Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reformation England: When Grace Shines!

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."
 - I Corinthians 4:10-13

I am reading the works of Augustus Toplady, a champion of the Reformed Protestant faith in the Church of England during the 18th Century, and author of timeless hymns, such as "Rock of Ages." The section I am going through now is brief biographies of bishops and other Reformational leaders from the reign of Edward VI who were executed during the persecutions of his sister and successor, Bloody Mary.

In addition to the well-known Bishops Thomas Cranmer and Miles Coverdale, he lists such lesser-knowns as the Rev. John Rogers (the publisher of the so-called Matthew's Bible), the Rev. Laurence Saunders, and the Rev. Dr. Rowland Taylor (just a partial list; Toplady continues with several more). While in prison, these men wrote and subscribed to a confession of faith as a response to the Papist accusations of heresy. It witnessed, in part, that "we believe and confess, concerning justification, that as it cometh only from God's mercy through Christ, so it is perceived and had of none, who be of years of discretion, otherwise than by faith only." For that confession, they had to die, for justification by grace through faith is the dagger in the heart of Papal religion: no priestly intermediary, no income from indulgences, and no papal authority.

Writing from prison, Saunders told his wife, "I do not doubt but that both I and you, as we be written in the book of life, so we shall together enjoy the same [life] everlastingly, through the grace and mercy of God our dear Father, in his Son, our Christ. I am merry, I thank my God and my Christ; in whom and through whom I shall, I know, be able to fight a good fight, and finish a good course."

Four days before his execution, Taylor recorded this doxology in his will: "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? God is he that justifieth; who is he that can condemn? In thee, O Lord, have I trusted; let me never be confounded."

Of such men, the world was not worthy! (Hebrews 11:38)

Taking a break from Toplady, I turned to read a Psalm from the Great Bible of 1539, as is my wont. Today, I was up to Psalm 52, verse 1 of which reads, "Why boastest thou thyself, thou Tyrant, that thou canst do mischief?" Then verse 6 announces, "Therefore shall God destroy thee forever: He shall take thee and pluck thee out of thy dwelling, and root thee out of the land of the living." Surely the Lord had a message for me today, and I felt compelled to write it for all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Abortion and the Federal Healthcare Law

The following remarks are from the Rev. Pat Mahoney. I am posting them here because of my deep sorrow over the continuing slaughter of preborn American children. Rev. Mahoney is a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hanover Presbytery.

Reformed Presbyterian minister and Director of the Christian Defense Coalition the Rev. Pat Mahoney responded in the late evening of Sunday, 21 March 2010, to the U.S. House of Representatives passage of the Health Care Bill earlier in the evening:

"Today is a tragic and sad day for America. As part of health care legislation, we are now asking all Americans to pay for the killing of innocent children through abortion with their tax dollars.

"As we have been saying during this entire debate, abortion is not health care. Health care should be about compassion and mercy not violence and the diminishing of women.

"Although the pro-life and faith community is profoundly saddened by this vote, we are also highly motivated and energized as we look toward the midterm congressional elections in the fall of 2010.

"We plan to mobilize the pro-life and faith community in record numbers to see that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid no longer serve in those positions during the next Congress.

"Our message will be clear and simple to the voters this fall regarding every member of Congress who supported this legislation. Here it is: These legislators who voted for the passage of this health care bill are the ones who are now forcing you to pay for the killing of innocent children with your tax dollars.

"We are confident this will have a powerful impact on Catholic and Evangelical voters this November.

"After the defeat of the Alamo, a powerful cry was heard across the nation which has inspired Americans for generations. That cry was, 'Remember the Alamo!'

"From the ashes of this defeat, another powerful cry will be heard. 'Remember March 21!' We believe as Americans understand what happened today they will work with unprecedented passion to ensure this bill is reversed and human rights and social justice are once again embraced in this country."

