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Study on Baptism (Review: J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit)

July 18, 2020 Leave a comment

A book I’ve seen recommended in online discussions, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, by J.V. Fesko, is one that I have found very helpful and informative.  Its three sections cover a lot of historical theology as well as review of many scriptures and scripture themes related to the sacraments and especially baptism, and development of redemptive-historical/biblical theology of baptism, with exposition of New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

The overall style is more scholarly and sometimes repetitive — yet the repetition, and frequent use of ‘in other words’ with a restatement in simpler words, assist the understanding.  The history section seemed too lengthy, with more details than I wanted, though the early history along with the section on the Anabaptist history were more interesting.  The chapters in parts II and III were well-written and helpful, a series of expositions on several biblical texts–and relating all the separate parts to the overall narrative flow of scripture, the covenants, and the continuity of the main themes in God’s word.  From the entirety of it, I now have a much clearer understanding of the different views such as the medieval baptismal regeneration and infusion of grace, and the different emphases and nuances of the Reformers regarding the sacraments, the roles of the sacraments along with the written Word, and the idea of the blessing and judgment “double-edged sword” sides regarding the benefits (to the true, invisible church of believers) versus judgments (to the professing but false visible-only church) within the overall covenant community.  As a scholarly-type work, Word, Water, and Spirit includes copious footnote references, and Fesko interacts with the views of past theologians including Luther, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus (who wrote a Heidelberg Catechism commentary, which I am also reading through this year in calendar-week sequence), explaining where he agrees or disagrees with them.

One section addressed a question/comment from someone who had made a comparison between John the Baptist’s baptism and the later New Testament Christian baptism, wondering what type of participants (individuals vs families) were involved in each.  While a common idea is that Christ instituted baptism by His example of being baptized by John, Fesko contends that Christ instituted baptism in the Great Commission and not in His submission to John’s baptism.

Three key differences noted here:

  1. The redemptive-historical timeframe for John’s ministry: This baptism was not a perpetual rite for Israel but a special sign for that terminal generation  John’s baptism epitomized the particular crisis in covenant history represented by John’s mission as the messenger bearing the Lord’s ultimatum.
  2. John’s ministry was preparatory for the ministry of Christ; his baptism was also preparatory.
  3. John’s baptism was one of repentance, whereas the baptism instituted by Jesus was to be administered in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fesko asserts that there is no textual support for Calvin’s claim that John baptized “into the name of Christ.”

Fesko here focuses on the typical (John’s baptismal ministry) and its fulfillment—Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the significance of baptism into a name:  the triune God name (also referenced in the shortened form baptized into the name of Jesus, in some instances in the book of Acts), also Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians that the people were not baptized into his name, the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

The book is comprehensive, considering many different scriptures and views, and even provides brief treatment (a full chapter) on the issue of paedocommunion, outlining the main scriptures against this idea.  Another book I’ve received (free from a book drawing) and hope to read soon, Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table?, addresses that topic in more depth.  It was interesting to read here, though, of the parallel between the Lord’s Supper and Exodus 24 (not Exodus 12)– The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence.

Finally, one more interesting thing I liked is that the author consistently and correctly used the scriptural term “last Adam,” rather than the frequent variation of “second Adam.”  As S. Lewis Johnson liked to point out, the scriptural terms Paul used are “the last Adam, and the second man.”  Johnson mentioned one of his teachers, perhaps Chafer, who had added his notes in a book he owned, that it’s “not the second Adam, but the last Adam.” SLJ then pointed out that the term “second Adam” would imply that a third could come along–no, Christ is the last Adam.  Yet I’ve seen it too often in current-day Christian books and articles, the mixing of terms to say “second Adam” rather than “last Adam/second man.”

Overall, Word, Water, and Spirit is a thorough and informative reference work, addressing many scriptures from the Old and New Testament along with historical theology and the views of many theologians down through church history.

 

Baptism as a Means of Grace

August 14, 2019 2 comments

From one of the earlier Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ PCRT conferences (1981) on “How to Grow your Faith” comes an interesting lecture from Robert Godfrey, on Baptism as a means of grace.  It’s a subject I’ve been considering lately, the scripture and reasoning for paedo (versus believer) baptism, and this lecture fits in along with other online articles I’ve come across.

In this post I want to look at this sacrament, baptism, as a means of grace (regardless of whether paedo or believers’ baptism); and a lot of the material comes from John Calvin’s writing in the Institutes, and referenced in this lecture.

