Theology

Baptism: The Ace of Grace

Posted on August 24, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Relationships, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , |

If you’re into Swedish Rock or 90’s pop, then chances are you’ve memorized  “The Sign” by Ace of Base.  “I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind, I saw the sign…” Sorry, that will likely be in your head now.

At it’s core, that’s what baptism is for many Christians, including yours truly. A sign, not a Swedish Rock band, in case you were confused. When God gives us a covenant, he marks it with an external sign.  The sign of the old covenant was circumcision, and the sign of the new covenant is baptism:

Paul writes, “When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).

Christians are not set apart physically, instead we are differentiated from others by our faith in Christ. Baptism is a marker for this faith and a sign that points to a new life in Christ. Though the sign of the new covenant leaves no physical distinction, there are still outward indications a person has faith in Christ through their works (James 2:14-26).

I acknowledge, not everyone would agree that baptism is simply a sign. Some denominations even believe it is required for entry into paradise (bummer for the thief on the cross). Indeed, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding baptism because it’s something people take seriously, and rightly so. A red flag should go up when people don’t take committing (or recommitting) their life to Christ seriously. But I don’t think we should get so hung up on the details that we lose focus on what’s important, celebrating a brother or sister coming into the Church.

With that being said, this is my blog so I’m going to explain where I come down on the issue: baptism is a public statement indicating a faith in Christ and marking the beginning of a life in him.

Without rehashing the Protestant Reformation, I believe that faith in Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity and that it is only by faith that we are justified with God (John 3:16, Romans 3:22, Ephesians 2:8). Because baptism is a sign of this faith, my husband and I chose not to baptize our children, after all, they have no faith in Christ yet (or any concept of faith at all). We’re working on potty-training for now. We pray with every fiber of our beings that one day we will witness their testament to faith in him, but we believe that is their choice, not ours. Sprinkling them with water won’t change this.

That being said, there is biblical precedence for parents attesting that they will raise their children to love God and for dedicating children to the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:7). For that reason, we have chosen to dedicate our sons in front of our church so that our brothers and sisters can hold us accountable to raising them in the faith.

There are lessons I take from Christ’s baptism. Not only was he a man (rather than an infant), but he made a public declaration. The thing about public statements is that they have a way of holding you accountable (assuming of course your witnesses hold you accountable). For that reason, I think it’s important for baptisms, dedications, and weddings to be done publicly.

Secondly, when Jesus went down to the Jordan River, he was likely submerged by its waters rather than getting a little sprinkle on the forehead (the Greek for baptism actually means ‘to submerge’). I think there’s something symbolic about being completely washed by the waters, after all Christ takes away all our sins, not just a few. But I also contend this is not, and should not, be a sticking point of baptism.

So that’s it for my personal beliefs: a public statement of faith, preferably with a lot of water. I realize not everyone agrees with me, and I recognize some good arguments for the opposing views which I hope you will share in the comments.

If you’re exploring “the sign” for yourself or your children, I hope you take your decision seriously. After all, as some wise Swedes once said, “No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong.”

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Baptism: Biblical Waterboarding

Posted on August 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , |

As a person with swimming skills a step above the doggie paddle, I always had a mild heart attack anytime a friend dunked me in the pool. Even if it was 3 feet of water, panic always briefly gripped my heart. So, a few weeks ago when our church was baptizing people, I realized it’s a bit ironic I look forward to watching others get ‘dunked.’ And when you think about it, whether it’s a little sprinkle on the forehead for an infant or complete immersion, baptism is kind of a weird ritual. Why do we do it? Where did it come from?

I always assumed baptism was invented by a rugged bug-eating-camel hair-wearing Hebrew (i.e. John the Baptist) shortly before Christ’s ministry began. But you know what they say when you assume…Turns out the practice went back a bit farther than that.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a gas station bathroom? That’s the feeling the Jews had about Gentiles (anyone that isn’t Hebrew). As such, when a Gentile coverts to Judaism, they have to be made clean in a ceremony called ‘proselyte baptism.’

Enter John the Baptist. The controversial thing about John was that he wasn’t just baptizing Gentiles – he was calling out the Jews too. He claimed the Messiah was coming and that even the Jews were unworthy to receive him  (Matthew 3:1-12).  To be made clean, they needed to repent and turn to God. Think about it as reverse water-boarding: you confess the Truth and then get the water treatment.

This of course raises the question – why would Jesus, a man without sin, need to be baptized? You could write a book on that topic, but in short, Christ had to submit the Law perfectly. By being baptized he was obeying a command from God’s prophet (John the Baptist) and setting an example for us to follow.

After Jesus rose, he told his followers to go make more disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  Where as the baptisms John administered were in preparation for the Messiah, the baptism Christ commands us to do marks the beginning of a life following him. In him we are made clean and made new, not by water, but by Spirit (Matthew 3:11).Christians recognize, though we are not worthy to receive him, Christ bore our sins so that we could be made new, clean, and righteous before God which is signified through baptism.

You might be saying, “I get that baptism is important (after all it is commanded by a locust-eating man of the wilderness and God incarnate), but why do some churches dunk babies and others dunk adults? Can you go to heaven if you don’t get baptized?” In the next post, I will explain some of these differences and why my kids haven’t been baptized …yet.

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“The Road to Serfdom” – A Take Away

Posted on October 12, 2011. Filed under: Economics, Government, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace...

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace fair use images that are used in some articles. Released by the Mises Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you seen the summer Youtube sensations “Fear the Boom and Bust” and my personal favorite “The Fight of the Century”? These videos feature political-economic bigwigs Friedrich August von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes battling over the roll of government in the economy. Sounds really dorky but it’s actually pretty funny. The creator attempts to get viewers thinking about the age-old questions: do we go with central planning or favor personal liberty?

