Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What is Biblical Baptism?

The following is a transcript of a sermon on baptism I preached on October 15, 2006.
As Christ commissioned the disciples before ascending to heaven, he said:
Matthew 28:18-20 "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
One would think that given the emphasis that it has in the Great Commission, the doctrine of Baptism would be a clear and accepted doctrine throughout the Christian world.
While every Christian group in the world does practice some form of Baptism, many people’s understanding of what Baptism is, what Baptism means, and how Baptism is to be done is – well – confused.
A ministerial handbook for the Latin Church says that when you baptize:
"Then the god-father or godmother, or both, holding the infant, the priest takes the baptismal water in a little vessel or jug, and pours the same three times upon the head of the infant in the form of the cross, and at the same time he says, uttering the words once only, distinctly and attentively: ' Bobby, I baptize thee in the name of the Father,' - he pours first; , and of the Son' - he pours a second time; , and of the Holy Ghost' - he pours the third time."
The ritual in use in the Russian Church goes that:
"After he has anointed the whole body the Priest baptizes the candidate, held erect and looking to-wards the east, and says: 'The servant (handmaid) of God, Bobby, is baptized in the Name of the Father, Amen; and then immerses them. And of the Son, Amen; and then immerses them; and of the Holy Ghost, Amen; and then immerses them. Now and ever, and to ages of ages, Amen, And then immerses them again.
The Nestorians take the candidate into water reaching to the neck, and dip the head three times.
The Syrians, place the candidate upright on his feet and pour water three times over his head in the name of the Trinity.
The office of the Syrian Church or Jerusalem provides a how to manual that instructs:
"The priest ... first lets the candidate down into the baptistery. Then laying his right hand on the head of the person to be baptized, with his left hand he takes up water successively from before, behind, and from each side of the candidate, and pours it upon his head. and washes his whole body.
In the Coptic Church the cus-tom has become fixed for the priest to dip the body the first time up to the middle, the second time up to the neck, and the third time over the head.
The Armenians practice baptism in a sort of odd way. Among them, we are told, "the priest asks the child's name. And on hearing it, lets the child down into the water, saying this person, servant of God, who is come from the state of childhood to Baptism, is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' ... While saying this the priest immerses the child three times in the water, as a figure of Christ's three days' burial. Then taking the child out of the water he pours a handful of water on its head three times, say-ing, ' As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Hallelujah! As many of you as have been enlightened of the Father, the Holy Spirit is put into you. Hallelujah!"
Other groups like the Quakers and the Salvation Army believe that we should not practice baptism today. They argue that it was only to be done during the earthly ministry of Christ & has been replaced by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.
So with all the confusion surrounding baptism – who should do it, who should be baptized, and how should it be done. How can we know what baptism is and what it isn’t?
We can know what baptism is by looking to the word of God, and seeing what it says about baptism throughout the whole of God’s revelation.
As I look through the scriptures, and as I look at what it says about the doctrine of baptism, I would say that a good biblical definition of baptism is that:
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.
Just so I know that you got that mouthful, let me say it again.
In just a moment, we are going to open our bibles and see what it has to say about our definition of Baptism. But before we do that let’s go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to lead this discussion and to bless it.
The first part of our definition we should discuss is the fact that baptism is an ordinance of the church.
It is very important that we understand that baptism is an ordinance of the church, and not a sacrament of the church.
You may say isn’t that just pinching pennies? Aren’t you just playing semantics here? Ordinance/Sacrament, Tomatoes/Tomatoes – its all the same thing isn’t it?
No it really isn’t – you see, an ordinance is something that the church does because it is ordained by Christ. A sacrament is something that a church does to administer God’s grace to people.
Some denominations believe that a person must be baptized in order to be saved. They believe that through the water, God conveys His forgiveness and salvation to the person being baptized.
This kind of belief is usually found among churches that practice a high liturgy, like the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, or the Anglican & Episcopal Church, though it is sometimes found in other churches, such as some branches of the Christian Church.
You may ask where on earth did they get those ideas? Most get it from a miss-reading of 1 Peter 3.
1 Peter 3:20-21 when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—
And if we stop right there, then we start to feel a little uncomfortable. In fact, if it were not for the fact that it is written in the Bible, we would probably say that it was heresy.
And they say see, Noah was saved through the water – now we are saved through the waters of baptism.
