our wicked heart and our rebellion against God, we deserve it. Brown reveals a faulty understanding of God, holiness, man and sin as is usually the case with Arminian proponents. His theology exalts man as opposed to God. It is staunchly Arminian. Moreover, Brown denies the doctrine of eternal security. This has always been regarded as heretical. But for some reason, Brown gets a pass. Why? That is a good question.

Brown posed the question of little babies being predestined to hell implying that reformed theology gives them not even the slightest chance to repent. First of all, not only is Brown committing the ad misericordiam fallacy (appeal to pity), he is also using the straw man argument. Brown knows he is pulling on the heartstrings of the audience with his implication. Second, he should know better than to infer this is what predestination teaches. First and foremost, God does not see the baby as a baby, as we do. God can see the entire sum of that child’s life from beginning to end. Second, that child is born straight away with a sinful nature. Suppose the child we are talking about is the one born on April 20, 1889 at Solzburger Vorstadt, Austria-Hungary. Looking at this child as a child, humans see an innocent little baby deserving nothing but love and care and kindness. What we cannot see is the lad whose name is Adolf Hitler, one of the most vicious human beings to ever dwell among humans. Before He was born, God knew every evil act that Adolf would commit throughout the entirety of his life. Brown’s argues that God would never predetermine such a thing because this would impugn his nature. My response is that Brown’s God is no better. In fact, he could be worse. After all, Brown’s God could have stopped Hitler. He is powerful enough and smart enough to stop any human from committing any evil. But He did not. God could have stopped the young woman from being raped and murdered, but He did not. Was it because God could not, or because God would not? In the former case, God is not all-powerful after all. In the latter case, He is capricious. Sometimes He steps in; sometimes He does not. In this situation, purposeless evil exists. This means there are some things that God did not plan and they happen despite the fact that God didn’t plan them. Such a concept is totally foreign to Scripture.

Brown also believes that all men are now enabled to repent. However, if the gospel is required for repentance, in what sense does Brown mean that men can repent. Paul writes to Timothy about men, in general, who fit a certain description, specifically, those who oppose the truth, and he tells Timothy how to deal with such men informing Him that God may grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). In other words, repentance is a gift of God granted only to those who subsequently exercise it to repent. The gift of repentance has not been granted to all men; otherwise, all men would have repented. Brown’s argument here made no sense to me.

The Consequences
So what good can come from it? What did it accomplish? God only knows the answer to this question. Does this mean that we should not debate these subjects? I don’t think it means that at all. However, I am cautious about the idea of continuous debate with people who have refused to repent of heretical views. I am not necessarily implying that Brown holds heretical views. He may or he may not. I may or I may not think so. I am merely posing a question. How many times are we going to debate for example, men like Bart Erhman, before we decide that it is time to stop casting our pearl before the swine? Is it proper to continually engage the same people over and over and over on the same subject time and time again? I don’t know that I can answer that question at this point. However, it is a question that I am evaluating at the present time. I think Christians must evaluate every practice in order to ensure we are faithfully living out the ethics of Jesus Christ as expressed and revealed in Scripture. Christ is the very expression of God, and if we love God, we will seek to live in the world as He lived in the world.

Mike Brown is a staunch Charismatic that served as the main apologist for the Brownsville revival, which involved the very same bizarre behaviors witnessed in the laughing revival and the Toronto blessing. I read a report that Brown asserted (several years ago) that resurrections were taking place as a result of this revival around the world. He believes in speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, etc., just like any other charismatic does. While he may not deny the Trinity, he is not far from T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen, or the likes of Benny Hinn. Yes, it might be true that he has done some good work on homosexuality. There are secular men who have done good work in this area as well. There are Roman Catholics who have done all kinds of good work on moral issues all over the world. This is not a good reason to embrace a man who holds to a view of God and a hermeneutic that very often leads to very serious error. In my opinion, it does not help our cause to bring men like Mike Brown into the circle of conservative reformed circles all the while dismissing his serious error. Not every doctrine is an essential doctrine I know. But if you can believe in extra-biblical revelation and if you can stand up and give a word from God, as if you are a prophet of God, and you can think that is genuinely God speaking, to me, that is a bit more than just a little disturbing. If Dr. White is going to debate men like Mike Brown, I would prefer that it would have more to do with their more serious error than on the subject of predestination. This is not to downplay the significance of predestination. Rather, I think it is important we recognize that any theology that allows for extra-biblical revelation and a radically subjective hermeneutic (the kinds we see in Pentecostal theology) is a system that requires serious distinction, not open armed acceptance. It could be that Mike Brown as repented of his support for the Brownsville revival and I just could not find the record. However, his current involvement with the Charismatic sect would argue against it.

