Archive for January, 2007

Abortion and Racism

January 31, 2007

“For the sake of full disclosure let me tell you one of my main aims in this message: In the name of Jesus Christ and rooted in the gospel of his death and resurrection for sinners (including abortionists and pastors), my aim is to stigmatize abortion by associating it with racism. I would like you to link abortion and race the same way you link lynching and race. . .

“My aim is that those who abhor racism will abhor abortion—’Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good’ (Romans 12:9). My aim is that abortion would be as culturally taboo as racism is. My aim is to hasten the day when being publicly pro-choice will be as reprehensible as being publicly racist. My aim is to hasten the day when declaring yourself pro-choice would be like declaring yourself a white supremacist.

“My aim is that just as once even though the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case of 1857 held that Black slaves were property without rights as free persons, yet today we view that as unthinkable; so also even though the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 did not give the unborn the rights of free persons, nevertheless the day may come when that too is viewed as unthinkable. Racism might—and often did—result in the killing of innocent humans; in our history, it often did. But abortion always results in the killing of innocent humans. Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 Black people were lynched in America. Today more Black babies are killed by white abortionists every three days than all who were lynched in those years (Life Education and Resource Network).” — John Piper, “When Is Abortion Racism?”

Read the whole sermon.


An Argument for Immersion as the Proper Mode of Baptism

January 31, 2007

I had another post planned for today about human nature, but I have changed my plans in light of a request I received. I will put my planned post on the shelf for another day.

My friend Steven Duke posed this query a few posts down in reference to the new book on baptism that I have promoted here. Steven wrote,

I’m interested in the evidence that supports the mode of immersion versus some other mode. When I lived in Connecticut, my (Baptist) church went through a process of determining who had the qualifications for membership in the church. We affirmed that we would only practice believer’s baptism by immersion, but concluded that those who had become believers in a different church tradition (and had subsequently been baptized) were qualified for membership, even if they were not baptized by immersion. We felt that if someone had been baptized as a believer once, that it was sufficient, even if their baptismal mode was not the one we practiced.

The argument of the book I have referenced pertains primarily to the subjects of baptism (i.e., believers and not infants), but a few of the contributors do make arguments about the mode as well (i.e., immersion). Here are some of the arguments:

1. The cluster of Greek words that refer to the practice of baptism in the New Testament (i.e., “bapto,” “baptizo,” etc.) literally mean, “dip” or “immerse.” I think this speaks in favor of immersion, but it is not an airtight case, because word usage often differs from etymology. In fact, sometimes related Greek words are used in the New Testament to refer to “washings.” Therefore, while etymology makes one lean toward immersion, by itself it is not enough to settle the matter.

2. The description of the actual practice of baptism in the NT points to immersion as the mode. Matthew 3:16 speaks of the baptism of Jesus, and it says, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water. . .” Does this mean that Jesus had been plunged into the water and was subsequently coming up? That is possible. But again, this is not an airtight case, because we read in Acts 8:39, “When they [Philip and the eunuch] came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. . .” Obviously, this does not mean that both Philip and the eunuch were immersed at that time! The phrase, “came up out of the water” in Acts 8:39 refers to both men walking back up to the shore after having walked into the water. It is possible that this is what Matthew 3:16 means in the case of Jesus. So while these verses do indicate that baptism was performed in a body of water, they do not literally demand immersion as the mode.

But then you must ask why it would be necessary to wade into a body of water for baptism if immersion were not the proper mode. Neither sprinkling nor pouring requires wading into a body of water, but immersion certainly does. Therefore, in my opinion, while Matthew 3:16 may not refer to the act of immersion itself (and Acts 8:39 certainly does not), the fact that one comes up out of the water after baptism suggests rather strongly that the mode of baptism practiced in the New Testament was immersion. This is confirmed by two other pieces of data. First, John 3:23 speaks of the ministry of John the Baptist: “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.” Why would a great quantity of water be necessary for sprinkling or pouring? Only baptism by immersion demands a great quantity of water, and the fact that it had to be a quantity big enough to “come up out of” after being baptized confirms this reading. And then, going back to Acts 8, after Philip has preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, we read in verse 36, “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?'” Again, the fact that a large quantity of water had to be located for the act of baptism strongly suggests immersion as the mode. The eunuch certainly would have been carrying enough water with him to be sprinkled or poured, but he acted as though finding a large body of water was necessary for the act to be performed.

One could argue that in the New Testament, subjects of baptism stood in water and had a great quantity of water poured over them. But I must say that such a practice does not make sense to me. If pouring is the proper mode, then why would one have to stand in water, and why would a great quantity of water be required? If a person is baptized with that much water being poured over him, then isn’t the object of such an act to cover his whole body with water? Aren’t we approaching the idea of immersion when we start talking about such a practice? And if so, isn’t it easier to plunge someone under the water and bring him back up?

