I thought you might be interested to hear how I “voted” today. I live in Massachusetts but I go to school at Cornell, so I requested and received an absentee ballot a few weeks ago. Today, standing next to one of the famous Ithaca gorges, I burned my ballot while my girlfriend read passages from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed.
It’s an exhilarating feeling to know that I’ve withheld my sanction from a rotten system. No doubt some “responsible” people will say that I wasted my vote, that I would’ve been better served to pool my vote with one million other votes for Sean Bielat. But refusing to vote is itself a powerful and radical vote; it’s an act of delegitimation that says that I want no part of the current system. Etienne de La Boetie would be proud.
It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.
“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)
In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).
The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.
Read the rest: Biblical Horizons » Concerning Halloween. Great essay!
The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:
“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!
Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
and the scant measure that is accursed?
Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
and with a bag of deceitful weights?
Your rich men are full of violence;
your inhabitants speak lies,and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
making you desolate because of your sins.
You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
You shall sow, but not reap;
you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
and all the works of the house of Ahab;
and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation,
and your inhabitants a hissing;
so you shall bear the scorn of my people.”
This passage should sound familiar because it reminds us of Leviticus 18.1-4
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.
Of course, Paul didn’t think the Law was impossible to keep in the sense that it is meant to be kept by God’s people. This was the way that many believers have kept the law. He told children to do it and reminded them of a promised reward.
Thus the Westminster Confession:
Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works [i.e. a demand for personal, perfect, perpetual obedience as a requirement...], to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works [i.e. a demand for personal, perfect, perpetual obedience as a condition for eternal life]. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.
The command to follow God’s law, rather than Ahab’s, Egypt’s, or the laws of the pagan Canaanites, is a command to trust in Jesus as his disciple rather than reject Christ.
See also: Law & Gospel in Presbyterianism
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (which is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6.1-3).
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you (Exodus 20.12).
Many people today seem to believe that the Law of God, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, is somehow subchristian. To an extant this is true, as is shown by Paul’s exhortation to children in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul alters the Fifth Commandment in order to apply it. The original words as written by God’s own finger are, incredibly, no longer an accurate statement of God’s promise to His children in regard to how they act toward their earthly parents. The original command came with a promise for long life in the Promised Land of Canaan; the Pauline revision promises long life even to those in Ephesus—and to Christians living anywhere else on earth.
Paul has articulated his fundamental principle for making this alteration elsewhere. In the letter to the Romans, he states, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world [Greek: kosmos) was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith” (4.13). God promised Abraham a particular piece of land, and the Law put boundaries around it, but Paul tells us that the piece of land actually was a token of the whole cosmos. Now that Christ has come, the token is no longer needed because the full inheritance has been given.
However, when most people treat the Decalogue as subchristian, they usually mean something very different from the Apostle Paul. Some say that the Law was not for the Church, but for Israel. Some say that the Ten Commandments taught salvation by works and, in a roundabout way, also communicated that salvation must be by grace because, once anyone attempted it, they would soon discover Law-keeping was impossible.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesian children should give us second thoughts about such suggestions. In the first place, the Apostle Paul states that Christian children are under obligation, according to the Mosaic Law, to obey both their parents. Secondly, the Apostle Paul explicitly motivates such children to do so by saying that God will reward them—a reward he finds in the original Fifth Commandment, even though he changes the scope of that reward (to include the whole earth including Ephesus, not just Palestine).
Obviously, Paul was not teaching Christian children to believe that they had to earn salvation by works! The fact that the Apostle Paul would appeal to the authority of the Decalogue must mean that those commandments were never given so that people could earn anything from God. The Ten Commandments were never for merit or works-righteousness, but were only guides for what Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1.5; 16.27).
It is worth pointing out that the Apostle Paul never sees a conflict between obedience and faith. He states, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (First Corinthians 7.19); and, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5.6). Paul also warns of God’s judgment on “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (Second Thessalonians 1.8). Indeed, in writing of unbelieving Jews, who were “broken off for their unbelief” (Romans 11.20), he says:
For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all (Romans 11.20-32).
The other writers in the New Testament concur. Luke writes that at one point “a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6.7). The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5.9). He also writes of the Israelites in the wilderness, “they stumble because they are disobedient to the word” (Hebrews 3.18). John writes in his Gospel, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3.36). In explaining what happens to those who disbelive, the Apostle Peter writes “they stumble because they are disobedient to the word” (First Peter 2.7).
