Who Should Be Baptized?

September 27, 2012

Christendom is divided over the issue of who should be baptized. The basic decision is between immersing infants or believers. A good starting place for examining the evidence of the New Testament is the Great Commission, where Christian baptism is first mentioned.

And 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.” Matthew 28:18-20, ESV

Note the phrase, “baptizing them.” We want to know who are “them”. The word, “them,” is a pronoun. If you remember back to your grammar lessons in school, you will recall a pronoun takes the place of a noun. A pronoun refers back to a noun within the context. So what is the referent for the word, “them.” Clearly, it is those who are made disciples.

What then is a disciple? The standard Greek lexicon gives this statement for disciple—“ pupil, with implication of being an adherent of the teacher.”1 A disciple then is someone who has heard the gospel, believed in it, and wants to be a follower of Jesus. That is the only kind of people that Jesus has authorized us to baptize. The Great Commission answers the question who should be baptized, and the answer is a disciple. If Jesus has all authority, as the commission clearly states, who can authorize anything else?

As we look at the rest of the New Testament, we find confirming evidence.

  • Mark 16:15-16 – “whoever believes”
  • Acts 2:38 – one who repents
  • Acts 2:41 – those who received the word
  • Acts 8:12 – men and women who believed

The New Testament clearly comes down on the side of believers’ baptism. Have you been immersed as the New Testament teaches?

1Bauer, Danker, Arndt, & Gingrich. A Greek English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, page 609.

We Can’t Have Both

September 21, 2012

Worldliness is an attachment to the things of this world while neglecting spiritual things. It is the mindset and behavior that conforms to this world instead of being transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:1-2). It is to choose the world’s values instead of God’s values. G.K. Beale gives a very good functional definition:

Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange.1

Most of us don’t like being strange. We want to feel normal, and there lies the temptation to worldliness.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this? Peter gave a warning of exactly this kind of situation.

So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. (1 Peter 4:4, HCSB)

Some of Peter’s readers had engaged in wild living. It was in their past. The gospel had changed them, but Peter warns them of the temptation that would come their way. Old friends would be surprised that they would not join them again in wild living. The worldly people would view the Christians as strange, and they would slander and malign the Christians for being different.

What about today? Tim Tebow is a NFL quarterback with the New York Jets. He has been outspoken about his faith. At a press conference a few years ago a reporter asked him whether he was a virgin. Now stop and think about the question. It is not the typical question asked by sports writers. Tebow answered “yes,” and it has set off lots of commentary in our society. One online dating service that specializes in infidelity has offered a million dollars to anyone who can prove Tebow is not a virgin. “So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living—and they slander you.”

Lolo Jones is American olympic hurdler. She finished fourth this summer. She too has been outspoken about remaining a virgin until marriage. After her disappointing finish in the olympics, some critics snidely said she should have had sex, maybe should would have run faster. “So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living—and they slander you.”

We each face a choice: normal and acceptable to God or normal and acceptable to the world. We can’t have both.

1G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, p. 300.

Sold for a Song

September 14, 2012

I read the following quote in a book on technology.

Twentieth-century pop music transformed sexual attitudes on a global basis. Trying to summarize the power of music leaves you breathless.

The author wasn’t trying to argue the case in the sense of marshaling a series of facts as proof. He assumed the reader would agree. The author also did not appear to be a Christian, and he did not necessarily view the change in sexual attitudes as a bad thing. It is for him simply a matter of this is the way it is.

I’m a little leery of one factor analysis. I suspect that we could broaden the quote to include the influence of our entertainment culture adding movies and television. But that a change has occurred is without doubt.

  • The percent of births to unmarried women in 1940 was 3.8%, but it was 41.0% in 2009.
  • More than 2/3 of married couples today say they lived together prior to marriage; the number of couples living together increased 10 times from 1960 to 2000.
  • The divorce rate for first time marriages is between 40 and 50% twice what it was in 1960.

This has all happened during a time when the majority of Americans would identify themselves as Christian. That percentage in 1948 was 91%, and according to Gallop, the percentage is 78% as of 2011. Weekly church attendance, however, is only around 43%. Of course, we can’t help but notice a downward trend.

What happened? The merchants of music and entertainment did not hold the same values as the rest of our culture. They did not share the same moral agenda, and they used their position to influence the culture. The consumers of this culture did so uncritically. It is possible to like a tune, a harmony or great bass guitar riff without agreeing with the lyrics of song. But this takes thought. We could have voted economically with our dollars spent on things that upheld our values rather than undermined them.

We must awaken to the reality of the past few decades and think Christianly about our consumer society. We have a message of good news to share. Regrettably, Christian values were sold for a song.

God’s Side

September 6, 2012

The scene was just inside the Promised Land. Israel had crossed the Jordan River. The battle of Jericho lay ahead. When Joshua was by Jericho, he saw a man with a drawn sword (Joshua 5:13-6:5).

Joshua issued what sounds like a sentry’s challenge: friend or foe? He asks, “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” I like the NIV’s answer: “neither.” Literally, the answer in Hebrew is no, but it seems to be no to both questions. Yet, we learn that the speaker is the commander of the LORD’s army.

How could the answer be neither? Wasn’t God on Israel’s side? Weren’t they the people of God? But it may help us to reflect on Israel’s behavior after coming out of Egypt. They had made a golden calf — that’s not on God’s side. They had the internal rebellion of Korah — that’s not on God’s side. They had quarreled with Moses at Meribah because of no water — that’s not on God’s side. Some were enticed into idolatry with worship to the Baal of Peor — that’s not on God’s side. And the immediate context of this encounter informs us that they hadn’t practiced circumcision during the wilderness wanderings until they entered the Promised Land.

The question for Joshua and Israel was not: is God on our side? The proper question when talking about God is: are we on God’s side? And that may take some introspection. It may take some humble listening to what God says. Joshua reflects the proper response. Upon learning that the one with the drawn sword is the commander of the Lord’s army, Joshua asks: “What does my lord say to his servant?” Joshua listens and follows instructions.

Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address reflects on that human tendency to invoke God for our side. His speech notes the irony created by the Civil War:

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.

We need to be careful about glibly enlisting God for our side. Joshua’s encounter reminds me of the proper question. Am I on God’s side?