But then they forget about the rest of verse 21, where Peter makes it abundantly clear that it is faith in Christ alone which leads us to salvation.
21 not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
In the Noah story, the waters were a destructive force sent by God to destroy creation. Noah and his family were spared from that destructive force because of their faith in God.
And here Peter is telling us that we too can be saved from the destructive forces in our world. We too can be saved from the curse of sin and death – but not through an outward washing – not by making our bodies clean on the outside – but through an inward appeal to God for a good conscience. Through belief in God and faith in the resurrection of Christ.
Baptism is not necessary for salvation – only faith in Christ can make you righteous before God.
Which leaves another question – if baptism is not necessary for salvation, then why do we need to be baptized?
In fact that was a question that I asked once that remained unanswered for me for nearly 10 years.
I was 5 years old when I accepted Christ. I immediately became an island of faith in my community – in fact I didn’t know one single Christian outside of the people I interacted with in church. My parents were not Christians, none of my friends were Christians – no one.
All I was ever told about baptism in my church was that you didn’t need to be baptized in order to be saved.
Even when I was young, I was a very pragmatic person. So I figured that if you didn’t need to be baptized, then why be baptized.
It wasn’t until I was 15 years old that someone finally explained to me why I needed to be baptized.
I needed to be baptized because Christ ordained that every person who believed in him should be baptized.
Matthew 28:19 says:
19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Baptism is that first step of faith for a disciple of Christ. When you are saved, you should be baptized soon after your conversion as a public sign of your submission to Christ’s guidance to your life.
This is a pattern seen throughout the new testament time and time again – people are saved, and then wanting to be obedient to Christ, are baptized by their local church.
Baptism is an ordinance of the church because it has been ordained by Christ.
We have already touched on this topic a little bit, the second aspect of our definition of baptism – that it should only be administered to believers.
This is where we get our term believer’s baptism. The idea that a person should accept Christ and repent of their sins before they submit to baptism.
As we read through the whole of the New Testament, we see this pattern repeated time and time again.
Acts 2:38-41 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Acts 8:12 2 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
Acts 10:44-47 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"
Acts 8:35-38 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
In each of these passages, we see the same pattern – first, the person believed in Christ – then they were baptized
However, there are some who would say that this pattern is descriptive, not prescriptive – that yes, that is how things were done in the New Testament, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be done that way now.
Among some denominations that practice infant baptism, like Methodists or Lutherans, or Presbyterians, many do not see baptism as salvific – they do not believe that they are saved because of their baptism.
Instead, they argue that baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision in the Old Testament.
They say that in the Old Testament, when Jewish parents had a child they circumcised him, not as a way of saving him or making him righteous, but as a means of identifying him as a Jewish person. As a person who was a part of God’s covenant community of Israel.
So they argue that baptism should also be administered to the children of Christian parents – not to save them – but to mark them as members of God’s covenant community of the church.
There are several problems with this view.
First while New Testament baptism is similar in many respects to the Old Testament circumcision – but there is not a one to one correlation.
Circumcision indicated a cultural identity – while baptism indicates a spiritual identity.
Circumcision looks forward to a coming savior, while baptism acknowledges the work of a risen savior.
Second, this argument is really a logical argument as opposed to a biblical argument.
Typically, the only passages of scripture that people use to support this view is place like when the Philippian jailer was saved and "he and his household were baptized." Or, when Lydia was saved and "her and her household were baptized."
People argue that these passages show that the infants of Christian parents were baptized in the early church.
But this is really an argument from silence. It assumes that these people had nuclear families – a husband, wife, 3.5 children and a dog living in a house with a white picket fence.
But the Bible doesn’t tell us about who was in their household, and the Bible also doesn’t tell us that these people themselves did not accept Christ before being baptized.
Really, using passages like this to support a doctrine as important as baptism is a bad idea, because these passages don’t tell us all that people want them to tell us.
When I was in college, Andrea and I had a mutual friend named Mary. Mary grew up Methodist, and as per their practice, she was baptized as an infant.
Later when she was in college, she got involved with the Baptist Student Union & started going to bible studies with us and things like that.
