Friday, February 26, 2010
This weakness was manifested in two different ways. First, the critique of Christianity was almost a series of unjustified assertions of what is wrong with its belief-system. Second, the analysis--the rightful basis of any critique--was almost a cornucopian presentation of how not to present an opposing viewpoint.
The critique of Christianity, at the beginning of the talk, was naturally based upon the assumed referent of Objectivism. Unfortunately, such a viewpoint was not defended clearly at the first. Perhaps the speaker thought the audience would be mostly friendly to his views.
The problem is this: most of the "problems" offered about Christian philosophy were only legitimate critiques assuming the truthfulness of Objectivism. From a Christian worldview, this necessarily becomes one large question-begging enterprise: the very thing in debate between Christians and non-Christians is whether the one worldview or the other has the legitimate standard of right and wrong, reason and non-reason, etc.
For example, when it was asserted that the Bible's view of justice is actually "anti-justice," this assertion is only valid given the truthfulness of Objectivism and its definition of 'justice'. As a Christian (or any non-Objectivists for that matter) I have a different standard of justice and a different definition. To merely assert that my view is wrong based upon the presumed (and unargued) position of Objectivism is to beg the larger question (to argue in a circle).
It would be another thing to demonstrate (prove) that the Christian doctrine of justice was internally inconsistent within its own worldview (philosophy). No such proof was offered.
When debating or talking about the superiority or inferiority of one broad-based philosophy or another, it is incumbent upon the initiator of the discussion to handle the entire worldview, not attack it piecemeal. Any single element in such thorough systems of thought is always dependent upon the rest.
Even so, some of the critiques, in the form of a question, are legitimate questions and I hope to answer them in future postings. The next article will analyze the second weakness of this lecture: the presented "facts" of Christianity.
More Info: For an eye-witness account, here.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Inquirer: I’m not a believer, but I have been listening to Christian radio a lot. I heard your ad on the radio, and I decided to visit your Church and see what it’s about.
FV Pastor: Well, I’m glad you did.
Inquirer: I have been thinking that I want to become a Christian, what do I need to do?
FV Pastor: You need to be baptized. If you come to the font and have water poured or sprinkled on you or if you get immersed, then you are a Christian.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The fist to publish a book of poems as an African-slave, she was immediately popular in America. Her talent was recognized by George Washington, John Hancock and the governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson. She was well-received in England as well.
Her slave-family showed some pity by educating her themselves. She was later set free by her family.
With her husband in debtor's prison and the loss of three children, tragically, she died at the age of 31,
Yet in spite of a sad life that would crush the strongest Christian today, her poetry demonstrates a heart sustained and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The lost of an infant did not crush her:
The gift of heav'n intrusted to your hand
Cheerful resign at the divine command:
(On the Death of J. C. an Infant)
She rested on the grace and gifts of God:
Who taught us prayer and gave us grace and faith
Who but the great and the Supreme who bless’d
(An Address to the Deists)
Her childhood slavery did not overwhelm her. In amazing contrast with today's whining Americans, she wrote:
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic dye."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.´
(On being brought from Africa to America.)
Although the research does not specify her theological orientation, she was likely a Calvinist. Her church was the Old South Church in Boston. She wrote a poem lamenting the death of her pastor. She wrote another on the death of Whitefield. And her poetic language (see above as well) uses well-known Reformed thought:
The Atheist sure no more can boast aloud
Of chance, or nature, and exclude the God;
As if the clay without the potter's aid
Should rise in various forms, and shapes self-made,
Or worlds above with orb o'er orb profound
Self-mov'd could run the everlasting round.
It cannot be -- unerring Wisdom guides
With eye propitious, and o'er all presides.
(To the Rev. DR. THOMAS AMORY…)
Here is a woman for our girls to emulate. Here the beauty of Christ shined wonderfully through His chosen vessel and her poems.