Anyways, after viewing these hysterical videos, I realized that I had never read either man’s works. So, I sat down and read F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” which warns of the inherent problems that exist in free societies and central planning. For anyone interested…scratch that…anyone who votes, the book is short and a pretty easy read. No graphs or equations or anything that would remind you of a mandatory college class.

While Hayek addresses a number of issues that are still eerily relevant today,  one thing in particular that  struck me was his argument on the “Rule of Law.” This bedrock for free societies is commonly understood to mean that no man from the President on down is higher than the law. It’s easy to understand why this is the colloquial meaning for the phrase, but it’s not entirely accurate.

As Hayek wrote, “Rule of Law implies limits to the scope of legislation.” After all, Hitler was elected and carried out his eugenic policies completely through a legislative process. But not too many of us would claim slaughtering Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and communists is okay as long as Congress passes a law saying so  (well Hoover might have argued that last one and no, not the vacuum cleaner guy). Here in the US, one of the major roles of the Supreme Court is to determine if laws Congress and the President pass hold muster to the Constitution, i.e. our set of laws that limit the government’s power.  Hayek argued that central planning and the Rule of Law are incompatable because “the government’s coercive powers [are] no longer limited and determined by pre-established rules.”

In Deuteronomy, when God is outlining how a king should rule, He commands the king is to read the law God gave Moses daily.  “It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he…(will) not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut 17:19-20).  Now, from my understanding of the time, what the king said was law. But God also gave laws to his people that governed how even the king must live; the king was confined to these laws. It appears to me, this was God’s way of establishing the Rule of Law among the Jews.

This may seem theoretical and not so relevant today, but look at it this way: do we really think politicians should be permitted enact whatever they deem ‘good’ or should there be limits? I recently read the EPA is effectively outlawing an inhaler because it uses CFC – obviously it can, but should a Federal agency be permitted to outlaw a product while circumventing the legislative processes? Or do we still recognize pre-established rules that say what the government can and cannot do? Have we given up on our Rule of Law?

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The Bible and the Bong

Posted on September 25, 2011. Filed under: Culture, Entertainment, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , |

Marijuana

Image by warrantedarrest via Flickr

As an American child born in the 80s, I was taught, “just say no” to drugs. A few years later, I actually won an essay contest sponsored by the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program for regurgitating the horrors of a drugs (alcohol and cigarettes too). But you know where I never learned about drugs – church. Why is that? Just what does the Bible have to say about narcotics?

I didn’t find ‘Mary Jane’ in the NIV index. Instead, I decided to go to the second source of all knowledge, Google, though Facebook may have worked too.  A quick search will show you that a lot of people have put time into this topic on both sides of the spectrum (leading me to wonder why they don’t have more important things to fret over, another topic though). What I found is that those in favor of legalization most commonly cited Gen 1:11, Gen 1:29, Gen 3:18, Ex 30:22, Psalms 104:14, Prov 15:17, and Rev 22:2. Many Christian advocates claim ‘if God made it, it must be good,’ a foolish argument Paul warns us about. I also realized why the King James Bible is still in circulation. These people will suffer through all the ‘thou’s, ‘shalt,’s and ‘cometh’s in exchange for keeping the word ‘herb,’ which has been replaced by ‘plant,’ ‘tree’ and ‘vegetation’ in more recent translations. Didn’t matter to me.

Gen 1:11 is God creating vegetation, which is followed up in 1:29 and 3:18 with Him explicitly giving them to man for food. Nothing there about God and Adam chillin’ in Eden getting high, munching on Cheetos.

On to the Exodus verse discussing anointing oil. The argument here is that the Hebrew word for fragrant cane or calamus (Kaneh-bosem) is similar to the Hebrew word for cannabis. This word is repeated in other books such as Ezekiel. Regardless, the context is not about using the plant, whatever it was, for getting high.

This pattern continues for the other verses listed above. The purpose of the word, herb or plant whichever you prefer, is never about smokin’ the reefer. It refers to praising the Lord for his blessings, eating and keeping good company, or breaking the curse God placed on man in Genesis.

Personally, I don’t find it unreasonable to believe the Hebrews used cannabis (or other ‘herbs’) considering ancient and current nomadic cultures use it for clothing, rope, medicine, paper, and the list continues. God did give the land to man to rule and subdue it. The real focus should be on what the Bible says about altering your mind with substances.

In Prov 23:29-35 the word for wine is the Hebrew mesekh, a wine mixture that contained extra ingredients to enhance the high of the alcohol. Similarly, the wine offered to Christ on while He hung beaten, tortured, and suffocating on a cross was soured wine, or one that acted as an anodyne, which He did not drink. (If ever anyone needed a stiff drink, it was then.) But, we also know that the first miracle Jesus preformed was turning water into wine, so clearly He wasn’t against drinking wine all together.

It appears to me He recognizes there is a line that should not be crossed.  The proverbial line is when your actions impede sound judgment (the Greek word Paul used was nepho). Any substance that prevents you from keeping your body a temple of Christ, affects your relationship with others, hurts finances, or has negative impacts on other responsibilities such as school or work, would qualify.

Does this lead to me to believe it’s okay to have a joint? No. Peter wrote, “Show proper respect to everyone, love to the family of believers, fear God, and honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).  Our laws state it is illegal to use drugs, and while I don’t personally politically agree with these laws, I believe as Christians we are called to keep them while they do not infringe on basic liberties (a topic for another day).

So, though the Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit hitting the crack pipe or snorting a line, if using drugs prevents you from sound judgement, there’s a problem. And maybe it’s my naïveté, but short of drugs for medicinal purposes, I don’t really see the point of using them if you have to remain of temperate mind.

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