29 June 2005

finger paints

Last night I was helping Claire do some finger painting. At one point I was fiddling with a paper of my own considering what I might create, when Claire slapped her two paint-covered hands onto the paper, leaving a pair of purple handprints behind, some smudges of red and yellow streaming from the fingertips.

I had read some stories from the Desert Fathers as a kid and one of them immediately sprang to mind looking at the prints:

Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph in the desert and said: "Father, as best I can I keep my little rule: I fast, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and I purify my thoughts. Now what else should I do?"

The elder stood up and stretched up his hands towards heaven. His fingers turned into ten tongues of flame and he said: "Why not become all fire?"

It is an interesting fact that while the great saints of the West have a tendency towards such manifestations as the stigmata, in the East they glow with light or fire instead, which is probably a function of the piety: meditation upon bloody crucifixes and stations of the cross as opposed to icons of the transfiguration and resurrection.



In any case, I found myself dabbing paint with my fingertips, turning Claire's handprints into a picture of Abba Joseph, hands outstretched, with rays of fire blazing from them. So far, my daughter doesn't think I'm too weird.

26 June 2005

pentecost 6

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love fulfils the law.
Grant us grace to love you
with all our heart,
all our soul,
all our mind,
all our strength,
and to love our neighbors as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever.

22 June 2005

more newbigin

In The Household of God, within the context of his discussion of baptism and the church as the body of Christ, Newbigin gently chides those who want to reduce the nature of the church to one of "doctrinal correctness" (51). While he insists that "true doctrine will always be vital to the Church's life," there is, nonetheless, a danger of "overintellectualizing" the content of the faith, so that the church "is defined in terms of agreement about doctrine, and this doctrinal agreement must be agreement on paper," taken in isolation from "the character of the fellowship in which the doctrine is taught" (51).

Although "hearing and believing the Gospel" are absolutely necessary for receiving Christ, Newbigin notes that hearing and believing do not occur "apart from the context of a continuing fellowship through which the Gospel comes to us" (52). While the unity of believers "necessarily...involves a certain amount of intellectual agreement about truths which can be expressed in propositional form," that unity is essentially "a work of the Holy Spirit binding us to one another in the love wherewith Christ loved us."

The essential condition of that unity, humanly speaking, is a "faith which consists in casting oneself wholly upon that love, and opening heart and mind and soul to its influence" (52). In context, doctrinal disagreements will remain painful and believers will continue to seek to "convince one another of the truth as they see it, and to learn from one another," but such tensions are borne in love and "made bearable by the assurance that one day we shall know as we have been known" (52). Defining the unity of the church in Christ in essentially doctrinal terms, abstracted from this wider context, has the effect of breaking "the Christian fellowship into rival parties, each based upon some one-sided doctrinal formulation, and eventually into completely separated bodies" (53).

Newbigin goes on to speak of the pressing biblical ideal of the church as a visible unity and the necessity "to seek penitently and realistically for the source of the tendency to endless fissiparation" which has, all to often, characterized especially Protestantism (53). He asks rhetorically how it is that we can be "content to see the Church of Jesus Christ split up into hundreds of separate sects, feel no sense of same about such a situation, and sometime even glory in it and claim the support of the New Testament for it" (53).

Newbigin concludes this portion of his remarks with the following:

...there is a real people of God present in the world, a real spiritual society, a place where the light of God really shines and the life of God really pulses, and that it makes the most awful and ultimate difference conceivable whether you are inside or outside of that place. (55)

While this doesn't answer all the questions of how we, today, in world of fragmented and sometimes divisive church-life can best practice the unity of believers in Christ and move foward in the work of the church, Newbigin's remarks do provide some challenging reminders of the Gospel imperative to remain at peace with all men, as far as it is up to us and especially, I would think, with those who are of the household of faith.

21 June 2005

PCA GA resolution

Most observers of the PCA's recent General Assembly might have missed it, but early in the Assembly a personal resolution concerning justification was presented by an RE named Fred Greco, who, I believe, is from the Great Lakes Presbytery.

GA denied resolution, presumably on the grounds that GA is not in the practice of adopting personal resolutions of significant theological substance apart from proper study of the issues by GA itself and unless such study is prompted by a resolution sent up from a Presbytery.