(Her poems are here)
Black History Month Series:
1. Lemuel Haynes
2. Jupiter Hammon
3. Phillis Wheately
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Why do I label this the "maturation rite"? It is thus dubbed in order to highlight the Presbyterian understanding in opposition to the paedocommunion position. Paedocommunion so emphasizes the objective element of the sacraments that the subjective and reflective demands
are watered down. Infants, toddlers, and young seven-year-olds are encouraged to partake of a meal that requires spiritual discernment as a cornerstone of participation. To "discern" the Lord's body is a spiritual activity that moves beyond simply balancing the church budget. In fact, death is specifically attached to this Meal for those who flippantly or in ignorance partake thereof.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me define the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist (the thanksgiving):
Q96: What is the Lord's supper?
A96: The Lord's supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worth receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.
1. Luke 22:19-20 2. I Cor. 10:16
The long and short of this summary is that 1) Christ's death (not his resurrection) is especially set forth in visible and tangible elements. This is the sign-signification aspect of the Supper. Thus, in common with Memorialists (who believe the Meal is only a mere recollection of what Christ accomplished), Presbyterians affirm there is a memorial aspect to the Supper.
But there is more. 2) "worthy receivers" receive the body and blood of Christ. The work of the cross as accomplished through his body and death is received by faith alone (WCF 29.7), There may be real spiritual growth that may accompany or follow the taking of the Supper. This is the seal, the confirmation of our faith and increase of our faith in Christ. This is denied by the Memorialists (most Charismatics and Baptists).
On the other hand, the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation is denied because Presbyterians deny the bread and wine become the body and blood o f Christ. Nor do we so affix grace to the Supper that it attends every administration of it almost regardless of the spiritual state of the recipient (some Federal Visionists). There is a proper proportion of the Supper in its objective and subjective dimensions in classical Presbyterian dogma (see Words of Life on the church
This view of the Supper has been taught and is known by many of us-but how many know of the requirements for the Supper? It is not to be taken by just anyone. In fact, the preparatory aspect (both before, during and after the Meal) was taken so seriously during Calvin's time
that the session or pastor interviewed the members before administering the sacrament. This seriousness is reflected almost one hundred years latter in the Larger Catechism:
Q97: What is required to be the worthy receiving of the Lord's supper?
A97: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of
their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgement to themselves. (cp. Larger Catechism Q171 for more detail).
Before coming to the Lord's Supper examination is required: discernment of Christ's body (what He did for us), exercising faith and repentance (as daily activities), loving our neighbors especially the church) and striving in obedience. This is quite a list.
However, the catechism is not stating that perfection is required (cp. LCQ 172), but it is differentiating between the ignorant (children) and the worthy recipients.
2 Chronicles 30:18-20 brings the issue of proper preparation for the Supper into the foreground. Israel was sick because they had not cleansed themselves (or prepared themselves) for the Old Testament sacraments. After a prayer of forgiveness, the sickness was removed. In like manner, 1 Corinthians 11:30 notes that "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." This is a sober warning. And our Confession takes it seriously.
What this means in practice is a proper mediation, a self-reflection about the state of our souls. Perhaps on a Friday or Saturday night, one could find a quiet time and pray, examine the Bible passage and ask the Lord for more grace. Reflect upon life: are there relationships that need reconciliation? Are you clinging to Christ as your righteousness? Are you seeking repentance? Are you fighting sin, however incomplete your success? This is not exhaustive nor minimal.
One cannot give a 1-2-3 step as a law to bind all consciences.
The Lord's Supper is a special time not unlike attending a suit-and- tie meal with one's family. Yes, every day you should eat with your family (not unlike weekly preaching), but on occasion a special time requiring special instruction and preparation is required to celebrate the family. Here, we are celebrating Christ and His death. It is a solemn occasion requiring holy awe; yet a humble boldness is also required lest we think too much about ourselves and withdraw from the Supper.
