On baptizing infants

A good discussion about Baptism broke out at Internet Monk. Commenter Scott, as a Baptist, made some interesting points, as reposted at New Reformation Press:

While not precisely in line with any of the above confessions, there are three things that, over the past decade and a half and more as a Baptist, have struck me as wrong about the general credobaptist position.

1. Having raised some of my kids in the Baptist Church (and my youngest from birth) I’m struck that their is something almost schizophrenic about the way we treat kids. As toddlers, preschoolers, and young school age children, in Church and at home, we teach them that Jesus loves them and we raise them to love Jesus. At some point during elementary school, we change the story and we tell them that they have done wrong things and they need to tell Jesus that they are sorry and that they love him. For many of them, that’s a huge disconnect. Of course they love Jesus. They’ve always loved Jesus. Why is he suddenly angry with them and need them to tell him they are sorry? It’s a discontinuity that is not present in the churches that embrace children in Baptism from birth. Yes, the child needs to be raised in the faith and needs to make that faith their own one day. But there is no jump from you’re part of God’s family, now you’re not, and now you are again.

2. The view is far too centered or intellect, reason, and the capacity for verbal expression to feel like anything more than a mind game — and one that is easy to deconstruct. N.T. Wright did it well in one lecture I heard. He pointed out that we all know that we can relate to and love an infant. Moreover, that infant can relate back to us and can love us. Are we really going to say that the God who created and sustained that infant cannot relate to that infant, love that infant, and that the infant cannot relate to or be filled with love for God? Really? Because I’m not willing to say that. If anything God should be able to relate to and interact with that infant even more than I can. And every infant is a unique and fully human person. And as a person, they are no less capable of experiencing God than I am. Perhaps they are even more capable. Of course, that experience needs to grow and mature. There’s no magic in baptism. God will not coerce the will of the child as the child grows any more than God will coerce my will. But that makes the encounter and experience in Baptism no less real for an infant than for an adult.

3. If Baptism is an encounter with and experience of Christ, if it is a new birth of water and Spirit, if in it we are joined with Christ in his death, burial and Resurrection (all Scriptural statements) why would anyone deny their child that opportunity? Why would we leave our child open to the forces of darkness and evil who will not respect our child’s will like God will? In short, if Baptism actually does anything, if it’s more than just getting wet with water that has a reality independent of God, why would we deprive our children of it? On the other hand, if Baptism does nothing, if it just represents some interior reality, why do it at all? If it’s just a “symbol” in the modern, secular meaning of the term, then what’s the point? If Baptism actually accomplishes anything, then why deprive our children of it? If it accomplishes nothing, then what’s the point? The Baptist position is truly strange to me. They hold that it merely represents a spiritual truth and is otherwise meaningless. But it has to be done by immersion past the age of reason or it doesn’t count. And you have to have had a “valid” Baptism (with a lot of different variations in what makes a Baptism valid) to be a member of the Church. And that particular combination is just logically nuts. Baptism doesn’t “do” anything, but you have to have done it the “right” way.

via New Reformation Press » Blog Archive » An Interesting Discussion on Baptism

HT:  Larry

Cranach’s artistic confession of faith

We had been discussing Lucas Cranach’s seal of the winged serpent, crowned with a ring, and what it might mean.  Thanks to Tom Hering for digging up this scholarly article by Wayne Martin, professor of philosophy of the University of Essex, who offers a reading of the artist’s “Eden” in the Courtald Gallery in England.  As a reminder, art in Cranach’s day was charged with meaning, unlike the preoccupation with abstract forms of today, but  that meaning was rendered visually.  Prof. Martin points out that Cranach this time puts his signature seal not at the bottom in a corner, where it usually goes, but right on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  (You can just make it out below the snake.)  The squiggly curves of the stylized seal are echoed in the similar squiggly curves of the snake and in the curls of Eve’s hair.  Thus, the artist is identifying himself with temptation and with sin.  But those squiggles are also echoed in the vine, laden with grapes, a symbol of Christ (“I am the vine”): specifically, His sacrificial blood as given for us in Holy Communion (“This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins”).  In the painting, the vine covers Adam and Eve’s nakedness, just as Christ’s blood covers the sinfulness of Lucas Cranach and all of us.

Prof. Martin doesn’t quite understand the Gospel of the evangelical Reformation.  He professes “shock” that a pious Christian would “identify himself with evil.”  Like many people he assumes that being a Christian means being good, rather than facing up to one’s true sinfulness and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  He is also confused about different covenants and the pre-lapsarian state.  Still, even despite himself,  he discerns Cranach’s ubiquitous theme of Law and Gospel.

Christless Christianity

On Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite at our church gave one of the best comments on the Harold Camping fiasco.  From his sermon on John 14:

Thomas and Philip didn’t quite understand all that Jesus was saying. They ask questions. Their knowledge isn’t quite right or complete. But don’t mock them or think less of them for this – for who among us understands all this? Especially the mystery of the Trinity which Jesus here is teaching. But give Thomas and Philip credit for this – though they didn’t fully understand, they looked to Jesus for the answers. They clung to Him tenaciously.