In the preaching of the Gospel we see that Jesus can tell his hearers simply to “repent” (Matthew 3.2, 4.17), or to “repent and believe” (Mark 1.14). Likewise, the Apostles can simply command their listeners to “repent and… be baptized” (Acts 2.38), “repent and return” (Acts 3.19), “repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26.20), or “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15.11). Faith and obedience seem quite closely related to the point of being interchangeable.
Some say that there were two different promises given to Abraham—land (the “earthly Jerusalem”) and eternal life (heaven, “the heavenly Jerusalem”)—so that the Israelites were to keep their place in the land by the works righeousness of obedience to the Ten Commandments, but were given salvation from sin and future resurrection glory by faith alone. Supposedly this means that salvation (heaven, the resurrection) is given by grace, but works (which can allegedly never have anything to do with grace) were required for remaining in the Land.
This simply won’t work. The promise of land and eternal life are given to Abraham as one and the same promise (Genesis 15, 17). Likewise, the author of Hebrews states that the generation in the wilderness failed to enter the Promised Land because of “unbelief” (Hebrews 3.19).
What is worse, this idea makes the Gospel irrelevant to life on earth right now. It would mean that we can hope for heaven by grace but that, in this life, we must earn everything we get from God. Paul would then be telling children that their relationship to their parents is based on merit and “human effort” rather than by faith and grace. The Gospel, instead of transforming human relationships, would be irrelevant to human relationships! Church, family, work and all other areas of life would be run by performance rather than by grace.
But Jesus puts our life here and hereafter on the same basis:
Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first.” (Mark 10.28-31).
Likewise the Apostle Paul states, “bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (First Timothy 4.8).
The fact is that, just like it was for Abraham, God’s covenant with us is not only for the life to come but for this life as well. The promise of the Fifth Commandment is for all of life. Children are not being told to think of obedience to their parents as holding a promise of only earthly prosperity, nor are they being taught to earn grace from God.
On the contrary, Paul wants the Christian children in Ephesus to live by faith both for this world and the next.
God’s promises are not statements about how much we can earn by doing good works. All our works—even our good works—apart from the intercession and shed blood of Christ could only send us to an eternal Hell. But precisely because we are commanded to believe God and trust him for salvation, the Law of God is to be obeyed (though things like circumcision are no longer to be simply imitated because Jesus has changed what is expected of believers since the time of the Old Testament period).
Jesus tells us to follow him. The way children commonly follow Jesus is by obeying their parents. Our motive for following Jesus should be that we trust him to save us. That is exactly what Paul tells the Ephesian children by the stipulation and promise of the Fifth Commandment. Christian children who obey their parents do so because they trust God’s promises to them in Jesus Christ.
In summary, the Law of Moses was only meant to be followed by faith, as the example of Moses himself proves:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11.24-26).
Much in the Law of Moses is no longer to be followed in the same way as it once was. The Apostle Paul states emphatically that it no longer matters if a believer is circumcised or not (First Corinthians 7.19; Galatians 5.6). Jesus revealed that the Mosaic dietary laws are no longer binding (Acts 10). But where the Law still applies, as it does to children who need to obey their parents, it does not encourage works-righteousness. Rather God’s commandments promote faith and trust in Christ Jesus for the future–both in this life and the life to come.
Our motive for obedience is nothing more nor less than that by which we are justified before God: Faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.
the authors … either assumed or made explicit a distinction which the FV either denies or ignores: the distinction between a purely external relation to the covenant of grace and an internal relation to the covenant of grace.
via What’s Going On in the Siouxlands Presbytery (PCA)? « Heidelblog. (emphasis added)
Let’s be very clear here: whatever R. Scott Clark means by “purely external relation,” if he means that it excludes a real work of the Holy Spirit, then he is misleading his readers.
The “authors” being mentioned here include the Westminster Assembly. Thus:
Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved
This is from the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter ten on effectual calling. Obviously, those not elected are not effectually called, but some are called. Judas was called to Christ and he responded to the call and did miracles by the power of the Spirit but he was never truly (“effectually” called) and he thus never persevered in following Christ, never “truly” came to him. The prooftexts for those who “never truly come to Christ” include those a reference to Judas
John 13:18. I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.
So how do we describe Judas’ relationship with Christ, in which he followed Christ for a time but eventually decided to find his prosperity on the other side? Many, Reformed and not, have gone to Romans 2 and Paul’s language about the Jew who is one “secretly” or “inwardly” and the one who is not. That seems perfectly fine to me and I doubt Moon or Lawrence would have a problem with it.
But Romans 2 also says something about the Spirit which has led to a problem:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.