I learned that people came with a made up mind mostly. I know that I did. I was there to hear Dr. James White. I would have preferred a lecture or a sermon on any subject to a debate. Perhaps someone will strike out on a search for truth as a result of this discussion. I know that is possible. It took me years to leave Pentecostal theology behind and then Arminian theology, and then, traditional apologetics. James White said some things that helped move me more firmly in the area of apologetics. John MacArthur has been the single greatest influence in shaping my theology and beliefs. However, I didn’t just run out and change my thinking overnight. It took years. In fact, the transformation continues to this present day. I wonder what God is doing in me today and how I will see things two, three, four years from now. I cannot say exactly, but I can say that I know He who has begun a good work in me is able to keep me and complete it unto that day!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How Parachurch Ministries Go Off the Rails

As a huge fan of 9 Marks, I visit their site often. Recently I came across this article that adds some excellent perspective on the parachurch concept. While I am not in agreement with Trueman on every point, I do think the overall thrust of his argument comports with Scripture. Enjoy!
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, goes the old saying. And, in the evangelical world, one might add that it’s paved with parachurch organizations which started well and then, at some point, went disastrously off the rails. Why is this the case?

The first point to make, of course, is that the parachurch has no monopoly on theological decline and fall. Church history is littered with examples of churches which were once vibrant and faithful becoming defunct or virtually devoid of anything that might be deemed biblical or Christian. Apostasy and deviance are functions of fallen human nature, and there is no structure or institution which is therefore immune to them.

The second point to make is that, while parachurch organizations are not prescribed in Scripture, they are not therefore unbiblical in the sense of being essentially wrong. I work for a parachurch organization, a Presbyterian seminary that is not aligned to any denomination and does not report to any formal court of the church, and I do not consider myself to be sinning by so doing. I also write for parachurch publishers and (very occasionally) speak at parachurch events. I do not consider myself to be rebelling against God’s Word when I do such things.
Having started with these two qualifications, however, I do believe that parachurch organizations generally suffer from two particular flaws which render them inherently unstable: they are coalition movements, and they typically lack proper structures of accountability.

Parachurch Organizations Are Coalition Movements
Coalition movements almost by definition sideline the issues that divide their members in order to find common ground on what unite their members. Thus, in evangelical circles one often finds parachurch groups that, say, agree on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the need for the new birth. Other matters—the sacraments, the nature of church government, and even, in some cases, issues of predestination and perseverance—are set to one side as not germane to the central task of the organization.

This sidelining in itself is not problematic, provided one major point is kept in mind: the parachurch is not the church. It does not do what the church does, and it should not supplant the church in the minds and lives of those involved in its work. In other words, a self-conscious and strict circumscription of the parachurch is important. The parachurch exists purely and solely to serve the church in a subordinate and comparatively insignificant way. This is perhaps not such a danger when it comes to publishing houses and seminaries, but it is an ever-present danger for groups that offer services which come close to churchly functions, such as preaching services and the like.
Thus, I find it very disturbing when church leaders start to be known more as leaders of a particular parachurch group than as leaders in their churches. This serves to create a confusing image in the mind of the Christian public, whereby the boundary between church and parachurch is eroded, or, worse still, the parachurch is regarded as the place where the real action and excitement take place. This in turn consigns the church to an apparently less important role, and serves to relegate to the level of secondary or even tertiary importance the doctrinal elaboration and distinctives for which individual churches and denominations stand. The Christian public comes to regard these ecclesial distinctives as hindrances to the real work of the gospel—real work that, by inference, is done by the parachurch better than the church.

Just as concerning, however, is the unstable doctrinal matrix that exists when a solid churchly heritage—doctrinal and ecclesiological—is removed from the picture. To take the first point, when certain doctrines are sidelined, problems are never far behind. Baptism is one example: the fact that Christians honestly disagree on this issue should not stop us enjoying fellowship and engaging in co-belligerence across the party lines; but neither should it lead us to believe that the issue is of minor importance. Anyone who thinks that baptism is a matter of indifference is simply not taking the Bible’s teaching seriously. Further, as soon as something like baptism is treated in this way, then all the doctrines which connect to it are displaced and somewhat weakened. Of course, the problem is only exacerbated when it’s an issue such as election or atonement which is pushed to the side.
Thus, one reason that parachurch ministries go off the rails is the culture such groups create, whereby a non-church body effectively decides which bits of the historic confessions are really important and which can be set to one side. As I noted above, such setting to one side may not be important depending on the organization’s mission, as with an organization focused on producing pro-life material. But when the organization focuses on preaching and teaching more broadly, there is an obvious and inherent weakness. This is one of the reasons why my own institution, parachurch as it is, requires all faculty to subscribe to a church document (the Westminster Standards), and to be office-bearers in a confessional Presbyterian or Reformed denomination. Neither the institution’s board, administration, or faculty has decided to parse out which bits of our ecclesiastical confession are important; we subscribe to the whole. It is not a perfect system, but it is better than most.