Nevertheless, here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas, recent theological debates have raised questions regarding the doctrine of justification by faith alone; and

Whereas, Teaching Elders in the PCA have been denied transfer between presbyteries due to controversies regarding these teachings; and

Whereas, the PCA’s fidelity to the gospel has been publicly questioned; and

Whereas, no greater tragedy could befall the PCA today than to compromise the lucidity of her preaching of the glorious Gospel of grace;

Whereas, theological statements that are not amendments to our Constitution can be beneficial to the Church, though they lack Constitutional or judicial force;

Be it therefore resolved, that the 33rd General Assembly of the PCA declare for the good of the Church the following statements, affirmations and denials:

1) Justification is through faith in Christ alone. We affirm that justifying faith will necessarily produce good works. We deny that good works are a constituent element of justifying faith.

2) Believers are justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. We affirm that Christ’s righteousness, resulting from His perfect obedience and full satisfaction for sin, is imputed or reckoned to believers. We deny that justification relies on any righteousness of our own, including membership in the covenant community.

3) Justification through faith in Christ is final. We affirm that genuine believers, having been irrevocably justified, will persevere in faith until death or the return of Christ. We deny that genuine believers can fail to persevere or lose their justification.

4) Scripture presents two covenants pertaining to salvation: the covenant of works (also known as the covenant of life) which Adam transgressed, thereby bringing condemnation and death to all, and the covenant of grace, by which God offers salvation to all through faith in Jesus Christ.

5) Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We affirm that the grace of baptism confirms our salvation and strengthens our faith. We deny that the ritual act of baptism accomplishes salvation or creates faith.

6) The visible church contains both true and false professors of Christ. We affirm that all members of the visible church receive temporal benefits through Christ – the teaching of God’s Word, the receipt of the sacraments, the prayers of the saints, and the shepherding care of church officers. We deny that any but genuine believers – members of the invisible church – receive eternal blessings of salvation.

In terms of polity, I'm not entirely sure what I think of these kinds of affirmations being adopted by church courts. I'm generally wary of producing extra-confessional documents that might be seen as binding.

Nonetheless, I must say that I have no substantive disagreements with the affirmations made in this resolution. I might quibble with the wording and grammar here and there, but as far as I can see the theological content is wholly unobjectionable.

19 June 2005

pentecost 5

Almighty God,
without you we are not able to please you.
Mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

14 June 2005

newbigin.net

Just an additional note to the previous post. The books I mentioned, along with many other texts, are available in pdf format over at newbigin.net.

newbigin on baptism

I've been reading back through a number of resources that were formative in my own understanding of Christian baptism as my understanding has developed over the past two decades regarding the place of the sacraments within the Reformed tradition. In addition to Calvin himself, and alongside our Confession and Catechisms, more contemporary resources have included Ronald Wallace, Brian Gerrish, Robert Rayburn, Hughes O. Old, Geddes MacGregor, Thomas Torrance, Pierre Marcel, Lewis Schenck, and E. Brooks Holifield, as well as many others.

Among the most lucid explications of Christian baptism that I've found, is that provided by Lesslie Newbigin, which builds on the resources of Scripture and the Reformed tradition. As you may be aware, Newbigin was a missionary of the Church of Scotland who served for many decades in south India, making significant contributions in ecclesiology, missiology, and ecumenism, before returning to England where he served the United Reformed Church, publishing some of his most well-known books.

While Newbigin helpfully touches on baptism in his more widely known work The Household of God (SCM 1953), I'd like to begin by looking instead at the account that he provides in his short book, The Holy Spirit and the Church, published in India in 1972.

In the opening chapter, "The Coming of the Holy Spirit," Newbigin begins by tracing the notion of God's Spirit as we find that in the Old Testament, as the "mighty breath of God which is the life of God himself" (2), who then brings light and life to God's first creation of the world. He reviews the giving of the Spirit to the prophets, sacred craftsmen, elders, and judges of Israel.

Newbigin then turns to Old Testament eschatology, first noting than when Isaiah prophesied the coming son of David, "who would be the true representative of God in ruling his people, he saw him as one supremely endowed with the Spirit" (4; see Isa 11:12). Moreover, as the prophets "looked forward to the great works of God which were to comes, they saw visions of the Spirit's working" (4). He notes especially Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones and Joel's prophecy of the Spirit outpoured upon all peoples.