I think it is pretty clear from the context that “by the letter” means merely having been assigned to possess the Scriptures. See Romans 2.27 (which the ESV obscures by using the term “written code”; the NASB is better: “letter of the Law”) and 3.1. Thus the Spirit would lead the true Jews to actual faith and obedience.
But this gets people confused and leads them to assume that “external” is some sort of precise scientific term that rules out the presence of the Spirit in those who respond in some way to the Gospel but who are not effectually called. Whatever the Westminster Confession allegedly ought to teach according to some, it in fact teaches the very opposite. There are shared workings “common operations” between the elect and some non-elect. While some may go to church purely and only because they want better business connections, others may truly be drawn by the Spirit and for a time enjoy His gracious fellowship. Thus the Westminster’s prooftext for the statement.
Heb. 6:4-5. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come …
The trailing dots are in the original. God’s spirit is at work both in elect persons who respond to the Gospel and truly come to Christ and the same Spirit is at work in non-elect who respond to the calling of the Gospel, but not “effectually”–they never truly come to Christ. We can talk about differences in their union with Christ, but claiming one group doesn’t have the Spirit, never was enlightened, never tasted the heavenly gift, and never tasted the word of God and the powers of the world to come, is a claim that the Bible and the Westminster Confession tells us is off limits.
For this (along with many other reasons) Clark has zero basis for claiming anyone denies a distinction in the covenant of Grace between those who persevere according to God’s sovereign choice and those who “fall” (Heb 6.6) from the heavenly gift they have been made the eat, who fall from the light they have been made to see, who fall from participation in the communion of the Spirit, who fall from the Gospel message, who fall from the powers of the next world. The point, as the author of Hebrews says himself, is only to exhort the congregation to
hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
We need to exhort people to not throw away their confidence, which has a great reward, to remember the need for endurance so that they will do the will of God and received what is promised.
We need to exhort our congregations not to doubt, but to remember they are adopted by God:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Kind of interesting isn’t it? You would think the preacher of Hebrews, in the spirit of “Bobsled sovereignty,” would tell them to find the Esaus and get rid of them because there is nothing that can be done about them. But no. “lift up drooping hands and strengthen weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.”
Preaching like the author of Hebrews is not and cannot be a violation of the Westminster Standards, a deviation from covenant theology, or a departure from the Reformed Faith.
Nor can it be heresy to agree with the Apostle Paul. He declares to the entire congregation that, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (First Corinthians 11.27). And what is the basis of Paul’s claim? “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 11.12, 13). Deny Paul’s claim and you are not only going against the Word of God, but you are completely undermining the ethics of the church community in First Corinthians 11.12ff.
So, however, we explain the differences (and there are real qualitative differences whether we can fully explain them or not), the relationship between the non-elect and Christ is not purely external as opposed to Spiritual (i.e. by and of the Holy Spirit).
Stories make for better theology than do vocabulary definitions in most situations. When we think of theology we think of books that are close cousins to encyclopedias and dictionaries. The Bible, however, gives us a story, the history of a community that finds its goal and foundation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The best book I know regarding the Lord’s Supper does not deal with the historical debates regarding “transubstantiation,” “consubstantiation,” “the Zwinglian view” or “the Calvinist view.” (I’m refering to Blessed Are the Hungry by Peter Leithart.) Rather, it simply goes back to the many stories about eating and drinking that are found in the Bible. If you want to understand the Lord’s Supper, the best way to accomplish this is to know the story of Melchizedek eating bread and wine with Abram, Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy about feasting at the Tabernacle, and the showbread in the Holy Place. You then can understand and even feel that when we gather together in God’s special presence and eat bread and drink a cup together, we are participating in that story. We are in the same plotline; but a later chapter. We two are conquering heroes through Christ so that we too are fed bread and drink from someone greater than Melchizedek. We too have God’s presence tabernacled with us and we too are to rejoice in that presence. There is still special bread in God’s presence, just like the showbread, but now we all have access to it because we are all priests and kings in Christ.
I want to encourage you to grow in your understanding of baptism in the same way. The Bible is filled with stories about water, and passing through water to a new world, and being anointed by some other liquid, or being cleansed by water or by blood or by water mixed with the ashes of a heifer. Or, perhaps, the story of the anointing of David as King.
Let’s say that you ran into a group of people who had formed a club dedicated to reading and publishing stories about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Then let’s say you asked how you would join a member and you were told that if you joined you would have to dedicate yourself to living like a noble person being brave and chivalrous, etc. Furthermore, they insisted on describing the good deeds you would do in this club in terms such as “jousting” and “dragon-slaying.”