Parachurch Organizations Rarely if Ever Have Proper Structures of Accountability
The second reason parachurch groups go awry is that they rarely if ever have proper structures of accountability. The New Testament makes it clear that the appointed custodians of the faith are the elders, men specially selected because of their qualities of character, ability, and reputation, who have a special duty to safeguard the faith and practice of the church. Parachurch groups have no such biblically sanctioned structure, and many of them have not thought carefully about the framework of accountability needed to remain orthodox. Further, they tend to be run by the self-appointed, or by people with money, or by those with a can-do attitude.

Again, this is one of the reasons why my own institution has sought to be as close to the church as possible in its confession, in its faculty, and in its governance structure. But Westminster Seminary is the exception rather than the rule. Many broad evangelical coalition parachurch groups think they exist to serve the church, yet they have little resemblance in confession or structure to the church. And more often than not they come to have a higher profile for many individuals—both their leaders and their foot soldiers—than the church. That is a recipe for disaster, and is why, at least in part, the orthodoxy of so many is superficial and short-lived.

I noted above how disturbed I am that some church leaders seem to prioritize the parachurch groups to which they belong over their churches. No pastor or elder should ever neglect churchly duties for such. Yes, of course, I appreciate the laudable desire to engage with other Christians and to give visible shape to the unity believers have in Christ. But too often we forget that such ecumenism is the task of the church, not the task of individuals or of parachurch organizations.

To conclude, I am happy to work at a parachurch seminary, but I rejoice that my institution strives to be as ecclesiastically responsible in doctrine and structure as it can. Further, I am happy to write books and articles for parachurch organizations committed to disseminating good Christian literature. Thankfully, there is little chance of either type of parachurch organization being mistaken for the church. But I am profoundly hesitant about being closely associated with parachurch groups that wittingly or unwittingly might supplant the church or become more important than the church in the eyes of many. Once a group starts offering contexts for preaching and worship, we have a potential problem; and such outfits are, in the long run, more than likely headed for disaster.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Church-Centered Ministry

To say that American sentiment has influenced and shaped Christian ministry in the twenty-first century would be an understatement. Americans are busy pursuing their dreams, becoming all they can be, and finding their niche. The American idea of independence and the pursuit of personal happiness have illegitimately transferred into the Christian community. Many Christians are encouraged to go find what God has “called you to do” and just do it. As a result, the Church experiences numerous individuals who are self-appointed servants, serving in isolation from the Church so to speak. They are Jesus “entrepreneurs.” The number of people in the Christian community who have gone off untrained and self-appointed for this ministry or that ministry is, quite frankly, staggering. Like it or not, the Christian community must gain control of the situation and establish a process to identify gifted individuals and then build upon that a disciplined system where accountability and discipleship can serve those individuals better by providing them with the kind of structure, guidance, instruction, oversight, and accountability they so desperately need.

Every Church ministry must be borne from the Christian community, that is, from the Church herself. Moreover, since no one stands apart from the leadership of the Church, servants of ministries must be identified and recognized by church leadership. In addition, not only are servants to be selected by the leadership, but ministries must be identified by this same body. Leadership then will recognize talented and gifted individuals along with specific needs of the body and bring these together (needs and servants) in order to accomplish a particular purpose. No genuine ministry of the Church ought to arise outside of the direct involvement and oversight of the Church’s spiritual leaders, that is to say, her pastor, and elders. In addition, those servants and ministries that are acknowledged and installed by the Church must submit wholly to the Church as unto the Lord. This submission is a continuous process designed to ensure protection against error and immorality. The danger for arrogance, pride, and an over-zealous disposition seem to be very common proclivities for those men called into leadership. Hence, spiritual leaders need to help one another with these wicked temptations for the sake of their own spiritual well-being, and especially for the sake of the Body over which they will give an account.

One of the highest qualities among servant-leaders is humility. These leaders fully understand and recognize the need for authority. They completely acknowledge the congruent relationship between order and authority. God leads His Church is an orderly fashion. That order has a clear structure according to Scripture. While it may appear that some ministers arose in the NT without formal appointment by God, such a conclusion is based on hasty assumptions. The lack of a recorded process does not indicate a process did not exist. Secondly, the NT Church sprang into existence as an infant, as it was and not a mature organism. Failure to take this into consideration can result in tragic and even egregious error.