+ Christian News Wire, 2020 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington DC 20006, 202-546-0054,

+ Christian Defense Coalition, Post Office Box 77168, Washington DC 20013, 202-547-1735,

+ U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC 20515, 202- 224-3121, Contact Page

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Mode of Baptism, According to Scripture, Part 4, the Last

Finally, Hodge reviews the examples of baptism in the New Testament. He concludes that none require immersion, and in several, immersion is highly unlikely.

Before considering particular examples, Hodge gives two general reasons weighing against immersion: 1) because the Apostles and most of their early converts were Jews, accustomed to purification rites performed by sprinkling or pouring (as discussed in Part 2); and 2) because of the large numbers baptized at one time, under the arid conditions predominant in Palestine.

Three thousand were baptized in one day in Acts 2:5-6, in a Jerusalem dependent on wells and culverts for water. The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:26-39 was baptized by the roadside at a random stop in the countryside in the desert. While there could be a seasonal brook beside the road, there wouldn't likely be a pool! And most clearly of all was the baptism of Paul by Ananias in Acts 9:18 and 22:16. Not only was he baptized at bedside, hardly likely to be a pool, but Ananias explicitly tells him to stand to be baptized, which Paul then does.

I write this, not to tell any Baptist that he has been baptized wrongly, but rather to free the conscience of the one who is concerned about his own baptism. God isn't waiting with a writ to shove in your face about the mode of your baptism! Also, I write for the Presbyterian or Anglican who is accused of being somehow biblically-deficient or tradition-bound. The Bible doesn't sustain that accusation, so your conscience should be free.

To get to part 1, the beginning of this essay, click here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Mode of Baptism, According to the Scriptures, Part 3

Where Hodge most vigorously opposes the immersionists, I think, is in the symbology of baptism. Where Baptists customarily describe baptism as an analogy of the death and resurrection of Christ - best represented, they say, by immersion- Hodge prefers a parallel with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Hodge directs us to Matthew 3:11, where John the Baptizer says, "I baptize you with water for repentance...", while in contrast, Jesus "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." See also the parallel passages in Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, and John 1:26, 33, and their recounting in Acts 1:5 and 11:16. Notice the baptismal imagery that Paul applies to the Holy Spirit in Titus 3:5-6, "the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior."

Hodge continues, "Baptism of the Holy Ghost, of which water baptism is the emblem, is never set forth in Scripture as an 'immersion,' but always as a 'pouring' and 'sprinkling.'" In the Old Testament, we find this usage in Isaiah 44:3, 52:15, Ezekiel 36:25-27, And especially Joel 2:28-29, "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh... [I]n those days I will pour out My Spirit..." And in the New Testament, we can see it in Acts 2:1-4, 32-33; 10:44-48; and 11:15-16.

As mentioned in Part 2, the Old Testament rites of purification were done by sprinkling. Confer Ex. 24:5-8, Lev. 8:30, 14:7, 14:51, Numbers 8:6-7, and Heb. 9:12-22.

From these references, I would conclude that the best mode of baptism would be by sprinkling. However, I repeat that I (and Hodge) do not consider the mode of baptism to be a critical matter. In fact, I myself was immersed as a teenager.

 To go to part 4, the conclusion, click here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Mode of Baptism, According to the Scriptures, Part 2

Continuing with A. A. Hodge's refutation of the immersion-only view of baptism, I come to his discussion of the Greek word adopted into English as "baptize."

In the New Testament, that word is always baptizo, which can indeed mean "immerse," but also "dip, moisten, purify, wash," depending of course on context. The Septuagint uses bapto and baptizo, with no apparent distinction between the two variants. In the Greek version of Daniel 4:33, Nebuchadnezzar is said to be "baptized with the dew of heaven." That could hardly mean immersion. And in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus 34:30, reference is made to one "who baptizes himself after the touching of a dead body." Yet, Numbers 19:9, 13, and 20, describe that rite as done through sprinkling.