I will quote from J. W. Alexander (from Remember Him) as a proper balance to pre-Communion examination:
"His goal was to provide a uniquely American, Christ-centered approach to training children. Little did he know that this remarkable gem would become the staple for parents and educators for more than a century and would help to build the most literate nation in the history of the West. Many of the Founding Fathers used this book to home school their children, including Benjamin Franklin who taught his granddaughter..."
What are Christians to make of these assertions? Is this book even worth buying?
Let us peal back the claims in reverse order.
First of all, the claim that many of the Founding Fathers used this to homeschool their children is dubious. In my experience, many historical claims have been circulated that have no foundation in fact (e.g. Jefferson, Witherspoon and John Jay were homeschooled, more here). The book was published in 1783. A little late for mass circulation for some Founder's children. Yet it could be the case that many of the Founders used Webster's book for their children. Not having easy access to the facts, I can only hold this assertion in abeyance.
Second, the book appears to have been a staple for education and helped raise literacy. This claim is true as far as it goes. It must be remembered, however, that this does not mean that literacy was not already being propagated by other means. The blue-book was popular but did not singlehandedly create a literate society. In fact, in 1765 John Adams noted:
"A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, that is, as rare as a comet or an earthquake." (here)
Third, the book was written for schools. Webster notes in the preface,
"THE design of this Grammatical institute is to furnish schools in this country with an easy, accurate and comprehensive system of rules and lessons for teaching the English language."
Of course, it can be used for homeschooling. The irony is simply that the publisher and catalog are part of an organization that pushes, promotes and proposes homeschooling as the Biblical approach (here).
Fourth, the claims of a "Christ-centered approach" is dubious at best. Using an online transcript of the 1800 text, I searched for common words a presumed "Christ-centered approach" text would use. Here are some results:
Searching for sin and its cognates yielded a total of seven times in one section (lessons of easy words and moral duty). The word is mentioned eight more times in a similar fashion, most notably:
"He that covereth his sins shall not pros-per; but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy."
Next, I searched for cognates of 'Christ'. It is used about ten times and once for pronunciation. Another few times it refers to what Christ said. The bulk was in the Moral Catechism section, making no mention of the Gospel.
The word 'Gospel' does not exist. 'Repent' and its cognates occurs once. 'Faith' occurs once as an example of a monosyllabic word. 'Believe' is never used with respect to God or Christ. 'Cross' is found in a list of words and part of a proverb.
Thus far the evidence is a far cry from a "Christ-centered approach." In fact,there is evidence to the contrary: in the appendix is a Moral Catechism. A Catechism without reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although the Catechism does not mention the Gospel, it does mention the pure in heart:
Q. What reward is promised to the pure in heart?
A. Christ has declared "they shall see God." A pure heart is like God, and those who possess it shall dwell in his presence, and enjoy his favour forever.
Furthermore, in the section describing a "Good Boy" and a "Bad Boy" any reference to God, church and Christ are missing.
In contrast, Christ-centered instruction would point out that Christians (and "good boys") can only see God through the merits of Christ.
Lastly, the biography of Webster explains why this Speller--although useful--was not Christ-centered: he was not converted until 1808. He admits that before that time he preferred the more "rational" religion of doing good to one's neighbor over the more "emotional" doctrines of grace. But God's omnipotent love moved his heart to eschew moralism and accept a Christ-centered education in his life.
The conclusion of the matter is that this book is a mixed bag. It is heavy on the Law with no corresponding Gospel message. With today's weak Christian culture, this book can easily turn into simple moralism.
That does not mean that one cannot use it. It means that a father or mother must use it in an environment that has a clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ's righteousness. Hopefully, with these facts at hand parents will be better able to evaluate the selling and buying of Webster's Blue-back Speller.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Although some theological differences may not and should not move Christians to disassociate themselves from their spiritual forefathers, others may. And yet to examine what they believed may challenge us today to reexamine our own beliefs.