Everywhere we turn in the human experience, we see order, structure, and authority. I work for a very large financial firm. We have policies and procedures in place for very specific reasons guiding us in nearly everything we do. While these systems allow for creativity and art and a degree of flexibility, they do not foster wholesale autonomy. Imagine if every employee were permitted to come to work and simply do as they please. I could go to work and instead of completing my work, I could just switch roles and do something else. I may or may not inform my director of my new activities. I used to be in the military. Imagine going into battle, each soldier doing as he pleases. You could end up with 999 soldiers hanging back in artillery and 1 charging the field. That would be utter chaos. If there is anything we know about God, we know He is a God of order.

We see the following offices in the church: Pastor/elder, teacher, apostle, evangelist, prophet, and deacon. In addition to this, we see the additional gifts: giving, leading, mercy. While these latter gifts are separate from the roles previously mentioned, I am sympathetic to the idea that they can fold up into the roles mentioned.

The purpose of these offices and roles is very clear: the edification of the body of Christ. These gifts and offices are installed by God into His Church in an orderly fashion so that the body would grow in the knowledge, grace, and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gifts do not exist to make us feel useful. They do not exist to give us something to do. They do not exist so that we can store up rewards for ourselves in heaven. The gifts we have are for the blessing of others. It is in that blessing that we are blessed.
However, we treat our gifts and talents in the Church like a secular American treats their career. The typical American decides that he or she will set their hand to make a difference and off they go, to do whatever their heart desires. All this is not to say that you should not apply yourself to your vocation as the calling of God. Indeed you should. However, unlike secular leadership, Christian leadership is a dangerous endeavor. In the first place it requires we touch Scripture at a very intimate level and that increases the our own potential hazard. Secondly, when you err as a leader, you take others with you for whom you shall give an account. God help us never to influence someone into error. Few things are as spiritually dangerous as leading others into error.

For these reasons, ministries and those involved in them must be guided and directed by a plurality of Church leaders, pastors, and elders. There is safety in this approach. One man may be in err, but three reduces that risk and five or ten even more so. This does not guarantee against error, but it certainly helps to mitigate the risk. Moreover, I am not suggesting the model for pragmatic reasons. I am suggesting it because it is the model that God has ordained and placed in the body. That we can clearly see its benefits does not infer pragmatism.

If you think you are called to a ministry and God is stirring your heart, convicting you in a certain way, go talk to your pastor or elder. There is a system in place to protect you and the church as well as to support you and provide you with the kind of training every leader needs to carry out the most important work in their life: their divine calling to serve.



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Richard Dawkins on The God Delusion

“Omnipotence and Omniscience”

 “Omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent.” –Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

In order to evaluate the validity of Dawkins’ argument, let’s put it in the form of a syllogism.

If God is omniscient, He knows everything that will happen
If God is omnipotent, he has the power to change the course of history
God’s omniscience means He cannot change the course of history if He already knows that history
Therefore, omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible

In order for an argument to be valid, the conclusion must follow deductively from the premises. In this case, Dawkins would appear to have a valid argument. However, just because an argument is valid, that does not mean its conclusion is true. It simply means the argument has good form. What has to hold in order for an argument to be valid and have a true conclusion is that the premises must be true and the conclusion must deductively follow from those premises. Here is an example of a valid argument with a false conclusion:

All humans have two eyes
Bill only has one eye
Therefore Bill is not human

The form of this argument is good. The conclusion logically follows from the premises. However, we know that the conclusion is false. Why? What is wrong with this argument? The problem is located in the first premise. It is not true that all humans have two eyes. Some humans lose an eye while others may be born with only one eye. This fact does not make one non-human.

Here is an example of an invalid argument with a false conclusion:
All humans have two eyes
Bill has two legs
Therefore Bill is not human

This argument has a problem in that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Here is an example of an invalid argument with a true conclusion:
All humans have brains
Bill has two eyes
Therefore Bill is a human

Now, let’s return to Dawkins argument to see if his conclusion is true or false. Does God know all that will happen? Yes He does. This is attested time and again in Scripture. There is nothing hidden from God. Dawkins’ first premise is true. What can we say about the second premise? Can God change the course of history? At first glance, we may be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But before we do, we must first examine what we mean by history. We understand history to mean all phenomenon throughout the course of human existence from the beginning to the end. Can God change the course or path of human history? If it is true that nothing happens that God did not decree, and it is true that God is unchanging, then it follows that God cannot change the course of human history because unless God had decreed it, it would not exist in the first place.