Mary was a Christian. She had confessed faith in Christ & she had accepted the grace of God, and so several of us started to encourage her to be biblically baptized.
Eventually she decided not to – she figured that since she had already been baptized as an infant she didn’t need to be baptized again – she acknowledged that it happened out of order, but that didn’t matter as long as it happened.
Now people ask, why do you ask believers like Mary to be rebaptized? Why does your church ask that people who were baptized as infants to be rebaptized before they can become members of your church?
Well we have to be careful about the terms we use in this discussion.
To rebaptize a person is a sin. Once a person accepts Christ and is biblically baptized, then they should never again be baptized.
So whenever a person comes to us from a denomination that practices infant baptism we do not rebaptize them, be baptize them according to biblical command.
You really can’t call infant baptism baptism because it does not meet the biblical criteria for a baptism because it is performed upon a person who has not yet accepted Christ.
You can call it a sprinkling, you can call it a dunking, or a bath, or whatever else you want to call it – but it is not a baptism.
So we see that baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers –
Next we see that it is to be administered to believers through immersion
We know that there are some denominations who teach that baptism can be done through sprinkling, or pouring, or even rubbing.
But millennia ago, long before baptism was ever a church doctrine. Long before it was ever debated by theologians or church leaders baptism was a verb. A Greek verb ba,ptismw, which literally means to dip or, to immerse.
In the New Testament world, if someone ba,ptismw something, then that meant that they literally fully dipped or immersed it in a liquid.
So, whenever we baptize someone in the church, that means that we should literally dip them, or fully immerse them in the water.
Also, whenever we see a person being baptized in the New Testament, we see them being fully immersed.
In the book of Mark, when we see John coming and baptizing, we are told:
Mark 1:5 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Mark 1:9-10 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;
In order to come up from the water, it only makes sense that Jesus first was fully immersed in the water.
When Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, we see
Acts 8:38 8 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
Every time we see a baptism in the New Testament, we see that it was done through immersion.
Now there are some who are not impressed with the passages I just quoted – they say that just because the Bible says that they went into the water does not necessarily mean that they were fully immersed.
One Sunday, the "Minister" was giving a sermon on baptism and in the course of his sermon he was illustrating the fact that baptism should take place by sprinkling and not by immersion. He pointed out some instances in the Bible. He said that when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, it didn't mean in - it meant close to, round about, or nearby. And again when it says in the Bible that Philip baptized the eunuch in the river, it didn't mean in - it meant close to, round about, or nearby.
After the service, a man came up to the minister and told him it was a great sermon, one of the best he had ever heard, and that it had cleared up a great many mysteries he had encountered in the Bible.
"For instance," he said, "the story about Jonah getting swallowed by the whale has always bothered me. Now I know that Jonah wasn't really in the whale, but close to, round about, or nearby, swimming in the water.
"Then there is the story about the three young Hebrew boys who were thrown into the furious furnace, but were not burned. Now I see that they were not really in the fire, just close to, round about, or nearby, just keeping warm.
"But the hardest of all the stories for me to believe has always been the story of Daniel getting thrown into the lions' den. But now I see that he wasn't really in the lions' den, but close to, round about, or nearby, like at the zoo.
"The revealing of these mysteries have been a real comfort me because I am a wicked man. Now I am gratified to know that I won't be in Hell, but close to, round about, or nearby. And next Sunday, I won't have to be in church, just close to, round about, or nearby. Thanks. You have really put my mind at ease."
When the bible says that people go into the water, it means that they actually went into it.
When the bible says ba,ptismw it means to literally submerge a person. So, we see that baptism should be done through immersion.
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion,
Next we see that baptism illustrates a person’s faith in Christ
In life, there are many things that illustrate or represent a reality in our lives.
A police officer, in and of himself has no more authority than you or I. The only thing that gives him additional authority is his badge, which represents the government that vests him with authority.
This dollar in and of itself has no intrinsic value. It is a piece of paper with ink on it. It finds its value in that it represents a certain amount of gold held in the U.S. treasury.
A symbol that we are all very familiar with is the wedding ring.
On January 5th, 2002 Andrea and I stood before God and vowed to love each other – for better and for worse, for richer or poorer, through taco bell cravings at 3 am and everything else that marriage brings with it.