3. Taking all of these things into consideration, I think the case is sealed by the argument of Romans 6:1-7:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Paul explicitly says, “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death.” The only way the symbol of baptism can point to death and burial is through immersion. Sprinkling and pouring do not communicate this idea. Paul does not explicitly connect baptism with resurrection, but I think it is clearly implied by the context, so that the act of coming up from the water is a symbol of one’s resurrection with Christ after having died with him. Also, Paul uses the same image in Colossians 2:11-12. (By the way, proponents of infant baptism often refer to Colossians 2:11-12 because it connects the ideas of circumcision and baptism. Since infants born into the covenant people of Israel were circumcised, then infants born into the church should also be baptized, so the argument goes. I refer you to the book I referenced below, Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, for answers to that argument. The short answer here is that Paul is speaking of the spiritual work of circumcision foretold in Deuteronomy 30:6 [cf. Romans 2:25-29], the circumcision of the heart. This does not correlate with physical circumcision as practiced in Israel, although physical circumcision is a sign that points to it.)

4. Further confirming evidence is available in Christian writings of the post-New Testament era. The Didache, for example (a second-century document), clearly specifies that baptism is to be performed by immersion, preferably in running water, if it is available. We would expect the earliest sources to most closely correlate with the pattern of baptism found in the New Testament, and we find in the earliest sources support for immersion as the mode.

But then we have a practical issue raised by your question. You mentioned that your church in Connecticut decided to accept into membership those who had been baptized as believers by any mode of baptism. While I think the case for the mode of baptism by immersion is fairly clear in Scripture, this still does not provide us with an absolutely clear word of direction about how to handle these complicated pastoral issues. Many who advocate believer’s baptism by immersion would agree with your church’s policy. But then many wouldn’t. My own view is that baptism should always be performed by immersion unless one is providentially hindered from doing so. For example, if a person is physically unable to be immersed in water, I think pouring is an acceptable alternative. Many do not agree with me on that, arguing that we cannot perform an act that is not baptism and call it “baptism.” I tend to be more lenient in that regard because I think God is not that rigid.

Nevertheless, if someone came to my church, having been sprinkled or poured as a believer, I would insist on him being baptized by immersion (provided he is not providentially hindered) as a condition for membership. This is not only our church’s long-standing policy (fairly standard in the Baptist tradition), but it is also my personal conviction.

I hope this helps.

Dr. Mohler’s Recent Commentary

January 22, 2007

For those who may not know, Dr. Albert Mohler (President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) recently underwent surgery and subsequently developed blood clots in his lungs that sent him to the intensive care unit for a few days. I was out of town when all of that happened, so I did not post anything here about it.

Dr. Mohler is now recovering at home, and he has just posted an article about the lessons he learned from this medical crisis.

New Book on Baptism

January 22, 2007

Over the last three days I devoured a new book on baptism: Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. Dr. Schreiner is a professor of New Testament here at Southern Seminary, and Dr. Wright is a professor of Church History also here at Southern Seminary. Contributors include Andreas Koestenberger, Robert Stein, Steve Wellum, A. B. Caneday, and Mark Dever, among others.

I highly recommend this book. It is now one of the most important publications on this controversial subject, but it is also much more than that. In order to fully address the subject of baptism, one must address not just selected texts of Scripture. Full engagement on the subject of baptism demands engagement with the relationships between the covenants of Scripture. A doctrine of baptism must be fully integrated into a biblical theology of covenant, the people of God, salvation, and a number of related topics. That is the main reason why I enjoyed this book so much: it provides a wealth of biblical-theological analysis en route to making a case for believer’s baptism by immersion as the appropriate, biblical practice for the church. Steve Wellum’s chapter alone (on the relationship between the covenants) is worth the price of the book. So go buy it, right now!

Here is Justin Taylor’s interview with Tom Schreiner about this book, and here is the table of contents.

Reflections on Being a Dad

January 11, 2007

Every night, when we put Benjamin to bed, we go through the same routine. We read a couple of books and then say the Lord’s Prayer. After this, I turn off the light, kiss him goodnight, and leave the room while Joni rocks him for a few minutes. After this, she puts him in his bed.

That is our routine. Benjamin also has his as well. After delightfully absorbing the books and closely scrutinizing me while I pray (he doesn’t know what’s going on yet), he settles down into Joni’s arms and becomes still. After she lays him down and leaves, on most nights he will start to cry. We give him a few minutes before I go in, pick him up, and rock him again. Rarely does he ever cry again after that.

For some reason, whenever I go in to pick him up, he immediately lies down on my shoulder. He doesn’t squirm or fight or look around anymore. He’s pretty much done for the night. I rock him for a few minutes, and by then I know that he is in peaceful sleep.

I have come to cherish these moments of rocking Benjamin at night. I know that a day is coming when he will be both too big and too old to be held that way anymore. But for those few minutes, almost every night, I have an opportunity to sit down with my son in my arms and just be. No pressures, no time constraints, no frantic activity, no worries. He doesn’t realize it, but I enjoy him at that time as much as I do when he is awake.

If you are not a parent, I don’t mean to suggest that you are missing out…

…but you are.