At this point Newbigin engages in a longer examination of the ministry of John the Baptizer, his prophetic message -- "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!" -- and his use of the expressive prophetic action of baptism to embody and bring home the meaning of his words. By calling the people to the Jordan, which was, as Newbigin notes, "the river that their fathers had had to cross in order to enter the Promised Land," John's baptism functioned as "a sign that they were unclean and needed to be cleansed if they were to be fit to meet their God" (5).

Newbigin suggests that John was consciously building upon God's promise of forgiveness and cleansing, given through Ezekiel, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean..." (Eze 36:25). Thus John's baptism served as "a sign that God was fulfilling his ancient proise and preparing his people to meet him in all his kingly power" (5). But John made it clear that he himself was not the coming Messiah, for the Messiah would baptize not only with water, but also the Holy Spirit.

It is in this context that we find Jesus coming to John in order to receive baptism in his own person. It it worth quoting Newbigin at length here:

To outward appearance he was just one among the crowd of those who came to be baptized. But in truth his coming meant something very different. They were coming burdened with a sense of their sin, seeking escape from the impending judgment of God. He carried no burden of his own sin; he was seeking to be with them in honouring God, his Father. They came seeking their own salvation; he came seeking the salvation of the world. But he made no distinction between himself and them. He made himself wholly one with them. He who was without sin came as a sinner among sinner to receive to baptism of repentance and forgiveness. In his love for men, he took their sins as his own. The sinless one was baptized, not for his own sin, but for the sin of the world. (6)

After reviewing the events of Jesus' baptism at the hand of John, where the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, Newbigin notes that when "Jesus was baptised with water, he was also baptised in the Spirit. The sign and the thing which it signified came together" (6).

When Jesus accepted the baptismal sign in humility, he received all it signified and, in light of that event, "these two things are no more to be separated" (7). Newbigin goes on to explain: "Entrance into God's rule is to be by sharing in the baptism of Jesus--which is baptism in water and the Spirit. What God has thus joined together is not again to be put asunder. Those who try to separate them again, to pit Spirit-baptism against water-baptism, are trying to go back behind the baptism of Jesus to the baptism of John" (7). He returns to this point later in explicating Christian baptism, but before doing so continues his reflections upon the baptism of Jesus.

In particular, Newbigin notes that the Spirit did not come upon Jesus as a fire or as a mighty wind or with tongues, but as a dove, "the poor man's sacrifice." The manifestation of the Spirit as a dove descending upon Jesus reveals that Spirit as the one "who would lead him to complete his baptism by the way of the cross, lead him to give himself up as a sacrifice for the sin of the world" (7).

Jesus' baptism, of course, not only involved the descent of the Spirit, but also an interpretive word, "You are my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased" (Mark 1:11). While this word carries various allusions to the Old Testament, Newbigin particularly notes Isaiah 42:1 in which God speaks of the servant in whom he delights, thus marking Jesus' ministry under the sign of baptism as one that fulfilled Isaiah's vision of the Servant of the Lord. Thus the Spirit given to Jesus in his baptism is reveals as "the Spirit of sacrifice, the Spirit of humble service, the Spirit who will lead Jesus by the way of the Cross" (7).

Moreover, while the Spirit came upon various Old Testament figures for a time or a particular service, and in some case was later taken away, with Jesus it would be different. As Newbigin notes, citing John 1:34, "the gift of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism is no temporary gift; it is for ever" (8).

The event that follows Jesus' baptism, however, is that the "Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness" to be tempted (Mark 1:12), an event that Newbigin notes is "immediately connected with the preceding baptism" (8). Jesus' baptismal commission as the one who would bear God's saving purposes for Israel and the world raised the question of how this divine empowerment would be exercised:

What will be the outward sign that Jesus is really anointed by the Spirit? Will it be by miracles which dazzle men and compel their allegiance by the sheer sense of marvel? Will it be by meeting all their physical needs? Will it be by creating a great political movement and becoming the kind of Messiah that many of the Jews dreamed of?

These formed the substance of the tempter's questions as Jesus wrestled with his calling alone in the desert. And in the end, Jesus answers these questions by rejecting the temptations, giving up "all the things that men call power and wisdom" (9).