But you know, to look at me alone or to look at Andrea alone, you would never know that we were married to someone.
And so, to give a visible representation of our vow, we gave each other rings.
This ring says sorry ladies, this guy is taken. I have given my heart to another. My life is now inseparably bound to the life of another. I am married.
Baptism is similar to this. Baptism is an outward sign to the world – a visible declaration. I am no longer my own. I am now a Christian. I now identify myself with Christ. I have been bought with a price. And I am a redeemed person through the blood of Christ.
Romans 6:3-11 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 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. 5 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, 6 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; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In many ways, the baptism service is much like a public service announcement, because through baptism, several facts are announced to the world.
Commenting on this passage, John Stott writes:
"The essential point Paul is making is that being a Christian involves a personal, vital identification with Jesus Christ, and that this union with him is dramatically set forth in our baptism."
Charles Spurgeon writes that:
What connection has this baptism with faith? I think it has just this, baptism is the avowal of faith. The man believed in Christ, but his faith remained between God and his own soul. In baptism he says to the baptizer, "I believe in Jesus Christ;" he says to the Church, "I unite with you as a believer in the common truths of Christianity;" he says to the onlooker, "Whatever you may do, as for me, I will serve the Lord." It is the avowal of his faith…baptism is also to the believer a testimony of his faith; he does in baptism tell the world what he believes. He says to the world: "I am about to be buried in water. I believe that the Son of God was metaphorically baptized in suffering: I believe he was literally dead and buried." To rise again out of the water sets forth to all men that he believes in the resurrection of Christ.
This passage of Romans is in and of itself a sermon. And if I tried touch on everything that this passage teaches us about baptism – well, your lunch will be very cold – but quickly, this passage teaches us 7 truths about baptism and how it stands as a testimony that identifies us with Christ.
1. Baptism signifies that we are now identified with the Man of life, not the man of death. (5:12-21)
2. Baptism means we can no longer continue delighting in sin, because we are now dead to sin. (6:1-2)
3. Baptism most clearly identifies us with Christ in His death. (6:3)
4. Baptism further identifies us with Christ in His resurrected life. (6:4-5)
5. Baptism affirms that we are no longer enslaved to sin for that man is now dead. (6:6-7)
6. Baptism provides an eschatological confidence that the life I have in Christ is a life that will never end. (6:8-10)
7. Baptism is the basis for my daily mortification of the flesh. (6:11-14)
And so we have seen that baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and
Now, that it signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.
Earlier, we discussed how Old Testament circumcision and New Testament Baptism is not a one to one equivalent.
Circumcision was forward looking – looking to the future work of Christ
Baptism is backward looking – those who are baptized are now looking back to Christ and proclaiming that they have embraced and accepted the effects of Christ’s sacrifice – justification before God.
However, baptism is like circumcision in that it marks those who are members of the covenant community of the church.
Colossians 2:9-12 in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Baptism is that circumcision made without hands. Baptism marks you as a follower of Christ, and a member of His church.
Many people ask me why it is that it is so important that a person be baptized before they become a member of this church – or really, any other Baptist church.
Its important because Baptism serves as sort of an initiation rite.
I remember when I was initiated into the Cub Scouts.
I had earned my very first badge – the bobcat badge.
After you earned your bobcat badge, you were then initiated into the cub scouts.
What they did was that you went up in front of the pack with your parents. The pack leader gave your bobcat patch to your mother and she would pin it onto your uniform while your father picked you up and held you upside down.
And the deal was that your bobcat badge had to stay pinned to your uniform upside down until you did a good deed.
After that it could be turned over, sewn onto your uniform, making you and "official" cub scout.
And in the same way, when you are baptized by a church, then you become an official member of that church.
In the book of Acts, at Pentecost, and the preaching of John and Peter, we read that there were thousands added to the church on those days.
How were they added to the church?
Well, in Acts, we see an ongoing progression. First they were saved, then they were baptized, and were added to the church.
How were they added to the church? They were added through baptism.
They were given the spiritual mark of belief, and were accepted into the covenant community of the church.
That’s why, I believe that the best definition of a biblical baptism is that:
Baptism is an ordinance of the church, administered to believers through immersion, that illustrates their faith in Christ, and signals their entrance into the covenant community of the church.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hair Dryers, Alcohol, and the SBC