In Mark 7:3-4 and Luke 11:38, Jesus refers to the Pharisees "washing their hands" with baptizo, but in the parallel passage in Matthew 15:2, 20, the Greek has nipto, which simply means "to wash." The emphasis in using baptizo, therefore, is not on the method, whether immersion or otherwise, but on the use, i.e., cleansing. The same meaning for baptizo is seen in its use by the disciples of John in John 3:25 and 4:2.

In Hebrews 9:10, the author describes the use of the earthly tabernacle for "diverse baptisms" ("washings" in contemporary English versions), then gives specific "baptisms" in verse 13 ("the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood"), verse 19 ("sprinkled both the book itself and all the people"), and verse 21 ("he sprinkled with the blood"). Thus the writer of Hebrews explicitly uses "baptize" to describe a rite of sprinkling, not immersion.

I will add one additional passage to those mentioned by Hodges. In I Corinthians 10:2, Israel is said to have been "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", that is, in the crossing of the Red Sea. Yet, not only was Israel not immersed, they are even explicitly said not to have gotten wet (Exodus 14:16, 21, 22, and 29)! It was the Egyptians that were immersed, yet they are not described as "baptized"!

To go to part 3, click here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Mode of Baptism, According to the Scriptures, Part 1

As a Presbyterian, I often run into people who claim that I would support only baptism of adults by immersion, if I really believed in the Bible, instead of merely accepting tradition. However, I deny that the Scriptures require any such thing.

I have addressed the proper objects of baptism before (such as here), advocating paedobaptism (baptism including the children of believers) over credobaptism (the baptism of professing believers only). Now, I will address whether baptism by immersion only is required by Scripture. However, let me hasten to add that I believe that no particular mode is required, but rather a matter of indifference.

I am borrowing the argumentation here from Archibald Alexander Hodge, the son of the better-known Charles Hodge.

First, an analogy is often drawn to the baptism of John the Baptist (or, more properly, the Baptizer). Hodge excludes the parallel for several reasons: 1) John was the last Old Testament prophet, not a New Testament apostle (Luke 1:17); 2) his baptism wasn't in the trinitarian formula; 3) John's baptism was unto repentance, not faith in Christ; 4) his baptism didn't mark the engrafting of the believer into the church, in contrast, for example, with Acts 2:42 and 47; and 5)  those baptized by John were rebaptized by the Apostles when they were converted (Acts 18:24-28 and 19:1-5).

To proceed to Part 2, click here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

William Tyndale and the Marks of a True Christian

The Protestant martyr and Reformer William Tyndale is best known as the first person to translate the Bible into English from the original languages (Wycliffe's translation was earlier, but came from the Latin Vulgate). At that time, to do so was a capital crime in England, and he was indeed hunted down in his refuge in Antwerp (modern Belgium), strangled, and then burned at the stake.

Tyndale wrote other works, as well. I am just starting his Exposition of Matthew, Chapters 5-7, in which he seeks to rescue the proper understanding of the Law from Antinomianism on one side and Legalism (or Neonomianism) on the other. I am in the prologue, which is heavy enough! I heartily commend it.

One teaching that has particularly struck me so far is his simple, three-point distinction between the true Christian and the false, hypocritical professor (a revolutionary principle in those days of pre-Reformation England).

What he suggests is that the true believer believes in Christ's blood for the remission of sin and purchasing of all the promises, loves the law, and longs for the life to come. He says, "These three points are the profession and religion of a christian man, and the inward baptism of the heart, signified by the outward washing of the body. And they be that spiritual character, badge, or sign, wherewith God, through his Spirit, marketh all [that are] his immediately as soon as they be joined to Christ and made members of his church by true faith."

These principles he presumably derived from the First Epistle of John, the subject of another of his Expositions. I Jn 1:7 tells us that "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin," the first of Tyndale's principles. Then I Jn. 2:3 continues, "by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." There's point number 2. And finally I Jn. 2:17 warns us that "the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." And thus we complete Tyndale's triad. However, it is crucial that a searching believer pay attention to the image above of Tyndale's execution: ideas have consequences. Are you prepared for them?