For the sake of historical truth, I present to you, dear reader, the theological beliefs of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress.
A Confession of my Faith...
1. Naturally, he was Trinitarian (point 4)
2. He believed in Hell: "I believe, that those that die impenitent, shall be tormented with the devil and his angels, and shall be cast with them into ' the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.'" (point 9).
3. He asserted that Christ obeyed the Law for us: "I believe, therefore, that the righteousness, and redemption, by which we that believe, stand just before God, as saved from the curse of the law, is the righteousness, and redemption, that consists in the personal acts and performances of this child Jesus; this God-man the Lord's Christ: it consisteth, I say, in his personal fulfilling the law for us, to the utmost requirement of the justice of God." (point 15)
4. Justification: "I believe, we being sinful creatures in ourselves, that no good thing done by us, can procure of God the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But that the imputation thereof is an act of grace, a free gift without our deserving." (point 1).
5. Source of justification: "I believe, that the faith that so doth, is not to be found with any hut those, in whom the Spirit of God by mighty power doth work it: all others being fearful and incredulous, dare not venture their souls and eternity upon it. And hence it is called the faith that is wrought by the exceeding great and mighty power of God; the faith of the operation of God." (point 5)
6. "I believe, that this faith is effectually wrought in none, but those which before the world were appointed unto glory." (point 6)
7. Election by God: "I believe, that this decree, choice or election, was before the foundation of the world; and so before the elect themselves, had being in themselves" (point 2).
8. Election forever: " I believe, that there is not any impediment attending the election of God, that can hinder their conversion, and eternal salvation. ' Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things ? If God be for us, who can be against us ? - Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect ? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?' &c. Rom. viii. 3o—35" (point 5).
9. Calling & Spirit: "I believe, that to effectual calling, the Holy Ghost must accompany the word of the gospel, and that with mighty power: I mean that calling, which of God is made to be the fruit of electing love. 'Knowing,' saith Paul to the Thessalonians, 'brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance,' &c. lTh.i.4,5. Otherwise men will not, cannot, hear and turn."
10. Faith: "I believe, that effectual calling doth therefore produce, 1. Faith; and therefore it is said, that ' faith cometh by hearing;' Ro.x.17. by hearing the word...2. It produceth hope...3. It produceth repentance; for when a man hath heaven and hell before his eyes (as he will have if he be under the power of effectual calling) or when a man hath a revelation of the mercy and justice of God, with an heart-drawing invitation to lay hold on the tender forgiveness of sins...
11. Repentance: "Repentance is a turning the heart to God in Christ: a turning of it from sin, and the devil, and darkness; to the goodness, and grace, and holiness that is in him. Wherefore, they that of old are said to repent, are said to loath and abhor themselves, for all their abominations. ' I abhor myself,' [said Job,] 'and repent in dust and ashes.'...Godly repentance doth not only affect the soul with the loathsome nature of sin that is past; but filleth the heart with godly hatred of sins that yet may come."
12. Love: "It [effectual calling] produceth also love...[toward God and the brethren].
13. Bible: "I believe that the holy scriptures, of themselves, without the addition of human inventions, are able to make the man of God perfect in all things; and 'thoroughly to furnish him unto all good works.'...and to instruct thee in all other things, that either respect the worship of God, or thy walking before all men."
14. Creation & Providence: "Also, that after the time of the making thereof, he disposed of it to the children of men, with a reserve thereof for the children of God, that should in all ages be born thereunto.' When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel, De.xxxii. 8. for as he 'made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, [so he] hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.' Acts 17:26" (p.601)
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
For years the internet has been a safe-haven from tax-and-spend Democrats across America. Now, if this Colorado bill passes, purchases at Amazon and other retailers who have no physical presence in Colorado will be taxed.