A few days ago, my wife bought a new hair dryer. Since my hairline has been in steady retreat since I was in my late teens, I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t a present for me. A few days ago while I was getting ready for church, I moved it out of my way and noticed that it had about a dozen labels, and warning stickers on it. Curious, I began to read these warnings to see what was so dangerous about a $15 hair dryer. The one label that surprised me the most read; warning: do not use this device while washing hair.

At first, I thought that this was just an over reaction of some lawyer to our culture of litigation. Honestly, who on earth would try to simultaneously wash and dry their hair? First, the abundance of water would prevent the dryer from drying the hair, and second, everyone knows that water and electrical devices like hairdryers don’t mix well. But then it hit me. This warning was here for a reason. Someone in our vast world had actually tried to do it, and had hurt themselves in the process. That was why the company had to put this ridiculous, and in my opinion, unnecessary warning on this hairdryer.

And that’s when I had one of my "aha" moments.

During the 2006 SBC annual meeting, a resolution was passed that condemned the use of alcohol. It shouldn’t be of any surprise that we would pass such a resolution, as past conventions have passed at least 60 similar resolutions over the past century. But the one aspect of this resolution that has caused a stir among some people is the exclusion of those who do drink from serving in the SBC. The exact wording of this exclusion is:

RESOLVED, That we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.

This has caused a response from some spheres of Southern Baptist life who do drink, or think that drinking is not forbidden by the Bible and thus should not be forbidden by the church.

Admittedly, when I first heard of this prohibition, I also thought that it was a bit much. Not because I drink, or because I believe that the Bible approves of drinking, but because I felt that it was just common sense that Christians should not drink. But then I realized the need for such a resolution – people in the SBC were abusing alcohol, and hurting themselves, others, their witness, and their churches because of it.

Since this resolution passed, I have been shocked by the number of Southern Baptists, and Southern Baptist pastors, who admit to using alcohol – in moderation or otherwise. As I discuss this issue with seminary students (when I was in seminary), and pastors (now that I am pastoring), I have found that most people who drink do not see the practice as worldliness (as Jerry Vines described it), but almost as a sign of holiness. They see prohibitionists as biblically ignorant, pharisaical, legalistic, and some have gone so far as label supporters of the resolution as antichrists, or lost.

Which begs the question, why do prohibitionists, such as myself, feel that people should not drink? Are we really just power mad Pharisees, or are we legitimately concerned of the well being of our fellow Christians, and the well being of our denomination as a whole?

Honestly, I cannot speak for all prohibitionists, but I believe that a complete alcohol ban within the SBC would be beneficial to my individual brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the kingdom of God as a whole.

Civic Reasons for a Prohibition of Alcohol Use in the SBC

I will not camp here long, as others have made this argument very well. Alcohol use is destructive to individuals, families, and societies. Here are some interesting facts on the effects of alcohol:

Alcohol may encourage aggression by disrupting normal brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behavior such as aggression. (Hingson et al, October 2001)

Alcohol is closely linked with violence. About 40 percent of all crimes (violent and non-violent) are committed under the influence of alcohol. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998)

The majority of those who reported alcohol-related DUI in the 12 months prior to a national survey are not alcohol dependent or alcohol abusers. (Caetano and McGrath, 2005)

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2005, 16,885 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes - an average of one almost every half-hour. These deaths constituted approximately 39 percent of the 43,443 total traffic fatalities.

Biblical Reasons for a Prohibition of Alcohol Use in the SBC

When most people object to the SBC resolution concerning alcohol, the first and loudest objection is that it has no biblical support. Admittedly, there is no passage of scripture that states "Thou shalt not drink Absolute Vodka." However, just because there is no passage of scripture that directly condemns alcohol use does not mean that the Biblical witness supports the use of alcohol. To the contrary, we will see that the Bible does in fact weave a picture of alcohol as a substance that God’s people should avoid.

First and foremost, the Bible does teach that pastors, deacons, and denominational leaders must abstain from the use of alcohol is in fact biblical.

Proverbs 31:4-5 It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Leaders should not drink alcohol. Note the exact wording of this verse. Proverbs 31:4-5 does not just say that leaders should not abuse alcohol, it says that leaders should not drink alcohol at all.

Second, there are many passages of scripture that paints those who drink as foolish, or falling short of God’s best.

Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

Isaiah 28:7 7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment.

From a brief look of these passages, we can make some basic conclusions. First, that those tasked with leadership of any kind should not drink alcohol at all. Second, because those who do drink are typically portrayed as foolish or sinful in the Bible, then we can safely conclude that it is God’s best for all people to abstain from the use of alcohol.

As a final observation, I realize that there will still be some out there who will call me a Pharisee, or a legalist, or a control freak, or biblically ignorant because the Bible doesn’t say "Thou shalt not drink alcohol." Thus concluding that alcohol use in moderation is O.K.

But lets remember, the Bible does not directly forbid many things we see as sinful.

For example, the Bible doesn’t forbid the use of marijuana, or cocaine, or meth, or many of the other drugs we see in our society.

Yet, I would wager that even those who drink "in moderation" would get pretty pharisaical pretty fast if they caught their teenage kids with a couple of hits of meth in their pockets. And I seriously doubt that their kid’s insistence that they are using the drug "in moderation" would make it O.K.

That same argument doesn’t make alcohol use O.K. either.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Value of Remembering

Veterans Day was last Saturday, and our worship service on Sunday reflected the holiday. As we started to gear up for our morning worship I looked over our bulletin – The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I sat on our front pew as our Sunday School classes began and my heart sank. Clearly, someone thought it would be a good day to stand up and let God know how great our country really is.
As our honor guard came forward with Old Glory, cynical John emerged and I started to wonder whether or not we had gone too far – were we now bowing down to Caesar? Have we taken the purple sash from Christ and replaced it with the red, white and blue?