All of human history is the result of the decretive act of God
God’s decretive acts cannot undergo change
Therefore, God cannot change the course of human history

This argument is not only valid, its conclusion happens to be true as well. In fact, the conclusion is necessarily true because 1) it follows from the premises, and 2) both premises are true. When the conclusion of an argument deductively follows from true premises, that conclusion is necessarily true.

Dawkins makes a category error in how he understands omniscience and human history. In addition, omnipotence does not mean God can do anything. For example, God cannot lie. God cannot sin. God cannot tempt others to sin. God cannot stop being God. Omnipotence means that God is powerful enough to do whatever God is pleased to do. "All-powerful" means there is nothing God cannot do if He indeed wants to do it. The reason God cannot do certain things is that God cannot do anything with which He is not pleased. In other words, God cannot act in a way that is contrary to His holy nature. It would be a violation of God’s nature for God to decree one thing and then do another. Therefore, God cannot change the course of human history because He has previously decreed that such a course be actualized before time began. The truth is that if God were not omnipotent, He would not be able to guarantee that what He decrees will actualize because something could take place beyond his power or ability to bring it to pass. Moreover, if God were not omniscient, He would not know what to decree, let alone how to bring it to pass. One would expect a man like Richard Dawkins to be able to construct better arguments. It is at times shocking to observe how sinful men employ the use of logic and reason in such unethical manners in order to suppress the knowledge of God in nature, and in human conscience.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Common Grace

by Cornelius Van Til

In a number of class syllabi, I worked out the Reformed, in contradistinction from the Romanist and the Arminian, method of apologetics.

Continuing on, I wrote a little book calculated to show that if we are to have a truly biblical method of apologetics we must, with Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck, believe in common grace and in a general offer of the gospel to all men.

But we must have a biblically balanced view of common grace. We must not impose a non-Christian type of logical reasoning upon the revelation of God in Scripture. We must not, from the biblical teaching with respect to election, deduce the idea that God cannot have, at any time in history, any attitude of favor to man as man. On the other hand, we must not, from the biblical teaching with respect to the "free offer of the gospel," deduce the idea that there can be no election.

Are we then to say that what Scripture teaches with regard to God’s comprehensive control of all things, including the eternal destiny of man, and what Scripture teaches about man’s freedom and responsibility, is contradictory?

If so, shall we then follow Karl Barth in saying that contradictions in Scripture do not matter in the least because what the gospel is really all about takes place in a realm "above" ordinary history? Or shall we with Gordon Clark say that the "contradiction" that we think we see is no real contradiction at all?

We cannot follow any of these ways. The trouble with all of them is that they do not ask men to subject their every thought, even their method of thinking, to the revelation of God through Christ in Scripture. We must start with the self-attesting Christ of Scripture. We must start with what is presented to us in Scripture with respect to the whole course of God’s dealings with man. We must simply take the biblical story about the whole course of history from its beginning to its end. If we do this we may with all freedom speak of the biblical system of truth. For the biblical system of truth is a different kind of system than is the system of truth of would-be autonomous or self-sufficient man.

This point is of basic importance. It has shown itself to be such with ever increasing clarity through the years. Man thinks God’s thoughts after Him. That is to say, his thought is to be reinterpretative of God’s original thought. As a being made in the image of God, man is like God but he is also unlike God. His being is therefore analogical being and his thinking is, properly conceived, analogical thinking.

The Roman Catholics also speak of analogical knowledge. But their notion of analogy is the exact opposite from that of the Reformed notion of analogy. The Roman Catholic notion of analogy is based on Aristotle’s philosophy of the analogical nature of being as such. And this makes all the world of difference. Aristotle’s notion of the analogy of being assumes that man is not a creature of God nor a sinner against God. The argument between the Reformed and the Aristotelian positions is an argument about the very possibility of human thinking and speaking.

The Romanist and the Arminian do not see this mutually exclusive nature of analogy, and the mutually exclusive nature of what should be meant by a biblical system of truth. Accordingly, Romanism and Arminianism try to show that Christianity can meet the requirements of the natural man with respect to logic and fact. The Romanist and the Arminian insist that fallen man’s idea of a system of truth is not wrong. The only thing that is wrong with fallen man is that he cannot live up to his own requirement with respect to what a system of truth should be, that is, a frank reinterpretation of the teachings of Scripture in the interest of a deeper understanding of the revelation of God present in every fact of the universe.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Membership Is Submission

One of the most ignored and unappreciated doctrines of modern American Christianity is Church Membership. The NT Church knew of no other kind of Christian than those who were committed to biblical submission to the Body of Christ and to the leadership of the local assembly. Hence, the idea of regular attender versus member is entirely without precedent in Scripture. I have reproduced John MacArthur's article on the subject. Enjoy!
Monday, January 21, 2013
by John MacArthur