The cowardliness is the Democrats refusal to cut spending where it hurts. The multitude of government-dependent programs that ought to be operated locally or privately will never be touched because too many voters like being dependent upon the government and millions more like the feeling of "helping" others with other people's money.
Pray that this will not happen. It will surely put a damper on internet sales and hurt the poor who enjoy cheaper prices online.
So claims Colorado professor Stenger.
Victor J. Stenger is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. And he is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii.
Of course, there are many and sundry professors in America with similar training. What makes this book any different than the other new atheist books out there?
First of all, it is a scientifically involved book. Although some science understanding is needed in parts of the book, it is well written and well researched.
Secondly, it is endorsed by Dawkins: "...Stenger drives a pack of energetic ferrets down the last major bolt hole...I learned an enormous amount from this splendid book." This puts it on the national radar.
The chapters cover various examinations of the physical universe that purportedly reinforce the central thesis. But my intention is not to examine each chapter let alone each argument. That would become a book in itself. Rather, I will focus on the foundational elements of the book while highlighting a few other points. If the foundation of this atheistic-scientific house is missing, then the entire superstructure falls.
Building the House
Professor Stenger understands the importance of a proper and solid foundation. Thus, he lays out the ground-work in the beginning of the book, explaining what scientific model he is using and the God he is analyzing. From here the house superstructure is further built in the remaining chapters.
The 'god' he wishes to scientifically analyze is the one in common with the "three monotheisms": "...a supreme, transcendent being--beyond matter, space, and time--and yet the foundation of all that meets our senses...[one who] is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe...[who] listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation..." (11).
And how will he investigate this 'god'?
“My analysis will be based on the contentions that God should be detectable by scientific means simply by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to play such a central role in the operations of the universe and the lives of humans. Existing scientific models contain no place where God is included as an ingredient in order to describe observations. Thus, if God exists, he must appear somewhere within the gaps or errors of scientific models” (13)
He simply equates the natural and supernatural as material and non-material respectively (14). And the science he uses is the doorway of our senses, our instruments, and generalized models of explanation. Hypothetical test that may reveal a non-material origin are proposed because " [God's] presence would be signaled, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the empirical verification of such a phenomena.” (14)
He acknowledges that a clever theist may retort that his god is still hidden, forever beyond the reach of empirical investigation. History and common sense, he replies, ultimately shows that "absence of evidence became evidence of absence. Generally speaking, when we have no evidence or other reason for believing in some entity, then we can be pretty sure that entity does not exist" (18).
He specifies that he will use a particular criterion in this book, falsificationism--an approach popularized by Sir Karl Popper. In particular, any hypothesis "must be one that contains the seeds of its own destruction...a hypothesis that cannot be falsified is a hypothesis that has no value" (25). In other words, the falsification criterion is the claim that valid scientific models are ones that could conceivably be proven otherwise. Popper rejected inductive reasoning postulating the progress of science in terms of conjecture (hypothesis) and refutation (testing). Instead of seeking out confirmation (evidence) of a theory, falsificationism seeks counter-facts and test to disconfirm a theory.
Analyzing the Foundation
“No consensus exists among philosophers of science on what distinguishes science from pseudoscience or nonscience, although most scientists would say they know pseudoscience when they see it.” (12)
This amazing admission is reworded elsewhere:
"falsification...[was] a means for distinguishing legitimate scientific models from nonscientific conjectures. Since then, however, philosophers of science have found falsification insufficient for this purpose" (26).
If no consensus exists on what criterion differentiates science from nonscience, why write this book?
Professor Stenger attempts to bypass this impasse: 'god' can be so falsified as a hypothesis because such a Being is "supposed to be everywhere..." If everywhere and a participant in all places and actions (of which all places and actions are at bottom material), then, argues the professor, this 'god' ought to be empirically discovered in any given place or action.