People had come to worship, and we were holding a political rally.

When our worship leader asked all of our veterans to come forward and be recognized, cynical John was about ready to explode. I glanced over to my wife, who is usually the cynical one in the family, expecting a grimace that made me look like a happy schoolboy. But instead her face was red from fighting back tears. I looked around the rest of the sanctuary and saw mostly similar expressions.
Then I stopped and listened to our veteran’s stories, and cynical John began to get his comeuppins. We had Infantrymen from World War 2, Sailors from Korea, Marines from Vietnam, and our newest veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. After hearing their stories cynical John was in full retreat, tail tucked firmly between his legs. These guys weren’t prideful about their service, they didn’t demand to be recognized, they weren’t fixated on the fact that they were veterans. They were just a group of guys who did what they had to do because Uncle Sam asked them to.

Did our worship service go to far in praising our country? Maybe - right now I really don’t know. But I can think of something worse than being too patriotic. And that is forgetting those people who put their lives on the line so that we could meet and worship God without harassment every single Sunday. It is right to stop and thank those men and women who expressed their love of neighbor by going to places I wouldn’t want to go, doing things that I wouldn’t want to do, and being shot at by people who really, really wanted to do them harm.
I guess that even cynical John can learn a lesson now and then.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What Is the Church

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the American Society for Church Growth hosted by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. This year’s conference was called "Church Out of the Box, What Is It?" Over the course of the conference, we discussed the different expressions of the postmodern church, such as cluster churches, multi site churches, drum circle worship, and improv churches. But the most interesting session of the conference was presented by Dr. Ed Stetzer, a Missiologist for the North American Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention. His session was entitled "HOW FAR OUT OF THE BOX? - A LOOK AT THE BIBLICAL PRESCRIPTIONS OF CHURCH AND THEIR APPLICATION THROUGH INNOVATIVE MODELS." In his session, Dr. Stetzer looked through various passages of scripture to find the core essentials of what every church should have, regardless of how it otherwise expresses itself.
Stetzer first asserted that the church does indeed matter. The church may not be the center of God’s plan, but it is central to his plan, as God intends to make his glory known through the church. Ephesians 3:10 notes: the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. Later, in this same chapter, God again shows us that the church is the medium through which he displays his glory by saying "to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (vs 21).
After establishing the centrality of the church in God’s plan, Dr. Stetzer then went on to offer six essentials that every organization must possess in order to be considered a New Testament Church.

Scriptural Authority
The primitive church was first and foremost rooted in the scriptures. Every time an Apostle/disciple spoke, he consistently appealed to the scriptures as the basis of their authority. In 2 Timothy, Paul forever establishes the authority of the scriptures when he wrote: from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Biblical Leadership
While what we may call the leaders of our churches are optional, the need for leadership, and the spiritual qualifications for leadership are not. Biblically speaking, there are two offices in the church, that of pastor/elder/overseer (see my post on Oct. 30, entitled "The roles of Pastors, Elders, and Congregations in a New Testament Church"), and the office of deacon.
The Bible also indicates that having the right person to fill these offices is also important. There are passages that list the qualifications for the aforementioned offices (1 Timothy 3:1-14, and Titus 1:5-9). Paul’s discussion in these passages focuses on qualifications of these offices as opposed to their duties. The list also indicates that certain individuals would be qualified to serve and others would not. It’s interesting to note that Paul places as much emphasis on the quality of one’s character as he does the nature of the duty.

Preaching and Teaching
People need the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Paul instructs Timothy to devote himself to preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 4:12), and also writes that: "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" in Romans 10.

During his earthly ministry, Christ ordained that his church should do certain things to honor and worship him. These things were the Lord’s Supper, which Christ commanded be done in "remembrance of me." And Baptism, which Christ commanded to be administered to every new convert.

Covenant Community
One of the core essentials of a church is that it is a group of believers in covenant community. As a covenant community, a church must share several common commitments, as found in Acts 2:42-47. First, a church must hold common doctrinal convictions (vs. 42). Second, a church must devote itself to congregational prayer (vs. 44). And finally, a church must devote itself to worship (vs. 46).

Churches are called to saturate the world with the Gospel. Jesus’ last word to his disciples was a commission to worldwide evangelism (Matthew 28)

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