Now, if you joined that club, and the ceremony involved someone in charge touching your shoulder with a sword, just like men used to become knights in the Middle Ages, you would understand exactly what is going on. Somehow this group is viewing itself as a continuation of the Knights of the Round Table.
Kings were anointed into office in Israel. Even Jesus was so anointed—though this happened to him in his baptism. Just as the Holy Spirit rushed upon David when Samuel anointed him, so the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove when John baptized him in the Jordan river. That baptism was Jesus’ ordination into office—his anointing. Later, when the Priests and Elders confronted Jesus about his authority to “cleanse” the temple, Jesus answering them by asking if they thought John the Baptist’s authority came from God or from men.
They didn’t want to answer that question since the mob believed that John the Baptist was a prophet. But the whole reason Jesus brought it up was because it answered their question. Jesus’ authority was that he had been authorized by God through the ministry of John the Baptist. Cleansing the temple was a kingly task. King David had received the plans for the Temple. King Solomon had built it. King Hezekiah and King Josiah had reformed and repaired it. King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it and King Cyrus had ordered it rebuilt. Given the fact that anointing was more important for installing a king in Israel than was crowning him or any other ritual, obviously Jesus’ baptism was his anointing.
That’s where the word “Christ” comes from, after all; it means “anointed one.” Psalm 2 calls David that and prophesies Jesus in the same words: “the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed… You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. You shalt break them with a rod of iron, You shalt shatter them like earthenware.”
And the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that we as “Christ-ians” are also anointed. He writes to the Corinthians in his second letter: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God” “In Christ and anointed us”—in Greek: eis Christos kai chrisas. Paul obviously wants them to see themselves as anointed with Christ, as the Apostle Peter states “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” The Apostle Peter is using words that God through Moses spoke to Israel. Males in Israel were circumcised to become members of God’s covenant people, and Paul refers to baptism as a new circumcision. Priests and kings were anointed and in keeping with Jesus’ own baptism and his kingly status, we are on firm ground seeing baptism as the fulfillment of those things as well.
In other words, baptism installs and appoints us to an office. It is an institutional ceremony, like being ordained as a minister of the Gospel, or like being married, or like being sworn into the presidency. Just like that Arthurian organization I made up, Christians are continuing the nation, the priesthood, and most importantly the royal dynasty of Israel in the present world. Baptism is our coronation.
Strange thing, when I married Jennifer, our wedding took place in a church and it was performed by a minister. Afterwards, no one came up to me and said, “Mark, did you really listen to what the Pastor was saying and did you really think about your vows as you said them? Maybe you’re not truly a husband to Jennifer. Maybe you’re not really married. Don’t think a mere ceremony makes you a married man!”
Remember though, what Jesus said about marriage: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” God is the one who joins a man and woman in marriage. He uses human marriage customs to do it, but it is his work.
Likewise, when I was ordained as a pastor, no one doubted that I had truly become, by the laying on of hands, a minister of the Gospel. No one asked if I had properly received by faith the office of the pastorate.
In both cases, everyone expected the ceremony to change me in significant ways. I once was single. I had freedoms and restrictions laid upon me as a single Christian man. Then, as the Minister said “I now pronounce you man and wife,” I had new privileges and new responsibilities put upon me. I had a new relationship with the woman I loved so that now I was bound to her and she to me.
Likewise, before I was ordained, I couldn’t represent Jesus in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t have pastoral authority in the Church. But after hands were laid on me by a commission of the presbytery, I suddenly had these new responsibilities put upon me. I was under new obligations.
And so it is with any baptized person, from infancy to seniority. Christian parents are to raise a baptized child as one who has been called and appointed to worship God through Jesus Christ. That child could never have done anything to make himself part of God’s family. God acts on behalf of the baptized person by reaching to him through the Church and claiming that person, whether adult or infant, as his own child. And this happened not because baptism is magical or changes something inside you, but simply because God has by his covenant through Christ established an objective kingdom in the world that is entered through the institutional Church.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
forever and ever.
In that day, declares the Lord,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
from this time forth and forevermore.
Forgetting is no mere force of inertia as the superficial imagine; it is rather an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of repression that is responsible for the fact that what we experience and absorb enters our consciousness little while we are digesting it (one might call the process “impsychation”) as does the thousandfold process involved in physical nourishment–so-called incorporation. To close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle of our underworld…; a little quietness, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness to make room for new things… that is the purpose of active forgetfulness, which is like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette; so that it will be immediately obvious how there could be no happiness, nor cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present without forgetfulness
–Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
–Apostle Paul, First Century
An Alien Retail Experiment in “Baptismal Regeneration”
Imagine someone from another world trying to learn to live in our society according to our customs. What if someone gave him a check for a hundred dollars for his birthday–the first check he had ever seen in his life? Would he immediately understand how a check was used?