Instead, as Newbigin notes, Jesus "came trusting simply in the power of God, which is the power of love -- a power that men are apt to call weakness" (9), an understanding of baptism by the Spirit that Jesus further explains when he read the scroll in the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:18-19). As Peter puts it in Acts, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power...he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38).

But when Jesus sent out the Twelve and, later, the Seventy, while he gave them the authority to heal and exorcise, he did not yet give them the Spirit. Why was the Spirit not yet given? Newbigin answers this question citing John 7:37-39 and 16:7, explaining that the

promise to pour out the Spirit upon all men could only be fulfilled when Jesus had completed his work, when the power of the Devil had been broken, when the baptism which began in the River Jordan was complete on the Hill of Calvary. The death and resurrection of Jesus were the necessary condition for the pouring out of the Spirit upon all men. (10)

Or, to explain it in another way, "it is only when the fortess of the self has been broken at the cross that the Spirit can come in and take control." In his baptism Jesus took the "sin and sorrow of the world" upon himself to that in our being crucified with Christ, the Spirit begins to reign in us. As Newbigin says, the disciples "could only be sharers with Jesus in the anointing of the Spirit when they had been made sharers in his cross" (10).

Newbigin goes on to unfold he way in which the gift of the Spirit was given to Jesus' disciples, examining both John 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-9. While these passages give accounts of different events and different phases and modes of the Spirit's being given, there are, nonetheless, some important commonalities: [a] in both instances the Spirit is given "to a company of people together and not to separate individuals," [b] the gift of the Spirit is one that abides, rather than functioning as a temporary empowerment, [c] the Spirit is "given to the disciples as the gift of the crucified and risen Lord," [d] the Spirit is given "to enable the Church to filfil its mission" to draw all men to Christ so that "God's mighty work of salvation in Jesus is carried forward among men of every tongue," and [e] the "gift of the Holy Spirit is give in the closest possible connection with the gift of forgiveness" (11-13).

Newbigin concludes that the New Testament makes clear that four things all belong together: "repentance, baptism, forgiveness, and the gift of the Spirit. There is no separation between these things" (14). Peter, after all, tells the gathered crowd on Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). As Newbigin comments:

In effect Peter is telling them to follow Jesus in what he has done, to accept the baptism which was begun in Jordan and completed on Calvary, a baptism for the sin of the world, and to receive the anointing of the same Spirit that was given to Jesus in his baptism. (14)

And all those who are baptized with this baptism and receive this gift of the Spirit, he notes, "immediately become one fellowship," a fellowship that continues and is renewed "by its devotion to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers" (alluding to Acts 2:41-41; 14-15).

This salvation-historical account of Christian baptism emerges from and provides the backdrop for the further remarks that Newbigin makes regarding the sacrament in his earlier work, The Household of God (SCM 1953). After a lengthy discussion in which he demonstrates that it is by faith alone that we receive Christ for our justification and salvation, Newbigin turns to the following sorts of questions:

But how is God presented to our faith? In Jesus Christ. There is one mediator, given once for all, at the center of world history, bu whome we are reconciled to God. How then is Jesus Christ present to out faith who live nineteen centuries after His incarnation? In what way is he He made contemporary to us that we may believe in Him?...how is He present to us today? (47)

Newbigin answers these questions in orthodox Protestant fashion, pointing to Christ's present to us in the word and sacraments of the Gospel where "Christ Himself is present in His saving power, to evoke faith, to reconcile sinful man with holy God, to build up the Church which is Body" (47).

But the word and sacraments are not an abstraction. They make Christ present to us within the context of "the ongoing life of the Church," from which they cannot be isolated (49). Newbigin notes that while the word and sacraments create and re-create the church, this does not mean that the church lacks historical, organic continuity. The word and sacraments "are never -- if one may speak crudely -- let down from heaven at the end of a string...Every seting forth of the word and sacraments of the Gospel is an event in the life of an actually existing Christian Church" and thus "cannot be severed from it" (49). When Jesus sent his Gospel into the world, he did so through a fellowship of believers.