Church history has shown two extremes to be avoided – first, the superstitious “magical” view of the Roman Catholicism, that the Reformers responded to in their day.  The current day evangelicalism – and just as true if not more so than in 1981 – has tended to the other extreme, of viewing the sacraments (sometimes called ordinances due to over-reaction again the Roman Catholic view of sacraments) as of no value, something to be neglected, as an “appendix” and an after thought.  There are the churches that only observe the Lord’s Supper once a quarter (every 3 months), or even once a year.  Then, too, are the cases of unusual practice, that remove the significance of the sacraments, where people don’t think about the symbolism and the purpose of the sacraments:  a church observance of the Lord’s Supper in which the bread is put into the bottom of the plastic drink cup and people “drink” the bread from the cup into their mouth; or, a church that wants to be culturally relevant and so refers to baptism as “coming out”–complete with online postings of testimonials from young believers who talk about their life and past problems and then they came to Jesus (more focused on the person’s experience than about the triune God and what He has done for us).

Yet as pointed out in Godfrey’s lecture (back to Calvin), the main point regarding baptism is not about us—but it is something that God has done.   Baptism should first be viewed as God’s pledge and promise to us as individuals, as a part of the “visible word” to us as individuals.  After all, sermons are given generally, to everyone in the audience, but each person has their own baptism experience to look back to.  Baptism is not to be seen as just a one-time event at the start of the Christian life, and then we go forward and forget about it; properly viewed, it is something we look back to, in relation to God’s purpose for me, something that brings assurance (as do the other means of grace).

Martin Luther referred to baptism in this way, that his baptism was something that told him he was a Christian:  not thinking of baptism in a legalistic way as though the baptism itself is what saves someone, the error of baptismal regeneration – but in this “means of grace” view, thinking about what God in Christ has done for us, of baptism as God’s sign of the covenant relationship with Luther as an individual.  Godfrey agrees that baptism also serves as a testimony of our faith, of each of us being one of God’s people.  Yet this is a secondary purpose, and we must never forget the primary purpose and meaning of baptism.

Martin Luther quote:

No one should be terrified if he feels evil lust or love, nor should he despair even if he falls. Rather he should remember his Baptism and comfort himself joyfully with the fact that God has there pledged Himself to slay his sin for him, and not to count it a cause for condemnation, if only he does not say yes to sin and remain in it.

Godfrey’s lecture used the “P” letter for the sermon outline – including the Prominence of the term baptism in scripture, then the Pledge and Promise of God, and the People (recipients) of baptism.  One section does address the Presbyterian-view scripture reasons for the paedo view, an informational part done with respect—observing that people rarely heard actual discussion about the paedo Baptist view in Presbyterian sermons, referencing even the Presbyterian scholar Charles  Hodge as one who said he had never heard a sermon on paedobaptism.

Godfrey’s lecture is very informative and helpful, a Reformed look at the sacrament of baptism and how baptism can be thought of in terms of our sanctification and assurance.  It is part of a set from the 1981 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and soon I’ll be listening to the other lectures from this conference.

H.A. Ironside’s Ministry Stories (And S. Lewis Johnson’s Observations)

August 2, 2013 3 comments

H.A. Ironside and his stories often come up in S. Lewis Johnson’s sermons.  Now going through SLJ’s 1 Corinthians series, he mentions a book from Ironside, Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Ministry, while telling a story found in Ironside’s commentary from 1 Corinthians 15, specifically concerning verse 29, “those who are baptized for the dead.”

Ironside’s small book is available online here, a short read with some interesting evangelism stories, of which I‘ve now read a few.  The story in reference to 1 Corinthians 15:29 is actually found in Ironside’s commentary on 1 Corinthians (this section):

The view held by these Mormons and a few others is based on the belief that baptism in itself is a saving ordinance, that apart from it none will ever be saved. It would follow that since a great many people have died without having had the opportunity of being baptized, someone else must be baptized for them if they are going to be saved. Therefore the Mormons say that the apostle was referring to—and approving of—living Christians being baptized vicariously on behalf of people who have died unbaptized. This is a common practice among the Latter Day Saints. In fact they have temples in which they carry out the ceremony of baptism for the dead, and people are urged to be baptized, some over and over and over again, for the dead who were never baptized in this life.