Perhaps he would go to a store and try to use the check as if it were a hundred dollar bill. He might take a shirt to the cashier and simply hand the check to him expecting to get change back. Obviously, this wouldn’t work. A check is not money in that sense. It is not identical to a bill for the same amount.
A “Zwinglian” Guide to Financial Transactions
But what if someone came to our confused friend to help him by explaining how checks really work? He teaches our friend: “Checks are signs and seals. To understand this is to understand the check’s essential nature. But what is a sign? It is, in simplest terms, a picture, or symbol.” The gift of a check for a hundred dollars pictured or signified the giver’s giving of a hundred real dollars to someone at some time, but it wasn’t the same as a hundred dollars. The check is merely paper and ink, not money.
That explanation would lead our friend to think he had received nothing for his birthday. He would probably tear up the check in disgust and throw it away.
Have a Little Faith
But in fact, even though a check for a hundred dollars is not the same as a hundred dollar bill, because it represents a promise, faith can treat the symbol as being as good as the reality. If I write a clerk a check for the price of a shirt, and then walk away with the shirt, I have truly paid for the item even though, at the moment, my bank account still has the money. The symbol is a promise for the future that counts as reality now.
Abram & Circumcision
In Genesis 15 we are told of how Abram needed assurance not to fear after having engaged in a military struggle against a great empire. God comes to him and assures him that he will protect him. But this raises some related issues in Abram’s mind. Even though Abram has already been promised land and offspring through whom the world will be saved (Genesis 12.1-3), and even though Abram has had faith in God from at least that point on (Hebrews 11.8), he still was uncertain of how God was treating him. He pointed out to God that he had no offspring and that his servant was named as his heir. He asked God for proof.
God responded to this request favorably. He made a covenant with Abram, using a ritual, promising to give him the land to his own offspring. What is notable about this is that, after the ritual, Abram was still a childless wonderer in a land he did not yet own. But a covenant was like a check in the ancient world. God put himself under oath to fulfill the promise he had originally made to Abram when he called him to leave his hometown. Abram’s faith was able to rest on that oath and consider what was promised to be as good as his.
An Order: Promise, Sign of and as Fulfillment, and Final Fulfillment
Imagine someone you trust first promising to give you a hundred dollars and then later giving you a check for a hundred dollars. Finally, you actually cash the check and receive the money. That is more or less what happened to Abram. First God made a promised and then he wrote Abram a check to be cashed in the future. Abram’s faith had a firm resting place. He received the sign as the future promise in the present.
All of this might help us understand baptism better. Peter and Paul say remarkable things about what baptism accomplishes and many modern Protestants attempt to claim that “faith alone” entails that these passages must not mean what they say. We are told that the “baptism” in these passages is actually the unmediated work of the Holy Spirit being described metaphorically.
But baptism is not in conflict with faith. As the Protestant theologian Francis Turretin wrote: “The question is not whether faith alone justifies to the exclusion … of … the word and sacraments (by which the blessing of justification is presented and sealed to us on the part of God), which we maintain are necessarily required here; but only to the exclusion of every other virtue and habit on our part” (Institutes 16.8.5). Since Baptism is a promise of God’s action it supports justification only by faith rather than undermines it.
Thus Martin Luther wrote of some “ultra” Protestants:
But these leaders of the blind are unwilling to see that faith must have something to believe–something to which it may cling and upon which it may stand… These people are so foolish as to separate faith from its object to which faith is attached and bound on the ground that the object is something external. Yes, it must be external so that it can be perceived and grasped by the senses and thus brought into the heart, just as the entire Gospel is an external, oral proclamation. In short, whatever God effects in us, he does through such external ordinances (“Larger Catechism,” p. 440 in The Book of Concord [trans. and ed. T. G. Tappert; Philadelphia: fortress, 1959]).
In baptism we are promised grace and salvation. Faith does not save us of its own power, but rather believes what God says to us through the symbol. God doesn’t write bad checks. We should continue in what he has given us, trusting in Him. If we fail to inherit the promises, it is because we have refused to believe.
Then does election remain sure?
It does. And rejection remains also. But listen. If Esau had died an infant he would doubtless have been elect. For if he had died then there would have been the seal of election, for the Lord would not have rejected him eternally. But since he lived and was of the non-elect, he so lived that we see in the fruit of his unfaith that he was rejected by the Lord.
(Quoted by Peter Lillback, The Binding of God, p. 105).