As a pastor, I know I will have to give an account for the people under my leadership (Hebrews 13:17). Every pastor faces the same burden for the men and women under his care. But what good is a shepherd if the sheep won’t submit to his authority? In an age of unprecedented ecclesiastical consumerism, how can a pastor lead, serve, or even know an inconsistent, fluctuating flock?
Active involvement in and submission to a local church body is crucial if we’re going to live up to God’s plan and pattern for the church. As we’ve already seen, the idea of Christians floating free between multiple congregations and never committing to one church body is completely foreign to the New Testament. That kind of untethered independence cuts you off from the authority the Lord established through His church.

Just what that authority looks like is the cause of much controversy in the church today. Some pastors exercise illegitimate authority over their churches, with a level of involvement in their members’ lives that borders on abusive or dictatorial. It’s not the pastor’s role to tell his people where they should live, where they should work, whom they should marry, or exert that kind of control in other areas of their lives.

The only biblical authority a pastor has comes from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit working through his teaching in the lives of his flock. In effect, he’s not a source of authority himself, but a vessel of it from the Lord to His people. That’s the authority God’s people need to submit to—the work of the Spirit through the faithful, consistent teaching of God’s Word.
And how should believers respond to that kind of authority? That’s the question the writer of Hebrews was addressing in 13:17. “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

It’s a tremendous grief to try to shepherd a rebellious flock. Watching over the people of God is no easy task to begin with. We’re called to train, disciple, support, and serve you. We’re called to guard your purity, and to lend insight and exercise oversight with you. We’re also called to exhort, warn, admonish, reprove, rebuke, and discipline in the application of God’s Word in your lives—all for the sake of your spiritual growth.

That’s hard enough with believers who are eager and engaged in the process. It’s virtually impossible with people who won’t be faithful to the flock and who want nothing to do with your leadership.
If you have a faithful pastor or church leader who exemplifies the qualities of a shepherd, let him know how much you appreciate his labor on your behalf (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12). It will be a great encouragement to him to know he’s making a spiritual difference in your life.

And if you’re a believer who rejects the biblical authority of the local church and won’t submit to your pastor or church leaders, you need to do a careful, thorough examination of your heart. What’s behind your rebellious spirit? What sin are you harboring that’s keeping you from submitting to godly authority? Are you sure you’re truly saved at all?

The authority of the church isn’t harsh, personal, or oppressive. It’s parental, building you up and working for your benefit (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12). Don’t be foolish enough to reject that kind of biblical influence and authority in your life. Seek it out and submit to it in church membership.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Infant Baptism, Logic, and Exegesis

Paul Manata made the following statement regarding the soundness of the argument for believer’s baptist: Both argue from silence, but the Paedo argument is valid and the Baptist argument is fallacious. The determining factor is burden of proof, which is established by precedence.

The referents for the word “both” are infant baptism, and believer’s baptism. Manata’s contention is that both positions utilize an argument from silence in their attempt to establish the validity of their dogma. In analyzing Manata’s claims, a couple of issues are apparent. Frist, I am not convinced that either camp would agree with Manata’s contention that both employ an argument from silence. Second, the contention that the determining factor is the burden of proof and that the burden of proof is established by precedence is a loaded statement. It frames up the argument in a way that favors Manata’s position from the outset and hence, it should be challenged. Finally, is it really the case that arguments from silence have, as a determining factor, the burden of proof any more than any other argument has the burden of proof? The Implication of this statement is that the burden of proof applies specifically or especially to argumentum a silentio. I reject this implication because I am firmly convinced that in theology, and in matters of truth, every argument has, at its foundation, the burden of proof. In fact, I am convinced that all arguments are inherently obligated to prove their claims. Now, Manata may respond that it isn’t an argument he is addressing, rather, he is dealing with a truth claim.  However, within every claim of truth there is the process by which one arrives at his conclusion and along the way, there are arguments and counter-arguments. The entire enterprise of truth comes with this burden of proof. Every truth claim has competitors and hence, it must prove itself to be, well, true.

An argumentum a silentio is an argument that involves a conclusion that is based on a lack of evidence. In order to assess if Baptists actually employ an argument from silence, one must examine their evidence, or as Manata would say, their lack of evidence. Is the thrust of the Baptist argument for believer’s baptism based on the absence of any references in the NT Text, either commanding or documenting infant baptism? While Baptist theology does point to the fact that there are no imperatives or incidents of infant baptism recorded in the NT, it does not follow that this is ipso facto an argument from silence. It is not as though the entire argument against infant baptism rests on the absence of NT documentation for the practice. There are other factors and pieces of evidence that Baptists put forth.

