Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Recommendation: Believer's Baptism


There are two ordinances that Christ gave to the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both were instituted and commanded by Christ Himself, and yet, they remain two of the least understood practices of the church.  What does the Lord’s Supper signify? Who should be allowed to observe it? Why do we baptize people at all if salvation is by faith alone? What exactly does baptism mean? Is anything significant accomplished by these ordinances?
I’d like to recommend a couple of excellent books that answer many questions regarding the ordinances.  This time I’ll recommend a book on baptism and later a book on the Lord’s Supper.
Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ is a collection of articles written by Baptist scholars such as Tom Schreiner, Shawn Wright, Robert Stein, Duane Garrett, and Mark Dever. It is by far the most helpful book on baptism that I have read.  The book is primarily written to respond to evangelical paedobaptists (those who believe in baptizing infants), "primarily in the Reformed tradition, who baptize infants not because they believe that baptism regenerates the child but because they believe that baptism brings the child into the covenant community where he or she will have the blessing of hearing the gospel preached as they grow up as members of the church" (7).  Conversely, the authors promote credobaptism (or “believer’s baptism”), the doctrine that “Christian baptism should be reserved for believers…in the Lord Jesus Christ” (6). 
Stephen Wellums’ chapter – “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” – is worth the price of the book all by itself.  In it he lays out a detailed and faithful presentation of the most common theological argument for paedobaptism – the covenantal argument.  If you have never understood why our Presbyterian brothers and sisters baptize infants, read this chapter and you will.  Wellum then evaluates the argument, concluding that “at the heart of the paedobaptist problem…is a failure to understand correctly the relationship between the biblical covenants.  In fact, a truly covenantal approach to Scripture…demands an affirmation of believer’s baptism” (160).
While the book is specifically a response to paedobaptism, its exegesis of the relevant passages in the New Testament serves as an excellent primer on baptism in general. If you want to know why we baptize, what it means, and when it should happen, the book will answer those questions and many more.  The exegetical chapters – “Baptism in the Gospels,” “Baptism in Luke-Acts,” and “Baptism in the Epistles” – consider every passage on baptism in the New Testament.  So even if your interest is not in understanding paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, you will come away blessed with a greater understanding of this ordinance.
The only thing that could improve the book would be a chapter refuting the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.  (In an upcoming sermon series on baptism, baptismal regeneration will be addressed, so stay tuned.)
The book concludes with a chapter by Mark Dever on how baptism functions in the life of a local church.  In it he answers a host of questions including:
·      Who should baptize and who should be baptized?
·      Should the unbaptized come to the Lord’s Supper?
·      Should the unbaptized be admitted to church membership?
·      Should those not coming into membership be baptized?
·      Should baptism ever be delayed?
Overall, the book is an excellent resource.  It was a blessing to me and I know it would be to you, too.  Highly recommended.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Revelation and Condemnation


In the Sunday morning message on Matthew 11:20-24, we saw that the severity of God’s judgment on the unrepentant depends upon the level of revelation they have received. The passage indicates that notoriously sinful cities like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would receive relatively lighter judgment than those Galilean cities that were exposed to the teaching and miracles of Christ Himself. Having received greater revelation, the Galilean cities would come under greater condemnation.
This raises a thought-provoking question. If greater revelation leads to greater condemnation, can we walk that principle backwards to say that those who receive no revelation will receive no condemnation?  In other words, does this truth mean that those who are never exposed to divine revelation are not condemned to hell?
To answer that question, we should first distinguish between different kinds of revelation. Theologians divide all revelation into general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is general in two senses.  First of all, it is general in scope – it goes to everyone.  Second, it is general in substance; that is, it delivers general, not specific, truth.  It is broad in nature.  It shows truths like “God is divine and powerful” (Rom 1:20).  It does not deliver detailed truths like the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Bible speaks of two avenues of general revelation.  The first is creation, which Psalm 19 depicts as revealing truths about God: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Likewise, Romans 1:20 shows how God has revealed truth about Himself in creation: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

A second avenue of general revelation is the human conscience.  Romans 2:15 teaches that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them… 

The bible teaches that general revelation is sufficient to condemn sinners. Consider Romans 1:18-32, particularly vv18-20 and 28-32: 
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,
30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The revelation depicted in these verses is exclusively general revelation. This passage shows that general revelation serves to expose the heart of the unbeliever and his rebellion against God, and brings upon him God's just judgment. Again, this is revelation that is available to everyone. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…so they are without excuse. General revelation is sufficient to condemn.

Special revelation is completely different.  It is special in substance, which means that it is more specific, more detailed than general revelation.  For example, knowledge of salvation can only come through special revelation.  It depends upon details not available in our observation of creation, nor in our conscience.    

There are three main avenues of special revelation.  The first is through personal encounter, as when God appeared to Moses in a burning bush in Exodus 3.  The second is through propositional revelation, which is what we have in the Bible.  The third is the Incarnation – the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Salvation can only come through special revelation: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).

So what is the answer to the question posed above? If someone receives no revelation does that mean they are not condemned to hell?  The question itself contains a mistake. Everyone receives some kind of revelation, even if only general revelation, which is sufficient to condemn. Only special revelation contains the information necessary to be saved. Rejecting general revelation results in condemnation. Rejecting special revelation results in greater condemnation. This underscores the truth that Jesus Christ is the only hope for the salvation of sinners.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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