All these observations lead Newbigin to conclude, in answer to his earlier question of the way in which Jesus is present to us today, that "He is present in His people, in His apostolic fellowship" (50). It is this community of believers, this fellowship that Jesus "called, trained, endowed, and sent forth," that was "the explicit provision which Jesus made for the extension of His saving power to the whole world" (50). Thus, we can say that the "word is preached and the sacraments are administered in and by the Church as well as to the Church, and Christ, the Head of the body, acts in them, both through and for the Church" (57). And so, with regard to the sacrament of baptism, "we are made incorporate in Christ primarily and essentially by sacramental incorporation into the life of His Church" (61).

Newbigin goes on to unpack this last assertion from several perspectives, noting: [a] how Jesus gathered, trained, and sent out his Apostles so that he might "be represented in all the plentitude of His power, by His own chosen and commissioned people," [b] the way in which Scripture shows us how "God's saving purpose is executed through the calling of a particular people" through his pure grace in order that they "may be with Him and that He may send them forth," [c] that, despite the Bible's profound sense of the ultimate responsibility of each person before God, God also deals with humanity "in their natural solidarities of family, household, and nation," and [d] that the Biblical doctrine of the Church occurs in the context of concern "with the whole created order," so that the "final consummation of all things is conceived to include the renewal of the whole created universe" along with and in the resurrection of the human body (62-66).

These considerations, Newbigin insists, provide the necessary context that must govern how we think about the church and the means of grace. He concludes that "it is in accordance with the whole biblical standpoint that the spehre of salvation should be a visible fellowship marked by visible signs wherein God uses material means to convery His saving power." Only in such a present economy of salvation can we find "an earnest and foretaste of the restoration of creation...and of man to his true relation to the created world" (67).

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that Scripture teaches that our entrance into the fellowship of God "should be by the door of baptism in water, and that the Son of God Himself should enter into His earthly ministrt through that same lowly door" (68). Thus, we find that in the New Testament, over and over again, "admission into the new covenant with all its privileges and responsibilities is by faith and baptism" (68).

Newbigin recognizes that this can raise all kinds of questions in our minds: "How is faith related to baptism? If there is really faith, is baptism necessary? What is the use of baptism if there is no faith? Is baptism only a useful sign and seal?" and so on. In response, he comments that "the New Testament writers are totally unconcious of these difficulties" (69). On the contrary, it is "simply taken for granted taht baptism is that bywhich we were made members of the Body ofvChrist and participants in the Spirit" (69). Newbigin substantiates this point with a brief survey of a number of relevant Pauline texts (Gal 3:26-28; Rom 6:3-4; Eph 4:5-6; Col 2:12; etc.), drawn together in the following point:

In spite of everything that Paul has to say about faith as the ground of our justification, of our sonship, of our receiving the Spirit, of our living "in Christ," he also speaks, euqally plainly and unambiguously, of baptism as that by which we are made members of Christ. The Body of Christ in which Christians are members is a visible body, entrance into which is marked by the visible sign of baptism. (69-70)

Newbigin continues by expositing the New Testament doctrine of the "Body of Christ" in greater detail, an exposition that I will not take time to summarize here, though it is central to all that Newbigin has to say and does address some of the "difficulties" he referred to earlier.

Lesslie Newbigin wrote a number of other works that, though often focussed on the missional vocation of the church, nonetheless touch on wider questions of discipleship, ecclesiology, sacraments, and so on. I would certainly commend much of what Newbigin has to say on all these thing and hope this brief dip into his teaching on baptism piques your interest.

13 June 2005

pca ga 2005

The Presbyterian Church in America (the PCA) is holding its 33rd General Assembly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning tomorrow night. Today various committees meet to review Presbytery records, make recommendations concerning various bills and overtures, and carry out other business that needs to be addressed prior to the start of the Assembly.

Ministers of word and sacrament and ruling elders from across the country will be traveling to Tennessee today, if they are not there already. Prayer for their safety during travel are welcome, I'm sure.

We can also keep the Assembly itself in prayer as they receive reports and make decisions on variety of matters. Many of the overtures involve re-drawing Presybtery boundaries reflecting both denominational growth and a desire to give more geographically functional pastoral oversight of congregations. Overtures also include proposals for several revisions to the Book of Church Order (BCO), as well as a couple of that relate to the Terry Schiavo case and one from the Mississippi Valley Presybtery (MVP) requesting that its committee report on the "new perspectives" be distributed to all Presbyteries.

