Just Add Water (1 of 4)
September 29, 2014
Well, I was going to go on a bit more about the necessity of the local church in the posts headed to this space, but our dear brother in Christ Dr. Mark Jones has done what Presbyterians are prone to do when they interact with Baptists about Baptism, and as the new resident Baptist here I guess it's my job (by vocation if not by assignment) to disambiguate his confusion over why I would personally see his being sprinkled as an infant as no baptism at all, and why therefore I would say he's not to take the other ordinance (the Lord's Supper) in church. Let me preface these remarks by saying I envy anyone whose name is "Dr. Jones," and even more any in this fine class who has the self-control not to change his first name to "Indiana."
Two items as caveats before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:
- The opinions and arguments here are mine and not the arguments of the Alliance. Hate the player and not the game in this case.
- The arguments I will make here are also not the position of the local church I attend. In spite of that church being baptistic in confession, they practice a more open form of communion than I would advocate for. I'm not an elder there, so as I make my case for what I think is a robust response to Mark Jones, I speak for myself and not my church at BCLR.org.
So the main thrust of Dr. Jones article is that somehow the closed-table Baptist is declining to allow that Presbyterians are Christians at all if he doesn't allow one paedobatized to take the Lord's Table when it is presented during worship. There are probably a dozen things that bother me about this innuendo, but the one which undoubtedly seems the worst to me is to consider all the baptized people a Presbyterian would refuse to serve at the table - that is, all the children which are Christians by the covenantal formula "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just add water." I'm looking forward to Dr. Jones' defense of paedocommunion under the pains of being accused of turning out babies from the family of God in his next installment, but I think it probably isn't coming.
Seriously now: if the charge that Dr. Jones has put forward here has any weight at all, it rests on the idea that refusing participation to the table demands a metaphysical statement about those refused - namely, that they do not belong to Christ at all, in any sense. That's always the charge of Presbyterians against us poor and uncatechized Baptists - think of all the people we make into no Christians at all. It's a middle-class, civilized version of the Reformation argument that we are schismatic - and I appreciate the good will it takes to get us this far (I have my copy of the Augsburg Treaty in hand if necessary), but the difference is only in whether or not there are torches and pitchforks involved. I think there's a better way to discuss this, and a better solution. And for those of you worried about it, I have put all my best jokes right here in the introduction. The rest will be appropriately dour and solemn.
Let me provide you an outline of the posts in this (brief) series.
A. The meaning of being a "Christian"
B. The meaning of Baptism (especially for the local church)
C. The meaning of the Lord's Table
D. Conclusions/Parting Shots
The Meaning of being a Christian
I think, with very serious and deep respect, that the worst way to pose the problem here is as Dr. Jones did - which is to somehow intimate that either side here has a problem which wrongly frames the doorposts of the Kingdom of God - that is, that either side has either included or excluded the wrong people inside the group Jesus is on about in Mat 16. Because let's face it: the actual ultimate state of any human person is a slippery fish. I'm not comfortable hanging any argument on whether or not "I think" anyone is "a Christian" because I can barely tell you which kids in the gym belong to me - and I see them every day and know them better than I know any of you (esp. - you Presbyterians). What "I think" sounds too much to me like doing what seems right in my own eyes, and we all know where that gets us (given that you are as well-read in the OT as Presbyterians ought to be).
All that to say this: I don't get to define who is and is not a Christian, and neither does Dr. Jones. Jesus is the only one who has the authority to do this. And fortunately for us, he was pretty liberal to tell us what he means by it - at least, as the label came into popular use in Antioch. In Jesus' terms, anyone who is a "disciple" is a "Christian." I could just toss that out here and expect the reader to fill in the blanks from his Greek NT, but briefly here are 3 references that I would use to show that this is Jesus' meaning.
Mat 28:18-20 (ESV)
Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
That's fair enough, right? It even includes the ordinance of baptism in it so that it plugs into the discussion. But in Jesus view of it, those who are His disciples are His because of His authority, and in that authority they observe what he has commanded. That is: the role of the disciple (the Christian) is one of being under the authority of Christ (rather than, as I mentioned above, the authority of "me"). Without writing a book here, this is a perfectly covenantal view of it as the disciple is something because of what Christ has done, but the disciple is therefore also running on new rules in Christ.
I'm sure plenty of you are breaking out the sheet music now to the "distinct imperative/indicative" overture, but it's not a violation of the Gospel to say that those who receive it, who believe in the name of Jesus, become children of God in more ways than just the final way in glorification. The path of sanctification is necessarily part of the Gospel as Jesus didn;t just do something, but did something for us.
Mat 10:34-39 (ESV)
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Personally, I like this one because it's inflammatory by Jesus - set up so that you really can't misunderstand what Jesus means here. In Jesus' view, it's not merely intellectual assent which is the hallmark of a disciple: it's being set against the world and its value system. When he says this, Jesus is saying that his disciples will not just know something about him: they will go and do things which express their confidence in Him over all other relationships, and all other comforts. But it underscores that the disciple is not merely a learner or hearer of the word of God (and the Word of God), but a doer of those things He has made clear.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."
This bit I love because poor Simon just got it right not 3 sentences earlier, but then Jesus starts saying that being the Christ means suffering and dying in Jerusalem. That's too much for Peter who rebukes the Son of God (as he said), but Jesus says plainly that not only must he do this, but that there's no one who can follow him unless he follows him to the cross. Look: that's not just a new way to think about how religion works: that's a way which leads a man to his own death for the sake of others. It's a kind of doing which is not merely duty but doing for the sake of one's own soul. We might here ask whether there are actually enough categories in the "imperative/indicative" paradigm because in this case it seems like Jesus is saying that there are some things one does because he must want to do it.
All of that to say that the meaning of being a Christian is not merely external (that is: what has been done for you) or merely internal (that is: what you think or affirm) but is somehow wrapped up in a new trajectory, a new path one is walking on. That's probably why, in the book of Acts, it turns out that the movement these people manifested in the world was called "the Way."
This leads us to some interesting issues, such as how we can apply this paradigm to guys like the Thief on the Cross who was never baptized. He was in paradise that very day with Christ - and no decent Baptist would reject the idea that the Thief was a Christian. But it at least gets us to a place where we can know what we are talking about if we have to ask the question, "Is 'X' a Christian?" If we are asking that question, I hope we are answering it like Jesus did, which is to say, "if a person is following Jesus, and dying to world daily, and seeking to do what Jesus commanded, that person is a Christian." The WCF would say it this way:
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatesoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.
So the problem that we face in this discussion is not about whether or not I (or any other closed-table Baptist) would not allow R.C. Sproul or Dr. Jones to be Christians. The problem is about something else which, it seems obvious to me, Dr. Jones has swept under the covenantal rug.
I'll elaborate next time. And good thing the comments are closed!