This assumes that science is the definitive technique for determining observable truth and that observable truth has no unobservable components—a gratuitous assumption as best. Behind this epistemic assumption lies a corresponding metaphysical assumption: that only the material exists. And further: if their is a non-material realm (of any consequence) then it will interact with the material realm in a testable way (again, therefore, falsifiable by scientific models).
Furthermore, the use of models is a tricky business. The author admits:
"Whether the elements and the processes that make up a successful model are to be taken as intrinsic parts of reality is not a question that can be simply answered…” because the model might be falsified in the distant future. Yet "when a model is falsified, we can reasonably assume that those elements and processes that are unique to the model…are likely not intrinsic parts of reality.” (13)
If each hypothesis is not necessarily an accurate model of reality and able to be falsified and thus replaced in the future, then how can one determine that now is the time to answer this God-question? Upon what (uncriticized) criterion was this decided?
Destroying the Foundation
The first problem is the definition of 'god'. In brief, the classical Protestant (Reformed) doctrine of God, as summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, does not present Him as merely participating in all things. Rather, this Triune God does "uphold, direct, dispose and govern" all things while ordering all to "fall out according to the nature of secondary causes..." even as God makes use of means, whilst free to work "without, above, and against them" (WCF 5.1-3). Such a God cannot be reduced to crass materialism, because the material universe is dependent upon Him. Therefore, any and all tests (and observations) are evidences for the existence of such a God.
The problem is that such a God is unacceptable to Stenger. Near the end of the book, he winnows out other 'god' options ('hidden gods') except the "hideous hidden God of Evangelical Christianity". Or more specifically the version given by an Evangelical Christian who admits that God does hide himself (contrary to Romans 1:18ff.). Even so, Stenger's attitude toward this God who "cannot be totally ruled out" is to accuse Him of "cowardice" and of not being "perfectly loving" (239ff.).
What is "perfectly loving" in an all-material universe? Most people believe it to be more than animal coupling. Perhaps it is the combination of bio-chemical and bio-electric reactions in the body? This questions does not even begin to touch the perennial question of what perfection is. This unscientific response is a picture of the entire effort of the book: to bring an Infinite and Transcendent God to the bar of finite human reason.
Given that this review is from the virtuous circle of the worldview of Christianity, what do non-Christians think?
Popper himself acknowledges the limitations of his scientific method. Professor Stenger notes that Popper restricted falsification to empirical statements only: "philosophical theories, or metaphysical theories, will be irrefutable by definition" (26). The God of Christianity in general, and Protestantism in particular, is a metaphysical God, notwithstanding Stenger's attempted reductionism.
On the other hand, the scientific worldview of Popper and others include "metaphysical theories" of what is a fact and what is material. Popper even admitted that "Darwinism is...a metaphysical research programme".
Among the other critiques of falsification as the heart of science, Martin Gardner, at Skeptical Inquirer, (2001, reprinted) explained:
"There are many objections to this startling claim. One is that falsifications are much rarer in science than searches for confirming instances. Astronomers look for signs of water on Mars. They do not think they are making efforts to falsify the conjecture that Mars never had water."
Another detractor summarizes several internal inconsistencies and contradictions. Mr. Dykes's paper, Debunking Popper (here), includes other well-known philosophers who have pointed unconquerable problems with falsification (aka, critical rationalism). One should suffice:
"Blanshard noted that particular propositions such as 'some swans are white' can only be falsified by showing that 'no swans are white.' Since the latter would be self-evidently untrue, 'some swans are white' is a perfectly valid scientific statement which cannot be falsified."
The boundary between science and nonscience is fuzzy indeed. Stenger is correct: "philosophers of science have found falsification insufficient for this purpose."
One cannot simply abstract God out of the interconnected web of beliefs of Christianity. Falsifying a single proposition is not the same as falsifying an entire worldview. Since well-developed worldviews cannot be falsified piecemeal, the new atheists need to use other tools in their quest to demolish Christ's kingdom.