While revisions to Presbytery boundaries should pass easily, it is difficult to predict the outcome of other overtures. Revisions to the BCO typically involve discussion and due consideration. Regarding the Schiavo case, GA is often reticent to speak on issues of politcal debate unless requested by the civil magistrate or in especially pressing and clear cases. The possibility of a study committee on end of life issues strikes me as a good idea, especially given changes in medical technology and law since the PCA last spoke directly to such matters.

With respect to the Overture from the MVP, I'm not sure what the Bills and Overtures committee will recommend or what the GA will decide. Personally, I find the Overture problematic in several ways:

[1] the Overture requests distribution of a document for the purpose of making it widely available to the Presbyteries, but this is redundant since the report has already been publicly available for some time and the MVP itself could easily enough send the report to the clerks of all the Presbyteries;

[2] the Overture cites the report's "usefulness" as reason for its distribution, but passing such an overture would involve an implicit endorsement on the part of GA regarding an issue it has not studied;

[3] since the issuing of the MVP report, various responses to the report have been issued from within the PCA, as well as a report by a committee of the NW Presbytery that found no fault in the teachings of one of the ministers named by the MVP report as holding problematic views; it would be only fair if the distribution of the MVP report was accompanied by the various responses to it;

[4] there are questions that hang over the MVP report itself inasmuch as it names specific PCA ministers in good standing within their own Presbyteries as holding to views that could be seen as contra-confessional; as such, the report could be seen as issuing charges extra-jurisdictionally, without the due process and protections enshrined in the BCO;

[5] finally, some within the PCA, including some who share the basic outlook of the MVP report, have raised concerns that the distribution of the MVP report would, in effect, "circularize" the church courts.

In any case, I'm confident that the commissioners to GA will take all these concerns into account as they consider the Overture.

Commissioners will also have opportunity to attend a number of seminars (pdf) on a range of topics from pastoral practice to worship to church budgets. These should be helpful to many ministers and elders as they return to their home congregations and exercise oversight and leadership.

Almighty God,
your Son promised his disciples
that he would be with them always.
Hear the prayer we offer for your servants
now to meet in General Assembly.
May your Holy Spirit rest on them:
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
Grant them vision and courage;
unite them in love and peace;
teach them to be trustworthy stewards of your truth.
And so guide them in all their doings
that your kingdom may be advanced,
your people confirmed in their most holy faith,
and your unfailing love
declared to all the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Update: It appears that the site for updates and webcasting of GA is gearing up to carry live coverage. That website is: www.pcaga.com

Very cool. There is also an official PCA GA blog this year.

12 June 2005

pentecost 4

Almighty God,
without you we are not able to please you.
Mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

10 June 2005

this funny is, i think

George Lucas probably wants to call Anthony Lane "Darth Vicious," but if you haven't seen it already, Lane's New Yorker movie review of Revenge of the Sith is a hoot.

09 June 2005

post-baptismal prayer

From the 1552 edition forward, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has followed the baptism of a child with this prayer:

Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren that this child be regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's congregation, let us give thanks unto God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto almighty God, that he may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.

English Calvinists, including the Puritans, accepted this prayer of thankgiving for the regeneration of the baptized child, despite their predestinarian doctrine that allowed that only the elect were ever truly regenerate in the strictest sense of the term. This prayer was accepted despite the fact that the English Puritans raised a number of other objections to the Book of Common Prayer, including to the baptismal rite (particularly the use of the sign of the cross).

There are several reasons why no objection was raised to this prayer -- a prayer, incidently, for which we find close parallels in other Reformed rites, such as that of Bucer. First, Reformed theologians generally accepted that the baptized were all regenerate in at least a conditional and sacramental sense.

Second, and more importantly, Reformed theologians believed that the baptism of a child entitled the church to make a judgment of charity, regarding the child to be in reality everything that was signified in baptism sacramentally.

One should note, moreover, that the "judgment of charity" is not, as it is sometimes understood, a kind of begrudging admission that, after all, we can hope that maybe our baptized children have Christ's benefits. Rather, it is a loving hope and judgment, founded on the covenant promises of God, that what God has signified in baptism is true indeed.