When I was in Salt Lake City some years ago, a young Mormon elder told me about a wealthy lady who had been baptized over thirty thousand times. Every time she was baptized she paid a sum of money to the Mormon church, so you can see that baptism for the dead is a rather good thing from the financial standpoint! She had spent her entire fortune redeeming people, so she thought, from death and destruction. She had been baptized for all her deceased friends and relatives; then she had taken thousands of names from history and literature and had been baptized for every one of them. Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Cleopatra were among those for whom she wanted to be the means of salvation. The youthful elder said to me with a very solemn face, “I believe that in the day of judgment it will be proven that this lady, through being baptized for the dead, has saved more souls than Jesus Christ ever saved through dying on Calvary’s cross.” That ridiculous and blasphemous theory of course finds no support whatever in the Word of God.

A rather sad story, actually, showing the depths of deception within the cults and the financial ruin it drives some people to.  S. Lewis Johnson, relating the story, also states his opinion regarding one of the famous people, a view in agreement with what I’ve heard elsewhere and also understand from Daniel 4:

According to Dr. Ironside, she was baptized for Alexander the Great.  Will we see him in heaven?  She was baptized for Nebuchadnezzar.  Well, that was unnecessary I think.  Nebuchcadnezzar, as far as I can see from the Old Testament, probably was a believer, and we will see him.

Al Mohler’s Theological Triage: Is Eschatology Really a Third-Order Doctrine

June 20, 2011 5 comments

I have posted previously concerning the amount of scripture that teaches eschatology, or last things, as compared to the amount of scripture concerning so-called secondary doctrines important enough to divide fellowship over:  baptism and the Lord’s supper.  See this quote for S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning the number of verses that teach these doctrines.

I recently had a brief discussion with someone who still maintains, like Al Mohler, that eschatology is actually a third-order doctrine, less important than even baptism and the Lord’s supper.  He put forth the following reasons for such, which I would like to respond to here:

  1. “Regardless of how much the Bible teaches about the end times it is still rather speculative. The main point is Christ is coming back and so be prepared.  Yet Baptism and the Lord’s Supper has everything to do with defining the nature and boundaries of the church and thus is a second level issue.”    — and —
  2.   those second-level issues have “only been a defining character of fellowship since the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies.”

In reference to the specific words from S. Lewis Johnson (referenced above), this person acknowledged familiarity with Johnson, and just said that Johnson over-emphasized certain teachings whereas others have taught more concerning ecclesiology.

If his first point referenced only the timing of the rapture, I would certainly agree that such discussions can get too speculative: the rapture timing can only be inferred.  However, the context of this discussion concerned overall future things including viewpoints on the millennium and the nature of Israel and the church — and his point that “no matter how much the Bible teaches … it is still rather speculative.”

Having read so many biblical texts throughout the Old and New Testament, I cannot see that the Bible is at all unclear in its many references, especially considering the many passages in the Old Testament that speak of the future restoration of Israel, as well as describe a time that will be somewhat different from our world yet during which sin and death will still exist (such as Isaiah 65).  If words mean anything and are not merely wasted platitudes about the gospel going forth during the glorious church age, such a type of world has never existed yet, neither does it fit with the Eternal State.  Such passages are only unclear if one plays loose with words, and thinks that perhaps the word Israel doesn’t really mean Israel — and to do so is to wreak havoc with basic hermeneutical principles and head down the path towards unbelief and rejection of many other biblical doctrines.   Historic premillennialist J.C. Ryle well observed that he simply could not understand how anyone reading their Bible could not see these things, things that are so plainly set forth and as clear as a sunbeam.

Regarding his second idea, that these second-level issues were never really considered important for fellowship until the fundamentalist movement (early 20th century) — I answer from a general knowledge of church history.  Luther and Calvin and their followers, in the 16th century, parted ways over differing ideas of the Lord’s Table — and so we have Lutherans as distinct from the other Protestant denominations that followed Calvin.  The Anabaptists, also of the 16th century, sharply divided with all the Reformers over the matter of baptism:  believers baptism only for Anabaptists, versus infant baptism for the Reformers.  The Reformation period shows many other instances of the divisions amongst all the differing Protestant denominations, so to say that these divisions only occurred in the early 20th century is also quite misguided.

Finally, if some theologians “over-emphasized” certain teachings and neglected ecclesiology, it can also be justly said that the reason why these men “over-emphasize” the Second Coming, is precisely because so many other teachers have neglected that.  Someone has to over-emphasize, to compensate for the vast majority of teachers who practically ignore the prophetic word.