That’s not only a good example for us, it is what a certain Mr. Harold Camping missed this weekend. I’m certain that you’ve heard of him. The media has paid an unusual amount of attention to him and his prediction that the end of the world was going to begin yesterday. I don’t want to go into the details of all that he said. But you know what he missed? Christ. Not that he’s not a Christian. I’m not saying that. I don’t know what’s in his heart. But in all his study of the Bible, he looked for numbers and clues and codes and all sorts of things . . . but he missed Christ. And that’s what the Scriptures are all about. They’re not about hidden clues, secret teachings, mysterious numbers, and being able to calculate days and times. They’re all about Jesus. About his death and resurrection. That dying and rising with Jesus is the truth, and the way to eternal life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Camping is not alone in spinning a Christless Christianity.  I have read “Christian” books going into all kinds of profound theology and teachings about Christian living that did not so much as mention Christ.  I have heard sermons, even evangelistic sermons, that left out Christ.   I have heard expositions of the Bible that said nothing about Christ.  I have heard personal testimonies and evangelistic witnesses that leave Jesus out of the picture.  I have looked at lots of Sunday school curriculum and “Christian” children’s books that are pure moralism, without a shred of Jesus and His gospel.  Since the root of “Christianity” is, you know, “Christ,” how is this possible?  Don’t you have a different religion if you leave Jesus out of your Christianity?

P.S.:  This is the reason to discuss Camping and not just to ignore him, as some of you were recommending:  To discern how his particular spirit may be manifesting itself in other contexts closer to home.   That’s the theme of this post and the one below.

Who was left behind?

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, but I’ve set it up so that the post appears on Monday.  So I MIGHT be raptured by the end of the day.  I don’t know yet.  Right now I’m either in Heaven or Texas.

So who is left?  We need to hear from you.  Are the Lutherans all gone?  Where are the Calvinists?  Did the Baptists get taken?  Are the non-denominational Christians gone, or did they need to belong to a denomination after all?

We need to hear from the individuals who are always getting in theological arguments so that we can see if you have been right or not.  Roll call:  Grace?  Porcell?  Todd?  DonS?

Does anyone know if Mr. Camping is still here?  If so, what is he saying?  Just because we might not have noticed large groups of people disappearing doesn’t mean the rapture didn’t happen.  Maybe the gate is so narrow that only a handful of true Christians exist.  Maybe some homeless people, some New Guinea tribesmen, and some persecuted Christian Arabs–individuals no one would notice–got raptured.

So now let’s get ready for the Tribulation!  And the End of the World on October 21!

What do we learn from all of this?

Will you vanish on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.?

Tomorrow, May 21, in the year of our Lord 2011, the rapture will occur.  According to the calculations of radio preacher Harold Camping, all true Christians will be taken up into Heaven at 6:00 p.m., when that hour comes in all time zones.  I suppose if we hear about strange disappearances in other parts of the world earlier in the day, we will know that this is happening and we can prepare ourselves when our time comes.  (The earlier version of this post said 3:00 p.m., but I have learned, as some of you have said, that it’s 6:00 p.m.  You’ll have three more hours.)

Tomorrow will not be the End of the World.  That will happen, according to Camping, six months later, on October 21.  You’ll want to put that down on your calendar too.  Tomorrow will be the rapture of the Church.  Then will come some pretty intense tribulations until Jesus shows up in October.

To see how Camping came up with these dates–including links to some of his own writings as well as those of his critics–see this post from Justin Taylor: Judgment Day: May 21, 2011? – Justin Taylor.

Now I don’t believe this will happen, but if it does, it will at least clear up some important questions.   We get into all kinds of theological discussions on this blog, and some of them get pretty intense and personal.  If Camping’s prediction comes to pass, at last we will have solid empirical evidence for who is right.

Now Lutherans don’t believe in a rapture like this at all.  I don’t believe in it, though, is a pre-requisite for it happening to a person.  It may well be that all Lutherans will vanish on Saturday afternoon.  Or maybe Roman Catholics are right after all and they will be gone.   Or the Eastern Orthodox.   Or the Reformed.  Or Arminians.  Or Baptists.  Or Pentecostals.  Or non-denominationalists.   Or it may well be that there are true believers in all of these traditions.   Those who show up in Church this Sunday  may be the apostates, and those who don’t may have a good excuse.

Camping himself is a hyper-Calvinist, though not an orthodox Calvinist.   He says it won’t do any good to repent at the last minute and no one can really do anything about whether they are raptured or not.  God will take his elect and that’s that.   But Camping teaches his listeners that ALL churches today are apostate and that real Christians shouldn’t go to church at all anymore.  They should instead just listen to his radio program.   So if he is completely right, church services will go on as normal this Sunday, since church members of every denomination will get left behind.  Instead, the elect is to be found among those who do NOT go to church.   I wonder if the number of the elect may be so small that no one will notice whether they have been raptured or not.

At any rate, we will know some things for sure on Saturday afternoon, if only that Camping’s theology is disproven.  Be sure to tune into this blog on Monday if you are here and if I am here.  We will do a roll-call to see if anyone is missing.

So if the end is coming on Saturday evening, what should you do in the meantime?  Plant a tree?

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

The readings in church last Sunday included this passage from John 20:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

We get into a lot of good theological discussions on this blog.  Some of them get heated–and I apologize when they cross the line of Christian charity–but I know I learn from them.   I’d like to ask the non-Lutheran readers of this blog, what do you do with this passage?   We Lutherans, as is our wont, take it literally:  We see the office of disciple in the office of pastors today, so we believe that pastors, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, can forgive sins.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”   This happens individually, in private confession and absolution, and also every Sunday in corporate confession and absolution.   The whole congregation prays a prayer in which we confess our sins, and then the pastor says, “upon this your confession, as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  This often freaks out non-Lutheran visitors.   But I’ve wondered, how do they get around this passage?  One could have a different theology of the ministry and apply that ability to ALL Christians (actually, Lutherans do say that laity too can forgive sins), but surely this passage clearly gives human beings who have the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins.  This is as clear statement as I can imagine, and I can’t see how it could be interpreted any other way.

So I’m asking, what do you Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Pentecostal, and adherents to other Protestant Bible-believing theologies do with this passage?


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