Thus the Puritan divine George Downame writes, "We are to distinguish between the judgment of charity and the judgment of certainty. For although in general we know not that every one that is baptized is justified or shall be saved, yet, when we come to speak of particulars, we are to judge of them that are baptized that they are regenerated and justified, and that they shall be saved, until they shall discover themselves not to be such."

Along similar lines, George Carleton, head of the British delegation to the Synod of Dort writes, "All that receive baptism are called the children of God, regenerate, justified, for to us they must be taken for such in charity until they show themselves other."

One more quotation. Cornelius Burges, member of and assessor to the Westminster Assembly, states the following:

Our church excludes none from participation of the inward grace of the sacrament; but knowing for certain that all the elect do partake of it, and not knowing at all that this or that particular infant is not elected, suffers not any of her children to speak or judge of any particular infant that he doth not receive the inward grace; no more than she permits him to say that such a particular is not elected. For "who hath known the mind of the Lord?" and, "who are thou that judgest another man’s servant?" Howbeit, our church knows very well, that in respect of election, they are not all Israel that are of Israel; and that of those many that be called but a few be chosen. But who those be, she will not determine, yet thus much she doth determine, that any particular infant rightly baptized is to be taken and held in the judgment of charity for a member of the true invisible elected, sanctified church of Christ, and that he is regenerated.

In any case, the judgment of charity was seen as a sufficient basis for thanking God for the regeneration of the baptized. It would also have implications, I would think, for the Christian nurture of covenant children.

08 June 2005

reggie kidd on justification

This piece by Reggie Kidd (professor of NT at RTS, Orlando), entitled "Getting Perspective on Justification" appears in the PCA news magazine, byFaith online.

I found its insights to be thoughtful, irenic, and helpful.

05 June 2005

vinyl

The other day we were going through our basement and closets gathering together items for a yard sale on Saturday, the proceeds of which will benefit a Christian orphanage in Liberia. While digging through the piles of accumulated stuff, I ran across a stack of assorted records, which, in turn, led me to dig out an old turntable and play a few.

I guess that back before we all watched videos and DVDs, records with picture books were a great way to listen to familiar stories, with the added benefit of having to imagine a good deal of the narrative action. The stack of records included Disney stories such as Pinnochio, Lady and the Tramp, Robin Hood, and various short accounts of Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, and Paul Bunyan.

Among other finds: a 1964 recording of presidential campaign speeches and narrative in the Barry Goldwater / LBJ race, a souvenir recording of George Beverly Shea from the 1955 Billy Graham crusade at Madison Square Garden, and Carole King singing Maurice Sendak's book about Pierre who doesn't care.

One of my favorite re-discoveries was an LP of the kids musical It's Cool in the Furnace, a very fun 1970s re-telling of the story of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, complete with groovy music ranging from jazz to folk to 70s rock. My church put on this musical some time in the mid-1970s and I remember singing in the kids choir, kazoo in hand.

In any case, our yard sale went well and I enjoyed the opportunity to dig through some fond memories.

pentecost 3

Almighty and merciful God,
you have assured the human family
of eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in him,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

02 June 2005

mmmm, cookies

While Berek was visiting us he went and visited his friend Amy who has a cookie business called "Amylooz." Berek left some of her shortbread-style cookies with us and I must say that they are delicious. If you're looking to send a yummy giftbox to someone, check out her website.

01 June 2005

watergate and war

With the revelation of ex-FBI agent W. Mark Felt as the infamous and mysterious informant for the 1970s Watergate scandal, the majority of Americans probably are saying, "Huh?" After all, 47% of Americans were born after Watergate and quite a few more were likely too young to remember much of it at all.

As someone born in 1969, I fall into the latter category. Memory being what it is, I do have some vague early recollections of the word "Watergate" echoing repeatedly through newsreports, culminating in a fairly clear image of President Nixon on our small black and white television, resigning from office, his face flickering on the screen of the white plastic box with its channel knobs that clicked.

The snippets of memory I have of Nixon -- who left office when I was only five years old -- are woven together with the end of the Vietnam war and the fall of Saigon, helicopters, people scrambling, and soldiers returning, coming home to a mixture of relief and regret, joy and anger.

Together these form the earliest memories I have of major world news events. Though the memories are shadowy at best, I do wonder how they factor into the formation of my political sensibilities, which combine a certain level of cynicism and suspicion with a principled pragmatism. Funny thing, memory.