Certainly confirmation and falsification are both useful tools in the domain of science (and even elsewhere). And critical self-evaluation is needed in any endeavor in life. But the hypothesis of falsification is not up to the task of tearing down the foundation of Christianity. Its inbred limitations are admitted even by its major proponent. Instead of disproving the God-hypothesis, falsification itself turned out to be a failed hypothesis.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Having explained that a sacrament is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace--a sign outwardly displaying what the inward reality should be and a seal testifying of God's faithfulness and encouraging our faith--we proceed to Baptism.
As an initiatory rite, Baptism brings one into the Church visible. This is not seriously debated by any Protestant. As a sign of regeneration, it portrays the truth of the Spirit's work in the lives of His people. As a seal, it confirms our adoptions as children of God. These truths are less known. So, as the goal is more
instructional than polemic, let us define our terms:
Q94: What is baptism?
A94: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's.
1. Matt. 28:19; 2. Rom. 6:3; 3. Rom. 6:4
It is 1) a "washing with the water"-meaning that the mode presumably should follow the Biblical pattern. Historically, the Reformed (both Presbyterian, Anglican and Congregational) have understood that mode to follow the prophecies of the Older Testament, pouring or sprinkling (just as the Spirit was promised, Ez. 36, Acts 2). This "washing" 2) signifies, or symbolizes or points to our engrafting into Christ,
partaking of His benefits and the demand to be the Lord's own in thought, word & deed. In parallel with the signifying (at least for the elect), there is 3) a sealing aspect to baptism (as just explained in part 6). It more confirms our consciences (increases our subjective awareness) of our part in Christ & all His benefits. As a seal it does not transmit grace, it confirms what is already ours. It highlights what is already ours. It strengthens what is already ours. That is why it is dubbed a "means of grace," for it increases saving faith (cp. WCF 14:1).
Naturally, just as baptism may be meaningless to some adult converts who publicly profess Christ (but inwardly are full of dead man's bones), so too, children may never be regenerate (cp. WCF 28.5). Yet in both instances, they were baptized. This is because baptism does not regenerate nor transmit saving faith to the recipient. That is the work of the Spirit. And the Spirit may work spiritual life
before, during or after baptism because His ways are inscrutable (John 3:5, 8). Again, this is a Presbyterian dogma: "Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated" (WCF 28.5).
The fact that children are given the sign of Baptism in many Protestant churches (Anglican, Congregationalists & Presbyterians) is because of Abraham (Gen. 17:7) & Peter. Yes, I said Peter. Note Acts2:38-39:
Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
The promise-the Gospel-is "to you and to your children." Just as the Gospel call is given to all, yet only those who are born-again will respond (John 3), so the call is especially given to those children of Covenant households, yet only the elect will respond. The children have greater illumination; hence, they have greater responsibility. To whom much is given much is required. They must own their baptism
through public confession.
And that moral truth is the basis of question 167 of the Larger Catechism:
"How is our Baptism to be improved by us?
Answer: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we
are present at the administration of it to others..."
What this entails is the fact that our baptism is not a relic of our past. Although objective insofar as God is publicly declaring our entrance into the Church, it is also subjective insofar as it is part of our past and conscience. Our baptism (whether as an infant or an adult) is for our comfort ("in the time of temptation") & our encouragement as we are faced with "the administration of it to others..."
The answer continues in detail how both of these are accomplished (with a plethora of verses!): by considering what baptism signifies and seals; by humbling ourselves for not living faithfully; by "growing up to assurance of pardon of sin..."; by clinging to our spiritual baptism into Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5); by living in faith; by obeying the call to holiness; by walking in the brotherly love because of our unity in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
Although justification and regeneration should not be confused with baptism, baptism is for our own good. It should encourage us as part of our overall sanctification in righteousness. It should be part and parcel of our living in obedience (1 John 2:3ff.). The Spirit uses this tool to point to His work & confirm our faith; thus having begun in grace, we should continue in grace.