Manata’s technique for shifting the burden of proof to the Baptists places Paedobaptists on the offensive and Baptists on the defensive side of the argument. This is a strategy I employ when I engage skeptics of Christianity. After all, it is much easier to play offense than defense. For instance, for health and fitness purposes, I study martial arts. I study two styles of Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. What is true in debate is true on the mat. When someone is on the attack, if the opponent does nothing but defend, sooner or later, they will be submitted or at the very least, be out-pointed. But if part of your defense is to attack, this forces the aggressor to defend, and this interrupts their strategy. The same is true in theological discussions. Manata wants to place the Baptist on defense and contend that they have to prove their argument while paedobatpists already have precedence on their side and are therefore in a superior position. Manata knows it is not quite that simple.

As I stated above, the burden of proof is on any argument making truth-claims. No argument is free from the burden of proof. It follows then, that both Baptists and Paedobaptists equally incur the burden of proof for their respective doctrines. The Baptists assert that baptism is reserved for those who come to faith in Christ. The Baptists have the burden of proving that baptism is reserved for those who have confessed faith in Christ. What Manata must show is that NT Scripture does not limit baptism to those who have come to faith in Christ, as the Baptists contend. On the other hand, the Paedobaptists assert that covenant infants are included in the covenant and hence, they must be baptized as part of the sign of the covenant. Paedobaptists have the burden of proving that baptism is the sign of the new covenant and that faith is irrelevant to the sacrament of baptism, at least, the current faith of the object of baptism. Moreover, Paedobaptists must also prove that there is a literal promise to Christian parents that their infants are included in the covenant and their salvation, guaranteed. If this is not the case, then paedobaptism is reduced to a mere ritual that runs the risk of treating the sacred contemptuously.

Manata avers that the Baptist argument is fallacious while the Paedo argument is valid. Manata’s argument can be reconstructed as follows:

Major Premise: Infants were circumcised in the OT

Minor Premise: Precedence should continue unless the NT explicitly forbids it

Minor Premise: The NT does not explicitly forbid infant baptism

Conclusion: Therefore infants of believers should be baptized

It is not difficult to see the problems in the Paedo argument. First, the view that there is a one-to-one relationship between OT circumcision and NT baptism is unproven, and I would contend, unprovable. Second, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Third, the two minor premises are misleading. Precedence has nowhere been proven. There is an inductive argument forbidding infant baptism, that is valid and that Baptists would say is also true. While Manata’s argument is valid, the question of whether or not it is true is another matter. In order for the argument to be valid and true, each premise leading to the conclusion must also be true. The non-sequitur is that OT commands for circumcision lead to NT commands for baptism. However, this contention is highly questionable and hotly debated. Indeed, support for this interpretation is exceptionally flimsy. How Manata can say that it rises to the level of precedence is puzzling to say the least. Precedence requires identical behavior. Circumcision would have precedence if it were continued from the old into the new covenant. Since it does not, it lacks precedence. In order for infant baptism to have precedence, it must have been practiced in the old covenant as well as in the new. Under Manata’s reasoning, Christian farmers should tithe 10% of their animals, crops, etc. But that would be preposterous to say the least.

OR (Paedobaptist argument)

Major Premise: Circumcision was the sign of the Old Covenant

Minor Premise: Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant

Minor Premise: Infants of covenantal parents are included in the covenant

Conclusion: Therefore, infants must be baptized

When one examines the second construction for paedobaptism above, they realize quickly that the burden of proof that Manata says exists only for the Baptists, also exists for the paedobaptists. For example, paedobaptists must prove that baptism is the sign of the new covenant. However, this is not how the NT depicts baptism. Circumcision and baptism never appear in the same context with one another so as to lead any exegete to this conclusion. Circumcision has clearly been terminated according to NT teachings. Manata’s contention that the OT practice should continue unless the NT expressly forbids it is a moot point. At best it is question begging, at worse, it is decidedly subjective.

Looking at the major premise of paedobaptism, we agree that circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the OT and that this practice was not optional. If paedobaptists are going to argue for precedence, as Manata clearly does, then he will have to do something with millions of Christians who reject the doctrine of infant baptism. Will his reaction follow the same as that in the OT? That is to say, do paedobaptists respond to those who reject infant baptism the way that the OT Jew responded to those who refused circumcision? My experience has been that paedobaptists equivocate on this point. If they are right in their theology, discipline should follow those who are obstinate in their rejection of paedobaptism. After all, Baptists will excommunicate you if you refuse to submit to the sacrament of believer’s baptism. Baptism is the outward sign of something that has taken place inwardly. It is the objective sign of a subjective experience. It signifies that the old man has died and the new man has been raised to a newness of life. But if the thing signified is indeed absent, baptism is nothing but a quick bath. Without genuine faith, baptism is a contemptuous act. It is dangerous to make this public profession that one belongs to Christ when in fact they do not!

That infants of covenant parents are included in the covenant is highly debatable. There is no escape from the new covenant. Once one is in the covenant, they are guaranteed salvation. In fact, one is not in the covenant until regeneration has been wrought in the heart. Hence, the covenant is reserved only for God’s elect. Yet, we know children who were born to covenant parents, whose lives reflected nothing of Christ, nothing of a love for God’s word, and in their blasphemy they endured to the end. How mysterious and puzzling this must be to the paedobaptist. It does not comport with the central tenets of their theology. Yet, point this fact out to the paedobaptist and there is hardly a quibble. Many PCA men I know have so reduced the significance of infant Baptist that it is hardly more than a religious ritual.

The Baptist argument can be reconstructed as follows:

Major Premise: NT commands faith as a prerequisite for baptism

Minor Premise: Faith only comes by hearing the word of God

Minor Premise: Infants do not possess saving faith

Minor Premise: No one should be baptized unless they have expressed faith in Christ

Conclusion: Therefore, infants should not be baptized

Is the first premise true? Matt. 28:19 links baptism with becoming a disciple. Acts 2:38 links repentance with baptism. Acts 2:41 links baptism with those who received the Word. Acts 8:12 links faith with baptism. Acts 8:36 links conversion with baptism. Acts 9:18 links the conversion of Paul with baptism. Acts 10:47 links regeneration with baptism. It would seem that the major premise is a well-established fact. According to Romans 10:13, faith comes by hearing the word of God and therefore the second premise is also true. This brings us to the third premise. Do infants possess faith? Does God graciously instill faith in the heart of covenant infants? If we answer in the affirmative, it would seem to me that we risk the fidelity of the previous premise which says faith comes by hearing the word of God. Moreover, if we open the door to the possibility that faith can exist where the Word has never been, then why can faith not be imparted to those who have never heard the gospel or Christ? If I assert that infants can possess faith, then in Manata’s own words, the burden of proof rests with me. If I assert that infants do not possess faith, then again, the burden of proof to show that infants do not have faith rests with me. I could respond in two ways. I could say that I have no good reason to believe that infants possess faith and therefore no ground upon which to baptize them. On the other hand, I could say that infants have no ability to possess faith because they have no cognitive ability to receive the word of God. Hence, unless one receives the word of God, faith cannot exist. The third minor premise sees unambiguous with any reading of NT Scripture whatever. No one should be baptized unless there is a public profession of faith. Here it seems the Baptist position carries the day. If all three of the Baptist premises are true, then the conclusion is necessarily true so long as it follows from those premises. In this case, the conclusion follows the premises. True premises in a valid argument equals a true conclusion.

 Every argument has the burden of proof. No argument is free from this obligation. That the NT Scripture nowhere commands or forbids infant baptism misses the point. This reasoning would translate into legalistic tithing and Sabbath keeping. If baptism is the signifier that one has become born again, forsaking all to enlist in the Christian group, and it is true that regeneration is accompanied by faith in Christ, then it follows that faith in Christ is necessary in order for baptism to be administered. Baptism signifies regeneration. Regeneration necessarily produces faith prior to baptism. Hence, the relationship between faith and regeneration and regeneration and baptism and baptism and faith has serious implications for infant baptism. As a signifier of regeneration, baptism cannot antecede it. The thing signified must exist in order for the signification to be meaningful. We are baptized into water because we have already been baptized into Christ. Baptism signifies not only that we have died to sin, but that we have been raised in a newness of life. The new birth has already taken place!

In conclusion, the assertion that paedobaptists have precedence on their side and the Baptists are the only ones left with the burden of proof is simply not true. Infant baptism is either an obligatory command whose rejection carries dire consequences the same as believer’s baptism, or it is a religious ritual left to the discretion of the individual parent. From my perspective, the view that elevates the sacrament of baptism is clear. Believer’s baptism demands the work of God on the human heart as the antecedent for praxis. Rejection of this practice will inevitably lead to excommunication. As for paedobaptism, it looks good on paper. However, I have never read or heard of anyone ever being excommunicated or even sharply rebuked for rejecting the practice, which in that system, is a sacred command. Hence, paedobaptism equivocates on the issue of baptism and leaves one with the sense that it really isn’t that significant after all, at least outside the pages of a book or statement of faith, in the real world, where it should count most.

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